Tag Archives: a christmas carol

Dec. 17 – Family Guy – “Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas”

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Christmas comes to Quahog.

So it’s come to this. We’re doing Family Guy. I don’t mean to come across as a snob or some animation elitist (after all, we already did Robot Chicken), but I don’t care for most of Family Guy. That wasn’t always the case. When the show originally aired on Fox I actually liked it quite a bit. And when it came to Cartoon Network I watched it almost every night. The absurdist humor, often relying on shock or surprise, was refreshing for a moment. It came at a good time as The Simpsons was coming off of its high and network animation was kind of flailing. The show was rather ugly and that first season was a bit rough, but I have mostly positive memories of seasons two and three and I have the DVD sets somewhere in my house.

Then, of course, the show made a surprising comeback. DVD sales and Cartoon Network ratings gave Fox enough confidence to order a new season. That new season premiered in 2005, and 14 years later Family Guy appears to be going strong. What changed for me over the years? Well, shock and random humor gets old. The show fell into the trap where it needed to top itself. Have Peter unexpectedly fight a chicken for five minutes? Well, then you to need bring him back and have the fight last for eight minutes! The characters gradually got meaner and less likable. Everyone dumps on Meg to the point where it’s not funny and it feels like there is no joke that is too low. The cut-away gags have become parody at this point as the show apparently decided to double-down when South Park called them out on how lazy those jokes were way back when.

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Like probably a lot of folks, there was a time when Family Guy really appealed to me, but those days are long gone.

It’s not all terrible though. The Stewie and Brian pairing still seems to work and often brings out the best of the show. I’ll give those a watch anytime I notice them. I also still really enjoy the show’s inaugural Christmas episode, “A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas” and the double-length “Road to the North Pole” has its moments as well. That gives me some reason for optimism as we tackle today’s episode, “Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas.” This episode is pretty modern having premiered as part of Season 16 on December 10, 2017. There’s still a chance this could go very wrong, and the title implies yet another parody of A Christmas Carol. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that one of television’s least imaginative comedy series would turn to Dickens for a Christmas special, and I’m not. The only surprise is that they held off until Season 16 to do it.

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The Pawtucket Brewery all covered in smog and snow for Christmas.

The episode opens with the standard credits, so this one isn’t scoring any bonus points for a festive intro. We’re immediately taken to the Pawtucket Brewery where Peter (Seth MacFarlane) works. Angela (Carrie Fisher, in her final appearance on the show) is trying to inform the workers that they’re getting out early on account of Christmas, but Peter keeps interrupting her by playing Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on an old boom box. This happens three times before Angela just gives up on her speech and tells everyone to go home. As Peter races out, his coworkers turn into the cast of Dazed and Confused. The Matthew McConaughey character is present. When Peter inquires what he’s doing for Christmas, it leads him into a parody of McConaughey’s Lincoln car commercials (remember those?) immediately dating this episode. In the parody, he’s driving around aimlessly with two teens tied up in his backseat (he’s embarking on a “slay” ride). The joke ends with a voiceover saying “Lincoln – What are we doing?” which is a typical way too on the nose joke that this show is frequently guilty of.

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The family is rolling with nontraditional clothes, always a plus.

The setting shifts to the home of the Griffins and everyone is decorating while they await the return of their patriarch. Lois (Alex Borstein) is hanging stockings and points out they always hang a stocking for son Chris’s stillborn twin who was to be named Tmas (thud). Brian (MacFarlane) takes this opportunity to inform the family what he got them all for Christmas – volunteering at a homeless shelter. Chris (Seth Green) and Meg (Mila Kunis) immediately protest while Stewie (MacFarlane) is surprisingly chill with it. Lois resumes her old identity of thoughtful parent and says it’s a lovely gift and will be good for the kids, then punctuates it with a tasteless remark about watching the homeless shit through their pants. Meg fills stockings with Kanye Canes, and it’s another joke that goes on way too long and was never funny. The voiceover from the Lincoln commercial returns to announce the “Family Guy Christmas Special” and again asks “What are we thinking?” I’m thinking you’re having trouble filling out 22 minutes.

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Peter never fails to disappoint his unloved ones.

The family then moves to the lawn when Chris spots Peter’s car speeding towards home. They’re surprisingly giddy about him coming home, but he just speeds by spraying mud on them. Lois lets us know he’s heading for the bar, while Stewie points out he actually had to go out of his way to do this.

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This Norm MacDonald bit is probably the best sequence of the episode.

At the bar, Peter is enjoying some cold ones with his pals Quagmire (MacFarlane), Cleveland (Mike Henry), and Joe (Patrick Warburton) and watching Norm MacDonald (himself) read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on television. MacDonald gets hung up on the word ‘Twas and keeps getting sidetracked as he tries to read the story. This is actually solid writing for MacDonald which makes me wonder if he did it himself or if the writers just know Norm well enough to do him right. The bit ends with Norm getting fired and goes into a joke about what Cleveland is doing for Christmas (it’s bad, and will pop up again). Peter then announces he wants to get home before the over-enthusiastic carolers arrive. He’s too late as the carolers enter and quickly overrun the bar, converting Quagmire in the process. They’re depicted almost like a singing horde of zombies. It’s not very funny, but at least it’s not offensive, and that’s basically the bar we’ve established here.

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A gag that’s pretty similar to one from the first Christmas special in which Lois keeps asking Peter to do stuff he doesn’t want to do.

At the Griffin home, we’re “treated” to a long fake commercial for those laser lights people project on their homes at Christmas. This feels like low-hanging fruit. The commercial doesn’t really make fun of the product and instead turns into a joke about blind people. Peter then arrives home and is eager to watch some Patrick Swayze movie, but before his ass hits the couch Lois informs him he has some chores to get done. He literally freezes in place in mid-sitting motion as she reads of a list that begins rather mundanely, and then ventures into absurd territories finishing with her requesting he move the house a few inches. Peter groans and asks if he can do some of it tomorrow, but Lois tells him he can’t because they’re volunteering at the homeless shelter. Peter is angry when he finds out he’s expected to go leading to a fight between the two and Chris fearful that the divorce is finally coming. Lois tells Peter she’s sick of his selfishness and then takes the kids to Newport to spend Christmas with her parents leaving Peter home alone with his Swayze movie. He then does a cut-away about taking a too full bath which doesn’t even come close to landing.

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That’s no Marley.

After a rather lovely exterior shot of the Griffen house in the snow, we find Peter inebriated on his couch watching a Patrick Swayze Christmas movie of some kind. He confesses his love for Swayze, then passes out. As he does, a burst of light fills the room and moves beside the Christmas tree. An ethereal voice beckons him to wake up. Peter opens his eyes and questions if the voice belongs to Santa, only to find out it belongs to Patrick Swayze (Don Swayze, Patrick’s real life brother, provides his voice). Peter is confused as this is 2017 and Swayze is long dead prompting Swayze to ask him if he ever saw Ghost? Swayze tells him he’s here to restore Peter’s Christmas spirit. Peter then goes into his Roadhouse gag from many episodes ago, and Swayze joins him.

After the break, Peter is shown gushing over the ghost of Patrick Swayze and even remarks he wants to run through his hair. Swayze indulges him and Peter is shown prancing like a deer through a brown meadow. He comes out of it to find himself at his home in the year 1970-80-90 when President Richard-Reagan-Clinton was in office. This is actually a clever joke at how these long-running animated series in which the characters are frozen in time have to keep reevaluating when they were born.

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“Look how thin I was!”

Inside the home, Peter and Patrick watch as a young Peter wakes up on Christmas morning. He plays with his new toys, and his mom brings him a plate of cookies for breakfast. Peter remarks how he really had the Christmas spirit back then and wonders how he lost it. He then directs our attention to his friend Holden who enters the room. Peter makes a comments that this is when he could talk, then ponders what happened. We then see him later in life at an airport trying to get to a bathroom. A little girl keeps shouting “Hold it in” and he eventually collapses  on Peter’s floor repeating the phrase until it becomes “Holden.” Peter tells Swayze this is a Game of Thrones joke and says he’d think it’s funny if he hadn’t died before the show premiered.

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Carter’s house is looking pretty nice. Why wouldn’t Peter want to spend Christmas here?

Patrick then takes Peter to the present, as he is playing the role of all of the ghosts apparently. First stop is weather man Ollie Willaims’ (Phil LaMarr) home who just yells at his kid. Next up is the home of Opie (Mark Hentemen), Peter’s co-worker with a severe speech impediment and possible brain injury that results in him mostly being unintelligible. He’s dressed up as Santa and gives his kids presents, then leaves and reappears with his kids apparently completely unaware it was him despite how preposterous that is. He then moves to the window and watches an old man reunite with his family as the theme from Home Alone plays. He then starts to sing it and subtitles appear that just say “Home Alone Theme – We think,” – isn’t making fun of brain damage fun? They then go to Cleveland’s house where Cleveland and his family revisit the joke from earlier of them listening to an R&B record in which it takes the African American singer a ridiculously long amount of time to get through a single syllable. It’s still not funny. Peter remarks that at least they’re together as a family, and Swayze informs him he knows one family that is not.

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Lois probably slept with the butler this night.

We’re taken to Newport, where the rest of Peter’s family is enjoying a meal from Boston Market. Lois’s Dad, Carter (MacFarlane), then mocks the family for doubting the quality of Boston Market, which I guess is a complement to the venerable chain? He then tells them they need to call his grandmother, Nana Pewderschmidt. He puts her on speaker phone and she’s speaking in German. I bet you know where this is going. Carter ends the call once she predictably starts complaining about Jews and then declares it’s time for figgy pudding. As they sit down for dessert, Meg questions her brother if they should call Dirt. Chris thinks she means Dad, but she corrects him that she means Dirt who she describes as some fat guy that sleeps with Lois. Lois is shown having an awkward exchange with a butler, and Peter informs Swayze that she’s using her flirty laugh. He tells Swayze it’s a subtle laugh, and you need to really know her to notice it. We then cut back to Lois who is now grabbing the butler by the face and demanding to see his penis. Cut back to Peter who is still trying to explain the subtlety of the situation. Before he can get more upset he shouts “Oh no, they got Joe!” and the carolers from earlier burst in and now they have both Joe and Quagmire in their ranks.

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I think we all expected this, or something like it, at some point.

Peter is then returned to his home, alone. He declares that Swayze hasn’t scared him, and he soon finds himself transported into the movie Ghost. It’s the infamous pottery wheel scene, only Peter isn’t playing Demi Moore’s part, but is actually the pottery. Swayze is there and tells him he’s now the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as he handles Peter’s malleable anatomy. And then we’re off to the future to find Quagmire, Joe, and Cleveland seated at the bar mourning the loss of their friend. Quagmire informs us that Lois had to sell everything to afford the funeral, and he unhappily displays the underwear he bought off of her. Peter is oblivious to who they’re mourning and for some reason assumes it’s a guy named Benjamin.

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Meet Lance. They don’t really do anything with him so there isn’t really a joke here. Lois just found someone a lot more attractive than Peter once he was out of the way.

Patrick then takes Peter to former Griffin household to drive the point home. Lois calls up to her husband to come downstairs pointing out how he’s out of frame. This allows Peter to get excited thinking he may have finally lost weight, but when a guy named Lance comes down instead he declares he must have finally worked up the courage to leave Lois. We now get to see the kids and the first to come downstairs is Chris who declares he’s going to Colombia. He doesn’t mean the school and means the country where he’ll be smuggling drugs in his rectum. Meg then comes downstairs and declares she’s going to Yale and Peter surprisingly gets ahead of the joke and knows she got a job with a lock maker. A very plump Stewie emerges to say he’s going to brown…some sausages for breakfast. Peter is happy his kids got Ivy League puns, but he wants to know where Brian is.

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Peter as a ghost dog fart. You read that correctly.

Swayze then takes Peter to a cemetery where a very old Brian is sleeping beside a tombstone. Peter still doesn’t get it and Patrick has to point out it’s his grave. The born date on the tombstone references the previous 1970-80-90 joke from earlier. He died five years before this moment when his Milf on a Shelf accidentally set his Christmas tree on fire with her cigarette. A ghost Peter then appears and we find out that this ghost is actually a dog fart. You see, people who lose their Christmas spirit and then die become dog farts for all eternity. He then disappears, but Swayze assures him he’ll reappear soon since Brian is a dog of 13. And sure enough, the ghost of Peter does return and warns Peter about his fate. More ghosts appear and they all have something gross to tell him about Brian’s rectum. They surround Peter and spin around causing him to collapse to the ground crying out he doesn’t want this to be.

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Peter using Instagram porn stars as a way of telling what day it is definitely works. He’s the type of guy that probably sends lots of awkward messages to such girls on a daily basis.

Peter then finds himself back at home on Christmas morning. He checks his phone to find that all of the porn girls he follows on Instagram are wearing Santa hats in their pictures which is how he knows it’s Christmas. He names a few of them and refers to them as thirst traps.

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There’s a pair of additional surprises under the tree this year.

We then return to Newport where everyone is opening presents. Meg declares everything is perfect, while Lois seems a bit blue. Chris informs us that every time Carter bends over they can see his genitals which horrifies Stewie. Peter then bursts in looking a bit disheveled carrying a sack full of hastily bought presents. Meg reacts by calling him Dirt, so that clears up some confusion from earlier. He distributes a bunch of awful gifts which his family actually enjoy. Meg is shocked to be given a gift of any kind from her father, who apparently has never bought her anything. Peter and Lois embrace, and then the ghost of Patrick Swayze appears. Peter asks him if there’s anything he can do for him, and Swayze says “Well, there’s one thing in Heaven that Chris Farley won’t do for me,” which leads into Peter and Swayze reenacting the Saturday Night Live bit where he and Farley danced to “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” as part of the infamous Chippendales sketch.

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This pretty much had to happen.

As the two gyrate and Peter loses his clothes, we see the rest of the family can’t see Patrick or hear the music. Lois instructs them all to just keep opening presents as Peter will eventually tire himself out. Carter then resumes handing out the gifts and everyone grimaces when he bends over. The licensed track returns as we move to an exterior shot of the Pewderschmidt compound. In an effort to fill time, a subtitle appears confessing the writers unironically enjoy the song. They then confirm this is being done to fill time as the episode ends with a festive rendition of “Jingle Bells” over the credits.

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The family’s reaction to Peter’s nearly nude dancing seems a bit overdone. This type of behavior from Peter should be expected.

I had the lowest expectations going into this one. Not only is it an episode of Family Guy, but it’s also a parody of A Christmas Carol. That should mean disaster, but it’s mostly fine. The vast majority of the jokes don’t land. This is a show that believes in quantity over quality as it’s just joke after joke after joke. And there’s no subtlety to any of it. Some of the jokes made me groan, but there were at least a few clever ones. I don’t think anything made me laugh out loud, but there were at least a few that made me smile. The show loves returning to jokes from earlier in the episode and even from previous episodes. This approach can be rewarding, but when the joke wasn’t very funny to begin with it doesn’t really work.

One thing I did enjoy was the use of Patrick Swayze. I was a bit alarmed when he showed up initially as I expected some really tasteless dead celebrity jokes to follow, but they really didn’t go for any of that. Since he was voiced by Swayze’s brother, it’s reasonable to assume that nothing in this episode would have offended the actor. It felt more like a love letter to Swayze as the character of Peter has shown an affection for him in the past. The ending scene of the duo reenacting the Chippendale’s sketch from SNL was actually more sweet than funny, which I enjoyed. It was a rather nice way to end the episode.

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This is a rather fun shot for the episode to go out on.

Family Guy has never been a show that’s all that enjoyable to actually look at, but I do like the seasonal settings in this one. The show has an honesty in how it portrays snow, which is more gray than white as it quickly gets dirtied by the environment. The homes of both the Griffins and Pewderschmidts are tastefully lit and the interior shots are warm and festive.

“Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas” was merely all right. If I were to find myself in front of the TV watching a lineup of Christmas episodes on Adult Swim I’d probably watch this one. If I were actually seeking out a Christmas episode of Family Guy then I’d still definitely turn to the one from Season 3. My expectations for this show are so low at this point that when an episode doesn’t leave me disgusted it feels like a victory. I suppose that’s not a glowing recommendation, but you could do worse.

If you wish to catch this one on television this year, just keep your eyes open. Family Guy airs all of the time on cable and one of the many networks that airs the show will likely show this one multiple times this month. Of course, we’re getting late in the game here so if you missed it, well there’s always Hulu or various streaming services where you can either rent or buy the episode. I wouldn’t pay money for it, but I’m also not you. I suppose if you’re a fan of Family Guy then you probably like this episode just fine and you’re also probably irritated with me at this point. And that too, is fine.


Dec. 15 – Animaniacs – “A Christmas Plotz”

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Original air date December 6, 1993

It’s rare when you encounter a cartoon series that has back-to-back episodes dedicated to Christmas, but that happened with the first season of Animaniacs. If you’re not familiar with the show, Animaniacs is essentially the spiritual successor to Tiny Toon Adventures as another Steven Spielberg presented cartoon series. It, even more so than Tiny Toons, draws inspiration from the golden era of cartoons when guys like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Friz Freleng were making audiences laugh at the movie theater. The series is a cartoon variety show with the main characters consisting of the fictional Warner brothers and Warner sister:  Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. It paired them up with many other newcomers like Slappy Squirrel, The Goodfeathers, and perhaps most famously the duo of Pinky and the Brain.

 

Animaniacs premiered on the Fox Kids network in the fall of 1993 and anchored Fox’s weekday afternoon lineup. Perhaps that’s why the producers and writers felt like they had room for multiple Christmas episodes. They aired back-to-back with a week of reruns in between with this one airing on December 6, 1993 and they were the last new episodes of the show to debut in 1993. Reruns took the Warners and Co. the rest of the way with new episodes premiering in 1994. Like a lot of Fox programs, the initial season was a direct to syndication order of 65 episodes with supplemental seasons tacked on. The show ran until 1998, finishing up on Kids’ WB after 99 episodes, and was followed by a direct-to-video movie, Wakko’s Wish, which is coincidentally a Christmas affair. It seems odd that the show wasn’t given one additional episode to get it to 100, an achievement it certainly deserved, but maybe that’s why Wakko’s Wish exists.

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Want to make an episode feel special? Just dress-up the opening credits a bit.

Animaniacs mixes a lot of slapstick humor with satire of celebrity culture. There’s numerous musical segments, honestly more than I remembered when I went back and watched it, and lots of micro segments which many fans probably recall fondly. I’m speaking of the Good Idea/Bad Idea stuff or that little kid who likes to talk about some other person named Randy. It also poked fun at broadcast standards via the Wheel of Morality and is also quite notable for slipping a few risqué jokes past the censors (Finger Prince?). It wasn’t a cheap show and often featured some of the best animation and musical numbers on television. It feels like a show that couldn’t exist today because of this, but Hulu is reportedly bringing the show back in 2020. It remains to be seen what the show will look and sound like, but most of the original cast is back onboard and it’s hard to imagine Amblin Entertainment allowing the show to look worse than it did 20 years ago.

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What’s better than dressing up the opening title sequence? Adding an homage to the old CBS Special Presentation bumper! Gets me every time.

The very first segment of the first Christmas themed episode is the one we’re looking at today:  A Christmas Plotz. Plotz refers to the name of the fictional CEO of the Warner Bros. Company Thaddeus Plotz (Frank Welker). He is ostensibly the one responsible for ordering the Warners be locked away in their tower, as detailed during the show’s infectious opening. He’s a miserable old miser, so you can probably see where this is going. Can Animaniacs do a worthwhile parody of A Christmas Carol, or is this yet another forgettable retread? Let’s find out.

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Warner Studios all ready for Christmas.

The episode begins with the fake news reel explaining the origins of the Warner Bros. Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell) and their sister Dot (Tress MacNeille) were classic cartoon characters deemed too zany and crazy to exist. Their cartoons were blacklisted and they were sealed away, along with the Warners themselves, in the studio’s water tower. This news reel begins many episodes of the show, but this time it’s presented with snowflakes falling all around. These snowflakes carry over into the opening title sequence and I do love when shows dress-up their opening credits for Christmas! The Steven Spielberg cartoons were frequent contributors to such.

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Thaddeus Plotz is a man in need of some Christmas spirit.

When that business concludes, we begin the show. It’s Christmas time at the Warner Studios lot and some carolers are cheerily singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” In his office, Thaddeus Plotz is not enjoying the festive singing. He opens his window to scream at them and fling fruit cake as well. It seems his subordinates all give him fruit cake at this time of year, even though he hates it (doesn’t everybody?). As he returns to his desk, his security guard Ralph (Welker) enters the office. Plotz instructs him not to sit down as this won’t take long, but Ralph interrupts him by going into a little prepared speech. It seems he expects this meeting to end with him receiving his Christmas bonus, and he thanks Mr. Plotz for letting him work there and presents him with yet another fruit cake. Ralph is the classic dumb guy cartoon archetype. He frequently starts sentences with “Ahh,” or “Duhh,” and adds random plurals onto certain words thus making him immediately sympathetic, which is important for what follows.

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This image makes me feel genuinely crushed.

When Ralph finishes his little speech and presents Plotz with the fruit cake the old man is able to put on a happy face briefly despite his disgust. He then holds up a line graph which apparently details rising costs directly tied to the damage caused by the Warners. It’s Ralph’s job to keep them in line, and he’s failed miserably. Plotz fires him on the spot, then wishes him a sincere-sounding Merry Christmas. As Ralph’s eyes well-up with tears, he slumps his shoulders and walks out.

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This one features a Slappy cameo, but sadly she’s the only one.

That night, Plotz is still busy in his office with budgetary matters. He’s recording a voice memo in which he mentions that in order to cut costs employees will soon be expected to provide their own toilet paper. As he finishes up, an apparition appears before him. It’s Slappy Squirrel (Sherri Stoner) in the Jacob Marley role. She’s mostly transparent and blueish with chains draped over her and isn’t particularly happy to be there. When a frightened Plotz demands to know why she’s here, she pulls out a notebook and reads her lines about him being visited by three ghosts. When he asks why, she tells him she doesn’t know as she lost the rest of the script. She then marches out of there grumbling about how she’s doing this for scale and remarks that she needs a new agent.

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Bring on the ghosts! First up is Wakko as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

With Slappy gone, Plotz thinks he hallucinated her due to working too hard. He drinks some water and then the phone on his desk begins to ring. He answers it and a spectral Wakko pops out of the receiver. He’s mostly blue save for his red nose and hat. He’s also dressed in a manner similar to the classic interpretation of Tiny Tim and immediately goes into a little musical number about taking a trip back to the past to see how Plotz got here. He sets up a little movie theater for the two and finishes his song with a kiss. The reel-to-reel projector is fired up as Wakko enjoys some popcorn and we’re taken to our first scene of the past.

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This is a pretty on-brand way for Wakko to present the past to Plotz.

It’s the birth of Thaddeus Plotz! His mother (Nancy Linari) is resting comfortably and seems quite content with her new babe, but then the doctor brings her the bill and little Thaddeus jumps up in anger. He’s still ticked about the whole spanking of the bum thing by the doc and informs him that he’ll be hearing from his lawyers. We’re then shown a five-year-old Plotz as he confronts a mall Santa surrounded by said attorneys to make his annual demands of St. Nick. He expects many gifts, including a horse, and Santa seems bewildered. The Plotz of the present then informs us he was gifted a pony that year and he still seems ticked off by it. Plotz demands this farce end, but Wakko then shows him another vision of the past, one he promises is the worst. This time he’s an adult and seated behind his current desk. He’s telling an old man (Maurice LaMarche) his services are no longer needed, despite him begging to be allowed to keep his job. That old man was his dad, and Plotz still sees nothing wrong with usurping the company from his old man as he allowed him to keep his medical benefits.

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You just knew they would utilize the present pun. Dot even feels the need to draw attention to it by pointing it out.

Wakko and his accessories then vanish as Plotz returns to his desk once again questioning if what he just saw was real or not. He sits down at his desk and blames his vision on bad cocktail weenies (because that food was considered inherently funny in the 90s, like cheese) when he notices a large present on his desk. He thinks it’s going to be another fruitcake, but a spectral Dot pops out dressed in old-timey clothes and demands to know who he’s calling a fruitcake. She also points out the pun of her being the Ghost of Christmas Present and popping out of a present. She too has a little song to sing, and as she kicks away the nameplate on Plotz’s desk we can see his own name was misspelled on it (Thadius), though I don’t think that’s a joke just an animation goof.

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Well, at least they’re happy.

Dot takes Plotz to a trailer park, and I bet you can guess who lives here. It’s the home of the recently fired Ralph who is seated in an easy chair trying to calm his son (Paulsen) who is irate with Plotz for firing his dad. He assures the boy that everything will be okay. The pair are summoned to dinner and we get to meet Mrs. Ralph who inexplicably looks and sounds exactly like her husband. Their kid seems well-adjusted and perfectly fine though, so he apparently hasn’t been ravaged by his incestuous origin. Mrs. Ralph is serving what they can afford for Christmas dinner:  Turkey Jell-O. It looks pretty terrible, but Ralph is excited to eat it while little Ralph Jr. is decidedly not happy about this current situation. He claims to the camera he’s adopted, and we believe him, and vows to get even with Mr. Plotz some day.

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And Yakko makes three.

Plotz is a bit unnerved by Ralph Jr’s hatred of him and wants out. He soon finds himself back in his office. He’s apparently accepted the reality of this evening as he’s now concerned about the arrival of the third ghost. The clock striking midnight and a thunderstorm brewing outside seem to spook him as he tries to call for security, forgetting momentarily that Ralph was security. He then tries to leave, but finds the door locked. Turning around, he screams when he sees the third ghost. A being resembling the Grim Reaper approaches, sickle and all. It pins him to the door and says his name in a deep, hollow, voice as it extends a boney finger towards Plotz’s throat.

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Yakko’s song and dance number is certainly elaborate, but is it funny? Eh…

Yakko then emerges from the robes to announce he’s the Ghost of Christmas Future. He ditches the spooky stuff and sports a tuxedo as he goes into an elaborate song and dance routine announcing his arrival and intentions. It’s complete with female dancers (voiced by Carol Lombard, Kimberly Fligsten, Brianne Lepon, and Sara Ford) which Yakko hits on mercilessly while Plotz is dragged around and forced to keep pace. Yakko slips in insults here and there while Plotz drops his fear for a minute to just get angry and annoyed. The presence of the women allow Yakko to work in his “Hello, nurse” catchphrase, and the whole thing ends with Yakko tossing Plotz off of the magical stairs that appeared to land in an armchair. I do not know if this song is a direct parody of anything, but Yakko does go into a brief Groucho bit for a moment.

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I wonder who that guy could be?

With both Yakko and Plotz seated comfortably, Plotz looks around and realizes they’re still in his office. Only now it’s not his office. Yakko directs Plotz’s attention to the new man in charge, an angry guy with a huge, bald, head. He’s yelling about Urkel looking ridiculous with his pants pulled up so high at his age as he’s on the phone with someone. He slams it down and returns to his work and Yakko points out to Plotz that this man is actually Ralph Jr. all grown up. It seems he did get his revenge on Plotz, as we soon find out his fate. Unlike Scrooge, Plotz is still alive in this future, but he has suffered a fate worse than death. He’s been made the new Ralph and tasked with keeping the Warners in line. He looks mostly the same, only he has an unkempt mane of gray hair and his eyes are a bit sunken looking.

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Old man Plotz is forced to try and keep pace with the Warners. It’s actually pretty impressive a man of his age can do this much.

Plotz is horrified by the sight, and it only gets worse. The Warners then show up to taunt him, and as he chases after them with a net Ralph Jr. emerges from his window to call down to him. He admonishes him for not catching them, and when Plotz informs Ralph that they’re too fast, he unceremoniously fires the old man punctuating it with a cheerful “Merry Christmas,” just as he did to his father years ago. The future Plotz walks away disheartened, while present Plotz begins to pout and cry.

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The ghosts may be done, but the Warners still have a role to play.

Plotz soon realizes he’s back in his office. It’s Christmas morning, and now he has his chance for atonement. He kisses his desk when he realizes where he is and races over to the window. He goes into the usual routine as he calls out to some kids asking what day it is. It’s the Warners in their holiday threads, only now they’re not blue ghosts. They tell him it’s Christmas Day, and Dot remarks to the camera how he’s not too bright. Plotz then throws down a sack of money and tells them to go buy the biggest fruit cake they can find and deliver it to Ralph’s house. He even tells them to keep the change. Wakko declares that they’re rich and the trio grab the money and run.

 

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Plotz never really atones for his mistake, he just tries to cover it up.

At Ralph’s trailer, the whole place is bouncing up and down with Christmas cheer. The family is singing around their 8″ tall tree when a knock at the door disturbs their celebration. Ralph Jr. answers it to find it’s Plotz armed with a stack of presents. He barges in and demands to know why he’s hearing that Ralph left the studio. A confused Ralph points out that he fired him, but Plotz corrects him by saying he inspires him! He then charms Mrs. Ralph, before turning his attention to Ralph Jr. He begs the boy not to take over the studio, and then tries to bribe him with a pony. The kid demands a horse instead and Plotz makes an expression that basically says, “I deserved that.”

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Grovel, you swine!

Another knock at the door gets Plotz’s attention and he opens it to find the Warners. They tell him they brought the fruit cake and an excited Plotz races outside wanting to know where it is. They tell him they got the biggest they could find, and they weren’t kidding. A helicopter delivers a massive fruit cake, and drops the two-story monstrosity right on top of Plotz. His feet stick out from under it and all we can hear is unintelligible ranting. The Warners jump on top armed with spoons and assure him they can have him out by Easter. Wakko then wishes us all a merry Christmas as the sound of Christmas bells take us out of the segment.

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A fitting punishment for a lifetime of dickish behavior.

And that’s it for “A Christmas Plotz.” It’s followed by a musical number based on The Little Drummer Boy in which the Warners assume the role of the drummer and lead us through a fairly straight interpretation of the tale. It’s not particularly memorable, but if you like your Christmas with a side of Jesus then it’s probably right up your alley.

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The Warners get the last word, per usual.

“A Christmas Plotz” is pretty entertaining, as most cartoons starring the Warners tend to be. It’s a bit disappointing that a show as creative as Animaniacs went in this direction though as it didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the old story truncated to 12 minutes or so and punctuated with jokes. The jokes are fairly easy, but still humorous. It’s still fair to question whether or not we ever needed Animaniacs to go this route. An original Christmas story would have been preferable, but obviously more work. I suppose I’m glad the Warners were thrust into the ghost role as opposed to that of the Cratchits. Maybe another holiday parody would have worked better? The slapstick nature of Home Alone would have lent itself well to the show, or maybe just have the Warners run wild through Santa’s workshop? A Christmas Carol parody is the lowest rung on the holiday special ladder, and I just can’t help but feel that this show is better than this. At least this show looks great as this particular episode was entirely animated by the renowned TMS Entertainment. Episodes of this show really don’t come any better in terms of looks than what you’ll see here.

img_0461Thankfully, if you want to spend the holidays with the cast of Animaniacs you have other options. There’s the episode that follows this which is less cohesive, but pretty fun. There’s also a Christmas cartoon starring Slappy featured in the penultimate episode of the show that’s fodder for a future countdown. And there’s also the previously mentioned Wakko’s Wish if you want to spend an even longer amount of time with the gang at Christmas. That feature has the added appeal of making use of the full ensemble so it’s a bit like a celebration or grand finale for the show. If you’re really into the show though, you’ll probably just want to watch all of them. And if so, don’t forget the excellent Pinky and the Brain holiday special!

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This cartoon is fine, but the episode that follows makes better use of the entire cast making it my preferred Christmas episode of the two.

If you do indeed wish to invest some of your Christmas viewing time into Animaniacs then it’s pretty easy to do so. The entire show is available to purchase on physical media or through digital means. By far, the easiest way though is via Hulu which has the entire series plus the movie on it. It also has other Spielberg cartoons so you can really indulge in some 90s animation and basically all of them feature a Christmas special or two. There’s certainly room for Animaniacs at Christmas time, so hopefully you find an episode that works for you.


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. 1 – DuckTales – “Last Christmas!”

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Original air date December 1, 2018

It’s that time of year once again! Every day goods are a little pricier, egg nog is invading the dairy case at every grocery store, and red and green versions of every candy in existence flourish in the seasonal section of department stores. Yes, it is Christmas time and it would be obnoxious if it weren’t temporary. Does it come too soon? Maybe, but here the season officially starts now and lasts through the holiday.

Welcome to The Christmas Spot! If this is your first time here then let me tell you what you’re in for. Every day through Christmas, we’ll be spotlighting a Christmas special or holiday themed something advent calendar style. Will we talk about a good special? A poor one? Something in between? We’re quality agnostic, which is a damn fine motto. The only thing this site won’t touch are those made for TV Hallmark movies that are basically shown year-round now. I have no interest in them, plus I like to stick to things that are a half-hour format or less to keep things tidy. After all, this is no small task to find time in my day-to-day life to make 25 blog entries in 25 days for the sheer joy of it. So I encourage you to start your day right here. And if one blog entry isn’t enough, well then may I recommend our Christmas archive? It’s a great companion to that first cup of coffee in the morning, or that first visit to the restroom – don’t forget the peppermint scented toilet paper!

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The opening credits get a festive makeover as well.

This year, we’re kicking things off with a relatively new entry to the world of Christmas specials. DuckTales has been around for quite some time. The original run included 101 episodes, but strangely no Christmas one. This is surprising because future Disney Afternoon shows would often feature one. Plus, the star of DuckTales is one Scrooge McDuck. Not only does Scrooge share a name with another individual associated with Christmas, but the character actually debuted in a Donald Duck Christmas story which we covered for last year’s countdown. Well, the new version of DuckTales launched in 2017 would rectify that, though not in its first season.

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We get to learn about Donald’s enthusiasm for Christmas, Scrooge’s hatred of Santa, and that Launchpad is actually Jewish.

“Last Christmas!” premiered, appropriately enough, last Christmas (December 1, 2018 to be exact) and was a late scratch from that year’s list. See, I don’t actually have time to make a post every day for this thing. What really happens is I keep a master list of any and all Christmas specials I know of. Then I arbitrarily pick and choose which to cover each year, and I make posts in my down time and schedule them to go up when they need to. Did that ruin the magic for you? Hopefully not, as this is actually a fun way to get a little dose of Christmas spirit throughout the year. I’m also the type of person that keeps a Christmas countdown going all year long. Anyway, when I found out there would be a DuckTales Christmas special it was pretty late in the game. I almost squeezed it in, but decided maybe it would be best to save it for 2019. A year’s removal would allow me to better put it in perspective. Is it the type of special that deserves to be revisited year after year? Well, this is where we find out.

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Scrooge is predictably grumpy around the holidays.

When DuckTales made its return in 2017 it wasn’t without some controversy within the fanbase. That’s because Disney made the call to recast all of the characters from the original run with new actors all voicing these characters for the first time. This is different from what Disney usually does with its classic characters where a voice actor is paired with a character or characters and serves in that role basically for life. It’s something though that has apparently fallen out of favor with Disney in the past few years. There are currently two(!) voice actors for Mickey Mouse right now, and probably my most popular post ever concerned the handling of Donald’s Duck’s voice when veteran Tony Anselmo was recast for the pre-school show Mickey and the Roadster Racers. When I wrote that I wasn’t aware that Anselmo had the role actually taken from him, as opposed to passing on it. Thankfully, he was returned to voice Donald in DuckTales, but he’s basically the only member of the main cast to return. Alan Young obviously could not return as Scrooge (R.I.P.), but Russi Taylor was basically not allowed to return as the voices of Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

And that’s what makes “Last Christmas!” so special, in a way. Maybe Disney was right to recast the roles of the nephews as now they are individual characters as opposed to a hive-mind, basically. I think they could have all shared the same voice still, but I guess I’ve made my peace with the series concerning this. Still, that doesn’t help Russi Taylor at all, but this episode allowed her to return in a pretty creative fashion. And we have the magic of Christmas to thank for that!

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Webby is a talented trimmer of trees.

This episode opens with a little extra Christmas spice. I love it when holiday episodes do stuff like this. The lyrics are changed slightly to reference the holiday (“Life is like a candy cane,”) and they’re sung by a Frank Sinatra sound-a-like (could not find a credit, so apologies) and accompanied by snowflakes and happy Christmas scenery. The episode then opens at Scrooge’s mansion where Donald (Anselmo) is looking resplendent in a Christmas sweater as he decorates Scrooge’s lawn. Scrooge (David Tennant) then appears on the front step to admonish Donald for covering his lawn with those “inflatable abominations.” Donald points out that Scrooge has the perfect piece of property for a festive Christmas display, but soon sees the error of his ways when Scrooge points out that he also has a pilot who mistakes Christmas lights for runway lights.

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Webby, just waiting for Scrooge to say “Bah! Humbug!” and he will not disappoint.

Scrooge leaves Donald to apparently suffer an awful fate as Launchpad approaches. Inside, Webby (Kate Micucci) is swinging around a massive Christmas tree dressed as a reindeer as she trims the tree while Huey (Danny Pudi) supervises decked in a stocking cap – I so love the holiday attire. Scrooge storms around looking grumpy while Louie (Bobby Moynihan) makes out his Christmas list which begins with an apology to Santa. Mrs. Beakley (Toks Olagundoye) gives Scrooge the rundown of decorations and the night’s schedule (which includes a reading of Christmas on Bear Mountain) which Scrooge suffers through. He then scolds everyone from a balcony before destroying a polar bear dressed in a Santa costume decoration before retreating to his room. Scrooge apparently has some kind of vendetta against Santa.

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There’s a scene like this in most Christmas specials.

Alone in his own room, Dewey (Ben Schwartz) is reading by the light of the Christmas star in a classic “Christmas Wish” setting. He’s looking a little down and Donald takes notice from the hallway, but sports a curious smile. Dewey is clearly missing the mother he never met, but is roused from his room by an odd sound. He approaches a green-lit door cautiously, unsure of what’s behind, and given this is the home of Scrooge McDuck any manner of spook or spirit could be in there just waiting to curse him for all eternity!

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These aren’t the spirits you’re accustomed to seeing.

When Dewey opens the door he does indeed find some mythical creatures, but not in a setting he was expecting. Three ghost-like bodies surround Scrooge. Dewey assumes the worst, but comes to find out they’re not here for any nefarious purpose. They’re cheering Scrooge on, who’s sporting a mistletoe headband, as he chugs what appears to be egg nog. It’s from a carton, so I guess that’s all the censors required to make it appear like this is an alcohol free activity. Scrooge quickly explains to Dewey these ghosts are actually his friends and they visit him every Christmas Eve. They’re also familiar to anyone who’s seen a Dickens adaptation. There’s a mute Grim Reaper like ghost that’s obviously the Ghost of Christmas Future and a chubby pig who is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Bill Fagerbakke). He’s dressed in attire that is almost identical to Willy the Giant’s from the best version of A Christmas Carol – Mickey’s Christmas Carol. And the third ghost is even more reminiscent of that classic short as he’s a little cricket in a suit, an obvious homage to Jiminy Cricket.

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Past is quite obviously an homage to Jiminy Cricket.

The ghosts explain that one year they confused this Scrooge with another who shares a name with him, but finding this one more fun, they now visit him every year for a good time. Scrooge then explains his whole hating Christmas thing is just an act to keep people away around the holidays so he’s free to spend his evening with these old chaps (the Santa hating thing isn’t an act though, he really detests that jolly old elf). This, he explains, is his one night to cut loose and have fun and it’s especially true of this Christmas now that he has Dewey and his brothers to look after.

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Time for a journey into the Past.

Dewey seems pretty confused, but surprisingly receptive to the story. With that business out of the way, the group decides it’s time to take a trip through time courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jack McBrayer) in search of some holiday fun. Scrooge grabs onto him just as his predecessor did 35 years earlier and the cricket even pops open a tiny umbrella and the four fly out of the window and soar over Duckburg. The scenery begins to change as they journey back in time, but the setting surprisingly does not as the ghost leads them right back to Scrooge’s mansion. Only now they’re in the past and will be attending Scrooge’s first big Christmas party at his home. Scrooge likes the idea and he acknowledges his past self as they enter the premises, his past self saluting back without question (apparently he’s expected this).

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Scrooge’s home on Christmas. Note the painting on the wall appearing to depict Scrooge’s first appearance from Christmas on Bear Mountain.

Inside, Scrooge’s home is filled with guests and assorted easter eggs for those with keen eyes. They soon spot a young Mrs. Beakley on the dance floor and Present takes an immediate liking to her. Unfortunately for him, she’s more interested in Future and hauls him out onto the floor. Scrooge tries to make merry himself, but a still alive Duckworth (David Kaye) mistakes him for his younger self and scolds him for trying to act so juvenile in front of many potential business partners. He escorts him to a group of buzzards who are essentially the opposite of fun.

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Scrooge is not really enjoying himself.

Eventually, Scrooge notices Goldie making an entrance and his demeanor perks up. Before he can confront her though he’s accosted by a potential partner who wants to show him some cube he’s got. He makes references about a job that’s another easter egg, this time a reference to a Carl Barks story, but Scrooge pays him no mind. Then another interruption occurs when Grandpappy Beagle (Eric Bauza) barges in with the lesser-known members of the Beagle Boys. They’re here to rob everyone, and Scrooge is officially over this whole thing.

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That would be Grandpappy Beagle and his Beagle Boys.

Informing Past that his idea was a dud, the chipper cricket informs Scrooge he has a better idea. The two depart, apparently leaving Present and Future behind, and end up in a much more quiet setting. It’s a campsite in the woods, and Scrooge recognizes it as his first Christmas in Duckburg, before he was rich. He seems quite nostalgic as he takes a seat on a log beside a roaring campfire and looks contented, until he’s not. Declaring this is boring, he wants to go elsewhere, but Past has other ideas.

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Past takes Scrooge to an even earlier Christmas – his first in Duckburg.

Past chooses this moment to make his heel turn. He apparently doesn’t like this once a year arrangement with Scrooge and wants to spend the whole year having fun with him. His job of showing bad people their past transgressions has apparently worn on him. Scrooge doesn’t want to remain here though, so he goes on the offensive. The two have a spirited sword fight of sorts; Scrooge wielding his cane and Past his umbrella. The two tire themselves out and collapse in the snow, both apparently enjoying this little sparring contest. Scrooge expresses a desire to do it again and suggests they travel back in time the five minutes or so needed to do it over. Past is thrilled by this suggestion and enthusiastic, but when he goes to do the deed he realizes he lost track of his umbrella.

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Got your umbrella.

Scrooge gives him a sly look and produces the diminutive object. He pops it open and with a flash of green light he vanishes, leaving Past sitting there on the log all by himself. He’s cheerful, and assumes Scrooge is just messing with him. As he sits there though the camera zooms out and Scrooge never reappears.

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Dewey was not going to allow Scrooge to go on some Christmas adventure without him.

We then jump back to the future, but 11 minutes in the past. Time travel can be confusing. The important thing to know is we’re back to when Scrooge and the spirits left the mansion. Only now we can see they had a stow-away. Dewey grabbed ahold of Future’s robes as they flew out, but wasn’t able to hold on for very long. He falls down into a snowbank below. Looking up, he sees the mansion and bemoans he’s still in the same boring place, but then notes the “when” may have changed. Congratulating himself on his expert time travel pun, he runs off into the house.

Dewey is obviously interested in finding out how far back in time he’s gone, because if he’s gone back far enough then someone very important to him may be located in this mansion. He races to what I assume is his room in the present and finds, as he describes it, some emo kid.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you adolescent Donald!

The emo kid is wearing a flannel shirt over a black t-shirt with a Nirvana-like logo while strumming a bass guitar. He sings a rather drab song that’s humorous to anyone who remembers grunge and it soon becomes obvious who this kid is. It’s a young Donald Duck, and he’s voiced by none other than Russi Taylor! He appears to be about Dewey’s age, and is annoyed that Dewey has interrupted his playing. He angrily grabs him by the collar and demands to know how much he heard and also demands to know if it was any good. Dewey lies and says it is, makes up a story about being a long removed cousin, then moves on to more pressing matters – where is Donald’s sister, Della?

Donald informs Dewey that Della is where she always is – out back setting a trap for Santa. When Dewey asks why Donald isn’t with her he explains he’s too old for that stuff and thinks Christmas is stupid, a far cry from the holiday obsessed Donald he’ll become. He tells Dewey he can’t go out to look for her because he was close to a breakthrough with his song. Dewey informs him he was not, and cheerily grabs the bass and hops out the window forcing Donald to follow with a “What’s the big idea?”

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Donald doesn’t understand why Della brought so much food and such a large tent. He’ll soon find out why.

Out back, they find a family-sized tent that’s collapsed and the trees are covered with a red goop. Dewey is alarmed, but Donald just views the scene as a sign of Della’s incompetence. He tastes the red goop splattered on the tree and informs the disgusted Dewey it’s just jelly (“What would you have done if it wasn’t?”) before moving on to inspect the tent. He determines Della gave up at trying to put it together and then attempts to fix it, but has just as much luck as his sister. Dewey notices some tracks in the snow clearly belonging to Della, and some that do not. They decide to investigate, but unknown to them some ominous glowing green eyes are watching from the bushes.

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Huey isn’t the only Junior Woodchuck.

As Dewey and Donald trace Della’s steps, Donald is whacked with seemingly every branch Dewey pushes aside. The creature stalking them soon reveals itself as a large, goat-like being:  the Wendigo. Dewey and Donald are forced to run as the creature chases them, and they wind up right in one of Della’s traps.

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Captured by Della Duck.

Now suspended upside down in a large net, Dewey and Donald are greeted by Della who scolds them for ruining her Santa trap. She wants to trap the red guy as a present for Scrooge and now will have to reset it. Donald demands she release them, calling her “Dumbella” as in Dumb Della, but it’s also a reference to her original name. She demands Donald apologize before she sets the two free, even though they can hear the roars of the Wendigo approaching. Donald apologizes for the insult, but it’s not enough. He then lists other things he’s sorry about, like using her toothbrush to clean his combat boots, things Della wasn’t even aware of. Donald is frustrated that his apologies aren’t good enough, forcing Dewey to point out the obvious:  the giant tent, the vast assortment of snacks, Della just wanted to spend Christmas with her brother on her Santa stake-out but he blew her off. Della is angry with Donald for just wanting to sit alone in his room on Christmas rather than spend time with his family, forcing Dewey to also realize he’s guilty of the same back in his own time. Donald acknowledges that Dewey is right and apologizes to Della for not wanting to spend time with her on Christmas and she in turn lets them out.

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Now that the duck siblings have made up, they can turn their attention to more pressing matters.

At this point though, the Wendigo is on top of them. When they ask him what he wants, he roars back with a “When did go?! Scrooge?!” prompting all three to deadpan “Of course.” Donald and Della, demonstrating they’re used to this sort of thing, jump the beast and start wrestling with it while Dewey looks on. They’re tossed from the creature and Della comes to land beside Dewey. She looks at the remnants of the net from earlier and gives Dewey a knowing look. Meanwhile, Donald too is thrown from the monster causing the bass strapped to his back to break. He looks at his beloved instrument and goes into a classic Donald rage. He attacks the Wendigo, and the opening created by his offense allows Dewey and Della to wrap the beast up in the net.

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Problem solved.

The three ducklings drag the beast back to the front steps of the mansion. The whole time Donald and Della maintain a posture that this is all ordinary to them. When Della finally asks just who Dewey is, all he can do is respond with a big, awkward, hug. He almost lets on that he’s her son, but recovers and maintains his story about being a long distant cousin. Della sees right through it and states “You’re a relative from the future.” Dewey tries to deny it, but Della assures him this is only the fourth weirdest thing to happen to them on Christmas. Donald also expresses knowing the whole time he wasn’t who he said he was. Dewey then comes clean about being a relative from the future, but doesn’t elaborate further, and tells Della he should warn her about her future and she refuses to hear him out. The two then head into the house to fetch their uncle leaving Dewey alone with the Wendigo.

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Dewey can’t stop himself from giving his some-day mom a hug.

This is apparently not a good thing, as the beast soon breaks free from its restraints. It looms menacingly over Dewey, but before it can attack Scrooge appears from the sky and gets the drop on him. He pogos off of the beast’s head, just like the Nintendo game, knocking it out. Past and Future then appear and Dewey questions how he found him. Scrooge says he was heading back to retrieve those two when he saw Dewey below. Dewey gives him a hug and tells him he just wants to go home. Scrooge gives him a smile and tells him he just has something to do first.

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Scrooge is always ready to make a save.

They then turn their attention to the Wendigo, which turns to stone and crumbles. From its head emerges a sad looking Past. Scrooge explains, repeating an explanation Della gave earlier, that a Wendigo is a lost soul driven mad by despair. When he left Past back at the campsite, it forced the spirit to just sit and wait for Scrooge to come back, but he never did. Past went crazy every Christmas looking for Scrooge, until he showed up now. He then says he has a Christmas present to deliver and returns Past’s umbrella to him. He then cheers up, and taking hold of the umbrella the group is whisked away back to the future – I mean present.

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The true identity of the Wendigo is revealed.

Everyone is now where they’re supposed to be – gathered around a grand piano in Scrooge’s living room. Launchpad (Beck Bennett) is manning the ivories wearing a blue Hanukkah sweater. The ghosts are hanging around too to join in on the fun. Dewey, now ready to make merry with his family, sees his uncle Donald and gives him a big hug. Donald lets on that he’s been waiting for this for many years, but before Dewey can confirm he’s referring back to Dewey’s trip into the past, he’s pulled away by his brothers into the celebration. We’re also treated to a cut-away of young Della and Donald exchanging Christmas gifts and we see that’s how Donald got his festive Christmas sweater and likely why Christmas came to mean so much to him. While the gang butchers The Twelve Days of Christmas, we also get to see Mrs. Beakley give Future a rather suggestive glance.

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It’s time to celebrate!

As the celebration wraps up, we’re then taken to a much quieter setting. On the moon, Della Duck looks longingly at Earth and at a picture of Scrooge, Donald, herself, and the eggs she left behind. With tears welling in her eyes, she wishes her boys a merry Christmas then resumes work on her spaceship vowing to return to them soon.

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Young Della and Donald exchanging gifts.

“Last Christmas!” is a tremendously fun ride of a Christmas special and a great way to kick things off this year. Time travel stories are often a blast and the show really has fun with it via numerous puns and by introducing a paradox of sorts. Past’s motivations for trying to trap Scrooge with him in the past is a bit rushed, but the results are so entertaining that it doesn’t matter much. It’s a fun twist to put on the Scrooge character, and I’m quite happy to see the writers elected to acknowledge the character’s connection to A Christmas Carol by turning the concept on its head as it would have been supremely disappointing if the show had just done a conventional re-telling.

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Donald and Dewey’s embrace at the end is a nice callback to the look Donald featured at the start of the episode when he was looking in on Dewey.

The first half of the episode is pretty fun, but the second half is where the show finds its emotional core. Dewey going back in time to meet his mother for the first time, but also a younger version of his uncle Donald, was quite sweet. Through their relationship he comes to understand his own with his family. It’s simple, but so effective here as the characters feel so honest, even though they’re cartoon ducks. Russi Taylor being given the role of young Donald is genius and I practically cried when I first heard her voice. It almost takes away from the humorous visual of young Donald. It also makes so much sense that I’m disappointed with myself for never thinking of it on my own. Even though this is a young version of Donald, it puts Ms. Taylor in rather exclusive company as being one of the few to officially voice Donald Duck for a Disney production. A well-deserved honor. It’s sadly all the more poignant too since we lost Taylor to cancer in 2019. Thankfully, we have hours upon hours of her voice to enjoy and to help keep her memory alive for generations to come.

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Della wishing her boys a merry Christmas is the episode’s last effort at inducing tears in its viewers. It’s probably successful.

This episode should also be commended for naturally fitting into the DuckTales continuity. Often holiday specials are a departure from a show’s narrative, sometimes they even feel non-canon. This one is special because it contains Dewey’s first interaction with his mother, even if she is just a child. It also brings the adult version in at the end to remind viewers she’s still out there, and in just a few episodes after this one she’ll finally return to Scrooge and her boys.

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“Last Christmas!” is heartwarming and fun without coming across as cheesy or conventional. Best of all, it doesn’t count if you’re playing Whamageddon! this year.

“Last Christmas!” is one of the best, new, Christmas specials I’ve been exposed to. Not only does it tell a fun and inventive story, it looks fantastic as well and is a supremely rewarding experience for those familiar with the original show and comics. I very much appreciate the obvious nods to Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the meticulous way the episode is crafted. So much of the resolution is hinted at early on, which is a must for any story dealing with time travel. Hopefully the writers of DuckTales return to time travel in future episodes as they appear to have a talent for handling it.

If you want to catch this excellent episode of DuckTales then keep an eye on the Disney Channel. I’m sure it will be shown more than once and may even be On Demand for certain cable subscribers. It’s also available for purchase via streaming platforms and on Disney Plus. Being a relatively new Christmas special in a still-running show, it should be easy to track down. And if this write-up didn’t make it clear enough, you absolutely should track it down this Christmas and every Christmas yet to come.

In one final act of nostalgic bliss, the ending credits are done up in the same style as Mickey’s Christmas Carol.


The 12 Films of Christmas #12: The Muppet Christmas Carol

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The bare minimum a Christmas television special or film can do to inject some Christmas cheer is to do an adaptation, or parody, of a popular public domain Christmas treasure like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In general, these are lazy and trite and form the foundation of the worst holiday dreck imaginable. Just tune into the Hallmark Channel at this time of year to find several variations on familiar stories, all of which bring nothing to the table other than sentimentality. So it is with some trepidation that I include one such work in this 12 Films of Christmas featurette, but hear me out.

The Muppet Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine and those wonderful puppets manages to be a worthwhile endeavor not because it does anything to shake up a familiar story, but because it tells that story with the charm and wit of The Muppets. When it comes to these types of Christmas stories, we likely all have our preferred vehicle of delivery. For me personally, it’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol which is one of my favorite holiday shorts. If I’m going to go feature-length though, I’m likely to turn to The Muppets if I want to hear about old Scrooge.

Caine stars as main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, and his supporting cast is made up of mostly Muppets. Kermit is his foil as the poor, but kind-hearted, Bob Cratchit and Robin stands in for Tiny Tim. That makes Miss Piggy Emily Cratchit, naturally. Stadler and Waldorf play the Marley brothers and are predictably hilarious in their role. Gonzo and Rizzo the rat are used as narrators and exist outside the story, despite occupying a physical presence on screen. They’re the main source of the physical comedy and the film made a star out of Rizzo, a mostly bit part in Muppet films and television specials prior to this. Fozzy, Animal, Beaker, and all of the other familiar gang show-up for spot roles throughout. The Muppets are all playing the role of someone from the original work, but still possess their own personality and character traits. In other words, Fozzy is still Fozzy even if his character is referred to by another name.

 

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Michael Caine is a natural at playing alongside the Muppets.

Caine is relied upon to carry the picture and act convincingly beside his non-human cast mates. For roles that correlate directly to Scrooge, a human actor is cast so it’s not as unbelievable as it could have been. For instance, Isabelle is played by Meredith Braun and Scrooge’s nephew Fred by Steven Mackintosh. Only Caine is really asked to do any heavy lifting and he’s surprisingly emotive and effective as a Scrooge. There may have been some expectations that a Muppet version of A Christmas Carol would just be a straight comedy, but the film doesn’t shy away from the dramatic moments. In fact, it probably does so to its detriment as the film sometimes spreads the laughs out too far apart. Some plodding occurs during Scrooge’s journey that likely will turn off younger viewers, and even some older ones. The redemptive portion of the film also feels rushed and the audience is denied in savoring Scrooge’s turn at the end. Perhaps this was done to keep the film under a 90 minute runtime, but if that was the goal, then other parts of the film should have been trimmed instead to allow more time for the fun at the end.

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Rizzo and Gonzo are the true show-stealers in this picture as the duo is easily responsible for the most laughs.

From a production standpoint, the film is a true star as the sets, puppets, and costumes all look fantastic. It’s obviously no surprise that a Muppets work would come out looking so well. The production department did a great job in giving the film a true big screen feel when compared with the various TV properties of the Muppets and their made for TV films. The film is in part a musical, like most Muppet productions, and the songs are actually on the light side. I personally consider that a positive, but others may not feel the same way.

In the end, The Muppet Christmas Carol succeeds because it brings its own heart and spunk to a dated work. Other films, like Disney’s A Christmas Carol, just try to retell the same story and possess no charm, and ultimately have no real reason to exist. At least with The Muppets you’re getting that Muppet brand of humor to add a dash of color to A Christmas Carol, ultimately making it worth your time each holiday season.


#2 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol marked the return of the most famous cartoon mouse to the big screen for the first time in 30 years. Once a staple of the cinematic experience, Mickey had been pushed aside for other characters (namely Donald Duck) and live-action features. It had been even longer since Mickey, Donald, and Goofy had all appeared in the same short.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol was released in 1983 along with the The Rescuers. As shorts go, it’s actually pretty long, which has helped it over the years in being shown on television because it fits easily into a standard half-hour time-slot. Mickey’s Christmas Carol also goes against one of my personal tenants of Christmas specials which is to avoid adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. That’s often the path of the lazy, but Mickey’s Christmas Carol benefits as being one of the earlier adaptations, and for some reason, it just works.

The story is obviously familiar to most people. It’s a pretty straight-forward retelling of the Dickens classic just with Disney characters acting out the parts (only the animal characters though, no humans allowed). The cast features the old popular ones of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie while also mixing in cameos from The Winds in the Willow, Silly Symphonies, and Robin Hood, among others. This is also the first short to feature Scrooge McDuck as the character he was born to play. He’s voiced by Alan Young, known to audiences as Wilbur from Mister Ed, who has continued to voice the character even into his 90’s. Another debut is Wayne Allwine as Mickey Mouse, just the third voice actor to portray the character. Clarence “Ducky” Nash also gets a final opportunity to voice Donald Duck, before the character would be passed onto Tony Anselmo. As a result, Mickey’s Christmas Carol feels like a really important short in the company’s history as there’s a lot of historical significance that can be attached to it.

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Gets me every time.

All of that stuff is great, but it wouldn’t matter if the story sucked. Instead, the story is told in a brisk, but not rushed, manner. The shots that need to linger, linger, and the ones that can be hurried along are. The animation is vintage Disney, with Scrooge walking home in the snow from his counting house probably my favorite shot. All of the right emotions hit, and Scrooge’s transformation from miserable miser to benevolent boss is done in a believable way. Just try to suppress the lump in your throat when Mickey is seen crying at the grave of Tiny Tim in the flash-forward. That sight would transform any man!

Mickey’s Christmas Carol has a special place in my heart. It was the lead-off special on a homemade VHS tape my mom made for my sister and I when we were really little. As a result, it’s also probably the Christmas special I’ve seen more than any other. Since Disney is omnipresent on television, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is shown quite frequently around the holidays, so hopefully you didn’t miss it this year. It’s also been released multiple times on DVD and Blu Ray, most recently just two years ago. Though if you really want to own a copy of it, I suggest you pony up the extra dollars for Mickey Mouse: In Living Color Volume 2 so you can also enjoy a bunch of Mickey’s other classic shorts.

 


A Flintstones Christmas Carol + Christmas Flintstone

A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994)

A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994)

That’s right, it’s December! Which means The Nostalgia Spot starts to become more like The Christmas Spot as I attempt to spread holiday cheer through my little blog-spot. The first (and last? I’ve been slacking lately) Christmas entry this year belongs to The Flintstones: The Modern Stone Age Family. The Flintstones were the first cartoon family to break through in prime-time television slots in the 1960s paving the way for future animated shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy. Even though the last episode of The Flintstones debuted in 1966, the family maintained a strong presence through spin-offs and television specials for years to come, even into the 90s.

One such special from the 1990s is A Flintstones Christmas Carol, yet another take on the venerable Dickens story of A Christmas Carol. The special first aired in 1994, and naturally, a lot of the actors who made these characters famous were no longer around. The two most notable were Mel Blanc, the man of a thousand voices, who voiced Barney Rubble and Alan Reed who voiced Fred. Taking over for those two, are Frank Welker and Henry Corden. Welker is quite famous for his voice-over roles on numerous programs, but the less known Corden is the standout as his Fred is nearly indistinguishable from Reed’s. The cast, as a whole, is quite fine and the improved animation of the 1990s serves the Flintstones quite well.

The DVD release of the special includes the classic episode from the original series, Christmas Flintstone. This was the first Christmas episode of the series and was a part of season 5. In it, Fred decides he needs to earn a little extra money for Christmas shopping so he gets a part-time job as a Santa Claus impersonator at a local department store. He does such a good job that he attracts the attention of Santa’s elves, who are looking for someone to fill-in for the big guy as he’s come down with a bad illness. Fred, who is a lover of all things Christmas, obliges and accompanies the elves in the sleigh as they fly around the world delivering presents. Santa even takes care of Fred in the end by getting gifts for the family.

In Christmas Flintstone, Fred fills in for an ailing Santa Claus.

In Christmas Flintstone, Fred fills in for an ailing Santa Claus.

If this sounds familiar to A Flintstones Christmas, well it is. A Flintstones Christmas is often thought of as a remake of this episode. It aired as a one hour special in the 70s, and aside from some minor changes, is more or less the same thing. I’m actually torn as to which one is the better Christmas special. A Flintstones Christmas is longer and includes more characters, but Christmas Flintstone is the tighter story and gets some bonus points for coming first. The two are not related from a continuity perspective. I don’t know if either is truly considered canon by Flintstones aficionados but the two definitely don’t exist in the same universe.

As far as bonus features go, Christmas Flintstone is pretty awesome but the main event is A Flintstones Christmas Carol. With a running time of 70 minutes, it’s clearly the main course. In this special, the Rubbles and Flintstones are taking part in a local play of A Christmas Carol. Fred landed the lead of Scrooge and has let stardom go to this head. He’s consumed with his acting and inadvertently ends up coming across as rather mean when engaging with his costars. Naturally, they’re all pretty fed up with Fred as a result. In addition to being a jerk, Fred forgets to purchase presents for his family and neglects his daughter by not picking her up at “cave care.” When the play starts, several actors and actresses end up coming down with the Bedrock Bug, a flu-like illness making the rounds, forcing Wilma to step in for several parts. The whole thing takes on a metta feel as Wilma’s real frustrations with Fred rear themselves during the play, forcing Fred to reflect on what an ass he’s been. As the play goes on, Fred experiences the same emotions as Scrooge, and like Scrooge, is a better person in the end.

In A Flintstones Christmas Carol, Fred plays a convincing version of Scrooge, too convincing for Wilma.

In A Flintstones Christmas Carol, Fred plays a convincing version of Scrooge, too convincing for Wilma.

A Christmas Carol re-telling is the most tired version of any Christmas special. A Flintstones Christmas Carol at least attempts something different with how it’s version of Scrooge is forced to confront his past transgressions and improve himself in the end. It’s a little annoying how little it regards the past Christmas specials. Previously we were shown that Fred is a Christmas die-hard but in this special he’s almost indifferent to the season. Perhaps he’s just so consumed with his own brand of method acting that his usual Christmas spirit is suppressed, but it’s still hard to accept. Especially considering the inclusion of Christmas Flintstone as a bonus feature. The end result is that the bonus episode is the better viewing experience. One thing that does bother me about this special is the lack of creativity with the Flintstones technology. During the series, modern technology was included in creative ways, mostly by having the dinosaurs act as pseudo slaves to the people of Bedrock. Here there’s really no attempt to explain how they’re able to include holograms in their play or how a department store could possess a silent alarm. It feels rather lazy, and it’s something I noticed in another 90s Flintstones Christmas special:  A Flintstone Family Christmas. Nonetheless, A Flintstones Christmas Carol is entertaining by itself, if a bit redundant considering all of the other versions of A Christmas Carol out there. It’s cheap in most places though, so if you’re out at the store looking to pick-up something to add to your Christmas queue this holiday season, it won’t hurt to drop five bucks on A Flintstones Christmas Carol.


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