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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.

HS_II_41_-_Batman

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.

2face revealed

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.

batncat

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.

newbatjoker

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.

harley scream

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.

heathcliff strip

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.

heathcliff catillac cats

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.

rudolf spike

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.

heathcliff workshop

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.

heathcliff north pole

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.

tuck mallet

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.”

cold spike

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.

heathcliff polar bear

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 


Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars – “The Taking of Pilot Jenny”

img_3765Episode Number:  13

Original Air Date:  December 1, 1991

Directed by:  Karen Peterson

Written by:  Neal Adams, Peter Stone

First Appearance:  Komplex-2-Go, Cousin Jeffrey

After three months of blogging, we have arrived at the final episode of Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. The show began aggressively, with a three-part story that also bled into several other episodes to follow before transitioning to a format of stand-alone episodes. Those episodes were utilized to flesh out the world and characters in the show, while this finale will largely return to plots from the earlier part of the season. While not every one of those stand-alone episodes felt entirely relevant, it was a solid approach to story-telling for a relatively short season of television. It might seem like nothing, but for children’s programming it’s fairly ambitious. Networks aren’t too fond of such methods. They think it’s easier to just present simple, concise stories. Missing an episode can be a burden on viewers, or so some would think. And if there are production delays on a particular episode that can pose a problem when something has to air out of order. X-Men encountered these problems just a year later allowing the network to mandate future seasons of that show abandon the serialized format of its first season. And while some still hold onto the belief that serialized story-telling does more harm than good, the incredible success of that show makes a case that it’s also what children want.

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Hopefully you remember what this thing is because it’s important to today’s episode.

Unfortunately for Bucky O’Hare, it did few favors here. Whether it hurt or helped is unknown, but what is known is that the show did not continue past this episode. This episode not only serves as a season finale, but also as a series finale. It’s unknown if the writers expected that outcome, but there is at least some finality here. To further add to the episode’s importance, the producers brought out the big guns. Comic artist Neal Adams co-wrote this one with Peter Stone. It’s the only writing credit for Adams on the show, though he probably has had input on it throughout the development process.

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The episode opens with Jenny and Blinky immediately running into trouble. Why isn’t it called “The Taking of Pilot Jenny and AFC Blinky”? Poor Blinky.

The finale begins with Jenny and Blinky piloting the Toad Croaker through an asteroid field. Jenny is making some daring maneuvers that appear to have the android unnerved. She assures him everything is fine, but they’re behind schedule and need to make up for lost time. Blinky isn’t the only nervous one as Bucky O’Hare radios for an update. She advises him to stop worrying as well but they soon run into trouble. Toads up ahead force Jenny to take evasive action. When she wonders why they don’t pursue Blinky points out the reason why. Up ahead are dozens of Double Bubbles waiting for them.

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Willy is met with bad news when he enters the Aniverse.

Willy DuWitt is at home looking rather bored. He says aloud to himself that he hasn’t seen Bucky and the others in days and tries contacting Jenny through the memory stone she gave him. When she doesn’t respond he gets worried and activates his photon accelerator. He enters through his door to find the Righteous Indignation rather quiet. He calls out to the others and eventually runs into Dead-Eye as he climbs down from the cockpit area. When Willy asks what’s going on he tells him “They got Jenny,” but he does it in such a manner that it sounds like he means she’s dead. Willy appears to get the meaning and he heads up to tell Bucky they have to get her back. Bucky agrees and he’s traced the Toads to a specific location:  Warren.

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The captured pilot. Blinky is allowed to just hang around.

The Righteous Indignation approaches the Toad Mothership which is surrounded by the entire Toad fleet. Toadborg speaks on behalf of the Toads to tell them they have their pilot (no one seems to care about Blinky) and he shows the confined Jenny on the video monitor. He threatens to “cybertize” her, or something, and I guess that means they intend to make her a cyborg. Bucky demands her release, but Toadborg wants to make a deal. One pilot for one climate converter. It would seem the Toads have wanted to reclaim the converter they lost to the mammals on Kinnear back in episode 4, but the hares hope to use that to restore the climate on their home planet of Warren which is still under Toad occupation. Willy insists Bucky would never make that trade and the writers use his explanation as a way to remind viewers of what Toadborg is talking about. To Willy’s surprise, Bucky agrees and he orders the ship to head for Kinnear. Willy tries to protest, but Bucky orders him to engineering. Willy tries reasoning with Dead-Eye once the two leave the cockpit area and Dead-Eye has a rather logical explanation for why Bucky is willing to deal:  there are multiple climate converters out there, but only one Jenny.

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Dead-Eye seems rather on edge for being on a friendly planet.

The crew arrive on Kinnear and Bucky heads inside to meet with the hares still there while the others wait on a bridge. While waiting, Bruiser enjoys a large bundle of purple bananas so apparently they grow in other places besides the planet his brother presently calls home. Willy thinks the hares will never agree to give up their lone climate converter, but Bucky emerges from the meeting with them and they’re all in agreement:  Bucky gets the converter. Willy is astounded as everyone heads back to the ship.

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Frix and Frax get a little taste of what Jenny is capable of.

On the Toad Mothership, Frix and Frax are enjoying taunting Jenny. They question if she actually believes that Toadborg will set her free once they make the trade and laugh at her when she indicates that she does. While the two howl with laughter, Jenny uses her psychic powers to control them. She has one slap the other and then return the gesture until Toadborg enters to break things up.

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Willy with the save!

The Righteous Indignation, along with the climate converter, enters the area and Willy asks Bruiser if he’s concerned about Bucky. It seems the captain hasn’t said a word since they left Kinnear and Willy is worried about him, but Bruiser just encourages him to have faith in their captain. Willy enters the cockpit area and speaks to Toadborg on behalf of the crew demanding the release of Jenny in exchange for the converter. In response, the Mothership fires on the Righteous Indignation striking Dead-Eye’s M.A.S.E.R. canons and knocking the duck from his seat. Willy is there to catch him and Dead-Eye compliments him on his reflexes, and justifiably since he went from the cockpit to the gunner position in seconds. A tractor beem then engulfs the Righteous Indignation and it’s pulled into the Toad Mothership.

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Captured again.

Aboard the Mothership, Bucky and the crew are lead into the same room as Jenny. Bruiser has his hands bound and a sack over his head, though they forgot to illustrate the sack in the establishing shot. Apparently that’s all that needs to happen to calm the other toads in his presence. How they actually got the restraints on him is not explained. As Toadborg celebrates his victory, he’s alerted that another mammal frigate has entered the picture. It’s the Indefatigable, and it has a message for Toadborg and that message comes from Captain Bucky O’Hare! It would seem he switched places with his cousin Jeffrey on Kinnear, which is why Bucky has been mute ever since and he also acquired a snazzy new space suit. They’re taking the fight to Warren, and it’s up to Toadborg to stop them. Toadborg is forced to summon a trio of spider-like androids (Tri-Bots) to serve as guards to watch the prisoners while he confers with Komplex. Before he leaves, Dead-Eye happily taunts Toadborg by relaying their plan to switch the climate converters and restore Warren’s natural climate. He then just runs from Toadborg and the whole sequence is rather amusing.

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Digger McSquint getting in on the action.

Aboard the Indefatigable, Rumble Bee and Digger McSquint get to have some dialogue of their own as they take up arms against the many Double Bubbles surrounding the Mothership. Rumble Bee fires from the customary gunner position while Digger has ports he can apparently shoot a rifle through. Dogstar pilots them to Warren and things get a bit confusing. They land on a climate converter and Bucky takes Dogstar’s crew with him leaving Dogstar aboard his ship. The climate converter appears to be in space, though establishing shots will make it look like it’s still on Warren, and Bucky and them emerge as if they’re floating in space.

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More Toad robots, nothing Jenny can’t handle.

Aboard the Toad Mothership, Bruiser has apparently grown sick of waiting around. He breaks his restraints and removes the bag on his head. He wants to squash toads, but the robots Toadborg left behind aren’t scared of him. They combine into a tower and blast Bruiser knocking him down taking out Dead-Eye and Jeffrey in the process. With those guys distracted, Jenny busts out her powers to destroy the Tri-Bots. She then urges everyone to follow her as they need to get back to the Righteous Indignation and retake the climate converter they launched from Kinnear, but before they can do that they need to sabotage this fleet.

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Even Blinky gets a moment to shine in this one.

They head for the command room and once there Bruiser peels back a piece of paneling and instructs Blinky to do his thing. There’s nothing behind the panel, leaving me to believe there should be circuitry of some kind. Blinky is able to seize control of the Toad Mothership’s many turrets and fires them at the surrounding Double Bubbles. The Toad pilots are shown to be both confused and reluctant to fire on their own Mothership. For some reaosn, the “K” emblem on their helmets has been replaced with a solid black oval. I’m guessing AKOM just got sick of drawing them.

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Komplex has a new trick to show off.

Toadborg is shown conferencing with Komplex. He’s forced to admit to mighty Komplex that he has been tricked by the mammals. He relays the mammal plan of switching the climate converter thus restoring Warren to its natural climate. Perhaps sick of Toad incompetence, Komplex tells Toadborg that it has a special surprise waiting for Bucky O’Hare and not to worry about the rabbit. We’re then shown a monitor aboard the climate converter with the Komplex visage upon it. The monitor removes itself from its housing and gathers up a bunch of stray parts to construct a body:  The Komplex-2-Go.

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Not wanting to be out done, Toadborg has a new trick as well.

Jenny leads the crew to the Righteous Indignation, Toadborg sees them and pursues. Jenny fires up the controls and the ship takes off, and so does Toadborg. Apparently he’s got some rockets of his own that we haven’t seen before and he blasts off after them. Frix and Frax see the mammal frigate heading for the exit and, fearing what Toadborg will do to them should they escape, they begin the door close sequence. Jenny calls down to Willy that she needs more power and he does as commanded. The ship barely squeaks by, but Toadborg gets caught in the closing doors. Frix and Frax are left to ponder if Toadborg knows it was them that closed the doors as he shouts to be set free. They decide to chance it that he did not, and leave him there. Jenny pilots the ship to the other climate converter and informs the others they need to get to Warren on the double – Bucky’s waiting for them!

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Time for Komplex to introduce itself to Bucky and…Dead-Eye?…Dogstar? Come on, AKOM…

Bucky leads Rumble Bee, Digger, and Wolf to the main hub of the climate converter. They intend to steal it, but will have an adversary they did not anticipate. As they get to work launching the converter from Warren, a gurney lifts up with Komplex-2-Go aboard it. It must have been waiting awhile for Bucky and decided to take a nap or something. The heroes are surprised to see this creation and are quick to take up arms against it. Komplex fires some missiles at Digger which destroy his gun and leave him looking comically charred. Komplex then targets Rumble Bee apparently damaging the android in the process. Wolf, climbing a tower-like structure, decides he’ll need to “take a hand.” He grabs some hanging wire and swings like a pirate calling out to Komplex a command to “Catch!” He tosses a spherical grenade which Komplex does indeed catch, only to have its arm blown off. Komplex then gives us the line of the season, “The filthy mammals blew off my arm!” The line reminds me of the famous Jack Nicholson line from Batman, “He took my balloons!” which amuses me since that film just turned 30.

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Wolf swinging into action!

It’s going to take more than that to take down Komplex. Bucky regroups with Digger and Rumble Bee and tells them they need more fire power. Rumble Bee agrees and changes modes in which he basically transforms into a turret. One blast from Rumble Bee like this is enough to knock Komplex down. Bucky then heads for the climate converter controls, which can be piloted like a ship. Bucky regains control of the converter, which has been flying around aimlessly since they launched it. He orders the other three to return to the Indefatigable. They try to talk him out of it but he says he needs to take this thing and destroy it. They then head out leaving Bucky to pilot the converter alone.

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And Komplex missing its arm.

The Indefatigable returns to the other climate converter where Jenny and the others await their arrival. Jenny has taken the pilot’s chair and orders Willy to join Dead-Eye below to learn how the thing functions. Bucky then appears in the stolen climate converter from Warren. As the two approach each other, Komplex begins to stir behind Bucky. Apparently it can self-repair, and as Bucky pilots the converter Komplex simply walks up behind him and blasts him. Unconscious, Komplex flings Bucky aside where he collapses in a heap.

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Dogstar and company have arrived. Nice to see Digger recovered.

Komplex uses the climate converter to shoot lightning bolts at the one piloted by the mammals. Under fire, Rumble Bee figures that Komplex must have taken out Bucky and retaken the converter in order for it to fire upon them. Jenny calls down to Willy that they need to return fire, but Willy claims he still needs a few minutes to figure things out. This is basically the first time Willy hasn’t been an instant genius with something. Since they don’t have two minutes, Jenny decides to take matters into her own hands. Commanding Dogstar to take over, she demonstrates another one of her special powers.

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It seems everyone has some new ability they want to show off today.

Jenny astral projects herself to the other converter. There she finds an unconscious Bucky. Initially, she tries to nudge him awake then admonishes herself for being a silly cat, she can’t touch anything in this ghost-like form. She then flits her fingers about and little colored lights flicker around them. I don’t know what they do, but it works and Bucky regains consciousness.

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Whatever Jenny did apparently worked.

Komplex turns around to regard the meddlesome mammal and fires away. Bucky admonishes Komplex for being too slow and bounds over it. From behind, Bucky can see a giant power supply feeding into Komplex via a simple wire. It didn’t appear to be in the machine prior to this moment, so this is quite convenient. Bucky simply rips the plug out and Komplex collapses.

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“I wonder what this will do?”

With Komplex dealt with, all that’s left is for Bucky to destroy the converter still laden with Toad programming. Willy helped get a start on that by getting the other converter to fire upon it and also create some sort of solar wind storm while Komplex still had control of it. Bucky places a detonator on the main console, then fastening on his space helmet, he takes off. As the device explodes, Bucky out runs the flames to safely arrive in space where the others can pick him up.

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Time for the heroic run away from disaster shot.

The new climate converter is then placed on Warren. As it’s being activated, there’s still the matter of the Toads on Warren to deal with. Harking back to “On the Blink,” the crew uses Bruiser once again to broadcast a message of violence towards the Toads. It gets picked up by the various monitors likely constantly tuned to Toad TV and has the desired effect. The Storm Toads flee the planet in terror leaving it once again toad free.

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It should be noted that Bucky never apologizes for keeping Willy in the dark.

Once reunited, it’s revealed to Willy that the whole thing was a setup. Jenny wanted to get captured so that they could switch out the climate converter on Kinnear with the one on Warren and restore the planet’s natural climate. They basically explained they knew they could outsmart the Toads. When Willy asks why they didn’t let him in on it, Bucky explains because the plan was already well underway when he arrived. They felt his sincerity would be an asset in getting the Toads to go along with the scheme so they ran with it. Willy is apparently fine with this, though I wouldn’t have blamed him for getting mad.

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Check out the happy rabbit family.

On Warren, the climate is restored thanks to the climate converter reprogrammed by the hares on Kinnear. The hare population is shown returning and a small family emerges from their spaceship for a look around. A little kid asks his dad if they can finally return home and his dad says they sure can, thanks to the members of S.P.A.C.E. and Captain Bucky O’Hare! We then get our requisite shot of the Righteous Indignation making a dramatic fly over and cut to the entire crew onboard with Bucky giving a wave to close out the series.

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And there goes the Righteous Indignation speeding out of my childhood.

And that’s how Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars ends. It’s a fitting and satisfying way to close out the season as it harkens back to the start. Bucky’s homeworld, Warren, is taken over and converted into a swamp by the Toads. The hares are then enslaved and put to work making another climate converter which Bucky is able to liberate. The hare scientists then convert the converter to their specifications, get rid of any pesky Komplex presence on it, and are able to use that to restore their planet by season’s end. It’s a nice through-line and makes me wonder if another one would have been established for a season two, but that was not to be.

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There’s some pretty odd visual blunders in this one. Someone obviously thought Digger was supposed to be Dead-Eye, even though a couple of arms are missing.

That may be a satisfying way for the season to be approached, though the episode itself is not without its problems. Willy is a bit annoying as he constantly questions Bucky throughout the episode. I think the audience is supposed to agree with his line of questioning, but I didn’t feel it. There’s some animation blunders as well, which we’ve come to expect from this show. In one shot aboard the climate converter, Digger McSquint is colored like Dead-Eye and then in another he is Dead-Eye. Dogstar also appears alongside that crew more than once further muddying things. It’s mostly par for the course, but I was hopeful the finale would be a little more polished.

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This ended up being the last shot of Toadborg in the series. How fitting.

A lot of the plot points in this episode are also quite convenient. Jenny has a power she’s never used which can awaken Bucky, and Komplex was felled by a simple power cord. Wouldn’t they have noticed that during the initial confrontation? Maybe they would have had it actually been drawn into any of those frames as opposed to just magically appearing when Bucky needed it to. Toadborg was also ultimately felled by a door, but also by Toad incompetence on the part of Frix and Frax. Though after the events of episode 3, you would think the Toads would know to keep their doors closed or maybe just empty the captured Righteous Indignation of fuel or whatever powers it. Toad Air Marshall is also no where to be found which is rather curious. I don’t know that I missed him, more just that I was surprised by his absence. Also absent is Pit Stop Pete who isn’t shown aboard the Indefatigable at all. And it would have been nice if the plan included the Screaming Mimi as well, just to get all three ships together for the first time.

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There’s still a lot to like about this one as a season finale. It brought together most of the show’s characters and even brought back Warren and the climate converter.

All in all though, this is a suitable way for the season to end. Had it been written as a series finale there may have been more finality to it. I don’t think we’re supposed to think Komplex has finally been defeated or anything, and obviously Toadborg will be just fine. Instead it was just an important, major, victory for the mammals and Bucky can rest easy knowing his home is back the way it used to be. It has imperfections as an episode (or should I say warts?), but they all do. I wanted this to be the best episode of the series, and it’s not, but it’s one of the better ones. I’ll reserve my final thoughts on the series for a follow-up post next week, but right now I mostly feel content with how the series ended.


Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars – “Bye Bye Berserker Baboon”

img_3742Episode Number:  12

Original Air Date:  November 24, 1991

Directed by:  Karen Peterson

Written by:  Roger Slifer

First Appearance:  Total Terror Toad, TJ, Mrs. B

If you were going to predict where episode 12 was going to take place, chances are you’d probably guess right. After all, we’ve been to Warren, home planet of Bucky O’Hare, Jenny’s home of Aldebaran, and we just saw Dead-Eye’s home planet of Canopis III and even saw the pirate ship he called home before joining up with Bucky back in “Corsair Canards.” That just leaves Blinky, who probably came from a factory, and Bruiser as the two characters who have yet to go home for an episode which is why this week’s episode, and penultimate one for the series, takes place on Beetlegeusia, home of the Beetlgeusian Berserker Baboons.

The baboons are actually tricky for the writers of the show. They seem to exist as a way for the heroes to escape the Toads quickly and easily and with minimal violence. The Toads are paralyzed with fear when they see a baboon and can only run. Only Toadborg can fight off that fear. As a result, the baboons get to live without fear of a Toad attack on their homeworld, but it’s also a wonder why there aren’t more fighting in The Toad Wars.

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The bad guys watching some of Bruiser’s greatest hits.

The episode opens on a Toad Mothership with Toadborg, Komplex, and the Air Marshall confronting that which plagues them:  baboons. They’re watching video from past episodes of Bruiser’s exploits, including a clip when he decapitated a Storm Toad in “The Search for Bruce.” Toadborg says he has developed a way for them to combat the baboons and turns his attention to a screening room. There a bunch of Storm Toads, as well as Frix who enjoys making faces at the one-way mirror, are expecting to see a movie, but instead are shown video of Bruiser. They panic and start piling up against the back wall. The Air Marshall is confused why Toadborg would bother with this demonstration, but he directs him to a second screening room. In this one, Storm Toads and Frax are all wearing goggles. When a video of Bruiser is shown they all start to laugh.

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Check out the fashionable new goggles.

The goggles Toadborg developed (or likely had a Toad scientist develop and he’s taking credit for it) make all baboons look like scrawny chimps. This should allow the Storm Toads to stand-up to the baboons, and since Bruiser seems to rarely carry a weapon, that might be all they need. Toadborg also informs Komplex that he’s developed some weapons that will aid their forces and allow them to invade Beetlegeusia. Komplex is pleased with this development. Toadborg then turns to the Air Marshall and gives him an assignment as well:  he’s to journey to the White Cliffs of Cahill to acquire a secret weapon. Air Marshall apparently knows what Toadborg is after and is terrified. He doesn’t want to go, but Komplex orders him to do as Toadborg commands.

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The goggles in action.

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a scene on Earth, and here we are at Willy’s school. Susie is with him as he’s putting some books in his locker when another girl shows up. Her name is TJ, and she asks Willy if she can borrow his notes from class. Willy, clearly charmed by this girl, hands them over. Susie then scolds him telling him she’s just using his notes to cheat on the test. Willy doesn’t want to believe her, but sure enough during the test he sees TJ looking at his notes. After class, Susie confronts Willy and asks him if he saw and he plays dumb which only irritates Susie more. He returns home to his bedroom, and there he receives a “call” from Jenny. Normally this means bad news, but this time Jenny is contacting him to tell him they’re heading to Bruiser’s home where he’s to receive an award. She thought he might like to come along.

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It would appear Willy isn’t just into cats after all.

Willy enters the Righteous Indignation and heads right for the cockpit. There he spots a weird looking planet and Bruiser tells him it’s called Bog and is swarming with flies. He assumes the Toad’s would love to get their hands on it, but since it’s so close to Beetlegeusia they probably stay away. The ships head down to ground-level and Willy remarks how Bruiser’s world looks like a giant treehouse.

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This might be the Air Marshall’s least favorite task thus far.

On a snowy mountainside, the Air Marshall along with Frix and Frax are trying to find their way in a blizzard. They’re shaking with cold, but also probably fear, as they are looking for a “him” and not a “what,” indicating this Toad secret weapon is a living being. They stumble down a bluff and out of frame. The camera holds on this shot as we hear the trio encounter their target and it sounds like things aren’t going well. Air Marshall can be heard shouting to throw the meat as cartoonish beat-up sounds continue to play.

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Bruiser’s mom is so proud of him. Meanwhile, the marine on the left seems to be enjoying the view.

We’re taken to the ceremony in which Bruiser receives his medal. It’s banana-shaped. Bucky and the others then get to meet Bruiser’s mom, who is simply referred to as Mrs. B, who is overcome with emotion over her son’s award. Bruiser is then asked by the general if he wouldn’t mind serving as an instructor while he’s there and Bruiser is happy to help. Willy asks if he can come too and Bruiser says sure, suggesting Willy can handle the training he’s about to put these other baboons through. He asks Bucky if he wouldn’t mind escorting his mother home and Bucky obliges.

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Willy’s baboon yell.

Bruiser heads to a hut full of cadets. He starts into a typical drill sergeant routine which ends with him demonstrating the baboon yell, that “AYE-YOO-GAH” thing he’s so fond of. Bruiser demands the cadets return his yell and they give it a shot. It sounds awful prompting Bruiser to declare that even Willy could do better than that. Seeking to prove his point, he turns to Willy and commands him to give it a shot. Willy belts out a perfect yell (Bruiser’s voice actor Dale Wilson’s yell was dubbed in) to upstage the actual baboons.

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Willy’s attempt at fisticuffs starts promising, but doesn’t end well.

On Beetlegeusia, Storm Toads gather for their invasion. They can hear the yelling exercise and one toad seems nervous, but he’s told they can handle it. They apparently have no idea what planet they’re on or what they’re up against. With their goggles on, they storm into the training hut where Bruiser, Willy, and the cadets are and fire a series of gas canisters into it. Bruiser, thinking he can just scare them, does his usual routine, but it’s not working. The gas doesn’t seem to knock out the baboons, but it does appear to slow them down. The Storm Toads then fire nets at the stunned baboons and start dragging them out, remarking to each other they’re pretty heavy for a bunch of scrawny-looking wimps. Willy, unaffected by the gas, gets a bit violent and punches a Storm Toad right in the face. He tackles him, but the other Storm Toads then pile on him ultimately capturing him.

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Mrs. B is informed of what happened to her son. Considering she’s already lost one, this is probably pretty stressful for her.

Over at Mrs. B’s home, Bucky and the others are helping Bruiser’s mother gather bananas when they receive word of Bruiser’s capture. Bucky can hardly believe that the Toads would dare attack Beetlegeusia. More Storm Toads then enter the picture as they attack the various villages of Beetlegeusia. The inhabitants are shocked to see Toads attacking them, and they’re apparently not at all prepared. Most are farmers and counter with pitchforks and hoes and the Storm Toads have little issue with them.

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Well doesn’t this guy look fancy.

Bruiser and the others are taken to a Toad outpost where they’re all tossed in a cage. A slightly new character model is shown that’s basically a Storm Toad in something akin to an officer’s uniform. He enjoys talking down to his captors as he preens outside the cell. On the Toad Mothership, the Air Marshall has returned with his subordinates and a rather large cage. They look like they’ve been through hell, but he informs Toadborg that their mission was a success. A large, pink, arm is shown stretching out of from the colossal cage forcing nearby toads to take cover. Toadborg then breaks the Air Marshall’s heart by telling him the invasion is going so well they won’t need their secret weapon causing the Air Marshall to nearly faint.

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Even Blinky wants in on this.

On Beetlegeusia, Bucky O’Hare and his crew finally see the Storm Toads approaching the trees and they get involved. Utilizing their weaponry, they drive back the Storm Toads which are mostly armed with gas-canister guns and nets. Even Blinky is shown firing a pistol. This gets Toadborg’s attention and he’s irritated to see Bucky O’Hare and decides he will deploy the secret weapon after all:  the Total Terror Toad.

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The Terror Toad begins its rampage and for some reason Bruiser is there as well.

The giant cage is dropped onto Beetlegeusia right in front of Bucky and the gang. It immediately opens up and a giant, pink, toad emerges wielding a pair of over-sized hatchets. It’s a mindless, horrible, beast that even towers over a baboon and displays no fear of them as well. It rampages through the villages hacking down the trees that hold the homes of baboons causing total destruction. Bucky and the others try shooting at it and even kicking it, but nothing seems to phase the creature. Bucky them demonstrates that he shares a talent with Bugs Bunny by jumping into the ground and tunneling away, even going through the Terror Toad’s legs. Bucky then returns in the Righteous Indignation, but he flies away. The other baboons are shocked to see the once courageous Bucky O’Hare flee in fear.

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The tough guys have done their job, now Willy gets to science it up again.

At the holding cell, a Storm Toad gets too close to bruiser and he grabs him through the cage. His goggles pop off and he panics at the sight of a baboon, which just confuses his comrades. He opens fire on the cage, inadvertently freeing the captive baboons and Willy, who has now figured out what’s going on. He tells Bruiser and the others to go for the goggles, and as they start breaking them or yanking them off the Storm Toads continue to flip out and run away. Willy then inspects them and tells Bruiser he can create a device to reverse the polarity of the goggles (basically the same thing he did to take down the forcefield on the satellite in “The Komplex Caper”) and Bruiser is excited to get back to his mother.

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Well that isn’t where Jenny would like to be.

As the other baboons struggle with the Toads and the Terror Toad, Bruiser and Willy return armed with Willy’s new weapon. This boxy-looking gun may be ugly, but it’s effective, and soon the Storm Toads start fleeing in terror back to the Mothership via a classic tractor beem. That’s all fine and good, but the others still have the Terror Toad to contend with. It’s knocked out Dead-Eye, and now has Jenny in its clutches. Bucky then returns, this time on the Toad Croaker, and he’s got his own secret weapon. He begins pelting the Terror Toad with jars of flies (no, not Alice in Chains EPs) which shatter on impact. The Terror Toad reacts by dropping Jenny and trying to consume all of the flies that break out as Bucky keeps hitting him with more leading him towards the Toad Mothership’s tractor beem. He then tosses a knapsack apparently full of flies into the beem, and the Terror Toad goes after it. Aboard the ship, a Storm Toad sees the approaching Terror Toad and calls out to shut the bay door, but it’s too late. The Terror Toad rampages through the ship, and Toadborg demands that the Air Marshall deal with it as the Mothership flees Beetlegeusia.

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Bucky gets to be the hero this time, something he really hasn’t done in awhile.

On Beetlegeusia, the baboons apologize to Bucky for thinking he was a coward. Bucky explains he just needed to make a quick trip to Bog to gather some flies, thinking it was the only chance they had to lure the Terror Toad away. Willy is congratulated for his contribution by Bruiser, who seems to think the Toads are now more scared of them than ever. Bucky then makes a comment about the Toads having to face reality, which just so happens to line up with the earlier plot from Earth. Willy is once again at school and at his locker. TJ tries to get his notes once again, but this time Willy declines. TJ even offers to go to some dance with him, but Willy holds firm and TJ leaves. Susie then approaches and congratulates Willy for finally seeing reality for what it is. She then asks Willy if he’d like to go to the dance with her, and Willy is surprised as he thought she didn’t even like him. She corrects him, though while still remarking that he can “be a brain” sometimes, and the two walk off apparently with a date for the weekend.

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And the Toads now have a new problem.

“Bye Bye Berserker Baboon” is another late season episode of little consequence, a far cry from the earlier episodes which mostly related to each other in some fashion. It’s a clever plot, though it also points out how without fear the Toads would have little issue conquering their ultimate foe. The Berserker Baboons don’t seem to possess much technology, their primary weapons being their brawn and their bark, so if the Toads were to overcome their fear it would serve them well. It’s apparently a visual fear, not auditory or anything fancy, which is probably the easiest fear to overcome. It’s just a cartoon, but it sure seems like a minor obstacle. Maybe this episode would have served as a start for the Toads overcoming that fear had a season two happened.

As for the world itself, it’s not terribly interesting. A lot of farmland and tree houses. It basically looks like the world Bruce is trapped on. All of the baboons basically speak with the same voice, which gets a little annoying. There’s basically a male voice and a female voice. The credits being what they are, I don’t know if Dale Wilson voiced all of the males or not. He definitely didn’t voice the general who is clearly Garry Chalk. The female voice sounds different enough that it might be Margot Pinvidic imitating Wilson’s baboon dialect, or it could be Wilson using a higher voice.

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This maneuver by Bucky caught me by surprise, and it’s pretty lame.

The Total Terror Toad is a rather interesting creature. Is there a race of gigantic, berserker, toads out there or is he one of a kind? He is the most formidable physical adversary thus far, and if not for his limited brains, he might have taken out all of the heroes. I kept waiting for the planet Bog to enter the plot in some fashion, since it was pointed out early in the episode, and I suppose that was a suitable way for that to happen. The best way to deal with a beast is to go for its stomach. Maybe the Toads should try hurling bananas at Bruiser? It would have been interesting to see if the Terror Toad was utilized in future episodes. So often it seems when a powerful foe is introduced in a cartoon it’s only powerful for that debut episode, then the heroes dispatch of it rather easily. This show hasn’t really done that with Toadborg, though Toadborg also rarely places himself on the front lines, so maybe he would have remained a force to be reckoned with.

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This kid, man, always getting the ladies.

The Terror Toad is well-animated, and it could be his presence that helped make this episode look a little better than the average one. There’s still some awkward animation, as this show is terrible with running, and one obvious gaffe with Bruiser and the Terror Toad I pointed out. The animation of Bucky tunneling looks pretty bad as he just kind of disappears into the ground without it really looking disturbed. That sequence in general was rather dumb, and I wonder if the TV people came up with that on their own or if that’s something Larry Hama intended for Bucky to be able to do. It’s quite possibly the most cartoonish thing we’ve seen in this show. The episode also reuses the same baboon over and over, a stereotypical farmer in a straw hat. I wouldn’t have expected dozens of unique designs foe one episode, but there is one sequence that looks rather bad when the same guy keeps emerging from every home.

“Bye Bye Berserker Baboon” may seem small in the grand scheme, but largely I found the episode fine. I have no strong feelings for it one way or another. Even the scenes on Earth, something I hated about the earlier episodes, I felt indifferent towards. I suppose some episodes need to impart a clear message to the younger viewers and this was just one of those episodes. It at least looks good, relatively speaking, and at no point was I really bored or anything. I suppose Willy saving the day with some invention has definitely gotten old at this point, but in this case it didn’t bother me much because the obstacle to overcome was fairly simple. They could have just gone after the glasses, but Willy’s gun was just a quicker way to achieve the same goal. For a show that struggled with pacing early, that’s probably the right call. This is the penultimate episode though, which is somewhat sad. Next week we look at the series finale, “The Taking of Pilot Jenny” so hopefully it’s a good one.


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