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Dec. 17 – The Mask – “Santa Mask”

Original air date November 4, 1995

In the world of film, 1994 belonged to Jim Carrey. On television, 1995 belonged to TV shows based on those 94 movies. Well, not exactly, since all of the shows based on Jim Carrey movies made little impact, but like yesterday’s show I’d hesitate to call today’s subject a failure.

The Mask began life as a comic book by John Arcudi and was turned into a film of the same name. It then made the journey to the small screen for a cartoon also called The Mask. Like the Ace Ventura cartoon, this one was developed by Duane Capizzi and aired on the CBS network alongside Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Unlike its network-mate, this show had a much more grounded visual style. Perhaps influenced by other superhero cartoons, most of the people in The Mask look like actual humans as opposed to oddly proportioned and exaggerated cartoon characters. Wang Film Productions Company handled the animated for this particular episode, but it looks like the show relied on multiple overseas studios for the animation.

The cartoon series of The Mask is basically an extension of the film. Stanley Ipkiss (Rob Paulsen) is a milquetoast bank teller frequently pushed around by his boss Charlie (Mark L. Taylor) and landlady Agnes (Tress MacNeille), but when he puts on the titular mask he morphs into a Tex Avery cartoon character come-to-life known as The Mask. Unlike the film, the cartoon series basically turns The Mask into a superhero who does battle with other super-powered individuals and freaks of nature. At his side is his trusty dog Milo (voiced by Frank Welker, as if there’s another choice for a cartoon canine) who also finds himself turned into The Mask on occasion, as he did in the film. All the while, The Mask is dogged by Lt. Mitch Kellaway (Neil Ross) who basically serves as the true foil for The Mask. He’s accompanied by the somewhat dimwitted Detective Doyle (Jim Cummings) who seems to have a positive impression of The Mask and does more harm than good as far as Kellaway is concerned.

The Mask aired from 1995-1997 over three seasons totaling 54 episodes, a bit more than Ace Ventura, but still short of the magic number of 65. Unlike Ace, it was a CBS show that never migrated to another network and the fact that it ended up with a few more episodes seems to jive well since I think of it as just a bit better than Ace Ventura. Even though the two shows clashed visually when compared side-by-side, it didn’t stop the two from having a crossover episode in each series. The series finale for The Mask was actually dedicated to the crossover, and oddly enough, Ace appears in this show as he does in his own, which is a truly bizarre sight to take-in. That is the third season though, and this Christmas episode actually takes us back to the first season.

Poor Stanley, out in the cold.

“Santa Mask” begins with Christmas descending upon Edge City. Stanley is being forced to dress as Santa and stand in the freezing cold outside of the bank he works at to attract customers. He badly wants to come in out of the cold, but his jerk boss, Charlie, has no time for complaints. He tries to make the best of things by calling out to a fellow Santa across the street, but unfortunately for Stanley he is no friend.

I don’t think he’s friendly.

The other Santa is actually a villain in disguise. Walter, I believe, is the strong silent type who saunters over to Stanley with an evil look on his face. He was apparently in the midst of a robbery, and likely has his eyes set on the bank now. Before he can do Stanley any harm, another pair of Santas show up. Dak (Cam Clarke) and Eddy (Jeff Bennett), also known as Putty Thing and Fish Guy, are here to rip-off the town dressed as Santa. It’s such a good idea that fellow villain Kablamus (Jim Cummings, using a slightly altered version of his Winnie the Pooh voice) is about to do the same thing! The scene keeps getting more ridiculous as more villains dressed up as Santa emerge, including a Zorro knock-off and apparently Rocky?!

This is actually a common problem around these parts.

The whole episode causes Mayor Tilton (Kevin Michael Richardson) to declare that anyone dressed as Santa be arrested and jailed. Apparently this is a regular problem for Edge City around Christmas time as we see video of many phony Santas causing mayhem over the years. This lands Stanley in jail as this new ordinance must have been retroactive. He’s stuck in a holding cell with all of the Santas from earlier, and also a new one. This guy (Cummings) looks like the real deal though, and he is not happy about being locked-up on Christmas Eve. He has some harsh criticisms of Edge City’s criminal justice system and turns to Stanley as someone he can dump on. Stanley obviously doesn’t think he’s the real Santa, but this guy has some pretty convincing credentials including pictures of his elves and a North Pole sleigh-driver’s license (we also learn that parallel parking eight reindeer is quite a bitch).

If he’s the real deal, he’s the most intimidating Santa I can recall!

Stanley is soon set free as the police were finally able to figure out he meant no harm, but this Santa guy isn’t as lucky. Before Stanley can exit the cell, Santa pulls him aside to let him know that while he may not believe in Santa, millions of kids do and they’re all about to have a pretty crummy Christmas with Santa locked-up. He tells Stanley that he needs someone to fill-in for him, and unfortunately he’s the best he can do on short notice. Stanley still isn’t sure what to believe, and as he exits the cell he begs the guard to confirm for him that there is no Santa, but the guy just shrugs his shoulders.

It wouldn’t be much of an episode if he didn’t put it on.

On his way home Stanley encounters a father and son pair (both voiced by Clarke) with the kid mistaking Stanley for Santa at first. Stanley pulls up his beard and puts on a smile, but the kid sees right through it. At his apartment, Stanley is torn on what to do as he doesn’t want to be known as “the jerk who couldn’t save Christmas.” Feeling he has no other alternative, he turns to The Mask!

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting a traditional sleigh.

The Mask (also voiced by Paulsen) takes to the Santa thing with open arms. He puts on the suit, complete with padding so he looks like a big, red, blob, and even comes up with a sleigh. How did he produce a sleigh? I don’t know, but this is a character who can seemingly pull a mallet out of his trousers with no regard for the rules of physics so I guess maybe he just did the same for a sleigh? It’s a rather slapstick looking affair as it has a whirling propeller over the top of it and one lone reindeer. That reindeer is, of course, Milo suspended by balloons with antlers and a red light bulb placed over his nose – poor little guy.

Chimneys are for chumps.

The duo heads to the first little house on the square, home to some little girl. Rather than go down the chimney, The Mask instead jacks up the roof and hops into the girl’s bedroom. She’s surprisingly not terrified to see this loud, green-faced, man enter her room, but she is looking forward to a Christmas present. She’s a bit frustrated with Mask Claus though as he doesn’t seem to know what she wants, even though she told “him” when she sat on his lap at the store. Eventually, she reminds him that she wanted a rocking horse, so The Mask one-ups her request and removes a real, live, racing horse from his rather massive sack. She’s pretty thrilled by this development, and The Mask hands her a stack of bills to wager on an upcoming race for him before exiting.

Elsewhere, Lt. Kellaway and Detective Doyle are out patrolling the streets for more renegade Santas. Doyle, being the “dumb” one, is rightfully concerned they may lock up the real Santa and mess up Christmas for a whole bunch of kids. Kellaway thinks he’s an idiot and tells him there is no Santa. His evidence? He never got some dumb train as a kid, so you can bet he’ll get it before the episode is over.

Well, at least he noticed his face was green. That makes him smarter than Cindy Lou Who.

The two soon run across The Mask as he was attempting to scale the next house on his list and Kellaway is eager for a chase. The Mask rides along beside their car and Doyle questions why Santa’s face is green. Kellaway breaks the news to him that it’s not Santa, but The Mask, and a chase is underway! It ends on a nearby pond that’s frozen over with the two officers exiting the car only to have The Mask ice skate over to them. The Mask gifts the pair a present each; a VCR for Doyle and a flannel shirt for Kellaway. The Mask informs him it matches his flannel underwear, which is when The Mask gives him a giant wedgie. The Mask laughs and skates a circle around the pair, and their car, and since he operates under the laws of cartoons you know this means he just cut a large hole in the ice. Kellaway and Doyle seem to be well-aware that the usual laws of nature do not apply here as they run from the car as a giant hole appears in the ice to swallow the vehicle up. The Mask leaves and Kellaway makes a call to the rest of the force requesting a helicopter and a very large crane to remove his car from the pond.

It’s wedgie time!

The Mask gleefully takes to the sky, but soon finds himself targeted by a rather odd looking police helicopter. Seriously, this thing looks more like a Transformer than any real world helicopter I’ve seen. The Mask instructs Milo to provide a diversion as he bails on the sleigh in favor of running across the rooftops. Fearing his city has become hostile towards Santa, he’s elated to see a smoke stack with neon lights welcoming Santa. He turns into a whirlwind and shoots up the smoke stack, leaving behind the word “No” added in lights to indicate that there are actually no Santas present inside.

Well that’s convenient.

The Mask disappears down the smoke stack only to find out it was all a trap! It would seem the villainous Doctor Septimus Pretorious (Tim Curry) has laid a trap with the intent to capture Santa Claus! This guy is a recurring villain who is some sort of robot with outlandish eyebrows and what looks like a cat sphincter in the middle of his forehead. Anyway, he wants to uncover the secrets of Santa’s magic sack since it can seemingly carry trillions of toys inside of it while looking mostly like an old pillow case. He’s eager to take a look and is apparently oblivious to the fact that he’s actually captured The Mask, and not Santa.

They just couldn’t leave Dickens out of this one.

The Mask rather effortlessly breaks free and then takes Pretorious on a Scrooge-like journey that wraps up in roughly a minute as opposed to the usual running-time such a thing entails. He changes wardrobes rapidly with the story, and when he needs Pretorious to do the same he simply rips his head off and shoves it where he needs it to be. Pretorious seems totally flabbergasted by the whole affair and basically just lets everything happen. When The Mask is done, or maybe just bored, he leaves, but not before he gives Pretorius his present: a bomb. As he exits the smokestack he also changes the lettering on it once again this time instructing the police to check there.

Admit it, you forgot about these guys. I know I sure did.

Outside, The Mask is unable to call for Milo, so he whips out a remote to summon him instead. The poor dog arrives out of breath and the two return to the sky with The Mask a bit dismayed to realize he’s only delivered one present this evening. Elsewhere, the other incarcerated Santas have devised a way to escape. Kablamus has let the others in on the fact that he’s a living bomb and the Rocky guy is rather impressed. For those who don’t watch the show, Kablamus is a supervillain who can make himself explode without harm. You would think the cops would have taken some precautions there. They blow the wall open and all of the Santas are free, including the real one.

I would really like to know who decided fruit cake was funny.

The Mask is then preparing to enter a home, but the sound of looting disturbs him. The Mask is forced once more to abandon his Santa duties to put a stop to these miscreants and does so by taking on the role of a drill sergeant to get their attention, then a Spanish singer to whip them into a frenzy. It’s basically all a performance to distract the crooks and group them all together (there’s a method to his madness) until they figure out they’re villains and shouldn’t be singing and dancing. The Mask then switches tactics and begins a speech about turning to some aspect of Christmas that is unloved, and the second it begins I catch myself saying aloud “not fruit cake!” Yes, it all builds to a dumb fruit cake joke. Actually, a joke basically utilized by another Paulsen show, Animaniacs, as a giant fruit cake magically falls from the sky to land on the villains. The Mask them wraps them up with a bow complete with a “Do Not Open till X-Mas” card, though I have to believe we’re past midnight at this point. Kellaway and Doyle then come upon the scene, driving a tow truck, and Doyle is predictably the only one to express affection for fruit cake.

Well, would you look at that?

With that mess taken care of, The Mask is finally able to get to the next house on his list. The only problem is right after he lands the sleigh (on the lawn, for some reason) he realizes that it’s actually dawn. He pulls off his face and The Mask is once again just Stanley Ipkiss. He’s dismayed that he’s let down Santa and realized his destiny as “the jerk who couldn’t save Christmas,” but as he peers through the window of the house he was about to enter he sees the same kid he encountered on the street earlier. Only this kid is excited because Santa left him some new action figures that look a lot like G.I. Joes. Stanley is relieved to see this and at that moment realizes that Santa must have escaped with the other inmates and set everything right.

Honestly, Stanley is lucky the worst that happened to him was his faith in Christmas was crushed. You go around grabbing people like that in the city and you’re liable to get stabbed. Or worse.

Stanley returns to the city proper and is eager to share the news that Santa is real! Most people on the street regard him suspiciously, and he even runs into Kellaway outside the police station. Kellaway has no interest in entertaining Ipkiss. He’s not even content to let Stanley think what he wants and instead informs him that all of the Santas who escaped were recaptured and takes him into the precint to show him. Stanley flips through the mug shots and doesn’t see the real Santa and begins to doubt himself. He leaves and Kellaway enters his office smugly to retrieve his bowling ball as that’s how he’s spending Christmas. There he finds the dumb train he wanted as a kid sitting on his desk. With tears welling up in his eyes, he looks to the sky hopefully, and then dismisses the possibility of an actual Santa. We don’t have room for two miracles in this one.

That’s the toy that made him lose faith in Santa?! Even the weenie whistle is better than that!

A somewhat down Stanley is then shown walking home. His experience at the police station has left him thinking there really isn’t a Santa, and that’s just sad. A present then lands on the sidewalk in front of him and Stanley picks it up. We hear a Santa voice-over thanking Stanley for at least trying to help out. His true gratitude is apparently expressed on the tag as Kellaway has been crossed out and replaced with Stanley. Inside is the flannel shirt The Mask had gifted Kellaway and Stanley is happy to have it. He picks up Milo and tells him, “Yes, Milo, there is a Santa Claus!” As the camera zooms out and we see the snow falling, the little girl from earlier goes riding by on her new race horse and Stanley gives her a wave.

The part of Virginia will now be played by Milo.

For Christmas, writer Dean Stefan basically took The Santa Clause approach, or Flintstones approach if you prefer, for The Mask. It’s a solid premise as imagining The Mask in the role of St. Nick certainly seems like it has some comedic appeal. In spite of that, I really didn’t find much to laugh at. Maybe if I were 7 this would be funny, but most of the jokes were too familiar. I liked some of the inexplicable humor, like Rocky being a villain (he’s apparently named Dynamite Joe), but few actual jokes did much to move me. The fish guy seemed like he had potential, as he’s basically just a fish, and there were some jokes at his expense once the Santas were captured as he apparently does not possess a pleasant odor. The Mask as a character isn’t really that funny though. He reminds me of The Tick, only instead of aloof he’s self-aware. He’s certainly loud and the nature of the character means he can lend himself well to gags, but few were present here. The fruit cake joke was dumb and it’s a punchline relied upon way too much in cartoons. Same with The Mask calling out fake reindeer names at one point which included Nixon instead of Blitzen – I think that’s another gag we can retire.

That’s not to say I did not enjoy the performance of Rob Paulsen. He’s a voice acting legend and he’s certainly able to match the intensity of the film performance. The other performance I quite enjoyed belonged to Tim Curry, which isn’t much of a surprise since he tends to be terrific whenever he takes on a voice role. He really didn’t have many lines as Dr. Pretorius in this one, but the way he emphasized the word “sack” was one of the few moments I actually chuckled aloud. Some words are just inherently funny when spoken a certain way, and Curry certainly found that with “sack.”

Her parents must have been pissed.

Otherwise, this episode does at least make an attempt at some Christmas feels with its resolution. There’s some cynicism present though, and it’s even embodied by the show’s real Santa character. And re-inserting the horse girl into the end was a good touch. Even though I found this one a bit short on laughs, it is written competently and I liked how it kept coming back to the fact that The Mask was so awful at playing Santa he only delivered one present.

Even though I consider The Mask to be superior to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, it’s a bit harder to come by. Only the first season was released on DVD, but at least this episode is a part of that. And because of that, it’s also available streaming. The good news is that there’s also less protection of it. If you look at the credits, there were a lot of different companies involved in this series and I’m guessing that’s why it’s not more readily available. There are just too many parties to compensate in order to make it worthwhile. Instead, no one cares about it and you can find this online streaming for free should you wish to spend Christmas with The Mask.


#13 – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Hermey_the_elf_and_Rudolph

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The Rankin/Bass produced Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is often referred to as the original Christmas special. It’s not, but of the most popular Christmas specials it is the oldest. It was originally produced in conjunction with General Electric. During its original broadcast the characters would appear in GE ads during the commercial breaks because everyone wants a new vacuum or refrigerator for Christmas. Now it’s obviously broadcast without those inserts, which have mostly been lost to time because who could predict this special would be so popular over fifty years later? Also lost, most of the original puppets used to make the show and some of the stock footage because, again, who would have known there would be a market for any of this stuff?

Rudolph is obviously a Christmas classic. It’s shown multiple times every year on CBS and for many families it’s appointment viewing. The characters are not above appearing in modern commercials either (this year they want you to switch cell phone providers) and there’s more toys, ornaments, and decorations with their likeness than you can count. What I’m getting at is that this one is so popular that it’s probably considered an upset that I’m ranking it outside my top ten. Had I ordered my favorite specials as an eight year old, sure this would have ranked a lot higher, but it’s not really one of my favorites today.

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Is there any doubt Rudolf would end up in this position by the end of the show?

By now everyone is familiar with the story of Rudolph, so it makes little sense to summarize it, but I will because that’s who I am. Rudolph is a reindeer born to Donner (spelledĀ as Donder and Dunder in other sources) and his unnamed wife (often referred to as Mrs. Donner). He has a peculiar nose that’s essentially a red light bulb and everyone thinks it sucks and makes fun of him. So he runs off with an elf who doesn’t want to make toys and they join-up with an eccentric prospector and wind up on the Island of Misfit Toys. Rudolph sees he doesn’t have it so bad once he meets the depressing toys and decides to head back to Christmas Town. There he has to save his family from the Abominable Snowman and save Christmas with his wonderful nose.

The animation is stop-motion and the puppets, particularly the reindeer, look great. When they’re not moving. The animation itself is rather primitive and awkward, but it’s been over fifty years so we should be used to it by now. I think the story is solid, though it feels a little dragged out. The music is what drives me nuts. Sure the main theme is fine and I can get down with “Holly, Jolly Christmas” but nothing else does it for me. I always feel song fatigue by the time the Island of Misfit Toys rolls around and the rejected toys start singing.

So yeah, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is fine, I just don’t think it’s great. I rank it as highly as I do out of obligation as much as personal enjoyment. I’ll watch it this year, and probably start fiddling with my phone fifteen minutes into it.


#15 – Frosty the Snowman

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Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Frosty the Snowman is a Christmas special that everybody knows. It’s been airing on CBS every year since 1969 and will likely continue to do so for as long as there’s a Christmas. Starring comedian Jackie Vernon as the voice of the titular snowman, Frosty the Snowman is the rare Rankin/Bass production done in traditional animation as opposed to stop-motion and is based on the song of the same name.

Because the special is so well-known, there’s not a lot that can be said about it that hasn’t been said before. I could strike a more snarky tone and point out that, for some reason, a bunch of the children at the beginning are wearing shorts in the winter time. And what is going on with the voice of that kid in the gray sweater with the bowl cut? It’s almost as if they didn’t want to hire another voice actor so they just made some weird sound effect. Maybe he’s a robot? It’s also easy to question the wisdom of the kind-hearted Karen who opts to climb into a giant refrigerator when she’s not even wearing pants. And why does Santa only have four reindeer? That one has bothered me for years.

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Only four reindeer for Santa? Was it too much of a financial burden to give him four more? Was food so scarce at the North Pole that Santa and Mrs. Claus had to butcher the other four for meat?

Yeah, there’s some weird stuff in this one but there’s also some genuine humor. Frosty being rather dim is funny and a surprisingly logical move for a children’s program. It’s also incredibly quotable with lines sticking with me through the years such as “No money, no ticket!” and “We evil magicians have to make a living too.” Frosty may be the star, but I do think Professor Hinkle is the MVP. He’s easy to dislike, just inept enough to stay one step behind, and a constant source of humor. He has that truly wicked moment during the special’s climax as well that adds legitimacy to his character. Really, how often do we actually see the villains in these various Christmas specials do something truly evil?

For a Rankin/Bass production, this cast is pretty star-studded. I already mentioned Vernon but they also opened up the checkbook for comedian Jimmy Durante who serves as the special’s narrator. The first lady of voice overs, June Foray, lends her voice to Karen. Billy De Wolfe voices Hinkle and Paul Frees has a small role as the traffic cop. Woven throughout the special is, of course, the song “Frosty the Snowman” and they actually do a pretty good job bringing the song to life without it feeling forced (though I suppose striking up a random parade is a little odd) or overplaying it. There’s also the emotional pay-off towards the end that gives the special an added punch.

Frosty the Snowman is a nice little Christmas special that virtually everyone knows. It gets enough right for it to earn a spot on pretty much every list of this type. The only thing that really holds it back for me is that it is a little corny and a little dated. There’s probably some exhaustion bias at work here too since I’ve just seen it so many times. Still, I don’t think being the 15th best Christmas special, considering just how many there are, is anything to be ashamed of. And it’s also ten times better than any of the sequels and spin-offs that have been made after this special.


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