Tag Archives: cartoons

DuckTales (2017) – “The Last Adventure!”

Original air date March 15, 2021

The return of DuckTales came at a really good time in my life. When it was announced, I had just become a dad not that long ago and even had another kid on the way (a bit earlier than planned) and it seemed like the kind of show that would lineup well with my family when it premiered in 2017. I had grown up with The Disney Afternoon and the pre-Disney Afternoon shows, like DuckTales, and they were a formative experience for me. While DuckTales was never my favorite show, it was still appointment viewing and my sister and I watched it daily and stayed with it into the Disney Afternoon days through the release of the movie in 1990. Leading up to the premiere, I purchased the original series on DVD and would most often turn to it to amuse my kids on long car rides. We had a DVD player for the car, and for awhile it was the only show my son thought was available to him in the car. I can still remember his little voice saying “Go in the car, watch DuckTales!” The first thing he watched on YouTube, was the DuckTales intro and when the new intro was unveiled on YouTube it became a nightly ritual for him to sit at the table, eat his dessert (usually M&Ms), and sing along to the video.

Grab some tissues and get ready to say “good bye.”

When the show finally premiered in August of 2017 I had it in my head that this would be a show I could watch with my children and we would all enjoy it. Things didn’t quite work out the way I had planned. My son was only 2 and my daughter was still a month shy of her first birthday. They loved the song, but the episodes themselves were a bit hard to reach. The premiere, “Woo-oo!,” was a brief hit in my household with my son requesting to watch it quite often for a period of a few weeks. As he often did, he would latch onto a piece of media, consume it over and over for a period of time, and then move on. And move on he did. Eventually, they got older and to the point where they could sit and watch it with me and sort of enjoy it. My son seemed to like it more than my daughter, who remained way more into the opening song than the rest of the show, but at least it provided for a bit of quiet time on a Monday evening.

Webby gets to be the star in this one, which is only fair since they use her birthday party as a cover for their FOWL trap.

Even though they didn’t grab onto DuckTales like I had hoped, I’m still going to miss those Monday evening viewings for DuckTales just aired its grand finale last night. Appropriately titled “The Last Adventure!,” the finale truly was a grand undertaking as it spanned 90 minutes of broadcast space. It is my understanding that it will be broken up into three separate episodes with three distinct titles in the future, but as a finale it was pretty special. We knew DuckTales was not coming back for a fourth season as the news broke before the end of 2020. The creators of the show, Frank Angones and Matt Youngblood, were at least informed by the network that the show was ending after three seasons with enough advance notice that they could plan for a true ending. This is in stark contrast to the Disney Afternoon shows of old which were almost cynically constructed to air over and over in syndication with no apparent end. Viewers like finales though. We may hate to see a treasured program end, but if it’s got to, we want some closure. And DuckTales has always approached story telling in a big way. This is not the Disney Afternoon of old where the vast majority of episodes are just one-off, self-contained, stories that anyone can just drop in and out of. This show has arcs, it has continuity. It’s not to the point where it’s unapproachable for a newcomer, but it’s very rewarding for those who take it all in. Had it been denied a true finale, that would have been a television tragedy. Instead, viewers of DuckTales were treated to one of the best television finales in recent memory, and maybe even history!

Donald and the boys have one last adventure in them!

“The Last Adventure!” is centered around the nefarious organization, FOWL, and Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) and his family have laid a trap for the organization to finally put a stop to it. It’s been somewhat simmering in the background for a few episodes, so it’s great to get back into this plot for the finale especially knowing that we’re going to spend 90 minutes on it. Naturally, the trap laid out by Scrooge and the gang isn’t much of a success, because we need this thing to carry on for awhile. The show introduces two new characters in the process, May (Riki Lindhome) and June (Noël Wells), who should be familiar to longtime duck fans or viewers of The Legend of the Three Caballeros. They’re really the only new characters as the rest of the show is going to be devoted to essentially bringing everyone back. Most just show up for a cameo or to hang out in the background of a shot, but it’s pretty cool to see everyone back. And chances are, if you think someone was missing they were probably there and you just missed them.

Della gets to play the audience surrogate this time as she declares she doesn’t want their adventures to end! There’s a lot of meta stuff in this one.

The theme of the episode is going to be that family is the greatest adventure of all. Della (Paget Brewster) is going to find out early in the episode that her brother Donald (Tony Anselmo) is planning on running off with his new love Daisy (Tress MacNeille) after their business is concluded and she is not happy about it. That’s our first little taste of family, while the rest is largely reserved for the character Webby Vanderquack (Kate Micucci) and how she fits into this eclectic clan.

Webby giving one of many lessons on family in this one.

Centering the finale partially on Webby is a brilliant choice. In the original series, Webby was basically everyone’s least favorite character. She was there because someone felt there needed to be a girl equivalent to Huey, Dewey, and Louie, which is fine. Unfortunately, she was made this annoying, baby-like, character and it was borderline offensive that someone thought this was the right choice for a character that young girls were supposed to relate to and enjoy. It felt like she was put upon the viewers, and viewers generally don’t like that. For the reboot, Webby was turned into the audience surrogate. She’s the outsider within the McDuck family and is constantly in awe of Scrooge and his exploits. When Della Duck has her emotional return, the camera pans to Webby to show her overcome with emotion and sobbing uncontrollably because the show knew that’s what we were doing! This Webby is fully embraced by the other characters in the show and she’s a ball of energy and insight and this show quickly became one that was largely about Scrooge and his nephews as well as his surrogate niece.

Despite being the finale, this one does make time for some new faces.

That is how I will remember DuckTales. It’s a show about Scrooge McDuck, but it’s mostly told through the children of the show. It was able to take time for other things as well, and the Della Duck plot was definitely one of the most rewarding the show touched upon. It was rewarding almost to a fault as once she was brought into the fold, Della kind of just slipped into the background. The show probably could have done more with her and Donald, as it felt like that was held back initially, but then never truly paid off. This finale rectifies that to a degree, but if the show had one missed opportunity it was in not doing more with the duck siblings.

The only thing missing is a, “DuckTales! Assemble!”

That may be a criticism of DuckTales on the whole, but it’s not applicable for the finale. FOWL’s plan will be revealed and it’s appropriately silly, but not to the point where the cast can’t take it seriously. There’s also quite a bit of fan service and pretty much every classic Disney Afternoon show gets a call-out of some kind. Favorite characters get their moment to shine, all the while the show practically beats us over the head with its theme of family being the greatest adventure. And when it’s starting to get too corny, the show basically calls itself out via one of the characters which is a good laugh-out-loud moment. A show centered around a family of adventuring ducks should get ample opportunity to get a little Full House at times. And it is truly impressive how such a massive cast of secondary characters were brought back into the fold so well. The episode doesn’t lag at all, even with it being triple the runtime of a normal episode. It makes me wonder what this team could do with an actual feature-length project set in this world.

So long and thanks for the memories, McDuck family!

Ultimately, DuckTales may not have been exactly the show I had hoped it would be for me and my family. My kids did sit and watch this one with me, but once 8 o’clock hit they checked out. In our house, 8 o’clock means tablet time and the kids get 30 minutes to do whatever they want on their tablets before we read a book and go to bed. And right when the clock struck 8, my son asked for his tablet (sigh). It wasn’t a total loss though for we got a late start to the show because it takes my kids forever to eat dinner, so at 8:30 their tablets went off and I gave them a choice of book then bed, or DuckTales then bed, and they chose DuckTales. We watched the last 20 minutes or so as a family and they were pretty into it, for what it’s worth. As for me, while the show didn’t become appointment viewing for my kids like I had hoped, it very much was everything I could have hoped a new version of DuckTales would be. The finale was fantastic, and I am not the sort who is prone to hyperbole in the moment, but this really was one of the best television finales I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. It was funny, exciting, full of action, and packed with plenty of emotional moments as well. The show set out to solve some mysteries and rewrite history, and boy did it ever deliver!


Dec. 5 – The Captain’s Christmas

The Captain’s Christmas premiered December 17, 1938

Did you ever wonder where those speech balloons in comic books came from? Maybe you just assumed they were always there, but they actually originate from a comic strip titled The Katzenjammer Kids. The strip was created by cartoonist Rudolph Dirks and it debuted in newspapers in December of 1897. It was incredibly popular for its time, and after Dirks jumped ship from the Hearst Organization, he was forced to continue the strip under a different name: The Captain and the Kids.

The Captain and the Kids ran in newspapers all the way until 1979 while Hearst actually continued The Katzenjammer Kids into the new millennium. Neither series has a ton of name recognition these days since print cartoon strips are all but dead, but for its time period The Captain and the Kids was quite popular. Popular enough that when MGM was looking to get into the cartoon making business, it turned to the franchise and some now familiar names served as directors: William Hanna, Bob Allen, and Friz Freleng. Despite the strip’s popularity, the cartoon series was viewed as a flop. After roughly a year and 15 cartoons, MGM put an end to The Captain and the Kids and turned its attention to other projects.

During its brief run, The Captain and the Kids did manage to bestow upon us one Christmas short: The Captain’s Christmas. The Captain (voiced by Billy Bletcher, best known as the voice of Pete from the Mickey Mouse shorts) is the star of the shorts and as his name (title?) implies he’s a sailor, only he’s shipwrecked and has taken to a role of surrogate father for the local kids. His rival is the pirate John Silver (Mel Blanc) who causes trouble for the Captain. The twins Hans and Fritz, basically the real stars of the strips, are present but take a back seat to the Captain. Their mama, who is just referred to as Mama (Martha Wentworth), is another supporting character. Thirteen of the fifteen cartoons were presented in black and white, with The Captain’s Christmas being the first done in Technicolor.

The cartoon, directed by Freleng, opens with a shot that appears to be from the vantage point of someone looking through a telescope. A stereotypical pirate voice narrates the scene of a snow covered town and children hanging stockings in their warm house. The Captain then comes into the picture dressed as Santa Claus with a cow dressed-up as a reindeer pulling his sleigh. We then see our narrator is John Silver, and if I didn’t know Mel Blanc was performing his voice I wouldn’t have guessed it. He thinks he’d be a better Santa than the Captain, and the three sailor stooges around him agree, and we have a plot!

The poor guy is just trying to do something nice and he winds up with three guns drawn on him on Christmas Eve.

The Captain rigs up a pulley system to hoist his “reindeer” and sleigh onto the roof feeling this is required to complete the stunt. The little pirate henchmen then show up behind him and hold him up. This allows Silver to jump in and strip the Captain of his Santa disguise and commandeer it for his own good. Silver Claus grabs the rope the Captain was holding and as the cow falls from the roof, he goes up. The others are left to panic momentarily before the cow lands on them.

This Santa is a god damn maniac!

On the roof, Silver has some trouble getting his barings. He has a peg leg after all, which can’t make navigating a snow-covered roof easy. He slips and goes tumbling into the chimeny, which breaks apart and then messily re-assembles itself as he falls in. In the house, Mama and her boys are forced to scramble as “Santa” comes tumbling in. The boys are pretty pumped to see Santa in their house, though Silver is a bit out of sorts at first. He soon remembers what’s going on and then whips out his pistol and starts blasting in celebration of his arrival. He even blasts open the sack full of toys and they all come spilling out looking no worse for ware. And upon first inspection, none appear to be racist – it’s a 1930’s cartoon Christmas miracle!

Damnit…

Silver continues his jaunty celebration and then turns his attention to the blond boy (I don’t know which is Hans and which is Fritz) who is playing with a dancing, marionette, toy. Unfortunately, the toy is horribly racist so there goes our Christmas miracle. And then to rub salt in our eye wounds, Silver starts shooting at the toy’s feet to make it dance more violently which is in incredibly poor taste (what little I know of this comic strip though makes it apparent there’s a lot of problematic elements that wouldn’t fly today). The other pirates watch from the window as Silver continues to get out of control even swiping a tricycle from one of the kids declaring it’s his turn to play with it.

Look at this asshole! It’s not enough to steal the kid’s bike, he’s gotta hang him from the tree too.

Silver rides around the room on the bike, and while he does he gets a reprimanding look from a jack-in-the-box which is rather clever. He ends up crashing into a bunch of toys though and winding up on some horse toy. The pirates outside make a reference to The Lone Ranger as Silver continues to smash through the house leaving carnage in his wake. He eventually comes to rest atop a pile of broken toys and the remnants of the family’s Christmas tree. As he has a good laugh, he looks around and realizes he’s the only one laughing.

I hope you’re proud of yourself, Impostor Claus!

The kids, devastated that Santa showed up only to destroy everything, are weeping and Mama looks distressed as well. Silver immediately starts to feel bad as he’s soon accosted by his inner child who appears beside his head similar to the old devil/angel gag. As the child berates him, he soon begins to sob as he realizes he’s ruined Christmas for these lads. The child asks him how he plans to fix this mess and then whispers a suggestion into his ear. Silver immediately perks up and heads out.

I’ve heard of worse ideas, I suppose.

In the snowy town, Silver is pulled down the streets by the cow from earlier. He comes to rest in the center of town, and pulling out a little tuning fork, tells the other pirates he intends to secure those kids a big, barrel, of money. They then go into song, “Hang Up the Holly in the Window,” but the town does not reciprocate with money. John reasons they need to do it better, so they restart the song only this time at a faster tempo and an overall more cheerful vibe.

I think this is what got the crowd on their side.

The townsfolk do not respond in kind to this livelier version and soon start tossing all manner of junk from their homes in a bid to silence the troupe. For some reason, everyone is dressed as Santa Claus too. Eventualy they start throwing larger objects like a piano, freezer, and even a bathtub which the boys have some fun with. As the song moves along, they start getting pelted with toys as they row the bathtub down the street. Soon, they have enough toys to fill the sleigh, and John Silver instructs his would-be reindeer to head back to the house he massacred earlier.

Incoming!

Inside the home, the Captain has joined Mama and the boys as they rush to the fireplace because they hear a commotion. Soon a barrage toys comes rushing in like a tidal wave burying the home in goodies. The kids are happy, and even the adults don’t seem to mind the incredible amount of toys they’ll be stepping on for months.

Well, at least there do not appear to be any racist toys this time.

Outside, John Silver looks through the window and seems quite proud of himself. His inner child from earlier shows up again to congratulate him, and even plants a little kiss on his head. John Silver laughs and appears to be genuinely happy with himself as the short comes to an end.

John Silver gets to be happy with himself in the end, so happy that he imagines a child version of himself giving him a kiss.

The Captain’s Christmas is a simple little short that manages to tell a unique Christmas story. Even though it’s titled The Captain’s Christmas, it’s really John Silver’s Christmas as the trickster and glory hog commandeers the Captain’s surprise and gets to present himself as Santa Claus. He comes across as a jerk, but apparently a well-meaning one as when he realizes he did a bad thing he sets out to make it right. And conveniently, he’s able to and ends up giving the kids an even better Christmas than they would have had, if we’re simply going by the volume of toys they received. It’s fine as a tale, though John Silver is the only worthwhile character as he dominates everything.

They probably should have called this series The Misadventures of John Silver.

The Captain and the Kids may have failed as a cartoon series, but it doesn’t appear as if budget had anything to do with that. It’s quite competently animated by MGM, though the actual short basically forgoes any credits. If IMDB can be trusted, this short was animated by George Gordon, Emery Hawkins, Irven Spence, and Jack Zander, all of whom enjoyed lengthy careers as animators. Future household name Joseph Barbera wrote this one, and as mentioned earlier, Freleng was in the director’s chair. The coloring on the short looks great even today, and I’m assuming no one bothered to remaster this one. I don’t think I’d call any of the visual gags truly memorably, but few stuck out as cliche for 1938 so it at least has an original feel to it.

This cartoon looks good enough, and there’s some solid Christmas imagery as well.

Ultimately, The Captain and the Kids was a failure of a cartoon series and I suppose it’s because it wasn’t truly memorable or stand-out. Everything that is here, be it the music, voice acting, animation, is all fine, but it feels like this was MGM figuring out the medium before going onto bigger and better things. It’s nice though to have a Christmas short that isn’t just two parties battling around a tree or one that’s just a visit from Santa in which nothing exciting happens. There’s some conflict here, a little slapstick, and someone is even moved by the holiday into doing something good. It checks all the boxes, just without any exclamation points.

In short: it’s fine.

It probably will not surprise anyone when I say The Captain’s Christmas is very easy to come by should you wish to watch it this year. Warner Bros. owns the copyright now, but isn’t very protective of it. There’s also no comprehensive release of The Captain and the Kids on DVD, but you can find this cartoon on The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6 as a special feature on disc two as part of a Friz Freleng spotlight. Since that comes with three other discs of classic Looney Tunes shorts, it obviously comes with my recommendation. If for some reason you don’t want to own Looney Tunes shorts, you can also stream this one for free with minimal effort. Seriously, just type it into YouTube.


Rocko’s Modern Life Season 4

It’s an accepted part of life that all good things must come to an end. Bad things have endings too, but the only endings that are usually painful are the good things. And for Rocko’s Modern Life, it certainly was a good thing that ended perhaps before it needed to. After 52 episodes (100 segments) creator Joe Murray felt it was time to move on. It should be said that it was more of a personal decision in that he just didn’t have anything more to say with the show. He even stepped back some taking on the role of executive producer for the final season allowing Stephen Hillenburg to assume the role of creative director. Murray encouraged the network, Nickelodeon, to continue the show without him, but the network decided not to renew it for a sixth season. This was pretty typical of Nickelodeon as it often didn’t go beyond this type of episode count with its Nicktoons, or really any shows. As a result, Rocko’s Modern Life is one of those shows that feels like it went out on top. There were likely many more stories that could be told with these characters, but they’ll have to remain untold.

The fourth season of Rocko’s Modern Life continues to explore the setting of O-Town and life in the 90s for the main cast. Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) once again is forced to tackle the mundane and the insane like managing conflicts between friends, rude neighbors, love, ghosts, and even a bout a hypnosis. His gluttonous best friend, Heffer, (Tom Kenny) takes on the role of co-star for many segments and even gets to assume a larger role at times than the star. Filbert (Mr. Lawrence) returns as a married turtle and will get to experience fatherhood this season while the Bigheads (Charlie Adler) are still around to make life miserable for neighbor Rocko.

A theme of the final season seems to be an emphasis on side characters. In this one, Rocko teaches Heffer’s mom how to drive.

The fourth season might be the best looking season of the show. I don’t know if anything changed on the production end, or if it was a case of the masters being better stored, but the DVD release really pops. The colors are deeper than they were on the first three seasons and the animation is quite fluid. It’s perhaps not as gross as the prior seasons, and that could be Hillenburg’s influence as creative director this season. There’s still moments that are somewhat gag-inducing, but it’s definitely not a defining characteristic.

Seeing Heffer, Rocko, and Filbert as O-Town High students doesn’t make much sense, but it does give us one of my favorite scenes from the show involving Filbert and some potato chips.

On the flip-side, this season seems to feature less continuity. We’ll see Filbert become a father in the early season episode “From Here to Maternity,” but afterwords his life doesn’t seem to change a whole lot. There will be times the gang goes to his trailer and it looks like he lives alone. I understand not wanting to be restricted by this development (it would be tiresome to write into every episode who is watching the kids), but there is a disconnect. Similarly, the dog Earl taken in by Bev Bighead seems to disappear this season and there’s a confusing flashback episode in which Rocko, Filbert, and Heffer are depicted as high school students even though Rocko moved to the US during adulthood. These aren’t really things that prevent one from enjoying the show, I just liked the continuity on display in the past seasons since so few cartoons contain such.

This season seems to feature a couple of movie parodies, including this obvious Ghostbusters one.

The show is still wildly funny in many places. I think a lot of fans consider season three of the show to the peak for it, but it’s hard to find any real drop-off with season four. “Sailing the Seven Zzz’s” might be the show’s funniest episode. The plot concerns Ed Bighead and his somnambulism in which he thinks he’s a pirate and makes nights miserable for Rocko. Heffer and Filbert see this as an opportunity to mess with him, and it gets pretty wacky. And speaking of Ed, he basically assumes a starring role in several episodes of this season. My favorite might be “Closet Clown” where we find out Ed enjoys playing a clown, but hides it from everyone. It’s yet another episode of the show that might be dealing with a sensitive subject, such as closeted individuals, but doing it in a very funny, natural, way.

There are a few segments that don’t work as well as others. “Dumbells” gives Gladys the Hippo (Adler) a starring role alongside Rocko in which she gets addicted to the thrill of the childhood prank ding, dong, ditch. It’s okay, but not really an interesting way to shine a light on a one-note character from prior seasons. “Wallaby on Wheels” is another episode where Rocko is trying to impress a girl (he seems to finally be over Melba) that feels a bit too familiar. The same could be said for one of the broadcast finale segments, “Turkey Time.” That one is depicting Rocko’s introduction to Thanksgiving and he invites a turkey home for dinner not realizing the intent is to serve it for dinner. It plays a lot like the episode where Heffer brings an elk home for the same reason. “Turkey Time” then gets extra redundant when everyone in town finds out about Rocko having a party and invites themselves over, which is the same plot as “Rocko’s Modern Christmas.” It does feature one of the racier jokes in the season though when Heffer brings out a turkey for the party and Rocko’s living room is basically decked out like a strip club.

Closet Clown is a funny episode, but might also be scratching the surface of a bigger societal issue.

Speaking of racy jokes, you can’t have a discussion about Rocko’s Modern Life without a discussion of censorship. This season contained one episode that was essentially banned after its initial airing and that’s “Heff in a Handbasket.” In it, Peaches returns whom viewers should remember from “To Heck and Back.” Peaches is the lord of the underworld and he’s tasked with acquiring Heffer’s soul, since he outwitted him before. It’s nothing too salacious and it’s a very silly episode where Peaches rigs a game show designed to steal Heffer’s soul, only Heffer is so stupid that he keeps messing it up. It’s a funny episode, so it’s a shame it got kicked off the air, and I guess it got the boot simply because part of it is set in a version of Hell.

Unlike a lot of cartoons, Rocko’s Modern Life did get a proper series finale. The segment “Future Schlock” is the intended finale, though the Thanksgiving episode aired after it to line-up with the actual holiday. Most of the episode takes place in the future when Filbert’s kids find a banana in the refrigerator of Rocko’s abandoned house and bring it to their eldery-looking (but only 38 year old) father to find out why anyone would put a banana in the refrigerator. Much of the episode from there is a flashback, but I enjoy the fact that it displays Filbert’s contempt for Heffer which is something that seemed to be rising with each season (though Filbert in general got a bit nastier, see him try to sacrifice Rocko for a wig in the segment “Rug Birds”). The show ends with the whole gang getting mistakenly blasted-off into space and the Netflix special Static Cling from 2019 actually picks up where the episode leaves off and you’ll definitely hear my thoughts on that before the summer is through.

The plot for the final episode is set in motion by an old banana.

The DVD for the fourth season of Rocko’s Modern Life is a lot like the other three. It’s essentially just the episodes presented in broadcast order. It would have been nice if they could have been arranged in production order for this season, since it has a proper ending, but it’s not a big deal. The only special feature is a video recording of a fan event from 2012. Hosted by voice acting legend Rob Paulsen, it’s a gathering of the main cast of the show for a reading of “Wacky Delly Part 1” and it’s quite a bit of fun. After the script is read, they also talk about the show and share their thoughts on everything. It’s crazy to think this was recorded 8 years ago at this point, but everyone sounds great and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

If you liked Rocko’s Modern Life or have all three seasons up to this point, then there’s absolutely no reason not to own season four. It’s a little different, but still plenty hilarious, wacky, and silly. Some characters get more of a spotlight shined on them so if you had a favorite side character from before then maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their inclusion here. There’s just a great chemistry between the characters in the show and the people behind the image that shines through. Joe Murray and his team can be proud that they created a cast that could work in almost any setting because they’re interesting, funny, and even sympathetic. Reliving this fourth season has me wishing even more than I already was for more content down the road. I don’t know that any will ever come, but it doesn’t hurt to hope.


Rocko’s Modern Life – Season Two

rocko_season2

The second season of Rocko’s Modern Life premiered on September 25, 1994.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my reintroduction to Rocko’s Modern Life via the show’s first season. Rocko’s Modern Life was a favorite of mine as a kid, and if you had asked me to rank the Nicktoons back then it would have gone something like this:  The Ren & Stimpy Show, Rocko’s Modern Life, followed by who cares? Those two cartoons were so far above the others that they didn’t feel worth mentioning. Sure, Rugrats and Doug were fine for what they were, but they weren’t appointment viewing for me. And after a few years, none of them were as I felt I had aged out of them. I was a young, dumb, kid though and upon revisiting such works I’ve come to find that, if anything, I’ve aged into a show like Rocko’s Modern Life.

What separated Rocko’s Modern Life from the other shows was that emphasis on the mundanity of life itself. Rocko was challenged by simple tasks such as laundry, household cleaning, commuting, work, and all of those others things we as adults have to deal with that we really take for granted as children. Rocko’s difficulties encountered with these tasks are obviously exaggerated for comedic effect, but like all good comedy there is still an element of truth to all of it making the show arguably more relatable for an adult than it is a child.

rocko_filbert_wedding

Like Season One, Season Two of Rocko’s Modern Life is surprisingly topical in 2020.

When it came to Season One of the show, I was delighted by the humor aimed at adults. I remembered the Milk-O-Matic gag as a kid in which Heffer, a steer, is masturbated by a mechanical milking machine and knew there was humor in this show that really only older kids and adults would understand. That type of humor is more of a shocking variety of humor, what I had forgotten is the more nuanced approach such as the episode where neighbor Bev Bighead tries to seduce Rocko because her husband doesn’t make her feel attractive. It’s a pretty adult concept to try to base a cartoon intended for children around, and it’s even affecting in turning Mrs. Bighead into a sympathetic figure. And yes, there’s still plenty of physical comedy in that episode and all of them.

As I approached Season Two of the show, I was hoping for more of that style of story-telling:  mature in concept, but accessible for all via the physical comedy. And for the most part, Season Two really delivers. It starts off with a heavy hitter in the two-part “I Have No Son” in which we learn the Bigheads have an estranged son named Ralph (Joe Murray) who long ago disappointed his father by not accepting a job at Conglom-O where Ed worked. A father being so ashamed and disappointed of his son that it causes him to disown him is a pretty heavy subject for the show to tackle because it’s also a very real thing that happens. Ed looks down on Ralph for his wanting to be a cartoonist, but you can substitute that with pretty much anything and the episode would still work. And even though Ralph has found tremendous success with his cartoon The Fatheads (which is clearly inspired by his parents), he still hasn’t earned his father’s approval.

the_bigheads_reunited

The story of Ralph Bighead kicks off the second season.

The premiere is a pretty weighty episode to kick things off, but it manages to handle the delicate material with the show’s usual brand of humor. It does struggle a bit to fit it all into one episode and the resolution feels a bit rushed, but it’s still quite the achievement. The rest of the season will balance the absurd wackiness of Rocko’s world with actual real world issues and problems. Bev Bighead has to break the glass ceiling, so to speak, and go to work in one episode and another deals with Rocko having to thwart immigration officials who want him deported for an expired green card. That episode might actually hit too close to home for some given the current climate surrounding immigration in the US. A particularly heartfelt episode is “Tickled Pinky” in which Rocko deals with the fear of surgery when he finds out he needs to have his appendix removed. It turns into a story where Rocko meets a personified version of his appendix, named Pinky, via a dream. Rocko, in a bid to cheer up Pinky since he’s essentially about to die, takes Pinky out to essentially check off a bucket list of experiences for Pinky to enjoy before his time is up. It’s surprisingly sweet and it left me wishing I had thought of this episode when my own little boy had to have his tonsils removed.

Season Two is also not without its dose of more crass humor. The episode “Born to Spawn” basically deals with Filbert’s (Mr. Lawrence) desire to mate, though that part of it isn’t spelled out. It’s pretty funny though with that context in the back of your mind. In “Hut, Sut, Raw” Rocko, Heffer (Tom Kenny), and Filbert go camping and leave the confines of a modern camp ground to rough it in the woods. The DVD is censored to remove a scene where Rocko picks berries off of a bush, only to have a bear scream and run out from behind it implying that Rocko just picked one the bear’s “berries.” The final cartoon, “Eyes Capades,” revisits the old white lie of Rocko’s eyesight going bad due to too much “jacking.” In the context of the episode, the jacking is Rocko practicing for a jackhammer competition that’s basically figure skating on a jackhammer, but it’s obvious the episode is playing off the notion that masturbation in a young boy can cause blindness.

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This is the season that features the Christmas episode basically making this a “must buy” for Christmas nerds like me.

A welcomed trend established by Season Two is that this show, unlike many other cartoons, actually has some semblance of continuity. Past episodes are referenced and new characters like Ralph will show up in later episodes at peace with his parents. The cartoon “Short Story” contains the most references when Really Really Big Man details Rocko’s good deeds and accomplishments for him in a bid to build him up. The episode “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” (which has been featured during The Christmas Spot) is the first episode to really bring the whole cast together when Rocko attempts to throw a party that everyone in town wishes to attend. It’s really satisfying to see the writers opening up the world of O-Town and incorporating a lot of these side characters.

In terms of missteps, there are few. The animation is as good, if not better, than the first season and the performances by the voice actors are all tremendous. Especially considering how much screaming is sometimes required of them. There are three oversized episodes in this season, which are episodes that dedicate both halves to one story and they are:  “I Have No Son, “Rocko’s Modern Christmas,” and “Cruisin’.” Of the three, only “Cruisin'” felt like it didn’t really need the extra time. It’s a bit of a weird episode in which Rocko and Heffer take Heffer’s grandfather on a cruise for old people (or rather, they got stuck on the boat by accident) and the ship enters the Bermuda Triangle making all of the old people young and the two young people old. It gives Grandpa a do-over with an old flame, a relatable and pretty adult plot, but one that struggles to remain interesting.

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Kate Pierson (left) and Fred Schneider (second from left) of the B-52’s were brought in to re-do the theme song. Their version would remain for the rest of the show’s run.

In terms of personnel, much of the folks involved with the first season returned for the second. Stephen Hillenburg was around to oversee everything as showrunner and creator Joe Murray still received several writing credits and remained involved. Doug Lawrence, also known as Mr. Lawrence, stepped back from directing, but still has a few writing credits. Some of the newcomers include directors Alan Smart, Pete Michels, and Howy Parkins. All would make future contributuons at Nickelodeon while Michels would go on to direct several episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy. Voice of Rocko, Carlos Alazraqui, even received a writing credit for “Gutter Balls,” one of two writing credits he’d receive on the show. Considering that episode has four credited writers, I’m assuming he must had ad-libbed something that was considered large enough to warrant a credit. The only major change between seasons is the theme song which was reworked by Pat Irwin and re-recorded by Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider of the B-52’s. It’s still fine, though I miss the swank of the first season’s theme.

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The pilot of the show is contained on this set and is notable for featuring a yellow Rocko.

The DVD release of the first season of Rocko’s Modern Life had the dubious honor of not containing any bonus features. Joe Murray was quite willing to contribute to these releases and for Season Two Nickelodeon at least made some effort to add a little extra, though not much. The original pilot of the show “Trash-O-Madness” is contained here. It’s not much different from the episode that made it to air, but it’s cool to see the original version of the show. There’s also a collection of segments hosted by Murray where he shares the ideas behind the show’s core characters while also demonstrating how they’re drawn. He doesn’t reveal any bombshells or anything, but it’s worth a look. That’s, unfortunately, all that there is for bonus material which means there’s no commentaries and no options to view the episodes uncensored.

Rocko’s Modern Life is a great cartoon series and I’m happy to say the second season is just as good as the first. The show definitely embodies that 90’s spirit of being a bit manic, loud, and certainly gross, but it also includes a surprising amount of heart and relatability as well. In some ways, it’s the perfect children’s cartoon because there’s plenty here to entertain a 7 year old while also keeping mom and dad engaged. And pretty much all are guaranteed to find something to laugh at as well, or be charmed by, or both! I’ve enjoyed it enough that I definitely intend to binge Season Three and report back here on how well I think it compares with the first two seasons, so stay tuned!


Rocko’s Modern Life – Season One

rocko_season_oneThe late 80s and early 90s were such a fun time for cartoons. Television was rapidly expanding and there was huge demand for content for both children and adults. People who had grown up on Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry were also making the cartoons and wanted to do better than what had become the standard for television animation. Disney got the ball rolling by injecting more money into the animation and overall production for its shows. In the process, the company proved that it wasn’t as big a risk as some thought to go straight for a syndicated order of episodes because there was always room for more cartoons on television. Other artists also started getting opportunities to create better and more diverse cartoons. These were actually funny and largely felt like a response to the very dry and formulaic works put out by Hanna Barbera and Dic.

Nickelodeon was one of the first cable networks to really go after children. It was somewhat of a contrast to its sister channel, MTV, which was going for a teen and young adult audience with the obvious focus being music. MTV grew more experimental as the years went on though and it even started airing animation. Up until that point, Nickelodeon was largely a network consisting of low budget live-action programs like You Can’t Do That on Television as well as re-runs of old general audience programming (Dennis the Menace, Flipper, etc.) with classic sitcoms at night. The only cartoons really being shown were Looney Tunes and some children’s animation the network licensed such as The Little Koala and David the Gnome. Parent company Viacom was seeing the success the big networks were having with exclusive children’s content and also with the stuff being made for MTV and decided it was time for Nickelodeon to get into the cartoon business.

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Games Animation was created so that Nickelodeon could keep production of its Nicktoons in-house.

The Nicktoons were born of this creative desire. The network sought upstart creators and basically gave them free reign to create a show that Nickelodeon would air as part of a block on Sunday morning. Saturday morning was the domain of the broadcast networks, but Sunday was essentially ripe for the taking especially as fewer and fewer families were spending the morning at church. The block launched in August of 1991 with three brand new cartoons:  Doug, Rugrats, and The Ren and Stimpy Show. The construction of the block is interesting in that it began with a very grounded show about a middle-school aged kid in Doug, then went to a more imaginative show where babies go on adventures largely created in their own head, to the surreal and more classically constructed comedy show with Ren and Stimpy. The block was a huge success virtually guaranteeing future Nicktoons. It’s debatable which was more impactful, Rugrats or The Ren and Stimpy Show, but the latter definitely seemed to be the most influential on subsequent Nicktoons. Problems with that show also caused Nickelodeon to go ahead and found its own animation studio:  Games Animation.

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The main cast of the show (left to right): Rocko, Spunky, Heffer, Bev Bighead, Filburt, Ed Bighead.

The first show launched by Games Animation was the Joe Murray created Rocko’s Modern Life. Premiering in the late summer of 1993, Rocko’s Modern Life was the fourth Nicktoon and first cartoon to be added to the lineup since its premiere two years earlier. It was a pretty big deal to have a new Nicktoon, and it also completed the Sunday block making it an even two hours. Joe Murray had wanted to make an independent film called My Dog Zero and only when Nick passed on that did he turn to Rocko. Rocko was originally conceived as a comic, but Murray wasn’t able to find anyone willing to publish it when peddling it around in the late 80s. He pitched the concept to Nick when it passed on My Dog Zero expecting them to pass, but hoping they’d at least give him some money for a pilot that he could put towards his passion project, My Dog Zero. Nickelodeon ended up not only commissioning a pilot, but also a 13 season order. After largely animating the pilot himself (“Trash-O-Madness”), Murray found himself in the unfamiliar role of a TV creator and director with a staff of over 200 people split between the US and Asia.

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Plenty of classic animation gags are relied upon such as Rocko’s brain constantly jumping out of his head when he screams.

Rocko’s Modern Life would run for 4 seasons totaling 52 episodes (100 segments). During its run it helped further the careers of some pretty important people. It basically launched the career of voice actor Carlos Alazraqui (Rocko, Spunky) who went on to star in other Nicktoons as well as many Cartoon Network originals. Charlie Adler was already a name familiar to cartoon fans at the time, but his portrayal of the husband and wife duo Ed and Bev Bighead really showcased his talents as he often would record the duo’s interactions with each other in one take. It’s hard to imagine him being entrusted to perform the roles of Cow and Chicken for the show Cow and Chicken without the Bigheads. Tom Kenny was also cast as Heffer Wolfe and he is likely best known now as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. And it isn’t just Kenny who went on to star there, the first director hired by Murray for the show was the late Stephen Hillenburg who went on to create the aforementioned SpongeBob SquarePants.

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Many episodes contain Rocko tackling a common task only with disastrous results.

The first season of Rocko’s Modern Life consists of 26 segments spread across 13 episodes. In this current climate of increased television time, I decided to take a trip down memory lane with Rocko and his buddies. A local retailer, Bull Moose, specializes in media such as music, games, and movies and I sometimes take a stroll through its retail location in nearby Salem, New Hampshire. It’s a great store that fills a niche that has been all but abandoned by most retailers. The current COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered all such spaces, but Bull Moose continues to operate as an online space. More importantly, the company continues to pay all of its employees which is an incredibly noble gesture and one that should be emulated by other companies. I wanted to show my appreciation for that by spending some money at the website, which is how I ended up with the complete Rocko’s Modern Life collection. In truth, this was a long time coming as I wanted to reconnect with the show. I see it sometimes on one of Nickelodeon’s channels, but the network seems to re-air a lot of the same episodes over and over. I also was originally holding off on buying this series as I hoped an uncensored version would arrive some day, but I have since given up on that.

Which is a good thing, because my re-watch of the first season could not have gone much better. Rocko’s Modern Life is a show about a wallaby named Rocko who has recently set out on his own in a 90s world. He’s an immigrant from Australia living in the US in the fictional town of O-Town, basically an every town USA concept. The show does not expressly state how long he’s been in the US, but long enough to have formed close bonds with friends Heffer and Filburt (Mr. Lawrence). Rocko lives alone in a small house with his happy, but dim-witted, dog Spunky. He works as a clerk at a comic book shop and he’s basically just struggling to get by. Many episodes focus on the mundane, like taking out the garbage or doing the laundry, but things go wrong with Rocko often remarking “[Blank] Day is a very dangerous day.” Episodes of the show are mostly stand-alone, but there is some semblance of continuity from one episode to another. We see Rocko get fired from one job and hired at a new one, characters reference past experiences, and eventually we’ll even see Filburt enter into a relationship with another character.

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Each episode is introduced with a hand-painted title card.

As a children’s show, Rocko’s Modern Life packs enough laughs to satisfy most kids, especially early 90s kids who had spent the past two years with Ren and Stimpy. It’s a disservice to call Rocko’s Modern Life a Ren and Stimpy clone, but both do love to indulge in gross humor. There’s lots of boogers, drool, farts, and vomit gags in this cartoon. Rocko and his friends are also prone to screaming with exaggerated results such as eyes popping out and brains bursting out of a skull. It’s a visual treat for those who enjoy physical comedy in their cartoons, especially cartoons that really take advantage of what the medium can do. It also allows the show to go to wild locations with Heffer spending an episode in “Heck” while Rocko gets to visit many different locations such as the beach, the movies, a plane, and so on. The show also possesses some surreal qualities such as the episode “Flu-In-U-Enza” where Rocko as a fever dream in which his vomit comes to life to coach him through his illness. Most of the world is also slanted with lines going to great lengths to not meet up. It’s a very stylized show, with good animation and colors.

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Bev Bighead is one of the break-out stars in Season One. Her attempts to seduce Rocko in “Leap Frogs” is a real highlight of the first season.

Where Rocko really separated itself from its peers though is in its depiction of everyday life. Rocko being short on money and newly set free from adolescence makes the show extremely relatable for anyone in a similar situation or who has gone through it. Stretching a paycheck, managing responsibilities, taking care of yourself – these are things many of us only really become attuned to when we’re out on our own. Most can probably recall a gag or two from this show that went over their head at the time, only to have it make sense later on. Some of the plots are also very adult in nature with perhaps the best example being “Leap Frogs” in which Bev Bighead feels unwanted by her husband. It’s almost like a Simpsons plot or maybe even a sitcom as Bev tries to then make herself attractive to Rocko in hopes of making her husband jealous. It’s a really fun and interesting episode that was eventually deemed too adult and was pulled from Nickelodeon’s regular rotation.

Rocko’s Modern Life is profoundly funny in its writing, acting, and direction, but it also has some value to impart on its audience beyond that. It’s never preachy, and it also never feels like an arbitrary quota for educational content was in play, but nevertheless some episodes are beneficial for its younger audience in ways beyond mere entertainment. “Who’s For Dinner?” deals with adoption and the emotions one goes through when they first discover they’re an adopted child. Rocko is also a role model character for just how loyal and unfailingly kind he can be. He is at times meek to a fault, but learns to stand up for himself when the world really tries to screw him over. He is patient towards buddy Heffer, who in turn is a harmful glutton mostly oblivious to how harmful his actions are for Rocko. He does have his own reckoning in “To Heck and Back,” though his behavior doesn’t really change much following the episode.

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Sadly, we’ve been deprived of Heffer’s romantic tryst with a milking machine. The full clip can be easily found on the Internet, but it would have been great to have the original toon restored.

As mention previously, there is some censorship when it comes to Rocko’s Modern Life. Often, the show got away with a lot and the episodes made it to air without controversy, only to be edited later. That’s true with the episode “The Good, The Bad, and The Wallaby” where a segment involving Heffer, a male, getting hooked up to a milking machine has been removed. My understanding is the segment wasn’t restored largely because it can’t be cheaply. When these shows were edited for air, no one had the foresight to think money could be made down the road so they just edited the masters and basically lost the footage forever. The episode was released on VHS unedited so they could have transferred it off of that if they were willing, but that didn’t happen. Future edits would be made to the show, such as rebranding the restaurant The Chokey Chicken as The Chewy Chicken, but Nickelodeon didn’t have anyone go back and remove the offending name from prior seasons.

The DVD release of Rocko’s Modern Life – Season One is bare bones. It was originally released by Shout! Factory on two discs with no bonus features. It’s also arranged in airdate order, which is not the preferred order to watch the episodes. The compilation release put out in 2018 containing the whole series is the same. It would have been fun to hear some commentary tracks by Joe Murray and some of the other creative people involved, but oh well. The episodes really stand on their own though, and Season One is the only season to feature the original theme song which I prefer to the one performed by the B-52’s in the subsequent seasons. Season One is also incredibly strong and it might be my favorite season of the show, but that remains to be seen as I work my way through the show. As a kid, The Ren and Stimpy Show was always my favorite of the Nicktoons, but as I get older I find Rocko’s Modern Life has taken over that throne. It’s funny, manic, and very 90s in its style and presentation, but also surprisingly relatable. I’ve had a hard time shutting it off and it’s been a real crowd pleaser in my home of four. Hopefully my enthusiasm continues and I come back and tell you how much I loved Season Two and beyond.


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 3

did22Welcome back for the third installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 59 through 40. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS. We’re well into the real meat of the series at this point and none of the episodes we’re going to cover today are bad, but actually quite good. We just haven’t quite hit the “great” just yet. Let’s start with entry number 59:

59 – Paging the Crime Doctor

Sometimes, this show attempted some really grounded plots that could be applied to almost anything. Often times, Dr. Leslie Thompkins was a featured player in those episodes and she is in this one. When Rupert Thorne needs a surgical procedure, he turns to his doctor brother to help him out. Due to Thorne’s crime links, Mathew Thorne lost his license to practice medicine and is now basically just a mob doctor for his brother’s syndicate. Needing help with the surgery, he’s forced to turn to Leslie who was a classmate with him in med school, along with Thomas Wayne. Thorne’s men kidnap her, and it’s up to Batman to uncover the mystery. Probably not a favorite for children since it doesn’t feature a ton of action or a bigger rogue personality, but as an adult I enjoy it for the drama. It’s also aided by one of the best endings to any episode in the series.

FearofVictory58 – Fear of Victory

Scarecrow is back to put his fear toxin to use once again, this time to take down popular athletes at the university that wronged him years ago. Robin is along for the ride as he attends school at the same institute and it’s he who gets a dose this time of the Scarecrow’s gas. It’s very similar to “Nothing to Fear,” just with the role reversal of Batman for Robin, but it’s rewarding to see Batman try to coach Robin through it since he experienced the same. It’s also the debut for the second version of Scarecrow which looks far more terrifying than the first, which is partly why I prefer this one to “Nothing to Fear.”

57 – It’s Never Too Late

Another very grounded tale, and perhaps with a PSA message embedded in it about drugs. Arnold Stromwell is forced to confront his past when his son goes missing. He blames his rival Thorne, but it will take help from Batman and Stromwell’s preacher brother to get him to see the error of his ways. It’s quite heavy-handed, and again it’s an episode I really wasn’t into as a kid. As an adult though, I definitely like these dramatic episodes more as it’s nice to see Batman in a more relatable setting rather than bashing clowns and ice men.

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Captain Clown, we hardly knew ye.

56 – The Last Laugh

The title is an obvious indicator that this is a Joker episode, but I’m happy to report it’s not as final as it makes it seem. This is the one where Joker uses a floating barge of poisonous garbage to poison Gotham on April Fool’s Day, and it’s up to Batman to stop him. There are lots of humorous bits and a few bad puns, but it’s mostly entertaining. Also entertaining is Batman’s battle with Captain Clown, a Terminator-like robot who is quite difficult to bring down.

55 – Double Talk

The Ventriloquist Arnold Wesker gets a shot at redemption, like many other villains before him and still to come. The story presented here is almost heart-breaking, as the gentle natured Arnold is shown making a real attempt to get over his other personality, Scarface. It wouldn’t be much of an episode if he did though, and he’s taunted into thinking he’s still insane and under Scarface’s influence. It’s actually a bit heart-breaking to watch, and Batman really could have done a better job of helping the guy out, but I guess maybe he really wanted to bust the ones responsible or something. It has a nice ending though, and since we never see Scarface return after this one I guess we can assume old Arnold finally did overcome his demons.

54 – Baby-Doll

This one is a bit odd, but it manages to pull off the creation of yet another sympathetic villain. This time it’s Baby-Doll, the former actress afflicted with a disorder of some kind that basically makes her resemble a child well into adulthood. She once had a hit show, but now it’s gone, and she’s never learned to cope. It’s a bit crazy as it’s hard not to think of similar real life examples of people in her situation becoming mobsters and finding the image too hard to believe, but it pulls itself together in the end and delivers a conclusion that’s tragic and affecting.

cross blades53 – The Demon’s Quest: Part II

Two-parters in this show are often quite similar: tremendous build in the first part, a bit of a fall-off in the second. “The Demon’s Quest” suffers the same fate as the first part is a fun mystery, but it’s solved at the end in dramatic fashion. When the second begins, the drama is quickly doused and it just becomes a drawn-out sequence leading to a Batman and Ra’s al Ghul confrontation. There’s also an extremely well-placed Wayne Enterprises building literally in the middle of the mountains for no reason other than to be a deus ex machina for our heroes who were stranded in the cold. The episode at least looks great, and the battle at the end is solid.

52 – The Mechanic

In a bit of an adaptation of Batman Returns, we learn how the Batmobile was conceived and also how its mechanic can be used to get at The Dark Knight. The Penguin is able to figure out who works on the Batmobile after a destructive confrontation with it following a heist gone wrong, and he uses that info to take the mechanic and his daughter hostage and sabotage the Batmobile. Just like in the movie, Penguin gets to control it via remote while Batman and Robin are trapped inside it unable to regain control of the vehicle. The episode is able to make the mechanic, Earl, rather crafty in how he passes along info to Batman that basically tells him what he needs to know. Once that is done, it’s just the simple matter of taking down Penguin who has proven to be one of Batman’s least formidable rogues.

30-251 – Appointment in Crime Alley

The debut of Leslie Thompkins feels almost like a day-in-the-life piece about being Batman. Roland Daggett is trying to commit arson on a neglected part of Gotham derisively referred to as Crime Alley. Leslie is a bit of an idealist looking to take back this part of Gotham from the ruffians as it is also home to Gotham’s poorest citizens, many of him are ordinary, good, folk. Batman catches wind of Daggett’s scheme and he has to put a stop to it, all while making sure he doesn’t miss the appointment referenced in the title. And that appointment is a personal one for it’s the anniversary of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and as the movie showed us, Bruce needs to return to that site every year to lay a pair of roses. There’s also a sweet touch in which we find out Leslie was one of the first to confront young Bruce that night via a picture she’s held onto.

50 – Bane

Bane was a 90s invention intended to be Batman’s better in terms of physical ability. He’s bigger, stronger, and far more ruthless. He’s portrayed as a tactician, who for some reason wears a luchador mask. In the show, he’s hired by Thorne to take down Batman and he very nearly does. We learn of his strength as he effortlessly dispatches Killer Croc and then goes onto really mess up the Batmobile. The episode loses a bit of luster in how it ends, and there’s also a ludicrous pro-wrestling quality added onto the fight scene in which Batman rebounds off of metal rails like ring ropes. Bane ends up being fairly easy to take out – you just go after the giant tube connected to his head and wrist. You would think a tactician such as Bane would have found an answer to that little weakness, no?

offbalance49 – Off Balance

The episode that introduced us to Talia, yet another woman whom Batman has an apparent weakness for despite her being pretty tied down to a life of crime. Batman has to retrieve a stolen piece of weaponry in a rather remote area, and it forces him to team-up with the mysterious Talia. During the events of the episode, she discovers his true identity and the two appear to work well as a team – too well. The double cross at the end is hardly a surprise, but it does introduce us briefly to the big daddy, Ra’s al Ghul, setting up for a future confrontation. One aspect of the episode I do really enjoy is the League of Shadow assassins who when caught basically activate a suicide device in their masks. Of course, this being a kid’s show means they don’t actually die, but rather have their minds completely erased.

48 – Mad as a Hatter

Another silly villain who finds a way to work in the confines of this show, The Mad Hatter debuts here and he’s basically just a guy who can’t take “No” for an answer. Jervis Tetch is an expert on mind control who also has a crush on his assistant, Alice. He also apparently has an affinity for Alice in Wonderland and when Alice rejects his advances he uses his mind control device to make her say “Yes.” Since he works for Wayne, the missing Alice does not go unnoticed and Batman is forced to find her and confront the newly christened Mad Hatter. I like this one as it makes a villain out of the type of guy who thinks that just because he’s nice towards a woman he deserves her affection. We’ve all met those types, and most women can probably recall similar, and maybe even some of us were that guy back in high school. It’s just part of growing up, but some take it into adulthood and never are able to understand that women are allowed to like whomever they like for whatever reason. Nice guys don’t finish last, but they aren’t entitled to first place either.

smilingtwoface147 – Two-Face: Part II

The first part of “Two-Face” is one of the best episodes the show did, the second may not be as good, but it’s still damn fine. We learn what happened to Harvey Dent after being horribly maimed in a confrontation with Rupert Thorne. Rather than return to his old life, he rebelled against it. He wants revenge and can’t go on until he gets it, but his moral side is still in play and the only way to make heads or tails of life is for him to literally flip a coin when confronted with a moral dilemma. It’s a tragic tale with almost no joy to be found in what happens, even in the end. It does end on a hopeful note, but it’s never really addressed in a later episode which is unfortunate.

46 – A Bullet for Bullock

Someone wants Detective Harvey Bullock dead, but that’s nothing new. The question is who would go through the trouble of threatening him first rather than simply doing it? Bullock tries to handle things himself, but he’s forced to turn to his rival of sorts in Batman. It’s not the first time the two are shown working together, but it’s the most involved they’ll get and it’s actually pretty entertaining. The two seem to learn a thing or two about the other, maybe not enough to declare they’re friends by the episode’s end, but I think there’s a bit more respect there. And to his credit, Bullock isn’t nearly as adversarial going forward when dealing with Batman. The ending also features a twist that is one of the better pieces of comedy the show ever attempted.

45 – What is Reality?

The Riddler’s return which is more puzzle based than riddle based. This time he’s using a very convoluted virtual reality system to trap important figures in Gotham, namely Commissioner Gordon. It’s certainly different, but what makes the episode work is just how fun it is to watch Batman and Riddler go at it. He’s just the right amount of smug and annoying and his ability to stay one step ahead, until the inevitable end, is rewardingly frustrating. The animators get to have fun with the VR landscape, and the ending is a touch haunting which helps make it memorable. Though like with other episodes, it’s never really resolved and the next time we see The Riddler he’s fine.

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That’s a view of Gordon I never expected to see.

44 – Heart of Steel: Part 2

The Blade Runner inspired first part is pretty interesting and even a touch unsettling. The second part is more straight-forward, but it does for the first time put Barbara Gordon in the driver’s seat as a heroine. No, she isn’t Batgirl yet, but it’s nice seeing the show actually lay the groundwork for her hero-turn down the road rather than just jump right into it. We also get to see Batman fight some creepy robots too, which is also a plus.

43 – Dreams in Darkness

Batman is once again exposed to Scarecrow’s fear toxin, only this time it happens off-screen and we’re left in the dark to start, no pun intended. Batman begins this one as a patient in Arkham Asylum, a place he’s sent many a rogue to. He has to overcome the toxin and convince the doctors there’s nothing wrong with him before he can stop the Scarecrow from poisoning Gotham’s water supply (a scheme that would be adapted for Batman Begins). Along the way we get to see some really unsettling imagery of Batman’s poison-induced nightmares and it’s pretty wonderful, in a terrifying sort of way. The resolution is almost inconsequential as a result, but this one is definitely all about the ride.

calendar girl revealed42 – Mean Seasons

Calendar Girl is one of the better villains introduced in The New Batman Adventures, maybe even the best. Her debut hits all of the right notes as a villain with a seemingly silly gimmick is able to make great use of it in stringing Batman along while the villain is made sympathetic along with the way and in the end. There’s a fun twist to the ending as well that actually just adds a touch more tragedy to the mix.

41 – Judgement Day

A mystery driven episode that does a good job of not tipping its hand along the way, or should I say scale? Maybe not what many envisioned as the final episode of the show, it does at least bring back a memorable villain in Two-Face and also puts Batman all on his own, a fun callback to the first season. Mostly, the mystery aspect just makes it a fun watch as we try to figure out who The Judge is.

joker limo40 – Joker’s Millions

What happens when the joke is on The Joker? This episode is just plain entertaining as Joker finds out he’s inherited a whole bunch of money from a deceased crime boss, only to come to find it’s mostly fake. Before he makes that discovery though, he spends lavishly and alienates his old gal, Harley, in the process. He’s then forced to turn back to crime to make up the money he owes debt collectors which puts him back at odds with Batman. Since the plot involves someone taking advantage of Joker, it feels a bit like “Joker’s Wild,” but it’s done much better. Also, be on the lookout for an amusing Paul Dini cameo.


Batman: The Animated Series Wrap-Up

btas redOne-hundred and nine episodes plus three features leading to one-hundred and twelve blog entries have been devoted to the subject of Batman: The Animated Series. It started as a celebration of the show turning 25 and then as a curiosity piece. Since its premiere in 1992, the show had become much celebrated and praised all over. It’s exceptionally rare in this age of social media to see anything basically universally loved, but that was the case for BTAS. I had a lot of good memories of the show myself. I watched it as a kid and when the show received a DVD release I bought it up. And I watched them all. Batman became a show I had experienced and enjoyed both as a kid and as an adult, but some ten years or so removed from when I last watched it in total I still wasn’t sure just how good the show was.

And so I watched it again. And after each episode I made a little blog entry afterwards. Well, at first they were fairly little as I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Did I want to do an episode review or did I want to do a recap? I started leaning more towards the review side while also inserting a brief summary. Perhaps being influenced by all of the recap style podcasts I listen to, the entries drifted more towards that style. And they grew. Oh, did they grow. This little weekly entry soon routinely ran for thousands of words. I’m not saying that makes them any better or worse, but it certainly transformed my little project from something I could regurgitate via my keyboard rather quickly to something much more demanding.

Even though my vision for this feature grew beyond my initial plans, that doesn’t mean I regret anything about it. Far from it, actually, as I really enjoyed my time with this show once again. I may have even enjoyed it more than ever as I found it much easier to find things I liked about episodes I previously wasn’t very high on. Some of those episodes are still rather poor, but I can at least see what the writers were thinking and for the most part the animation is always quite good. It’s a very entertaining program, and while it’s still primarily a children’s cartoon, there’s enough depth there to captivate an older audience.

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The character of Batman drew people in, and villains like Two-Face and Mr. Freeze kept them coming back.

In re-watching the show I found there were certainly things that consistently worked and things that did not. When the show centered on a sympathetic villain it was usually at its best. Batman can be pretty ruthless in his application of justice, but the guy does have a heart. He often makes the right decision, though he’s also not perfect. Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and Clayface ended up being my favorite villains. And when Harley Quinn was thrust into a sympathetic role she soared. Even Arnold Stromwell was interesting when we saw his softer side. That doesn’t mean everyone needs that to work though. Rupert Thorne was consistently nasty and thus interesting, same for Roland Daggett. The Joker was also often very entertaining and the show never made an attempt at deviating from what he is, which is something filmmakers today could learn from.

There were still a few duds when it came to the villains. Surprisingly, Catwoman was rarely compelling as the show didn’t seem to know what to do with her. For whatever reason, there was a desire to portray her as something other than a villain. Rather than make her an antihero, she more or less just became a victim. There was a bit of a course correction in season two, but only when the show returned as The New Batman Adventures did it feel like the show actually knew what it wanted to do with one of Batman’s most popular foils. Two-Face also tended to flounder after his strong debut. He was able to rebound a bit, but it was a shame to see so much of what his debut built up was seemingly cast aside. The Penguin, another famous Batman villain, was also rarely up to the task when called upon with many of his leading roles serving as the show’s worst. He was usually most entertaining when paired up with other villains to play off of them. The show seemed to acknowledge this by putting him in more of a supporting role later on when he became a club owner.

Mostly, when I consider the legacy of this show I mostly recall what it did for the lesser villains. Going into 1992, the only Batman villains I was really aware of were the ones featured in the Adam West show. The Riddler, Penguin, Joker, and Catwoman were the most famous, but I also recalled Mr. Freeze and, for some reason, King Tutt. This show is how I was introduced to other, lesser, villains such as Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Clay-Face, and others. And for the most part I loved these “new” villains most of all. Sure, there were some duds for me like The Clock King or the one-off werewolf character and Lock-Up, but mostly the new guys were pretty interesting. And you can’t talk about this show without talking about what it did for Mr. Freeze. Previously more gimmick than character, Freeze became one of the most popular Batman villains seemingly overnight thanks to his portrayal in “Heart of Ice.” No, he never had another story as good as that one, but because that episode was so good it made any future appearance appointment television just to see if another Freeze story could match that one.

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Oddly enough, the show seemed to struggle with Catwoman not knowing if it wanted to portray her as something of an antihero or as her more traditional cat burglar persona.

Since this show is primarily a half-hour cartoon intended for kids, it runs into some issues. The format it strived for is a limitation. That inaugural 65 episode first season included several two-part stories, but following that every other story was confined to a single episode. This limitation is only a limitation if the writers allow it to be one, but sometimes it felt like certain episodes were short-changed. It also leads to numerous instances of Batman just turning to his wonder computer to solve a problem. That was definitely my biggest pet peeve with the show this time around as it quickly became a trope of the show. Batman turning to his computer felt like The Simpsons using the living room television to either start or advance a plot. An episode can still be good when that element is present, but it certainly feels cheap.

I also can’t offer a proper conclusion on the show without talking about the move from Fox to the WB and the creation of The New Batman Adventures. The switch did lead to some good things. For one, it advanced characters like Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon and let us see some actual development. Some conflict between Batman and Robin was teased during the Fox years and it was rewarding to see that go somewhere. I think the show could have mined that conflict for more material, but it was mostly handled well. Barbara, on the other hand, was a bit glossed over. Sure, she was now an accepted ally as Batgirl, but we learned very little about her character. Did she have a new outlook on crime fighting? What was her end game? We also never even got to see what came between she and Dick, which was unfortunate.

Aside from that, the move to WB also allowed for less censorship. This didn’t have a huge impact on much unless you’re really turned on by seeing a thin line of blood streaking from a character’s mouth, but it did really open up The Joker. He went from being mostly just a lunatic to being a violent lunatic. He has a few moments to be truly mean during his time on WB giving the character a similar feel to how he was portrayed in Mask of the Phantasm. This did lead to some criticisms I had with the direction of Harley Quinn, but I think I did a good job of highlighting those issues in my posts on the episodes she appears in.

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No matter how many times I see the new-look Joker I just can’t fall in love with it.

What obviously stands out the most though in the change in networks was the new design. While some characters looked unchanged and a few looked better than before, I mostly disliked the new style choice. Less detail and odd choices are mostly to blame, but even the animation came across a bit too cartoony for this show. The whole tone of the show was also thrown off and I think that had to do with the ensemble cast and the simplified portrayal of each of the leads. The writers basically assigned one archetype to each character and mostly stuck with it. This left no room for nuance and it had the most drastic impact on our main lead, Batman himself. In the first two seasons we got to see different sides to the character, but in The New Batman Adventures he’s basically just grim and curt. He’s so boring, and sadly none of the other leads outside of Nightwing really offer much. Robin is mostly just a vehicle for bad puns and Batgirl offers even less.

As a result, I can comfortably say that The New Batman Adventures era is inferior to what came before it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still quality to be found there. Much to my surprise, a few episodes actually rank quite highly and the worst of the show is still found in those first two seasons. A lot of that third season is just okay or average with few true stinkers. Though that is a post for another day.

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The show is exciting and fun and gave us some truly memorable characters. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to Batman, if not the best.

Ultimately, I set out to decide for myself if I felt Batman: The Animated Series was overrated or properly rated. It never occurred to me that it could be underrated, and it certainly is not. While the show didn’t deliver a slam dunk each episode, it also totaled 109 episodes and what show has ever hit a home run every episode for such a long time? Even much celebrated shows like Breaking Bad have a lesser episode here and there, and that particular show produced far fewer than 109 episodes (though to be fair, in terms of total minutes it’s probably much closer). And no, I’m not trying to compare this show to Breaking Bad, but making the point that it doesn’t have to “wow” the audience every time out to be a great show. Calling it the greatest television show based on a comic book feels right. It’s certainly the greatest cartoon, and I also came away feeling that it’s totally defensible for this to be someone’s favorite depiction of Batman in any medium. It’s a great show with a lot to offer. It’s primarily an action vehicle, and the wonderful animation allows it to be a pretty great show based on its action alone. What puts it over the top are the stories, the captivating villains, and it’s wonderful sense of style. The music of Shirley Walker, the performances of actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, it’s a production that oozes quality. So yes, Batman: The Animated Series is properly rated and if I am certain of anything it’s that I will watch this series in its entirety again. And again…


Dec. 14 – Heathcliff – “North Pole Cat”

 

north pole catHeathcliff, despite being a cat, shares a similarity to a certain cookie. And that cookie is Hydrox, the chocolate and cream sandwhich style cookie often mistaken for an Oreo. When I was a kid, Hydrox was the inferior Oreo, the knock-off, and I suspect that was true for a lot of people. The funny thing is, Hydrox predates Oreo. Nabisco essentially stole the concept and mass-produced its own version which eventually became more popular than the original. And how does this apply to Heathcliff? Well, most seem to view him as the Garfield knock-off even though he predates Garfield by a solid three years.

Heathcliff debuted in 1973 as a comic strip by George Gately. He became popular enough that he made the jump to animation in 1980 where he was given a voice by the late, great, Mel Blanc. Heathcliff, the cartoon series, consisted of two seasons of 13 episodes each. Heathcliff was paired up with some characters called The Ding-bats and later fellow comic character Marmaduke. The show was still shown for much of the 80s, but in 1984 a new cartoon was created by DiC also titled Heathcliff. This is the show I remember most from the 80s due in large part to the catchy theme song performed by Noam Kaniel. For this show, Heathcliff was paired up with some new characters called the Catillac Cats which is why this show is often referred to as Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats to differentiate it from the series that came before it. Each episode was organized into two segments, one Heathcliff and one Catillac Cats with the two rarely crossing over. The show produced 86 episodes and was shown in syndication into the 90s.

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Like a lot of 80s toon stars, Heathcliff first began life as a daily comic in print.

The final episode of the series is the one we’re going to talk about today. “North Pole Cat” is the lone Christmas segment and it stars Heathcliff. Wikipedia claims it originally aired on October 7, 1985 though IMDB simply lists it as airing in 1986. The plot borrows slightly from the much more viewed ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in which letters to Santa are returned and someone needs to figure out why. That someone is Heathcliff and he’s dragging his adversary Spike(Derek McGrath) along for the ride as the two make their way to the North Pole to figure out what’s going on.

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When Heathcliff returned to TV in 1984 he was joined by the Catillac Cats leaving that loser Marmaduke far behind.

The episode opens with Spike training with Muggsy (McGrath) so he can become a better bully, or “bull” as Muggsy calls him. He looks to test out his new skills on the unsuspecting mailman making his rounds who jumps with terror at the approach of the massive mut. Heathcliff watches from his stoop disapprovingly. He decides to get involved, and utilizing the mail carrier’s satchel like a matador does his red curtain, he tricks Spike into crashing into a number of obstacles before finally falling into an open manhole.

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This one wastes little time in getting going.

The mailman thanks Heathcliff and then hands over the mail. It seems both he and his owner, Iggy, have had their letters to Santa returned. I’m not sure what time of year it is as everything looks sunny and lovely, but I guess we can assume it’s sometime close to Christmas. The mailman adds this is the tenth such letter he’s had to deliver today and wonders if Santa has called it quits. Heathcliff wonders the same, but decides he needs to take action. Putting on a parka and some earmuffs, Heathcliff is ready to set off for the North Pole, but he needs a dog sled to get there. He decides to enlist Spike, and when he makes a crack about needing a red nose to pull Heathcliff’s sleigh the orange cat slaps one on him. He then produces a whip, and Spike is forced to go along with this plot.

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Santa’s rather bizarre workshop.

Heathcliff and Spike make tremendous time in getting to the North Pole. There they encounter a blizzard and the scene almost immediately shifts to Santa’s workshop. It looks like something designed by Dr. Seuss and inside an assembly line of toys is running. A cranky elf named Tuck seems intent on breaking toys rather than assembling them. An older elf calls him aside and wants to know why some of Santa’s letters were sent back. Tuck basically confesses and he’s proud to do it. He hates Christmas and thinks it’s a sham to get kids to behave all year to receive presents on one day. Well, this attitude has not gone unnoticed as the older elf informs Tuck that Santa has given him the order to let him go. Channeling another elf, Tuck declares he can’t be fired, for he quits, and takes his leave.

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Not much of a pole, is it?

Out in the snow, Heathcliff is rather mercilessly whipping Spike to get him to go faster until Spike decides he’s had enough. He stops and declares he won’t move another inch. Heathcliff just looks at him with an expression of bewilderment as he stands on the sleigh, which slowly starts to slide backwards. As it takes off down an incline, Spike gets pulled along with it smashing his head into a giant ice spike sticking up from the ground. Heathcliff declares this ice formation is the actual North Pole (I guess it doesn’t always need to resemble a candy cane) and congratulates Spike for finding it, who is looking a bit shell-shocked.

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This is Tuck and he’s pretty much a murderous asshole.

Tuck has taken notice of the cat and dog duo and decides to make a little mischief. He rolls a giant snowball at the pair which knocks them both out onto some ice. Heathcliff warns Spike the ice won’t hold forever (you’re at the North Pole, Heathcliff, it’s probably pretty safe) as the two slowly crawl back to land. Tuck is apparently intent on murdering them as he starts smashing the ice with a mallet. The ice beneath the pair splits open and Spike is left dancing on a small, floating, chunk while Heathcliff climbs all over him. Tuck then pelts the two with snowballs until they fall in. He tells them to have a nice day and squeezes a bicycle horn he has affixed to his belt for punctuation, I guess that’s his “thing.”

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Poor Spike is feeling a little chilly. This is actually rather sweet of Heathcliff to lend him his parka.

Heathcliff paddles a frozen Spike back to land and then kindly wraps Spike in his parka (which magically grows in size to fit Spike) and earmuffs before taking off after Tuck. Tuck continues to pelt him with snowballs forcing Heathcliff to build a giant snow fort for protection. Tuck apparently does the same as the two are now behind castle-like fortifications made of snow which of course makes me think of the classic Disney short Donald’s Snow Fight. Heathcliff quickly assembles a seesaw and puts a giant snowball on one end before smacking the other with a mallet he apparently keeps in his back pocket. The snowball smashes into Tuck’s wall forcing the elf to run away in terror as the ball of snow rolls after him.

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Remember kids, icicles will stop a rampaging polar bear.

Heathcliff, satisfied with himself for taking care of the elf, turns when he hears a loud growl. Poor Spike is being set on by a polar bear and Heathcliff dashes off to help his sometimes adversary. Spike is frozen with fear as the bear sniffs him. A scream from Tuck, who’s still being chased by a rolling ball of snow, causes Spike to yell which in turn causes the bear to rise to its hind legs and do the same. As Tuck runs by, the snowball finally gets him and the bear sending the two into a cave. Heathcliff and Spike look on as Tuck screams for help. Reasoning that Santa might be watching, Heathcliff decides to help the elf out by tossing a snowball at the cave entrance causing a bunch of icicles to drop down forming a cage which prevents the polar bear from leaving the cave.

Heathcliff and Spike then approach Tuck who is trying to catch his breath. He thanks them for the help, but Heathcliff is still pretty salty about all of the stuff Tuck tried before the rescue. Tuck apologizes, claiming he’s going through “some stuff” at the moment, before declaring he’ll help them see Santa. Heathcliff and Spike are amazed at the workshop while Tuck acts nonchalantly about the whole thing. The old elf from earlier doesn’t seem surprised to see Tuck return so soon. He remarks it’s a jungle out there, but Tuck corrects him by saying “Actually, it’s a blizzard,” honking that horn again (this guy sucks). Tuck then starts begging for his job back, but the old elf instructs him he’ll have to take his plea to the big boss man and gestures towards a door at the top of some stairs.

heathcliff santa

The big man himself ready to pass judgement on Tuck and our heroes.

The trio enter and find Santa sitting at his desk. He’s a pretty warm and friendly sort of Santa who may or may not be voiced by Peter Cullen. He asks what they want and Tuck asks Heathcliff to explain it for him. Heathcliff holds up the letters and explains they were sent back. Tuck immediately fesses up to sending them back, then starts begging for his job back. Santa is a pretty generous guy and does indeed restore Tuck’s employment. He then thanks Heathcliff and Spike for returning the letters to him. Then he goes into his whole “Have you been good this year?” routine and Heathcliff and Spike both claim that they have. Each time one starts to make that claim, the other stomps on their foot. Santa gives a chuckle seemingly amused by their petty violence and tells them returning the letters essentially undoes whatever bad deeds they committed. He then points out they need a ride home and orders Tuck to saddle-up his team as the duo dance happily about going for a ride on Santa’s sleigh.

shitty reindeer

Maybe the A-Team only flies on Christmas and these are the D-List reindeer.

Santa’s sleigh is apparently to be pulled by two shoddy looking reindeer, with one being blue for some reason. I don’t think it’s Christmas Eve, so I guess that explains why the full team isn’t needed. Before they depart, Santa asks Tuck if he wants to go for a ride too and the little, blue, elf perks up and climbs in excitedly. They whiz past the moon, as is customary, and Heathcliff points out his house to Santa. The town is now covered in snow and Santa deposits the two in the street. As Heathcliff turns to head home, Spike mentions how they’re supposed to be nice to each other and stuff. Heathcliff then gets nailed by a snowball. He turns to find Spike preparing to hurl another in his direction. A halo forms above his head, and quickly falls down around his neck as Heathcliff decides they don’t need to start being nice right away. The two then engage in a snowball fight as the episode comes to an end.

heathcliff moon

I’d be shocked if this shot wasn’t in the episode.

“North Pole Cat” is a fairly run-of-the-mill Christmas special of a pretty run-of-the-mill 80s cartoon. My most enduring memory of this show was the theme song, and with good reason. It’s a catchy little number, and the cartoon that follows is largely unremarkable. The intro promises a character in Heathcliff who plays pranks, but he seems like more of a righteous character in this episode. There are attempts at one-liners, but they all fall flat. It’s also a bit odd the plot is essentially a homicidal elf who hates Christmas tries to kill Heathcliff for no reason, but then is in turn saved by the cat and returns to his old post. Why would Santa employ an attempted murderer? Is it because the life of a dog and cat mean nothing to him? For shame, Santa.

heathcliff sleigh ride

If Heathcliff was really all about playing pranks on everyone then he’d definitely be spitting right now.

Mel Blanc’s performance is actually the best aspect of the show as it’s unique enough amongst his many performances to stand-out. The rest of the voice cast is fine, though like many shows of this era it’s really hard to figure out who is voicing who outside of the main characters. The role of Tuck sounds similar to Charlie Adler, but I could not find any indication that he did work on this show. It’s not unheard of for actors to go uncredited, but usually that stuff is revealed leaving me to believe whoever did the voice for Tuck (as well as the other one-off characters like Santa, the mailman, and head elf) is someone in the main cast. Which, for the record, included Danny Mann, Peter Cullen, Stanley Jones, Ted Zeigler, Derek McGrath, Danny Wells, Donna Christie, Jeannie Elias, and Marilyn Lightstone.

heathcliff snowball fight

The eternal battle rages on.

As a Christmas special, this one doesn’t try to do too much. It has one character in Tuck sort of come to appreciate the spirit of the holiday, but not really. Heathcliff and Spike don’t learn anything and Santa confirms you can undo a year of naughtiness with a single act at the last second. Visually, the look of Santa’s workshop is interesting, but we barely see anything. Santa himself looks fine and so do the elves, except Tuck who’s a bit odd looking. The overall animation is pretty much what you would expect of a DiC program. It’s better than what Hanna-Barbera were doing in the 70s, but not as good as what would follow. Both Spike and Heathcliff have a white rectangle on their nose that’s supposed to create the illusion of a round, shiny, nose, but often has no curve to it and really annoyed me. And the reindeer looked terrible, like malnourished donkeys with horns stapled to their heads.

If you wish to watch this one yourself this holiday season, and I don’t really recommend that you do, the easiest way is to simply plug it into YouTube. Heathcliff is not a bankable star these days so his cartoons are rather easy to find. You can pay for digital copies if you want to, though I don’t know why you would. After receiving sparse, partial, releases on DVD the entire series was released as a set in 2016 by Mill Creek Entertainment. It retails for about 12 bucks brand new so if Heathcliff is your kind of cat then why not get the whole show? Though if you really are into Heathcliff then you probably already own it and disagree with my take on this episode entirely. Either way, merry Christmas!


Dec. 3 – Mega Babies – “A Mega Christmas”

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“A Mega Christmas” first aired on November 24, 1999.

Considering how gross a lot of cartoons had become in the 90s, it should come as no surprise that the decade concluded with Mega Babies, a cartoon about literal snot-nosed, super-powered, babies featuring diapers overflowing with excrement in the opening title. Mega Babies was a short-lived production from the Tremblay brothers, Christian and Yvon, who are probably best known from their work on SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron, a perfectly cromulent action-adventure cartoon from Hanna-Barbera. Mega Babies is quite different from that production, opting for a shorter format (roughly 11 minutes an episode) and taking a comedy bent. The premise strikes me as Rugrats, but crass, and the kids have super powers.

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The show ran from October 1999 through April 2000 on Teletoon (Canada) and the Fox Family Channel.

Mega Babies stars three colorful babies in Derrick (Laura Teasdale), Buck (Sonja Ball), and Meg (Jaclyn Linetsky). All three babies are voiced by female actresses, but only Meg is female in the show. This is fairly common in animation as all of the babies in Rugrats were voiced by women. The babies are orphans granted super powers when the planets aligned, or some such nonsense quickly established by the opening credits. Their caretaker is Nurse Lazlo (Bronwen Mantel), an old lady the babies simply refer to as Nursie, who appears to be of Russian descent and was also granted super intelligence by the same planet thing as the babies. The only other credited members of the cast are Richard M. Dumont, who is an announcer on the program, and Dean Hagopian who is credited on IMDB as simply handling various male voices. Wikipedia lists many other actors who likely handled bit roles on the show, but were frustratingly not credited in the actual program. Since the show isn’t exactly well-remembered, maybe they preferred to not be credited.

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The show is known for being rather gross. Expect lots of boogers and poop.

Mega Babies is a joint US and Canadian production which was common in the 90s as Canadian voice actors famously did not belong to any union. They were often cheaper to employ and studios love saving a buck or two when possible. The production company is CinéGroupe which had been in the business since 1974. A lot of the productions have been Canadian in nature, so your place of origin may impact what you feel is the company’s most notable work, but for me I best know it from Heavy Metal 2000. This particular show has the look of a lot of cartoons from this era. It’s likely digital in nature at a time when animators were struggling to produce digital art on par with traditional hand-drawn animation. It’s a bit cheap looking in places, and also fluid and experimental in others. It has a post 90s vibe to it in that it shares a lot of similarities with other shows of the era, namely contemporary Ed, Edd, n Eddy, but it’s also struggling to push this style further and beyond what’s been done before.

When this show debuted on the Fox Family Channel I was in high school. Cartoon Network was somewhat on my radar due to its programming towards teen audiences, so I was tangentially aware of some its more straight-forward kids entertainment. Fox Family Channel, on the other hand, was pretty far from my mind and I never knew this thing existed. It’s yet another program I’ve discovered via this project of mine as I’m always on the hunt for Christmas shows. The premise is somewhat attractive as I enjoy shows where the main characters are ignorant children. And Rugrats is a show I find mostly charming, so a show that’s basically a mash-up of Rugrats with the gross humor of my favorite Nicktoon Ren & Stimpy sounds more than a little intriguing.

Which brings us to “A Mega Christmas.” This is the 18th episode of the show’s inaugural season, first airing November 24, 1999. Interestingly, the first season would stretch on to contain 26 episodes with the finale airing on Boxing Day, December 26th. I’m a bit surprised this episode wasn’t pushed a little further into the year, but there is a 2-week gap in the episode airing found on the internet so my guess is it was rebroadcast on December 15. This is also the Teletoon airing schedule, so who knows what Fox Family did. I purposely did not watch any other episodes of this show, preferring to see how weird it is going in cold turkey, so let’s see what one can glean from one episode.

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Everyone loves a snot-coated Christmas tree.

The episode opens at the home of the Mega Babies. “Joy to the World” is playing us in, as it so often does with Christmas themed episodes of cartoons. The babies are decorating their tree, and one is stringing brownish-green snot around it like garland. Meg, from atop a ladder, calls down to Derrick (the yellow one) that he’ll ruin the tree if he adds canned snow and the two bicker momentarily. Meg calls for Nursie, and her lips grow to gargantuan proportions as she does, while Nursie simply calls back to the babies to be nice. Derrick interprets this as permission to cover the living room in fake snow before all three babies argue who gets to put the “perfect” angel on top of the tree.

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It would be a nice, traditional, Christmas image if not for the boogers.

Nursie then comes into the room baring presents, but they’re to go under the tree. She tells the kids not to peek as she heads off to the kitchen to continue cooking a traditional Christmas goose. The kids then commence with the peeking until they’re distracted by the TV. Booger Ranger is coming on, and I assume this is a program they watch often in other episodes. The character basically looks like a giant nose with limbs and a mouth with green snot constantly dripping. Plus he’s got a cowboy hat and boots. Lovely.

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These aliens are rather wild looking, but sadly will spend the majority of the episode in disguise.

Meanwhile, at the North Pole Santa Claus is getting ready to board his sleigh to go do his thing. There is no official credit I can find, but this Santa is definitely voiced by John Stocker who you may recall as Toad from the Super Mario Bros Super Show and Graydon Creed from X-Men. As he gets ready to depart, four aliens drop from the sky. They’re hideous, scaly, horned, drooling, aliens and their leader goes by the name of Claw (who I assume is Dean Hagopian doing his best Cam Clarke impression). As such, it seems only natural for him to want to assume the mantle of Santa “Claws.” I get the impression these guys are frequent antagonists in this show, but I could be mistaken.

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Imposter Santa ready to spread bad tidings.

These aliens apparently have a limited ability to shape-shift. They can assume another form, but their skin always remains green. Claws assumes the form of Santa, and his underlings take on the shape of elves. They want to spread chaos and genuinely cause a bad time across the world, and by taking over for Santa that seems like a pretty solid way to accomplish their goal. The fake Santa looks at his list and the first destination is Your City, USA which is home to the Mega Babies, but he’s apparently unaware of that. He declares it’s time to go make kids cry and departs in a sleigh pulled by two, fat, reindeer. This is your first reminder for 2019 that my Christmas special pet peeve is when Santa’s sleigh is pulled by fewer than 8 reindeer (I don’t demand it be 9 to include Rudolph, but there damn well better be 8!).

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Christmas:  the magical time of year when alien Santa turns a lifeless nutcracker into a rampaging goblin.

At the home of the Mega Babies, Booger Ranger has reached its disgusting conclusion. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker apparently, as the babies empty their snot receptacles into some once clean hankies when it’s over. The doorbell then rings as Nursie grapples with the raw goose, and who could it be?! Meg orders Buck to open it stating it could be Santa, but instead it’s a bunch of carolers and Buck promptly slams the door in their face. Meg then seems to correct herself and says Santa only comes down the chimney, and seemingly on cue who drops in? It’s Santa! Only it’s not Santa as the fake one has arrived. After being smothered with affection by the babies, and then Nurse Lazlo, he makes for the tree and magically turns Meg’s nutcracker into some kind of troll-monster that destroys all of the other presents which then drops dead.

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Mrs. Claus says the children caused Santa to “go postal.” I’m surprised they got away with that one.

Santa departs with a “Scary Christmas!” leaving the children confused. Why did he show up just to destroy all of their presents? Nurse Lazlo leads the children to another area where she intends to contact Santa from. Lazlo has a giant telescope from which she can see Santa’s home and a large black hole above it. She produces a comically large rocket with a phone inside it and shoots it off to the North Pole via slingshot. There it crashes into the home of Santa and Mrs. Claus, where Mrs. Claus answers it surrounded by her alien captors dressed as elves. She assures Nurse Lazlo that everything is fine, and excuses Santa’s odd behavior as him “going postal” on account of being screamed at by 2 billion children. The old bird isn’t convinced. She and the babies set off to find out what’s going on with Santa, fearing the worst.

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It’s extra funny since Santa’s VA once voiced Toad who was ga-ga for a snowboard in the Mario Christmas special.

At the North Pole, Mrs. Claus asks her captors if they’re hungry and they reply in the affirmative. She grabs a fruit cake and smashes them in the face with it, given it’s basically a brick. She then frees Santa, referring to him affectionately as Sweet Cheeks,  and tells him to go fix this situation. Without his sleigh though, Santa is at a loss for how he can track down the aliens. She then tells him that all of the kids complain he isn’t hip enough, and tosses him a snowboard. I do not know where she is receiving this information, but I can assure you I have never once questioned Santa’s “hipness.” Apparently a snowboard in the hands of a magical being like Santa, even if he looks a bit disheveled, is more than enough as Santa flies around on it tossing out some bad slang in the process.

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I’m pretty sure it was in the series’ bible that one baby must always have snot visibly dangling from a nose when all three are in the same shot.

Santa soon winds up in Your City where he crosses paths with Nurse Lazlo and the babies. He recognizes Lazlo and even refers to her as Sweet Lips. They went to college together and I guess they shared some good times (and the two appear to be open to sharing some more) during those years. The babies need some convincing though that this is the real Santa, and Derrick orders him to prove his identity by telling them what they want for Christmas. He predictably aces this test, and it’s revealed that Buck adorably just wants a hug from Santa (aww!).

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This is apparently what makes them “mega” babies.

With that out of the way, Santa now has some willing and able super-powered babies to help him save Christmas. He heads back to the North Pole for replacement presents, while the babies enthusiastically prepare to kick some alien ass. As demonstration of their enthusiasm, their arms swell-up to gargantuan proportions and become veiny and beefy (Trogdor!). They head for a nearby toy store where they find the imposter aliens up to no good. With their cover blown, Claws bursts forth from his costume in gross fashion to demonstrate his hideousness.

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One alien gets pressed through a shopping cart. The art directors apparently liked the gag so much they immediately went to it again when another is forced through a net.

The babies then do battle with the aliens and a series of bland visual gags and even worse puns take place. With the visual style of the show being so exaggerated, I had some large expectations for the type of violence we would see, but felt let down. Two aliens get shredded in almost identical fashion as they’re turned into strings of goo similar to Playdoh spaghetti (it sounds a lot more gross than it really is). Claws is saved for last, and the babies just punch into space with their oversized arms.

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These two totally just fucked.

As the babies were doing their job, Santa and Nurse Lazlo were getting cozy on Santa’s reclaimed sleigh. Really, Santa? Your wife beat back some aliens to save you and you repay her by cheating on her with some old flame from college?! The two are fully clothed, but the implication is almost one of post-sex cuddling. The babies then show-up with a shopping cart full of alien parts. They boot that into space as Santa and Nurse Lazlo praise them. Santa then informs them that he still needs their help if they’re going to save Christmas. Too much time has elapsed for him to deliver all of the presents, and Nursie says she has an idea.

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Aww, the little babies fell asleep!

A quick wipe-effect lets us know some more time has past and Nursie and the babies are returning to Santa in their rocket car. She informs Santa that they’ll take the southern hemisphere leaving him the northern one and they’ll meet in Rio when the job’s done. Santa is delighted to have their aid, and thanks them as he departs once again referring to Lazlo as “Hot Lips.” He’s picked up one reindeer during all of this, but that still leaves him five short, as he takes off. Nursie remarks that she loves that man before turning to the babies to tell them they’ve got work to do. She finds the babies are fast asleep on the pile of toys, prompting her to close out this show with a “Merry Christmas to all, and to my babies a good night.”

“A Mega Christmas” is a Christmas special with a pretty loud visual style. The over-exaggerated mannerisms of the characters combined with their pliable anatomy and abundance of snot certainly garners attention. What does not is the bland plot and dialogue and pedestrian visual gags. The art directors seem to think boogers alone are enough to create laughter. The booger garland on the tree felt predictable to me, and I’ve never even watched this show before! The only moment I found genuinely funny was when Buck answered the door to find carolers. Otherwise, I appreciate the show’s embracing of chaos as the plot is nonsensical and no one seems to care about how weird the world around them is, but without quality jokes backing up that randomness it just feels lazy.

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The show’s only attempt at being traditionally heartwarming is when it’s revealed that the number one item on Buck’s Christmas list was a hug from Santa.

Aside from the gags, the visual elements of the show are a mixed bag. Often times the babies are practically inanimate to draw attention to how wild their arms are. They move all over the place stretching when needed. It’s far more elegant than say the George & Junior cartoon I covered two years ago, but it also feels a touch overdone. The mouth animations on the babies are pretty fun though, and Lazlo is well-animated and at-times even takes on a hand-drawn quality. The backgrounds though are fairly bland often populated with large swaths of solid colors and little detail. There’s little warmth to find in what should be the cozy confines of the living room setting, and also no real coldness to find in the outdoor scenes. The world just exists without feeling alive.

The aliens, on the other hand, are a bit more interesting to look at. Perhaps they proved too interesting and complicated since they spend most of the episode in simpler forms disguised as elves and Santa. When they’re not, their design is quite evocative of old MTV interstills or Ed Roth’s Rat Fink. The smooth-talking leader is an interesting subject since his voice does not match his appearance. I don’t know if these guys are reoccurring villains, the babies certainly don’t act like they know who they are, but they at least seemed interesting.

As such, I can’t really recommend “A Mega Christmas.” It’s supposed to be a funny and offbeat Christmas special that is only partially successful in the presentation department, but lacks much in the way of humor. The best thing I can say about it is that if you want to watch it you totally can and it’s free. The Mega Babies YouTube channel has most or all of the episodes available including this one and if you’re curious about it after reading this then I have more good news as it will only consume about 11 minutes of your life, less if you skip the credits.


Final Thoughts on Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars

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Bucky O’Hare raced onto television screens in September of 1991.

Another series is in the bag as the past 13 weeks have covered 90s relic Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. As evidenced by my posting on the toy line by Boss Fight Studio as well as other pieces of Bucky media, this show has a special place in my heart. It was something I loved intensely as only a child can for a short duration that then broke my heart, but I got over it because for kids most things are short term. I found something else to obsess over and didn’t think about Bucky O’Hare much until I reached adulthood when suddenly looking back on childhood things held new meaning.

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The animation is sloppy and careless, such as with this scene in which Dogstar is mistakenly included as part of Bucky’s infiltration team when he’s actually piloting the ship.

I won’t lie to you all and say that Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars is a great television series. I’m not even sure I can say it’s a great children’s show. It does have things going for it, and then it doesn’t. It certainly suffered from a small budget, which isn’t a surprise as the property wasn’t exactly tried and true nor was it backed by a major studio. Those putting up the dollars to make the show likely viewed it as a toy commercial primarily with the hope it would find a footing so more money could be made off of it via other merchandise. Had the show arrived in the 80s it would have largely fit in with other shows on television, but for a 1991 show it was rather shoddy looking. The animation is choppy, there’s numerous visual errors, and few sequences that seemed to attempt anything truly artistic. The classic cartoon where a lavish intro serves as a red herring for what’s to follow.

In addition to the rather poor visual fidelity, the budget is further constrained in the sound department. A small cast of voice actors was forced to shoulder the load. When a new character shows up there wasn’t a thought to getting a guest voice actor (or if there was at the time of recording it was abandoned before release) so get used to a lot of characters sounding the same. This isn’t a knock on the cast, all of which I thought did a good job with the scripts provided, but a short-coming nonetheless. The music also suffers in the same manner. Doug Katsaros handled the music, including the memorable opening and closing number, and was apparently only hired to write and arrange about five tracks which are recycled through every episode. I like the music in the show and consider it perhaps the show’s greatest attribute, but it certainly was becoming repetitive by season’s end.

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Willy’s interactions with bullies in the early episodes are among the lowest points for the show.

Those are the show’s most obvious flaws production-wise. Serving as both a strength and weakness is the show’s writing. There are some early sequences, namely anything involving Willy DuWitt’s time on Earth, that are dreadful. Just pandering, talking down to the audience kind of stuff. The show also had pacing problems, particularly early on, where the episodes tried to cover too many things and never had a chance to breathe. The end of the first episode is supposed to be stressful so I don’t fault the writing there, but there were other episodes where plot points were basically glossed-over or the end felt rushed. The show is happy to use Willy’s genius as a deus ex machina to get the gang out of trouble on many occasions which probably won’t entertain an adult, but kids may have been more forgiving. I know for me personally as a kid characters like Willy and Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles annoyed me a bit with how they could seemingly invent their way out of any problem, but I don’t know if I was the exception or the norm.

Another aspect of the show that works, but also doesn’t, is the nature in which Willy was approached. He’s clearly meant to be the audience stand-in. As more of this universe is unveiled, we experience it alongside Willy. Whenever the show takes us to another world, we experience that world via Willy who has to learn about the cat people on Jenny’s world and learn how to deal with pirates in the Dead-Eye episode. It’s the type of approach that probably sounds good on paper, but in practice it’s not as successful. Willy just isn’t interesting, and having almost every episode center around him in some way harms the show. The only episode I actually felt this approach worked was the finale, and that’s because the crew was hiding something from Willy and thereby hiding it from the viewer as well.

Otherwise, the writing for Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars could be really ambitious and even better than the average slop thrown at children in 1991. The first three episodes are serialized and even the fourth fits into that as well. For the rest of the season, the show often reflects back on past events and there’s a feeling of continuity throughout, for the most part. Networks were loathe to attempt this sort of thing with kids as many just don’t respect the intelligence of the audience. Serialized story-telling isn’t necessary for every show, but it is rewarding for viewers in the right setting and that’s true of adults and kids. It’s why I found the show riveting as a child, and I believed there were more stakes here than was the case with the other shows I watched.

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Mimi LaFloo was an excellent addition to the show, I just wish we saw more of her.

This show was also really good to its female characters. Females were often an afterthought for shows aimed at boys. At most, they were often someone who needed to be rescued. April O’Neil was the gold standard at this point, a character who was confident and fearless, but ultimately always ended up captured by Shredder. In this show, we have Jenny who is the second in command and a powerful telepath. When she gets captured in episode three, it’s in addition to Bucky and Dead-Eye. It’s she who takes charge in her own episode to save her people, and in the final episode she gets captured on purpose as part of a master plan. The other female is Mimi LaFloo, a character determined to save herself and the other slaves who isn’t going to wait around for a hero. She becomes a captain herself, though we only get to see her in this role in one episode. The only negative is that these two characters are quite “catty” towards each other which feels too stereotypical. The most frequently used writer on the show is a female, Christy Marx, who wrote or co-wrote both episodes featuring Mimi so this may have been a contribution on her part or she was instructed to put these two at odds with each other. That aside, it’s cool to see the females in a heroic role and equally cool that a woman got to write them and I think it’s something that should be talked about as part of the show’s legacy.

The show also can be funny, and it’s not the sort of stupid humor I was accustomed to seeing in action shows. The show did tone down on the political humor with the obtuse and budget conscious S.P.A.C.E. bureaucrats. Some of it was retained, but I’m not surprised that Willy wasn’t made to sign-up for company healthcare before going on his first mission. Even the incompetent villains manage to remain funny throughout the season. Perhaps some of that is due to it only lasting 13 episodes, but at least the bumbling Air Marshall had yet to ware out his welcome.

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The villains are predictable, but also often amusing.

I largely view Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars as a flawed series, but still worth watching. It’s definitely worth watching for kids of 1991 as there wasn’t much better on TV as far as action cartoons were concerned. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was pretty dumb and The Real Ghostbusters was well past its prime. The Pirates of Dark Water might have been the best contemporary for the show, but I find Bucky O’Hare to be more interesting. Come 1992 the television landscape for this genre would be forever changed with Batman and X-Men, but for a brief period of time, Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars was at least in the conversation for best children’s action adventure program. It’s a shame the show isn’t readily available on DVD or at least streaming somewhere. I suppose it’s never too late, but it definitely doesn’t feel like that is something that is going to change anytime soon.

With my final thoughts out-of-the-way, I felt it would make sense to close the book on this series with a ranking of the 13 episodes. Let’s start with the worst:

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The only thing “On the Blink” has going for it are the scenes shared by Al Negator and the Air Marshall.

13. On the Blink – the Blinky episode on the koala planet is my least favorite. It feels inconsequential, and is, and has a lame resolution. It also was the first episode to really look poor. It does score points for showing Al Negator and the Air Marshall in golf attire.

12. The Warriors – Kamikaze Kamo would have made for a good action figure, but as a character he’s pretty annoying. I like that the episode gave us a new villain in Sly Leezard, and seeing the Air Marshall fired was amusing, but it’s a pretty ugly episode that didn’t do much to further the overall narrative of season one.

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This episode is just awful to look at.

11. Corsair Canards – This episode is all right, and the overall plot is solid, though some of the execution is a bit off. Mostly, it’s ranked this low because it is absolutely the low point in terms of animation. So many errors and just plain ugly sequences. With some polish, this could have been one of the better episodes.

10. Bye Bye Berserker Baboon – Bruiser’s homeworld is surprisingly low key, but at least there’s some Toad ingenuity on display here. Plus, the Terror Toad looks pretty cool. The baboons just get pretty annoying though and Bucky’s Bugs Bunny impression felt really off for this show.

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Al Negator, perhaps second only to Toadborg in the villain rankings, debuts in “A Fistful of Simoleans”

9. A Fistful of Simoleans – Now the list gets a bit tricky. I’ll put episode 2 here as it’s a bit slow and yet also over-stuffed. Al Negator is introduced and Bucky’s naivety is on display, though the message of the episode is kind of that racism can be okay? Basically, Bucky should have known not to trust Al because of his species, which is pretty shitty, but he’s also part of a fictional race of crocodiles so I guess it’s possible that they are all greedy, shifty, pieces of crap. I don’t think it was malicious on the part of the writers, but it comes off weird.

8. The Kreation Konspiracy – The plot for this episode is pretty cool, and I like the added Toad lore. Really, what knocks this one down a few pegs is the resolution with Willy converting a planet into a giant ape. And yet, the actual ending is possibly the best ending of any episode of the show as it’s genuinely funny, if rushed. At least Blinky got to do something to make up for the lackluster “On the Blink” episode.

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It was Toadborg’s time to shine in this one.

7. The Artificers of Aldebaran – This episode helped clarify how Jenny and her kind get their powers, even if it was pretty crazy given it involved a moon-sized demon in outer space. Mostly though, I rank this one here because I love how ruthless Toadborg is when negotiating with Jenny. He’s such a good villain and I feel like similar villains are rarely allowed to be this nasty in children’s shows.

6. Komplex Caper – This is just a fun action-heavy episode. The plot is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on television and works well in this show which is full of that stuff via Toad TV gags. We get to see Bucky take the fight to Komplex and also Dogstar’s crew gets a moment to shine. The only real negative for me watching as an adult is how the Toad fleet is weakened. In the first few episodes, Bucky and his crew couldn’t possibly hope to go toe to toe with so many enemies, but Dogstar’s crew seems unphased. Bonus points go to the humorous confrontation between Dead-Eye and the Toad Master Spy.

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“War of the Warts” introduced us to Bucky O’Hare and his crew.

5. War of the Warts – The debut episode is very lore heavy, but it’s necessary to establish the world. Really, the only parts I don’t like are Willy’s experiences on Earth dealing with bullies who will thankfully not make it out of Episode 3. This is also the episode that “killed” Bruce forever creating stakes kid-me never knew existed in cartoons.

4. The Search for Bruce – The episode that brought Bruce back, albeit as a ghost of some sort. It does a good job of showing a character, in this case Bruiser, actually experience grief which is something “War of the Warts” didn’t have time to explore. It’s a bit sad, but there’s also some fun stuff in the middle as well as the show’s most violent sequence. The only real drag is the constant references to bananas by the two baboons. I get it, they love bananas, I don’t need the constant reminder.

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The finale even finds time for the unheralded to get a moment, though maybe not a “shining” moment as it were for Digger.

3. The Taking of Pilot Jenny – The series finale does its job. While it has a few warts, namely with how Komplex is finally defeated, it’s largely a satisfying conclusion to the first season. Bucky gets to play hero and the mammals pull off an inventive scheme. Past plot points are revisited and the whole thing is just very satisfying. That last scene is still able to hit me in the feels, cheesy as it may be.

2. The Good, the Bad and the Warty – The conclusion to the first arch brings about the show’s first action-heavy episode. We get to see Bucky and his crew captured by the Toads and forced to escape. During which we see Willy’s ingenuity and Jenny’s impressive powers. It’s also our first real look at Toadborg and what he’s capable of and makes for an entertaining episode. There’s some more junk with Willy on Earth, but at least it also marks the end of his conflict with the bullies, something that felt really tacked on to make the show more “relatable” to its audience. The show in general features too much Willy, but at least he ditched the Earth problems for the most part.

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A debut for Mimi plus a dramatic and heroic moment from Bucky contribute to make “Home, Swampy Home” my favorite of the bunch.

1. Home, Swampy Home –  I had a feeling this one would be my favorite and it remained so after all was said and done. It does have the one real strange sequence of Bucky meeting his off-camera mentor who had some really on-the-nose advice for the captain, but aside from that it’s pretty cool and a lot of fun. It showcases how the other hares idolize Bucky and view him as their Superman, in a way. He will save them, no questions asked. It also gives us Mimi LaFloo, who is a really interesting character for a 1991 cartoon aimed at boys. She’s an anti-princess, a female who isn’t going to wait around for someone to save her. She looks down on her fellow captives, the hares, because they’re just waiting for Bucky to save them while she intends to save herself. And while Bucky’s help is needed in the end, she’s rewarded for her efforts by being named captain of her own frigate. This was an era where pretty much every female cartoon character was just a damsel in distress, so seeing an empowered female character was pretty cool. Bucky’s dramatic reveal to Mimi and the hares is also my favorite moment from the show.

 


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