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Dec. 25 – Sonic Christmas Blast

Original air date November 24, 1996

It’s Christmas morning, and if you woke up to a tree packed full of presents you have only one person to thank for that – Sonic the Hedgehog! What? You didn’t know that Sonic took over for Santa back in 1996? Oh, well find yourself a comfy chair and a plate of chili dogs while I tell you the tale of An X-Tremely Sonic Christmas Sonic Christmas Blast!

Back in 1993, Sonic the Hedgehog was so popular that he warranted two separate cartoon series: The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and the more plainly named Sonic the Hedgehog. Adventures was the direct-to-syndication cartoon and aired on weekday afternoons, while the other cartoon aired on Saturday mornings as part of ABC’s block of cartoons and came to be known as Sonic SatAM. Both cartoons were produced by DiC and both featured everyone’s favorite nerd (at the time), Jaleel White, as the voice of Sonic. The executive producer on both was Andy Heyward, who you may recall was also the executive producer for The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. He may be the first person to work on official productions of both Mario and Sonic, which I guess is pretty cool. While the Saturday morning program had a more serious tone, the afternoon Adventures was more of a typical screwball comedy where the wily Sonic outsmarted and outwitted his nemesis, Dr. Robotnik (Long John Baldry), on the regular.

Sonic has arguably never been as popular as he was in 1993. That’s because he had a host of games on the Sega Genesis that were well received. In 1996, Sega was promoting the Sega Saturn console and looking to unleash its mega-popular hedgehog on that machine. The game was to be called Sonic X-treme, and in order to market it, someone got the bright idea to commission a Christmas special. It would be in the style of Adventures and would be produced by DiC, though it would no longer be in conjunction with Bohbot Entertainment. The problem was, the game was never released. Sonic X-treme was cancelled, but Sega still had a cartoon it paid money for and intended to air. The solution: simply change the title!

This one is like a regular episode of the show, but it’s Christmas!

Sonic wasn’t leaving the 16-bit world in the dust just yet as Sega was prepping a title for the Genesis: Sonic 3D Blast. It was an experimental game that attempted 3D on the aging Genesis hardware via an isometric perspective. If you do not remember it there’s a good reason: it was terrible. Bad game or not, it was still worthy of promotion so the Christmas special was re-named Sonic Christmas Blast and released on VHS and aired on the USA network.

A few days ago we did Mario Christmas, so it only felt right to do Sonic as well. Plus, Sonic has the distinction of being the best movie I saw in a theater in 2020. No, it’s not a fantastic film, but it got to win that coveted crown by simply being the only film I saw in a theater in 2020! Thanks, COVID!

Meet today’s audience surrogate: Ugly Kid. He has no name, but an ugly character model, therefore we shall call him Ugly Kid.

This one starts off with a festive remix of the traditional intro, except most of the footage has been removed and just replaced with clips from the special to come. Boring. It then picks up in the city of Robotropolis, a city from Sonic SatAM that I do not believe was ever depicted in Adventures. At any rate, it doesn’t resemble the city from the other show, it just shares a name.

Something’s not right with this Santa…

Citizens are gathering to view a giant television that is apparently about to broadcast a message from Santa (do they not have malls here?). The camera is rather focused on an ugly little boy with no name (Eric Pospisil). I don’t mean he’s ugly as far as Sonic Society is concerned, just that his character design is rather offensive to the eyes. Santa (Jay Brazeau) appears on the big television screen with a rather important announcement. For one, he’s clearly a robot as he has pins in his elbows and he doesn’t appear to move very well so I am rather suspect of this forthcoming announcement.

Robotnik has somehow become even more insane looking.

And that announcement is that he is retiring! Yes, the unthinkable is happening at Christmas! Not to worry though, for Santa has already named a replacement. And that man is: Robotnik Claus! Yes, the evil Dr. Robotnik is set to take over for Santa and he is introduced to a stunned audience. For some reason, he looks like a homeless Santa as his suit fits rather poorly exposing his hairy gut and his shoes are torn. Robotnik’s first announcement as Santa is that this year things will be different. Rather than Robotnik Claus delivering presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world, they are to deliver presents to him! The madness!

Judging by that smile on Ugly Kid’s face, it would seem he was initially hopeful about this whole Robotnik Claus thing.

Scratch (Phil Hayes), the robotic chicken with the incredibly annoying voice, and Grounder (Garry Chalk) are positioned as cheer leaders for Robotnik Claus, but they annoy him more than support him. We then have it confirmed that this world does indeed possess malls as we see Robotnik Claus seated in a chair with a line of children waiting to see him. Ugly kid from earlier hops on his lap and Robotnik rather enthusiastically asks the child what he’ll be giving him for Christmas. The kid responds by punching him in the gut and informs him that he will do no such thing. Robotnik is rather pissed, but apparently he is still only cartoonishly evil as he doesn’t kill the little squirt, but he does order him imprisoned in his robot factory.

Hey! Look! It’s Princess Sal, in her original pilot colors! She looks like she has something to say in this image, but she actually has nothing to say. Absolutely nothing.

Elsewhere, Sonic is gearing up for Christmas with Princess Sally Acorn (Tabitha St. Germain is credited, but the character has zero lines). Apparently Sally gave Sonic a fancy ring last Christmas and he gave her squat, so he’s dead-set on getting her a bunch of stuff this year, even though she apparently wants nothing. Before she can utter a word of rebuttal, Sonic takes off with his buddy Tails (Chris Turner) to go do some shopping. While he runs, he decides to jump up and grab onto a tree branch for no particular reason and just dangle there. A bird in its nest takes notice of Sonic’s ring that Sally gave him which features an unusual marking. Ah, he grabbed the tree as a plot device since this ring is going to be important. Logical.

These two clowns are up to no good, but at least they’re well dressed.

In town, Scratch and Grounder are going door-to-door Sheriff of Nottingham style to collect presents for Robotnik Claus. They confront one poor sap who claims he has nothing to give, so they tell him they’ll be taking his house. And not in a way a bank would, but by literally using an excavator to take the man’s house while he begs them not to. Vicious.

Oh, good. Ugly Kid made it out of Robotnik’s factory unharmed. I was real worried for a sec.

Sonic and Tails arrive at a mall to find it completely barren. Someone has taken all of the wares and Sonic is apparently out of the loop. Outside, they run across Ugly Kid who tells them that he escaped from Robotnik Claus and informs Sonic of what’s going on. Scratch and Grounder then appear and like good, ineffective, hench-robots, inform Sonic of Robotnik’s plan to take over Christmas and get lots of presents for himself. They also tell him that they kidnapped Santa and used a robot to transfer his role over to Robotnik without a hitch. They even brought the robot with them as proof of their misdeed. They also brought some giant tank too.

Well, at least they seemed to have come prepared. Not that it will make any difference.

Scratch then wishes Sonic and his pals a “Merry Crush-mas!” as he tries dropping a big, spiky, block on the trio. Sonic is too fast for it though, and he goes all buzz-saw and lands in their cockpit. He then controls the giant arm of the tank to position a magnet over them sucking up the three robots and then dropping them to the ground in a heap of parts.

Nothing puts me in the Christmas mood like a pile of broken body parts.

As Scratch and Grounder begin reassembling themselves, while mostly ignoring the destroyed Santa robot, Sonic comes waltzing by dressed as a janitor. He’s a bit like Bugs Bunny in this show in that he can always produce a not-so-clever disguise that fools the bad guy every time. He plays friendly and gets the two to spill the beans on where Robotnik is keeping Santa before splitting, but not first without revealing his identity to Scratch and Grounder and smashing them to bits again with a garbage can.

Why does he have a butt?

Scratch and Grounder head to the home of Robotnik which is currently being outfitted with many, many, chimneys. Robotnik is even demanding more of his robot minions for he wants enough chimneys on his home so that every citizen in the city can enter his home at once with big sacks of presents. The brainless duo flags down Robotnik with the bad news, and they’re informed that they can no longer expect a Christmas card this year. Robotnik then orders his defenses be increased while also informing the duo that they are to bring him the most important of Christmas presents this year: Sonic the Hedgehog! Hey, that’s the same thing my kid asked for!

Some “scary” looking robots.

Sonic and Tails are shown in a cold environment heading to the location of the kidnapped Santa. It’s surrounded by Swatbots, but they do not at all resemble the Swatbots from Sonic SatAM. They just look dumb. Sonic gets past them rather easily and finds Santa in a frozen cell. He tells Sonic they need to get to his workshop fast if they intend to save Christmas.

A clever use of exponents.

At Santa’s workshop (apparently titled Ho cubed), the heroes find out that Robotnik Claus has already paid a visit to the workshop and stolen everything! Santa is rather despondent, but Sonic thinks there’s still time to recapture the presents and save Christmas! As they sit and think, Santa notices Sonic’s ring. He recognizes the marking on it from the cave Robotnik had kept him at (how convenient!) and they return to consult some glyphs. Apparently, Sonic needs to complete a series of trials to unlock the secret of ultimate velocity. I don’t know how Santa got that much out of the wall, but it should fill some time.

Well, that was hardly a challenge.

They head to the location of the first trial: Ice Pick Peak. Sonic merely has to race up a mountain – no problem. Trial number two is to snowboard down Calamity Cliffs. This is amusing since the Mario Christmas special rather prominently featured a snowboard as well, and it too was orange!

Nothing’s more “X-Treme” than snowboarding, man!

As Sonic snowboards, Scratch and Grounder spy him and place a giant bear trap in his way. Sonic sees it, and just swerves out of the way spraying a bunch of snow in their face which buries them with the bear trap. Sonic then grasps a hang-glider and soars over the pair and dumps his snowboard on them.

This Santa is a real buzz kill. I think I like Robotnik Claus better.

The last piece of the trial is a bike ride. Sonic rides over the frozen tundra dodging moving icebergs. The animation is offensively bad and little of interest occurs during Sonic’s ride. When all is said and done, they’re back at Santa’s workshop and Sonic has apparently attained super speed. He didn’t physically receive anything, there was no flash of light, he just is faster, I guess. Santa still thinks all is for naught though, but Sonic is ever the optimist!

I am legitimately shocked at the absence of exposed butt-crack.

Sonic speeds off to Robotnik’s home where the jolly, fat, man is rummaging through the presents under his tree. He’s in an impossibly good mood, so it’s the perfect time for Sonic to swipe everything! He moves as a blue blur taking not just the presents and ornaments, but Robotnik’s clothes as well, leaving him to stew in his underwear proclaiming his hatred for that hedgehog.

Well, looks like he’s happy. I don’t know what I would have done if Ugly Kid didn’t get to have a merry Christmas.

We then check in on Ugly Kid, who is in his living room with a naked Christmas tree. The blue blur whizzes inside and decorates the tree while depositing a large amount of gifts under the tree. The kid can’t believe it, but he knows who to thank. He opens his window and shouts out thanks to Sonic.

Once again, you would think she’d have something to say.

Alone on a snowy hill by a campfire, Sally does her best Karen impression from Frosty the Snowman as she looks cold and lonely. Sonic then pops in with an arm full of presents he promptly buries her under. She says nothing, just looks surprised, while Sonic rambles on about wanting to give her a merry Christmas. He removes a present to expose her head, waves some mistletoe over her, and smooches her forehead before re-burying her. He then runs off before she can even react to his gesture. Honestly, I don’t know why they bothered including her if she wasn’t even going to say a word.

And now Sonic is Santa, how’s that for a resolution?!

Sonic returns to Santa’s workshop to celebrate a Christmas well done. There he receives some rather shocking news: Santa does indeed intend to retire! Sonic can’t believe it, but Santa informs him there’s no need to worry, for he has found a suitable replacement: Sonic! Tails slaps a hat on his head proclaiming him Sonic Claus. He seems unsure at first, but one look in a mirror seems to convince Sonic that this is the way. He and Tails then stand and wave at the camera while Sonic wishes us an “X-tremely Merry Christmas,” the one relic of the original title, as the credits roll.

And that’s the story about how Sonic came to be Santa Claus! If your tree is looking rather bare and has been for years, that’s likely because you’ve been leaving out a plate of milk and cookies as opposed to chili dogs and Mountain Dew (I just assume Sonic would do the Dew). I suppose I should have filled you in on that important piece of information prior to today, but there’s always next year!

Sonic Christmas Blast is a terrible Christmas special. Things just happen to advance the plot, and almost everyone is dumb and annoying. Sonic is fine, and I have no issue with Tails, but all of the other characters are just too stupid to even be funny. I’ll give it credit for coming up with an original plot. It’s sort of like The Grinch, except Robotnik is direct and open about his thievery, with a dash of unconvincing trickery too. It’s still not entertaining, and the resolution of Sonic becoming Santa is rather preposterous. I guess it’s the kind of thing you can do when you know there are no more episodes of this particular show coming.

I will say, as ridiculous as he is, I do mostly like this take on Robotnik.

Adding further insult to the special is the fact that it looks pretty bad. It’s definitely in style with Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, but it was also handled by a different animation studio. Believe it or not, this actually looks slightly better than a typical episode as far as character animation goes. The backgrounds though are terrible, and the non-regular characters (like the ugly kid and various robots) look like they were designed in five minutes, and drawn just as quickly. There isn’t any one scene or piece of animation that I’d call fun to look at while the audio is basically what you would expect of any episode from the show.

If you wish to ignore my warnings and spend Christmas with Sonic, Sonic Christmas Blast is X-tremely easy to come by. It’s currently included with a subscription to Amazon Prime so you can freely stream it there. It’s also available for free on YouTube along with apparently every other episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and in great quality at that. It also was released on DVD and will probably be in discount racks tomorrow for five bucks, but the only folks who should own this one are Sonic diehards and they probably already have it.

This concludes the 2020 edition of The Christmas Spot! It was a truly bizarre and eventful year and I’ll be happy to kiss it good by in a week, but hopefully these past 25 days have helped bring you a little Christmas joy. Thanks for reading, and merry Christmas!


Dec. 23 – The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! – “Koopa Klaus”

Original air date October 23, 1989

During the late 80s Nintendo was on fire in the US. The Nintendo Entertainment System came storming into living rooms, basements, and dens across the country making Mario and Luigi household names. In addition to video games, there were tons of licensing deals for clothing, school supplies, bedding, you name it. If it could be sold to a kid, then it had a Mario on it. This naturally made everything associated with Nintendo desirable for things like cartoons. Other older video game stars made that leap before Mario and found success, so it’s no surprise that Nintendo was willing to take the plunge as well.

Good old DiC was the first to come calling. By now, DiC is practically on top of the cartoon world in the US. The company has had some big hits while the former Hanna-Barbera juggernaut is starting to flounder and will soon be purchased by Ted Turner. Because of their stature in the world of animation, it wasn’t a surprise to see Nintendo go with DiC. Well, it’s not when you ignore that there are plenty of far more talented animation studios in Japan that Nintendo could have turned to, but their cartoon was clearly being targeted towards Americans so that likely explains the choice.

Danny Wells loves being Luigi.

For DiC’s first stab at a Nintendo cartoon it turned to the Super Mario Bros. It handed things over to Inspector Gadget creator, Andy Heyward, and trusted him to bring Nintendo’s mascot to the world of cartoons. That was hardly a surprise, but what was a bit surprising was the decision to include a live-action component in the show. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! would begin with a segment featuring actors playing the brothers Mario and Luigi. They would have their own plot to untangle that would be setup in the opening act before the show would transition to the cartoon segment. The cartoon featured Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and her attendant Toad as they traveled through the vast Mushroom Kingdom always crossing paths with the evil King Koopa. When the cartoon concluded, the show would go back to the live-action portion where it’s story would progress and then resolve in the final act.

Why did DiC feel the show needed this live-action component? Well, it probably didn’t, rather DiC just saw an opportunity to knock the costs down. Who knows what Nintendo charged for the license, but my guess is the live-action was a lot cheaper to produce than animation. The actual cartoon in each episode is only 12 minutes or so in length. And the live-action part is just shot on a soundstage. There’s no on-location filming, wardrobe is pretty consistent, and they could probably bang out a few of these things in a day. Plus, it also allowed for the show to have some guest stars when the opportunity presented itself.

Monday through Thursday 1989, little dudes like me were “treated” to a Super Mario Bros. cartoon as part of the Super Show.

To add another wrinkle to the program, is that the show was actually 3 shows in one. It was a direct-to-syndication program that aired on weekday afternoons in most markets. Monday through Thursday featured a Mario cartoon and on Friday the Mario cartoon was swapped out for a Zelda one. During the lead-up to Friday, a sneak peek of the Zelda cartoon would be featured too so that when Friday came it almost felt like a re-run. It was an odd setup, but Mario and Zelda were like a packaged deal during this era, if cereal could be believed.

This is not a show with a large budget.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! lasted just the one season before it was replaced with a show based on Super Mario Bros. 3. The show produced 52 Mario cartoons and 13 Zelda ones. It also produced a pair of Christmas segments. One of which is the subject of today’s post, “Koopa Klaus,” in which King Koopa tries to ruin Christmas. The other Christmas segment was the live-action “Santa Claus is Coming to Flatbush.” Why the two weren’t paired up I have no idea. It makes no sense, especially since this one aired before Halloween in 1989 and the other on the more appropriate date of November 29. Instead, this one was paired up with “Little Marios” which is actually one of the more memorable segments for me since it features a ridiculous flashback in which the same actors portray kid versions of themselves. At any rate, it has nothing to do with Christmas so I’m just going to ignore it.

Better than a toilet…

Every episode opens with the very catchy theme song, “The Plumber’s Rap.” There are actually two versions of the rap, the one at the beginning of the show and then a different, much shorter one, that introduced the cartoon itself. Let’s just get it out of the way right now: this show sucks. However, I unironically love “The Plumber’s Rap.” It is perfect for what it is. When the opening credits are done, the episode begins with the first segment in the “Little Marios” plot. Now, I already said I’m going to ignore it, but while we’re here, I’ll just make some observations. For one, Mario is played by former professional wrestler Lou Albano and Luigi by Danny Wells. Both men are, unfortunately, no longer with us. They mostly look the part, I suppose. They’re definitely a little older than how I would have pictured the Mario brothers, but they have the colored overalls, blue undershirt, and big moustache. Albano even shaved his signature beard for the role, which was quite a commitment for him. Their home, which doubles as their place of business, makes no attempt to disguise itself as something other than a set. It’s very open. For some reason, the telephone is always shown in the middle of an actual pizza and it’s covered in cheese and pepperoni. The Mario brothers basically speak in Italian stereotypes and seem to consume nothing but pizza and spaghetti. The show makes very liberal use of a laugh track which makes it feel even more dated than it is.

Behold! Koopa Klaus!

When we get to the cartoon, we get the other opening credits with the modified rap. The lyrics are different and tell the viewer how the Mario brothers came to be in the Mushroom Kingdom (they found the secret warp zone while working on the drain). When the cartoon itself finally begins, we’re dropped into a factory where Koopa Troopas are dumping toys into a machine to grind them up into junk. King Koopa (Harvey Atkin, easily the best part of this show) is decked out in a Santa suit and is delighted to see the toys being smashed. He hates Christmas and he’s made it his mission to ruin the holiday for everyone. The three-headed serpent, Triclyde, approaches and he’s wearing a reindeer outfit. Koopa addresses him as Randolph the red-nosed triclyde. Apparently, Koopa’s sleigh is ready for him and he announces he’s off to Santa’s workshop to bomb it. He takes off with a sleigh full of bob-ombs being pulled by a pair of albatross with bicycle handles for reindeer antlers, a superior solution than what the Grinch settled for.

Mario gets to wear this stupid outfit the whole episode.

Mario and the gang have just popped up out of the ground like fucking Bugs Bunny for some reason in a very cold environment. Mario is dressed for some place much warmer and we find out that Toad (John Stocker) gave him some bad directions which has taken the four to The North Pole instead of Hawaii-Land. It would seem Toad may have done this on purpose for when Princess Toadstool (Jeannie Elias) realizes where they are Toad eagerly suggests they pay Santa a visit. Mario (voiced by Albano, Wells voices Luigi to keep things consistent with the live-action portion) then adds an entry in his “Plumber’s Log” as the gang starts walking towards the work shop. This is an obvious homage to Star Trek, though we never see a physical log book for Mario so maybe he just does this in his head to feel important.

FYI: if you didn’t already hate Toad, you’re about to.

Toad is rather excited about the whole thing with a major focus of his holiday love being the presents. Oh Toad, will you ever learn the true meaning of Christmas? He hopes Santa will give him his present now, which reminds the Princess that she has a gift for the little shroom and pulls it out. It’s a snowboard, and Toad is more than pleased with this development. He zooms around on the thing without so much as a “Thank you,” but the Princess seems to be enjoying this new development that has left her loyal attendant in a more infantile state.

Toad grave. Sadly, it’s short-lived.

The sound of sleigh bells get the attention of the Princess, but when she looks to the sky it isn’t Santa she spies, but Koopa Klaus! He drops some bombs which explode on impact and appear to be a direct hit on Toad. He’s not blown into bits though, he just goes soaring through the air and lands in a pile of snow. His snowboard follows and lands with one end in the ground forming a crude tombstone. When Toad emerges from the snow, he shrieks about his precious present and gives it a hug. The others then surround him and the Princess is rather pissed he doesn’t seem to care about their well-being. When confronted by this, Toad can’t even muster much of a defense aside from “well, it is Christmas” before finally asking the Princess if she’s ok.

This shot of everyone staring angrily at Toad is going to be repeated a lot in this one.

Luigi then rightly forgets about the dumb, little, fungus and wonders what Koopa is up to. Mario realizes that Koopa was flying towards Santa’s work shop which sets Toad off once again. As expected, he’s worried about the toys and the others have to glare at him to get him to add “…and Santa” to the list of things he’s worried about. No one is concerned for the elves.

The icy work shop, and our first animation gaffe of the episode as Mario is depicted in his red overalls.

The gang then comes across Santa’s work shop only to find it encased in ice. I guess somehow Koopa’s bombs can freeze stuff as well as blow up? I don’t know. They’re all pretty shocked at what they see, but worse, there’s no sign of Santa! They then spy Koopa Klaus (and I find it funny they keep calling him Koopa Klaus) flying away with Santa hogtied on the back of his sleigh. Toad starts crying about never getting another present while Koopa (rightfully) laughs his ass off.

That son-of-a-bitch kidnapped Santa Claus!

The Marios give chase as Koopa is heading…to the frozen work shop? I don’t understand his strategy. Mario is also so committed to saving Santa that he’s still in his vacation attire. Anyway, they happen upon a playground and Mario declares it’s a playground for the elves. Usually elves are little old men and women, but okay. Mario especially eyes a teeter-totter, only it’s not what I would call a teeter-totter, but a seesaw. Maybe it’s a regional thing? He tells Luigi to get a block of ice, only it’s too heavy for Luigi to toss over to Mario so he has to hobble it over. Mario then places it on the seesaw and instructs Luigi to jump off of his shoulders and onto the other end. Luigi does as he’s told and the block gets launched through the air and strikes Koopa’s sleigh. He and Santa fall, but Koopa uses his empty bomb sack as a parachute to slow their descent. I guess Mario was counting on Koopa doing that otherwise Santa would have just plunged to his death.

It’s Snoweegi!

When they hit the ground, Koopa keeps a firm grasp on Santa and uses his sack like a wind sail and lets the breeze pull he and Santa across the snow. Mario and Luigi respond with…snowballs. Koopa, who has a big, spiny, shell on his back could probably just weather the storm here, but he actually stops. He catches some snowballs in his sack, then throws it back at the Marios. Mario gets knocked over, while Luigi ends up covered in snow resembling a snow Luigi.

And I bet you thought Bender did it first.

Koopa Klaus carries Santa across the tundra, and it’s at this point I am just now realizing they aren’t leaving footprints in the snow – cheap animation budget! Mario and the others are right behind them, so Koopa does the reasonable thing of using Santa as a taboggan. As Mario and the others watch Koopa race away on his Santa-sleigh, Luigi worries aloud about the potential for thin ice ahead. Luigi, you’re at the North Pole. I’m pretty sure that ice is plenty thick. Toad then says something smart and points out if the ice can hold Santa and Koopa then it must be pretty thick. It must have been standards and practices that demanded they acknowledge the possibility of dangerous ice ahead or something.

This little guy doesn’t have much of a threatening aura to speak of.

The gang slides down on their rumps and crash land on the ice. Koopa then summons his Koopa Flurries, the little ice skating guys from the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2. They enter to the boss theme from the same game and spin-up some ice blocks to toss at the Marios. Their aim sucks, and Mario declares they must fight fire with fire! No, he’s not whipping out a fire flower, but tossing the ice block back at the flurries. Luigi makes the obvious observation that they’re actually fighting ice with ice, while he and Toad help Mario give it a push. All three wind up on top of the block as it whizzes towards the flurries who just…stand there. In tight formation, so we can get a bowling pin joke. No wonder why Koopa always loses.

Looks like certain death awaits you if you go in the cave.

Lamenting the defeat of his flurries, Koopa races into a cave still dragging Santa behind him (Koopa must be absurdly strong considering how easily he yanks this obese man all around the frozen north). The good guys arrive at the mouth of the cave, but hesitate once there. Luigi seems to be afraid of the dark, but the Princess declares the whole world will be a dark place without Christmas! Toad chimes in with a reminder they need to save the presents or some shit, but really this thing is sending mixed messages at this point. It would seem, per the Princess, that there’s no Christmas without Santa. Since Santa is just a jolly fat guy who brings presents, it would also seem that the implication is there will be no Christmas without presents! Hah! Check-mate, Princess!

It’s worth pointing out that it’s only the bad guy who has festive, holiday, attire.

They go after Santa and slide through the cave, though not smoothly. They end up essentially just going through a tunnel and emerge back out on the tundra. Koopa Klaus is above them though with Santa and he’s ready to dump the fat man over a cliff. He also slips into an Edward G. Robinson impression for some reason, as he spells it out. He ends his evil monologue with his catchphrase of the episode, “Bah Hum-koop,” which he shouts over and over until the predictable occurs: he starts an avalanche.

Is the background ice or water? Eh, it’s just a kid’s show.

The horribly animated avalanche falls on Koopa and Santa. In order to save Santa, Mario relies on that tool he’s most famous for, a plumber’s snake! Yeah, not a power star or flower or even a Koopa shell, but a plumber’s snake. He uses it like a whip to retrieve Santa, while leaving Koopa Klaus. When he asks what he’s supposed to do, Mario just makes a diving gesture. Koopa refuses, but has no choice in the end, so he jumps into…the ice? The background looks like more frozen tundra, but the animators layer a splash effect on it and Koopa behaves like he’s in water, but it looks ridiculous. Koopa hauls himself out of the water and onto some ice to feel sorry for himself. He asks “What else could go wrong?” and is greeted by an angry polar bear. We now leave Koopa to die.

Koopa’s new friend.

Back at Santa’s work shop, the big guy is pretty happy about being rescued, but things look dire. Santa (Stocker) doesn’t see how he could possibly unfreeze the work shop in time for Christmas. Surprisingly, no one seems concerned about the elves or reindeer encased in ice. They should be pretty dead at this point. Toad doesn’t give a shit though since he has his snowboard. He races around like a show-off, while Santa cries.

That is one punchable face.

Toad the infinite moron, then asks “What’s wrong?” when Santa walks off to be sad. The Princess has to dumb it down for him, and then Toad gets to flip a switch in his stupid little brain. He hands over his snowboard to Santa and tells him to give it to someone for Christmas. Santa, in an extreme overreaction, embraces Toad and tells him he’s never seen anything quite like the gesture Toad just made. His exact words are, “In all my life, I’ve never seen anyone express the true spirit of Christmas quite like you did.” What an astoundingly stupid thing to have Santa say. The little mushroom donated a snowboard, not a kidney!

Toad using Santa’s beard to dry his tears feels way too clever for this show.

Santa starts crying, and then everything melts because of Christmas. The Princess and Santa spell it out for the kids at home, in case they couldn’t figure it out, that the spirit of Christmas has warmed Santa’s heart to the point where the ice is thawing. It’s dumb, and an easy out. The elves and reindeer even seem fine, and Santa is able to prep his sleigh for Christmas Eve.

Looks like they saved Christmas after all.

Santa is ready to depart, and once again gives all of the credit to Toad for saving Christmas. Never mind that the little brat did almost nothing to actually rescue him from Koopa Klaus. That was pretty much all Mario. He then declares he has a special present for the lot of them and invites them to ride with him tonight to deliver presents. Toad gets to sit beside Santa, while the other three get stuck in the back. Santa is running lean too since he only has four reindeer and apparently two elves. They take to the sky and Santa calls out “Mario Christmas to all and to all a good night!” and does a moon fly-by to close it out.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting the show to have an eight reindeer budget so I’m not even mad about it.

That’s how the Mario brothers saved Christmas. This is a profoundly stupid and cheap Christmas cartoon. I hate the Toad character as he’s annoying even when he isn’t acting like a child and he’s also kind of dumb looking, if I’m being honest. His arc is plainly obvious from the get-go and his selfishness at the beginning is just so over-the-top. Santa should just boot him out of the sleigh when they’re over the ocean.

The rest of the characters are fine, though none are particularly entertaining. Mario, who sounds like he was recorded over the phone or something, is the leader with all of the right ideas. Luigi is just there to be a sidekick and question Mario while the Princess is mostly along for the ride. She explains things, I guess, but in a cartoon lacking subtlety explanation is rarely needed. We don’t get any fun Mario power-ups in this one, and there’s a real lack of bad guys outside of Koopa Klaus. I did enjoy the Triclyde and birds with handlebar antlers, at least.

King Koopa, or Koopa Klaus, is the only redeeming part of the show. He’s over-the-top as well, but it works. He’s just an entertaining villain, even if he’s mostly inept, and the voice of the late Harvey Atkin is just so unique in this role. He and Stocker were pretty much the only voice actors that DiC would hang onto for the other Mario cartoons, as everyone else would eventually be replaced.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! is a relic of its era, a licensed cartoon designed to simply boost the profile of the main characters leading to sales of other merchandise. It’s not a good show, and this isn’t a good Christmas special. It is a widely available one though as Netflix currently has the streaming rights. It’s also available, cheaply, on DVD if you for some reason need to own this thing physically. You could also just stream it for free too, as it’s available on YouTube without the need for payment. Like I said, it’s not any good, but sometimes you just have to DO THE MARIO!

Swing your arms…

Dec. 22 – Extreme Dinosaurs – “Holiday on Ice”

Original air date December 24, 1997

After looking at what I considered to be a pretty good cartoon yesterday, I’m feeling like I need to take-in some trash today. It’s to the late 90s we go and the Bohbot/DiC Street Sharks spin-off Extreme Dinosaurs! Ah yes, everything was extreme around this time. Surge was packing the soft drinks aisle in stores, the X-Games were coming to ESPN, and even the Ghostbusters were getting extreme, or should I say X-treme? And what could be trashier than a Street Sharks spin-off? That unapologetic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip-off started as a toyline and migrated to television and was truly abysmal in almost every way. The characters were just piles of muscles with mouths full of sharp teeth with easy to market personalities. I didn’t even know there was a spin-off until I came across this show, and my expectations could not be lower.

It was a just few days ago we looked at Inspector Gadget, DiC’s first big hit from the 80s when its animation was actually pretty good. Come 1997 though, DiC was all done with good and was only interested in cheap. Extreme Dinosaurs is an ugly show with poor animation, simplistic writing, and adequate voice acting. It was supposed to sell toys, and it shows. The character designs are in-line with Street Sharks in that it’s just muscles upon muscles with a dinosaur head on top. The show produced 52 episodes which aired as part of the Bohbot Kids Network, a package of syndicated cartoons that at one point was featured in about 75% of the US. I have no idea what channel carried this block in my market, but I do remember coming across Extreme Ghostbusters so it must have aired around me.

They’re dinosaurs, and they’re extreme!

The plot for Extreme Dinosaurs is some aliens created humanoid dinosaurs for nefarious purposes. They rebelled and became the heroic Extreme Dinosaurs on Earth. Opposing them are more mutated dinosaurs, these ones all velociraptors (again, this was the 90s and a post Jurassic Park world) that want to accelerate global warming and return Earth to a habitable environment for dinosaurs. The Extreme Dinosaurs live at a ranch/museum in the middle of no where with a kindly old man named Porcupine.

The 52nd and final episode of this dumpster fire was a Christmas episode. Titled “Holiday on Ice,” the evil raptors are taking their talents to the North Pole to set off a bomb of some kind that will melt the polar ice cap and flood the world. The Extreme Dinosaurs need to stop them for the obvious reason of not letting the world become flooded, and because Santa lives up there! Duh!

And you thought Charlie Brown had a pathetic little tree.

The episode begins in a cave with the bad guys. Haxx (Lee Tockar) is working on his letter to Santa. He is apparently the dim-witted portion of the bad guys as he doesn’t seem too bright and almost sounds a tad infantile. Bad Rap (Gary Chalk) enters to admonish him for his foolishness. He also explains their new plan to melt the polar ice caps using some device Spittor (Terry Klassen), the third Raptor of their little team, cooked up. When Haxx questions what this will do to Santa, Bad Rap predictably doesn’t care.

There’s something you don’t see in every Christmas special.

At the museum, Bullzeye (Jason Gray-Standford), a pteranodon, is trimming the Christmas tree when Spike (Cusse Mankuma), a blue triceratops, enters the room. He’s confused why Bullzeye would erect a tree in the house, and he goes on to explain it’s a Christmas tree. It would seem Porcupine’s nephew is coming to visit them and he figured the kid would want to see a Christmas tree. Not knowing what holiday the kid is into though, he’s also prepared by having a menorah on hand and even some Kwanzaa decorations!

“All right, lunch is here!”

Outside a car pulls up and some guy in a blue suit drops his kid off. The kid is Matt (couldn’t find a credit for him, but he sounds super familiar and it’s driving me nuts) and he’s not very happy about spending Christmas Eve at this place. His uncle Porcupine (Chalk) comes out to greet him followed by Spike and Bullzeye. The kid has basically no reaction to these dinosaur guys which is just insane! They look horrifying! Any reasonable human, kid or not, would flip out at the sight of these things.

The most unrealistic thing about this image is the fact that the kid isn’t shitting his pants.

They head inside and because the kid doesn’t seem to care I just assume his dad prepared him for them. Nope, as he ends up suggesting they take off their masks. The other members of the team, Stegz (Sam Vincent, you can probably guess what kind of dinosaur he is) and T-Bone (Scott McNeil), a T-Rex, introduce themselves, but also have some information. They received a distress signal from way up north and want to check it out. Matt wants to go too so he grabs his coat and hat and the gang heads out.

The dinosaurs meet the “mysterious” Claus Nicholas. What a dumb, fucking, name.

The dinos ride some flying contraptions to reach a research station in the North Pole. A bald guy with a white beard and lab coat greets them and he too is apparently not frightened by gigantic dinosaur creatures. Oh, and he’s obviously Santa Claus. He’s thankful the dinosaurs have arrived as he’s all alone for Christmas and noticed a disturbance. They head inside and check out the place, and Matt soon discovers the raptors up to no good when he checks some security terminal. It’s decided that Matt will stay with “Mr. Nicholas” while the Extreme Dinosaurs confront the raptors.

These raptors have style.

The Extreme Dinosaurs head out and at this point I feel the need to point out that these guys are likely cold-blooded and they’re running around the polar ice cap in short sleeves. I know they’re “extreme” and all, but come on! Bad Rap, Haxx, and Spittor are up to something, and it would appear they’re drilling into the ice. They’ve also at least put on some clothing to better prep them for the cold. Bad Rap looks quite nice in his baby blue vest and stocking cap.

Time to get X-treme!

To emphasize their extremeness, the Extreme Dinosaurs descend upon the raptors via snowboards. T-Bone and Bad Rap square-off with each other, as I assume they probably often do as leaders of their respective factions, which results in Bad Rap getting tossed into a snowbank. Declaring it’s too cold for this stuff, he activates some device and a bunch of robot dinosaurs attack. They make the stock “dragon” sound you’ve probably heard in many shows and cartoons (think the Dragonzord from Power Rangers, and the dragon unit from Warcraft II) and quickly surround the good guys.

Oh goodie, robots!

With the cyber raptors occupying the Extreme Dinosaurs, the raptors slip away to resume their operation. The good guys take a bit of a pounding at first, but once they get extreme and hop back on those snowboards the tide of battle turns. They even find one of Spittor’s devices and Bullzeye is tasked with taking it back to Santa before returning to deal with the raptors.

“Ok Matt, lets watch your new friends freeze to death.”

At the research station, Santa (they keep calling him Claus or Mr. Nicholas, but I’m just going to call him Santa because he’s obviously Santa) brings Matt some hot cider while he busies himself at the computer keeping an eye on things. Bullzeye drops by with the device and takes off. Matt shows concern for the dinos since it’s getting really cold out. Santa confirms it’s probably getting too cold, but if anyone can handle it, it’s the Extreme Dinosaurs! Yes, they actually refer to themselves as the Extreme Dinosaurs.

“Don’t get too attached Matt, food is scarce up here so you’re hugging Christmas dinner.”

Santa’s husky enters the room and Matt thinks it’s a wolf at first, but warms to the dog quickly. He mentions how he wants a dog, and Santa replies, “No shit you want a dog. Don’t you think I already know that – I’m fucking Santa Claus!” Ok, not really, but he gets a lecture on doing his chores and showing his father he’s responsible and all of that crap so he can get a dog. And we now know how this episode is going to conclude. An alarm goes off to interrupt their conversation. Apparently now it’s too cold for the dinosaurs, but all they can do is watch a monitor.

I tried to warn them. Cold-blooded and all.

The Extreme Dinosaurs then come upon the raptors who are finishing up with their operation. The snow is really coming down though and everyone sounds cold. Spittor shows off why he has that name, and what all of the hoses and stuff are for on his body, as he blasts the good guys with water. Normally, this would just be annoying, but since it’s well below freezing the Extreme Dinosaurs ice-up. Bullzeye arrives and narrowly avoids the same fate. Even though they have the Extreme Dinosaurs practically dead to rights, the raptors retreat as it’s just too cold. Stegz is then the first to succumb to the cold as he falls on the ground declaring he can’t stay awake. Santa and Matt watch this all unfold and by now the kid is pretty worried.

Santa tells Matt he has to have faith in the Extreme Dinosaurs in order for them to prevail. Matt thinks this is a load of bull, but decides it can’t hurt. Miraculously, the storm stops and the sun emerges. He accuses Santa of being responsible, and he in turn accuses Matt as the frost on the window starts to melt.

Stegz is apparently not extreme enough to handle the heat.

Bullzeye emerges from a pile of snow and looks around for his comrades. He finds them frozen solid, but with the sun now out he’s hopeful. He apologizes in advance for what he’s about to do, and lets out a mighty scream to shatter the ice prison each of his buddies is in. They emerge, seemingly no worse for ware, and Spike passes around a thermos of hot sauce to really get them going. With the temperature a balmy 50 below, the Extreme Dinosaurs set out to find the raptors.

It’s time for another fight, but this time they’re taking it TO THE EXTREME!

The raptors are prepping the last of Spittor’s disrupters when the Extreme Dinosaurs come upon them. Before the detonator can be activated, it’s knocked from Spittor’s hands and the Extreme Dinosaurs take hold of it. Inside the research station, Santa informs Matt he’s figured out the frequency of Spittor’s device and announced he can jam it. A crash outside alerts the two of the rumble taking place, and Matt excitedly races outside to see the Extreme Dinosaurs in action.

Matt: a kid who is clearly not extreme.

This proves to be a bad move, as Bad Rap gets a hold of him almost immediately. With a hostage in hand, T-Bone hands over the detonator and Spittor is happy to activate it and plunge the world into a new reality. Unfortunately for him, Santa is ready and activates his own device which cancels it out. When nothing happens, Matt happily informs the evil dinos that Santa messed things up for them. Defeated, they race to their personal flying devices taking Matt with them and toss their last remaining disruptor behind them. They detonate it burying the Extreme Dinosaurs in snow. As they fly away, Matt actually asks Bad Rap if they’ll be okay and he shoots back, “I certainly hope not!”

“Don’t worry about it. People go missing all of the time up here at the North Pole.”

The Extreme Dinosaurs emerge from the snow to find Santa. Bullzeye is especially upset that the raptors got Matt, as he just wanted to help the kid be less jaded, as he puts it. Santa assures him that Matt has come a long way and has learned to believe in others. The dinosaurs are skeptical, but Santa leads them back inside assuring them that Matt will be back in an hour.

Ahh yes, the bad guy moved to do good on account of Christmas.

Inside the research station, the dinosaurs can be seen pacing about while Santa sits contently at a computer. Spike informs him the hour is up, but Santa informs him there’s still five minutes to go. T-Bone expresses his displeasure at this course of action, but a knock at the door gets their attention. It’s Haxx, and before the Extreme Dinosaurs can “fossilize” him, Matt runs in waving them off. Haxx has apparently brought him back in exchange for something, and Matt promised him he’d be able to leave unharmed.

Always a good move to give Santa a hug when the opportunity presents itself.

After Haxx departs, T-Bone reminds the others (and us) that it’s Christmas Eve. They need to get the kid home as Spike invites Matt to ride with him. Before he boards Spike’s personal transportation thing, he informs him he has one last thing to do. He runs over to Santa and gives him a hug and thanks him for his lesson on believing. He also hands Santa a note, and I think we can figure out what the deal between Haxx and Matt was. Santa gives him a wink and a chime sound effect is even played when he does it which always means magic. Matt and the dinosaurs then head home. Except for Bullzeye who stays behind to request a favor of Santa that we’re not privy to just yet.

Uncle Porcupine should probably give that cider a sniff.

Back at the ranch, Matt is excited to tell his uncle what happened, but also upset that Bullzeye is apparently going to miss his first Christmas Eve. Spike tells him not to worry, and gets him some cider. Later, Matt is passed out on the couch beside a now shirtless Spike (this is kind of weird) who is watching TV. A Santa report pops onto the news and we see that Santa has apparently traded in his eight reindeer for one pteranodon. Matt wakes up to recognize that it’s Bullzeye pulling the sleigh, and Spike reminds him he better get to bed before Santa arrives.

A puppy – who would have guessed?

The next morning, Matt steps out onto the porch to get the paper. There he finds a little dog with a ribbon tied around him. He’s pretty excited and knows this is the work of Santa Claus. His uncle is there to suggest that maybe the dog is a stray as people apparently often leave them here (probably for the dinosaurs to feast upon), but Matt knows better. His dad arrives to pick him up, and he’s surprisingly not pissed about the whole dog thing. He tells Matt he can keep him, and everything is wrapped up in a neat, little, package.

Sadly, the show was cancelled before it could do a proper Kwanzaa special.

After Matt leaves, the Extreme Dinosaurs are able to reflect on their first Christmas a bit. Spike is actually disappointed they have to wait a whole year to do it again, but Bullzeye informs him that Kwanzaa starts tomorrow!

The lesson here is it’s okay to take a hostage as long as you return them unharmed. At least, as far as Santa is concerned.

Elsewhere, Haxx finds a little tarantula under his makeshift tree. Apparently this is what he asked Santa for and he’s delighted that Matt gave Santa his list. Spittor walks in to throw cold water on his moment saying the bug probably just wandered in. Bad Rap also enters to suggest the whole Santa thing is nonsense since he didn’t get what he wanted: a boiling, hot, warming, trend. Haxx informs him that he probably didn’t get what he wanted because he’s on Santa’s naughty list, and Bad Rap responds by throwing one of those disrupter things at him. Only he misses and hits the wall of their cave causing a bunch of lava to come flowing in. As the three take shelter, Haxx explains to Bad Rap that he got what he wanted after all and he reasons he must not have been a bad, little, raptor after all. Bad Rap responds by saying if he wasn’t bad, he’s going to start being bad right now and chases Haxx. And that’s apparently the joke the series decided to end on.

Well, I went looking for a trash cartoon and I mostly found one. This episode of Extreme Dinosaurs hits on a lot of the Christmas special tropes we’ve come to know (and love?). We get a bratty kid who doesn’t believe in Santa who ends up learning to not only believe in Santa, but in everything, apparently. The kid is so bratty that towards the end Spike even tells Porcupine he thought his nephew sucked, which actually made me laugh out loud. And in order to reach that end we get to watch a pair of warring factions of mutated dinosaurs do battle and out scheme one another. The animation sucks and so do the character designs. I could see how these creatures could make for interesting toys, but as cartoons they mostly look awful. T-Bone looks like an oversized Poppler from Futurama. I will say the bad dinosaurs looked better than the heroes, but not by much.

The Santa radar from the news broadcast is the closest we get to a proper moon shot.

As far as Christmas goes, for an episode that takes place at the North Pole there’s very little Christmas to be found. We basically just get the beginning and end which features some decorated interiors and that’s it. We don’t even get to see Santa fly in front of the moon with his snazzy dinosaur ally! It’s fine though, and I did appreciate the winter clothing worn by the bad guys.

I had a little fun laughing at this one, but I’m not going to tell you that Extreme Dinosaurs is a good show. Or that it’s even worth watching. If you want a dose of 90s extreme then go for it, I suppose. No one is protective of it, so just punch the episode title into your search engine of choice. This is sometimes just labeled episode 52, and if you actually want to relive the Extreme Dinosaurs experience in its full then worry not as this episode was only the final episode in broadcast order. Production wise, it’s in the middle and feels like it’s pretty stand-alone at that. I don’t think Matt ever returns, which is probably why I can’t confirm a voice credit on the role, and it’s the only Christmas episode the show did. What a pity.


Dec. 20 – Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas

Original air date December 4, 1992

Once upon a time, Hanna-Barbera ruled the cartoon television universe. The company was one of the first to prioritize television over film when it came to cartoons, and it was a strategy that worked quite well. Come the 80s, cartoons were a Saturday morning staple and were taking over the weekday afternoon as well. Hanna-Barbera had been challenged by other companies, but was still holding strong. Then along came a little French company called DiC. DiC had a few shows airing in France, but wanted to expand to the US. In order to do so, it would hire ex-Hanna-Barbera story writer Andy Heyward, who would go on to create the character Inspector Gadget.

Inspector Gadget was DiC’s break-out hit in America. The cartoon was about a cyborg detective tasked with stopping the nefarious M.A.D. which was lead by the villainous Dr. Claw. The catch was that Inspector Gadget was an idiot completely oblivious to what was going on around him. His gadgets, while neat, were prone to malfunction and Gadget would find himself in perilous situations he would either rescue himself from via dumb luck, or with the help of his niece Penny and her dog Brain. Penny is a smart kid who comes with a lot of tech while Brain is apparently a super-smart dog capable of everything a human is save for speech. Brain would basically shadow Gadget to keep him safe while Penny did a lot of the real sleuthing. Gadget would inevitably spy Brain in one of his disguises, mistake him for the real crook, and somehow Dr. Claw’s plots would be foiled. Every episode would end the same way with Gadget getting the credit and Dr. Claw flying away in his car screaming “I’ll get you next time, Gadget! Next time!”

The theme song is definitely the most fondly remembered part of the show, for me.

The show is basically Get Smart for kids, with Gadget even sounding a lot like Maxwell Smart. That’s because he pretty much is! Don Adams played Smart on Get Smart and is also the voice of Inspector Gadget. Since this happens to be a cartoon, Gadget’s spy tech gets to be a lot more extravagant than what Smart had. The old shoe phone is now a phone embedded in Gadget’s glove, for example. It also looks pretty great for an 80s TV cartoon since DiC had the fortune of partnering with Tokyo Movie Shinsa for the animation. TMS would utilize its connections to outsource the animation to various satellite studios, but it means Inspector Gadget looks better than pretty much everything Hanna-Barbera was doing. DiC would eventually take over animation in an effort to cut costs (those in the business often referred to the company as Do It Cheap) so the era of TMS DiC cartoons on US television was brief.

A lot of people who worked on the original series were willing to come back for the special, including writer Jack Hanrahan.

Inspector Gadget was a direct-to-syndication show that only produced new episodes from 1983 to 1986. It was quite popular though so it remained on television in various markets for pretty much the entire duration of the 1990s. When I was a kid, the show felt inescapable. I watched a lot of Inspector Gadget as a result, though it was never one of my favorites. It was just on. Well after the show ended production, DiC went back to the well and produced a Christmas special for 1992. Titled Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas, DiC was able to get Adams back to voice the title character as well as the other mainstays Frank Welker and Maurice LaMarche. Hung Long Animation Company was contracted to produce the animation and was likely fed a bigger budget than a typical episode. It premiered in prime time on NBC on December 4, 1992 before heading to VHS were it was probably sold for an obscene amount (television shows and Christmas specials were often 25 bucks an episode in 1990 dollars) and then eventually forgotten. I don’t recall seeing this re-aired much at all after 1992 as the Inspector Gadget craze was apparently over. At least until a movie was made in 1999.

This is Santa, and he’s about to have a not so great day.

The special begins up at the north pole. It’s early in the morning, and Santa Claus (Frank Welker) is seated in his control tower as he rouses the elves awake. He’s a pretty traditional looking Santa; short, fat, big beard, kind eyes. The elves are roused from their slumber and they’re also pretty typical looking. They’re not little old men, save for at least one, but instead look quite young, and they all pretty much look the same. There’s a lot of inbreeding up there. They have mostly green outfits with tall hats that curl like a candy cane and end with a bell. They wake up quite happy and sing their own version of “Jingle Bells” with the lyrics altered to just describe what they’re doing.

These guys looks pretty happy considering they have a boss who literally possesses a machine to extract them from their beds and put them to work.

Unbeknownst to them all, Dr. Claw (Welker) has infiltrated the work shop and he’s up to no good. His trusty M.A.D. Cat (Welker) is at his side looking a little off model from what I remember, as he dawns a Santa outfit of his own. This is quite possibly the most we’ve ever seen of Dr. Claw as he rather famously avoided the camera during the show. We get to see his fully body with only his face obscured. He whips out a little device that when turned on activates a hidden, mind control, device in the bells of the elf hats. The elves enter a zombie like state and cease their wretched singing. Santa is confused, and then even more confused when a mechanical claw on the ceiling grabs him, pulls him from the command tower, and dumps him into a frozen dungeon. Why does Santa have a dungeon?

Dr. Claw is now Santa Claws. It writes itself.

Dr. Claw then enters the command tower and begins taking over. His plan is to sabotage the toys of Christmas and ruin Santa’s reputation. The elves start dismantling the toys on Claw’s orders and reassemble some into horrible toy abominations. As Dr. Claw enjoys the view and strokes his cat, he informs us only one man can stop him, and he’s deployed his highly ineffective M.A.D. Agents to stop him!

Christmas comes to…Gadget Land…All right, I confess, I have no idea where they live.

We then head to the home of Inspector Gadget (Don Adams). He and niece Penny (Erica Horn) and dog Brain (Welker) are busy decorating their home for Christmas. As they do, a corny Inspector Gadget theme plays that just sounds like a parody of other spy properties. Why they didn’t just use the catchy theme from the main series, I do not know. While the song plays though, we see Claw’s agents attempt to take down Inspector Gadget, only every one that tries gets tossed aside by a completely aloof Gadget. One bounces off of his springs, another gets accidentally gift-wrapped, and we also see the classic ice gag of an agent cutting a hole around Gadget as he ice skates only for the rest of the ice to fall away freezing the bumbling henchman. It ends with Gadget getting launched into his own logo as we get a second title card.

I don’t recall Gadget possessing a child-like demeanor. Maybe the cancellation of his show broke his brain?

Off to the mall, the most sacred place at Christmas time, where Gadget is seated on Santa’s lap reading him an exceptionally long list of Christmas wants. Only, this Santa isn’t the real Santa, but Gadget’s boss, Chief Quimby (Maurice LaMarche), in disguise. He tries to tell Gadget who he is, but Gadget is an idiot so Quimby calls him instead to relay the ruse. Gadget is then confused why Quimby called when he’s presently seated on his lap and I have no idea how Quimby hasn’t just snapped and murdered Gadget at this point. He hands Gadget a note, that will self-destruct, and details to Gadget how Dr. Claw has kidnapped Santa and dispatched M.A.D. agents to take him out. Gadget is confused why the agents never came for him, but declares he’s always on duty and tosses the note aside before heading out. As is always the case, the note finds a way back to Quimby, this time bouncing off of the trash can and landing on his pipe, where it explodes. Serves him right for smoking around children.

What a dope.

Gadget, Penny, and Brain then head for the north pole. They take some giant airplane that can carry the Gadget mobile, or whatever it’s called, and also flies itself. Gadget informs the plane it can drop them where they are, and the A.I. takes Gadget literally and drops the car. Gadget tries to summon the Gadget Plane, but his Gadget Copter activates instead and whirling propellers pop out his hat and remove him from the car. A calamity of errors follow, with Gadget deploying his parachute, then the copter again, which just cuts up the chute. Penny is the one who saves the day activating the plane function of the car. Gadget plummets through the roof no worse for ware, though he declares there’s a lump in the seat. That’s just Brain though, whom Gadget landed on. He doesn’t seem concerned, and now I’m wondering if Gadget has just been playing dumb all of these years and really harbors a secret hostility towards the dog.

Inspector Gadget: the agent so dumb he wouldn’t know his nemesis if they were face-to-face.

The trio then enter Santa’s work shop, and Dr. Claw is understandably irritated to see Gadget is still alive (though really he should expect it). Gadget uses his extendable legs to approach the control tower where he introduces himself to Santa Claws. Gadget is, again, a moron so he doesn’t see through Dr. Claw’s disguise. He’s so dumb that he’s even fooled by M.A.D. Cat’s antlers and thinks he’s a tiny reindeer who does a mean cat impression. While Gadget and Claw exchange pleasantries, Penny and Brain take note of how odd the elves are acting. She soon realizes that something is off, and then spies Dr. Claw in his Santa suit. Gadget informs Santa he’s going to inspect the work shop to make sure everything is operating smoothly. Penny approaches and tries to tell him what’s up, but before she can the ceiling hook grabs Gadget and takes him away.

If Brain could speak I bet he’d have a Brooklyn accent.

Penny tells Brain to keep an eye on Gadget, while she investigates what’s going on with the elves. Meanwhile, Gadget thinks he’s on a tour of the facilities and begins his inspection. Unfortunately, this is set to a rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” LaMarche takes over as Gadget’s singing voice and the audio quality dips. Maybe this was recorded last and on the cheap? LaMarche is a fantastic voice actor, but he can’t save this horrible song. It mercifully ends after five days with Gadget dumped into the same dungeon as Santa. Upon seeing the real Santa, Gadget does what you would expect: he arrests him.

I expected no less.

Brain dresses up as an elf to take a look around while Penny hides in a giant jack-in-the-box to observe what’s going on. She realizes the elves are sabotaging the toys and figures out what Dr. Claw is up to pretty quickly. She radios Brain with her Apple Watch (not really, but the similarities are pretty insane) to relay her findings, while he informs her that her uncle has been imprisoned with the real Santa, and has arrested him. She takes the news well as she’s apparently used to this sort of thing. Unfortunately for her, the elves take notice of her and slam the lid the shut on the jack-in-the-box. They’re just as inept as Dr. Claw’s usual minions though and fail to alert him of what they found.

If this show were to come back, they’d have to get creative with Penny’s tech if they want her to stay ahead of the curve.

The elves place the box in a warehouse with the real toys. Penny radios to Brain that she’ll be fine, but he needs to get the key to the cell to free Gadget and Santa. And that key is currently dangling off of the antler of of M.A.D. Cat. Dr. Claw watches the presents getting sabotaged and relays the predictable news to the audience (via talking to his cat) that he wants to ruin Santa’s reputation because he didn’t get the toy he wanted as a kid. It’s always that. As he revels in his own villainy, we see Brain lurking in the rafters.

How do they know which one is Rudolph?

In the cell, Gadget continues to interrogate Santa. He has a long list of qualifications he expects Santa to possess, but they’re unreasonable demands as, for instance, he wants Santa to descend a chimney, but there’s no chimney present. There are reindeer, which just look like a palette swap of Brain with antlers, but Gadget remains unconvinced. He then declares it’s time to get rough, but don’t worry kids, he just deploys a bird from his hat which supplies a feather for cartoon torture: tickling. Santa is apparently exceptionally ticklish as Gadget doesn’t even remove a boot and just tickles the jolly, old, man’s beard and achieves the desired effect.

Poor kitty.

Dr. Claw enjoys watching the torture via his monitor which provides the perfect distraction for Brain. As he hangs from the ceiling by his feet, he extends a candy cane to try and slip the key ring off of M.A.D. Cat’s antlers. Instead, he hooks the elastic portion of the antlers which is around the cat’s neck. As he tugs, the cat gets strangled. Dr. Claw is completely oblivious though as Brain continues to yank on it. Brain bites the candy cane in half freeing the cat and also letting him snatch the key. M.A.D. Cat winds up on Claw’s face, and when he removes the cat he also removes his beard and hat which end up on the cat. How cute? Claw notices Brain though and orders…someone…to go after that elf. As he bangs the terminal, poor M.A.D. Cat gets knocked off.

Gadget has officially moved into “bad cop” territory. He’s assaulting Santa!

Back in the cell, Gadget has now begun trying to remove Santa’s beard. He’s got a foot in the poor guy’s belly while he tugs all the while taunting him for not actually being Santa. This is pretty damn cruel. Brain arrives dressed as a guard and unlocks the cell. Gadget is happy to finally see some security around here, but when Brain grabs Santa and takes off, he assumes he’s just an accomplice to Santa’s crimes. Gadget deploys his lasso, which actually works perfectly and entangles both Brain and Santa. Gadget then leaves the two bound together to go tell the “real” Santa he’s cracked the case.

A job not well done for Inspector Gadget!

Gadget then helps Dr. Claw load his sleigh. He’s confused that no reindeer are hooked up to the sleigh, and even names a few using incorrect names (the real Santa must have supplied the real names to no effect earlier). Dr. Claw tells him he’s taking care of things himself this year to make sure nothing goes wrong. Back in the jack-in-the-box, Penny has figured out how Dr. Claw is controlling the elves. She did so by looking in her computer book thing that’s basically magic. She then deploys the creepy “jack” she’s been stuck with which pops the box open and sends her sailing into a pile of teddy bears.

Thankfully, the real heroes are on the case, no thanks to Inspector Gadget.

Back in the cell, Brain is trying in vain to free he and Santa. He disappears into a classic cartoon cloud complete with whirling sounds only to emerge each time in a different sort of knot. Penny radios him to relay the info and Santa is initially confused to hear a little girl’s voice coming from the dog. They then realize Brain has actually untied the knot. Santa then summons his first four reindeer (I’m guessing they didn’t want to draw all eight) as they head for Dr. Claw hoping to catch him before he takes flight.

I can definitely relate to that elf smiling happily pulling on Gadget’s right foot.

Topside, Gadget has finished loading the sleigh and is trying to convince Dr. Claw to let him come with. Claw is finished with Gadget though and he orders the elves to seize him. True to his character, as the elves ineffectively grab him he just assumes they’ve grown attached to him. Meanwhile, Penny storms the warehouse alongside Brain. They’re being pursued by elves, which are pretty slow. The ones who have Gadget though are basically pulling him apart now like a torture rack, though he still isn’t bothered. Penny slips into the command tower and finds Dr. Claw’s mind control device and disables it. Immediately, the elves resume their stupid rendition of “Jingle Bells,” but at least they stop dismantling Gadget. Actually, I wish they had been successful.

Here come the reindeer!

It’s too late though, as Dr. Claw is in his M.A.D. Mobile ready to take off. That is, until Santa appears! He deploys the reindeer with a “Go-go-Santa’s reindeer!” As Claw speeds away with Santa’s sleigh hooked up, Santa jumps into the sleigh and disconnects the cable. Gadget sees the cable go by and connects it to a giant candy cane pole (perhaps THE north pole) in a bid to help Santa keep his odd looking car from getting away. Santa then orders the reindeer to “bash away all!” since Claw’s vehicle is resting on ice. The reindeer use their antlers to smash the ice allowing for Dr. Claw to simply drift away. They basically just let him go for no good reason. Claw calls out as he often does that he’ll get Gadget, only he drops the “next time” since this is evidently the end for this series.

Once Claw calms down he’s just going to disconnect that cable and fly away. Sure seems like they wasted an opportunity to finally nail him here.

Santa then thanks Gadget for his help. Why? I have no idea. Surely the old man remembers how awful Gadget treated him in the cell, and he should be aware of how he didn’t really contribute anything to take down Claw. Chief Quimby parachutes in to congratulate Gadget on solving the case and to declare that Inspector Gadget has indeed saved Christmas, as the title of the cartoon promised. Gadget has no time for congrats though as he instructs the reindeer to take off with a “Go-go-eight-tiny-reindeer!” Santa takes to the sky with Penny and Brain in the sleigh with him. Gadget soon joins them and we’re treated to an accurate depiction of Santa’s sleigh, complete with 8 reindeer, as he passes by a full moon. We return to the sleigh itself for one final shot of the whole gang wishing us a merry Christmas as we say goodbye to Inspector Gadget.

Time for the usual end of Christmas special pleasantries.

Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas is essentially a holiday themed exclamation point for the old cartoon series. It stays true to the spirit of that show with Gadget being comically inept while Penny and Brain save the day, with some help from the real Santa Claus. And in keeping with most Christmas specials, the writers and animators happily turn to song to kill some time and basically keep it in the public domain so there are no significant added costs. The story is super basic and adds nothing to the Santa legend, but at least it doesn’t contribute with ugly elf designs or something.

First up is the moon shot. Very nice!

The animation is noticeably different from the main series, but is largely acceptable. Some characters appear slightly off-model when compared with the old show, and Gadget’s coat looks slightly “off” to me, but for the most part I have no complaints. Gadget gets to deploy his most popular and recognizable gadgets, even if most are crammed into the one segment of Gadget falling from the sky, though it also doesn’t get to add any fun ones. At least they didn’t give him a love interest for a “Go-Go-Gadget-mistletoe” sequence. The special is so true to the spirit of the show that it’s even super familiar for someone like me who hasn’t watched an episode of Inspector Gadget in probably 30 years.

Followed by the standard farewell. Nice job, folks!

And that’s basically the crux of Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas. If you have fond memories of the old cartoon, then you’ll probably be okay with this. All of the old voices, save for Penny, are here and the special follows the usual beats. Few will probably enjoy the musical moments, but at least there’s some slapstick involved with them. Even if the slapstick isn’t particularly inventive. For me, this special mostly reminded me how annoying I found the character of Inspector Gadget. He’s so impossibly dumb, but also dangerously arrogant, that I actively root against him and wonder why any of the characters around him actually enjoy him. At least we get to see the elves attempt to dismantle him, though he unfortunately seems impervious to pain.

As always, the cat was the best part.

If you wish to set aside 20 minutes or so for Inspector Gadget this Christmas, this special has been released a few times on DVD. The first version contains some bonus episodes of the original series while a stand-alone version also followed. It’s cheap too and shouldn’t even run you ten bucks, should you wish to own it. It’s also available to stream for free online without any need for piracy. Sometimes, just being easy to watch is enough reason to take in a Christmas special if you have the time.


Dec. 14 – Heathcliff – “North Pole Cat”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This one wastes little time in getting going.

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

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Santa’s rather bizarre workshop.

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

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Not much of a pole, is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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Remember kids, icicles will stop a rampaging polar bear.

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

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

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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.

heathcliff snowball fight

The eternal battle rages on.

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

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


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

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

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This is what people were going nuts for in 1986.

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

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

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Teddy and his pal Grubby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teddy and friends deliver gifts to the fobs.

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

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

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

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

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The source material.

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

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

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

 


Essential Halloween Viewing

When it comes to holiday themed television specials and films, Christmas leads the way with its countless amount. Coming in second is likely Halloween. Unlike Christmas, there usually isn’t some serious undercurrent to Halloween specials. It also feels less sinister when it comes to marketing, even though there’s certainly lots of money to be made off of Halloween by costume and candy suppliers. For the most part, Halloween is just fun and it’s emphasis on scares helps to distinguish it from other holidays. Like many people, I enjoy a good Halloween special whenever the season rolls around, but with so many out there it can be hard to make time for them all in what amounts to only a month. There are some modern ones out there, like the entertaining Toy Story of Terror, but for the most part I like to watch the specials I watched as a kid. Without further adieu, here’s The Nostalgia Spot’s Halloween viewing guide.

Mickey Mouse in “Lonesome Ghosts”

220px-Lonesome_GhostsHere’s an oldie from way back in 1937, something that would have entertained my adolescent grandfather. Since I only discovered it a few years back, it’s not exactly something I remember from my childhood but certainly fits the theme of this blog. In this cartoon, professional ghost exterminators Mickey, Donald, and Goofy investigate paranormal activities in an old house. The twist is that the trio were hired by the ghosts themselves because no one ever enters their haunted house anymore and they’re just plain bored. Less creepy than it is humorous, it’s mostly a slapstick affair as the ghosts play tricks on their would-be exterminators. It’s an entertaining short, and one can’t help but wonder if it maybe partly inspired Ghostbuster, or at least the theme song, especially when Goofy declares, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” The short has been shown on television numerous times over the years as part of Halloween specials. It was also re-released to theaters in the 1960’s and has been released on VHS and DVD as well. The easiest way to see it these days is probably youtube.

Donald Duck in “Trick or Treat”

By the late 40’s and into the 1950’s, Donald Duck was basically the only classic Disney character still receiving new short films. There just wasn’t much money in the format anymore and the budget for each short was scaled back considerably. For the 1952 short “Trick or Treat,” Disney decided to increase the budget to give Donald a proper Halloween special. It has its own theme song and the animation is quite nicely done in comparison with other shorts from around that time. In this one, Donald’s nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie are out trick or treating and come upon their uncle’s house. When the boys knock on his door and request their tricks or treats, Donald (not surprisingly) elects trick. A witch, Witch Hazel, passing by happens to see this and decides to help the boys get their treats out of Donald. Apparently, the Halloween spirit does not include the tricks portion of the ages old phrase. Hazel uses her magic on Donald and a lot of physical comedy follows. Like “Lonesome Ghosts,” this one has been released on VHS and DVD over the years either on Halloween compilations or as a bonus feature with certain films. There’s a chance it could pop up on one of the Disney channels this Halloween, but if you want to see it better head to youtube.

The Real Ghostbusters – “When Halloween Was Forever”

Samhain, the spirit of Halloween!

Samhain, the spirit of Halloween!

A cartoon that centers around four guys (and a ghost) who hunt down paranormal creatures naturally lends itself well to Halloween. Pretty much any episode could qualify for such a holiday, but the episode “When Halloween Was Forever” happens to deal with the holiday directly. This episode features the ghost Samhain, the spirit of Halloween, who decides to freeze time on Halloween night so that it lasts forever. Since Halloween is said to be derived from the Pagan holiday Samhain, it’s a nice touch to name the ghost after it. The Real Ghostbusters was a DIC production and if you’re familiar with any of their cartoons from the 80’s then you likely know what to expect out of the audio and animation. It’s standard for the era, with the soundtrack being appropriately spooky. While no episode of this cartoon can come close to matching the film it was based on, it’s actually not a bad show and time has been far kinder to it than it has the more popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Ren & Stimpy – “Haunted House”

The premise for this one is conventional, Ren and Stimpy stumble upon a creepy looking house and, in need of shelter for the night, decide to head inside. Unbeknownst to them, the house is haunted and a malicious ghost lurks inside who can’t wait to scare them. The twist here is that Ren and Stimpy are seemingly in on the joke as they break the fourth wall and end up impervious to the ghost’s efforts. This naturally frustrates the ghost, to the point that he becomes depressed and suicidal (apparently, ghosts can “die” in Ren and Stimpy’s world). Highlights of the episode include a Psycho shower-scene parody and the previously mentioned fourth-wall breaking remarks (“This looks like a good place to kill 12 minutes!”). There’s also the usual random humor found in a Ren and Stimpy short that people either find amusing or stupid. This one is unlikely to show up on television so anyone looking to watch it will either have to pick it up on DVD or turn to the internet. Be warned, the version found on the official Ren & Stimpy Volume 1 is censored with the Bloody Head Fairy bit removed completely. Apparently it was considered too gruesome after the fact.

Beavis and Butt-Head – “Bungholio: ┬áLord of the Harvest”

Beavis and Butt-Head on a quest for candy.

Beavis and Butt-Head on a quest for candy.

Sometimes referred to as “Buttoween,” this episode features everyone’s favorite dim-witted duo as they go trick or treating in search of free candy. Since they weren’t even aware Halloween was coming until trick or treaters showed up at their house, the two do not have costumes so Butt-Head covers his head in cheese sauce (“I’m nachos.”) while Beavis wears his underwear on his head (“I’m a nad!”). Beavis eventually has too much sugar and his alter-ego, The Great Cornholio, shows itself. The two soon find themselves on a farm ripped right from a slasher film. Most of the humor comes from watching the two try and get some candy in the first part of the episode, while the second part puts the two in an obvious bad situation that they’re apparently oblivious to. The animation is pretty terrible, but anyone who has seen an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head before should already be aware of this. It’s stupid humor, but it is pretty funny. You either like it or you don’t.

South Park – “Pinkeye”

South Park is more known for its numerous Christmas specials, but early seasons often featured other holiday themed episodes. The first season episode, “Pinkeye,” remains the show’s top Halloween special. In this one, a mishap with worcestershire sauce causes a dead Kenny to turned into a zombie. Kenny, as patient zero, spreads a zombie plague all through-out South Park that a clueless doctor mistakes as a severe case of pinkeye. It’s up to Chef and the boys to put a stop to the zombie menace so they can go trick or treating and get some candy. The episode includes some notable gags such as Cartman’s mom on the cover of Crack Whore Magazine and a memorable parody of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” It also features Cartman’s attempt to find a non-offensive Halloween costume.

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror V”

Treehouse of Horror V is best-remembered for its parody of Stephen King's "The Shining."

Treehouse of Horror V is best-remembered for its parody of Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

The Simpsons Halloween special, Treehouse of Horror, has become an annual tradition. With 24 to choose from, some may consider it a daunting task to select only one. As is the case with most things “Simpsons,” the earlier episodes are usually considered the better, and for me, it came down to a choice between Treehouse of Horror II and V. V is just slightly stronger and a little more horror-themed than the more sci-fi II. Treehouse of Horror V features parodies of The Shining, The Sound of Thunder, and Soylent Green. In the first segment, “The Shinning,” the Simpsons are basically dropped into the plot of its source material and includes the memorable line “No beer and no TV make Homer go something, something.” The second segment, “Time and Punishment,” puts a time-traveling toaster in Homer’s hands resulting in Homer unintentionally creating a new present time ruled by Flanders. The third segment, “Nightmare Cafeteria,” has Principal Skinner resort to cannibalism of the student body to cope with budget cuts at Springfield Elementary. If a Treehouse of Horror is able to hit on two out of three, it’s generally considered a good iteration of the venerable television special, but Treehouse of Horror V is the rare one where all three are pretty entertaining. With The Simpsons now being featured on the FXX channel, hopefully a Treehouse of Horror marathon is in the near future. The 25th version of the special is set to air tonight.


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