Super7 Disney Ultimates! Robin Hood

Robin Hood is after you and he’s not in a joking mood!

When Super7 announced it was taking Disney into its world of Ultimates! line of action figures, they really seemed to confuse the Disney fans unfamiliar with their business model when the first wave consisted of Sorcerer Mickey, Pinocchio, and Prince John from Robin Hood. Where was Robin Hood?! Well, he was coming, just in Wave 2. The company was apparently going to slow burn the movies in Disney’s very famous film library, but persistent confusion and outcry (which Super7 felt was coming from the Disney collector, and not necessarily the Super7 collector) caused them to change lanes. Wave 4 of Disney Ultimates! was solicited a couple of months ago and all three figures are based on The Nightmare Before Christmas. That will apparently be the model going forward, but given that there’s a significant lag between solicitation and delivery, we’re still talking about Wave 2 which just dropped in the past month and included that much sought after Robin Hood.

Robin and PJ together at last!

Robin Hood is the lone figure from the film of the same name in Super7’s Wave Two. He comes in the standard window box with slipcover and I got mine direct from Super7 for the not so lovely price of $55. Back when the figure first went up, I really wanted to support Super7 in their journey into Disney so I placed my order direct with them. I also thought that meant I’d get it before other retailers, but Big Bad Toy Store has been shipping these for about a month now so that obviously didn’t work. And after being all-in on Wave One largely on principle, I just couldn’t do it for Wave Two which also featured Alice from Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter from the same, and Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia. I just could not muster up any appetite for those three figures as I don’t really like either movie. The hippo looked the most impressive out of all four figures in the wave, but since I had Prince John I did want to pair him with someone. And Robin Hood was a film I liked a lot as a kid and it holds up pretty well today.

So what do we think? Accurate enough for you?

When the solicitation did go up, I wasn’t that impressed, but I also wasn’t for Wave One and those were refined along the way and turned out better than the render. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true of Wave Two. Robin Hood looks as solicited which is to say he’s a bit off-model. The head shape seems all wrong to me, the proportions are off, and there’s nothing in the paint or sculpt that attempts to capture that scratchy look of the lines from the film. It’s like they had someone sculpt the character from memory, or maybe there’s some modern, licensing, art out there designed to make the character look cuter? There could also be another factor contributing to the aesthetic that we’ll get to. First glance though is that he doesn’t look right. There’s clearly no commitment to make the character look like he just jumped out of the film which is the approach I want to see, but maybe that’s not what Super7 wants?

Who has two thumbs and an arrow through the head?

It doesn’t get much better with the figure in hand. Robin Hood is very plain looking. There’s almost no paint on this figure past the neck. It’s a very “plastic” looking release similar to Prince John. Unlike Prince John, there are no soft goods present on the base figure. And I should talk about this like it’s two figures. I’m fine with that though as a soft goods tunic would probably look terrible. Unfortunately, the figure just looks cheap and it feels just as cheap. The tail in particular looks too soft and feels worse because it’s hollow. I don’t disagree with making it hollow as a heavier tail affects balance (and he already balances poorly), but there’s nothing really on it. No attempt to make it appear furry. It’s just not good.

This pose is easy enough to pull off, once you heat the hand to fit the bow anyway.

Accessories can help liven up a dull experience, but with this figure, your mileage may vary. Robin Hood has gipping hands in the box and a second set of hands with a tighter grip and a thumb up. They appear to be intended for use with the bow and arrow. The bow looks fine and has a real string, but it doesn’t fit either hand well. The standard gripping hand is too loose and the secondary one is too tight. At least with the too tight option some heat can make it pliable to get the bow in there. The included arrow fits fine into the other tighter hand as it slides between the index and middle finger so he can string it. There’s also a quiver and to get that onto the figure you will want to remove the head because there’s almost no give in the strap. The quiver is also solid plastic and the arrows don’t come out which is a bit of a bummer, but not the end of the world as long as you don’t lose the one, lone, arrow. His other accessory is a second head which features a startled expression and an arrow through his hat. The arrow is warped and looks ridiculous and I doubt I ever would use this head anyway. There’s also an unsightly seem line on the lower jaw that takes away from the presentation. All of the other accessories are for the stork disguise, which we’ll discuss separately, which really makes the base offering feel light. The default gripping hands are essentially useless as they don’t work with the bow and arrow and he has nothing else to hold. No sword, really? And how about a legitimate second head that maybe has a cocky grin or a more determined face instead of this gag head? You basically can pose with the bow and arrow or with nothing which is pretty poor for options.

This is not, though it’s hardly convincing anyway. If I let this figure rest like this either the bow or the arrow would eventually give out and go flinging off somewhere. The arrow should be able to peg into the bow, or knock, for added stability.

Which brings us to articulation. Never the strong suit for Super7, I’m afraid it’s worse than usual here. Super7 went with a ball-hinge for the head, which is different from the usual big ball peg for this line and also different from the double-ball I see in the TMNT line. The only thing the hinge does is let the figure look down, but not really any more than the previous setup. There’s no up rotation and no nuance posing. He can rotate, but that’s basically it. The hinge just gets in the way when swapping heads making for a frustrating experience. The shoulders can raise out to the side and rotate all around while the elbows are single-hinged with a swivel. The biceps also swivel at the sleeve. The arms are very thin and gummy feeling, but at least the elbows bend past 90 degrees. The wrists also swivel and hinge and all of the hinges are horizontal hinges which is not optimal for the bow and arrow. There’s a diaphragm joint that does almost nothing. No forward, no back, just a little rotation. The waist also can rotate. At the hips, we just go forward and back. There’s no out to the side and the knees are a single hinge and swivel point. The swivel does more harm than good as it’s hard to figure out what the neutral position is supposed to be. The hinge does very little and I think his knees are supposed to always be pointing out from his body, but it’s frustrating to pose. Worse are the ankles which, like the knees, just swivel and hinge. There’s no ankle rocker. And what’s more annoying is trying to get the hinge pointed where you want it is a pain because it swivels above and below the hinge so if you grip the foot to rotate that piece it will just spin with the shoe. It’s maddening. Thankfully, he does have that ugly tail because it makes getting him to stand much easier than it would be without and that thing swivels and has a hinge. No ankle rocker is an awful choice. It’s usually the one joint Super7 does well and here they declined to try it for some reason (probably for the disguise). The only saving grace for this figure, articulation wise, is he can do a bow stringing pose, but that’s pretty much it.

Hey! It’s some stork guy!

And now that takes us to basically the other figure: Stork Robin Hood. During the film, Robin Hood disguises himself as a stork to enter an archery contest and Super7 decided to make that a focus for this release. I don’t know that I agree with the call, but it’s what they decided. Personally, I consider his beggar persona more iconic, but admit the stork has a fun look in the film. To do that, the figure separates at the waist and Super7 included a second lower half. It’s just the legs in a squat pose and the only articulation is found at the ankles which is the same hinge piece the other lower half possesses. Basically, we’re just cutting out the knee joints. For the that, there are new “feet” which are Robin’s feet on stilts that peg into the ankle joints. They feature no additional articulation, not even a swivel at the boot. I’m guessing this is why they abandoned the ankle rocker to make the connection point simpler, but why not just make the stilts peg into the standard feet? Were the knees that much of a problem? And if they were, just make the stilts already attached to the second torso – why separate them? The left leg also isn’t straight and I don’t know if that is by design or not. There are three sets of winged hands that peg into the arms where the hands go plus there’s a quiver, bow, and arrow to match the ones he used in the film plus the golden arrow trophy on a pillow. Lastly, we have a new head to complete the ensemble.

Robin is considerably taller in this getup. Note how I picked he wrong bow and failed to secure the quiver before putting on the head.

Assembling the figure isn’t what I would describe as a fun experience. The hands are tight, but they came off without damage and the winged ones go on fine. Before doing that though, you will want to slip the soft goods tunic over the torso. The head is a bit of a pain to get off and on, but doable. The torso pegs together easy enough as do the feet and once assembled Robin stands over 8″ tall. It’s once the whole thing is together that the frustration sets in. The hinges where the feet peg in are way too loose. It makes his legs want to go all over the place when trying to stand him. And since there’s no articulation at the boots on the stilts, you have few tools to work with when trying to balance the guy. I watched it fall over and over before finally getting him to stand still in a semi decent arrow-knocking pose. And once I did, I realized I forgot to put the quiver on. That thing has no give in the strap so getting it on is way harder than it should be. And then once it’s on, trying to get the head without disturbing it is even harder. My quiver now has purple paint on it from it riding up under the hat while trying to get the head on. Plus at some point he fell and one of the false arrows in the quiver snapped off. And if you need to do anything to this guy once posed, expect it to all fall apart. The waist isn’t held on by much, though I suppose it’s better that it separate easily than not. Having him actually draw the bow is pretty tough too as the arrow doesn’t have a notch in it. I hooked the string onto a finger and then just tried to balance the arrow in a convincing manner, but it doesn’t work too well.

He can at least handle the bow in a slightly more convincing fashion than the base figure.

Once standing it’s the type of figure that you don’t dare mess with. Or at least, I wouldn’t if I intended for him to stay this way. I will say, the stork head looks great. It’s easily the best sculpted part of the set and also the best painted. One of the legs features some chipped paint which stinks though. The whole costume really looks much better than the base figure, provided you can stand him. I just don’t know why so much of the budget was put into making this costume the way it is. He has a set of open hands, a set of gripping hands, and a set of bow and arrow hands. Why so many when the regular Robin Hood gets just two? What purpose do the regular gripping hands serve that the arrow hands can’t do? The direction and decision making on this one is just baffling and to top it off there are no peg holes in the feet. For a figure that struggles to stand, why not at least put some holes in there? He really should just come with a stand, or a second torso. Or the damn legs should just be static so he stays standing. It’s not like they can do anything. They could have included a second, unarticulated, torso then at least you would get a second display piece out of this. The money spent to tool more hands would have been better served on that. They wouldn’t even have to paint it or anything since it’s hidden by the soft goods. Instead, it feels like an inordinate amount of the budget went towards this disguise that most people will never use. I’m slightly tempted to display it by virtue of the fact that it looks better than the standard Robin Hood, but I have zero confidence in it staying upright on my shelf and I’m not sinking more money into this thing to add a stand. I think the proportions and articulation of the base figure were compromised to make this stork version look more on-model and that makes no sense. Someone just fell in love with the concept of making Robin Hood “transform” into this stork persona and never stopped to question if it was really a good idea to move forward with.

PJ seems to think he smells. He’s not wrong.

The final verdict is that Super7 delivered an off-model and compromised figure of Robin Hood that can pull off a convincing stork disguise in theory, though in practice the results are far more mixed. Is that what people wanted? I know I didn’t. To make matters worse, the figure looks and feels cheap, the articulation is poor, and the display options boil down to two, three if you’re in love with the arrow through the hat expression. And it costs 55 bucks! This thing is way overpriced relative to what you’re getting. At this price point, this thing needs to “wow.” It needs to feel like a premium collector item, but it looks like a toy from the 90s. The look of it really reminds me of the Lion King action figures from when that film came out. The plastic look of the figure makes me think of Happy Meal toys. That’s not a good thing for a $55 action figure. This is the worst Super7 figure I own and I’m out. No way am I paying upfront for any of the figures in this line again. Had I ordered this from another retailer I would have cancelled it. It’s that bad. If it were 25 bucks and didn’t feature the stork I still don’t think I’d buy it because it just doesn’t look that good. Why spend money on something that doesn’t look good whether its 10, 20, or 50 bucks? And I didn’t even mention the shipping so I’m actually in for closer to $70 on this thing. That’s pretty bad. I’m also really second guessing the preorder I have for Wave 3’s Big Bad Wolf. I want to see Super7 go into the classic shorts for this line so I preordered that partly as a show of support for that move, but after getting this and looking at the anatomy of the character in the solicitations I’m left feeling the experience will be similar. Unlike with Robin Hood, there’s still time for me to cancel that one and I’m thinking that’s probably a good idea.

We’ll end on a shelf shot, since that’s probably what matters most for many would-be buyers.

It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that I do not recommend this figure at all. If you love the stork version or are not bothered by how Robin Hood looks then maybe take a swing when it inevitably hits clearance. This thing will not stay at $55 and I bet it’s around $38 before long. Hold out even longer and you may do better. Seriously, Entertainment Earth has had some wild sales on Super7 stuff of late so at this time next year it wouldn’t shock me to see this sold for less than $30. I still wouldn’t buy it at that price, but it’s a lot better than $55.

Looking for more from Disney and Super7?

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Super7 Disney Ultimates! Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

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Super7 Disney Ultimates! Pinocchio

It seems I keep setting personal records this year for longest duration of a preorder and the new champion is Super7’s first wave of Disney Ultimates! These figures went up for preorder in August of 2020 likely closing sometime in September. At the time, the expected release was somewhere around June 2021, but a lot…

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NECA TMNT Secret of the Ooze 4-Pack and Accessory Set

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – Let’s Get Silly!

It’s that time of year when a lot of folks are reflecting on the past year and all of the things that happened. This usually coincides with list-making for favorites and worst of the year in basically every category you can dream of. And for action figure enthusiasts, there’s definitely a lot of list making. And here to blow it all up is NECA who managed to sneak this set out before the end of the year even though it wasn’t expected until Q1 2023. When the set went up for preorder in April, I think most hoped that by Christmas we’d have it hand. And when a few months ago two-packs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from The Secret of the Ooze started showing up at Walmart that seemed to encourage fans to dream of an early arrival. It also predictably annoyed some since the stuff that was prepaid for in the spring was still outstanding while Walmart was getting basically the same thing, but that’s a whole other thing.

NECA has eased into the second film in the TMNT franchise. After first indicating it wasn’t that interested in any of the films beyond the first, we started to see the villains. Tokka and Rahzar, multiple versions of Super Shredder, and a standard Shredder all arrived before the actual turtles. Those first film turtles are some of my all-time favorite action figures. They began life as quarter scale figures and the very first one I got was Donatello. It was a Christmas gift in 2016 so it’s fitting that I’m still talking movie turtles now six Christmases removed. Despite my love for those figures, I wasn’t really feeling that excited about these ones. I ordered the set largely out of convenience. I had no desire to stalk Walmart in search for them and my Secret of the Ooze collection had grown large enough that it needed the turtles. I don’t even particularly like the movie, but I did as a kid, and I’m still at least fond of the costumes from it. I also expected these figures to be very similar to the previous ones so there wasn’t a lot to be excited about. Then I got them in hand and I felt rather stupid for ever overlooking a NECA TMNT release.

There she is, in all her glory!

This set is the NECA store exclusive VHS four-pack. Just like NECA did with the first film, this set of four turtles comes housed in a pretty substantial box which is designed to resemble the original VHS release of the film. Only the turtles on the box have been substituted for images of the actual figures. It’s pretty cool, though this set made it a lot harder on photographer Stephen Mazurek. The front cover looks fantastic, but the image on the rear is pretty goofy looking because these figures really aren’t articulated enough to replicate the poses from the back of the VHS box. As a result, Mikey and Donnie both look like they’re riding an invisible horse or something. The box is huge though as it’s nearly 17″ in height and 10″ across. The lettering on it is raised, like a VHS, and it will look nice next to the same box from the first movie set. And like that, it’s a slipcover and the inner box features a tray with the figures and accessories inside secured behind a plastic cover with more photography all over the place. Considering that nothing in the box is exclusive to this set, you’re basically paying a premium for the fancy box and at least it delivers. Well, there is one thing that’s exclusive and it’s a backdrop. It’s a thick cardboard and it’s of the club from the film’s climax, the exterior wall. Could we one day see the interior stage setup? Only time will tell.

These may be the only turtles I choose not to display with their weapons.

I’m as charmed as anyone by a fancy box, but what I really care about are the figures inside. The turtles are all on the same body, but it does differ from the body of the first film turtles. They each stand at around 6.25″ in height, and considering it’s a 7″ scale line, that seems pretty good. The only thing that stinks about that is all four turtles are the same height when at least Michelangelo should be shorter, but that was something we had to overlook with the other figures too. The stuff that’s reused are the arms and legs and maybe whatever is inside the shell. The plastron, shell, pads, belts, and heads are all new. Even though the thighs appear to be the same between releases, these figures do have updated hips with the ball and socket joint. Like the previous figures, the biceps are actually a little different as Leo and Mikey share the same parts while Donnie and Raph share some as well. The shells are all the same, though Raph’s has some distress marks carved into his and Leo’s appears to allow for the scabbards of his swords to key-in. Each turtle does differ in that the pattern of their freckles are applied different from brother to brother.

In terms of changes from the past figures to these ones, they’re mostly subtle, but apparent. Obviously, the heads are all different as the costumes were overhauled to allow for a wider range of expressions. Donnie’s changed the most, while there’s a hint of the first film Leo and Raph in their designs. Mikey was practically unchanged, but his head seems a little smaller and more round. All of the turtles wear their bandanas over both shoulders and that’s reflected here. There are no optional display parts there. The colors are also a bit softer, especially Leo and Raph, and it’s captured here. The skin tone also appears to have more yellow incorporated into the green so they have a slightly different appearance. For some reason, there’s a powdery, green, residue on them this time around which tends to rub onto the accessories when placed in the gripping hands and can even find its way onto one’s hands after extensive play. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s so far been easy to clean off of the accessories. The plastron of each turtle is shaded more heavily than it was in the first film and I like how it contrasts with the otherwise brighter look. Michelangelo also has satchels for his nunchaku this time around which is cool and a nice addition to both the real world costume and the figure. Perhaps due to the flaky nature of the topcoat, there are a few spots on the figures where the plastic is shiny. On Leo especially, his right foot appears a lot glossier than the left which is a bit odd. Maybe they missed that piece with a final paint app or something. The powdery green also shows up in some of the grooves, especially on the hands, which is a little off-putting but not something that can be seen from a shelf. I would classify such issues as relatively minor, for otherwise these look like they jumped out of the movie. It’s almost eerie at times to look at them because they seem so lifelike.

It’s turtle time.

Since the bodies in use are very similar to the past turtles, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn the articulation is more or less the same. All of the turtles feature a double-ball peg for the head. The lower peg is recessed quite a bit so the range isn’t optimal. The turtles can basically rotate fine, but looking down varies from turtle to turtle with Michelangelo performing the best. None of them can look up and the ball peg is pretty snug and tight. At the shoulders we have ball-hinges and they can raise their arms out to just about horizontal and rotate all around. There’s no biceps swivel, which is something I would have welcomed, but we do have the NECA double-elbows which feature two hinges and a swivel above and below the joint. The elbow pads are smaller this time around and peg into the elbow like the quarter scale figures. This results in better range than we saw on the first film release as the turtles can now bend their elbows past 90 degrees. The wrists swivel and every hinge features a horizontal orientation, which is a bummer for Leonardo, especially. In the torso, there’s a ball joint or something, but it doesn’t do a whole lot. It basically just provides a tiny bit of rotation and tilt. The hips are the newer model hips and the turtles can just about do splits. They can’t quite kick forward all the way though as the thighs rub against the plastron. It’s also very creaky and unpleasant. There’s a bit of a thigh swivel at the ball-joint and the knees are double-jointed. They can just get past 90 degrees there while the ankles feature the usual hinge and rocker combo and works all right. They’ll move okay, but elaborate stuff is a bit out of the question. I do wish they had decided to sacrifice a tiny amount of the aesthetic to carve in a biceps swivel, but I understand why they didn’t. The lack of vertical hinges for the gripping hands is the one major oversight and NECA frustrates me in that area. They sometimes include such a hinge, and sometimes they don’t. Toon Leo and Raph, for example, have them and even the quarter scale movie Leonardo has them. The 7″ scale ones don’t though and that’s a real bummer.

Combat cole cuts!

This four-pack also comes packed with a fair assortment of accessories. Some are repeats, and some are new. For hands, all four turtles come with gripping hands. They then share the following sets: open, relaxed gripping, thumbs up, and pointing/sai grip. The gripping hands are really tight, but pliable. They’ll hold almost everything, but the green paint will transfer. There’s a full canister of ooze, which you probably have several of by now, and a second empty canister of ooze which is new. The fire extinguisher makes a return, but new this time is the foam bat from the opening of the film. It’s not actual foam though, but painted, hard, plastic. There’s also a new pizza box and it comes with a bunch of pizza “stubs” which is a nice addition. There’s also a full slice with a hole through the center so Raphael can catch his touchdown pass as he did in the film. There’s an extra left forearm and this is for Donnie as his default forearm features the wristwatch in the wrist strap as seen in one scene of the film. I have no idea how easy it is to swap forearms as I have no intention of removing the unique wristwatch arm. Mikey also comes with his “combat cole cuts,” two pairs of linked sausages which are in a nice, rubbery, plastic that almost makes them feel real. And lastly, each turtle has his standard weapons. For Leo, Raph, and Donnie, these are the same as the first film turtles with Donnie’s bo having a noticeably lighter paint app. For Mikey, his nunchaku have been updated so that instead of a pair of strings connecting the two he has something more like a bendy wire. It doesn’t seem to be strong enough for posing, but perhaps it will be more durable. They slot rather snugly into his new satchels too.

That’s a fair amount of stuff. I think we could always use more hands, especially with vertical hinges, but I think they come with enough. Maybe another set of open hands should have been included so they could execute a proper Cowabunga pose, but at least we have the hands from the first set. If that’s not enough though then NECA has you covered as they also put up for sale an accessory set alongside this release. I passed on the same for the first film, but this time I decided to go all-in. And there’s a lot of stuff in here. It comes in a square box with an image of one of the film’s theatrical posters on the cover (the same image we saw on the Super Shredder release) with photography on the rear and spines. Inside the box is a big plastic tray with a cover over it and all of the accessories are visible. It’s not as flashy a package as the VHS box, but it’s durable and easy to reseal if you can’t find a home for all of this stuff.

I guess we’ll just plow through it, but this thing has a lot of stuff pulled from the film. Up first, another ooze canister! This one though is basically the catalyst for the film as it’s the empty, broken, canister and it can separate just like the one in the film. It’s a nice little thing to have and kind of makes me wants another Splinter. To keep track of these things, there’s a computer and keyboard and, uh oh, one canister is still active! Also in here is Michelangelo’s chocolate bar so he can annoy Raph. And if he’s thirsty, there’s a red mug of what appears to be cola that features a straw and a blue mug without a straw. If salty is more your thing, there’s also a bowl of popcorn and two bags of potato chips (the bare essentials). When it’s time to clean up after another pizza party, there’s a pair of aprons: pink and purple. They’re soft goods and can tie onto any of the figures. There are also two cleaning brushes (wax on, wax off) and Donnie’s bo with a mop molded onto both ends – perfect for cleaning and romancing! These guys eat a lot of pizza, so there’s another box of pie! It’s the same box as the one featured in the four-pack, but this one has four, full, slices inside. They appear to be the same mold as the pizzas that came with the first film figures. When it’s time to move out of April’s apartment there’s a suitcase which can open and actually has a lot of room for stuff inside. Michelangelo’s hat is also included to protect him from the rain, and since you’ll be wanting to contact April once a new home is found there’s also a payphone. It has a slot on the back so that it can be hung on a nail or tack, if you wish. As for something cute, there’s a pre-mutated Rahzar which features articulation at the head. Less cute is the pre-mutated Tokka which has a hinged jaw. Rahzar looks fine, but Tokka is actually pretty impressive. There’s more paint on this little snapping turtle than is featured on most Hasbro figures. There’s also some included reading material, a little, paper, newspaper with “NINJA RAP IS BORN” as the cover story. They had to include that. And if reading’s not your thing, then you can also rock out with the included keytar. It easily slips over the head/shoulder of any turtle and is known to cause massive headaches in villains.

That’s a lot of stuff, and I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I don’t think there’s any way to shake that feeling. Probably the main draw of this set is the five extra heads included for the figures. For Donatello, we get an open mouth expression which works for any of his talking poses. For Michelangelo, we get the opposite as his is more stoic compared with his default open mouth. Leonardo also gets a stoic face and it’s an expression I more associate with the character than his smiling portrait from the four-pack. Raphael’s is the least different as he has a half smile, I guess, by default and the new head is a full smile. He gets a third head though which features tape across the mouth so he can be “a little too Raph” should it please you. I wish they included a post to tie him to as well. Oddly, the Raph heads feature a darker shade of red on the bandana while the others are more uniform. I’m guessing this is an error, but it’s probably not something that will bother most. As for swapping the heads, it’s pretty painless. I was nervous about it at first, but I didn’t even need to heat them up or anything (same is true for the joints on the figures) and was able to just pop them off. Getting the secondary heads to really snap-in is tricky and may require heat. It does create a dilemma on what to display. I definitely prefer the alternate Leo head and I think I like the open mouth Donnie head more. Raph is the only one where I’m kind of lukewarm as far as preferring one over the other. Eventually, I probably will tie him up as it’s just too funny.

These figures are pretty damn terrific. If you have any desire to add action figures of the turtles from Secret of the Ooze to your collection then you absolutely should track these down. The four pack is basically long gone, but two-packs should continue shipping all throughout 2023 to Walmart stores. Hopefully, NECA does a big restock at some point to help make it easier because they’re going to be in demand. The accessory set is unfortunately a NECA store exclusive and it too is long gone. They might reissue it at some point, but considering they’ve never done that for the first film accessory set it likely will be a long wait. If it’s something you have to have then you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and buy one on the secondary market. For 60 bucks, I think it’s worth it, but I don’t think I’d personally go much higher than that. The two-packs are a complete enough package that it’s hard to call the accessory set essential, but there is a lot of fun stuff in there. I particularly like the phone and the PC, though figuring out a way to display the PC is going to be tricky. I wish they had just included a little table for it and the office chair Donnie went surfing on. If the accessory set had included more hands, especially the coveted vertical hinged hands, it definitely would have been more of a slam dunk.

The collection basically doubled with this release (not pictured is the Shadow Master variant of Super Shredder nor the Euro variant, the latter of which I didn’t get).

This is another homerun from NECA and an A+ release. It’s also potentially the last release from the Secret of the Ooze for me. A figure of Keno with his moped is coming in 2023, but I’m on the fence there. Do I need a Keno? No, but the fact that he comes with his motorcycle is pretty cool. And if he’s sold on the NECA website that will go a long way. I’m definitely not going to run around Walmart looking for him. If this is the end though, then I’m pretty damn happy with the display I have and I think anyone else who invests in this line will be too.

More from The Secret of the Ooze…

NECA TMNT Secret of the Ooze Tokka and Rahzar

Merry Boxing Day every one! I hope you enjoyed the Christmas content this year, but it’s time to go back to our usual programming. Which in 2020 means toys. And I just could not wait any longer to talk about what was probably my most anticipated release of 2020: NECA’s Tokka and Rahzar based on…

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NECA TMNT Secret of the Ooze Ultimate Shredder

For the first time in a long time we went a week without a blog entry here. That’s because I took a much needed vacation and didn’t schedule anything. I’ll probably be backing off a little bit as we dig deeper into 2022 since there’s a certain holiday I need to get crackin’ on if…

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NECA TMNT Super Shredder

“The last vial of ooze!” “He must have drank all of it!” “It’s a Super Shredder!!!” It’s a simple, obvious, and corny introduction for a character, but as a 7-year old it felt rather impactful. The introduction of Super Shredder in the waning moments of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze…

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NECA Gargoyles – Ultimate Hudson

We’re coming out of Christmas with a figure of the year candidate.

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.

Good doggo.

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.

This guy looks frikken’ amazing!

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.

Most stands are going to struggle to hold up this big boy.

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.

“Hello, old friend. Care to borrow this one when I’m finished?”

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.

I surprised myself by fitting another gargoyle onto this shelf. There won’t be another without some smaller wing options.

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!

NECA Gargoyles – Ultimate Bronx

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…

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NECA Gargoyles – Ultimate Demona

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…

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NECA Gargoyles – Ultimate Goliath

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:…

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Dec. 25 – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Original air date December 6, 1964.

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.

For one final time this year, I’m turning to my 1987 VHS for the screen caps which means I get to share with you one of the bumpers from that broadcast.

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.

Uh oh, looks like Christmas is in peril once again!

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!”

The first celebrity narrator for a Rankin/Bass Christmas special is Burl Ives as Sam Snowman.

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.

An unusual sight for a Christmas special: skinny Santa.

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.

I can’t imagine 7Up having the funds to pony up for a sponsorship of Rudolph in 2022.

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.”

Baby Rudolph, before he becomes a tremendous disappointment to his father.

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!

Rudolph’s nose, brought to you by General Electric!

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.”

And here is our other misfit of the special: Hermey the elf.

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.”

Poor, sad, Rudolph. All over a nose.

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?”

Looks like he doesn’t have any issues making friends.

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.

Imagine telling an employee they’ll never fit in. This guy is a grade A asshole.

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.

Santa’s pay is so bad that Comet had to take a second job.

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.

Young love.

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!

Imagine being mean to this adorable, little, guy.

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.

At least there’s one decent deer in Christmas Town.

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!”

What exactly was Hermey doing in that snowbank anyway?

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.

Pictured: a couple of Misfits not named Glenn Danzig or Jerry Only.

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.

Everyone is convinced this little, tiny, light of a nose is able to draw-in a snow monster from seemingly anywhere.

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.

Introducing Yukon Cornelius, another rare, decent, person in this special. He also carries a gun, but seems unwilling to use it when faced with danger.

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.

One thing this special struggles with is forced perspective shots, and putting the bumble on a mountain like this doesn’t help.

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.

It may not look like water, but I love this shot anyway.

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.

Nothing on the horizon. They escaped the bumble, but this seems like a bad place to be.

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.

A rough landing, but as we saw in that last shot, I’d say they were pretty lucky to make any landing.

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!

Wait! Where did all of these presents come from?

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.

Most of these toys seem fine to me.

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.

Who appointed this guy of an island of unwanted toys? He is a lion, so maybe he just took it?

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.”

At least they have some accommodations for non-toys.

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?

Geez Rudolph, don’t you think you might be overreacting here?

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!

We linger on Rudolph’s ass for what feels like a long time.

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.

Find your dad or I’ll be having you for Christmas dinner, Bulb-face!

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!

He’s just been spending the past few months trying to decide which one to eat first.

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.

The brave are always the first to die.

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.

This seems like a setback, sure, but I don’t think I’d go charging at this guy just because he lacks teeth now.

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.

Stop what you’re doing, Yukon! Listen to the big, hairy, monster!

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?

This is basically the end of Hermey’s story. I guess it’s a happy ending.

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.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard my dad say, “Looky what he can do!”

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.

The existence of pilot elf here would seem to suggest that there are other professions open to elves beyond toy-making, so all of that mistreatment of Hermey is even worse than we thought!

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.

Say the line, Santa!

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!

It’s cute that he needs shades to handle Rudolph.

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?

For everyone that wanted a fat Santa, here you go. I think we should just accept him as he wants to be.

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, it would seem spirits are low.

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!”

All right, we got the toys, lets get off this depressing island.

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.

After he spent this thing acting like a jerk, I say it should have been Rudolph who got to wish us a merry Christmas in the end. Not Santa.

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.

So long Christmas. See you next year!

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:

Dec. 25 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

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…

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Dec. 25 – Sonic Christmas Blast

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…

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Dec. 25 – Samurai Pizza Cats – “The Cheese Who Stole Christmas”

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…

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Dec. 24 – Ultimate Spider-Man – “The Moon Knight Before Christmas”

Original air date December 17, 2016.

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?

I guess the show had a different title in its final season? It’s just listed as Ultimate Spider-Man every where.

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.

This show loves playing with the size of Spider-Man’s eye lenses.

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.

It also seems to like this story device as we’ll see it again.

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.

That’s a pretty bad ass way to introduce Moon Knight.

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.

This rescue isn’t going very well so far.

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.

And now we have some wholesome, Christmas, entertainment!

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.

I’m guessing this thing is important.

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.

It’s a lot harder to hurt someone when you can’t touch them.

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?!

It turns out she’s the bad guy. Try to act surprised.

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!

Just the first of Mysterio’s holiday themed not-illusions. You have to appreciate a villain that gets in on the theme of the episode.

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.

Dr. Strange is here to save the day! Though Spider-Man is fighting a master illusionist that has already tricked him once…

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!

More holiday monsters – I love this stuff!

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.

Here comes Moony!

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!

Seems there’s a downside to all of this power, who could have foreseen that?

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.

Look out world, Moon Knight has a wand!

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.

I’ve seen this guy before.

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.

Now Santa is getting in on this – is nothing sacred?!

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!

Hey! Quit laying around! There’s a city to save!

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.

I’m very surprised Spider-Man didn’t make a crack about a splitting headache here.

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.

We all talk to the moon all the time. You’re not special, Moon Knight!

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!

Well, since you’re here, you might as well stick around for Christmas dinner, Spidey.

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!

No daughter, I think I would prefer to remain here in Armageddon than join you for Christmas.

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.

Oh look, it all turned out well in the end. That tends to happen at Christmas in TV shows.

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.

I suppose it didn’t turn out all that well for Strange. Don’t worry about him though, he can magic that glass back together or something.

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.

Even Moon Knight joined them for Christmas dinner.

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.

After watching this episode I just have one question: where’s my Spider-Man and Moon Knight spin-off?!

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:

Dec. 24 – Shrek the Halls

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…

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Dec. 24 – The SpongeBob Christmas Special

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.…

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Dec. 24 – Silly Symphony – “The Night Before Christmas”

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…

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Dec. 23 – Bluey – “Verandah Santa”

Original air date December 12, 2019.

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.

Bluey is a fairly simple show at its heart, but it has relatable characters and situations which elevates it above the usual preschool fair.

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.

Bluey is a show that succeeds not on just the strength of its child leads, but the whole clan. Dad Bandit (right) is easily the show’s MVP, though as a dad myself, I may be biased.

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.”

I love this shot.

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.

Poor Uncle Stripe. Bluey is a show that is not above nut-shots and fart jokes, which I appreciate.

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.

Verandah Santa does not take kindly to those who peek, Bluey!

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.

Bluey, like many kids, enjoys having even a taste of power and authority over others.

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.

“She’s just a baby,” is one of the hardest concepts to get across to a child who feels they’ve been wronged by a younger cousin or sibling.

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 is taking delight in publicly shaming her cousin. Meanwhile, Bandit has been gifted some underwear when he doesn’t even wear pants!

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.

Stripe has been converted into a loveseat.

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.

That is one sad puppy in an otherwise beautiful setting.

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.

Aww, Socks found a way to say “sorry.”

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.

Do we know if Santa is okay with breaking a pillow over your father’s face?

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.

The Heelers go all out for Christmas, which isn’t that much of a surprise considering they go all out with pretty much everything.

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.

Does Santa have kangaroos? A Santa koala? Australia, I have some questions.

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:

Dec. 23 – DuckTales – “How Santa Stole Christmas”

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…

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Dec. 23 – The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! – “Koopa Klaus”

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…

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Dec. 23 – Missing in Action Christmas Specials

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.…

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Dec. 22 – Santabear’s High Flying Adventure

Original air date December 24, 1987.

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.

The reason for my curiosity.

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.

This is Santabear, a mostly harmless, inoffensive, slightly boring, character.

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.

Santa and his minions. They’re somewhat unique looking, and I’ll give some credit for Santa having a multiracial group of elves (though these ones are all white).

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.

So this angry looking bear kicked out of the North Pole is definitely going to be the villain of this one.

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.

Definitely an uncommon sight from inside of a sack.

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.

The animators get a lot of mileage out of this one shot.

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.

A polar bear at the South Pole is rare enough as it is, but a polar bear fixing an airplane?!

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.”

Well, this day just keeps getting weirder.

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.

It’s rather hard to outrun an airplane, especially when you can’t even see.

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.

Oh my God! It’s the bear from the picture!

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.

I’m sure these cops will be useful…

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.

Aww, Santabear is sad.

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.”

And now he’s happy!

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,”

One of the few shots I’ve seen from this special, many, many, times.

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.

When did she switch to the red bow? Was that her Christmas present?

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.

This bear is here to F-up Christmas!

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.

Are we about to “bare” witness to a truly epic showdown? Not likely.

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.

I’m guessing Santabear is not going to let gravity solve this problem for him.

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.

Don’t you hate how every time you fall off of a building your clothes come off?

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.

Can’t Santa just look into their soul or something to solve this problem?

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?

The animation for this special is probably below average, but they were really good at making Santabear look cute.

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.

This is all the resolution you’re going to get.

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!

Time to say “goodbye” to Santabear, which the world apparently did for good 15 years ago.

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.

At least Bully Bear got what was coming, though I have little confidence in that jail’s ability to hold him.

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.

I guess we’ll just have to wonder what came next.

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:

Dec. 22 – Extreme Dinosaurs – “Holiday on Ice”

After looking at what I considered to be a pretty good cartoon yesterday, I’m feeling like I need to take-in some trash today. It’s to the late 90s we go and the Bohbot/DiC Street Sharks spin-off Extreme Dinosaurs! Ah yes, everything was extreme around this time. Surge was packing the soft drinks aisle in stores,…

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Dec. 21 – A Muppet Family Christmas

Original air date December 16, 1987.

This year we’re celebrating two things at The Christmas Spot. Well, 3 things if you count Christmas by itself, which I suppose you should. Every fifth day, we’re celebrating the best of the best which is why yesterday was A Charlie Brown Christmas. If you read the feature on December 1st for this year, then you also know that I am personally celebrating 35 years of my beloved family heirloom The Christmas Tape. I basically want to cover everything on that tape and the good news is I had already covered most of it going into this year’s countdown. What I had yet to cover was the special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town which I rectified already. That leaves one other special left: A Muppet Family Christmas.

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 Muppet gang has packed up their pickup and is heading out to Fozzie’s childhood home in the country for a good old-fashioned family Christmas!

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.

Fozzie’s mom, Emily, is in for a real surprise that’s going to ruin her holiday vacation. It’s partly her own fault for not sharing with her son her holiday plans.

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.

Doc clearly has no idea he’s in a Muppets special since he’s expecting a nice, quiet, Christmas.

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 the Muppets come storming in most will fall victim to the dreaded icy patch. Emily has a farmer’s porch, so in order for her to have an icy patch there must be a leak in the roof above. She should get that looked at.

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.

Doc and Sprocket are going to have to just roll with this.

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.

Emily meets the lizard.

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 has better things to do than spend Christmas Eve at a farm house. She’ll come when she’s ready.

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!”

Am I the only one who is kind of creeped out by Chef’s actual, human, hands?

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.

Gonzo is just looking out for this turkey, but he’s basically punished for doing so.

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!”

Robin sucks.

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!

I would much prefer to listen to Doctor Teeth and Electric Mayhem than Hall & Oates or whoever else recorded “Jingle Bell Rock.”

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.

Dog meet dog.

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?”

They make a cute couple.

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.

Nope, still not ready to spend the day with the other weirdos.

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.

For a Christmas special, there sure is a lot of attempted murder in this one.

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.

Lets gather around and watch some Muppet Babies!

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.”

Gonzo doesn’t deserve this.

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.

Now this party can really get started!

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!”

This is the best joke in the show.

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.

Time’s up, turkey!

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.

There’s some good old-fashioned Muppet humor.

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.

They’re gonna do some stuff in that can.

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!”

I think it’s pretty incredible how the Sesame Street gang upstages the Muppets in this one. Maybe it was just liberating for everyone to get these puppets off of PBS for a night?

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.

If you’re watching this today with your kids they’ll be delighted to see Elmo, then bummed that he never says or does anything in this special.

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.

Miss Piggy can’t defeat a blizzard.

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.

Even the snowman wants to come inside.

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.

The best Muppets. The crappiness of this image is reminding me to point out that I’m taking this from a well-worn 35 year old VHS tape.

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.

The Count gets to do his thing in prime time.

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.

Bert and Ernie get to be funny, but Big Bird is still pretty much Big Bird.

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.

Piggy is suddenly determined to get to this Christmas gathering.

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.”

Now seems like a good time to investigate a strange hole.

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.

We can’t leave out the Fraggles, though they honestly don’t add a whole lot to this thing.

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.

Remember kids, Santa may not have brought you what you really wanted, but at least he didn’t bring you an orange rock.

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.

Miss Piggy wasn’t going to let a little thing like a blizzard keep her from making a grand entrance.

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.

And, naturally, Piggy gets taken down by the icy patch.

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.

At least they’ll sleep well.

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.

The party really starts when Kermit puts on pants.

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.

Here you go, Piggy, your own living, sentient, being.

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.

Oh good, we’re doing more with the pebble.

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.”

It’s Christmas, so even Jim is going to get in on the fun.

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.

It’s time to say good bye. It was fun, but I’m ready for this one to be over.

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.

There are so many puppets in this one that they can’t even fit them all into one shot.

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.

Seriously, here’s the ones you can’t really see in that other shot.

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:

Dec. 21 – Count Duckula – “A Christmas Quacker”

In the 1980s, Nickelodeon didn’t have a lot of animated content. That’s probably surprising for today’s adolescents, but that’s how the network was in the old days. That was due in large part to the network first prioritizing educational content, and then wanting to make sure whatever it aired couldn’t be found on another channel.…

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Dec. 21 – Buzz Lightyear of Star Command – “Holiday Time”

When Pixar set out to create competing, fictional, toys in its debut film Toy Story it settled on cowboys and space rangers. The thought being that once upon a time cowboys were the most popular fantasy toy among boys, but were soon replaced by fantastic space voyagers once real-life space travel became possible. In order…

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Dec. 21 – Nerds and Monsters – “Zanti-Clops”

I was doing a lot of different things in the year 2014. It was a busy one, but one thing I was not doing was watching Canadian children’s animation. Which is why I had zero knowledge of the cartoon series Nerds and Monsters before today. Nerds and Monsters, from what I have read and the…

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Dec. 20 – A Charlie Brown Christmas

Original air date December 9, 1965.

Let’s continue our look at the best of the best in the field of Christmas specials with perhaps the most quoted, parodied, and maybe even beloved special of all time: A Charlie Brown Christmas. This is the special that shouldn’t exist. It’s one if you are able to separate your nostalgia for the special itself and the characters from Peanuts and just watch it for what it is you’ll find a very low key, boring, plainly animated piece of television. It’s one I’ve seen countless times in my life and when I finally had kids of my own I was surprised at how it became a favorite of theirs basically right from the start. And that’s because it isn’t bad and the special possesses a charm that’s all its own. It is low stakes, but sometimes that works because we don’t always need some manufactured Christmas catastrophe in every special that’s out there. And sometimes, simple is just better.

A Charlie Brown Christmas goes all the way back to 1950 when the Peanuts strip by Charles M. Schulz debuted. The strip largely focuses on semi-autobiographical character Charlie Brown who famously has terrible luck, is socially awkward, and possessed by a great deal of self doubt. The strip was a hit, and the only surprise is that it took until 1965 for the characters to make the jump to animation. Producer and documentarian Lee Mendelson approached Schulz about doing a biography on him and his strip and the artist was onboard. The problem was, when Mendelson went to sell it to television stations at the time none were interested, but they were interested in a Christmas special. Coca-Cola, to be exact, wanted to air a special that December so Mendelson phoned Schulz and the pair basically wrote the outline and script in a day and Coca-Cola said, “Ok.”

It feels like every 5 seconds there’s an iconic shot in this one.

Mendelson would bring animator Bill Melendez onboard to assemble a team to create the special with Vince Guaraldi handling the music. Schulz wrote the script himself and Melendez handled the boards and the whole thing was produced for about $96,000, which was about 20k over budget, but I think the return-on-investment has worked out for all parties. Children were cast to play the children in the special as Schulz felt that was most appropriate. Some, like Peter Robbins who played Charlie Brown, had been in the business for sometime while others were pretty green. Some, like Cathy Steinberg who played Sally, were too young to read so they had to do their character one line at a time which contributes to the disjointed feeling some of the dialogue has, which is just another imperfection that has become part of the charm.

Schulz wrote this one and one of the things he had to fight for was the speech Linus makes towards the end.

The whole special was basically assembled in less than 6 months, a very short turn-around for an animated production. The special is aired at only about 12 frames per second and the animation is certainly limited, but it’s far from ugly. The backgrounds have a surreal quality in places even if the actual drawings are fairly simple. This would be expanded upon in later specials and there were plenty of those to follow. A Charlie Brown Christmas was a huge success and remains one of the few animated Christmas specials to still find an annual airing on television. Or it did. Unfortunately, it no longer airs on CBS or any other major network following the sale of the entire Peanuts media catalog to Apple in 2020. Part of the terms of the sale mandated that this special, along with the Halloween and Thanksgiving specials, be made available for free on Apple TV for a 3-day window during the season for which the special should air, but that’s hardly the same as having it on ABC or CBS. Due to public outcry, Apple did strike a deal with PBS to show the special on that station ad-free in both 2020 and 2021. As of this writing, there’s been no announcement for 2022, and considering there was no PBS broadcast for It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, it looks like the PBS days may be over.

Charlie Brown’s search for what Christmas means to him is a timeless story and it’s a real shame it’s not something airing on television every year.

And that’s a real shame. Everything is monetized and obviously entities have been making money off of Charlie Brown for more than half a century at this point and I wouldn’t argue for that to change, but it’s disappointing to see the holiday special on broadcast television essentially die. ABC, by virtue of being owned by Disney, will likely always air something in December, but as much as I like Prep & Landing and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure neither has the pull that A Charlie Brown Christmas does. It feels like, in terms of classic Christmas specials, we’re down to Rudolph, Frosty, and maybe Grinch. And how much longer will that last? Will CBS one day decide that Rudolph belongs behind a paywall? Will the Grinch be packaged with a bunch of Dr. Seuss material and sold off to Warner to go to whatever streaming platform they come up with next? Why can’t Apple simply partner with one of the big networks for a commercialized broadcast each year? It seems like a simple solution exists, but no one cares to seek it out because the people in charge of said companies don’t give a shit about tradition – just money.

At least I’ll always have The Christmas Tape. Yes, we’re returning to my 35 year old VHS for this entry as well as I’ll be pulling screens from that edition for this entry. That does mean I’ll be working off of a TV edit from 1987 and some scenes are either missing or shortened. When this one aired on CBS back then, such edits were commonplace. It wasn’t until ABC got their hands on the broadcast rights much later that there seemed to be a desire to show the special uncut. That was partly because the network would pair it with a newer special to form an hour long block so they still got their commercials in. And also, I think in the era of cheap and accessible DVD media more people were aware of how much specials like this one were edited for television and wanted to see it uncut.

When you’re taking screenshots from a 35 year old VHS some of the shots aren’t going to be pretty, but that’s part of the charm for me.

The 1987 broadcast begins with the famous CBS special presentation logo. It’s still a thing of beauty. We go right into the special without a major opening title sequence. The original composition “Christmas Time is Here” sets the mood for a quiet, serene, motif with snow falling and children ice skating on a frozen pond. Much of this setting is basically pulled from Schulz’s own childhood growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota. While the children skate, Charlie Brown and Linus are shown exiting a building we’ll eventually come to know as the school, or the auditorium, where the play will be rehearsed. I don’t think the intention of this scene is to say the pair left that facility, rather it’s just a reused background for budgetary reasons and since it’s one of the first shots an ignorant viewer would have no idea it will be used for something else later. It’s a bit more confusing when we see the pair walking in a zoomed out shot shortly after and it’s night time. That background will be used later when the pair goes looking for a tree. They also don’t appear to be carrying their skating gear so we’ll have to look later and see if this is just a reused shot all together.

Linus is going to spend the rest of this special trying to make up for acting like a dick right here.

The two are shown walking once more, at daylight this time, as they presumably head for the pond. The pair come to rest by a brick wall in a shot that is now iconic and will be utilized in specials to come. It’s here that Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) confesses to his buddy Linus (Christopher Shea) that despite Christmas being on the way, the day which the entire kid universe revolves around on the calendar, he doesn’t feel any joy. He’s depressed, and rather than find a sympathetic ear in Linus, he just has it thrown back in his face, “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right, of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.” What an asshole!

Oh Snoopy! What a rascal!

The two resume their walk to the pond and join in the festivities. The kids are all skating and holding hands and even Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy (Melendez), is participating though he manages to skate without skates. He leads a chain of children and sends them all scattering to various parts of the pond when he goes into a spin move and falls down. Linus and Charlie Brown skate over and Snoopy immediately goes for Linus’s blanket. He grabs the thing with his mouth which entangles Linus, then Charlie Brown. The dog then does a very a un-doglike move by spinning the blanket and releasing it. Most would just chew it. The act causes Charlie Brown to rocket across the ice and into the deep, deep, snow where he collides with a small tree. As he rises out of the snow, stars circling his head, snow falls off of the tree to rebury him and we get the title displayed above for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I’m not sure why no one likes Charlie Brown, but pulling stunts like this probably won’t make him any friends.

Following our first commercial break of the broadcast, we find Charlie Brown standing in his living room looking out the window. He grabs his coat and hat and heads outside to check the mailbox which ends with him uttering one of his catchphrases, “Rats!” He was hoping for a Christmas card, but finding none, he moves on with his life. He soon encounters Violet (Sally Dryer), and with a frown on his face thanks her for the Christmas card. She turns up her nose and informs him rather emphatically that she didn’t send him a Christmas card and walks away with Charlie Brown calling after her, “Don’t you know a sarcasm when you hear it?”

Following his confrontation with Violet, Charlie Brown takes his frustration out on the local poor kid.

Charlie Brown continues his walk through the snow and next comes upon Pig-Pen (Geoffrey Orstein), the poor kid who is always dirty, as he builds a snowman. Charlie Brown remarks to the boy that he’s the only one he knows who can raise a dust cloud in a snow storm. The kid ignores the insult and continues building his admittedly dirty snowman. Charlie Brown next happens upon Snoopy who is seated on the roof of his doghouse reading a newspaper and working on a stack of bones. He just casually crunches them into his mouth like one might consume a bag of potato chips, only his pile of bones never decreases likely due to budgetary reasons and because it would be hard for Snoopy to keep retrieving the bones from the pile as it decreases.

You can count on Lucy to bring the smug.

We’re then shown a group of kids consisting of Lucy (Tracy Stratford), Schroeder (Chris Doran), Patty (Karen Mendelson), and Linus. Patty suggests the other kids try to catch snowflakes on their tongue in the interest of fun. Linus does as he’s commanded and remarks that they need sugar. Lucy then informs the crowd that she never eats December snowflakes, she always waits until January which just prompts Linus to comment that they look ripe to him. At this point, we should see the kids attempt to knock a can off a fence with snowballs and all fail until Linus uses his trusty blanket as a sling, but that segment was cut for the CBS broadcast of 1987. There was a rumor for a long time that this scene was cut, and eventually edited, because the can was a Coca-Cola can but that was proven false a few years ago.

…and the greed.

Our version for today jumps to Schroeder pointing out to Lucy that she has a customer. I should also point out it has suddenly stopped snowing. Lucy apparently has a side hustle where she poses as a licensed therapist and offers psychiatric advice for the price of a nickel (or about 50 cents when adjusted for inflation). I guess you get what you pay for. Charlie Brown has taken a seat at her booth and Lucy approaches, but before he can spill his guts to her, she insists on payment upfront. When Charlie Brown deposits his coin, Lucy is delighted and shares with Charlie Brown her affection for money, the greedy little jerk. Finally, she attempts to diagnose Charlie Brown and find a source for his seasonal depression. She just lists a whole bunch of phobias, despite Charlie Brown never once suggesting he was afraid of anything, and one of them sounds like it should be a fear of a certain part of the male anatomy, but is instead fear of the ocean. When she gets to pantophobia, the fear of everything, Charlie Brown emphatically screams “That’s it!” causing Lucy to do a comical sequence of somersaults.

Wow! He can smile!

Charlie Brown then switches the subject from his fears to the real problem – Christmas. He confesses he should feel happy about the upcoming holiday, but instead he’s depressed. Lucy decides that to combat his depression, Charlie Brown needs involvement and proposes he direct their Christmas play. Charlie Brown seems flattered at the suggestion and momentarily happy, then the idea of directing seems to weigh on him and he starts back in with the self doubt. Lucy insists she’ll be there to help him and tells him to meet her at the auditorium later. As the two start walking she levels with Charlie and confesses that Christmas always lets her down too. The source of her frustration though is that she never gets what she wants and instead always gets toys, clothes, or a bicycle. When Charlie Brown asks her what she really wants she responds, “Real estate.”

Charlie Brown has a tendency to throw his arms up in the air and run away in a dramatic fashion when confronted by a situation he doesn’t like.

It’s at this point that Charlie Brown notices his dog is up to something when he walks past the two carrying a big box of Christmas decorations. Charlie Brown follows the beagle to his doghouse where Snoopy is putting up decorations for Christmas. This seems cute at first, but when Charlie Browns asks what’s going on Snoopy hands him a flyer. It seems the dog has eyes on winning a lights and display contest which will award the winner with a cash prize. Charlie Brown is disgusted with his pooch as he wails, “My own dog, gone commercial, I can’t stand it!” He very dramatically tosses the flyer and runs away, and this guy thinks he can’t be a director?!

See what I mean?

As Charlie Brown heads for the auditorium he comes across his sister, Sally (Cathy Steinberg). She indicates that she’s been looking for her big brother, but Charlie Brown just keeps walking. She follows and tells him she needs help writing a letter to Santa Claus. When he pauses, she shoves the pencil and clipboard in his face and Charlie Brown reluctantly agrees to help her. As she dictates the letter she begins with pleasantries before getting down to business. When she indicates she has a long list of presents, Charlie Brown can’t help himself and lets out an “Oh brother.” Before she can get to the actual list though, she gives Santa an out: just send money. When she suggests he supply that cash in the form of tens and twenties it becomes too much for Charlie Brown who wails and makes a dramatic showing once again shouting, “Even my baby sister!” Sally is just left holding her letter and pencil while she speaks to the camera to tell us, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share!” It’s one of the more “broken” bits of dialogue in the special as they clearly needed to stitch some takes together from the young Steinberg, but the end result feels cute.

Ready for another iconic shot?

We now find ourselves at the auditorium. A bunch of nameless kids, and a few named, are all dancing to the now classic composition “Linus and Lucy” which is being played by Schroeder from his tiny piano. Snoopy is on guitar and Pig-Pen on bass, but notably no one is on drums even though the song clearly has them. This scene is obviously super famous at this point and will be parodied many, many, times following this as will the dance moves of the children present. Lucy interrupts the festivities to call for quiet on the set as their director is expected at any moment. When Patty asks “What director?” Lucy informs them it’s Charlie Brown which produces a sincere “Oh no, we’re doomed!” from Violet. Lucy then welcomes Charlie Brown to the arena and the children politely clap, even though most likely share Violet’s sentiments, but Snoopy boos loudly causing Charlie Brown to frown and sarcastically exclaim, “Man’s best friend!”

I think it’s fair to wonder if Snoopy even likes Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown then tries to address the crew with a motivational speech. As he goes on, the group apparently gets bored and the music comes back on as Charlie Brown asks to no one, “I said am I right?” Everyone is back to dancing and the same shot of the kids dancing we just saw is repeated. It’s allowed to go on for a solid minute before Charlie Brown cries out to cut the music. Speaking into a megaphone, he sounds just as loud as normal, but we’ll forgive it. He orders Lucy to hand out the costumes and scripts and refers to her as “script girl,” which surely will not go over well, but to her credit Lucy does as she’s told.

He got her!

Lucy first hands a costume and script to Frieda (Anne Altieri) who just can’t seem to focus on anything except her naturally curly hair. Next she hands Pig-Pen his script as he’s to be the innkeeper, meaning he’s to be paired with Frieda who is playing the innkeeper’s wife. Pig-Pen assures Lucy that despite his outward appearance he aspires to run a neat inn. Lucy then moves on to Shermy (Doran) who will be playing a shepherd. As Lucy walks off, Shermy informs us that he plays a shepherd every Christmas. This leads Lucy to Snoopy who is the Frank Welker of the production as he’s expected to play all of the animal roles. As she asks if he can handle each role, Snoopy demonstrates that he can culminating in him doing a decent penguin. Lucy is impressed, but once Snoopy starts to goof off a bit she goes on a rant about having discipline and respect for their director. As she does so, Snoopy just mocks her and once she catches wind of that informs the dog that he deserves a beating. She swings and misses, and Snoopy being the rascal that he is, responds with a big, doggy, kiss. This unnerves Lucy who starts running in circles calling for some disinfectant due to being kissed by a dog, but Charlie Brown just tells her to shut up and to continue handing out the scripts.

This is admittedly a clever way to threaten someone with bodily harm. Too bad it occurs in one of the most viewed pieces of media in recorded history so no one else can actually utilize it without being laughed at.

Lucy, once again, does as she’s told so at least she practices what she preaches about having respect for her director. She then hands Linus his script while also telling him to ditch the “stupid blanket.” Linus has no intention of doing so, but immediately starts fretting about the amount of lines he needs to memorize in order to play his role of a shepherd. When he demands Lucy provide one good reason why he should memorize these lines and put himself through such agony, she responds with an open hand and a declaration to give him “Five good reasons.” As she counts them off, she tucks in a finger until eventually forming a fist. Linus indicates those are good reasons and when she reiterates that he get rid of the blanket he retorts that “This is one Christmas shepherd who is going to keep his trusty blanket with him. See? You wouldn’t hit an innocent shepherd, would you?” he says as he wraps the thing over his head like a turban.

She’s clean and he’s filthy – comedy!

Lucy walks away in disgust to tell Charlie Brown that the cast is set and it’s time for him to take over. Charlie Brown is pleased by this and instructs Schroeder to set the mood for the first scene. Once he commands, “Action!” Schroeder just goes back to playing “Linus and Lucy” forcing Charlie Brown to yell, “Cut! Cut! Cut!” He then walks over to Frieda and Pig-Pen. Frieda is having a diva moment and refuses to perform because of the amount of dust coming from her co-star. She says it’s taking the curl out of her naturally curly hair and when Charlie Brown suggests she treat it like the dirt of some hallowed ground Pig-Pen seems flattered. When he tells Frieda she should treat him with more respect, she thrusts her mirror in his face and orders him to take a look at himself. This backfires as Pig-Pen declares, “On the contrary, I didn’t think I looked that good.”

Sally’s like five and already has boy lust.

Charlie Brown apparently felt that confrontation was resolved as he now turns his attention towards his baby sister. When Linus asks what he has planned for Sally, Charlie Brown informs him that she’s going to play his wife. This makes Linus blush as Sally comes over with hearts floating above her head. She flatters him by asking if he’s the cutest thing and compliments his sense of humor which just makes Linus blush even more. He hides his head under his blanket and tries to walk away, but Sally follows hanging onto his blanket with every step.

He may be a jerk, but Snoopy is one talented pooch.

Charlie Brown is then interrupted when Lucy declares a lunch break. He’s flabbergasted by this suggestion, but when he questions Lucy she gestures to Snoopy who is holding his doggy dish. He does some tricks with it, but Charlie Brown seems unimpressed. He declares this is no time for foolishness before adding, “We’ve got to get on with our play,” another often parodied line. This causes Lucy to wonder about her part and then asks “What about our Christmas Queen?” a role unassigned so far. She then asks Charlie Brown if he thinks she’s beautiful, but before he’s even allowed to respond she takes offense for if he really thought she was beautiful he would have spoken right up. Declaring “I know when I’ve been insulted,” Lucy storms off leaving Charlie Brown to utter, “Good grief.”

I think it’s fair to say that Charlie Brown isn’t feeling the respect from his actors.

Not one to let Lucy bother him, Charlie Brown just calls for the next scene and, predictably, Schroeder responds by playing “Linus and Lucy” again. The kids all dance some more and Lucy, apparently getting over the perceived insults of just a few seconds ago, is shown smiling and snapping along to the music. She asks Charlie Brown, “Isn’t this a great play?” but he just slams his megaphone and storms over towards the others pleading with them for some cooperation. He then returns to his director’s chair where he hangs his head. Lucy seems confused and asks once more if he thinks the play is great to which Charlie Brown responds, “It’s all wrong!” He then settles on the mood being what’s off and declares their production needs a Christmas tree! Lucy thinks that’s a great idea and instructs Charlie Brown to go get one, suggesting he get a big, shiny, aluminum, pink-painted Christmas tree. Charlie Brown is in agreement and declares he’ll take Linus with him, but in the meantime, he wants the others to practice their lines. As he and Linus depart, Patty offers some words of encouragement with “Do something right for a change, Charlie Brown!” As Charlie Brown and Linus stand outside the auditorium, we can hear “Linus and Lucy” coming from inside which causes Charlie Brown to remark in a somewhat exasperated fashion, “I just don’t know, Linus, I just don’t know.”

I always wanted to go to a place like this when I was a kid. In fact, I still do!

The two walk off into the night vowing to find a worthy Christmas tree for the play. Linus suggests they head towards some stick lights to find a tree lot. When they do, we see basically the same animation I mentioned we should look out for from earlier and the only difference between the two shots is the inclusion of said stick lights this time. When Charlie Brown and Linus reach the origins of the lights, they find a wondrous tree lot full of brightly colored trees all made of aluminum. It’s so odd looking since no trees like this have ever existed. I have to assume this was just an exaggerated take on the old aluminum pole with fiberglass needles and branches that are very common these days and were probably rising in popularity back in the 60s. And as much as I enjoy an authentic Christmas tree, I have to admit the artificial ones were probably a good idea back then given the fire hazard caused by those old, colored, giant, light bulbs that were commonly used on all trees.

There it is! A now common sight at Hallmark stores across the country.

The two look through the lot as “Oh Tannenbaum” is played in the background until Charlie Brown sets his eyes on a tiny tree. A tiny, real, pathetic, looking tree. It’s barely a weed, but Charlie Brown likes it for some reason. Linus, who only earlier today was willing to rip Charlie Brown over his depression, is rather polite in trying to talk his friend out of selecting this tree reminding him what Lucy said. Charlie Brown tells him he doesn’t care what Lucy had to say about a tree and insists that, once decorated, this little tree will be perfect for their play. He then adds, “Besides, I think it needs me,” suggesting that Charlie Brown feels some sort of kinship with the sapling. When he lifts it off the ground though, several needles fall off to the sound of keys which is pretty cute. The two take notice of the needles, but say nothing to each other about it, as they walk out of the scene.

We apparently have not reached our Snoopy quota just yet.

At the auditorium, Lucy is just lounging by Schroeder as he plays his piano. Schroeder declares he’s settled on a composition for the play and starts playing some Beethoven. When Lucy asks what he’s doing, he tells her, which causes her to go on a rant about how Beethoven wasn’t so great which Schroeder finds insulting. It would seem Lucy’s definition of greatness is heavily dependent upon that person being featured on a bubble gum card, and since no such card features Beethoven, he wasn’t so great. Schroeder can’t even argue with her and just says “Good grief,” before going into another song. Snoopy seems to like it as he pops over and starts tapping his foot. He eventually gets really into it and starts dancing on Schroeder’s piano. Once he and Lucy notice, he stops playing leaving Snoopy dancing to nothing. Blushing, he stops and slinks off.

Right now, Schroeder is likely wishing Lucy had an on/off switch.

With the dog gone, Lucy asks Schroeder if he can play “Jingle Bells.” He obliges, but Lucy apparently finds the composition too complex and tells him it’s not right. He then plays it a different way, and we have to ignore that his little piano turned into an electric organ to produce this different sounding “Jingle Bells.” Lucy still isn’t satisfied insisting “I mean Jingle Bells! You know – Santa Claus and ‘ho, ho, ho?’ And mistletoe? And presents to pretty girls?” As she recites that, she inches closer to Schroeder and smiles at him suggestively. Schroeder can only frown in response, and with one finger, plays “Jingle Bells” on the highest note on the piano in a manner only a non-musician would play it. Lucy listens intently, and then shouts “That’s it!” in what is basically a reoccurrence of the joke from earlier when Charlie Brown responded to her in a similar manner. And just like before, the shouting of “That’s it,” causes the recipient to spin in somersaults.

Well, on the bright side, your tree seems to be making people happy, Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown and Linus then enter with Charlie Brown carrying his pathetic little tree. He places it on the piano and some of the needles fall. As he goes to hang his coat up, the other kids just stare at the tree in disbelief. Violet is the first to comment with “Boy, are you stupid, Charlie Brown!” Patty follows it up with “What kind of tree is that?!” and then Lucy piles on by sarcastically asking if he can tell the difference between a poor tree and a good tree. Charlie Brown just takes the abuse, finally uttering another, “Rats!” When they’re done ragging on him and his tree, the kids just burst into laughter, including Snoopy, and then walk away.

Lights, please.

Charlie Brown confesses to Linus that he should have listened to him. He then adds that he doesn’t know what Christmas is all about before shouting to the heavens, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?!” This kid really does have the drama nailed. Linus calmly assures him that he can tell him what Christmas is all about. He makes for center stage and requests the lights of someone, who is operating them is a mystery. Linus then recites a biblical passage, Luke 2: 8-14, which was a point of contention during the production of the special. Mendelson felt they should steer clear of the Bible, for even though America was certainly more secular in the 60s, shining a spotlight on religion in a Christmas special was apparently considered too controversial for television. Schulz was pretty adamant that it should be a part of it, and he apparently won that argument. Not only did he get Linus to quote scripture, it’s positioned in such a way that no network could ever consider removing it for the special wouldn’t make sense without it.

Sometimes, you just have to look to the stars for guidance.

When Linus is done, he walks over to Charlie Brown to reiterate “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” This causes Charlie Brown to smile, for in religion, he has found the true meaning of Christmas. While “Oh Tannenbaum” plays in the background once more, Charlie Brown grabs his coat and gathers up his little tree. He no longer needs involvement, or a play, because he has Christmas in his heart! He leaves the auditorium via a new background (making me wonder if the other shot of Linus and Charlie Brown leaving the auditorium was a mistake) while the other kids follow at a generous distance. As he walks under the night sky, Linus’s words echo through his brain about the birth of Christ, climaxing with the line, “And this will be a sign unto you.” He smiles as he says to himself “Linus is right, I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas. I’ll take this little tree home and decorate it and I’ll show them it really will work for our play,” as he skips off into the night.

Look! Another thing for Charlie Brown to overreact to!

The special basically could have ended right there, but it doesn’t. Instead, we see Charlie Brown coming upon Snoopy’s dog house. There’s a medal pinned to it indicating that Snoopy won first prize. Charlie Brown is shocked, and rightfully so since the display isn’t anything special. Maybe he got bonus points for being a dog and all? Either way, Charlie Brown isn’t going to let his commercial dog ruin things for him. He grabs an ornament from the house and places it on his little tree. It immediately tips over as the ornament comes to rest on the ground. Declaring he killed it, Charlie Brown turns to drama one last time whining “Everything I touch gets ruined!”

Hey man, don’t start thinking this makes up for that stuff you said to Charlie Brown back at the beginning. You still owe him an apology!

As Charlie Brown runs off, the other kids come upon the tree. Linus is the one to remark it’s not a bad little tree at all and wraps his blanket around the base of it providing enough support for the tree to stand. The other kids remove the decorations from Snoopy’s house and place them on the tree. Now it’s completely transformed into an impossibly beautiful little tree. Lucy is forced to admit that Charlie Brown actually picked out a nice tree after all. They all start to chant some “Ooo” thing, until Charlie Brown returns.

That is NOT the same tree!

Charlie Brown demands to know what’s going on before noticing the tree. He stares at it in disbelief as the camera zooms in on the resplendent tree and pans down. The kids all just shout in unison, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” before breaking into a rendition of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Charlie Brown turns to the camera and smiles before joining the chorus. The kids sing us out until “The End” appears on the screen.

“Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”

And that’s the end of a bonafide Christmas classic! Nearly every scene from this one is now considered iconic and is frequently parodied or celebrated with an homage in another movie or special. I think South Park has done it at least three times at this point with both of the first two Christmas specials from that show climaxing with a “Merry Christmas,” someone. And it’s hard not to be charmed by this one. Charlie Brown is a rather dramatic individual, but he is sympathetic. And the older you get, the easier it is to relate to a case of seasonal depression. I love Christmas, but there will often be a time or two where it weighs me down for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s just the thought of the season leaving that gets me down, but whatever the reason, depression is depression and it’s something almost anyone can relate to on some level. Charlie Brown’s peers are largely a bunch of jerks. Even his lone friend, Linus, is insultingly dismissive of his problems early on and don’t think he redeemed himself just by quoting the Bible! The whole subplot of a Christmas play has always felt a tad underdeveloped, mostly because we just don’t know much of anything about the production they’re supposed to be rehearsing, but it serves its purpose and gets Charlie Brown to the tree lot and eventually his resolution.

Charlie Brown gets to experience some joy here, but I’m sure those kids went right back to treating him like dirt the next day.

The ironic thing about this special in 2022, and really for the last 20 or so years, is that it criticizes the commercial aspect of Christmas with one of the most merchandised brands in the world. Were they actually selling imitation Charlie Brown trees while Charles Schulz was still alive? I don’t know, but if they were and he saw them I have to believe it was something he would roll his eyes at. Or maybe not since the brand made him a ton of money and a lot of that is owed to this special which was the first of many. There wasn’t a holiday the Peanuts gang were unwilling to create a special for and commercialization was something the brand benefitted from more than any other. I suppose Schulz could take some solace in the special, with it’s anti-commercialism message, being so well-received and make the assumption that those who did see it took the right message to heart. I have no idea if that’s true though and the cynic in me says, “No freaking way.”

The special is what it is, and while Schulz could have refused to merchandize Peanuts, I don’t necessarily think the world is in a worse place because he didn’t go the Bill Waterson route with his creation. People like Charlie Brown and like the specials he and the others have been a part of these past 50+ years. And those shirts, statues, plushies, and other odds and ends have likely brought some kind of happiness to countless individuals and I think that’s fine. Some abhor taking pleasure in any material good, but not me, so enjoy your tiny, artificial trees, your Santa Snoopies, and absolutely make time each holiday season for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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

Dec. 20 – Toy Tinkers

We’re rounding the corner to Christmas. With just five days left until the big day, that means we have time for just five more specials after this one! And since we’ve hit another multiple of five, it’s time to do another retro-lookback (or whatever I’m calling these things) at an all-time classic: Toy Tinkers. Toy…

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Dec. 20 – Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas

Once upon a time, Hanna-Barbera ruled the cartoon television universe. The company was one of the first to prioritize television over film when it came to cartoons, and it was a strategy that worked quite well. Come the 80s, cartoons were a Saturday morning staple and were taking over the weekday afternoon as well. Hanna-Barbera…

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Dec. 20 – Lilo & Stitch: The Series – Topper: Experiment 025

Last year, I fell down a bit of a Lilo & Stitch rabbit hole when it came time to do this list. I first researched the animated series known as Lilo & Stitch: The Series and its Christmas special “Topper: Experiment 025.” I ended up reading about the expanded lore the universe established in 2002’s…

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Naughty or Nice Classic Santa and Cyborg Santa

“What’s this?!”

It was looking like we were in for a photo finish this year. Last year, toymaker Fresh Monkey Fiction partnered with online retailer Big Bad Toy Store to launch the Naughty or Nice collection. Structured similar to a Kickstarter campaign, FMF posted several action figures for preorder with a minimum order quantity needed for the figure to go into production. The only difference was, since it was through BBTS there was no real obligation to buy. Payment wasn’t required until the product shipped, which was going to take about a year, so it felt like a pretty significant gamble on the part of FMF and BBTS. Essentially, they were banking on a line of Santa Claus themed action figures to be a big enough hit to take the risk, and so far it looks like it’s worked out.

The latest in Christmas action figures are here!

The goal from the get-go was to get these figures into the hands of collectors in time for Christmas 2022. That was looking a bit dicey going into November, but FMF came through as the figures arrived on Tuesday the 13th and BBTS began shipping them out the next day. I received my order on the 18th, a week before Christmas, ensuring at least 14 days or so of holiday display. As for what I ordered, that ended up being just two figures plus the accessory set. The line is essentially a series of Santa Claus figures. There’s a classic one, a black one, an army one, robot, pirate, and zombie. In addition to that, there were two versions of Krampus on the same buck and a bunch of elves and nutcrackers done in a five-points style. The main Santa body, which is used for every figure, is basically a 1:12 Santa. Some have described it as a “Marvel Legends” styled Santa, but it’s simpler than that as far as construction goes. The articulation setup is more like a Mythic Legions release, but the sculpt less ambitious. There’s also more paint than a typical Hasbro offering and, ultimately, they are their own thing. I ordered just the Classic Santa and the Cyborg Santa. I do like some of the others, but at $37 a piece I’m not sure I need any of the others. What attracted me to the Classic Santa should be pretty self-explanatory, while the Cyborg one just looked pretty cool. In what is planned to be my final Christmas themed action figure review of 2022, we’re going to take a look at both.

Some Figura Obscura and Fresh Monkey Fiction. Plus a clock.

The Naughty or Nice collection comes packaged in a window box with a hanger on the top. It’s pretty similar to a Hasbro window box or the old DC Direct boxes. The cardstock is a little thin, but it seems durable enough to protect the figure. It just may be difficult to get a mint one through the mail. The figure can be removed from either side, or the bottom, but not the top unless you want to destroy the box. Both figures are identical with the exception of the heads and hands, which is why I feel fine reviewing them together. The figures stand at about 6.5″ to the top of the head and close to 7″ with the hat on. The hat is removable and it plugs on just fine. It looks like FMF did not apply any paint to the inside of the hats so there should not be a cause for concern with paint rub, unless it comes from the head to the hat.

The figures present pretty well. The heads are fully painted as they were sculpted in white plastic while much of the body appears to be sculpted in red. My Classic Santa has a tiny chip on the tip of his nose and a small blob of flesh-tone on his moustache which is unfortunate, while Cyborg Santa’s default portrait looks terrific. The beard on Santa has some dry brushing over it with a light brown. This is different from the solicitation and even the cross-sell on the boxes where it was all white with some gray shading like Cyborg Santa. I’m guessing they wanted to differentiate the figure more from the others, but I definitely prefer the all-white approach to this one. It’s almost cream colored as a result and it takes some getting used to. The suit is also shaded which looks nice and helps to reduce the plastic look. I like the shading applied to the white portions of the suit as it gives this Santa a more hearty presence like he’s been going up and down chimneys all night. The paint is cleanly applied in most places. It’s not super crisp around the beard of Santa, but it’s good enough. The only issue I have with the paint is the choice to sculpt the boots in red and paint black over them. There’s a couple of small chipped areas where red shows through and the hinge down there seems to pick up pieces of red plastic which flake out. The foot is done in black so the hinge is black as well which is nice, but if I could make one suggestion going forward it would be for FMF to make the entire boot a separate mold that pegs into the lower leg which would also add a boot cut. The hands on both figures are ungloved and the sculpt for the Cyborg Kringle is wonderful. There’s some nice paint wash there as well and they just look great. The regular Santa has hands molded in a flesh color and it looks like they were paint too to give them a warm presence and not a plastic one.

These guys look nice at a stand still, but the one thing that I was really curious about was how these guys would move. They feel really nice and sturdy in hand and out of the box all of the joints were nice and tight. Some maybe a touch too tight, but I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything while I was breaking them in nor did I need to apply any heat. The head is just on a big ball peg, which again, makes it feel like a Mythic Legions release as it’s the same setup as the Father Christmas figure. Because Santa has a beard and a coat, he really can’t do anything except turn his head as far as the beard will let him. There’s no down, and barely any up rotation. At the shoulder, we have a ball-hinge setup which can raise out to the side almost to a fully horizontal position. It can also rotate around, but you have to avoid rubbing the edge of the torso when doing so as it’s cut at a slight angle. The elbows are just single hinges and do not reach a 90 degree bend. There is a swivel point there as well which is okay, but these arms are pretty limited. The wrists rotate and hinge and I’m happy to report that Cyborg Santa’s trigger hand hinges vertically instead of horizontal which is a nice attention to detail. There’s a ball joint at the waist that mostly allows for rotation with barely anything forward or back. The hips are ball and socket joints and because the lower part of the coat and belt are one piece and done in a soft plastic, the legs can go out to the side way farther than they need to. They kick forward a decent amount, but nothing really back. The knees are like the elbows, a single hinge with a swivel, and also can’t hit a 90 degree bend. At the ankle, there’s a hinge and a rocker which works pretty well..

The overall articulation is merely functional. These guys aren’t going to get into any sort of exotic pose, which is probably expected of a Santa figure. The problem though is they struggle with basic stuff. Santa can’t really get his hands to his head for cookie eating or a finger by the nose pose. You can fudge some of these with perspective shots, but that’s it. Santa also can’t present one of the gifts with both hands under it which is unfortunate. Worst of all though, is Cyborg Santa can’t hold his shotgun in a convincing two-handed fashion. I can get two hands onto it, but not with one on the trigger. I would like to see some improvements for next year’s batch. I think the biggest addition they could make is a biceps swivel. I don’t know if it would solve all of the problems, but it could help. An upper torso joint would be a nice addition too, but I don’t see that happening. I also wouldn’t expect, or even ask for, something like a butterfly joint to help get the hands closer together. And anything that could improve the range of the elbow bend would be welcomed. I think the overall aesthetic of the figure base is good so I get not wanting to mess with it too much. A biceps swivel wouldn’t harm the look, as far as I’m concerned, while I can see some not wanting an upper torso joint. Mostly, I hope they don’t just rest on their laurels and do nothing to improve what was released here.

Both figures also feature some accessories, and some are shared. Both Santas come with a second head. For Classic Santa, it’s a winking face and it looks okay. The winking eye is just a straight, black, line and I feel like it could better. It’s not bad enough that I’ll never use it, but not the slam dunk I expected. For Cyborg Santa, the alternate head is a half Santa half robot look as we’re definitely going for a T-800 thing here. It’s awesome and I’m really torn on which head to go with for this guy. Classic Santa also comes with extra hands. His default ones are gripping hands and he also has a set of relaxed hands and a pointing right hand. The pegs on the hands are basically the same diameter as a Marvel Legends, just shorter, so one could conceivably swap hands with other figure lines. Both figures come with “The List” which is sculpted like a scroll of paper. It’s fine, but I wish the printing on the list itself was different. Santa should have a nice list and Cyborg Santa a naughty list, for instance. Both figures have a red gift box with a painted green ribbon and bow on it. It opens from the top and it’s fine. Both figures also come with a white display stand that is pretty unnecessary since they stand fine and it’s not attractive enough to force its way into the display.

“Merry Christmas, Morph!” “Wow! Thank you, Santa!”

Both figures also have their own unique additions. For Cyborg Santa, it’s a police style pump shotgun. It’s all black and it looks fine, but the problem is it’s too thin. He doesn’t get a good grip on it as a result and it’s a balancing act to pose it. Maybe they were worried about paint rub and thus overcompensated on the thickness of the weapon? It’s too bad and I already mentioned the posing issues with it. For Santa, we get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. Everything is it’s own piece so the plate is separate from the cookies so you can place them on it or put one in Santa’s gripping hand. He can also grip the plate just fine, and if you’re persistent, you could probably balance it on one of the relaxed hands. The glass of milk is also two parts as it’s a transparent glass with the milk a separate piece of plastic so it can be empty or full. The only problem is, the gripping hands are too tight to grasp the glass while the relaxed hands are too loose. I wish one of the relaxed hands had been replaced with a hand designed specifically for holding the glass. It is possible to position it in such a way that will stay in Santa’s hand, but in an unnatural way. I suppose with enough heat, the gripping hand could be softened to the point where it could hold the glass, but I didn’t want to risk the paint transfer from the hand to the glass. My solution? Blue sticky tack.

“What the Hell is this?!”

We also have one more thing to talk about and that’s the accessory set. FMF sold a separate pack for about 22 bucks that contains the following: a cloak, a sack, an extra red present, a set of green presents, two stockings, two pieces of coal, a candy cane, another list, and another set of milk and cookies. I grabbed this mostly for the cloak and sack, but I’m having a bit of buyer’s remorse. The soft goods cloak has a real cheap feel to it. It’s thin, the white trim is like what you would find on a 3 dollar stocking, and the tie is done with cheap ribbon. It just doesn’t look great on Santa. I think it needs to be heavier and maybe the trim should be a shorter “fur” to add a touch of class. Santa can wear it with or without his hat, but I don’t know that I like it enough to use. The sack is basically the same deal as it’s done in the same style and there is a ribbon for the drawstring which I just don’t like the look of and it’s much too long. Santa needs a sack though, so I can see myself using this, but it could have better. The rest of the stuff is just “meh.” The stockings are solid plastic so you can’t fill them with anything. The Santas both have trouble gripping the candy cane, and the coal is just coal. The green presents are molded together and they add something to the display. The repeat items are unnecessary though – why do I need another set of milk and cookies or list? I guess I like being able to fill out the plate a bit more with the cookies, but how about some toys instead? I like the presents and stockings just to fill out a display, but this set could have been better and I don’t think it’s something I can recommend.

I’m not here to pick favorites, I’m just happy to have multiple representations of Santa Claus in my display.

The Naughty or Nice collection isn’t without its issues, but the total package of the Santa figures I purchased are still good enough to merit inclusion in a holiday toy display. I like the look of both figures and my only nitpick there is that I wish Santa’s beard was whiter. The sculpt is great and there’s enough paint to add a touch of class to both figures. These don’t look or feel cheap (provided you’re not using those soft goods in the accessory set) and can stand beside the Figura Obscura Father Christmas and not look out of place. Ultimately, I recommend these based on your own personal preferences. If you want a classic, Coca-Cola, styled Santa then the Classic Santa should be more than sufficient. The other figures are just about what amuses you. I thought Cyborg Santa looked cool so I bought him. If the gun situation was better, I might have talked myself into Sgt. Santa too. I can definitely see a lot of folks liking the look of Pirate and Zombie Santa and it would be easy to just go all-in to amass a larger, Santa, display. I personally wanted to like Krampus, but him being on the same Santa body just doesn’t do it for me. I want a naked, furry, Krampus and not one dressed like Santa, but the head sculpt looks pretty rad. He does have a tail, and there’s a plug on the Santa figures to cover-up the peg hole for that tail, though it’s not visible so I don’t consider it an eyesore.

Blue sticky-tack is your friend.

If you would like to add these or any of the other figures in the collection to your holiday display then head over to Big Bad Toy Store. Some of the figures have been going in and out of stock, but have since been re-stocked it would seem. Fresh Monkey Fiction also plans to make some of this collection available for preorder again when and if they do sell out, but those won’t be delivered until next year. Wave 2 is also up for pre-order and it looks like the major new addition from a sculpting perspective is a shirtless Santa which will also be used for a shirtless Krampus. I am probably going to order a figure or two from the second wave, so check back next year to see how those turned out!

Need some more Christmas toys?

Figura Obscura – Father Christmas

It was just last year that Four Horsemen launched a subline of its popular Mythic Legions brand of action figures called Figura Obscura. Practically speaking, there’s little difference between the two lines as Mythic Legions seeks to serve as a modular line of toys based on myth and legend and that doesn’t feature licensed characters.…

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Figura Obscura – Krampus

Over the years, I’ve acquired quite a few action figures designed by the good people over at Four Horsemen LLC. They’ve been designing figures for companies for awhile now. My first exposure to the company was via NECA’s inaugural line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on their appearance in the Mirage Studios comics. Lately,…

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Transformers Generations Holiday Optimus Prime

We interrupt our regularly scheduled holiday posts with something very familiar to this blog: a toy review! Yes, we have ourselves another Christmas toy to talk about and it too comes from Hasbro. We already looked at a Star Wars toy at the end of November, and now we’re turning to what I suppose is…

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