Tag Archives: 80’s cartoons

Dec. 9 – The Real Ghostbusters – “Xmas Marks the Spot”

 

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“X-Mas Marks the Spot” originally aired December 13, 1986

The 1980s sometimes feel like they belonged to the Ghostbusters. That’s because, for me, the Ghostbusters were always around. The film came out when I was but a wee baby, but by the time I had a real interest in television The Real Ghostbusters (not to be confused with the Filmation series) was airing in syndication every afternoon on ABC. To go along with that series were numerous toys and action figures. Some were roleplaying toys and many came with a vial of actual slime – something my mother still can recall the smell of because she had to clean up so much of it. My first big Christmas present I can recall was the much sought after Ghostbuster’s Fire House. It had a whirling pole the figures could ride down and even featured room for Ecto-1 where it could burst forth from behind the double red doors just like it did on TV.

 

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Every weekday at 4:30 you could find me in front of the TV watching this one.

Being a cartoon about ghost hunting, The Real Ghostbusters naturally lent itself quite well to Halloween. There are dedicated Halloween episodes of the show, but almost any episode works. The show ran from 1986 until 1991totaling 140 episodes when it finished up under the title of Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters. Along the way Lorenzo Music was replaced by Dave Coulier as the voice of Peter Venkman, a truly horrible decision at the time. Arsenio Hall, voice of Winston, also left the show and was replaced by Buster Jones. The show was a DiC production with Saban providing the music including a redone version of the popular song from the film. The pilot, which the opening animation sourced, was animated by the famed TMS Entertainment production company in case you ever wondered why it looked so much better than the actual show, which actually looks pretty good all things considered as DiC basically shopped it around so TMS did some episodes as well as Toei Animation.

The inaugural season for The Real Ghostbusters was a tidy 13 episodes which ended with a Christmas episode. Proving that the Ghostbusters could handle Christmas as well as Halloween, “Xmas Marks the Spot” premiered on December 13, 1986 and would be the last new episode of the show for almost a year when season 2 premiered in November. While it may seem like Christmas is an odd fit for the property, there is one rather famous story that features ghosts prominently thus serving as the entry point for our special.

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Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston made-up the team with Slimer also soaking up a great deal of screen time.

Yes, that story is A Christmas Carol. You don’t need me to recap it, nor do you probably need me to remind you that adaptations of that tale are the bane of Christmas specials. It’s been done, though in 1986 that feeling may not have been as pervasive as it is today. The Real Ghostbusters at least gets credit for approaching the old tale from a different perspective. It’s also a bit peculiar as it’s going to treat that story as if it’s fact. Essentially, the Ghostbusters are going to somehow stumble through time and bust the ghosts meant to turn Ebenezer Scrooge around. Scrooge is apparently really important to the existence of Christmas, and the Ghostbusters will have to mess around with time to undo their mistake and ultimately save Christmas.

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Nothing like a blizzard to set the mood.

The episode opens with the four Ghostbusters driving home from a job in upstate New York. The snow is coming down and visibility is poor, and so are spirits. Winston (Arsenio Hall) in particular is dismayed to be working on Christmas Eve and Ray (Frank Welker) is apparently responsible for a job not going well (something about a cat needing to regrow its fur). When Winston looks to find someone to share in his disapproval of working Christmas Eve he tries Peter (Lorenzo Music), but Pete couldn’t care less about Christmas. They soon arrive at a fork in the road and the strange thing is none of them can recall seeing it on their way in. Egon (Maurice Lamarche) tells Ray to take a left and as the Ecto-1 heads through the snow we see the turnpike sign has been knocked down and partially buried in snow.

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No one is particularly happy with the current predicament, but Winston is especially ticked to be working on Christmas Eve.

Eventually, the Ecto-1 gives out and the Ghostbusters are forced to resume their journey on foot. For some reason, they decide to strap on their proton packs. Winston once again tries to get Pete to share in his misery, but Pete shrugs him off. As Pete walks off, Ray explains to Winston that Pete doesn’t really like Christmas because his dad was always away as a kid. Egon says his apparent careless attitude towards Christmas is likely a coping mechanism and Winston adds once you spend so long pretending you don’t care about Christmas, you start to believe it.

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Not without my proton pack!

As the four walk, a strange vortex appears up ahead. They don’t seem to notice it, but they do notice the sudden gust of wind that tosses them into a snowbank. Once they emerge from the snow they’re surprised to see a village down below. Oddly, it’s very old looking, but they reason their must be a phone there somewhere. As they head off into town, we see a man with a boy on his shoulders head into a meat shop. The shopkeeper addresses him as Bob Cratchit (Lamarche) and he’s here for his Christmas duck. The shopkeeper hands over what looks like a Christmas sparrow, but Cratchit and his son don’t let it bother them as they head home. Once gone, the shopkeeper remarks to a woman in the store that Tiny Tim is always so optimistic and expresses regret that his father is stuck working for someone like Ebenezer Scrooge.

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‘Tis a fine bird, Master Cratchit!

The Ghostbusters are walking through the streets of this village apparently trapped in time, but don’t seem to pay it any mind. They hear a cry up ahead and look up to a ghost draped in chains emerge from a home and speed off into the night. Continued cries from inside prompt them to run in. They head for the bedroom and inside they find an old man in bed and three ghosts: a female, a large bearded male, and a grim reaper like apparition. The Ghostbusters open fire while the ghosts reprimand them. They don’t care though and soon trap the ghosts.

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Just 3 ghosts that need bustin’, nothing to see here.

A jubilant man jumps up and celebrates at the vanquishing of the ghosts. This old man (Peter Renaday) is positively delighted until Peter hands him a bill. He then sours on the Ghostbusters and initially says he won’t pay, but Ray threatens to set the ghosts free so the old man acquiesces. He tosses Ray a coin and at first Peter is ready to demand more money. Ray points out it’s an 1837 coin in mint condition and Peter seems to think it’s satisfactory upon hearing this. With the man not in possession of a phone, the Ghostbusters take their leave. Meanwhile, the old man heads for his window while talking to himself. He reveals what most likely already figured out, that his name is Ebenezer Scrooge, and feeling confident that he overcame the ghosts he declares war on Christmas!

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Oh shit, they just bailed out Scrooge!

The Ghostbusters, having failed to find a phone anywhere, return to the Ecto-1. To their surprise, the engine fires up and they head back to presumably take a right at the fork in the road. They end up back home in New York City and upon arriving Ray says he and Winston will take Pete with them to get a Christmas tree. Janine (Laura Summer) scoffs when she hears that and even gives them a “Bah! Humbug!” which surprises Egon. Slimer (Welker) even voices his displeasure at the prospect of a Christmas tree.

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The one true holiday classic.

Ray, Winston, and Peter head for Fifth Avenue where they can apparently purchase a tree. Along the way they find everyone is not in much of a Christmas mood and when Winston wishes some random guy a “Merry Christmas,” he gets a “Bah! Humbug!” in return. When they get to Fifth, Ray is shocked to see no Christmas decorations at all. Instead, the visage of Scrooge is everywhere and there’s even books for sale penned by Scrooge himself about how he vanquished Christmas by defeating the three ghosts. A bystander (Marilyn Lightstone) even clues them in when she hears Ray talking about the ghosts. At this point they figure out what happened and quickly realize they need to get back to the firehouse before Egon places the three ghosts in the containment unit. Peter, on the other hand, doesn’t think this new present is so bad.

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It’s at this point Ray informs the viewer they just killed Christmas.

The three get back to the firehouse, but they find out they’re too late. Egon had just emptied the trap dumping the ghosts into the containment unit. The only way to set them free is to free all of the ghosts also locked up in there. Egon, even though he knew something was up, is still surprised to find out from Ray that they went back in time and captured the ghosts of Past, Present, and Future. Ray is the one to break the bad news that they may have just killed Christmas.

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She may hate Christmas now, but Janine has not lost her affection for Egon.

As pedestrians on New York’s streets scream humbug at each other, the Ghostbusters are inside trying to figure out how to right this wrong. Peter recaps what happened (because this is the scene coming back from a commercial break) while Egon reveals a way to fix this. He explains he can open up a crack in the containment unit allowing him to enter. Once inside, he’ll have to find the ghosts and free them. The problem is, time is of the essence. It seems the past and present, as a result of that vortex, are operating simultaneously so time is passing in both. They can’t just go back to the point in time at which they trapped the ghosts. Confusing, isn’t it? Janine doesn’t see why they care about Christmas so much, and Winston uses her attitude to show Peter how he was acting, though he insists he wasn’t that bad.

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Egon’s got some work to do.

Ray thinks it’s crazy for Egon to go in alone, but because of the time constraints Egon says it must be this way. The other three are to head back to Scrooge, for if Egon can’t find the real ghosts, they’ll have to play the parts. As they leave, Egon informs Janine he’ll need her help with this. With hearts in her eyes, she excitedly agrees though she insists she’s doing it for Egon and not Christmas.

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Venkman’s convincing attire.

At Scrooge’s home, the old man is already working on his novel while the Ghostbusters get set up on a rooftop. Peter is up first and he’s dressed as some sort of Tooth Fairy or something to play the Ghost of Christmas Past. He swings in through Scrooge’s window and knocks him over causing his glasses to fall off. Even without the glasses, Scrooge isn’t convinced by Venkman’s disguise and is confused why the ghost would return after what transpired earlier. Peter activates some flares and a flashlight he’s wearing on his head to complete the ensemble. He then produces a Viewfinder which is apparently going to serve as Scrooge’s window into the past.

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Janine’s view of the containment unit.

At headquarters, Egon is basically dressed up like an astronaut with Slimer and Janine looking on. He has some ray gun pointed at the containment unit that’s on blast. It will allow for a small opening, I guess, while Egon’s suit will allow him to assume a molecular state that will grant him passage. The key part being he can only stay in that state for an hour. If he’s not back in time he’ll be trapped forever. He heads in and Janine heads upstairs to watch on a monitor. Inside the containment unit is basically like the movie Tron, at least the entering part. Slimer notices the ray gun machine is overheating, but he fails to get Janine’s attention leaving him to blow on it in a futile manner.

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Always good to have a Viewfinder on hand in case you find yourself stuck in the past.

Venkman is apparently having an all right time at convincing Scrooge he’s a legit ghost. The Viewfinder is loaded with pictures of a boarding school that Scrooge either recognizes as his own school or he’s just old enough to confuse it for his actual school (that seems more likely). Meanwhile, Venkman is pushing him around in circles in a wheelchair and claiming they’re flying. He’s clearly running out of breath. Scrooge describes how he was left at school by his father who had no time for Christmas, but Scrooge didn’t mind because he always had his books and things. Venkman takes a seat and explains how Scrooge’s view of Christmas is wrong, and thus realizes his own attitude has been wrong this whole time as well (aww). He’s dismayed to learn that Scrooge hasn’t quite been convinced of Christmas’s worth though, and takes his leave the same way he came in though not without some difficulty.

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The innards of the containment unit are not particularly inviting.

Inside the containment unit, which now just looks like floating rocks, Egon searches for the ghosts. Janine is able to watch on a monitor and communicate with Egon via a headset. Slimer is still trying to keep the machine from breaking apart, but it won’t matter if Egon can’t find the ghosts. Meanwhile, Winston is swinging around the rooftops of old England dressed as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Ray isn’t sure they can keep this up for much longer.

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Success at last! Present looks rather pissed.

Inside the containment unit, Janine urges Egon to give up, but of course he finds the ghosts at the last minute. He tells them to follow him and they say nothing and do as they’re told. At this point, many of the other ghosts have realized Egon is in there. This being the season finale, several ghosts from earlier episodes are shown and they start chasing Egon. This was probably rewarding for viewers who saw all of the episodes, though the only one I personally remember is Samhain, the Halloween ghost.

Janine heads downstairs and sees Slimer holding onto an open window and the ray gun machine about to blow. Egon then emerges with the ghosts just as the gun explodes. He closes the containment unit and returns to a more traditional state of being. He then implores the ghosts to jump in his trap citing he has no time to explain. Surprisingly, they agree.

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Ray’s costume has a real D.I.Y. vibe to it.

Back in the past, Ray is dressed in a sheet and trying perhaps too faithfully to play the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future. He’s not speaking so Scrooge and he are essentially playing Charades. Egon arrives, still in his astronaut suit, and he races inside shoving Ray aside. He frees the ghosts then informs Scrooge what is to befall him this night. For his part, Scrooge seems dismayed that he has to endure another round of ghosts so maybe their work will be easier than usual. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Mona Marshall) then steps in to take things from the top. On the roof, the Ghostbusters get a minor lecture from the Ghost of Christmas Present (LaMarche) and he asks Pete if he too learned a lesson. Apparently, this whole time travel thing occurred because Pete had lost faith in Christmas. Well, it worked and Peter is totally onboard now. Present then uses his ghostly powers to send the Ghostbusters home.

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Scrooge isn’t exactly thrilled to find out he’s got more ghosts on the way.

Back home, the Ghostbusters are delighted to see that Christmas has indeed been saved. They gather round a punch bowl that looks like it’s just full of water and Pete is the one to propose a toast to Christmas. Winston remarks how he thought the tale of Scrooge was just a story (are we now trying to convince viewers it was real?) and he wonders aloud if other apparent works of fiction could be real. On cue, a booming voice is heard from outside and it unmistakably belongs to Santa Claus (Welker). He’s shouting out commands to the reindeer and giving a hearty laugh. Peter mugs for the camera and gives a “Why not?” while Santa goes into his routine, “Merry Christmas to all,” with the Ghostbusters finishing the line, “…and to all a good night!”

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Where we find out this whole episode was basically Peter’s fault for not liking Christmas.

And thus ends a rather unconventional adaption of a A Christmas Carol. It probably is a little confusing for younger viewers who may have walked away thinking the story of Scrooge is true. If it also convinced them that Santa is real as well then I suppose the deception is worth it. It is a clever way to marry a brand like the Ghostbusters to Christmas. It’s definitely a bit contrived, especially the subplot surrounding Peter, but not annoyingly so.

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Well, Christmas is saved, time to get our drink on!

Then again, I also have fond memories of this show. The personalities of the individual Ghostbusters all entertain me. Winston is the everyman and we’re supposed to identify with him the most. Ray is the more emotional one which is why he gets to deliver the dramatic news that they killed Christmas. Egon is the brain who is intrigued by everything, often reacting to things with a “Fascinating.” Peter is the one given the sarcastic remarks, much like his film persona, and Lorenzo Music’s performance is basically legendary. He’s just so good at deadpanning Peter’s lines that they don’t even have to be that well-written. This episode was light on Slimer, which is probably for the best. In hindsight, I’m surprised he didn’t join Egon or something in searching for the ghosts, but I don’t think he would have added much.

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This show was always pretty good at making the ghosts actually scary.

Visually this show has always been solid. I often associate the turn in children’s animation occurring with the Disney Afternoon, but The Real Ghostbusters is no slouch. It’s miles ahead of the likes of He-Man or Transformers and overall I found this one engaging from a visual sense. Peter’s methods of duping Scrooge were clever and visually amusing, as was Ray’s awful costume. Seeing the inside of the containment unit was probably thrilling for viewers as well. I don’t recall this episode specifically, but I recall other episodes that took place inside the unit as being among my favorite when I was a kid.

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I have to give this one credit, the concept is pretty unique and certainly on-brand for the show.

As a Christmas special, this one gets the job done. It may go the lame route in adapting A Christmas Carol, but it’s unique enough to get away with it. The episode has Pete learn about the importance of Christmas, though in a mostly superficial sense. There isn’t some grand meaning assigned to the holiday, we’re just supposed to accept that it’s good and people should like it. That’s fine, as not everything needs to get too preachy. The big question, of course, is should you watch this? If you like the Ghostbusters, then why not? It’s fine. It won’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it may make you laugh and is at least visually entertaining.

If you wish to watch “Xmas Marks the Spot” then your best bet is to either purchase it digitally or on DVD. The show used to stream on Netflix, but sadly it was removed this year. It’s on Volume I of the DVD release which contains 30 episodes and is probably worth it to fans of the show. If you have young kids who either liked the movies or enjoy spooky stuff in general, then you may get enough enjoyment out of it to justify the purchase. It shouldn’t set you back much should you choose to go that route.


Dec. 5 – The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin: Winter Adventure

maxresdefault-12For a brief time in the mid 1980’s, there was a stuffed bear by the name of Teddy Ruxpin who basically owned Christmas. He wasn’t just an ordinary teddy bear, but a bear built around a cassette player with motors in his face. Insert one of his tapes and press play and Teddy comes alive to tell your kids a story, or terrify them which happened a lot. Teddy was the first hot item at Christmas that I can remember. He set off a craze not unlike the one for Tickle Me Elmo would a decade later. Parents did dirty, shameful things to secure one for their kid at Christmas, and it’s probably not surprising to hear that Teddy was able to make the jump from retail shelves to television screen.

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This is what people were going nuts for in 1986.

Creating a TV show based around Teddy Ruxpin was actually pretty easy. The stories and books that the toy worked with could be used to storyboard actual episodes of the cartoon without the need for much additional writing. The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin thus largely stayed close to the source material and was created with the idea of going straight to syndication. For a show with so many episodes, it’s kind of interesting how it just sort of faded away from the public consciousness about as quickly as it arrived. Now in 2017, there’s a new Teddy Ruxpin at retail, but as far as I know there are no plans for anything beyond that.

Full disclosure, this episode is not technically a Christmas episode. It’s based on a story of the same name from the books and basically described a holiday that might as well be Christmas. To get you up to speed, if you’re not familiar with the world of Teddy Ruxpin, Teddy and his caterpillar-like friend Grubby are far from home on an adventure to find a treasure. They’ve befriended a human named Newton Gimmick, an inventor who was willing to share his house with them. There they live in the shadow of Tweeg’s tower, a villainous sort who’s very protective of his recipes (seriously) and has it in for Gimmick and his new friends. He frequently fires off cannons at Gimmick’s house, but his aim is notoriously bad and thus no one actually fears him. When they’re not at home, Teddy and his friends search for treasure in Gimmick’s airship.

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Teddy and his pal Grubby.

The episode opens with Teddy, Grubby, and Gimmick who are all freezing in Gimmick’s house. They realize winter has arrived when they notice the falling snow (which has already accumulated a lot so apparently they aren’t very observant) and decide to venture out and play in the white stuff after breakfast. We then get a brief scene of the chief villain of the series, Quellor, who looks like a pile of robes with horns. He’s distressed about the incompetence around him. This guy is basically after the same treasure Teddy is searching for, and leads an organization called M.A.V.O. (Monster and Villains Organization) which Tweeg is trying to gain entry into. He’s not real important for this episode, and we quickly join up with Teddy and his friends as they play in the snow and sing a happy song.

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The villainous Tweeg, who’s mostly harmless despite his best efforts.

While outside, Teddy and Grubby discuss a custom from their homeward where at the onset of winter it becomes customary to give gifts and treats to those you call friends (which is where our Christmas feeling comes in). Gimmick is not familiar with the custom, but he loves it and suggests they carry on the tradition here. The trio head into the house to start baking and getting to work on making gifts while Tweeg pops up to spy on them. He notices they’re using buttermilk, and Tweeg’s character is convinced he has a recipe to convert buttermilk into gold, and so he becomes very suspicious of their actions and is convinced his subordinate, L.B., gave away his recipe.

Tweeg returns to his tower to scold L.B. He’s naturally confused by Tweeg’s anger and denies giving his formula away. Nevertheless, Tweeg kicks L.B. and his fellow bounders (little red creatures with no arms and a horn on their head) out of his tower during which we get a canned sound effect that Hannah Barbera used to use all of the time on The Flintstones when Fred would start running. After the bounders leave, some M.A.V.O. goons show up. Their boss wants Tweeg’s formula and they tie him up and start trashing his tower in search of the recipe. They’re brazenly stupid and some-what proud of it. There’s a lot of attempts at humor, but I’m not sure any are laughing. There’s even our first audio screw up where the wrong voice comes out of the wrong character. During all of this, Tweeg is tied up and mortified about how his stuff is getting destroyed. L.B. shows up by the window, for no apparent reason other than the writers wanted him to, and basically mocks Tweeg as he leaves him to his fate.

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L.B. the bounder. Notice the “Return to Tweeg” stamp on the cannon balls.

Meanwhile, Teddy, Grubby, and Gimmick are busy putting together their gifts. When Gimmick steps out he warns the other two not to go poking around in the closet. Grubby wants to almost the second the door shuts, but Teddy, playing the straight man, lets him know that isn’t okay and Grubby doesn’t put up a fight. The bounders soon gather around Gimmick’s house. They’ve apparently grown to miss Tweeg already, since he was the only boss they ever had. Teddy, Gimmick, and Grubby soon emerge from the house with their gifts for their friends and head straight for the airship, completely oblivious to the four bounders gathered outside the house (they literally walk right past them without batting an eye, bright red creatures against a white backdrop). They take off and the bounders head inside.

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Teddy and friends deliver gifts to the fobs.

The heroes take to the sky and embark on a musical montage of them giving out gifts to their friends. We get brief cameos from the fobs (little fuzzy bird-rats that speak like Alvin and the Chipmunks), the Wooly Whatsit, the Grunges, and Leota the wood sprite. Afterwards, they return home to find the house all lit up and the back door open, the bounders having just escaped detection. Apparently they just needed some supplies to create a dummy that looks like Tweeg. How they managed to stick one together without arms is a true mystery. They return to Tweeg’s tower to find everyone asleep and Tweeg still tied up. The goons apparently fell asleep after wrecking Tweeg’s kitchen. After trading insults, L.B. agrees to free Tweeg and they replace him with the dummy. The monsters awake soon after they leave and happily scoop up the dummy to bring to Quellor.

Back at Gimmick’s house, the friends are exchanging gifts and are all really happy with the gifts they receive from each other. Soon they’re surprised by a knock on the door and all of their friends from the earlier montage show up with gifts for them. The gift-giving song from earlier is reprised and we get our dose of warm, Christmas feelings even though no one utters the word Christmas. Tweeg, in a very Grinch-like moment, hears the singing and decides he needs to fire a canon at the commotion. The resulting canon blast creates an avalanche and Tweeg and his co-horts are buried in the tower. Teddy and company load up the airship and bring Tweeg some hot chocolate and seem to sincerely give him a shovel to dig his way out of the mess, rather than in a mocking fashion, before departing with a “see you in the spring.”

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Gimmick, Teddy, and Grubby deliver a gift to Leota.

After they leave, Tweeg apparently was able to free himself and is bit by the gift-giving bug and gives the bounders snow hats for saving him early. They reward him by saying his name properly (all episode they’d call him something like Dweeb instead of Tweeg, a running gag throughout every episode). They comment on how this is the nicest day they’ve had, then vow to go back to being mean and nasty the next day. L.B. remarks how all of this niceness can make a guy gag. We then take a quick trip to M.O.V.A. headquarters where Quellor is gifted with Tweeg, which turns out to be the dummy. He’s irritated and demands the recipe book with the buttermilk to gold recipe. His lackeys soon realize they used the recipe book as wrapping paper for the dummy, but assure their boss they can glue it back together. Quellor then slumps back to his throne wondering why he didn’t just collect stamps instead of dummies before going out with a “Why me?” as so many 80s cartoons villains before him.

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The source material.

That’s Teddy Ruxpin’s “Winter Adventure.” It basically feels like an 80s time capsule with typical animation, humor, and characters from that era. Virtually all of the enemies are dumb, and the only ones with an ounce of intelligence seem to only rely on imbeciles to do their dirty work. Meanwhile Teddy and his friends are pretty sterile. I find Teddy’s voice so saccharine that it’s grating. It’s the same voice actor as the toy, but in that format it never stuck out as much. This episode is mostly in-line with the book it’s sourced from. I should know as I still have the copy from my youth. Basically all of the stuff with Tweeg and M.O.V.A. was added for television as the book was basically just concerned with the gift-giving concept. The songs are even from there as well, and to be honest, they don’t bother me. I even kind of like them, but maybe that’s nostalgia.

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If you want more Teddy, the entire series is available on DVD. All 65 episodes. Just make sure it’s what you really want.

The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin obviously are no longer on television and haven’t been for a number of years. If you’re interested in checking out “Winter Adventure” you can either watch it on youtube or purchase the DVD set of the entire series. You’re not likely to find it in a big box store, but amazon carries it. I can’t really recommend the DVD set. It’s 65 episodes of a forgettable cartoon with a pretty subpar transfer (I’m sure the masters weren’t in the best working condition since who ever thought this show would merit a home video release down the line?) and no special features. The packaging is kind of nice relying on some stock images from the books. The show was presented in a serialized format, so plot points carry over from episode to another which is pretty cool for an 80s cartoon. It’s still not enough to make it very interesting, so unless you’re really nostalgic for the show or have a kid that somehow got into Teddy Ruxpin, there’s almost no reason to purchase the set. Teddy Ruxpin would eventually tackle Christmas properly in the books, but never on television. Still, this feels like a Christmas special, which is why it’s here.

 


Bandai SH Figuarts Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo and Donatello

img_0505Over the years I’ve been able to shake my compulsion to collect action figures. I went nuts with it in my late teens and into my early twenties. Outside of a couple of purchases here and there (actually, mainly the TMNT Classics line a few years back) I’ve stayed out of it for almost ten years. For whatever reason, I have a weakness for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I think it’s because they were my first love. Prior to the Turtles I had Ghostbusters, but I never went nuts with Ghostbusters like I did TMNT. Had Bucky O’Hare managed to hang around, he may have joined them and the X-Men would replace them. I obsessed over the Turtles though in a way only a young kid can. And as much as I loved the toys, it did always bother me how inaccurate they were or how little they resembled the show.

In the year 2016, accuracy is almost spot-on when it comes to action figures. I’ll walk through a comic shop and look at the new stuff just to amuse myself and it blows my mind how amazing toys look today (and how expensive they are, more on that to follow). Have you seen the new Batman The Animated Series toys? They look just like the show. Admittedly, it’s not a hard art style to translate, but it’s still miles ahead of the toys they had for the same show in the 90s. When Playmates released their TMNT Classics line in 2012 I bought them because it was as close to the old show as any toy had come. And while I think they’re mostly good, there was no denying that the accuracy was less than perfect. And in a way, it was intentional as Playmates tried to pay homage to both the show and the original action figures. If my love for the Turtles was confined to the original black and white comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird then I’d already be satisfied as NECA’s figures based on those old comics are perfection.

Enter Bandai and its SH Figuarts line. Bandai has acquired the license to the classic Turtles, something NECA never had any luck obtaining, and has released the first two of their planned four turtles:  Leonardo and Donatello. When I first saw the promotional images for this line I knew I had to have it no matter the expense. These, in my estimation, are as close to the old cartoon as we’re going to get. There’s always the chance another company could get closer (Revoltech did an amazing job with the new TMNT from Nickelodeon), but these ones look great enough that I feel comfortable in saying I won’t need another set of four turtles based on the classic cartoon.

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Donatello, waiting to be freed.

Bandai doesn’t just want to make these figures look awesome, the company also made sure they’re fun. Both characters come with four sets of hands, two heads, two interchangeable belt pieces, an accessory, and their respective weapons. It should be noted, that the weapons count is also toon accurate so Donny comes with one lone bo staff instead of the usual two his figures often come with. Both figures are primarily plastic, but have die cast for their belt buckle and their lower legs. Why die cast below the knee? To give the figure a low center of gravity, and it works remarkably well. I don’t know how much this design adds to the retail cost, but the die cast portion is indistinguishable from the last and the paint isn’t flaky or anything. The included instructions indicate to handle these parts carefully as the paint could be rub off, so you have been warned.

The figures themselves are loaded with articulation, perhaps too much. The front chest part of the shell is a nice, soft plastic that doesn’t hinder movement. The joints are tight, and the various armbands and knee pads are separate pieces of floating plastic. They’d probably break if put in the hands of children, but for an adult collector they should hold up fine. I did find that my Leo’s right bicep is rather weak and detaches too easily when trying to pose his arm. This is the type of thing that tends to happen with these figures that are loaded with articulation. Coincidentally, my NECA Leo’s left hand seems to always fall off with light posing. It must be a curse of the character.

Each character comes with three sets of identical hands, but also one set unique to each figure. For both, there’s a closed fist, fist with a hole through the middle to hold a weapon, and an open hand. Leo’s fourth set is a partially closed fist that can also hold a weapon, while Don comes with hands that can handle his included slice of pizza. The pizza slice is appropriate for any turtle, though if it was only to come with one it’s surprising Bandai chose Don and not Mike. It looks like Mike’s unique accessory is going to be the Turtle Hook weapon he used past season 2, and yeah that’s probably the right choice. It seems like Raph could have handled the pizza (he comes with a ninja star and dagger), and Don should have come with a Turtle-com or something “science.” Leo’s accessory is a rather boring one: a manhole cover. I don’t think I ever need another toy manhole cover given how many have come with TMNT toys over the years (ditto for cans of mutagen, or ooze).  As for the heads, both come with a serious facial expression and a unique one. Leo’s unique one is an angry expression that reminds me of his original action figure. Don’s is more of a smile as he’s getting ready to take down that slice. I find the serious head sculpt works for both, and while I like Leo’s angry expression, I do wish he had a smile as well since a lot of the show featured the Turtles in pretty light-hearted moments. Don’s smile is probably just a touch too “toony” for my taste. Maybe a mouth closed smile would have been more suitable.

My fear with figures like these ones are almost entirely centered on the durability. While I love having tons of accessories like interchangeable hands and so forth, I’m always afraid of snapping a peg or joint when switching them. The little time I’ve spent doing so with these have been mostly okay. The head comes off and goes on nice and easy, but the hands are tricky. Getting them off is no problem, but putting others on is a bit stressful as the peg wants to move all over the place. I’m terrified of breaking my toys so I probably won’t switch them up too often, but they do seem fairly sturdy. The bandana knot comes off the head and needs to be moved to whichever head is currently on the figure. It goes on and off very easily, but also sits snug enough that it’s not going to fall. Again, if these were in the hands of children then the knot would probably fall off a lot. The rear part of the belt has a removable piece as well. Often in the show, if the Turtles were holding their weapons then their belt looked like any old belt (just with a big buckle on the front for their first initial), but if their weapons were holstered then magically the belt grew little sheaths for them to go in. Bandai decided to mimic that by having a flat belt piece for the rear shell, and a separate one with holsters. It’s a pretty cool idea and shows a nice attention to detail. Getting the flat piece off though is a little tricky. It sits very snug, but there is a small opening on the bottom just wide enough for a fingernail. It will come off, but I’m afraid repeated removals could eventually chip the paint. The piece with the holsters come off almost too easily, by contrast. Donatello’s in particular required minimal effort to remove, and I even knocked it off by mistake when trying to slide his bo staff into it.

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Die cast lower legs means Leo can achieve poses like this one.

I must say, these toys are pretty bad ass. While not 100% accurate, I’d say they’re around 95% and the look seems to capture the season two look from the show. There’s drawbacks to everything though. For these two, stylistically there’s not too much to complain about. I think the accessories could have been better, but the weapons look great. Donatello’s staff isn’t painted though, which seems like a really odd oversight. Leo’s katana look great, which is a tough thing to pull off as his weapons were easily the most inconsistent in the show often changing shape and length from episode to episode. The shoulders and neck area of the figures do seem a little off from certain angles. Bandai made little effort to hide the shoulder ball-joints and I think the head could have sat maybe a millimeter higher. It’s a fine line. The biggest, and most obvious, negative with these figures is the cost. At over $60 a piece, these are pricey additions to one’s collection. There are more expensive toys out there for sure, but it’s a far cry from the four bucks I paid for my Leo and Don back in 88 (it just so happens my very first TMNT action figures were also Leo and Don, plus Krang) and it will cost more than $250 for a set of four turtles. I’m all in though, so hopefully Mikey and Raph turn out well too.

Bandai has said the company is committed to this line of classic TMNT and intends for it to continue for at least a little while. In other words, they plan on making a Shredder though they also added in the caveat that the line needs to make them money, which is a given. After ten years, NECA is finally releasing its Shredder this fall in a box set exclusive to Comic Con, apparently the only way around the licensing issues with Playmates that has prevented them from putting him out this long. Playmates, for its part, never released its Shredder for the TMNT Classics line. I just want the essential characters, so Bandai, please, do right by fans and finish this line properly. I’d honestly settle for the four turtles and Shredder, but I would also love a Bebop and Rocksteady too. And if done well, a Master Splinter and Krang in his android body. At $60 a pop, I can probably do without a generic foot soldier and I honestly don’t care if I get an April, Casey, Irma, etc. No company has ever put out a solid Shredder from the cartoon, and that really needs to change.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Series

The Complete Series!

Ask most any guy my age what their favorite television show was when they were in elementary school and I be the most popular answer will be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The heroes in a half shell were on weekday afternoons and then eventually Saturday morning from 1987 to 1996.  Their popularity was at its highest during the first three years or so but during their run they managed to rack up a total of 193 episodes.  The show was a merchandising behemoth, just look at a list for the action figures alone!  There were also clothes, toothbrushes, cereal bowls, pillows, and on and one.  You name it, and the Turtles were on it.  To a kid, they were a lot of fun and my days revolved around their television show, so when it was announced that the full series was getting released (housed in a replica Turtle Van, no less) I was all over it.

Packaging rear.

The DVDs have been receiving a steady release for awhile now but they were always on the cheap.  Not cheap in terms of price, but light on episodes and content.  I have the first two volumes, but stopped there.  The show is pretty much as a I remembered.  It’s pretty silly and full of bad jokes but there are some worthwhile ones.  I remember the characters broke the fourth well quite regularly, but what I didn’t remember was how often the show seems to poke fun at itself.  It’s probably something that disappoints those who want a show to take itself seriously, but come on, this is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  How could anyone take a show like that seriously?  Livening things up are numerous cameos (got to sell more action figures) on both the side of the Turtles and as antagonists.  I always liked the show’s take on Baxter Stockman, and the Rat King was also a personal favorite.

A look at the discs.

Those who have kept up with the show throughout the DVD releases are well aware of the fact that Lionsgate missed some episodes along the way, specifically “Planet of the Turtleoids and “Once Upon a Time Machine,” which have finally been released alongside season 10 as bonus features.  The complete series collection is just a collection of all of the previously released discs, so it does not correct the continuity issues but does include everything.  This also means that if you’ve purchased every DVD along the way that this set probably isn’t for you, unless you really love the packaging.

The packaging is definitely the selling point for this set.  The Turtle Van (or Party Wagon, as it was called on the packaging of the toy release) is a pretty solid likeness of the old toy.  It’s missing the bells and whistles like guns and so forth, but does feature rolling wheels.  The interior contains a green styrofoam mold that the discs slide into.  It can be a bit tricky to get the discs lined up properly so I wonder how well it will take care of them, but it works.  There’s a booklet too with a full episode list by disc but that’s it.  One pet peeve of mine is the sticker on the front of the van features the Turtles as if they’re riding in it, but the side window stickers don’t.

And lastly, an unboxed view of the complete van.

If you’re looking for a great show, this isn’t it.  This collection is strictly for collector who can’t say no to things from his or her childhood.  For what it is, it’s a cool set and I full intend on watching each disc.  I outgrew the Turtles before the show ended its original run so I’m kind of looking forward to watching more of the “Red Sky” episodes so from the shows final seasons that I missed out on.  If you’re a fan like me that has yet to get the DVDs then this is a worthwhile set for you.


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