Slowly but surely I am clearing out all of the action figure preorders I placed in the year 2021. Of the ones that had been remaining, the line I was most looking forward to experiencing was the line of Super7 Ultimates! based on The Simpsons. It was August of 2021 when these suckers went up for pre-order and I was pretty damn excited to see someone making new figures for The Simpsons. The Playmates World of Springfield line from the late 90s and early 2000s was never my cup of tea while the stuff McFarlane did was more diorama based than action figures. I had experience with Super7, and while some of that was good and some not as good, it felt like a property they could handle. To show my support, I preordered that entire first wave direct from Super7 which meant paying upfront, paying a lot for shipping, and enduring a lengthy wait. I wanted to make sure they knew at least one person out there was really excited for The Simpsons, and at long last, my toys have been delivered.
Up first is Deep Space Homer which is a version of Homer Simpson based on the episode of the same name. If you needed a refresher, Super7 has you covered since they put that information right on the box which includes information on which season this figure is from, the episode number for that season, and the original air date (this episode is almost 29 years old which makes me feel rather old). The box and packaging is standard Super7, but since this is a new line I can mention it in greater detail. The slipcover is a cloudy blue sky with the logo for the show embossed on the front. On the rear is a character image of Homer floating in space and it’s very well done. The interior box continues with the cloudy sky theme and includes another image of Homer on the back plus all of the episode info I mentioned before. The front is where our window lies and the rear insert inside the box features the portraits of many of Springfield’s finest. It’s very well done and it presents the figure well so if you’re an in-box collector this should make you pretty happy. Though I don’t know how in-box collectors display these – with or without the slipcover? I’m guessing they don’t bother with the brown shipper box they come in, or maybe they do? I can’t pretend to understand the ways of the in-box collector.
Homer is fairly easy to remove from the packaging without causing any permanent damage to the box. Unfortunately, Super7 has switched to those annoying tie-downs that NECA often uses which need to be snipped in order to get the figure out. Usually, they just use the blister alone to keep the figure in place with usually one twist-tie, but this entire wave of Simpsons figures all used these clear, plastic, things that I hate. Once he’s out, Homer stands right around 7″ to the top of his dome, not including his two hairs above that. He’s probably going to be the character everyone is designed to scale around so putting him right at that 7″ mark feels appropriate. He’s a pretty chunky figure given that he’s wearing a spacesuit. My main concern when Super7 announced this line was how the unique yellow complexion would be handled. With Homer, only his head features visible skin on account of the space suit and for his head it appears that they cast it in yellow, but then painted over it with more yellow to give it a matte finish. And it looks good! His muzzle looks to be a separate piece that is glued in. It could be cast in yellow, or it could be cast in brown, or any color really, but it’s also painted and the finish is nice. The eyes are just painted over the plastic and they’re just okay. The edges are not very clean as the white bleeds onto the flesh at the edge. Will it be noticeable on a shelf? No, but it could have been better. I’m left to wonder if maybe a black outline around the eyes could have solved this issue while also adding a little more pop to the look? It’s just as likely that they would have looked bad that way too and I’m not brave enough to paint them on myself to find out. The black line for the spiky bit of hair that goes around his head is pretty clean, and for the two hairs on top of his head Super7 used black, plastic, wire. It looks really good and it seems pretty secure too.
For the body, Super7 basically just went with white plastic. It has a pretty matte appearance so it looks rather nice. The body appears to be unpainted, but the limbs have a layer of white paint applied. It’s most notable at the joints, but it’s likely what is helping to achieve this look. He has a tiny American flag on his left shoulder and a NASA logo on the right (did they have to pay for that?) and both appear to be decals. The zipper on the front of the suit is really nicely done in a chrome-like silver and the logo on the chest is cleanly applied. The only somewhat sloppy bits are the blue trim at the neck, wrists, and ankles. There’s some blue bleeding onto the top of my figure’s suit from the neck, and as was the case with the eyes, it’s just not a very clean line at the ankles and wrists. It sticks out a little more too since we’re talking blue on white whereas the yellow overpowers the white around the eyes a bit when standing at a distance. The space helmet, which just pops on and off and is held on by pressure, is fairly clean. It looks like they used a white acrylic for the rear, and a clear for the front and painted white onto the clear portion. It looks a little different as a result, but it’s on the top of the dome and not that noticeable. The interior is painted for the blue trim at the base which you have to be mindful of when putting it on and off as paint could rub off onto the figure’s head which wouldn’t look very good. I assume the yellow could also potentially rub off onto the clear helmet too.
To complete Homer’s look from the episode, Super7 went with three distinct portraits. The default one is a pretty stoic expression, but on the rear of the figure is written in black ink “Insert Brain Here” which was a prank the guys played on Homer in the episode. It’s amusing, but the actual expression on Homer’s face is just too plain. Too boring. I would have preferred a smile, or better yet, Super7 could have made his muzzle swappable to get a bunch of expressions into the box. I’m curious if they tried that out or not during the planning stage. Homer’s next expression is a more quizzical look. He’s making an “Ooo” face, or I suppose it could be played off as a whistle. It’s a good expression though because I can “hear” it when I look at it. His third expression is probably the most fun as he has an open mouth and his head is tilted back. This is to imitate Homer floating after the wayward potato chips from the episode and it’s the look I’m guessing many will utilize. The space helmet can fit over all of the heads, though it’s a little tricky with the opened mouth head and I probably wouldn’t bother with it for that one. Swapping the heads wasn’t as easy as I’d like it to be. The hole on the default head is noticeably larger than either extra head so I just went ahead and applied hot water to each before putting it on. That seemed to work fine as the soft plastic snaps in place rather easily. They unfortunately don’t go right back on after doing that so I may have to heat them each time I wish to change a head.
Homer has some other stuff to round out his look from the episode. I know a lot of people want Super7 to just make standard versions of the Simpson family, but by being so episode specific it does help to narrow down the accessories. For Homer, we get the ever important inanimate carbon rod. It’s a green cylinder of plastic that also glows in the dark. In Rod we trust! We also get a bag of potato chips – ruffled. The logo could have been applied to the red bag a little better as the red bleeds through the white, but it’s fine. To go with that are seven individual chips. They’re actually fully painted so I’m curious what color the plastic is underneath (probably yellow) and they look pretty convincing. Homer can hold them, or you can pile them into the open mouth head. Homer also comes with the ant colony from the episode, before he smashes into it. The paint inside it is transparent, sort of like stained glass, and tiny ants are visible. It’s pretty neat and I wonder how expensive this silly, little, thing was. It can also stand on its own which is nice. To interact with these things, Homer has three sets of hands: fists, tight grip, and loose grip. His hands are cast in gray plastic so there’s less chance of paint rub with his accessories. The tight gripping hands can hold the chips between the thumb and index finger and they can also pinch the top of the potato chips bag. The loose hands aren’t really needed for much, basically just the ant farm if you want Homer to hold it. They do come in handy though if you want Homer to enjoy a nice Flaming Homer if you happen to have Moe. Or is it a Flaming Moe since it came with Moe?
You probably only need to take one look at this Homer figure to know that the articulation isn’t going to be impressive. And it’s not, but we have to talk about it. The head is on a double-ball peg, though the lower ball doesn’t have much play. He can rotate, look up, and there’s a little tilt. The shoulders can’t be raised out to the side very far without the patches on the sleeves obstructing things. They can rotate around and the elbow bends almost 90 degrees, which is more than I was expecting. There is a swivel at the elbow and the wrists rotate and hinge in and out for all hands. The clearance is actually really well done here and you get a lot out of those hinges, which again, was not something I expected. We get a diaphragm cut on this guy which is some sort of peg system. It might be a double-ball, but it basically just allows for rotation with minimal forward and back. I don’t think a spacesuit is meant to allow for much there anyway, so it’s forgivable. At the hips, we get some fancy new ball and socket joints. I much prefer these to the peg system Super7 usually uses. Again though, not a whole lot of range. Homer isn’t coming anywhere close to a split, nor does he kick forward and back much. There is a thigh swivel and, like the elbows, you get almost a 90 degree bend at the knee despite the bulk of the pants. The knees also swivel and we get a swivel and hinge at the ankle that doesn’t offer a whole lot. What happened to the ankle rocker, Super7? That’s really my one, true, complaint with the articulation. I expected something very limited given this is a Simpsons character in a spacesuit, but I still expect an ankle rocker. This is, unfortunately, a trend with the line we’ll have to talk about again. Having that pivot point just opens up the stances available and, without it, Homer basically has to keep himself in a rather vanilla stance.
Limitations aside, I am pretty happy with this release from Super7. My only real concern going in was alleviated with the paint app, and the overall sculpt and presentation is handled really well which is what I care about most. The paint and at least some of the articulation could have been better, but as is, I’m still enjoying what I have here. Accessories, expressions, and the overall look are things we’re unlikely to get a true consensus on, but as an expression of this particular version of Homer Simpson, I think Super7 nailed it. Is it worth $55? That’s harder to say. For me, someone who is a big Simpsons fan and a big fan of action figures, it is. It’s not a slam dunk and I am influenced by the fact that I paid for this figure over 18 months ago so that pain is a thing of the past. The figure still doesn’t have that premium, collector, feel to it. The packaging and presentation does, but the figure itself comes up a little short if I’m being honest. That will probably be enough to turn away casual Simpsons fans or casual action figure fans that may love The Simpsons. I feel like this is a solid entry point for this line and this license for Super7 so hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. Check back soon to hear my thoughts on the rest of the first wave in the coming days.
When it comes to arcade cabinets, there are few that would interest me as far as a purchasing decision is concerned. One such cabinet though has always been The Simpsons arcade game, and it’s not really because of the game’s quality. The game is fine, one of the better brawlers out there, it’s just limited…
Wednesday, August 18th, ended up being quite an eventful little day in the world of toy collecting. There were some reveals from major toy companies, leaks, and even those long neglected Street Sharks fans got something to get excited about late in the day. Personally, it was a good day for me too as I…
After a long stretch of posting about Christmas and Batman exclusively, it’s time to get things back on track here at The Nostalgia Spot. Here’s a subject I’ve been sitting on for quite some time. I love The Simpsons, and I also love video games, so it stands to reason I should love Simpsons video…
We’re not yet far enough removed from the holidays that Christmas has left my brain. And if you were to ask me what my favorite Christmas present was as a kid I wouldn’t hesitate to say my Super Nintendo. I had a real “Ralphie moment” in that I found it last having failed to notice it off to the side propped between the dining room table and the wall. It was an awesome gift and a memorable way to get it. My second favorite though was my Giant-Sized Leonardo. I got that gift from an aunt who must have talked to my mom and found out who my favorite turtle was. My dad is one of nine kids so Christmas with his family was always done as a pseudo Secret Santa, only it wasn’t a secret. All of the cousins (or the parents) drew names so that not every family was buying a gift for every niece and nephew. I think it was supposed to be a ten dollar limit too, but this particular aunt always loves giving gifts and is known to blow past such suggestions. I didn’t even know the giant sized line existed when I unwrapped that gift so I was blown away. My favorite toy turned into this massive figure? It was incredible! The only negative was he only came with one sword when we all know that Leonardo wields two.
It was my affection for that old toy (which I sadly no longer possess) that convinced me to collect NECA’s quarter scale line of figures based on the cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve already looked at Raphael and Donatello so with Leonardo there won’t be a ton to discuss. As is the case in the show, the turtles are all identical save for their weapons and colors so the figures follow the same style. They’re all the same save for the belts and paint, including the headsculpts. NECA used this line to unveil their new approach to turtle heads that come in two parts: eyes and mouth. This allows for the collector to change the expressions to suit their mood. You can have all of the turtles basically look the same, or make sure they’re all doing something different. It’s an idea so good that it’s been brought to the 1:12 line since.
Leonardo comes in the same “Giant Sized” box as the previous two figures and stands a shade under 15″. He weighs over 3 pounds so he’s a big, weighty, toy. The sculpt is the same as before save for the L medallion on the front of the belt and the holsters for Leo’s swords on the rear of the belt. Like the smaller figures, NECA uses it’s two-tone shading with dark colors on the rear and bright colors on the front when it comes to paint. Most of the figure is painted, which is good and bad. Good because it gives the figure a real depth of color, but bad because there are spots of paint transfer. The rear of the my figure’s thighs have some brown from the shell and there’s some blue above the kneepad of the right knee as well. It’s not terrible, but it can stand out on a figure of such size. The black linework is largely sharp and helps make the figure “pop” when looking at it. It’s an impressive piece, as were the past two, and there’s almost a sense of disbelief to have such a giant turtle in-hand.
Leonardo’s expressions are both familiar and different. NECA intentionally mixes up the included mouth shapes with each release. Raph has just two, while Donnie had three, and Leo reflects the Donatello release. His included mouths are a smile, open mouth smile, and a neutral expression. The one mouth he doesn’t have is the yelling mouth which was included with both Donatello and Raph. Donatello had both the smile and neutral mouth so Leo doesn’t come with anything new, but I’m glad he has three options instead of two. Swapping them can be trying. I had to heat up some of them to get the eyes to snap in place while others I didn’t have to. He comes with the standard eyes on the smiling mouth and the standard eyes seem to work better as a result. The angry eyes required more effort, but I didn’t have any problem getting them on and off the neck peg and none are too loose like they are with Raph so that’s a plus. In terms of hands, Leo was given gripping hands, open hands, and thumb’s up hands. He doesn’t get the finger-pointing hands, but more importantly, his gripping hands are the same as Raph and Don. In the 1:12 line, NECA actually created three different sets of gripping hands: standard with horizontal hinge, standard with vertical hinge, and a wider gripping hand so that Raph can be posed with the middle tyne of his sai in between his fingers. For the quarter scale line, NECA apparently chose to only adopt the wide gripping hand. I expected this figure to come with new gripping hands with a vertical hinge because the 1:12 version has them and the quarter scale movie Leonardo has them as well (the 7″ movie Leo unfortunately does not). It sucks because NECA is obviously aware of which hand works best for a sword wielder like Leonardo (I’d argue the vertical hinge is also appropriate for Raph and Mikey with only Donatello benefitting from a horizontal hinge), but it’s frustratingly inconsistent in its approach. The recent Hudson figure from the Gargoyles line has it, but a character like Usagi Yojimbo does not. Make it make sense! And for $125 for a figure requiring minimal new tooling, it feels like something that we should have got here.
As for accessories beyond the optional parts, we have the customary swords. They’re the same shape as the 1:12 version, just upscaled. They appear to be sculpted in white with painted handles. The one benefit of Leo having Raph’s more specialized gripping hands is that the handles of the swords fit easily into them. It’s also helped by the fact that the hands are fairly pliable. This means there’s less chance for paint rub on the hands, which is not something that can be said of the sheaths on the rear of the figure. The fit for the swords is a tight one, especially the sheath on the bottom. And you will get some paint rub onto the nice, white, blades so maybe don’t even bother. I got the top sword through with minimal rub while the bottom one lead to a lot. I used a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to get most of the brown off of the blade, but I don’t ever plan on sheathing these again. If it’s something you must do, then maybe heat the sheaths with a hair dryer first and see if that helps. Aside from the swords, Leo just has the same two slices of pizza which can key into the slices that came with the other figures. He also has a communicator which opens and closes just like Raph and Don and he has one paper good. It’s a newspaper or magazine titled Crimestoppers Weekly. It’s fine and obviously something that’s cheap to include.
The articulation for Leo is the exact same as the other two figures, so I don’t feel like I need to get into it. I just want to highlight that, unlike the 1:12 figures, these quarter scale figures have double-jointed elbows. The elbow pad pegs into the center part of the elbow and you actually get decent range there, a bit past 90 degrees. The joints are pretty tight overall though and I had issues with the biceps swivel and thigh twists. The biceps just required some additional effort as I just needed to make sure I got some leverage on the shoulder before twisting. The thigh swivel is much harder to get at since these figures have legs that pin into the crotch piece. That’s because they need to be ratcheted to support the figure’s weight, but it makes it quite difficult to get any leverage on that thigh twist. Both are stuck and attempting to twist them just stresses that peg in the hip and could easily lead to an unfortunate break. There’s some traces of lubrication at the joint, but it apparently wasn’t applied well enough. I had the same issue with Raph, bt Donatello had a lot of lubricating oil in there and I was able to twist his thighs without issue. I assumed it was all solved, but Leo is like Raph unfortunately. I haven’t been able to get them to move and I’m guessing I never will.
Giant Sized Leonardo is a throwback sort of figure with modern engineering. If you have the other two, you basically know what to expect. Because of the lack of vertical hinges on his gripping hands, I might have to consider this figure the worst of the 3 given the issues with the thighs. It paints me to admit that since Leonardo is my favorite, so subjectively I like this figure more than the other two, but there are certainly some disappointments. If that is not an issue for you then you’ll probably be content. And if you have the other two then you basically already know if you want this or not. Had Leo been the first figure out in this line I might have been able to just go one and done with my favorite turtle in this scale, but since I started with Raph I pretty much have to have all four now. As for when that will happen, who knows? Michelangelo has yet to go up for solicitation, though a finished sample was present in a recent interview The Fwoosh conducted with NECA’s Trevor Zammit so I have to assume it’s either in production or in line to go into production. Which isn’t surprising since it’s the same figure as the other three. Leonardo started showing up last fall, the place I ordered it from seemed to get it in last, so maybe Mikey will show up on a similar timeline. I’m anxious to see how they do his nunchaku in this scale and to see if he comes with any extras. It will be nice to finally have all four together when that day comes.
My first NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles product was the original release of the Mirage Studios quartet released in 2008. Nearly a decade went by before I bought another TMNT product from NECA, and that item ended up being the quarter scale movie Donatello. It was love at first sight for me and Donnie, and…
2022 has been a year of catch-up so far for me. A lot of stuff I preordered a year or more ago is finally coming due, and often without the actual preorder! The NECA quarter scale toon Donatello from the classic cartoon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is yet another preorder that just didn’t get…
NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen. The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line…
It was in 2021 that Hasbro released a PulseCon exclusive Venom figure on a Spider-Man retro card. The retro card series is meant to stir-up nostalgia for all of the adults who were buying toys and watching cartoons in the 90s as the retro card is a facsimile of the old cards Toy Biz used to utilize. The cards were for the Spider-Man tie-in series of toys that went along with the cartoon series of the same name. Airing on Fox Kids, Spider-Man was a natural follow-up to X-Men as it featured arguably Marvel’s most popular and recognizable hero in a starring role. The X-Men animated series did wonders to help boost the profile of Marvel’s mutants, and the Spider-Man cartoon essentially did the same. The retro card series that Hasbro launched just a few years ago often had some overlap with that cartoon, but they weren’t necessarily cartoon-specific sculpts. The exclusive Venom was different in that it contained two, new, headsculpts clearly modeled after Venom from the show. Plus, it featured his unusual shading from the show of light blue on one side and red on the other.
2022 saw Hasbro double-down on the retro releases as it launched the X-Men Animated Series subline of Marvel Legends. While we can certainly debate how hard the company actually went in to trying to recreate the characters as they appeared in the show, the line did try to showcase those characters with some animation specific shading and (in some cases) sculpts. The line must have been successful because Hasbro is doing the same in 2023 only with Spider-Man as the featured series. Why now? I don’t know. The X-Men line coincided with the show’s 30th anniversary and it would have made sense to do the same for Spider-Man in 2024, but Hasbro is apparently far too eager to wait another year. The show is getting the same treatment in that it’s likely to be reused sculpts with some shading added and it’s all packaged in a box designed to mimic a VHS release. The first set, as they’re apparently going with two-packs for now, won’t be out for a few more months, but we essentially got a preview to close-out 2022 in the form of an exclusive Spider-Man sent to Walmart. This Spider-Man is sold on a retro card designed to resemble the old Web Racer Spider-Man toy from the 90s. The image is essentially the same, but since there wasn’t much in the way of preservation for those old cards it had to be redone and has been lovingly recreated by artist Harry Moore. This time, Spidey is fully posable and doesn’t have a string running through him. It’s a new sculpt, though not a unique sculpt, and most importantly it features a cel-shaded paint job to fit-in with the previously released Venom.
Let’s get it out of the way upfront: Walmart sucks. This guy went up for preorder in July, but before a single figure was shipped it started showing up in stores in early December or late November. It showed up in tiny quantities though, apparently just 2 per store, and it was a bastard of a release to track down as a result. It also never showed up in Walmart’s app or website as in-stock, so it was a total shot in the dark to go looking for one during the busy, holiday, rush. As for those preorders, that’s how I got mine, but several are still waiting and with the listing being dropped from Walmart’s website it sure looks like a lot of folks are heading for a cancellation. It’s great that they made sure to send product to stores first, rather than take care of the orders they already took-in months ago. And if you are lucky and like me and manage to get one shipped from Walmart, expect it to come packed in a foil envelope likely beat to hell once it arrives. The cardback on mine is dinged-up pretty well, plus the plastic bubble was cracked and broken. I’m not a mint-on-card collector, but I know a lot of people are with these retro cards and plenty more like to double-dip to keep one carded and one opened. To those folks, best of luck. You’re going to need it.
Once opened Spidey stands at a tick over 6″. This sculpt is apparently the same as the first appearance Spider-Man also released in 2022 in the new style of packaging. It’s a pinless body and it’s notable because it’s a smaller Spider-Man. He’s well-defined, but not as bulky as the other new Spider-Man body from this year released in the Renew Your Vows two-pack. This is probably Hasbro’s best Spider-Man body to date. I’m certainly not an expert as I only dabble in Marvel Legends, but it’s much better than the Web-Man and Symbiote figures I do have. It still has its problems, which we’ll go over, but just overall has a nice shape. The smallish Legends shoulders aren’t laughably small here and most of all I just like this shade of blue that’s in use. It’s a light blue, shaded with a darker blue, and it just captures the look of the character from the era. I get more of an 80s vibe if anything from the color combo, but it’s fine as an animated version too, though I’d argue his blue was actually darker in the show. The only thing about the sculpt I don’t like is the head. It’s a little big, plus it feels pinched in the front. I don’t know why it’s not more round as it doesn’t even look like a human face could make this shape. It’s a shame, because the eye shape is nice and it’s pretty well-painted. Many have complained that web lines on their figure are off-center. Mine is, but it’s small. You can see it by looking at the hexagonal shape in the middle as one side touches the tip of the eye lens while the other does not.
The overall paint job strikes me as pretty much par for the course with Hasbro. There’s a lot of colored plastic in use which leads to issues of color-matching. The red on the chest is noticeably darker than the red on the arms and feet. That’s because one is painted, and one is red plastic. The edges are also not crisp and clean as my figure has a blemish on its right pectoral which is a rather lousy place for such an imperfection to exist. There are little instances of that throughout the figure, though not in a large number at least. The web lines mostly look good though with a defined curve to them rather than a boxy look which tends to happen. Both spider logos are nice and clean, and the pinless body is a welcomed addition as there’s no unsightly red dot on the inner arm any longer. There is one eyesore on the back of the figure where Hasbro didn’t continue the red paint of his belt area far enough so when he crunches forward you end up with a section of blue instead. Normally, not a big deal, but Spider-Man is a character who is known for deep crunches so here it’s not acceptable. The cel-shading is what it is. For Hasbro, this is one of their better applications of it. There’s some linework on the torso in black to highlight the musculature and the shading goes under the pecs. The rest of the shading is reserved for the inner arms, as they apparently wanted to avoid shading red areas as much as possible, and inner right thigh and outer left. There’s also a hit on both boots and the inner arm shading continues onto the gloves a tiny bit. Does it make a ton of sense? No, they’re clearly going in a haphazard manner. I think it looks fine on the torso while the inner arms are kind of “meh.” The thighs and boots don’t bother me. It is what it is and you know if you like it or not at this point. And if you want to remove it, good luck. It’s paint on top of paint where the arms are concerned so it won’t be easy to just wipe away. And where it goes over the web-lines you’re basically screwed. You would be better off just repainting the whole thing. At least for Hasbro, this one is probably better than all of the X-Men releases with only Sinister perhaps being better. Venom was pretty good too for what he is so maybe these Spider-Man releases will just plain be better than what we saw with the X-Men?
Articulation for a Spider-Man figure is rather important, and I was a little let down by the other Spideys I have. This one is better. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it’s a step in the right direction. The head is still on a ball and hinge so it looks up and down rather well and can rotate, but lacks much in the way of nuance posing. The shoulders are ball-hinged and they raise out to the side just fine, though it does expose the red hinge underneath which is set against the blue of the armpit which is one eyesore not solved by pinless tech. The butterfly joint provides more range back than it does forward, but it’s not a tremendous eyesore so I consider that a win for a Hasbro butterfly joint (and if you want more range, there’s a popular mod for doing so that may apply to this figure as well, just search for it on YouTube). There’s a biceps swivel which does what it needs to do and double-jointed elbows. I cannot get the top hinge on either arm to budge though so I am presently only getting a 90 degree bend (after the review, I did resort to the hot water trick and got it going, though it’s still pretty tight). Hopefully this isn’t a widespread issue. The wrists rotate and hinge horizontally on all hands. In the torso, we have a diaphragm joint which allows for some forward and back, but is mostly good for rotation and tilt which it does rather well. There’s a lot of painted stuff here though, so do be careful. At the waist is the ab crunch which goes forward and back plenty far. Missing is a waist twist which makes me wonder if a ball-peg would have worked better in place of the ab crunch. At the hips, we have ball and socket joints which still can’t quite hit a split. This is Spider-Man, Hasbro! Why can’t he do splits? He can at least kick forward a reasonable amount, but not back. There’s a thigh cut there, double-jointed knees which work better than the elbows, a boot cut, and a hinge and ankle rocker combo at the ankle. All of that stuff works well with no gummy-ness to the joints. I know some would like a toe-hinge, but I don’t really care if it’s here or not. He can hit some good Spidey poses though with the only real disappointment being those hips and my stuck elbows.
That’s where the good stuff ends as when it comes to accessories Hasbro loves to disappoint. Spider-Man comes with three sets of hands: fists, wall-crawling, and thwip hands. That’s basically the standard, Spidey, assortment, but some gripping hands would be nice. I suppose they’re not needed though since he doesn’t come with a web-line to grip. Instead, he has two web splat effects, one bigger than the other. They’re all white and made of a pliable plastic, but they don’t really do anything. I guess you can toss one onto a villain’s face? They’re more like window-dressing parts and what I would prefer to have is an actual webline or something from the show like his web backpack. These things are just useless.
If you want to get your hands on this guy, I guess all you can do for now is monitor Walmart to see if the listing returns. Their exclusive Black Series Holiday Scout Trooper recently showed up at Big Bad Toy Store so maybe this Spider-Man will too? Otherwise, it’s the secondary market at this point where this thing will cost a lot more than the $27 Walmart was charging. As is the case with virtually all Marvel Legends these days, this one isn’t exactly worth it, but if you have that Venom or really loved watching this show as a kid then you may feel a strong pull towards this guy. And in that case, it’s a price that can be accepted. At 50 or 60 bucks? Ehh, I wouldn’t do it. With Hasbro launching a dedicated Spider-Man line in 2023 it seems highly unlikely that this will remain a Walmart exclusive forever. After all, how can you do a Spider-Man line that doesn’t feature Spider-Man in red and blue? Hasbro does some stupid things, like not finishing the 92 X-Men team, but I don’t think they’re dumb enough to let this figure remain a Walmart exclusive. My assumption is there will be a VHS re-release with different accessories. It’s possible it will be on a different mold, but I don’t think they’ll go through that trouble. It’s a good Spidey though, probably Hasbro’s best, so when that re-release does happen (or this mold gets a comic release in this shade of blue) I would suggest jumping on it unless you absolutely hate the cel-shading. And if that’s the case, there’s the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends three-pack that has a Spidey from that show on this body with no cel-shading. It’s probably every bit as good as this one, perhaps better if you prefer your Spidey with a darker blue, but it costs $75 and comes with a decent Firestar and an absolute dumpster fire of an Iceman. That set would have been right in my nostalgia wheelhouse if they didn’t blow it so hard on Iceman, my favorite member of the X-Men when I was a kid. Hasbro just can’t make things easy for Spider-Man fans.
More from the world of Spider-Man and Marvel Legends:
When I was a kid, my dad took me to some local convention or trade show. I have no idea why because my dad wasn’t the type who would go to such an event. He liked car shows, but from what I can remember this was more of a hobby show. It was early in…
One of the most iconic costumes in the world of superheroes is definitely that of Spider-Man. I put that classic red and blue with webbed detailing right up there with Superman and Batman. I would argue that there’s no more iconic costume in the world of Marvel than Spidey’s, and the crazy thing with Spider-Man…
The toyline of my dreams was announced last October. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the television series X-Men, Hasbro is doing a dedicated line of Marvel Legends with figures based on the look of the show. The show was obviously inspired by the designs of Jim Lee, but there are differences in the…
I wasn’t sure he would make it in time, but Hasbro managed to ship Cyclops before the end of the year. Cyclops marks the final figure (for now) in Hasbro’s X-Men animated series subline of Marvel Legends. It has been…a ride. What was once a dream line of mine to see brought to fruition, turned into something less. I won’t go so far as to get overly dramatic and juxtapose dream line with nightmare, but basically nearly every negative thought I had going into it came true. I don’t have a high opinion of Hasbro to begin with, but they are a giant toy maker that is pretty good at getting out a decent product at a good price. It’s just in 2022, most of those things have stopped being true. There’s been a reduction in quality, content, and it’s been paired with a rising price. Initially, I tried to be positive about a line based on the show X-Men. We had those Into the Spider-Verse figures to use as examples of what Hasbro is capable of when it decides to base their design’s on a particular source material, but the company chose not to do that with this line. Instead, we got previously released comic book figures with a dash of cel-shading and little in the way of new tooling or accessories. The line is best qualified as lazy, and I hate to use that word because I know there are people who work at Hasbro who are anything but lazy. The direction of the line has sucked. It’s been inconsistent, underwhelming, and yet, I’m still sad to see it end. To a degree. I want the company to just finish the main cast so I can take a step back and assess what we have, but that’s been put on pause with no guarantee of anything past this figure.
Given all of that, there’s at least a chance that Hasbro saved the best for last. Prior releases of Jean, Storm, Jubilee, Mr. Sinister, and Mystique have basically been of the straight repaint variety with varying results. Mystique and Storm got new hair parts, while Wolverine got a new head and hands. Morph has been the only new figure, though in Marvel Legends fashion, his body is mostly reused from past figures. He did get to debut new legs which were re-tooled to allow for his thigh and boot straps to be keyed in and it’s a part that’s going to be reused quite a bit in the figures to follow. Like this one! Cyclops, like Morph, is a mix of old and new. His costume is based on the show, which was based on the costume Jim Lee designed for the character during his run. It’s been a bit of a challenge to get this costume to look nice in plastic because of the unusual belt. Cyclops has a belt that goes up and over both shoulders, but only attaches to the waist at one spot on the rear and front. It’s sort of like a pair of suspenders, except one side of the belt has been clipped to the other side instead of the waist. It’s pretty goofy, but it’s been around over 30 years now so it seems pretty ordinary as a result. It just stinks for a toy-maker like Hasbro which wants to reuse the main body of its figures and add belts onto it, but past attempts have made the end result look ugly and chunky. Not to mention it can make any articulation in the torso seem pointless.
That’s why, like Morph, Hasbro decided to re-tool some parts to better accommodate the belt. The torso for Cyclops, which I think is the same as Vulcan, has been modified slightly so that the belt can now key-in like the straps on the thighs and boots. This means the belt no longer has to be one continuous piece, it’s actually “broken” at the ab crunch, but when the figure bends it creates the illusion that the belt is sliding around, but really it doesn’t move. The bottom piece of the belt just gets hidden by the ab crunch with no gap visible between the top and bottom piece. Is it totally seamless? No, but it’s an action figure and it needs to articulate and short of just making the belt part of the sculpt, this is probably the best solution. And by keying it in, it sits closer to flush with the rest of the costume. It’s not as chunky and awkward looking, and it’s easy to see why Legends collectors more interested in the comic line are excited for this release because you know Cyclops is likely to get re-released there. Possibly on a retro card or something.
Hasbro did some actual tooling and it’s for the better. Sadly, that’s a pretty major development for this line as standards are pretty low at this point. And it’s not all, as Cyclops has a new head and his gloves might be new as well since they’re a little different from other figures released on this buck thus far. And just taking him at face value, he looks fine. Maybe even good. The head seems a little too big for the body as superheroes (especially from this era and the show) tend to have smaller than normal heads. The shoulders still sit too low and the chest could use more mass. Cyclops is a big dude, and this figure doesn’t really capture that perfectly, but it does so better than before. There’s also an eyesore on this guy on the forearms. Vulcan has long gloves that go up his forearms and Hasbro decided to sculpt in a groove where that glove ends and the paint stops. Cyclops has short gloves and apparently Hasbro blew the budget for tooling on the torso modifications because they didn’t do the same for the forearms. It feels especially cheap because surely there are other figures who would benefit from forearms without that line? It’s so frustrating how Hasbro will go halfway to deliver an accurate product, but stop short of something so simple.
The major talking point of this line has and likely always will be the cel-shading. Again, I reiterate that I like cel-shading when it makes sense. I think figures seeking to emulate a specific look benefit from the effect, but only if it’s done well. This line has been an example of how not to do it well. It’s been applied in a cheap and lazy fashion. Cyclops really isn’t any different, but by virtue of much of the figure being cast in a dark blue, it’s not as bad. The darker blue used to shade the main body, arms, and legs looks good. A better figure still would have used three colors for the shading, but here it’s acceptable. The yellow parts still look terrible. They’ve been using this gold, mustard, color for the yellow which matches no source material I’ve ever seen, comic or show, but expecting them to change at this point would be equally stupid. It’s also applied the same as it was on Morph for the boots which includes this goofy, wavy, line on the right foot that makes no sense. The belt on his torso has almost no shading, so it really stands out as just being bare plastic, but the trunks and waist have a little. It’s still not good, but it’s not the worst we’ve seen in the line (that honor rests with Jubilee), but it is as expected so at least they’re consistent?
If this line has a strength (aside from the very well done box art by Dan Veesenmeyer) it rests in the articulation as it’s been pretty solid. I think at this point that’s the main strength for Marvel Legends given the changes brought this year. Cyclops still uses the ball-hinge head which works fine and his design doesn’t introduce any elements that would hinder the range up there so that is good. The shoulders are hinged and come out to horizontal just fine, rotate, and we get a biceps swivel that does what it does. There’s a butterfly joint in each shoulder that works well enough, though the left one will be hindered a bit by the chest strap. The elbows are pinless and double-jointed and he can bend his arm past 90 degrees. Even though we have that “cut” on the forearm, there’s no articulation there. It only exists to be ugly. The wrists swivel and hinge in typical fashion. In the torso, there’s an ab crunch that’s rather stubborn on my figure, though that seems to be unique to mine. It works, but bending him back makes him look pregnant or like he has a beer belly. The waist rotates as one would expect. At the hips, we have ball and socket joints and he can spread his legs enough, not a full split, but enough for Cyclops. He kicks forward just fine, not really back, and we have the usual thigh cut. A lot of people remain unhappy with the placement of these straps and how high they are, but I couldn’t possibly care less about that. The knees are double-jointed and bend past 90 and we get a boot cut below the straps. It’s ugly, but you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to. The ankles hinge forward and back enough plus they have a rocker. I’ve seen more than one person have issues with the ankle rocker snapping. It does feel a tad gummy, and even though these are the same feet as what we saw with Morph, the ones on Cyclops feel different. Just be careful. This guy is going to do what he needs. It’s disappointing that the ab crunch results in such an ugly look for the figure considering this is a mold Hasbro intends to reuse over and over, but it is what it is.
What is not a strong suit for this line has been the accessory count and Cyclops is no different. He doesn’t even get a second head. The only other items in the box are a set of open hands and a two-finger pointing right hand designed to be used with his visor or his X communicator. There’s no effect parts or anything like that which feels pretty damn cheap.They’ve done Cyclops effects in the past, but I guess they wouldn’t work here. For 28 bucks, he really should have a second head that includes a blast. The fact that the Mr. Sinister figure in this wave was a straight re-paint with no accessories should have created enough savings for the entire line to get a decent spread. The open hands are also reused from Morph (and likely from other figures) and, like the gripping hands we saw shoehorned into the Wolverine set, are sculpted to be bare hands so he has sculpted fingernails and it looks rather silly. Again, Hasbro couldn’t see a benefit with multiple figures of creating a gloved, open, hand? We’re moving well beyond “cheap” with some of these shortcuts.
Did Hasbro save the best for last? I wouldn’t go that far. I still think, given that this is a line of figures supposed to be based on the animated series, that Wolverine remains the best. He got two new heads which both look like they came from the show plus a fun little toss-in accessory in the form of the picture frame. Cyclops is sort of in a tie with Sinister and Morph. I can see arguments for all 3. Sinister is the most on-model, but also the biggest rip-off in many ways in the line given how little Hasbro had to put into it. Morph gets bonus points for just being Morph, but there was really no imagination put into that figure and the default portrait really looks nothing like the character from the show. As has been the case with most of these, Cyclops is a figure of half-measures. Hasbro did some good, but also did some bad, and the bad is mostly in what they chose not to do. His proportions are still iffy, but that seems to be a problem with Legends in general while the forearm thing is just annoying and it makes it look like Hasbro has zero pride in their product. Cyclops, like basically every release in this line, is a terrible value and I can pull up several other figures from different companies in a similar price-point that actually justify their cost. Nothing from Hasbro of late in the Marvel Legends line does that, but we keep buying it so it’s not likely to change.
Given all of that, I actually find myself really drawn to this Cyclops. I’ve always loved this look for him and that combo of a rich, royal, blue with yellow just does it form. There’s a ton of nostalgia at play here which has made this figure hard to put down. Certainly if you’ve been collecting this line you’re not going to stop before you get to Cyclops unless you’re just so dissatisfied that you’re bailing all-together and selling everything off. For what this line has been, he’s good, but overall he’s more fine than good. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about any of these. If you would like to add Cyclops to your shelf he’s available on Pulse and should be available at some point on ShopDisney. He’ll set you back 28 bucks plus shipping, but once he’s gone it’s unclear if he (or any of the figures in this line) will receive another production run. Some have already started to sell out so you may not want to sleep on it. At the same time, this is the last release in the line for now with no, true, assurances that it will continue. Hasbro called it a “pause” so that it could focus on doing figures from the Spider-Man 90s cartoon, but it’s not like they’re obligated to continue it. My guess is that it’s still under consideration, but if the figures sell out then it’s more likely they return to it. This clearly hasn’t been an expensive line to produce, so any hurdle it has to clear performance wise may not be very big. I think they just wanted to space out some of the retro card releases like Rogue, Gambit, and the new Beast a bit more before tackling them for this line. We’ll probably know the fate of this one come this time next year (likely a little earlier as I imagine PulseCon is where we’ll find out), but as always, buyer beware if you feel you need the team to be complete to feel satisfied. I am, for better or worse, all-in with this line so if more come you can be sure I’ll cover them. And if you just want more animated X-Men figures to talk about, I did order the Mondo Magneto so the discussion isn’t over with 2022.
More from the world of X-Men: The Animated Series:
The toyline of my dreams was announced last October. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the television series X-Men, Hasbro is doing a dedicated line of Marvel Legends with figures based on the look of the show. The show was obviously inspired by the designs of Jim Lee, but there are differences in the…
This week, the long wait for an in-person San Diego Comic Con comes to an end. For the first time since 2019, attendees, creators, and the like will be invited back into the city of San Diego for a celebration of all things comics, movies, and general “nerd” culture. One of the many panels this…
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…
Happy Boxing Day! It’s been a minute, but we’re back with another figure in NECA’s line of action figures based on the 90s cartoon/property Gargoyles – Hudson! Hudson, who was wonderfully brought to life by the late Ed Asner, was always my favorite character in the show. He’s basically the old veteran of the group. A bit surly, and at his happiest in a comfy chair with his TV and pal Bronx at his side. Though don’t mistake that for Hudson being some useless old geezer. When he’s called upon he’s still a ferocious warrior. Armed with his curved sword, he may not be the warrior he was in his youth, but he won’t back down from a fight. His biggest contribution to the Manhattan Clan though is his wisdom as Goliath often seeks his advice before rushing headlong into a confrontation. There’s no doubt about it, Hudson is pretty damn cool and I’ve been looking forward to this release for awhile. I just had to wait, because he was originally scheduled for release in September, which became October, and you get the idea. I actually ended up finding this guy at an FYE. At first, I was turned off by their inflated price, but eventually I came back and wound up walking out with him. The damage was $47 plus tax, probably close to $10 more if I could have found him at Walmart where he showed up in very small quantities weeks ago, but it’s only $5 more than the preorder I had secured so I figured the extra five bucks was worth it to have the figure now and not have to ship later.
Hudson comes in an oversized Ultimates styled box since he’s a pretty big boy. The cover of the box features some impressive artwork of Hudson by Djordje Djokovic with paint by Emiliano Santalucia. Hudson looks like he’s striking a ferocious pose or emerging from his stone state and it’s actually a bit festive as there’s snow falling around him. The rest of the box contains product shots of the figure plus a cross-sell of the rest of the line which includes headshots of the unreleased Lexington, Broadway, and Brooklyn. Once out of the box, Hudson feels pretty similar to the other figures we’ve seen in this line, except for Bronx, obviously. Posing him in a natural, gargoyle, stance puts the figure at about 7.5″ with his knees bent and standing on his toes. Some assembly is required, as was the case with the others, as both the tail and the wings need to be attached to the figure. Neither is particularly hard. I had to work the tail in deliberately, but once in it felt secure. The wings just snap into place and it can be done with the figure’s head on or off. The hair gets in the way a little, but it can be flexed out of the way without much trouble.
With the figure assembled, I will just come out and say that this is the best release in the line so far. Hudson looks fantastic and, like Bronx, retains a lot of his animated look. For Hudson, I attribute that more to the fact that he wears more clothes so there was little where the NECA sculptor (Djokovic) could freelance by adding more musculature like we saw with Goliath. The default portrait is a stoic, or neutral, expression for Hudson. His eyes have visible pupils, with the left eye being blinded and colored yellow, and his mouth is set in something close to a scowl. It is undeniably Hudson and the quality of the sculpt is impressive. Equally impressive is the paint as it’s all nice and clean. His beard and hair are sculpted in white but have been brushed with gray and a hit of silver in places. The crispness of the ridges on his brow, around the nose, the lines under his eyes, are just awesome, for lack of a better word. And the rest of the sculpt is just as good. His clothing has a nice texture to it, the paint is really clean all over. There’s shading, the straps on his calves are nice and clean, the buckles and studs are all painted, and it just looks like no expense was spared. The wings are unique to Hudson. Yes, they’re still spread wide open so the shelf space needed to display him is immense, but they do look good. There’s shading on the wings and he has some tattered parts of the membrane with some holds in there to reflect a long, hard, life. If I’m going to nitpick the presentation at all, the tail is still bland looking as they do the tails in rubber with a bendy wire. There’s no texture or anything to it, but it’s also positioned behind the figure at all times. And the feet don’t look as good as the rest of the figure because there’s no paint wash on them. They just stand out a little as looking flat, but like I said, it’s a nitpick. This figure is gorgeous and once again makes NECA look like an outlier in the toy world right now, but in a good way. Hasbro is an outlier in a bady way as their prices seem rather high and the quality of the product low compared with their peers. Meanwhile, NECA is out here with prices not much different (I paid $47, but this guy should be $37 or $38) selling figures with mostly new tools, tons of paint, and plenty of accessories. They are the best deal in town right now.
And we should talk about those accessories. Hudson isn’t loaded, but he has enough. He comes with fist hands in the package, but NECA also includes a set of open hands, a loose gripping left hand, a tight gripping right hand, and a tight gripping right hand with a vertical hinge. That last hand is to be used with his sword, which like the figure, is gorgeous. The blade has it’s unique shape we’re used to and it’s nice and thick and sturdy and comes to a point, safety measures be damned. There’s some intricate carving on both sides of the blade plus some sculpted weathering and damage to the blade customary of one that’s seen use for centuries or however long Hudson has lived. The texture is great and the paint has a silver finish to it to go along with the brown hilt with gold handguard. It looks perfect, and Hudson even has a loop in his belt to store it when he’s not brandishing the weapon. Lastly, we have an alternate head which is customary for this line as we need a neutral face and a battle face. The gargoyles all see their eyes go white and glow when they’re in battle and that’s what Hudson’s secondary face reflects. His mouth is open and both eyes are white. They have a pearl finish to create the illusion that they’re glowing and the quality of the sculpt and paint is every bit as good, if not better, than the default portrait. Talk about a homerun. And all of these parts are easy to swap so there’s a lot of fun to be had with the display options here.
This figure feels damn near perfect, which means we’ve saved the worst part of it for last and that’s the articulation. Articulation hasn’t been a strong point for this line so far, and Hudson can be categorized as more of the same. The head is on a double-ball peg, but because he has long hair and a long beard, it’s pretty locked down no matter which head you use. There’s some flex to the hair, but that’s more for positioning the wings than anything. He can basically look left and right a bit, but not much more. The shoulders are ball-hinged and they’re limited by his shoulder pads which are a very, hard, plastic. He can only rotate as much as those will allow, but he can raise his arms out to the side just about horizontal. There is a biceps swivel and the double-jointed elbow works very well, though is a little unsightly when bent past 90 degrees. The wrists rotate and hinge and I already mentioned he does have the correct hinge direction for his sword hand, so that’s great. In the torso, there’s a diaphragm joint that mostly allows for some rotation. He can go back a little there which is good for some lunging and flying poses, but he can’t really go forward and there’s not much tilt. There’s a waist twist below that and the hips are the standard ball and socket joint. Hudson can damn near hit a split and he kicks forward pretty far and back pretty far. There is a thigh twist and the knee joint swivels and bend, but because of the unusual gargoyle anatomy, the range isn’t terrific. There is an ankle joint past that which contains a ratcheted hinge which is nice because they need to be strong. The joint also has a rocker and past that is the toe hinge which is what the figure is supposed to stand on. That hinge works fine and it has a little rocker action to it as well. The tail is on a ball hinge like the shoulders and it’s bendy so you can move it around a bit and also utilize it to support the figure in a stance. The wings are ball-hinged too so they can rotate and flap. They still make that scary, loud, clicking sound, but I’m happy to report no looseness like we saw with Demona.
Hudson’s articulation is limited, but I think it’s probably good enough. NECA clearly prioritizes the aesthetic of its figures and Hudson is certainly proof of that. His biggest posing limitations are the shoulders and what the wings bring to the table. It’s been said before, and it will be said again, that the things are an issue. Each figure just takes up too much room and packaging caped wings with other figures is too slow a delivery method. And if a character ever called for those wings, it’s Hudson. I wish he could assume a proper seated pose, but the legs kick out a bit too much. He could sit in a recliner, but not with these wings. I don’t know what it would cost to add a secondary pair of wings to each release, but whatever it is, I’d likely pay it because these guys are really hard to fit onto a shelf together.
Hudson may not be the most dynamic release, but he’s still a damn good one. He’s easily my favorite in the line so far and I am absolutely floored by some of the aspects of this figure. The sculpt is as close to perfect as I think NECA could get at this price point. The paint is terrific and is an area so many companies (charging more for their figures) skimp on, but NECA seems pretty insistent on painting every inch of their figures and they look great as a result. I don’t know if they’ll top this one, I don’t think I can even expect them to, but I am excited to see more and I am definitely excited to one day have the entire Manhattan Clan assembled on my shelf. Though right now, it’s looking like I’ll need multiple shelves to fit them all.
Check out more of NECA’s Gargoyles line of action figures!
Well, here’s something different. Bronx, the good gargoyle dog, is NECA’s fourth entry in its relatively young line of action figures based on the beloved Disney Afternoon series Gargoyles. And not only is Bronx here all on his own, he’s also got something for his buddy Goliath that collectors of this line have been begging…
When NECA launched it’s line of action figures based on Disney’s Gargoyles, it seemed to imply that Demona would be figure number 2. She was not. That honor went to Thailog, the Goliath clone, and that might have had something to do with the many factory delays and shipping woes that were impacting the entire…
It was nearly 6 months ago that NECA unveiled one of its newest licenses for 2021: Gargoyles! I was incredibly pumped at the time to see that NECA had acquired Gargoyles because the license had so much potential. The show was basically a cult hit in the 90s often characterized as Disney’s answer to Batman:…
Welcome to Christmas Day 2022! We made it another year and another long year is ahead of us until we make it back, but right now, it’s time to celebrate! And in keeping with the theme of this year’s countdown, we are once again looking at another much beloved Christmas special on this day. Before we start, here’s a pop quiz: What is considered the first televised Christmas Special? If you said Rudolph or Charlie Brown you are incorrect because it’s actually Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. I don’t have any particular affection for Mr. Magoo or that special, but I give credit where it’s due. The special I think that is most responsible for the specials to follow though is the one we’re talking about today and that’s the stop-motion, Rankin/Bass, classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
When I was a kid, Rudolph was the favorite special of most of the children my age, myself included. Over the years it has fallen some for me, but I still acknowledge it as the titan of Christmas that it is. It’s basically outlasted its peers in that it’s still broadcast annually on a major network, a distinction only Frosty can lay claim to now that the Peanuts gang has been banished to streaming. It popularized the special format and it’s likely we wouldn’t have a lot of what followed had it failed and I wonder if we would even know the name Rankin/Bass. When the special went into production, the company was feeling pretty tapped out thanks to its Tales of the Wizard of Oz television series and TV special Return to Oz. NBC and General Electric wanted a Christmas special for 1964 though, and Rankin/Bass was selected to make that happen. Romeo Muller, who is a name that appears many times in Rankin/Bass credits, wrote the teleplay for this one based on the Johnny Marks song which was itself based on a concept created by his brother-in-law, Robert L. May. The story for how May ended up getting the rights to Rudolph is an interesting one, but to keep things brief since we have another hour long special to cover, he created the character for the department store Montgomery Ward and they ended up giving him the rights for free when they thought the fad had passed. It’s a rare example of a big corporation being nice to one of its employees, but I bet in corporate circles it’s relayed as a cautionary tale to stress the importance of not having a conscience when dealing with work-for-hire creations.
The special was produced in 1964 using stop-motion technology. The Burl Ives character of Sam the Snowman would be the last thing added as the network wanted a recognizable name to attach to the project. Since no one really predicted the impact this would have, or the rise of video at home, a lot of the puppets and sets were lost or destroyed. As was some of the footage as the special would go through changes and edits over the years. In 1965, the song “Fame and Fortune” was added at the expense of “We’re a Couple of Misfits” and the resolution of the film which answers what character Yukon Cornelius is looking for is cut in favor of a new scene showing Santa Claus visiting the Island of Misfit Toys. Some of these things have been added back, some have not, and some have been, but also kind of half-assed. I’ll try to cover it as we go. And just like several entries this year, my screen shots and write-up are based on the 1987 broadcast of the special preserved for all time on my beloved Christmas Tape. I probably have several thousand words still ahead of me, so let’s stop with the preamble and get right down to it.
The special begins with a bunch of newspapers on the screen and a blizzard effect over them. Some big storm has taken place or will, and it undoubtedly features into the plot of this one because the last headline we see is “Foul Weather May Postpone Christmas!” After it dissipates some serene music filters in and we see a far less harsh environment before us. It’s a snow-covered setting and several trees dot the landscape. Waddling, sliding, shuffling, whatever – in comes Sam Snowman (Burl Ives). It’s difficult to describe how he moves because he has no legs. He’s like a snowman you would construct yourself out of three, large, snowballs. Though he still looks better than any snowman I’ve ever made. He’s also undoubtedly made to resemble Ives who also was the only actor in this thing to receive residuals based on it since the rest were a bunch of no-names from Canada. Ives made a lot of money off of Rudolph, while the actual voice of Rudolph basically got a check and a “thanks!”
Sam welcomes us to Christmas Town and wants to tell us about how lovely it is. As he makes his way through the scenery, the trees go from being covered with snow to being covered with snow, ornaments, and garland. It’s a Christmas tree forest, and apparently we’re supposed to think they grow like this? I’m not sure. There’s also some seals playing with wrapped presents that are just hanging around. He mentions how the number one residents up here are the Clauses, and points out a castle on the left where the couple apparently resides. We get a peek in there too of a skinny Santa (Stan Francis) sitting at a long table with some rather unappetizing purple food before him. Mrs. Claus (Peg Dixon) is encouraging him to eat and apparently Christmas for Santa is sort of like the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. He’s force-fed like a Christmas goose by his wife so as to present a jolly, fat, man come the big day which really makes no sense since he’s not supposed to be seen.
Sam assures us that we shouldn’t worry, Santa will be plenty fat for Christmas, but I’m honestly more worried about the guy’s health. That sort of yo-yo effect with his weight can’t be healthy. Sam then mentions how he loves this time of year and the fact that it’s going so smoothly, not like the year of the big blizzard. He mentions offhand that he doesn’t know what they would have done without Rudolph that year and then stops himself as-if the viewer interrupted him. This is the same technique we will eventually see with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, only in that one they actually dubbed in the voices of kids so it makes more sense. Watching this in 2022, when Sam says with some surprise that we’ve never heard the story of Rudolph I’m forced to yell at my screen, “Of course I know who Rudolph is you stupid snowman!” It doesn’t matter what you scream at your TV, laptop, or other device, he’s going to tell you all about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Sam then goes into the song we all know which brings about the opening credits. He basically only sings the intro as the rest of the credits unfold with instrumental music. It’s basically a medley of all of the songs we’re about to hear throughout this one. And in case you’re curious, in 1987 the major sponsor for this broadcast was 7Up. When the credits are done, Sam starts the actual story. We find out that Rudolph (Billie Mae Richards) is the son of reindeer Donner (Paul Kligman) and his unnamed wife (Dixon). We come upon the trio in a cave setting where Donner gives the kid his name. As he looks up and opens his eyes for the first time, he says “Papa” followed by “Mama.” As he does, his nose glows. Or rather, it lights up like a light bulb, or as Donner phrases it, “…a blinkin’ beacon.”
Donner is clearly concerned about this development, but before the discussion can continue they get a surprise visit from Santa. It seems he’s all up to speed on who is pregnant amongst his reindeer and has come to meet the newest, potential, member of his team. When he comes over to greet Rudolph, he’s initially impressed since the kid even knows his name. And then the nose glows once more. Santa reacts with a “Great bouncing icebergs!” while Donner quickly intercedes to assure Santa this is something the little fawn will grow out of. Santa says he hopes so, because apparently the color of one’s nose is of great concern to him and a shiny, red, nose will immediately disqualify Rudolph from the team. Remember that folks, Santa is a bigot. I mean, his reaction of surprise is certainly warranted. Imagine finding any woodland creature with a nose that behaves like a light bulb, that would certainly shock me! It would not, however, discourage me from viewing that creature favorably. If anything, quite the opposite. That’s freaking remarkable!
Santa then goes into his dumb song, “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” which is just him boasting about how wonderful his team of reindeer are, but screw this guy! He sucks. When the song is over, he takes off and I say good riddance. Rudolph, on the other hand, adorably just says “bye bye.” I should also point out, that it’s clear they had two Rudolph puppets for the production, one with a matte, red, nose and the other with the actual bulb nose. Sometimes the texture looks completely different and I am assuming it’s because the one that could actually light was less poseable since it needed to be wired up somehow. Anyway, once Santa is gone Donner decides that he agrees with the old man and declares that Rudolph will never make the team because of its weird nose bias. He scrapes up some mud and rubs it on his son’s nose to hide it. The little guy loves his dad despite his love apparently being conditional upon his nose, while his mother just wipes, or sucks, off the fake nose as she apparently loves him just the way he is. Good for you, mom!
Sam then tells us that the Donners were able to successfully hide Rudoph’s “non-conformity” throughout his early childhood. We see a little montage of him and Donner playing that’s interrupted by the presence of the abominable snowman (Bernard Cowan). As they hide behind a snowdrift, a giant, hairy, foot passes by that will not make much sense when we finally meet the “bumble.”
Sam then directs our attention to a new setting: the workshop. It’s Christmas Eve, and the elves are hard at work making toys. Everything they’re making is purple, it’s a weird trait of this special that almost everything that isn’t a character is depicted in this gray-purple shade. Anyway, the male elves are all in blue and look the same while the females are dressed in a pink outfit and they all look the same. Only two elves stand out, a head elf (Carl Banas) who is taller, has a goatee, and is in a green costume and a little blonde elf named Hermey (Paul Soles). Hermey is apparently well behind the rest of the group in his toy construction, and when the head elf inquires what’s up he responds with “Not happy in my work, I guess.” This is unheard of apparently as all of the elves react with shock and some mixture of outrage which only intensifies when Hermey tells the head elf that what he really wants to be is a dentist! A whistle sounds for a 10 minute break, but the head elf tells Hermey it’s not for him. Apparently, the elves have a terrible union. He’s then given an ultimatum to finish the job or face termination. Once left alone, Hermey stops painting and pulls out a dentistry book, singing to himself, “Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. You can’t fire me, I quit! See, I don’t fit in.”
After witnessing that, Sam just dismisses Hermey’s problems as the life of an elf. We then check-in on Rudolph who appears to be much older, and more rebellious. He hates the false nose his father keeps making him wear, but Donner isn’t standing for any back-talk while mother is just staying out of it all together. He slaps the mud on his kid’s face who tells him it’s not very comfortable, but Donner retorts with “There are more important things than comfort – self respect!” Man, he is such an unlikable dick. Rudolph wanders out of the cave and plops down in the snow looking rather sad. He pops the fake nose off and sings a similar refrain to what we just heard from Hermey, “Why am I such a misfit? I am not such a nitwit. Just because my nose glows, why don’t I fit in?”
Sam comes back to inform us that Christmas came and went that year without incident. We’re jumping forward to April when all of the new fawns come out to show off and be inspected by Santa. It sounds kind of gross when put it that way, but these are the “reindeer games” from the song, essentially. Rudolph seems hesitant to mix it up with the others, but his dad tries to be encouraging even though he’s spent Rudolph’s whole life denigrating him for the color of his nose. Talk about your mixed messages. Rudolph gets pushed into the group and immediately starts up a friendship with a welcoming fawn named Fireball (Alfie Scopp). Fireball is also apparently a little horn-ball because he encourages Rudolph to participate in the games so he can show off in front of the does.
Time to check-in on Hermey. It would seem he’s all talk and has actually stayed on as a toymaker, for now, with the other elves. We find him by himself working on some dolls apparently adding teeth. It looks like he’s found a way to marry his love of dentistry with his job as a toymaker – case closed! Or not, for soon the head elf comes barging in demanding to know why Hermey wasn’t at elf practice (that scene was cut from the broadcast frequently and was in 1987). When Hermey shows the head elf what he’s been working on instead, he just gets met with more ridicule. This asshole isn’t willing to meet Hermey halfway and instead tells him they already have dolls that can “cry, talk, walk, blink, and run a temperature – we don’t need any chewing dolls!” After feeling he successfully shut down that little business, the head elf tells him to come join the others so he can learn how to wiggle his ears and chuckle, which sounds rather useless to me, but what do I know about elf culture? Remarking, “A dentist – good grief,” he slams the door leaving Hermey all alone once again. Only this time, he’s had enough. Grabbing his dentistry book, he opens the window and slips out declaring he’s on his own now.
Back at the games, Fireball still seems preoccupied with the presence of does. He suggests to Rudolph that one in particular seems to have her eye on him. Rudolph seems interested, but before things can go further they’re interrupted by their Coach, Comet (Kligman). Comet both looks and sounds just like Donner, only he has a stylish cap and whistle around his neck. He says he’s here to teach them how to be reindeer, but also he wants to be their pal – how sweet? He announces that they’re going to practice flying and calls on Dasher’s little boy to start them off. The little fawn runs, jumps, and faceplants into the snow to much laughter. Comet is encouraging though and tells him it was good for a first try. As he moves on to another fawn, Fireball encourages Rudolph to go over and talk to the doe that has her eye on him.
Rudolph does as he’s instructed and we’re introduced to Clarice (Janis Orenstein). Rudolph is bashful, and we learn his nose apparently operates like a dog’s tail might as it glows from underneath his fake one making him appear to blush, which is a pretty clever idea and effect. Clarice picks up on his voice sounding unnatural, but Rudolph thinks she’s making fun of the way he talks. She clarifies she meant no harm. Meanwhile, Comet is trying to get Rudolph’s attention because it’s his turn to try flying. Rudolph is trying to work up some courage and before he runs back he asks Clarice if she would walk home with him after practice. She replies that she would, and then tells the reindeer she thinks he’s cute!
Well, that went over well with Rudolph! Cheering that she thinks he’s cute, Rudolph bounds up into the air and flies over to Comet. Comet is impressed, but Rudolph doesn’t care because a doe just called him cute. As he keeps shouting this fact, he jumps up into the air again and soars over the gathering amazing all in attendance, including Santa. Rudolph comes to land by Fireball and repeats the good news and he gets excited for his friend. They play scuffle, and in the process Rudolph’s false nose pops off. He’s pretty giddy right now, so that nose is on full blast underneath. Fireball is immediately freaked out and starts backing away telling Rudolph to get away from him. Santa admonishes Donner, like he did something wrong. Given how Santa reacted to Rudolph’s nose in the winter, I don’t think he’s disappointed in Donner’s attempt to hide the nose, but in his failure to adequately do so. Comet tries to calm everyone down, but upon seeing Rudolph’s nose declares that he should go home with his folks and that they won’t be inviting Rudolph to join any of their reindeer games going forward. I have a sudden urge to hunt these reindeer into extinction.
Rudolph dramatically runs off, upset at the way he’s been treated. And he should be upset, though at the same time who needs those clowns? Clarice comes running after him and Rudolph seems to think she’s coming to make fun of him too. Clarice tells him she’s not and prefers this red nose to the silly false one he had been wearing. Rudolph won’t hear it as he hates his nose for making him different, but Clarice thinks that’s what makes it special and she’s not wrong. She then breaks into song, “There’s Always Tomorrow,” which is the slow ballad number of the special that I’m guessing is the favorite of few. The sentiment is sweet and it’s appropriate for Clarice, though her dad (Cowan) apparently didn’t hear the message of the song for when it’s over he comes running over to retrieve his daughter declaring that “No daughter of mine is going to be seen with a red-nosed reindeer!”
Feeling defeated, Rudolph wanders over to the base of a tree and sits down by a snowbank. Up from out of the snowbank pops the head of Hermey. He asks if this snowbank belongs to Rudolph, but Rudolph is rather confused by the situation. Hermey introduces himself to Rudolph as a dentist, and he has no idea what a dentist is. Hermey then corrects himself as he wants to be a dentist, but isn’t one yet. For now, he’s just an elf, but he declares that he doesn’t need anybody else and he’s independent! Rudolph doesn’t really seem to know what the word means, and I’m not so sure Hermey does since he proposes that they be independent together. Rudolph is onboard though so long as Hermey doesn’t mind his nose, and Hermey is fine with the arrangement as long as Rudolph doesn’t mind him being a dentist. They shake on it, then break into song.
For the 1987 broadcast, the song is “Fame and Fortune.” It’s a weird number to hear these two sing about becoming rich and famous as that’s something neither character really expresses a desire for outside of this song which is partly why few seem to like it. The original 1964 broadcast featured the song “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” which thematically makes far more sense and builds on how the two characters had already been singing their own verse of the song earlier. That song was basically dropped just to change things up in 1965 and possibly to shorten the sequence. It wouldn’t be added back until the 1990s. Both can be found on the DVD release, though the current CBS broadcast does something different in that it uses the animation for “Fame and Fortune,” but dubs it with the more popular song sped up. It looks and sounds terrible that way and I’m guessing it’s only done to squeeze in more commercials. As for the song itself, it’s fine, I guess. It’s catchy, but the subject matter makes no sense to me so for that reason I’d rather “We’re a Couple of Misfits” instead, though the CBS solution is way worse.
When the song is over, Hermey and Rudolph are off wandering in the darkness with the snow falling hard. A voiceover from Sam informs us that the world is a dangerous place and soon the rumbles of the bumble can be heard! Hermey encourages Rudolph to douse the light of his nose as he thinks the bumble can see it, while we cut back to Sam cowering in fear under his umbrella. What a wimp! Dousing the light seems to work though as the bumble doesn’t attack, and instead a prospector upon a dogsled happens along to find the two misfits.
Hearing the dogsled, Rudolph and Hermey jump into a snowbank so just their butts are hanging out which is how Yukon Cornelius (Larry Mann) finds them. He’s rather puzzled by the sight of a deer ass pointing at him and an elf one beside it. I could make some rather crude jokes right now, but I’ll settle with just saying I’m sure the adult movie parody includes a similar scene. Yukon yanks the two out and introduces himself as the greatest prospector in the north. The land is rich with silver and gold, according to him, and he’s rather fond of tossing his pickaxe in the air which seems rather dangerous. When he retrieves it he always licks it and remarks, “Nothing.” This is because Yukon is in search of a peppermint mine, but you would only know that if you watched the original 1964 broadcast because the special ended with him stumbling upon one. That scene was cut in favor of another that we’ll get to when we get to it. I must say, I bet the animators absolutely hated that Yukon was written to be driving a dogsled because that thing must have been a pain to animate. And honestly, they didn’t do a very good job with it, but they had some pretty tight deadlines so I’m not surprised it looks the way it does.
After Yukon introduces himself in grandiose fashion, Sam feels inspired to sing us a song. “Silver and Gold” is it’s name and it’s a pleasant little number, but it feels like it’s placed too close to Clarice’s song which is also rather slow and melancholy. He looks like he’s playing a banjo while performing the song, which is interesting because I don’t hear any trace of a banjo in the actual song. When it’s done, Yukon indicates he’s off for more supplies, but before they can get to know each other the bumble strikes! He’s presented standing on the mountains, which looks pretty goofy because the mountains look like we’re supposed to assume they’re off in the distance and not just really tiny mountains.
Yukon ushers Rudolph and Hermey onto the sleigh. He also gets the dogs to do the same because there’s no way those animators were going to do a chase sequence between a hairy monster and some characters in a dogsled. Instead, Yukon just pulls it while the bumble gives chase. He stumbles, which is enough of an opening for Yukon to reach the water’s edge and hammer out a “do-it-yourself iceberg!” As they float away, Yukon is able to prove to the others that he knows the bumble’s one weakness: he sinks. He steps into the water, and drops like a rock. It’s deep enough to be over his head, but apparently not so deep that he can’t get out, which he does and is left scratching his head. The water effects for stop-motion are always of interest to me, and the transition of bumble to underwater is rather interesting to look at. It doesn’t look even remotely convincing, but it’s one of those things that just looks neat to me so it doesn’t bother me. I do think they could have done a more convincing job at making the bumble look wet when he emerges from the water though.
With the bumble a safe distance away, Rudolph and Hermey are able to ask where they’re off to now. Yukon doesn’t exactly know, but he tells them they’re with him now and they can all get rich off of silver. When Hermey says he thought Yukon was after gold, he simply replies with “I changed my mind.” I’m not sure I would trust this guy’s business acumen. They’re shown floating off into the night while Sam comes in to tell us the Donners are worried about Rudolph. First, Donner takes off to go find Rudolph. Sam tells us he feels bad about how he treated his son, and he should! After he leaves, Clarice shows up and she and Mrs. Donner go out in search of Rudolph as well. We learn all of this via Sam’s narration as the characters say nothing to each other.
Out on the floating iceberg, the fog has set in. Yukon remarks it’s as thick as peanut butter and Hermey tries to correct him by saying “I think you mean pea soup.” Yukon responds with “You eat what you like and I’ll eat…” though he doesn’t finish the clever little line because they strike land. And to emphasize that, Yukon shouts at the top of his lungs “Land ho!” even though they’re all very much aware of that. As they wander further inland, Rudolph wonders where they are as the three take note of a castle. It’s supposed to be off in the distance, but the perspective isn’t very convincing. Yukon then points out a curious sight: a flying lion!
Soon the three are confronted by an unusual sentry. It’s a Jack-In-the-Box, only come to find out, his name isn’t Jack. It’s Charlie. Charlie (Scopp) explains they’re on the Island of Misfit Toys, and pretty much starts to sob upon the admission of his name. Rudolph kind of stuck it to him unintentionally by assuming his name was Jack, but that’s why he’s a misfit. Soon, the other toys begin to come out of a bunch of presents they were hiding in and singing a rather haunting tune. It’s actually a bit unsettling, but then perks up. The song is “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” and it’s all about Christmas.
The song also has a secondary function: to introduce these freaks and weirdos. The song is played straight, until an elephant comes in to ask rhetorically “How would you like to be a spotted elephant?” like it’s some great disability. Other toys chime in with their problems, most of which seem rather superficial. A train with square wheels on its caboose and a boat that sinks seem like some pretty significant quality control errors. A bird that doesn’t fly, but swims? That’s just a penguin. A cowboy that rides an ostrich? Sounds fun to me! A water pistol that shoots jelly? Just don’t load the damn thing with jelly! Yeah, I’m being rather hard on the sequence, but it’s not like they had to come up with a lot of odd toys. They could have done better. Oh, and if you’re wondering, the “dolly for Sue” that no one can figure out what’s wrong with is apparently just suffering from depression. Yeah, the explanation reads like a retcon, but that’s because she was a late addition to the special and some of her lines were added over the years. It’s from Arthur Rankin himself though, so I guess it’s canon.
When the song is over, the boys apparently didn’t find it at all depressing because they want to live here too! Charlie informs them that if they wish to remain on the island, they need to get permission from King Moonracer who just so happens to be holding court in his castle at this very moment. If you couldn’t have guessed, King Moonracer (Francis) is the flying lion from before. I can’t imagine he has much to do on this island if he just lords over some toys which likely explains how Rudolph and the gang are granted an audience immediately. When they ask for permission to remain on the island on account of them being misfits as well, their request is denied. “How do you like that?” says Yukon, “Even among misfits you’re misfits.”
Moonracer explains that since they’re living things (apparently those toys are not considered alive) they can’t run away from their problems and hide out on an island intended for toys. Harsh, but fair. He does permit them to stay the night though and they even have some lodgings for living beings who happen to turn up on their island. Before court is adjourned though, Moonracer makes a request of them. Should they ever return to Christmas Town, he would like them to tell Santa about their island to see if he can find homes for all of the misfit toys. Rudolph agrees to do so, but I’m left wondering why Moonracer, who can fly, doesn’t just go do that himself? Does he really have better things he could be doing? Maybe he tried and Santa was freaked out by the presence of a lion and had his guards, assuming he has guards, attack the beast?
The three are shown to their quarters and are all getting settled-in for a good night’s sleep. The quarters look rather tight, but at least everyone can fit in the frame. Hermey says they’ll all leave tomorrow together, but Rudolph is rather insistent that he should go it alone from here on out on account of his nose. He seems to think it’s how the bumble finds them and views traveling with him as being too dangerous for the other two. Yukon will hear no talk of him going it alone and basically tells him to zip it. Rudolph stops and waits for the other two to fall asleep, which since this is television, is immediately upon turning off the light. He’s convinced he needs to go it alone, so he sneaks out. Somehow, he’s able to create another floating iceberg for himself, or maybe he found the one they came in on. As he floats away, he wishes his friends success in their various quests. And as we watch him sail away, the roar of the bumble can be heard. Chilling!
When we come back from a break, Sam starts telling us what Rudolph did off on his own. He says “time passed slowly,” but it sure looks like it’s moving pretty fast to me! The bumble kept him on the run, but he also made friends here and there. We get to see him play with some polar bear cubs, but then the mama bear kind of chases him off. He should be glad he didn’t get eaten. That’s the last we see of cute, adolescent, Rudolph. Our next shot is a long one centered on Rudolph’s ass. As Sam tells us he went through some changes, Rudolph picks his head up and we see he’s all grown up. And the mere act of growing up is apparently all it took to convince him that he couldn’t run away from his problems, so it’s time for Rudolph to head home.
Rudolph happens upon a group of reindeer. One of the three remarks “Hey! Look who’s back – old neon nose!” they laugh and Rudolph gets pissed. He runs back to his family’s cave, but finds it empty. Santa soon comes in to tell him that his parents are gone and Clarice too. They left months ago to go look for him. Is Santa happy to see Rudolph safe and sound? If he is, he doesn’t sound like it. Instead, he’s just worried about his damn sleigh and insists he can’t get it off the ground without Donner. Rudolph vows to find them and takes off, but that’s when it hits – that blizzard we were told about at the beginning. We’re shown the storm slam into the North Pole tearing shingles off of Santa’s castle, knocking ornaments off of trees, and sending elves rolling through the snow. Rudolph can only put his head down to push through it and he knows where he needs to look first: the cave of the abominable snow monster!
Rudolph enters the foreboding structure and finds his parents and Clarice. Clarice is in the bumble’s clutches while the other two just look on helplessly. I’m not sure what two deer could do to a beast like the bumble, but they can at least try! And how long have they been here? Rudolph is no coward though as he charges in demanding the bumble put her down! He does and then makes a play for Rudolph who deftly avoids the lunging beast. With him on his belly, Rudolph goes for the crotch, but apparently this bumble is either castrated or female as it doesn’t seem bothered. Rather it simply stands up, and ripping a stalagmite from the cave ceiling, smashes Rudolph over the head knocking the deer unconscious. He then unleashes a hearty, sinister, laugh.
We return to Sam, once again cowering in terror under his umbrella, who then informs us he’s the real hero of the story. Well, not his words exactly, but he takes credit for sending Yukon and Hermey after Rudolph. The two come upon the cave and spy the bumble inside with Rudolph and the others. Clarice is in tears and asking aloud “Why doesn’t he get it over with?” A good thought, but also a dark one, as she’s admitting they’ve basically given up. Rudolph is still unconscious, but he starts to come to. Meanwhile, Yukon has a plan, but since he whispers it to Hermey we don’t know exactly what it is, but it involves Yukon climbing above the cave while Hermey oinks like a pig.
The bumble heads out to investigate the oinking as Yukon insists a bumble would never choose deer over pork. When he reaches the cave’s exit, Yukon drops a giant rock on his head knocking him out. Yukon is then able to run into the cave to bask in some hero worship. The deer are happy to be saved, but then alarmed when the bumble emerges from behind Yukon. Hermey then enters to tell them not to worry. He’s got some dental equipment in his hands and it becomes clear he’s pulled out all of the bumble’s teeth. He encourages them to just walk on by, seemingly ignoring that the bumble is still a massive, clawed, beast. Would you have no fear of a toothless grizzly bear? I think not.
Yukon is not scared. Declaring the bumble nothing without his choppers, he goes right at him. I’m not really sure what he’s trying to accomplish, but the bumble basically just backtracks until it reaches a cliff’s edge. Yukon then appears to tackle him, along with all of his dogs, and the two fall over the side. The others run over yelling “Yukon!” and peer over the edge. Rudolph declares he’s gone, and he quite literally is, because we can see the cliff’s bottom and nothing is there. They probably should have tried painting it black or something, unless this was the desired effect?
We’re supposed to just think Yukon is dead and Sam conveys that sentiment with his narration. Rather than look for Yukon though, Sam blames the need to “get the women back to town” as reason for them just heading home to Santa’s place. Nah, they just didn’t want to look. There they apparently have a reconciliation with those that treated them as outcasts. I’m not sure why the sudden change of heart. Because they survived an encounter with the abominable? Because their friend is dead? We catch the end of a conversation between Rudolph and Santa with Santa vowing to find homes for all of the misfit toys. The head elf tells Hermey he can open a dentist practice after Christmas and is promptly granted the first appointment when Hermey looks in his mouth. Donner is then shown apologizing to Rudolph and I do hope the buck is sincere. He basically missed his son’s entire childhood! Granted, that appears to be a matter of months, but it’s all the same.
From outside, a commanding voice then hollers for the elves to open up on account of it not being a fit night out for man nor beast. When they pull the doors open in comes the man, and it’s Yukon! As for the beast, why, it’s the bumble! He’s leashed and Yukon declares that he’s a reformed bumble in need of a job. The bumble demonstrates his usefulness by placing the star on top of a nearby tree as Yukon exclaims “Looky what he can do!” Rudolph then asks how the pair survived their trip down the side of the cliff and Yukon takes the time to inform him that bumbles bounce! The elves all seem to find this funny. Meanwhile, the bumble has removed his leash so I guess there’s no fear of him going berserk at this point. Maybe the leash was just a fashion choice? Maybe he and Yukon have a thing going on? Yes, I’m shipping this pairing.
It’s the day before Christmas Eve though, so they can’t dilly dally. The elves get back to work and we hear a reprise of “We Are Santa’s Elves” as they do so, which is a song that was cut from this broadcast earlier. Santa is then shown back at the dinner table with his awful looking food. He’s still skinny, so he’s going to just gorge until he’s near bursting to fatten up for Christmas apparently. An elf then shows up to hand him a weather report and it’s not good. Regrettably, Santa has to make the announcement that Christmas is cancelled to shock and awe.
As Santa stands there explaining the situation, Rudolph is apparently excited about something because his nose is going bonkers. It’s distracting Santa, blinding him actually, and as he goes to tell Rudolph to cut it out he stops himself: “That nose! That beautiful, wonderful, nose! Rudolph, Christmas is not off and you’re going to lead my team!” Rudolph is pretty shocked, and then Santa makes it official by quoting the song, “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” Rudolph, proving he’s not a petty reindeer, simply says, “It will be an honor, sir.” Donner then gets to insist he knew that nose would be useful some day. What a jerk!
As the elves load up the sleigh, we go into one of the better songs of the special: “Holly, Jolly, Christmas.” Sam sings it while the elves basically just party, their job apparently done. During the events of the song we see Rudolph and Clarice share their first kiss and an elf with sunglasses gets to hook Rudolph up to the sleigh. Here is where we dock this special some points because Rudolph is placed ahead of a team of six instead of eight reindeer. For shame! I’m sure this thing was a pain to animate, especially the take-off sequences to come, but would it have been that much harder with 9 instead of 7?
When the song ends we find Santa practicing his laughter and looking plenty plump. He calls for his coat while Mrs. Claus looks on approvingly. As he puts his gear on, we get an instrumental reprise of “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” which is a nice touch. As Santa takes his rightful place in the sleigh, he calls out to ask if Rudolph is ready. When the reindeer responds in the affirmative, Santa informs him their first stop is the Island of Misfit Toys. Up, up, up, and away!
On the Island of Misfit Toys, Charlie, spotted elephant, and dolly are seated by a campfire. They’re pretty glum because it’s Christmas and they’re still stuck on the island. Santa isn’t coming this year, just like all of the other years. Charlie retreats into his box to dream about next Christmas while dolly remarks, through tears, that she doesn’t have any dreams left to dream. Then, the faint sound of sleigh bells can be heard through the night. The elephant hears them first and wonders what it could be. Charlie pops out of his box excitedly, “It’s Santa! And look – Rudolph is leading the way!”
The sleigh lands bathed in the glowing, red, light of Rudolph’s nose. Santa matter-of-factly just says “Well, let’s be on our way!” The toys say nothing and just jump into his sack. Santa then calls out to Rudolph again and they take off. Since this scene was added a year later, I’m thinking Santa and Rudolph’s dialogue is the exact same track from their first take off. No matter, Sam pops in to tell us “Well folks, as for the rest of the story,” and then sings the ending of the song “He went down in history!” Sam then sings the full song while we watch Santa fly through the sky. As they soar, an elf outfits each of the misfit toys with an umbrella and they jump out of the sleigh. Santa may have got them off the island, but apparently that’s as far as his charity goes. They have to find their own way! When the song ends, Santa wishes us all a merry Christmas and flies off towards the full moon. A fitting final shot of The Christmas Spot 2022.
Well, we’re talking about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer so it’s not like there’s a whole lot to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s a classic and if you’re reading this you probably watched it at least once this year, just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. It’s the special that really popularized the Rudolph character and started Rankin/Bass on the path to being a Christmas special juggernaut. This wasn’t the first adaptation of Rudolph outside of the song, but it was the first to basically adapt the song almost word for word and incorporate it into its plot. And as a story, it succeeds in making us root for Rudolph and gives him a buddy in Hermey who is equally sympathetic.
What the story doesn’t do so well is redeem the other characters. Santa, Donner, Comet, the other reindeer all act like bigots. They’re giant jerks and none of them really do anything to make me feel any different. We don’t even get an apology from Santa, just Donner and the end of one from the head elf towards Hermey. This Santa sucks! He dismisses a reindeer because of its nose. Is Budweiser even that strict with its famous Clydesdales? At least we have Yukon who seems like a good dude, it’s just too bad we lost his ending since it reveals there’s more to him than just silver and gold. Clarice is also a nice character, it’s just too bad she doesn’t get to do anything once her song is over aside from play damsel in distress. There’s very little resolution to this one. We get the happy ending, but we don’t know how Rudolph feels about it. I realize I’m asking a lot of an almost 60 year old special commissioned to sell more General Electric products, but these are questions worth asking.
What does work very well though are the visuals and music. Yes, the stop-motion on display here is rather primitive at times, but it gives this one it’s own distinct feel. The specials to follow would feature higher quality animation, but I’ve always preferred this one anyway. The weird purple-gray textures, the dogs that barely animate, the bumble and his tangle of fur – it just looks fun. One of the best decisions the movie Elf made was adopting the look of this special’s north pole. The music is also solid, though it does have some low points. No matter, “Holly, Jolly, Christmas” and the Burl Ives version of the title song really give this one a jolt at the end and are beloved classics in their own right.
Considering that it is now Christmas Day, your chance to catch Rudolph on TV may have passed you by. CBS airs it twice annually, basically right after Thanksgiving and then once more closer to Christmas. Freeform has the cable broadcast rights, or did in 2021, and it’s possible they’re showing it today and if I can confirm that I’ll try to slip it in via an edit because I’m not writing this on Christmas Day. I’m rather busy celebrating the holiday with family and hopefully you are too and this is just something you read during a quiet moment. When the dust has settled and the excitement of the day subsides. The kids are in their rooms playing with their new toys or feeling the effects of a sleepless night from before crashing upon them, I like to bask in the afterglow of the holiday with more TV or more reading by the light of the Christmas tree. It only happens once a year, so treasure it while it lasts, and most of all Merry Christmas and thanks for reading!
Can’t wait until next year for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
We made it! Another year in the books, and another Christmas has come. Indulge in it. Bask in it, for it only comes once a year, and not to get too dramatic, but you never know how many you’re going to get. And we’re ending this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot with another throwback…
It’s Christmas morning, and if you woke up to a tree packed full of presents you have only one person to thank for that – Sonic the Hedgehog! What? You didn’t know that Sonic took over for Santa back in 1996? Oh, well find yourself a comfy chair and a plate of chili dogs while…
Welcome, Christmas Day! Hopefully you’re not hungover from too much Christmas partying last night, and if you are, hopefully it was worth it. By now, Santa should have deposited presents under the tree, if you were good this year, and hopefully he remembered the batteries. It’s been fun, but this post means we are done…
When it comes to doing these write-ups, I naturally trend towards older Christmas specials. The name of the blog is The Nostalgia Spot, after all, so it would only make sense for me to favor stuff that’s at least a decade old, if not more. The fact of the matter is, there’s really not enough content out there to only focus on the old, and besides, sometimes it’s fun to be a bit topical. In 2022, Marvel unleashed Moon Knight on the masses via Disney+. Since I am a subscriber to Disney+ and a casual Marvel fan, I watched it because it was there and I like feeling like I’m getting the most bang for my buck. It was a fine show and I especially enjoyed the performance of Oscar Isaac in the lead role. I believe it was mostly well-received, though I know there were some out there disappointed at the lack of Moon Knight in a show called Moon Knight which is understandable. I’m sure we’ll see more of him though because this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after all, and it’s always building towards something.
Prior to watching the show, my only knowledge of Moon Knight was that he was some superhero with a cool looking costume. I have an old ToyBiz Marvel Legends figure of the same, but I’ve honestly never picked up a Moon Knight comic. He always had the reputation of being a Batman knock-off, and to some extent I guess that’s true. In the hands of an unskilled writer, I could easily see his books turning into a Batman-like story. In the show, he was far more interesting though so I don’t think such criticism is warranted in that case, but what about in other media?
In 2012, Disney began airing a show called Ultimate Spider-Man. Despite the name, this show was not an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name. Like many post 2000 Spider-Man shows, it borrows from that comic, but also basically every other form of Spider-Man to create one big hodgepodge of what are hopefully the best traits of the various Spider-Men over the years. I never paid any attention to the show while it was airing, but it hung around to total over 100 episodes with the series ending in 2017. One of the last episodes of the show happens to be a Christmas one, and it also features Moon Knight, and it’s also presently the “knight” before Christmas, so now feels like the right time to take a look at this one.
Ultimate Spider-Man is a Film Roman production that was overseen by Alex Soto. It’s a 2D animated cartoon series with a pretty straight-forward approach to the character designs and scenery, unlike a more stylized series and prior Christmas spot entrant Spectacular Spider-Man. The show stars Drake Bell as Spider-Man/Peter Parker and when it begins he has already been Spider-Man for about a year, until attracting the attention of Nick Fury. This is a young Spider-Man still feeling his way around things and it seems an emphasis of the show was to feature lots of team-ups with other familiar faces from the Marvel Universe. The show was able to assemble a rather impressive writing team which included Brian Michael Bendis, the creative behind the comic of the same name, and Paul Dini, perhaps the most celebrated writer in superhero animation (this particular episode is by Elliot Casey). It would seem there’s a lot to like about this one on paper and it also looks like some money was spent making the show look good so it’s a bit of a surprise on my behalf that I’ve basically ignored the series for as long as I have.
The show begins without any sort of opening title sequence, I’m guessing that’s to come. We find Spider-Man (Bell) decorating a…tree of some kind and talking to himself. He seems to be trying to psyche himself up to have a terrific Christmas because he needs to. He’s actually house-sitting this Christmas for Dr. Strange (Liam O’Brien) in his Sanctum Sanctorum while the good doctor is off saving reality, or something. It would seem this is Spidey’s first Christmas away from his Aunt May and he’s just trying to make the best of it. Unfortunately, this bizarre, monster, tree that Dr. Strange keeps in his home is sentient and not up for being decorated like a Christmas tree. It also doesn’t seem to appreciate Spider-Man’s sass and takes a swipe at him forcing the web-slinger to retreat into another room. Oh, and this is a show that seems to break the fourth wall via its protagonist. A lot.
After running from the grinchy monster plant, Spider-Man finds himself in a fancy looking armory. It’s apparently a room he’s not supposed to enter and as he tries to recall what Dr. Strange told him about the room an apparition of the doctor appears above him. A very young looking Doctor Strange is recalled just telling him to stay out of the room because of all of the dangerous weapons and artifacts present. Spidey then sheepishly scratches the back of his head as an “Oops, my bad,” kind of thing since he’s already broken his promise to Strange. I’m getting the impression this Spider-Man is a bit of a goof.
A scream from outside gets Spider-Man’s attention. He’s supposed to look after Strange’s home, but he can’t ignore what sounds like a girl in distress! Spidey races outside to find a young girl being harassed by a strangely dressed man. That man is Moon Knight (Diedrich Bader), and it would seem that Spider-Man has never encountered this soldier of the moon before. His entrance is pretty cool though as Spidey looks up at the moon and we see the alleged hero reflected in the lens of his mask. Spidey deftly avoids him and grabs the young girl in the process before staring down his new foe. Moon Knight introduces himself, and Spider-Man makes a lame crack about him not being Santa Claus as we smash cut to the opening title. Apparently this era of the show is called Ultimate Spider-Man vs The Sinister Six as that’s what the title card says. I guess it would have helped if I had watched some of this show before jumping into one of the final 3 episodes.
After the very brief title card is “webbed away,” we get to see Spider-Man vs The Moon Knight! Moon Knight is impeccably voiced by Diedrich Bader in what feels like a preview of the somewhat aloof Batman (in contrast with the straight-forward Batman he has played elsewhere) he will play in the future on Harley Quinn. He’s an unintentionally humorous character (as-in, the character isn’t trying to be funny in-universe, but he’s definitely written to be comical to the viewer) as he constantly keeps referring to the moon, talking about the moon, and even converses with the moon. I’m having flashbacks to the Mooninites from Aqua Teen Hunger Force here because this guy loves the moon as much as they do. Spider-Man seems annoyed with him, and Moon Knight doesn’t really seem to have a high opinion of Spider-Man for that matter and even calls him a demon. It never dawns on Spider-Man though that maybe this guy is attacking this young girl for a reason, so he decides to retreat into the safety of Strange’s townhouse, but not before whipping Moon Knight by his cape into some snow (“And that is why I don’t wear a cape!”). Unfortunately, the building has a protective spell placed on it that requires a magical command to allow additional people through and Spidey is drawing a blank on what those words are. While he stands safely behind the magical shield, the girl he’s trying to save is in harm’s way. Worry not though, for Spider-Man is able to recall those words just before Moon Knight nails her.
As Spidey bids Moon Knight a good night, the vigilante tries pounding on the forcefield and cries out that Spider-Man is giving this girl exactly what she wants, but he’s not listening. Inside, Spider-Man and the girl get acquainted. Her name is Francine (Mary Kate Wiles) and she tells Spider-Man she’s an orphan. A recently made orphan as she lost her father not too long ago. Spidey acts like he’s going to cry hearing her sad story and welcomes her to spend Christmas with him in this lonely old house. We then go into a montage hosted by Spidey Claus! The two make gingerbread cookies that literally get up and walk away, which they have a laugh at. We then see a sequence of polaroid photos of the two making silly faces and eating candy canes. Spidey is laying in front of the fire looking at said pictures when the brief montage ends, while Francine seems interested in looking around. She soon finds the door to the forbidden room, and like most kids, immediately wants to go in once she hears it’s forbidden. Spidey tells her he’s not going to break his promise to Doctor Strange and let her in, but as he lectures her he doesn’t really pay attention and she just slips right past him.
Francine enters the room and is immediately drawn to a crystal ball. Spidey comes over and realizes he’s seen that ball before. It belonged to the villain Mysterio, and we see a flashback of him doing crimes and battling Spider-Man. Apparently, he fell off the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of one of their encounters and Spider-Man was unable to save him. The ball is his helmet and it was magically enhanced so that it could make Mysterio’s many illusions turn real. Pretty sweet! After Mysterio fell into the river below, Spider-Man recovered the helmet, but no body. He gave it to Strange and is surprised the sorcerer didn’t simply destroy it.
A crashing sound from upstairs gets Spider-Man’s attention and ends his little story time. He hands the helmet to Francine and tells her to stay put while he investigates. He heads upstairs into what looks like a library only to find Moon Knight inside! He’s pretty surprised to see him since Strange put that spell up to keep out the unwanted, but he’ll have to figure that out later. Spider-Man attempts to web Moon Knight, but he turns intangible and the web line goes right through him. Spidey then tries to attack in a more conventional manner, but continues to encounter difficulties. Moon Knight explains that he is but a reflection in the moonlight, which is poetic, but still confusing. Spider-Man then hears a sound coming from outside and looks up to see Moon Knight on the other side of a skylight. Two Moon Knights?!
Spider-Man noticing another Moon Knight outside seemed to be enough for this Moon Knight to call it quits. It disappears in a blue light and Spider-Man realizes he was just an illusion. Saying the word “illusion” out loud is enough for him to figure out what’s going on. He heads back to the forbidden room and somewhat nervously pops his head in to check on Francine. He finds the girl holding the orb and she too is surrounded by a cold, blue, light. When it fades we see she’s a grown woman, and wearing Mysterio’s old costume too. She then thanks Spider-Man, and introduces herself as Frances Beck, daughter of Mysterio! It would seem she holds a grudge against Spider-Man for her father’s apparent death and retrieving his magical helmet is exactly what she needs to exact sweet, festive, revenge. This is going to be the best Christmas ever!
Lucky for Spider-Man, the New Mysterio is quite new to this whole villain thing and Spidey just takes the helmet away from her via a simple web-line. He tells her she can’t handle this thing and suggests she’s not the real deal, but she assures him she is. She lifts her arms up and opens a portal in the ceiling and a horde of vicious looking elves drop in! Spidey is able to escape to the ceiling though as they’re rather short, and he and New Mysterio do the whole “You killed my father!” “No, I didn’t!” routine before Spidey bails into another room.
Spidey’s webs can only hold off the elves for so long as they are vicious little bastards, so he retreats back up to the library. There he finds Moon Knight, still just chilling out on the roof outside the window, before he’s visited by an unexpected guest. Or should I say homeowner? Because Dr. Strange can’t be a guest in his own home! He appears before Spider-Man and seems quite ticked off with old web-head. He let people into his home, entered the forbidden room, and has removed a powerful item from said room! Spidey tries to apologize, while Moon Knight bangs on the window shouting “Not strange!” This confuses Spider-Man more as he very much disagrees with Moon Knight and reminds him that this night has actually been very strange! He then finally realizes what Moon Knight is saying, and it’s probably helped by Dr. Strange lunging for the helmet and failing this whole thing, that he means Strange, not strange. Which, I mean, come on Spider-Man! I know you’re not a detective like Batman, but you’re facing an illusionist here and she’s already fooled you once!
The illusion of Strange then vanishes and is replaced by Mysterio. She makes a crack at Spider-Man referring to him as a joke to which he responds with “To be fair, I think everything’s a joke.” She also does some magic finger snap that just makes the helmet appear in her hands. She finally puts it on and uses the power of the helmet to summon a giant gingerbread man! Spidey points out that this is very much a joke as he dodges the massive candy cane the beast swings in his direction. I must say, I do admire Mysterio’s commitment to the season with her various summonings. Come to think of it, how did she summon the non-illusion elves without the helmet? Maybe it was the magic of the season? I guess it’s best not to think about these things.
Spider-Man does what he seemingly does best: flees to higher ground. Up on the ceiling, he’s able to watch the Christmas abominations lay waste to what are likely some very old and likely priceless objects in Doctor Strange’s library and also regroup. He tries to recall the advice Dr. Strange gave him in the past, but all he can do is recall generic advice like wearing a hat when it’s cold outside. He then remembers something about Strange advising him to make allies out of the enemies of his enemies. Naturally, this means Moon Knight who is still banging away outside because he is one persistent fellow. Spider-Man shouts out the magic words to release the barrier and Moon Knight is finally able to smash in that very expensive looking window and join the battle!
Moon Knight comes in wielding his baton and smashes some ginger foes! He’s ready to rumble, and it allows Spidey to attempt to appeal to Francine. She corrects him when he addresses her by that name and refers to herself as Frances Beck! She is not going to be swayed, but before she can really get into her villain speech she collapses to her knees in pain. Reaching for the fishbowl on her head, it would seem the orb is a bit more than she can handle. Spidey tries to help her, rather lamely though by putting an arm around her when he could have just yanked the thing off. She recoils from his touch and uses her power to open a portal that she and her gingerbread minions are able to escape through.
With Frances gone, Moon Knight and Spider-Man are able to have a little heart-to-heart. Only, Moon Knight doesn’t seem interested in sharing any of his knowledge with Spider-Man, probably because he’s pretty much responsible for this mess they’re in. Their conversation is interrupted though by the moon. Yes, Moon Knight takes his orders from the moon and it’s played rather comically since Moon Knight can hear the moon, but no one else can including the viewer. It would seem the moon has decided that Spider-Man’s help is needed and Moon Knight is commanded to reveal all. He basically just relays that the moon warned him about Beck and that she intended to wake a dormant evil that lurked in this place, which must be the fish bowl. It also told him how to stop it: a magic wand! Yes, some wand has the power to make the helmet collapse in on itself, and it just so happens to be in this house too! Spidey is forced to break his promise, again, to Strange and admit Moon Knight into the forbidden room. There he finds the wand they need and the two set out to stop Beck.
As the two walk out the front door, Spidey asks Moon Knight (he calls him Moony – adorable!) if this wand will destroy the wearer of the helmet. He only responds with “The moon shall have its vengeance,” which is interesting because I never thought of the moon as the vengeful type. Spider-Man points out that isn’t really an answer and tells Moon Knight if his aim is to kill Francine then he doesn’t want his help. He doesn’t offer a reply as the two head outside and find Mysterio floating high above the city doing super villain stuff. She uses her new powers to summon a giant snowman monster than looks curiously like Marshmallow from Frozen.
Upon coming face to face with this monster, Spidey is suddenly more interested in Moon Knight’s help and willing to accept any conditions. Of course, when he looks over to the vigilante for help, he’s busy chatting it up with the moon. This guy! It would seem he’s also trying to convince his…boss…that Spider-Man is a liability, which Spidey takes offense to. The two then turn their attention to the task at hand and Spider-Man observes the Moon Knight method of dodging. Which is to say, he does no such thing. He takes a punch from the beast and explains to Spider-Man that he’d rather take the hit than waste time avoiding it, which Spidey is forced to admit is pretty badass (my words, not his). While Moon Knight tangles with Marshmallow, Spidey tries reasoning with Frances, but she just responds by turning an inflatable Santa sentient which goes on the attack. Lucky for him, Moon Knight’s aversion to dodging gets him knocked into Santa and solves that problem for him!
Spidey takes to the sky to try to get away from the monster, but ends up getting swatted instead. He crashes through a building and finds himself in a department store. A giant, novelty, present broke his fall. Moon Knight soon follows and lands on top of another novelty present and Spidey is forced to make a crack about the bad holiday décor. Moon Knight ignores Spider-Man’s joke and informs him of the dire situation they find themselves in. He also adds that the moon demands this situation be rectified by any means necessary. The duo are soon set upon by an army of nutcrackers and toy airplanes. The two leap into the scaffolding smashing toys along the way until the big snowman comes bashing in with Mysterio right behind.
As Spider-Man dodges their attacks, he sees Moon Knight go for Mysterio. He calls out for him to wait, but Moon Knight leaps through the air and plunges the wand through the glass dome. Frances collapses to her knees and appears to be in a trance of some kind. Moon Knight suggests the spell is taking over and will soon end all of this, but Spidey isn’t willing to give up on Frances. He realizes that the only way to get Moon Knight to help him is to trick him. Sounds deceitful, but if this plan works then Moon Knight only has himself to blame for Spidey pretends to hear the moon. Moon Knight is perplexed, but also a bit impressed, as Spider-Man acts as if the moon is commanding him to save Frances. Moon Knight may be a badass, but he’s definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer as he falls for it. He agrees to hold off the monstrous snowman, while Spider-Man attempts a rescue.
Spidey doesn’t really know what to do, so he instinctively grabs the wand. That seemed like the logical place to start, only the unexpected happens and Spider-Man gets sucked inside the helmet! He finds himself in a dreary setting, but a farm house comes into view and Spider-Man figures it must be the farm house that Frances told him about. He approaches a window and spies Francine inside seated at a dinner table with her father, Quentin Beck (Paul Scheer). They appear to be having Christmas dinner, and the decorations in the background would indicate as much. As Spidey gets closer, he finds himself transported into the house and seated at the table. There, he tries reasoning with Frances by telling her this is all an illusion and they need to get out. She insists it’s real though, that her father is real, but Spidey tells her if it was real then he’d tell her what happened that night between them. So he does!
It turns out, Frances was right and this is the real Quentin Beck. He describes how he made a deal with the demon Dormammu for the power to make his illusions real, and this is the price he paid. He tells his daughter that Spider-Man did try to save him, but he refused the hero’s aid. When he fell off of the bridge, he was pulled into the helmet where he’s to remain. This also explains why Doctor Strange didn’t destroy it since doing so would have destroyed Beck. Unfortunately for the Becks, this world starts to collapse upon itself. A vortex opens above them and it’s pretty clear they need to get out. Frances pleads for her dad to come with them, but he knows he’s trapped in this prison. Or is he? Spider-Man doesn’t think so, but soon the ground opens up below them and Frances is sent falling into the void!
She stops though, bathed in a green light, lifted up by her father. He’s holding all three of them with his magic, I guess, suspended in the air. Beck then uses his powers and a green light envelops all three of them. Outside the helmet, Moon Knight is having a rough go of things. He’s being attacked by the snow monster, nutcrackers, and some nasty looking teddy bears. As he sees the helmet pulsate, he assumes that he has failed and apologizes to the moon. Then, his enemies drop dead and Spider-Man appears with the Becks and Moon Knight is forced to correct himself.
While father and daughter have a reunion, Spider-Man remarks how Moon Knight really trashed the place. He reminds Spider-Man this isn’t the only place that’s been damaged this evening and Spidey lets out an “Oh no!” We cut to Dr. Strange finding his home in shambles. As a book crumbles to dust in his hands, he curses Spider-Man to the heavens! We then are taken to F.E.A.S.T. where Aunt May volunteers to help the less fortunate. Spider-Man, Moon Knight, and the Becks are shown enjoying a meal together and there’s laughter and happy, holiday, cheer. We then head to the roof, where Spider-Man is attempting to wrap things up for us, only he’s distracted by Moon Knight’s persistent conversation with the moon. He makes fun of him for it, but Moon Knight turns the tables since Spider-Man can’t even explain who he’s addressing. Moon Knight calls him a weirdo, and Spidey is apparently content to leave things there as he wishes us all a “Happy Holidays,” and we exit with an iris shot.
That was how Spider-Man spent a Christmas. And it was a rather eventful one. I have to confess, I wasn’t much at all interested in the story of the Becks. We barely got to know Francine so it wasn’t as if I felt hurt by her betrayal of Spider-Man like he seemed to be. I also wasn’t attached to her, but I guess it’s good that Spidey wasn’t willing to take the easy way out and let the magic wand kill her. I also never saw the episodes with Mysterio so I didn’t have that to fall back on. What hurt things further though was the performance of Paul Scheer as Quentin Beck. He is so wooden in the role and the scenes with him are terrible. Was he just mailing this one in? I’m surprised they would stick with this casting because it did not work at all. Perhaps the direction for him was poor as when the vortex is swallowing them he sounds bored, like maybe he didn’t really know what was happening to his character? I also don’t understand how his powers work. I thought he just did illusions and the helmet contained the magic? Did he learn how to utilize the helmet’s magic from within it? Could he have “magicked” himself out of that thing this whole time? It’s messy.
What did work though was Diedrich Bader as Moon Knight. He steals the show and when he’s not on the screen I was definitely looking for him. He gets to be a badass with a personality as he comes across as aloof due to his constant conversing with the moon and Spider-Man is a natural foil for such a character. He takes himself very seriously, and Spider-Man could certainly be described as the opposite. As for old web-head, he manages to be charming and charismatic, but also annoying. It’s a unique quality that Spider-Man sometimes possesses. This particular iteration pushes things at times and he’s definitely upstaged in the funny remarks category by Moon Knight and his deadpan delivery, but I’m guessing that doesn’t happen in most episodes. As for Christmas, it’s here in spirit and Mysterio does her part to make sure of that. We don’t really see much of the reunion at the end so we never get a big dose of those Christmas feels, but given my distaste for the performance of Scheer, it’s probably a good thing that we ended things where we did.
If you like Spider-Man and want to see him at Christmas, this is fine. There’s some lore here to work around, but nothing that should feel too difficult for a casual Spidey fan. The animation is solid and I like how this thing looks. It did take me a bit to warm up to Spidey’s constant eye posing, but I could definitely watch more of this. I don’t know that I will, but maybe. This episode and the rest of the show is streaming on Disney+ and I would not expect to see it shown on television, especially this late in the game. This is also the show’s second Christmas episode, but the blurb on the first one made it sound like an It’s a Wonderful Life parody and I didn’t want to bark up that tree. If I’m mistaken and you think I should check it out, let me know. For now, I feel fine leaving it at this. Plus, that one doesn’t have Moon Knight!
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
2021 marked an important anniversary in animation: Shrek turned 20. The animated film from DreamWorks is credited as really helping to launch the company as a viable competitor to Disney’s Pixar. Prior to Shrek, DreamWorks had found success at the box office with Antz and Chicken Run, but Shrek was the first to really explode…
When I listed out the best Christmas specials over a week ago, I included the stop-motion A SpongeBob Christmas. And I stand by that as that special is pretty great. Before there was A SpongeBob Christmas, there was The SpongeBob Christmas Special. Confused? Well, there are only so many ways to title a Christmas special.…
We have reached a day of great, holiday, release – Christmas Eve. And what better way to mark the occasion than with a holiday short titled The Night Before Christmas. A lot of cartoons have made use of this title, but today’s subject is the Silly Symphony short that falls under that heading. It felt…
When it comes to The Christmas Spot, I have very few rules. I definitely favor animated Christmas specials, but that’s not some rule I’ve created for myself. The programs don’t have to be all ages, they don’t have to be “nice,” and they certainly don’t have to be any good as I’ve looked at an awful lot of crap over the years. No, my one rule has really only been “No preschool shows.” And that’s not because preschool programs are inherently bad, they’re just often very simple. There’s not a lot to talk about or be entertained by, but it’s also not the goal of such shows to entertain an adult or even an older kid. Those shows typically seek to educate first, entertain second, and there are some that are very good at it and some that are not. My own children learned a lot from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I was bored watching it, but I saw the value in it and how my children responded to it and what they took from it. A preschool show that is not good is Paw Patrol. Paw Patrol is a toy commercial masquerading as educational programming. It’s rubbish and if you’re a parent currently suffering through a Paw Patrol phase with a child then know I feel for you. I’ve been there and it will pass eventually.
Obviously, I’m telling you all of this because I’m about to break my one rule, but I think the show I’m breaking it for deserves it. That show is Bluey, the Australian import currently bringing a lot of eyes (and dollars) to the Walt Disney Company in the US. Bluey is a show about a family of dogs, blue and red heelers, that live in Australia in a world apparently ruled by humanoid dogs. They look like dogs that walk upright, but are functionally humans that only occasionally remind the viewer they are not. The title character is a young girl who just likes to play and obviously has a lot to learn. Her little sister, Bingo, is at the age of the target demographic and the two often play together and have rather mundane experiences each episode that somehow prove entertaining. Their parents, Bandit (David McCormack) and Chilli (Melanie Zanettit, all of the children in the show are uncredited to protect their identity), play a large role in most episodes and are presented as patient, attentive, parents. They often never miss an opportunity to impart some wisdom to their daughters, but do so in an authentic manner and not as some kind of “What did we learn today, kids.” The show is created by Joe Brumm and it’s basically a reflection of his own life experiences as a parent to two girls. It’s produced and animated by Ludo Studio and the world is presented in a fairly flat, 2D, style. It’s a little boring to look at, but it makes up for that with plenty of bright colors and smooth animation.
What makes Bluey special is that it’s genuinely entertaining. Get a group of parents together and ask them what their favorite kid’s show is and 9 out of 10 will say Bluey. And the one holdout just hasn’t seen it. It is not uncommon to encounter parents that admit to watching the show without their children present and I know plenty who were very excited when season three dropped over the summer, and some seemed more excited than their kids! The characters on the show are funny and endearing. The children are often engaged in some form of imaginative play in every episode, but rather than depict a world created by their imagination like many shows choose to do, we see the reality of the play. There are exceptions, but for the most part if the kids are playing helicopter or library you’re just watching them play with a stump or pass around books in their living room. The parents, especially Bandit, are charming and unfailingly patient. They go for it when it comes to playing with their children and are capable of completely buying into the “game,” whatever it is, and other adults around them almost never pay it any mind. They basically inhabit an ideal world for children that supports and nurtures them. It can feel exhausting as a parent to watch because I know I personally can’t give myself over to such play with my kids for longer than a few minutes. At some point, I just start to feel awkward and silly and even embarrassed, even if no one is around. Bandit and Chilli almost never let on similar feelings. Sometimes they’re tired and you can tell they’d rather not play, but they still do it. They’re not always perfect in that they do show frustration at times or get angry with one of their kids, but at the same time they are perfect parents because they always have their children’s best interests in mind with basically everything they do.
I could talk about Bluey for awhile, but I’m going to limit myself here so we can actually get to the episode at hand. I have waffled on whether or not I should do this for a couple of years now, but when it comes down to it, Bluey is incredibly popular and it just makes sense to include it. I will say upfront that I don’t think either of the show’s Christmas episodes are among its best. Both have more of a preschool vibe and aren’t able to elevate themselves above that. The kids have fun, someone does something wrong, and there’s a lesson to be learned. It’s laid out quite deliberately where as the strength of the show tends to be it’s teaching your kids without them knowing it. And since I couldn’t decide which episode was better, I just decided to go with the first one: “Verandah Santa.”
The episode opens on a holiday gathering. It’s a pretty good image because it’s quite relatable. Chilli looks buzzed and appears to be drinking something for adults. Bandit’s brother, Stripe (Dan Brumm) is passed out on the floor likely from eating way too much. His wife Trixie (Myf Warhurst) appears to be in a similar state while Bandit is relaxing with a cup of coffee. The children are lurking and taking stock of the situation apparently eyeing a chance to investigate the presents under the tree. I’m not sure what they’re still waiting for as I assume it’s Christmas Eve and this is a family gathering. Maybe they just have to wait for the rest of the family to come over tomorrow or something. Either way, Bluey creeps over to the underside of the tree and gets reprimanded by her dad. He tells her that Santa doesn’t bring presents to naughty children who peek which leads to Bluey’s cousin Muffin wondering how Santa can even get in there since they don’t have a chimney. Bluey speculates he enters through the verandah followed by Bingo bursting out of the presents under the tree. Apparently she’s the sneaky one.
The kids decide they want to play Verandah Santa, and they excitedly run off to do so. Only Muffin is a bit too excited and jumps off of the chair she was on and lands on her father in a very sensitive area. He’s in some pain and Bluey tells her cousin she better apologize right away before Santa sees! Muffin cries out to the heavens her apologies while her dad lets her know, through groans, that it’s okay. They then resume their run to wherever and Bluey crashes into her mother causing her to drop a plate of food. Bluey quickly shouts out her apologies as well before Santa can see and we finally get our title card for the episode. We come back from that to find the girls and Bandit in a bedroom. The kids jump into bed as Bandit is to play Santa first. He lays down the rules for the game by establishing that it’s Christmas Eve and Verandah Santa is coming tonight, but he only leaves presents for nice kids who don’t peek! The girls all get under the covers and pretend to sleep while Bandit makes his exit through the door.
Bandit re-enters the room via the verandah and with a festive Santa hat on as well. He has some items in his arms, but as he creeps over to the bed, Bluey risks a peek. He recoils and basically gives her an out by saying “That better not be a peek,” and she cries out she’s not peeking. Bandit then deposits the “gifts” under the pillow behind each girl’s head and leaves via the verandah. He re-enters through the door shouting “Wake up kids, it’s Christmas!” They all cheer and pop up to check what “Santa” left them. Muffin got a snow globe, Bingo a can of shaving cream, and Bluey a pencil case. When Bingo sees that Bluey received her pencil case as a gift, she angrily snatches it from her sister’s hands. Bandit is forced to step in and reassures Bingo it’s just Bluey’s for the game and that seems to satisfy her. Bingo apologizes to her sister and hands it over, but Bluey refuses to accept the pencil case or her apology. Bingo protests this fact to her dad, and when he asks why she won’t accept Bingo’s apology Bluey responds with, “Why should I?” Muffin is the one to respond now as she says that Santa doesn’t like kids who won’t accept sorries and Bluey’s eyes widen ands she immediately changes course. Bandit then remarks, “Wow, that was easy!” which feels like a nod to the adults in the audience who have leaned on the Santa threat during this time of the year.
Now it’s Bluey’s turn to play Verandah Santa and Bandit takes her place in the bed. She exits through the door and enters as her dad did with her arms full of stuff she found around the house. As she creeps over to the bed, she has a bit of a devilish look on her face, and with good reason, as she shouts “HO! HO! HO!” Those in the bed immediately snap their eyes open with a startle to see Bluey as Verandah Santa who immediately reprimands them for being naughty children and peeking, even though she’s basically engaging in entrapment. Bandit defends their actions, but Bluey refuses to leave them gifts. As she walks off she indicates that she’ll be disposing of the presents in the bin, as in trash bin. The others pop out of bed, and on their hands and knees, apologize to Santa for peeking. Bandit asks if Santa will accept their apologies? Bluey thinks about it a moment, and then decides that she will and hands over the presents. Muffin gets toilet paper, Bandit some kind of stuffed gecko, and Bingo a TV remote. Bluey then takes off her hat and shouts “I sure am a nice child!” and suggests she deserves lots of presents which momentarily confuses Bandit. He tells her that’s probably not how it works, but Bluey doesn’t seem discouraged. Their other cousin, Socks, then comes running in yipping happily after Bingo declares it’s her turn. She then appoints her young cousin as her helper.
Socks is the rare character on this show that behaves like an actual dog. Apparently, these characters begin life as a puppy that behaves like one would expect a puppy would behave. Socks walks on all fours, doesn’t talk, and only barks. In the third season, she’ll have aged to a toddler and behaves more like her sister Muffin and cousins. Anyway, it’s Bingo’s turn to play Verandah Santa so they do the whole routine again. Bingo and Socks enter with Bingo sporting the Santa hat and Socks wearing an adorable pair of reindeer antlers. Bingo creeps over to the side of the bed her father is on and when she goes to plant a present under his pillow he reflexively grabs her and essentially pretends she’s a teddy bear which makes her giggle. Bluey, on the other side of the bed, does the same thing to Socks, only Socks doesn’t giggle. She reflexively bites Bluey on the arm which shatters the play as Bluey jumps up crying about being bit. Bandit tells Socks that it’s not okay to bite, but since she’s a puppy, she just sits there smiling and panting. Bluey is frustrated that Socks isn’t saying she’s sorry, but Bandit asks her what more she wants him to do and points out that she’s only one. He then tries to change the subject by asking who wants to play Verandah Santa next. Bluey announces that she does and angrily glares at Socks. You can basically tell by looking at Bandit’s face that he knows this isn’t a particularly good development. Bluey snatches the hat from her father’s hands and stomps off leaving Bandit to remark, “Strap yourselves in, kids.”
Bluey creeps back into the room in her Santa guise and hops on the bed. She deftly avoids her father and deposits each present under the pillow while uttering a soft, “Ho!” When she gets to Socks though, she says “No,” and then leaves. When she re-emerges to wake everyone up, they all sit up excitedly for Christmas except Muffin, who now looks legitimately tired and ready for bed. Everyone looks under their pillow and pulls out a present, all except Socks. When she finds nothing, she hangs her head and whimpers. Bluey then gleefully tells her that Santa doesn’t leave presents for those who bite people. Bandit shouts out a “Bluey!” while a hurt Socks hops off of the bed and runs away. Bingo, apparently unphased by the developments, starts playing with her “One of these,” which is a fidget spinner, to lighten the mood.
We’re treated to a close-up of the star on the tree then pan back to find a grumpy Bluey seated in a chair. Bandit and Chilli then come over to have a chat with their eldest daughter. Bandit thinks Bluey should apologize to Socks, and as he has a talk with her he sits on his brother who is still laying on the floor in a state of semi-consciousness. He does make a grunt and is laying on his side, which is good in case I’ve misread this and he’s actually drunk. Bluey refuses to apologize and instead defends her actions as she was trying to teach Socks that Santa doesn’t leave presents for children who aren’t nice. Her parents then tell her that she needs to stop worrying about Santa’s motivations, and when she asks why, her mother tells her because it’s not the reason to be nice. She then encourages her daughter to come with her so she can show her the real reason it’s good to be nice.
The three stand on the porch and look outside. There we find Socks laying sadly amongst some reindeer yard decorations. Bluey takes one look at her cousin and immediately realizes her mistake and hangs her head in response. Bandit then reminds us this is a preschool show by asking Bluey how she would feel if Socks did to her what she did to Socks. Bluey doesn’t offer a response, but instead walks over to Socks and takes a seat opposite her. She then apologizes to her cousin for what she did, but also explains herself by saying she was angry with her for biting her and she never even said sorry. Socks then walks over and licks the part of Bluey’s arm she bit earlier, seemingly apologizing in her own way. Bluey smiles and gives her young cousin a hug while her parents look on with approval from the porch.
We return to the game, and now everyone is in the bed including Chilli, Stripe, and Trixie. Bandit is set to play Santa and as he warns them not to peek he also gets the sense that something is up and even uses the term “sinister plotting.” He leaves the room as the others all cover themselves with the sheet and enters through the verandah once more. He pulls back the sheet only to find a pile of pillows in place of his family. He utters what sounds like an intentionally corny “Ho, ho, whoa no!” as the rest come rushing back in and we end our episode with a big pillow fight. We get an exterior shot of the house set to the sounds of laughter that pans up to the north star before the credits come in.
I mentioned coming into this one that I didn’t think “Verandah Santa” was one of the show’s best, but it’s still charming. There’s enough little, comical, details to appreciate and I very much enjoy the post Christmas feast feel of the living room setting it begins on. I can relate to that scene, and to small children eager to open presents. The lesson it imparts is a decent one, that we should be nice for the sake of being nice, and not because we’re trying to get presents out of a fat guy in a red suit. It is as Santa commands, good for goodness sake, after all. It’s a lesson for kids, but also one for parents as basically a cautionary tale of relying too much on the threat of no presents when addressing our own children. And I like the use of Socks and Bluey to relay that message as it’s just interesting to see the puppy-like Socks and the implications her existence has on this setting. Bluey is a tad unlikable in this one at times, and that’s not always a common trait for the character. Once again, it comes back to authenticity as sometimes kids can act like jerks. One day they seem like perfect, little, angels and the next day you can’t wait until bedtime. Bluey, like all kids, is learning and developing emotionally and intellectually. Muffin and Bingo are mostly along for the ride as a result as this is a very Bluey-centric episode. I suppose that makes sense since the show is called Bluey, after all.
For a dweller of the northeastern United States, it’s always amusing for me to see Christmas presented as not cold and snowy. I can’t imagine being able to have an open verandah on Christmas Eve, or really a verandah at all! I like seeing the Heeler house all decorated for Christmas even if there is no snow. The game they play is fairly relatable, especially for me since my kids played the same game after they saw this episode. They also didn’t limit it to Santa as they’d do an Easter Bunny version as well. It’s good, harmless, fun and there’s still some stuff in here even adults can get a chuckle out of. The message of the episode is a little heavy-handed and if they could have found a more subtle way to impart it that would have been appreciated. I say that and yet I still experience “the feels” when Socks gives Bluey a lick.
Bluey is a terrific show for your kids to get obsessed with and it has a perfectly fine Christmas episode you can watch with them. It’s shown frequently on television and I’m sure this episode has been aired a lot this month and might yet be aired some more before the holiday has past. And if you can’t find it or don’t have cable, Bluey is streaming on Disney+ for your viewing pleasure. I don’t know that I would recommend it for you childless folks out there unless you’re really into heeler dogs, but your kids will love it.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
One of my favorite modern Christmas specials is the DuckTales episode “Last Christmas.” I feel like anytime I talk DuckTales I have to specify which era, though in this case I really shouldn’t since the original DuckTales never did a Christmas episode. To make up for that, the 2017 edition of the show did two…
During the late 80s Nintendo was on fire in the US. The Nintendo Entertainment System came storming into living rooms, basements, and dens across the country making Mario and Luigi household names. In addition to video games, there were tons of licensing deals for clothing, school supplies, bedding, you name it. If it could be…
When you do an annual advent calendar-styled countdown of Christmas programming, you start to realize the brands you can rely on and what you cannot. It can be a challenge to find 25 worthy topics, so in order to prevent a time crunch every fall I keep a list of specials I can source from.…
As we’ve maneuvered through the countdown for 2022 the theme of The Christmas Tape has stayed strong. And today, I am going down a rabbit hole because of that tape. If you read the first entry this year, you may recall I talked about a Cinnamon Toast Crunch commercial that contained a contest for kids to win a set of teddy bears and a cardboard airplane. The brand was Santabear, and as part of that commercial there’s some animation of Santabear and Miss Bear flying in a similar airplane to the one kids could win (unless they lived in Vermont, sorry children of Vermont). It wasn’t unusual for cereal companies to commission short pieces of animation to sell product, but it would be odd to do so just to tie-in a contest. My suspicions were correct, as many years later I finally decided to investigate this Santabear and figure out what that brief cartoon was featured in the ad.
To know the story of Santabear is to know the story of Dayton’s, a department store founded way back in 1902 by George Draper Dayton. The first store was located in Minneapolis and would expand over the years, but largely remain regional. Eventually, it would absorb another store: Hudson’s. That merger occurred in 1969 forming the Dayton-Hudson corporation, which still exists today and is a place you’ve probably shopped at. It’s just known by a different name: Target. Target was originally the discount version of Dayton’s, but it eventually became the more popular store and is thus the dominant brand now. Most Dayton’s were also swallowed up by Target when it acquired Marshall Field’s in 1990. Marshall Field’s was apparently viewed as the stronger brand so it was allowed to exist in place of Dayton’s and many stores were rebranded. The store wasn’t really part of what Target was becoming though, so that part of the business would eventually be sold to Macy’s in 2006 and the name was discontinued.
That last part is really only important to the story because it’s what happened to Santabear once Dayton’s ceased to be. In 1985, Dayton-Hudson started a line of Christmas themed teddy bears. Basically, each year a new bear was released in stores that patrons could purchase. It was viewed as popular enough that Dayton-Hudson commissioned some animated specials starring Santabear. The first of which was Santabear’s First Christmas and it was released in 1986. The second is the subject of today’s post and was aired on Christmas Eve 1987 and is called Santabear’s High Flying Adventure. As you could have probably guessed from the title, an airplane features into this one and it’s the animation that was featured in the commercial that I’ve seen hundreds of times over the years. Dayton-Hudson must have felt pretty strongly about the character’s potential too, because it features some actual celebrities in Kelly McGillis (who was featured in Santabear’s First Christmas as a narrator), John Malkovich, and Dennis Hopper, the latter of whom went uncredited. I honestly can’t even figure out where his voice was used, but IMDB lists him as being part of the cast.
The special begins with a song and title card as we watch what appears to be Santabear (Bobby McFerrin) end up in a giant snowball that rolls all the way to Santa’s Work Shop. The song is sort of whimsical and was composed by Felix Cavaliere, along with the rest of the music. I believe this song is called “Out of the Blue,” and it ends with Santabear reaching up from his snow pile to knock on the door of the work shop. A pair of elves, one male and one female, answer the door to find the bear covered in snow. The female elf (possibly voiced by Glenne Headley, but hard to say as the credits are sparse) scolds Santabear for being out in the snow. When she asks what he was doing, he holds out a paw which contains two, tiny, high-top sneakers. She can’t believe he was out looking for something so insignificant while they’re all busy getting ready for Christmas, but Santabear reminds her that these shoes are rather important to whomever lost them. Santabear then heads inside and we see a bunch of rats running on a belt of some kind to power some of the machines. One rat is one the floor fubbing its feet and bemoaning their missing shoes, which Santabear promptly hands over.
The rat is gracious of Santabear for finding his shoes, and so is another gentlemen in the shop: Santa Claus (Malkovich). He thanks Santabear for what he’s done, then politely orders everyone back to work. I should take the time now to mention this special looks pretty terrible. Santabear is cute, but the other designs are pretty basic. Santa has a European look to him as he’s more slender, features a long coat, and has holly on his hat. The animation though is poor. They apparently spent all of their money on the cast, though I honestly don’t know how expensive it would have been to hire John Malkovich back then. McGillis probably cost something, but Dennis Hopper apparently didn’t if he’s uncredited. It’s possible his agent discouraged him from having his name appear in a voice role out of fear of getting typecast, but he had some decent roles under his belt come 1987 so maybe he was just doing a favor for someone.
We jump forward a bit and the elf from before, possibly the head elf, is taking a group photo complete with old-fashioned flash powder. As Santa hangs the new picture on the wall, or simply looks over a collage of old ones, Santabear notices a bear that looks like him in one of those pictures. Santa tells him that bear may look like him, but he isn’t anything like him. That’s Bully Bear, and he’s the only time Santa has ever been wrong about one of his helpers. Bully Bear was so selfish that he tried to steal all of the presents for himself. Santabear has such a pure and innocent reaction to this pointing out that no one could ever play with that many toys. Santa had to kick him out and warns Santabear that no one has seen Bully Bear since last Christmas and that should he ever run into him he needs to tell someone right away. The elves have all been putting themselves to bed during this conversation, they sleep in bunk beds carved into the wall, while Santa places Santabear in his own, traditional bed. After saying good night, the rat from earlier pops out from behind Santabear’s pillow and asks him to sing a song so he can fall asleep. Santabear says he knows one and it goes something like, “The world can be so very wide, can make you feel so small inside.” The rat asks how the rest goes, and Santabear says he doesn’t know as he’s been making it up as he goes. The rat asks for just a little more, so Santabear continues, “I’d like to be by your side, for you to bare in mind.” I have a feeling he’ll finish that song before this one is over.
The next morning the elves are back to work and Santabear is helping. They’re passing presents along a line to Santabear who places them in Santa’s sack. As Santabear looks inside though, he sees two eyes peering back at him. He quickly calls for Santa and tells him someone is in the bag and that he saw two eyes that looked exactly like his looking back at him! Santa immediately thinks it’s Bully Bear and a bunch of elves leap fearlessly into the sack. They rummage around some until all of the elves pop back out, all but one who stands up in the sack holding a wrapped present. It has reflective paper on it and he tells Santabear he just saw his own reflection looking back at him. Santabear inspects it for a long moment, making faces and all that, before everyone has a hearty laugh.
Later that day, the reindeer are all hitched up and ready to go. All eight of them! Santa is seated in his sleigh with a map that just has a compass rose written on it. I’m sure that will be very useful. Santabear pops up from the sack to secure it tight and the sleigh takes off. Only this special doesn’t even try to animate a sleigh pulled by 8 reindeer leaving the Earth, we just skip right to them flying. As they fly above the clouds, and the animation makes liberal use of the same shot, Santa instructs Santabear to look down. They’re apparently over the South Pole and he tells Santabear that life is so hard there that the creatures who live there don’t know if they should believe in Santa or not. That’s why, he has a second, smaller, sack of gifts he wants Santabear to deliver himself. Santabear vows to bring Christmas to the South Pole, and Santa straps a parachute to his back and sends him on his way. I’m starting to think Santabear isn’t fun to ride around with all night and Santa just wanted to get rid of him.
Santabear parachutes down to the ground and immediately spots some smoke in the air. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s fire, there’s fireplaces. It’s also clearly a town because there are visible buildings, but good detective work, nonetheless. As Santabear starts walking towards it, he hears singing. It’s a woman’s voice and she’s singing his lullaby! Impossible! Santabear goes to check it out and finds a bear just like him working on an airplane. It’s a female bear though with a green ribbon in her hair, and when he explains his mission, she informs him he’s about as far away from Christmas as you can get. He then asks her where she heard that song and she says she made it up. Santabear then insists he made it up, and the two get a little stand-offish with each other. Santabear then decides to continue the song, “You know that I will always love,” and the girl bear finishes the line, “will always want to be part of.” They continue by alternating more lines to add to the song, “Will always hold so high above, the one I bare in mind.”
The last part they sing together, but then they immediately start eying each other suspiciously which is not the turn I expected. They’re both rather flabbergasted at how they could know each other’s song, which causes Santabear to ask just who this bear is? Her name is Missy (McGillis), and that’s all we’ll know for now. She starts confirming Santabear’s story and gestures to his sack. When Santabear looks over, the sack is moving! Two, white, bear legs pop out of the bottom of it and it takes off running. Santabear gives chase, while Missy fires up the airplane she’s been working on. She catches up to Santabear and tells him she’s going that way anyways and to hop in. This should be a short chase.
As the plane takes off, it makes some rather unsettling noises. Santabear questions if Missy knows what she’s doing, but she insists she has it all under control. Plus, she knows where that sack is heading because there’s really only one place to go around here and it’s that town Santabear saw earlier. He asks if her family lives there, but she tells him she has no family – she’s an orphan. The two then fly over the sack, and basically keep circling back since they’re flying much faster than a sack of presents can run. Missy eventually adjusts her speed to fly over the sack and Santabear is able to grab onto it. As he pulls it into the plane, the legs pop out further and throw the balance off resulting in a disastrous crash. I hope that thing has a black box.
The plane is stuck in the snow, but Missy looks okay. There are presents strewn about, and Santabear pops his head out of a snow bank to survey the damage. As he does, the sack rips open and out comes another bear. He looks like Santabear, except he’s wearing a blue jacket and a hat. Santabear remarks he knows him from somewhere, but can’t quite place it. It’s Bully Bear (McFerrin), you dope! While Santabear just stands there trying to figure out what’s going on, Bully Bear ties up his hands, takes his hat and scarf, and swaps clothing with Santabear. Santabear doesn’t fight back, but just asks what he’s doing? Bully Bear tells him he’s out for revenge, revenge against Santa for telling him “No” last Christmas! He figures, the only thing worse than no Christmas, is a Christmas that involves getting nothing but broken toys from Santa, and that’s what he plans to deliver. He shoves a bow in Santabear’s mouth to keep from speaking further and slaps a Most Wanted poster on him for good measure so anyone who finds him will know, for certain, that he’s Bully Bear.
A waddle of penguin cops show up on the scene. They’re dressed like old timey, 1920s, cops complete with billy clubs. When they come upon Santabear and remove the ribbon shoved in his mouth, they’re immediately told what happened, but since Santabear is now dressed as Bully Bear they don’t believe him. Even Missy is too stupid to know it’s Santabear, but then again, she did just meet him. Maybe he should sing the lullaby? He’s not that quick-witted, apparently, and when Missy notices that Bully Bear (disguised as Santabear) took off with his presents she has a quiet cry for she’s all alone again. The real Santabear produces a present that’s addressed to Missy that must have been on the ground. The cops take it though and tell Missy she can have it after she tells her story to a judge which she indicates that she’d be happy to.
We next see Missy exiting a police igloo with present in hand. She gets to her plane, and looking down at the gift, a tear escapes her eye. It’s cut with Santabear doing the same in his holding cell, which he apparently shares with an ugly rat. As Missy works on her plane, she starts to sing the lullaby and it finally occurs to Santabear that’s a way for him to show her he is who he says he is. Unfortunately, once he starts singing, Missy has already fired up the plane and can’t hear him. She starts to pull away, but the engine conks out which is enough to allow her to hear Santabear continue the song: “The weather’s different every day, what comes around must go away, but you can count on me to stay, I’ll always bare in mind. I wonder if they’ll come a time, I wonder if I’ll ever find, I keep on waiting for a sign, someone to bare in mind.”
Missy hears him singing, while the cops remark he makes a lot of noise for one bear, but he’s singing about as softly, and gently, as one could. They start to dance though like it’s a song worth dancing to. I’m not saying it’s bad or anything, but it sounds like a lullaby and those traditionally do not rock. He continues singing though, “I know that I will always love, will always want to be part of.” It’s at this point Missy reaches the window of his cell and now knows he is the real Santabear. She starts untying the bounds on his wrists and the bear just keeps on singing, “You can travel far and wide, go too far and hurt your pride. When you need someone on your side,”
Before he can finish that line, and I don’t know why I’m so committed to sharing every line of this song, Missy rips the wall off of the prison with her plane. Santabear is left clinging to the bars that were on his window to the outside world, and he climbs up the rope and into the plane, with Missy’s help. The cops are left to just run outside and jump up and down and it’s hard to tell if they’re angry or cheering them on. They were just jamming with the bear so maybe they’re mad to lose their music. As the pair fly, Santabear ditches Bully Bear’s clothes and finds a red pilot’s hat and goggles in the back seat. He puts them on, and this shot of the pair flying is the one that was featured in the commercial that got my curiosity going. It’s rather satisfying to finally see its origins after all these years.
As the two fly, Santabear asks where they’re off to. Missy, who has traded in her green ribbon and bow for a red one, indicates she wants to get as far away from where they were as possible. Santabear disagrees as he’s determined to stop Bully Bear. It’s important for the people of the South Pole to believe in Christmas! Missy doesn’t really want to, but when Santabear tells her he’s going to that town with or without her she just smiles and banks hard indicating she’s turning around.
It’s dark now and the music is rather ominous. The snow-covered town is quiet and lifeless, which is a shame as I’m rather curious who could possibly live here. We then get a shot of Bully Bear, still dressed as Santabear, posing by a chimney with his sack of toys. He does look kind of cool and badass, I have to admit. He pulls a toy airplane from the sack and happily snaps it in half. He remarks to himself how he can’t wait to see the faces on these people when they find their broken gifts. He goes to toss it down the chimney, but Missy swoops down in the plane and Santabear snatches the broken toy from Bully’s hand before it can enter the home.
Bully Bear angrily grabs the sack of presents and looks like he’s prepared to move to another house as Santabear drops in. Finally, it’s the battle we’ve all been waiting for: Santabear vs Bully Bear! Bully Bear dangles the sack of presents over the edge of the roof, holding the toys hostage. Santabear tells him not to do it, as if he were dangling a child or something, but Bully Bear just smiles his sinister smile and lets go. Missy is on it though as she swoops down and saves the sack of toys and gets a thumbs up as thanks from Santabear.
Bully Bear uses this as a distraction to try to make a break for it. He slides down one side of the roof to jump onto, and climb up, the next then repeat the process. Santabear gives chase, and I’m left wondering why Bully Bear is running in the first place. Does he think he can’t take Santabear in a fight? We’re being deprived. As Bully scampers across the rooftops, he sounds like he’s getting winded, which must be what allows Santabear to get the drop on him. He tries to go back, but he slips on a roof and falls. He’s only able to save himself by grabbing onto some icicles. Lucky for him, this is the South Pole were icicles are likely at their strongest.
Santabear looks on with worry as Bully dangles there. Bully starts trying to bargain with the bear, saying he’ll give him anything he wants if he just lets him go. Santabear indicates he made a promise to Santa and he’s not breaking it and urges Bully to allow him to save him. He reaches out a paw, and Bully reluctantly agrees that he has no choice at this point. He takes it, but rather than let Santabear hoist him up, he pulls him off the roof! The two bears appear headed for Splats-ville, but Missy grabs a parachute from her plane and tosses it to the cops who have gathered in the town and they hold it open to catch the falling bears. Somehow, the bears have both lost their clothes as they fall so you can probably guess what waits for them on the ground.
They slam into the open parachute and start tussling around inside just as Santa Claus arrives via the same animation we saw earlier. That’s how you save money, folks. Santa comes upon the two, nude, bears and asks how he can know which one is Santabear? The one that is obviously Bully tries assuring Santa it’s him, while Santabear insists it’s him, as the pair approach the man in red. Santa then tells the pair to tell him what the true meaning of Christmas is. Bully says, “Something for nothing! Getting presents!” He’s clearly not a criminal mastermind. Santabear informs him that “It’s giving presents, especially the ones you can’t wrap.” Guess who aced this test?
Santa scoops up Santabear in his arms and tells Bully he hopes he understands that he’s responsible for the things he says and does. When Bully asks about the stuff no one sees or hears, Santa confirms especially those. There aren’t a lot of animation flourishes in this thing, but one does occur as Santa lectures Bully that features Santabear start to slip through his arms, and he basically catches him and repositions the bear like a baby. It’s cute. After Santa says his piece, the others start to cheer while Bully just kind of kicks at the snow and looks a little embarrassed. He then tries to slip away, but the penguin cops grab him and take him away.
With Bully gone, Santa turns to Missy and remarks, “I don’t think that we’ve met.” Santabear introduces Missy to Santa as his very best friend. I feel like that rat who lives under his pillow would be disappointed to hear that. He tells Santa that without Missy’s help they never would have stopped Bully Bear. She tries to downplay her importance, but Santa won’t let her. He tells her that she deserves a very special Christmas present: a family. He scoops the two bears up in his arms and tells her “Our family.” Aww!
We cut to the reindeer in flight, and at least it’s a different shot this time. Santa is in his sleigh and he’s got Missy’s plane behind him being towed via a rope. Missy and Santabear are riding inside it and it would appear that Santabear ditched his pilot’s hat for his old look. He waves down at the town which we cut to see is now lit up with Christmas lights. We then see the precinct and the penguin cops have a long line setup there. I think the implication is it’s a Christmas feast? Maybe they’re just handing out the presents Santabear brought? I don’t know, but there’s a sign on the igloo that says “Closed for Christmas.” Inside, we find Bully peeling potatoes and looking rather unhappy. We cut back to the sky and the image fades out on a shot of the plane.
That’s a pretty anti-climactic ending, no? I thought maybe we’d get to see a little of Missy’s arrival at the North Pole or perhaps find out they’re siblings or something. Maybe that was for a planned sequel that never happened? I don’t even think they finished their song, and did Missy ever open her gift? Is that where she got the red ribbon? Either way, it’s an unremarkable end to an unremarkable special. I suppose it made sense to take Santabear to animation if it was selling well in stores, but it didn’t seem to move beyond this. It probably didn’t help that Dayton-Hudson stores were regional and I know where I grew up there were none so I had no idea about this Santabear thing. If not for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch contest I’d have known even less. It looks rather cheap and it pretty much relies on the same song for the whole thing. I guess I should give it credit for not relying on public domain songs, but maybe it would have been nice to hear some “Jingle Bells” or something for the sake of variety?
Santabear would be a thing until 2007 or so. Surprisingly, Target didn’t want him so once Dayton-Hudson stores changed over to Marshall Field’s that’s where Santabear went. I think he had one crossover with the Target dog, Bullseye, but that’s it. When Macy’s acquired the store Santabear apparently came with it. There was a final Santabear in 2007, but it’s been mostly quiet since. At this point, it’s probably unlikely to come back since Macy’s, or whoever actually owns the rights, let some big anniversaries pass it by already. It seems like there’s a decent amount of Santabear fans out there with massive collections of the plush creations, but it’s far from mainstream.
As for the 1987 bears, I did buy them, though much later in life. I got them as kind of a gag gift for my sister one year. They weren’t very expensive, though I did pass on the airplane. It appeared to be made of cardboard or a similar, cheap, material and actually doesn’t even look like the plane in the special. It was yellow and red as opposed to red and white, but maybe that’s because they had plans for it in a later sequel since the plane was christened Santabear Express. As you could have likely assumed, this isn’t a popular Christmas special and it’s not aired anywhere. It looks like it was rebroadcast for at least a couple of years if YouTube can be believed since some list the broadcast date of their recording. And yes, this thing is all over YouTube in various states including the original 1987 broadcast with commercials! I would say if you’re curious, seek that out. If you’re really into Christmas specials, you can also find this special on VHS and likely for not much money.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
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Oiriginaly broadcast in 1987, my Christmas tape was once a sought after item because of the fact that it contained this unedited broadcast. Future broadcasts were not in primetime and not on broadcast networks so the special was trimmed down to accommodate cable. Subsequent releases of the special on VHS and beyond contained the cable cut, or some stuff was omitted for copyright reasons, I’m not sure. I never actually had to watch them or any rebroadcast because I had the original at my beck and call whenever I wished (provided it was in-season, no watching The Christmas Tape in June, house rule). I did include this special in my original Top 25 Christmas specials, but when I redid those rankings a couple of years ago I actually dropped A Muppet Family Christmas. This puts it in the odd spot of not being in consideration for the every fifth day redo the other specials are getting, but it’s still worthy of a better write-up than the original one I gave it so let’s do that now.
A Muppet Family Christmas was unique at the time because it sought to combine all of the Muppet brands under one umbrella at Christmas. And in 1987, those were primarily the Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street. It aired on ABC and was followed by Julie Andrews’ The Sound of Christmas, a special I will in all likelihood never look at and my parents thankfully did not record it in ’87. The format for this one is nothing special, all of these characters are getting together because it’s Christmas and we have a nice scenic home in the countryside where the holiday can be celebrated. There’s a B plot involving Miss Piggy, and the special does its best to incorporate everyone as best it can. Jim Henson also makes a cameo which gives this one a little added “oomph” given he’s no longer with us and would only be around for a few more years following the broadcast. Let’s not let that get us down though as this musical special wants to make us laugh, and add in a dose of Christmas melancholy, for the next hour.
The special begins with a beat-up pick-up truck driving through a snowstorm. Our driver is Fozzie (Frank Oz) and riding shotgun is Kermit (Jim Henson) with Gonzo (Dave Goelz) seated between them. In the bed of the truck are a whole bunch of characters. Now, I’m a pretty basic Muppets fan and I pretty much only know the heavy hitters by name so I won’t attempt to name everybody, but it sure looks like most everybody is in this truck. And if they’re not, it’s because they’re making their own entrance later. Anyway, the gang is singing “We Need a Little Christmas” as they drive through the snow and I think this is honestly my preferred version of this song (sorry Johnny Mathis), but it also might be the first version of the song I ever heard so that undoubtedly is influencing my opinion.
We get a break in the singing for Fozzie and Kermit to basically set up the special. The whole gang is heading out to the country to surprise Fozzie’s mother for Christmas. She has no idea what’s coming for her. Fozzie assures Kermit this is fine as his mother is likely seated in her farm house all alone and wishing someone would come spend Christmas with her. As he sets the stage, we see a lovely farm house that certainly looks like it’s owned by an old lady. Maybe not a bear, but it has real grandma energy. Fozzie’s mom (Jerry Nelson) comes walking into the scene and she is not some granny looking to sip tea in a rocking chair. She’s carrying a suitcase and sporting some fancy shades as she talks aloud about being bound for Malibu! It seems Fozzie’s mom had found a much more entertaining way to spend the holidays this year. We cut back to the gang in the truck so they can finish their song while also getting a few shots of other occupants of the truck.
After our first commercial break, we return to the farm house where Emily “Ma” Bear is looking over her airplane tickets and getting ready for her departure. A ring of the doorbell interrupts her and on the other side waiting for her is…Doc! Doc (Gerry Parks) is here with his trusty, canine, companion (who is a Muppet) Sprocket (Steve Whitmire) and he is apparently renting Emily Bear’s house for Christmas while she’s on vacation. Both he and Sprocket are surprised to find out that Emily Bear is an actual bear, but they seem to pay it no mind. If you’re unaware, Doc is from the Fraggle Rock show and the premise there is Sprocket sees and encounters the Fraggles, but Doc does not.
As Doc heads upstairs to his room, another ring of the doorbell occurs. This time it’s Fozzie, and Emily is very surprised to see her son, but not disappointed. They do a special greeting and it’s rather sweet as the two embrace. She doesn’t tell him about her vacation, but when she remarks how this is quite the surprise Fozzie lets her know he has an even bigger surprise: he brought all his friends! Since Emily is wearing sunglasses we can’t see how surprised she really is as Kermit and the gang all come barging in. As they do, most, if not all, of them slip on an icy patch she previously warned Doc about who deftly navigated it with little more than a stumble. The various Muppets mostly go head over heels on the thing and it will be a running gag throughout the special.
As the crew comes pouring in, Emily tries to mask her disappointment at this development so as to spare her son’s feelings. Doc is not so concerned and he calls from atop the stairs asking if she remembers him, the guy who wanted a nice, quiet, Christmas? He’s going to say that a lot. All Emily can do is shrug, a gesture indicating she’s just rolling with it, while Doc warns Sprocket to stay clear of these potential aliens. Emily tells him they’re just from television and describes them as Fozzie’s “weirdo friends.” When she does, Dr. Teeth (Henson) confirms this while Sam Eagle (Oz) wonders aloud “Why am I here?” Doc also asks Sprocket, in a whisper, if these characters are like those Fraggles he keeps telling him about and Sprocket just holds up his hand to make a gesture that says “Sort of.” I had no idea Sprocket was capable of communication enough to be able to actually tell Doc the word “Fraggle” at some point in the past.
Fozzie then introduces his mother to Kermit, whom he describes as his boss, friend and inspiration. Emily just responds “Oh yeah, the lizard.” Kermit politely corrects her on his species before apologizing for all of them barging in like this. Emily, ever the gracious host, will here none of it and tells him they’re all welcome while Doc reminds her of his desired nice, quiet, Christmas. She just throws it back at him by saying “You’re disappointed? I just took three months of surfing lessons for zilch!” The telephone rings, which Animal announces, to break up the brief argument. Animal (Oz) is the one to answer it and he seems excited, but then says “Oh…pig” and drops the receiver.
Miss Piggy (Oz) is on the other end when Kermit picks up the phone. He asks where she is as she was supposed to join them at the farm house, but she apparently neglected to tell him about a teensy, weensy, photo shoot she had scheduled. She explains she’ll be heading his way once she’s done, the whole time they’re talking a photographer (David Rudman) is calling out instructions from off camera to Piggy to do various poses ending with a kissy face up close at the camera. Kermit hangs up looking a bit disappointed while Emily is leading a bunch of characters up the stairs to show them to the guest rooms while Doc pleads with her to do no such thing. The door rings and you can see the guy’s heart basically hit the floor as he cries, “Not more!”
Fozzie answers it and it’s Swedish Chef (Henson). He’s arrived with a bunch of cooking equipment and promptly dumps it all as he wipes out on the icy patch. After he gathers himself, Fozzie basically translates his gibberish for us as we find out he’s here to cook the Christmas turkey though we could have figured that out because he says “Gobbly gobbly turkey!” Fozzie is excited to have him and offers to show him to the kitchen. As the two head there, they both basically just sing the melody to “Good King Wenceslas.” I realize that Swedish Chef is considered by some to be offensive these days. I think he’s just called “Chef” now to reflect that. I view him as rather innocuous, but I’m also not Swedish so my opinion might not matter. I’ll probably just refer to him as Chef the rest of the way, mostly because it’s shorter, but also to respect those wishes.
As the two walk towards the kitchen, Gonzo is shown searching for his precious Camilla, the chicken. He’s the original Chicken Lover. The doorbell rings once again and Gonzo stops his search to answer it only to find a turkey on the other side. The turkey (Whitmire) is sporting some shades, a newsboy cap, and carrying a tennis racket for some reason. He’s very colorful too, far more colorful than most turkeys. Gonzo is shocked to see him and ushers him out onto the farmer’s porch. There, he tries to discourage the bird from attending this gathering for he knows what Chef likely has planned, but the turkey won’t take a hint. He says he was invited by some Swedish guy wearing a Chef’s hat and thinks this is a great place to spend the holidays. He just demands to know where his room is and Gonzo tells him if he isn’t careful it will be the oven, but this turkey dismisses his concerns because he’s a survivor. As he walks off, Gonzo calls after him, “See you at dinner!”
In the kitchen, Chef is surrounded by a bunch of chickens, rats, and Fozzie and Kermit. He’s not too happy about this and when Kermit asks what the problem is Fozzie tells him that Chef doesn’t want rats and chickens in his kitchen. Seems reasonable. Kermit suggests that he show them their bedrooms and Chef seems to like that idea so Fozzie does as suggested leaving Kermit and his nephew Robin (Nelson) alone in the kitchen. Kermit remarks how crazy things are getting, but Robin reminds him this is how Christmas usually is. A very sweet, but also loud, version of “Jingle Bells” starts to play in the background as the frogs reflect on their current station. By the way, Robin sucks. I hate Robin, he’s such a dork, and it might be this scene that makes me dislike him as he just starts singing this very sickeningly sweet rendition of “Jingle Bells” in sync with the music. Yuck!
Dr. Teeth apparently agrees with me as Robin’s song is interrupted rather quickly with “Jingle Bell Rock” courtesy of Electric Mayhem. Suck it, Robin! It’s a lively and fun rendition of the song which Robin and Kermit are shown enjoying. The rats like it too, as does Sprocket, though Doc looks a bit befuddled by the whole scene. When it ends we go to a break, but return with Fozzie outside building a snowman that’s clearly a Muppet. A bear and a raccoon are harvesting a Christmas tree and soon Rowlf (Henson) comes upon them. He enters with a joke, “I’ve been chasing a truck the whole way and boy am I exhausted” which Fozzie enjoys. He tells him to head inside and introduce himself to his mother who loves canine humor.
Emily directs the beer and raccoon on where to put the tree and then turns to Doc to help her with the garland for the banister. It would seem since she wasn’t planning on being home for Christmas she decided not to bother decorating and now they have to hastily make the place seem merry. Rowlf comes bounding in and slips on the icy patch momentarily dropping the presents he was carrying in. When he gets up, he informs Emily he’s hear for the holidays and Doc is not happy to hear this. Emily just sighs and indicates she’ll see if there’s a pillow in the kennel. Rowlf seems to get the impression his being there is an inconvenience, but he doesn’t dwell on it since he encounters Sprocket. The two trade barks and Doc actually smiles for once as he remarks “Don’t you just hate it when you can’t speak the language?”
Rowlf soon spies an old piano and heads for it. As he starts playing “Sleigh Ride,” on it he remarks it’s out of tune before adding that he loves out of tune pianos. We then cut to outside where Fozzie comes in with the lyrics as he continues to build his snowman. When he gets to the line “Out here the snow is falling,” it’s not Fozzie, but the snowman, who sings it much to Fozzie’s delight. He and the snowman (Richard Hunt) work their way through the song before breaking into a comedy routine. They trade lame jokes and are soon joined by a bunch of penguins and later some more woodland animals. Doc and Sprocket are also shown enjoying the song from the porch so he’s gradually lightening up.
When the two finish their song, one of the penguins tells Fozzie they’re the funniest comedy duo in the area. This gets Fozzie all excited as he goes running into the house, slipping on the icy patch in the process, calling for Kermit. He finds the frog in the kitchen, but before he could tell him about his new act the phone rings and Kermit goes to retrieve it. It’s Miss Piggy and her photo shoot is done, but she still has to do some Christmas shopping. Kermit is disappointed that she isn’t on the way, but Piggy doesn’t seem to care as she reassures him she’ll be on her way shortly. He hangs up as Miss Piggy starts eyeing some fuzzy, green, slippers and turns his attention to Fozzie. He tells him he’s “All ears,” but before Fozzie can get it out they’re interrupted by the sound of a dog barking. As Kermit goes to investigate, Fozzie remarks that frogs don’t even have ears. Yes they do, you stupid bear.
The source of the barking turns out to be Sprocket, he is under attack from the Chef who seems to think Sprocket is a turkey. Doc is getting quite exasperated with Chef as he explains that Sprocket is a dog, but Chef seems to be rather convinced that Sprocket is not what Doc says he is. Doc can apparently understand Chef and it’s through him we find out that the turkey told Chef that Sprocket is a turkey which causes Doc to remark “The dog is not a turkey, the turkey is the turkey, you turkey!” He leads Sprocket away as Chef seems to head back into the kitchen. Then the turkey comes into the frame to laugh and indicate that he’s having some fun. Camilla then walks in which gets the turkey’s attention. Apparently, she being a chicken isn’t a problem for him as he starts hitting on her.
Scooter (Hunt) then calls out for Kermit’s attention as he found some home movies to share. Doc is seated beside him and seems genuinely interested to watch what Scooter describes as the very first Christmas the Muppets ever spent together. Kermit is eager to see it as a bunch of individuals have gathered in the living room. Scooter rolls tape and it’s basically the Muppet Babies, minus Skeeter, but in actual puppet form. They’re singing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” with Rowlf on piano. When Fozzie’s part comes on, Mrs. Bear remarks he was still in diapers back then which seems to embarrass him. Someone refers to Rowlf as a wee puppy which just opens him up to make a pee joke while Gonzo thinks the baby version of him was rather handsome. The song ends with baby Animal tearing through a present and they all remark “Oh, Animal” which is his cue to come ripping through the projector screen. Doc enjoyed the show and remarks to Sprocket, “Even weirdos are cute when they’re babies.”
Some clucking from the other room gets Gonzo’s attention and he runs over to find Camilla in the arms, err wings, of the turkey. He angrily orders the turkey to get his hands off of his girlfriend which the turkey seems to find disgusting on account of Gonzo not being a bird! This turkey is a racist, opposed to this sort of inner-species love, so now I’m fine with him going in the oven. Gonzo is ready to throw down and the turkey seems game as well as they both go nose-to-nose until Kermit runs over to break them up. He indicates that he hears something, which Gonzo chimes in with “Yeah, you’re about to hear me make some turkey hash,” but Kermit tells him it’s carolers that he hears.
It’s the gang of Sesame Street that has come a caroling, appropriately enough singing “Here We Come A-Caroling.” As they all come into view for Kermit to enthusiastically point out it’s the Sesame Street Gang, the song stops so Big Bird (Caroll Spinney) can wish everyone a Merry Christmas from Sesame Street! They then go into “Deck the Halls” and characters from Sesame Street get a little face-time in between “Fa la las”. For some reason, a random cow puppet gets a line in(her name is apparently Gladys, but I don’t remember her as being a featured character), while the rest basically just play it straight. The only gag is when it’s Oscar the Grouch’s (Spinney) turn he just says “I will not sing this song!”
When the song is over the gang basically storm the house. Doc seems to be accepting his fate at this point as he remarks to Emily this likely means he and Sprocket will have to give up their hammock in the attic. I get wrecking the guy’s nice, quiet, Christmas and forcing him to adapt, but I do think he’s at least owed a bed, no? It’s not like he’s the host, after all, but I guess it’s just funnier this way. After his remark, Emily says it’s either that or he builds bunk beds so he tells Sprocket to find him a hammer. As Emily leaves, Doc is introduced to Bert and Ernie (Henson). He’s cordial, and when he says his name is Doc, Bert (Oz) replies with “That begins with the letter D!” When Doc confirms it does by saying, “Yes,” Ernie points out that begins with the letter “Y,” and Doc says “True,” and you get it. When Doc asks what’s going on, Bert informs him that this is small talk where they come from. That is a perfect Sesame Street joke that isn’t taking place on Sesame Street.
Doc excuses himself to go build some bunkbeds and Bert and Ernie continue the bit amongst themselves. In the kitchen, Chef has finally got his mitts on the turkey and he isn’t being tricked anymore. He’s literally measuring him to make sure he’ll fit into the roasting pan he brought all the while the turkey tries to convince him he’ll make a terrible meal. He has one more ace up his sleeve though as he leads Chef to the door to show him what just entered the house: Big Bird! Chef is blown away and refers to Big Bird as a “Gobbly gobbly humongo!” He rubs his hands together and tosses the roasting pan aside as that won’t due any longer while the turkey snickers off in the background.
Oscar then tells everyone to be quiet as there’s a news bulletin coming on. A newsman (Henson) comes on to warn of an oncoming blizzard and indicates that barometers are falling sharply. He’s them bombarded with a bunch of literal, falling, barometers. Scooter has a laugh at the newsman’s expense, then reacts to the snow falling outside while The Count (Nelson) tries to count the flakes as they fall, an exercise in futility. Kermit peers out the window with worry on his face for Miss Piggy still hasn’t arrived.
When we come back from a break, Fozzie and his mother are working on a checklist for where everyone will be sleeping. When they get to Oscar, he informs them that he’ll be fine right here in his trash can. Rizzo the rat (Whitmire) then comes to scope it out and asks Oscar if he could bunk with him. Oscar rubs his chin and thinks it might be nice having a rat in his can and I’m not sure how we’re supposed to interpret that thought. Janice (Hunt) comes wandering over baring Christmas cookies and comes upon the wrong guy: Cookie Monster (Oz). He devours every last morsel on her tray leaving her standing there wondering “Who was that strange, blue, creature?” Animal is there to add “That my kind of fella!”
Ernie then calls for everyone’s attention as he and the gang are preparing to put on a play: Twas the Night Before Christmas. He will be playing Papa, and in the role of Mama is a very embarrassed Bert who needs some coaxing to come out from behind the curtain. They all have a laugh at Bert’s expense, including Ernie, before things get started. Ernie reads the poem and after the first line out comes Grover (Oz) dressed as the mouse who is not stirring. We know he is not stirring because he’s carrying a bowl to illustrate that he is clearly not stirring.
Ernie moves on to the next part of the poem, the arrival of Santa, and when the curtain is thrown aside we see a sleigh full of eight…monsters! In the middle is Elmo and I only point this out because this is when he was a new character and not the phenom he would become, so Elmo is seen in this special, but not heard. Bert seems almost disgusted with Ernie for selecting the monsters as reindeer and wants to know who is Santa. Ernie tells him to hold on as he gets to that part and in comes the two-headed monster with both heads sporting hats and beards. Sam Eagle is left to remark, “Is nothing sacred?” as he drops his face into his hands. Bert just tells Ernie to get to the finish, so he does, and it’s the monsters who get the last line. They all leave to raucous applause.
Doc then comes bursting in through the front door to confirm that, yes, there’s quite a blizzard raging out there. A few of them head over to the window to look at the storm and it’s Emily Bear that remarks to “the lizard” that it’s a good thing all of his friends are safe and warm inside the farm house. Kermit basically gulps out, “But all of my friends aren’t safe and warm inside the farm house.” The phone rings and Kermit runs off to grab it and, of course, it’s Miss Piggy. She’s calling from a phone booth (remember those?) to tell Kermit that her chauffer, Jerome, got the limo stuck in a snowbank so she’ll be taking a taxi the rest of the way. Kermit advises against doing so on account of the blizzard, but Miss Piggy dismisses his concerns as “Just some snow.” She hangs up and it takes all of her strength to force open the phone booth doors to get out. As she starts walking up the street, the wind is fighting her the whole way. First her hat sails off, then the phone booth, and soon she follows with a scream and a loud crashing sound is heard offscreen.
Kermit is left holding the phone, worried, as Fozzie comes by to cheer him up. He indicates to Kermit that he could use a dose of comedy right now and tries to take him outside to view his new act. Kermit tries telling him it’s too cold to go out there, but Fozzie insists it’s fine. They get to the door and it swings open and in comes the snowman looking to warm up. Kermit just looks at Fozzie with an “I told you so,” expression, but Fozzie just tells Kermit this is his new partner. The snowman agrees and declares they’re terrific together. Fozzie welcomes him towards the living room and asks if anyone wants to see they’re act. Responding in the affirmative are Fozzie’s mortal enemies: Statler (Hunt) and Waldorf (Henson). They play off of each other with one saying “We’d love to see your act,” followed by, “In fact, we’d hate to miss your act,” and finishing with “In fact, we’d love to hate your act!” As Fozzie bemoans their presence, he finds out they’re friends of his mother who always visit her around the holidays.
Fozzie can’t believe what he’s hearing and as he stands there speechless, it’s Statler who remarks “These two are made for each other; the snowman’s ice cold, and the bear’s not so hot!” They’re killing it, but Fozzie and the snowman try to go into their act, but every time they approach a punchline, Statler and Waldorf beat them to it. The snowman complains he’s starting to melt, though I think it’s his pride that hurts most. Waldorf zings him once more, and Fozzie sadly leads the snowman out of the house and to the back porch.
By the window, Doc and Kermit are just staring out at the snow. Kermit is clearly worried, and Doc mentions that he’s “One worried frog,” to the nearest character, which just happens to be The Count. He restates Doc’s observation the only way he can, and then Robin comes in (I hate that frog) to indicate he’s not the only one worried so Count gets to add, “That’s two worried frogs! Ha. Ha. Ha,” before walking off. Sprocket appears confused and Doc remarks it must be more small talk before saying he should go collect more fire wood. Kermit and Robin are left standing together looking out the window with Kermit draping an arm around his nephew’s shoulders.
In the kitchen, Chef is up to something. Big Bird soon enters and it would seem Chef lured him there. He tries to smack Big Bird with a rubber mallet, but Big Bird doesn’t notice and as he turns around he knocks the chef on his ass with his tail. As Chef prepares to try again, Big Bird tells him he brought something for him: chocolate-covered bird seed. He completely disarms Chef with his generosity as he indicates he felt he must be feeling a little blue since he’s so far from home. Chef is touched and seems to forget about murdering and cooking Big Bird and the two go into the most unlikely duet of the special: “The Christmas Song.” Chef sings in gibberish which is what makes this a rather bold choice. When they finish, he begins to sob as he clearly is lonesome this Christmas. Big Bird seems to pay it no mind, or he wants to cheer him up by changing the subject, and asks what he’s making for Christmas dinner. Chef seems to have had a change of heart as he explains something to Big Bird which the kind, yellow, bird translates as shredded wheat and cranberry sauce. This is apparently his favorite. I say he should go back to killing the turkey, if Gonzo hasn’t already.
Once again, we see Kermit by a window. Beauregard (Goelz) is there with him this time to remark he’s got a lot of shoveling ahead of him. He becomes the latest to remind Kermit of the current situation by asking him, “Aren’t you glad you’re all in here all warm and toasty?” leaving Kermit to remind him that Miss Piggy isn’t. We cut to Piggy and she’s positioned behind a taxi. She tells the driver to “Gun it!” as she’s trying to help get it unstuck apparently, and all that happens is she gets sprayed with mud from a spinning tire. Doc then comes in with the firewood and sees Kermit. He acknowledges Kermit’s worry, and then offers to go look for Miss Piggy. Kermit is surprised since he doesn’t even know her. Doc explains that he didn’t know any of them before today, but now he considers them all friends. He then adds how he and Sprocket were planning on having a nice, quiet, Christmas alone, but this is better! When he asks Kermit what she looks like, he indicates she’s a pig causing Doc to remark, “Well, up until a short while ago I would have thought that strange.” He vows to give it a try and heads out leaving Kermit to remark, “What a sweet guy.”
Robin (ugh) then calls out for Uncle Kermit from the cellar. Kermit heads down there to see what the kid is up to only to find some, weird, tunnel. Robin asks him if this might be a Fraggle Hole, and Kermit seems to think it is so the two investigate further. As they walk in they find an expansive system of caves. As they wander, some beings in the background are poking their heads up to look at the frogs. Kermit thinks he heard something, but doesn’t see anyone. It’s played off as kind of spooky and as the two frogs turn a corner they nearly bump into a Fraggle.
It’s Red Fraggle (Karen Prell) that gives the two a mild start which causes them to bump into Gobo Fraggle (Nelson) behind them. They’re soon joined by Mokey Fraggle (Kathryn Mullen), Boober Fraggle (Hunt), and Wembley Fraggle (Whitemire). They’re pretty confused by what they’ve come across, but Kermit knows that they are Fraggles. He tells them they’re frogs, and that doesn’t clear anything up, but they move on when Kermit says they came down to wish them a merry Christmas. The Fraggles don’t know what Christmas is so Robin explains it as the time of year when you gather with the people you love to wish them peace on Earth. A nice sentiment, but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Christmas described in such a way.
The Fraggles indicate they have a similar time of year, and it’s going on right now! Mokey says they gather together and give each other presents and says she’s about to give a pebble (which looks like a pretty large, orange, rock) to Boober to mark this occasion. The other Fraggles all chime in that they’ve been passing this rock around for years and it’s Goober who confirms it’s been a gift 37 times. Apparently, re-gifting is encouraged in Fraggle Rock. This prompts the Fraggles to sing a pretty lame song called “Pass it On.” There’s some bongos and they just do a sequence of “La la’s” ending with “Pass it on!” There’s some verses and such about gift giving, and how it’s better than receiving, but little in the way of jokes or anything. The frogs get in on the act and when the song is over it’s Robin who is given the Fraggle pebble.
As the two leave remarking how nice a meeting that was, Scooter calls for Kermit because they heard something outside. He rushes to the window where others are gathered and soon Miss Piggy comes into view. She’s being brought to the farm via dogsled with Doc serving as the driver. She’s no longer covered in mud and looks about as elegant as a pig can. Doc is also wearing a fancy uniform and he laughs as he explains that when he found her she had the costume for him. Kermit is left to remark that Piggy always does know how to make an entrance.
With everyone now outside, Piggy goes into another song: “Home for the Holidays.” It’s played straight, as most of the songs have been, with the whole gang joining in as Piggy makes her way into the house. As the song is fading out, Kermit leads Piggy into the house where she slips on the icy patch. All of the onlookers cry out in unison, “Careful of the icy patch!” I think that’s the last time that joke is recycled and they did save the best instance of it for last.
After the break, Fozzie is putting the finishing touches on the tree to lots of “oo’s” and “ah’s” now that it’s lit. Fozzie then calls for quiet as his mother has an announcement. It’s at this point that Emily Bear formally welcomes them all here, and then follows by asking that they are all here now? She’s relieved to hear it confirmed that everyone is indeed present and then breaks the news that two people are going to have to sleep hanging from hooks on the wall. We cut to Gonzo remarking to Animal what a great idea this was as the two are hanging from said hooks. Animal appears to be in agreement. We find out that’s how Animal always sleeps. Emily Bear refers to them all as weirdos, but nice weirdos.
Kermit, now clothed and seated beside Piggy, tells everyone it’s time for their annual carol sing. He gives Rowlf the signal to start them off, and now my job gets easy because they’re going to sit and sing. A lot. They start with “Happy Holidays,” then move onto the following: Ding Dong Merrily On High, I Saw Three Ships a Sailing, Good King Wenceslas, The Holly and the Ivy, I’ll be Home for Christmas, Happy Holidays (a reprise), Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Caroling Caroling, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, It’s in Every One of Us, Old Friends New Friends. There aren’t really any jokes during those 8 minutes or so of singing, save for Beaker doing some of his weird noises. The Fraggles are also shown ascending from the basement and they’re singing with Doc and Sprocket, though I think the implication is that Doc doesn’t notice them.
When it’s mercifully over, we return to the living room where Emily is finishing hanging Fozzie’s stocking so that Santa can leave him a present. Fozzie indicates he’s embarrassed again, so his mother offers to take it down, but he stops her pretty quickly. This reminds Kermit that he has a present for Miss Piggy. She is quite excited to receiver her gift, and when Kermit announces that he got her a mink she practically faints. Then she gets rather sour when an actual, mink, Muppet named Maureen (Prell) comes into frame. She obviously thought she was getting a coat, but somehow Kermit managed to find her an indentured servant in 1987 (seriously, I get the joke, but this is rather weird, no?). Piggy cheers up when Maureen expresses how she’s a huge fan and worships the ground she walks on. Piggy then gives a little chuckle and embraces the mink to show Kermit she’s happy with her gift, but I’m not convinced.
Off to the side somewhere, Robin and Grover share a moment where Robin gives Grover his Fraggle pebble. Grover is surprisingly delighted by the offering and Robin gets the satisfaction of carrying on the tradition. Or he just didn’t want a rock. The doorbell then rings, again, and in comes…Santa! Well, it’s clearly Doc dressed up as Santa, but the sentiment is nice. He’s got gifts which he starts to hand out while everyone else breaks into song, again, with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
We then cut to the kitchen and diehard Muppet fans are encouraged to reach for the tissues. It’s Jim Henson shown watching his creations celebrate. He’s not alone as Sprocket is at his feet. He remarks how they’re having a good time out there and adds that he likes it when they have a good time. He then gives Sprocket the bad news that there’s a lot of dishes to do. He offers to wash while Sprocket dry, and I’d love to see how that works.
We then zoom out from an image of mistletoe while the Muppets keep right on singing. Underneath the deadly plant are Kermit and Piggy. Piggy tells Kermit to look up and he does remarking “Uh oh,” upon seeing the mistletoe. Piggy plants a gentle kiss on his cheek and wishes him merry Christmas. Kermit returns the favor and expresses the same. They then turn to the camera as the song finishes and the whole crowd shouts, “Merry Christmas everyone!” The title comes back onto the screen and the credits roll to raucous applause from the many Muppets on screen.
Over 6,000 words later, this one is done! These hour long specials take even longer as a write-up, but they’re worth it. A Muppet Family Christmas may have been knocked from the ranks of the top 25, but it’s still a special I enjoy watching each year. It’s charming and there’s a lot of sweetness to it. The jokes tend to be corny, but there’s some good material here as well. Mostly, this one just serves as a celebration of all things Jim Henson in 1987. It’s pretty neat seeing it all come together, and it’s really in the joining of Muppets and Sesame Street where the best comedy is found. The Fraggles do feel a bit tacked on, but I’m sure for fans of their show it was a big deal to see them included. I personally have never been a fan of the show Fraggle Rock so I could do without especially since their scene feels like padding. This probably didn’t need the full hour, but again, if you were big into The Muppets in 1987 this probably hit a lot harder.
Where this one does suffer a bit is in its self-indulgence. It’s greatest strength is it’s greatest weakness. We don’t spend a lot of time with anyone except Kermit as there’s just so many characters here. And even so, around one fifth of the special’s runtime is devoted to a medley of Christmas carols and Muppet/Sesame Street originals. That’s the moment where the special really drags and every time I watch it I’m surprised at how long that segment lasts. It just keeps on going. At the same time though, it’s really impressive seeing all of those puppets in one place at one time all being manipulated. The set must have been fairly large and pretty expensive to construct for a one-off. I’m not a Muppets expert so I don’t know if this set was ever reused or not. There were definitely a lot of extra hands here as Frank Oz and Jim Henson can’t work 8 different puppets each at once so this thing’s existence is special. It’s just more interesting on paper than it is in reality.
If you are a big fan of the Muppets then this is probably a must see each and every year, and I get that. If I were a bigger fan of the Muppets then I’d probably like it more than I do. And I do like it! I just don’t love it. If you wish to view it, it has been released on physical media though I know it’s tricky to find the right one. I want to say the Canadian release has everything, but I’m not positive. It is available on YouTube for free and it’s the 87 broadcast so it has everything, and there’s even one out there with commercials included. Though if I’m being honest, the commercials on my tape for this special are kind of weak, but better than nothing. Maybe ABC just didn’t get the good ones or advertisers weren’t sold on The Muppets? Oh well, as fun as old commercials are, the special is what matters most.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
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