Tag Archives: disney afternoon

Dec. 23 – Missing in Action Christmas Specials

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The closest the original DuckTales got to Christmas was this TV spot.

When you do an annual advent calendar-styled countdown of Christmas programming, you start to realize the brands you can rely on and what you cannot. It can be a challenge to find 25 worthy topics, so in order to prevent a time crunch every fall I keep a list of specials I can source from. Throughout the year if I stumble across one I’ll add it to the list. Sometimes I’ll think I’ve found something only to find out it was a misleading title such as the episode “It’s a Thunderful Life” of the not well-remembered The Terrible Thunder Lizards program. And then there are times when I’ll find a special and I’ll view it, only to find there’s nothing to talk about. It’s not good, nor is it really bad, it’s just bland and forgettable.

Inevitably, I’ll take a look at my list at various times throughout the year and I’ll be surprised at an absence. I’ll then seek out the special I think I’m looking for only to be reminded that, “Oh yeah, that show never had a Christmas episode.” One of my top offenders each year was DuckTales. The original run for that show ran for over 100 episodes and never broached the subject of Christmas, even though Scrooge McDuck debuted in a Christmas comic book! Disney was new to television with that series and also new to syndication. Television stations typically don’t like syndicated programs to feature seasonal episodes since they don’t want to have to worry about when the episode airs. Who wants to see a Christmas episode in May? It’s an overblown issue though, which is probably why many syndicated shows would toss that aside and go with whatever stories they wanted to tell. The new version of DuckTales rectified this problem, as we saw way back on December first, which is why I’ve decided not to include the 87 version in this post.

In the spirit of this phenomenon, as it were, I want to highlight the cartoons that decided against doing a Christmas episode. These are the shows I’m most surprised by, and some of them have tripped me up more than once. I’ve looked through the episode list for these programs repeatedly looking for key words like Santa, Christmas, presents, or even snow. Alas, I guess when it came to Christmas and these shows, it just wasn’t meant to be.

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Despite their numerous rescues, the Rescue Rangers never saved Christmas.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Hot on the heels of DuckTales came Chip ‘n Dale:  Rescue Rangers. This show took the comedic duo who harassed Donald Duck and Pluto on numerous occasions and gave them their own show where they solved crimes a d helped those in need – quite a turn for the former mischief makers. They were paired with some newcomers in the inventor mouse Gadget and the cheese-obsessed Monterey Jack. Zipper the fly completed the group and they were often tasked with solving crimes or rescuing someone. The show was another direct-to-syndication affair with a 65 episode order that premiered in the fall of 1989. And like DuckTales, there was no Christmas episode for these adventurers even though one practically would have wrote itself. The diminutive heroes often found themselves helping kids, so helping a kid get on Santa’s good side could have been a plot. Or having the Rescue Rangers just plain save Christmas from a Grinch-like villain would have worked fine. Seeing the Rangers ride around in Santa’s sleigh would have been a great and festive way to end an episode. Pretty much all of the Disney Afternoon programs that followed would get a Christmas special. The only one off the top of my head I think did not is Gargoyles. I also don’t think many of the shows based on film properties (e.g. – Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Timon and Pumba) had Christmas episodes either. Alas, we’ll just have to make due with the classic Disney shorts Toy Tinkers and Pluto’s Christmas Tree if we want to see the chipmunks in action around the holidays.

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There is a ton of TMNT Christmas merch out there, but surprisingly no television special to go with it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a marketing bonanza in the late 80s and into the early 90s. The show basically existed because Playmates needed it to in order to sell toys, which is how many cartoons from that era came about. And it was a great vehicle to do so as the Turtles often had new vehicles and inventions to make use of and there was always a new mutant to battle who could quickly become an action figure. That merchandizing tie-in aspect of the show makes it a bit of a surprise it didn’t bring along Christmas, the time of year when more toys are sold than at any other point. Playmates could have been handed holiday versions of the Turtles and other characters in which they’re wearing festive sweaters or are even decked out like Santa and his elves. There could have been a mutated reindeer friend for the Turtles, maybe one with a radioactive, glowing, red, nose! A sleigh that is rocket-propelled and drops bombs or a gnarly snowboard for Mikey to hit the slopes with. Plus, there was a Christmas story all ready to go in the comics in the form of the Michaelangelo one-shot issue from Mirage in which Mikey busts up an illegal toy-smuggling ring. That episode would be adapted for the 2003 cartoon and titled “The Christmas Aliens,” but it amazes me it took over 15 years for that to happen.

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Yes, it would be silly and possibly stupid to have Goku face-off with Santa, but I bet it would be a lot of fun!

Dragon Ball

One of the longest running anime ever has produced hundred of hours of television, and not once has Christmas been relied upon to drive an episode. Dragon Ball and its many iterations has been entertaining kids and adults since the mid 1980s. It’s known as much for its action as it is for its silly and sometimes juvenile sense of humor. It’s that aspect of it that seems to make it ripe for a Christmas special. An ignorant Goku could have been introduced to the concept of Christmas by one of his friends and found the custom confusing. He could have ended up giving weird gifts, or doing something selfless and noble, either would be in-character. I think a somewhat comedically dark ending with Goku out in the wilderness seeing Santa and blasting him with a Kamehameha could have been entertaining too. Maybe the episode ends with him roasting a reindeer after Santa fled in panic with Goku clueless over what he had just done. These are all more Dragon Ball-styled plots. A Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super plot would obviously involve Goku challenging Santa to a fight. Santa would either be super powerful, or super not with Goku accidentally really hurting him in a slapstick kind of way. Maybe following such an injury, Goku has to take over as Santa for a night which has comedic potential as well, so much so that I’ve basically talked myself into wanting this. And it all ends with Oolong getting a stocking full of women’s underwear on Christmas morning. Now that’s a sentimental sort of ending.

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Goofy has experienced Christmas via Mickey and Goof Troop, but he never got to star in a holiday short of his very own.

Goofy

In the 90s, Goofy received his own show. It was basically an animated sitcom, and it put Goofy in the role of a single father. Goof Troop was a surprisingly poignant show and a different take on the character than what we were used to seeing. Goofy had shown a domesticated side on occasion in his old shorts, but nothing really like this. Goof Troop received it’s own Christmas special, and the characters returned in the same role for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas years later with a different Christmas outing. That’s good that Goofy got multiple looks at it because he was the lone holdout back in the days of the cartoon short to not have a Christmas episode. Donald Duck received Toy Tinkers, while Mickey and Pluto both got to star in Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but Goofy got nothing. That’s why when packages of cartoons were shown with Mickey’s Christmas Carol on television the Goofy short often shown was The Art of Skiing, a quality short for sure, but not a Christmas one. Goofy comically trying to setup a tree or decorate a house seems like a great way to use his brand of physical comedy. It could have even been in the form of one of his classic “How to” shorts such as “How to Prepare for the Holidays.” Goofy playing Santa, Goofy cooking a turkey, Goofy wrapping gifts – it’s almost too easy! Maybe that’s why it never happened?

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This show was just a commercial for Nintendo products so it’s surprising that they didn’t add in the wonder of Christmas at any point.

Captain N: The Game Master

Captain N was possibly the only show more cynical than Masters of the Universe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it came to hawking merchandise. It was basically an animated commercial for Nintendo as the main character, Kevin, sported a Nintendo controller as a belt buckle and armed himself with a zapper. His allies in the show were all stars of their own video games like Kid Icarus and Simon Belmont and they even made the Game Boy a character later on. Maybe the showrunners felt that doing a Christmas episode would be too on the nose, but I think it would have fit the mold just fine. Imagine all of the Nintendo products that could have been piled under that cartoon tree. I’m not saying it would have been good, as this show is pretty terrible to revisit, but it may have at least featured some ironic humor. At the very least, we could have seen Dracula’s castle covered in snow or found out if a Game Boy can function during a blizzard.


Dec. 20 – Lilo & Stitch: The Series – Topper: Experiment 025

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“Topper” originally aired December 5, 2003.

Last year, I fell down a bit of a Lilo & Stitch rabbit hole when it came time to do this list. I first researched the animated series known as Lilo & Stitch: The Series and its Christmas special “Topper: Experiment 025.” I ended up reading about the expanded lore the universe established in 2002’s Lilo & Stitch and that was how I found out that there was an anime based on the series. That lead to my post last year about the anime’s Christmas special, in the process basically forgetting about the episode I originally had intended on talking about.

Well, this year I’m here to right that which is wrong. Not that I regret doing that post or anything, but this is the one I intended to run with. Following the success of the movie, Lilo & Stitch became a brand Disney felt it could not ignore. As it had done with film properties before, Disney turned to television. An animated series was commissioned and it arrived quite quickly to airwaves beginning in 2003 as part of the current block of Disney programming. This was essentially the waning days of the once treasured Disney Afternoon and I don’t think that branding was even in use at the time. Considering I was off to college and would not even see the film the show was based on for quite some time, I completely missed out on this show. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a thing.

Like many Disney Afternoon shows that preceded it, Lilo & Stitch got to take a stab at the old Christmas special thing. From what I understand, this show followed a format where a new experiment was unveiled basically every episode. As you may recall from the film, Stitch is experiment number 626 implying that there are 625 additional experiments out there for the show to explore. Interestingly, had the show run long enough to highlight all 625 experiments it still wouldn’t have as many episodes as The Simpsons currently boasts. Anyways, the show ran for two seasons spanning 67 episodes which is a rather solid run. There was a tie-in film as well, simply called Stitch!, and as far as I know the other Lilo & Stitch sequels adopted the show as canon as well. There’s a pretty large chunk of media based on this franchise I’ve never really touched, despite my liking the original film quite a bit, so maybe this will get me interested in all of that. Or, maybe it won’t.

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It’s time for the alien who loves destruction to learn all about the holiday that destroys bank accounts.

This episode is all about Stitch’s first Christmas on Earth. Following the events of the film, the aliens Jumba (David Ogden Stiers) and Pleakley (Kevin McDonald) have moved in with the sisters Nani (Tia Carrere) and Lilo (Daveigh Chase) as well as the main attraction himself, Stitch (Chris Sanders). Captain Gantu (Kevin Michael Richardson) is still out there making life harder for Stitch and he’s got some pals as well: the seemingly always hungry Experiment 625 (Rob Paulsen) and the nefarious rival of Jumba, Dr. Hamsterviel (not present in this episode).

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Present hunting has more rules than you would think.

When the episode begins, Stitch and Lilo are eating breakfast while Lilo gives Stitch the info on Christmas. She instructs him to sneak off with her and as they tiptoe through the house they attract the attention of Nani. Nani instructs Lilo not to go looking for Christmas presents and she agrees to do so, but that’s a lie. She leads Stitch to the attic and tells him it’s Nani’s job as the older sister to buy the presents, and her job as the younger sister to find them. Nani has hidden them in the same spot as last year, in a chest in the attic (how predictable), and Lilo shows them to Stitch. She also informs him she’s hoping for a shrunken head this year as a gift, and adds that she tried to make one herself but her friend wasn’t cooperative. It’s nice to see Lilo still has a bit of darkness to her. Stitch wants to dig right into the presents, but Lilo stops him and says he can never open a Christmas present before Christmas. She may be a little naughty by snooping, but Lilo has a code she lives by.

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Never let an alien decorate your Christmas tree.

Lilo then leads Stitch to the living room to soak in some of that Christmas magic via the tree. There they find Pleakley has decorated the tree with what he thinks are traditional spherical objects. Rather than actual ornaments, the tree is covered in balls and clocks and things like that. Lilo points out that he’s a bit confused, but Pleakley isn’t dissuaded and rather adamant about his holiday knowledge. He then informs them he was about to place the perfect topper on the tree, the three-holed orb, which to us earthlings is known as a bowling ball. When Pleakley places the bowling ball on the tree it collapses. Since this is Hawaii, I’m going to assume they go with artificial trees, but any Hawaiians reading this correct me if I’m wrong.

Lilo is dismayed that the tree is ruined and Nani comes running in to survey the damage. She mentions this is the third one this year and informs Lilo she can’t afford a fourth. Lilo wants her to fix it right now, but she’s got to get to work. Lilo despairs momentarily about not having a tree for Christmas, but she gets over it rather quickly and informs Stitch if he wants to learn more about Christmas they need to go to the most festive place around:  the mall.

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Experiment 625 loves food and Christmas. He’s not your typical villain.

Elsewhere, 625 is enjoying a sandwich while wearing a festive Santa hat when Gantu comes in. Gantu has apparently received a major reduction in size between shows as he’s now just merely large as opposed to colossal. He has another experiment orb labeled 025 and he intends to give it to Hamsterviel. In staying with the spirit of the season, 625 encourages him to gift it to their unseen boss and Gantu surprisingly goes along with the suggestion.

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That’s a surefire way to get on the naughty list.

At the mall, Lilo is showing Stitch around which includes a trip to see Santa. Stitch hops on his lap and whispers into his ear and Santa recoils in horror informing Stitch he is truly naughty. Stitch then snatches his beard and tries to wish everyone a traditional Hawaiian holiday greeting, mele kalikimaka, but butchers the words. Lilo is also angry with him for swiping Santa’s beard and so is Santa.

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If the beard-swiping didn’t do the job, then stealing presents will definitely make sure Stitch is on the naughty list.

Stitch then notices something at the gift wrapping table. A woman is wrapping what is undoubtedly the capsule for experiment 025. Stitch races over to snatch the gift, which only makes Lilo angrier. She scolds him for going after presents that aren’t his, but when Stitch rips it open he just finds a toy inside. He starts grabbing all of the other presents and then bolts leaving Lilo to clean up after him. She explains it’s his first Christmas and he’s a bit excited. She departs and then Gantu shows up dressed as Santa to claim the gift he had wrapped. The woman informs him there was an accident, and when he inquires further he finds out it was a destructive blue dog that caused the problem. He then makes a festive holiday threat towards Stitch about making him a part of Christmas past.

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This Santa leaves behind nothing but screams and tears.

Stitch then goes on a montage. He is so determined to get that experiment capsule that he sports a Santa hat and steals all of the presents on the island. The montage is set to a barely recognizable rock n’ roll version of “Jingle Bells” and is sprinkled with some humorous moments. All the while, Lilo is giving chase and unable to catch up with Stitch who is always one step ahead.

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The Grinch would be quite impressed with Stitch’s holiday thievery.

She eventually winds up back at her home where Stitch has locked himself in the attic. Jumba is angry with Stitch for not sharing any of the presents he’s acquired, but he’s having no luck getting through the attic door. Lilo informs him there’s another way, and as the two disappear off camera Stitch peers out of the hatch to check for them. Jumba’s hands then appear behind him to grab him and the door slams shut leaving us to imagine how the confrontation is going as the camera shakes and a big commotion is overheard. Jumba eventually falls out of the attic, but before he did he somehow got Stitch into a capsule. Lilo scolds him once more, but is then taken aback by how full the attic is with presents.

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Stitch needs some quiet time.

Things are moved back into the living room where Pleakley has taken it upon himself to be the family’s new Christmas tree. He’s basically background noise as Lilo and Jumba try to figure out what is up with Stitch. The capsule he’s been locked in is completely sound proof so they can’t hear his protests as Jumba wonders if maybe his bad programming is returning. They take things to Jumba’s lab where he’s able to use some scanner to read Stitch’s thoughts. They’re mostly food-related and there’s also an image of a toilet bowl and we get a mild pee joke. Jumba then finds the image of Stitch seeing the experiment orb being placed in the gift and Lilo realizes why he was taking all of the presents. Before they can do anything about it though, a loud noise comes from the house and we see the roof has a huge hole blown through it. Gantu’s ship is shown flying away with a comically large sack of gifts on it as he belts out a “Ho ho ho.”

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Something always breaks around the house near the holidays. Never fails.

With the presents stolen, Lilo and Stitch head out after Gantu leaving Pleakley and Jumba to repair the damage to the house. Jumba actually gets the whole roof framed before he and Pleakley decide they need to fix Pleakley’s tree costume by going to the mall. Well, Pleakley makes that declaration and Jumba is mostly just along for the ride. I hope they remembered to put a tarp over the house in case it rains.

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I enjoy a good bit of holiday bondage.

Lilo and Stitch arrive at Gantu’s spaceship lair where 625 is presently trying to enjoy a nice Christmas nap. He comes outside in order to quiet them down and is oblivious to their presence. There’s some slapstick involved as Stitch gets squished by the ship’s ramp. Eventually, they gain access and 625 doesn’t even put up a fight. Stitch wraps him up in Christmas lights while Lilo looks for the gift, but it’s gone. 625 then informs them that Gantu took the sack of presents back to the mall.

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I have to give these guys credit, they really get into the holiday spirit with their clothing.

For the second time this episode, our setting shifts to the mall where Pleakley and Jumba roam in elf costumes that do little to hide their alien heritage. They soon see Gantu once again dressed as Santa. It seems Gantu doesn’t know which gift is the one he had wrapped and he needs the help of the gift wrapper in figuring it out. She finds it immediately and hands it back to him. Jumba and Pleakley call 625’s spaceship and inform Lilo what’s happened, adding they initially mistook him for Santa, but it’s really Gantu!

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This is the kind of chaos one expects out of Stitch.

Lilo and Stitch arrive at the mall and find Pleakley and Jumba in a stand-off with Gantu. They’re not very good at this though and Gantu simply spins and fires at the pair. Since this is a Disney television show, his weapon is nonlethal and just contains a big net. Stitch goes after him stealing the gift, which he tosses to Lilo, before the two tangle. Nani is also there as she was looking to buy Lilo her shrunken head when she sees Gantu and Stitch go flying past her in Santa’s sleigh. They crash, and Lilo tosses a duffel bag with the experiment orb gift inside it to Stitch and tells him to go. Stitch races up a giant Christmas tree and Gantu gives chase by climbing it. He’s bombarded with ornaments, but eventually he reaches Stitch and the two end up falling from the tree.

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That certainly looks like a bad place to be.

Gantu dusts himself off, and with Stitch no where to be seen, he retrieves his gift and prepares to step on Lilo. He pauses in mid stomp when she accuses him of ruining Christmas. He seems actually hurt by this, and Lilo ends up discovering this all happened because Gantu was trying to give someone a Christmas gift. Lilo then feels bad as she realizes Christmas is about giving presents, not receiving them as Stitch returns to her side just in time for a hug.

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It takes eyes like that to get a Christmas present out of a gigantic alien.

A little girl takes notice of Gantu and his Santa costume and asks if he has a present for her. He says no, but her eyes well up with tears which gets to Gantu. He then hands over the gift intended for Hamsterviel and the girl opens it to find the experiment orb inside. Jumba takes it from her remarking that he remembers this one. Experiment 025 was intended to be a beacon for an alien armada and he seems to suggest it’s hardly destructive. Lilo takes the orb and places it in a fountain, as apparently water is needed to bring the experiment out. And from it emerges a little being that resembles a star. Lilo dubs him Topper (she’s really forced the other little girl out of the picture) and says she knows a great spot for him.

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Stitch caused all of that trouble to keep the world free from this adorable little guy.

Topper then takes his place atop Pleakley, who has a much improved Christmas tree costume. He glows brightly pleasing everyone around them. Gantu has also found a higher purpose as kids have lined up beside him thinking he’s Santa. As each one approaches he gives them one of the gifts Stitch had taken earlier. Lilo informs us that Ohana is the best gift of all, and Stitch tries to wish everyone mele kalikimaka, but he messes it up again. We then see in space that Topper’s beacon effect is working well as a bunch of spaceships hover in Earth’s orbit.  One voice wonders what the beacon is for, while another informs him it doesn’t matter because they have fruit cake down there.

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I wonder if this little guy just gets shoved in the attic with the other decorations when the holiday is over.

And that ends this one. In trying to teach Stitch about Christmas, Lilo comes to understand the holiday better herself. It’s about the giving, folks. All the while, the aliens around her also learn about the holiday and even the villainous Gantu finds it infectious, though he wants to play it off as if it’s annoyingly infectious. It’s rather fast paced and even though it features a plot contrivance I usually find anxiety inducing, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the dynamic of Stitch acting in good faith and the others not understanding him. Though, I also found that whole ordeal confusing since Stitch revealed he could talk just fine in the movie. I guess it’s just more convenient and more entertaining to basically return him to an almost mute character who just makes funny noises. Likewise, someone must have decided that Gantu needed to be smaller in order to work in this show as he’s no where near as big as he was in the film.

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We need that group shot to go out on.

I did not expect this show to resemble the visuals from the film other than in basic character designs. And it does not. Though I still expected it to look better than this. This show is very flat and the character models really lack texture. There’s an early scene of Jumba wearing a big purple coat that has almost no shading of any kind on it and it’s really ugly looking. The backgrounds are drab too and lack the lushness of the feature. Again, I wasn’t expecting feature quality animation, but this is below the standards of other Disney Afternoon shows.

What surprised me though, in a good way, was that Disney was able to return the excellent voice cast of the film basically in its entirety. Maybe there are some secondary characters who have new voices that aren’t in this episode, but all of the characters here have their respective voice intact. It’s a rarity to pull off such a feat, but it helps that Disney didn’t go with a big time celebrity cast for the film to begin with. Tia Carrere was probably the biggest “name” from that film, but she had basically transitioned to television anyways at this stage in her career. Rob Paulsen was also added and he provides several voices in this one which only adds to the show’s quality in the sound department.

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These two are responsible for much of the episode’s humor and they are a pretty fun pairing.

This episode could have taken things in a more melancholy direction given that Lilo and Nani both lost their parents some time ago. This could have been framed as their first Christmas without them, but the show decided to keep things light and funny. Pleakley was the most entertaining part of the show for me. He’s become an archetype Disney fans should be familiar with as it’s similar to what Scuttle from The Little Mermaid represents or Owl from Winnie the Pooh. He’s a know-it-all that really knows nothing, and his misunderstanding of the holidays are fodder for a few jokes (like a good visual gag early on with eggnog). There’s nothing particularly ambitious about the Christmas lesson to be taught here, and Lilo figuring it out isn’t quite convincing, but at least there’s some groundwork laid by pointing out that she does posses a code of sorts in her approach to gifts. It would have been a harder sell if she was a ravenous present monster like Stitch. I suppose this one is fine, and if you just want more of these very likable characters because you enjoyed the film then there’s something here to enjoy.

If you want to watch this episode of Lilo & Stitch: The Series then I have good news as it just got a lot easier. With the launch of Disney+ in November this episode, as well as the entire series, became easy to stream though it will cost you seven bucks a month to do so. This one wasn’t put out on DVD, so streaming is your only option. I wouldn’t sign up for Disney+ just to watch this show, but I am a subscriber for many other reasons so obviously I think it’s worth it. Since my kids enjoy the film, I’ll likely watch this with them too this year since we can as I’ll be on the hunt for every Christmas special on that network.


Dec. 1 – DuckTales – “Last Christmas!”

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Original air date December 1, 2018

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

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

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The opening credits get a festive makeover as well.

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

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

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

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Scrooge is predictably grumpy around the holidays.

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

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

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Webby is a talented trimmer of trees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Past is quite obviously an homage to Jiminy Cricket.

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

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Time for a journey into the Past.

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

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

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

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Scrooge is not really enjoying himself.

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

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That would be Grandpappy Beagle and his Beagle Boys.

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

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

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

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Got your umbrella.

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

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

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

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

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Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you adolescent Donald!

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

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

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

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

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Huey isn’t the only Junior Woodchuck.

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

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Captured by Della Duck.

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

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

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

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Problem solved.

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

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

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

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Scrooge is always ready to make a save.

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

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The true identity of the Wendigo is revealed.

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

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It’s time to celebrate!

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

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Young Della and Donald exchanging gifts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


24 Hours of Disney+

disney+_welcome.jpgIt’s a bit funny to me what we get excited for in our modern era. If you had told me when I was a kid that people would be geeking out over new phones, subscriptions, and chicken sandwiches I probably would have wanted time to slow down even more than I already did. That’s where we are though and on November 12, 2019 the world paused for Disney+, the first dedicated streaming service from the massively popular (and just plain massive) Walt Disney Corporation.

We’re now well into the streaming era for entertainment consumption. The old days of Netflix sending a DVD in the mail feels like the stone age by comparison. Netflix helped push us into this new frontier, with an assist from rapidly rising cable costs and a government-sanctioned monopoly, and the concept of chord-cutting is no longer a radical one as more and more streaming platforms keep coming. Netflix was initially just a means to an end as it licensed content people wanted and then delivered it to them. It’s no surprise that the content producers were taking notice and weighing the pros and cons of licensing out its media to a third party versus just creating the infrastructure to deliver it themselves. Netflix was quick to notice as it got into the content producing business and now has a whole bunch of shows and movies under its umbrella as it battles with other providers for non-Netflix content. Meanwhile, the biggest media creators are striking out on their own.

Disney is no stranger to production and delivery. Gamers will recall when Disney decided to stop licensing its characters for video games instead taking things in-house to create its own product. Eventually, game production grew too costly and Disney shuttered its studios to go back to licensing. With a streaming platform, costs are more fixed and Disney can charge whatever it wants to consumers. Some might question why Disney decided to create Disney+ since it already had a controlling stake in Hulu, but it’s all about branding. Disney+ is now the home for all things Disney. Those 20th Century Fox productions not named Star Wars can go to Hulu. Oh, and don’t forget they also own ESPN which has its own streaming platform as well. Yeah, there really are a lot of options out there now.

Since this is hardly uncharted territory, consumers have expectations of what a streaming platform should look like and how it should function. Disney was able to basically just do what Netflix did before it and give it a new coat of paint. Disney+ is a very boring interface, though hardly ugly, as it just lays everything in front of the user in a familiar form. Users can browse by genre, media type, character, brand, and so on. Everything is accompanied by a thumbnail image and a larger splash image meant to attract eyes. There are trailers for some films and new series and a summary of the program as well.

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Disney+ means access to classic movies and new shows, but it also means some older shows that never got the DVD treatment are finally viewable in their entirety.

Even though this is all well-trod territory, Disney+ still has a few odd quirks or missing features. For one, it’s not obvious what the runtime is for anything you’re looking at or considering. It’s not a big deal for old television shows which are fairly standard, but I had no idea how long any of the new programs were or some films. I had to start them and then pause them to see the counter displayed on the screen. The app also doesn’t remember where you left off with a given series. This is a standard feature on other platforms and it’s puzzling to see it not present here. Basically, it’s on you to remember how many episodes of a show you just watched and where to go next. You’re probably thinking that’s not a particularly difficult thing to remember, but it’s a lot trickier to remember where you kids left off watching a show you don’t care about. And they typically have no idea until the episode starts forcing you to embark on a series of trial and error until you get it right.

Those are small quirks that I expect will be remedied fairly soon. Others may take longer. By far, the biggest issue consumers encountered on launch day was performance-related issues. Slow buffering, shows disappearing, or the app completely crashing were frequently cited problems across social media. That was to be expected given that Disney didn’t allow users to preload the app before launch and is also giving curious consumers the option to partake in a free trial. Demand was going to be high, though that doesn’t absolve Disney as the company should have been prepared for this and able to address it quickly. Shows disappearing may have been part of that corrective action just to shrink the library temporarily. I saw quite a few complaints from users that Gargoyles wasn’t available for a period of time, though I didn’t encounter this. I did view the new documentary Imagineering and then found it unavailable after viewing when I went to go back and add it to my watch list. Aside from that though, I was actually rather fortunate to not encounter many issues. When I first logged in and got going around 6:30 AM EST I found the app slow to navigate. By 7:30, it was taking so long I gave up, but I was also heading out to work. My wife dropped our kid off at school shortly after and then resumed streaming with no issues. It was on basically all day with no further issues in my household.

I did a little research on social media and asked folks what they went to first upon signing up yesterday and got a variety of responses. A lot of folks were eager to view shows from their childhood, mainly those from the beloved Disney Afternoon. Some were also excited to check out the old Marvel cartoons like X-Men and Spider-Man. Many were eager to check out the Disney+ original The Mandalorian, a live-action series set in the Star Wars universe. There was certainly a lot of enthusiasm for the app, and most respondents had a list of things they wanted to check-out on day one.

img_0566Perhaps not surprising, the most frequent response I received was for The Simpsons. Disney made a pretty big deal about having 30 seasons worth of The Simpsons on Disney+ on day one. Unfortunately, the biggest complaint outside of technical problems from users was directed at The Simpsons. You may recall, when FXX started airing “Every Simpsons Ever” a few years ago they made the controversial call to crop the image on the seasons shot in 4:3 and adapt them for 16:9. The accompanying app did the same much to the annoyance of longtime fans. Eventually, the app was corrected and both versions were able to stream and they even added commentary tracks. As a result, fans expected the same on Disney+ and there were reports that the early seasons would be presented in the correct aspect ratio. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Not having the commentary is not a surprise, but the 16:9 presentation is horrid. If this were the first time those old seasons were being made available it would be temporarily excusable, as it was with FXX, but in 2019 it most certainly is not. I think Disney will correct this, but it’s something the company needs to get out in front of.

As for me, I have had a pretty good 24 hours at this point with Disney+. My first view was for The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. As it was 6:30 in the morning and my kids were up, it felt like a good way to start the day. My kids watched a lot of Disney Afternoon content during the day as well as some movies they’re more than familiar with. In the evening, I checked in on some of my own personal favorite cartoons and also was able to check out The Legend of the Three Caballeros, the previously UK only show starring Donald Duck (and it was great). When the kids went to bed, my wife and I checked out The Mandalorian as it easily is the most hyped original program on the platform right now. The production values are high, and while the story and character so far seem conventional and even cliché, it was entertaining enough that I’ll continue to check it out as episodes are added. We also watched the first episode of the Imagineering docuseries which focuses on the creation of Disneyland and goes up to the death of Walt and early concepts for Disney World. It was very familiar territory for me, but still enjoyable. I’m probably looking forward to episode two of that series more than I am for The Mandalorian.

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We had to wait over a year, but now US audiences can finally (legally) view Legend of the Three Caballeros.

There is some other original content I intend to check out, in time. Lady and the Tramp is one of my favorite films from Disney so I feel obligated to at least give the live-action version a chance. I have low expectations, as it’s not something that needs to exist, but it’s there. There is also a collection of classic Mickey Mouse shorts which have been upconverted to HD that I’d like to see. I’m pretty sure they’re the same as what was present on the Blu Ray compilation released last year for Mickey’s 90th, but I passed on that set (since I have all of the DVDs) and I’d like to see how the conversion came out. I hope more classic shorts will be added, though I doubt that’s a priority for Disney right now. Hopefully we at least get the Christmas ones next month.

Disney+ launched with a few stumbles, but the framework is there for a successful existence. More importantly, Disney is rich in content and should have no issues getting people hooked at least in the short term. Right now, the service is cheap compared to Netflix and if you’re part of a Disney family like I am then you’re probably locked in for the next three years. Disney has been systematically pulling content from cable and streaming providers so my children’s addiction to Disney content will definitely keep Disney+ in my house for awhile. What will spur growth for Disney will be how the original content turns out. The platform is off to a good start, but it might take more to convince people adverse to multiple streaming subscriptions to drop Netflix in favor of Disney+. Disney will also have to make the difficult choice over what it releases on its cable channel versus what it reserves for Disney+. And how will competitors, and cable, respond? Disney+ is undercutting Netflix by quite a lot and I’m curious if Netflix will respond. I suspect it will wait it out at least a year to see if and when Disney ups the monthly rate, but if it starts losing subscribers it may have to do something about it. This is our new reality though and it feels like, if anything, the biggest casualty of all of this may be cable itself.


Lego Mini Figures – Disney Series 2

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Series 2 gives us more Aladdin which probably isn’t a surprise considering the new movie coming out.

I feel like I need to take credit for the existence of this wave of Disney Mini Figures. It wasn’t that long ago I wondered why the flood gates never opened following the 2016 release of Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World and the wave of mini figures that preceded it. Just days after that post Lego announced a new set based on Steamboat Willie was incoming. Then just days after that a second wave of mini figures based on Disney properties was announced! My timing could not have been better.

Obviously, I am joking about the credit thing because these were in the works for months, if not years, before being announced. I just ended up having extremely good timing where Disney and Lego are concerned. When that Steamboat Willie set was released I snatched it up and shared my thoughts here on the set as a whole. Now I’ve tracked down the entirety of the mini figures that followed in May and I’m ready to tell you all about them.

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I’ve got these, and other Disney objects, displayed all over my house.

Series 2 for the Disney brand of Lego mini figures largely went as expected. Several characters complement the characters from series 1 while others are just logical inclusions based on their level of popularity. There are 18 figures in total, two of which are variants of previously released figures. Each comes in a blind bag, but those willing to stand around in-store feeling up bags should be able to reasonably ascertain who’s who without purchasing doubles of any character. Below, I’ll talk about things to look for when hunting as I found this series pretty easy. The only way you’ll end up with doubles is if you get impatient, which is easy to do as no one is 100% comfortable feeling-up bags of toys in a store while strangers look on. You just have to suck it up and feel like a dork for a little while. Each figure retails for 3.99 in most places, but specialty shops may tack on a buck or two and each figures comes with at least one accessory.

1928 Mickey and Minnie Mouse

So these two should look familiar. These are the same figures included in the Steamboat Willie set. It’s not at all surprising to see Lego save a couple of bucks by doubling-up here, and for those not interested in that set at least they can get a Minnie and Mickey this way. The only difference between the two is that these versions use a black, white, and gray color scheme while the Steamboat Willie figures utilized silver instead of gray to make them seem extra special. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my toys so I actually prefer this color scheme. Mickey and Minnie both feature a removable hat affixed by a peg with Minnie even coming with an extra in case one gets lost. Mickey sports his iconic steering wheel while Minnie gets a buoy. It’s a pretty lackluster accessory for Minnie as this is also Lego’s go-to piece when creating a toilet seat. Why not give her the ukulele or bird? These two are super easy to find though because of their unique head sculpts. And distinguishing between Mickey and Minnie is also simple given that giant steering wheel. I came across many in my search so they may even be packed slightly higher than other characters, or it could be that many people are leaving them behind. I kind of wish I had extras of the series 1 Mickey so I could get extras of these ones to make a classic, colored, Mickey by combing the black and white head with the colored body.

Huey

Coming in from the Disney Afternoon is Huey, the red-clad nephew of Donald Duck and great nephew to Scrooge McDuck. Huey is based on his classic look and the one most commonly associated with the original DuckTales from the 80s. He uses Lego’s kid legs which are immovable, has the “duck butt” debuted with Donald and Daisy, and removable cap. His accessories include the Junior Woodchuck’s Guide Book and a compass. When trying to find him in a blind bag, look for the book which comes in two pieces and is pretty distinct. Huey looks pretty great and the head sculpt is quite nice. Mostly, I am delighted to see some love for the Disney Afternoon. And naturally, you can’t have Huey without his brothers…

Dewey

Dewey (and Louie) is exactly the same as Huey only the red parts are blue. It’s another way for Lego to save some money and it makes sense as the triplets are identical in the source material (maybe this is why Lego decided on 80s DuckTales instead of the new one). The only other thing differentiating Dewey from Huey is his slingshot accessories. He comes with two, and it’s what you need to look for when feeling up a bag. It may be a small piece, but it’s actually pretty distinct even through a bag.

Louie

The last of the nephews and the one clad in green. I probably should have just put all three together, but oh well. He’s the exact same as his brothers, only he comes with two flashlights. They utilize the lightsaber hilt from Lego’s Star Wars sets and a stud for the light portion. Again, pretty easy to figure out as once you’ve identified that you’ve got one of the duck nephews you just need to find either a stud or the handle as Huey and Dewey do not have a similar piece.

Scrooge McDuck

My personal favorite of this wave is Scrooge himself. Based on his DuckTales look, he’s sporting his blue coat and top hat while also featuring a cane and his number one dime (plus an extra cane for good measure). His head sculpt looks great as it features his glasses molded right onto his bill. They’re colored instead of transparent, but look fine. His cane is missing a handle though, and the red stripe on his hat is molded on, but not painted. As a result, he could have been better, but still looks pretty rad to me. When hunting for Scrooge (who seems to be popular and a touch harder to find as a result) you can safely just key-in on the two walking sticks. Surprisingly, he’s the only figure with a perfectly straight, round, piece like that. If you want further assurance, his hat is also pretty easy to find and he’ll have the duck butt piece as well.

Chip and Dale

The mischievous duo of Chip and Dale make their Lego debut. While they’re obviously not in scale with the other characters, I still consider it a positive to receive such an iconic and classic pair. Chip and Dale utilize the better kid legs which are able to move like conventional mini figure legs as well as unique sculpted heads like the other mascot characters. The only way to distinguish between the two is their accessories. Chip comes with an acorn that’s disassembled. Through a bag it just feels like little, tiny, pieces. Dale, on the other hand, comes with a sack (a nut sack?) that’s pretty distinct and should be a reliable way to separate the two rodents. Lego also took some creative license with the pair and made Dale lighter in color. I’m not sure if this is a popular occurrence in the merchandise world, but I had not encountered it before. Again, purist here, so I’d prefer the two look the same, but it’s not a big deal. I do wish they had a tail piece instead of a printed one on their back. Overall though, they look plenty cute and the designs didn’t suffer in the transfer to 3D.

Elsa

The first series of Disney mini figures surprisingly avoided the princess characters, but this one did not. And how could Lego ignore the incredible popularity of Frozen, especially with a sequel coming later this year? Elsa comes clad in her classic ice blue dress. She has a cape, which I suppose is supposed to be the transparent parts of her dress, but just looks like a cape here. It’s a dark blue and covered in printed snowflakes. She also has an oversized snow flake, a braided hair piece that takes her hair over one shoulder, and a head piece with two facial expressions: a smile and a winking smile. Her base is a trapezoid like piece to account for her robes. Maleficent utilized a similar piece in series 1, but the difference here is that there’s some slight molding on the front to provide a hint of legs underneath – a nice touch. It’s that base that makes it easy to narrow down the other figures when looking for them as she shares that piece with Anna and Jafar. To further separate her from her sister just look for the snowflake. It may be a bit of a dumb accessory, but it does make it easy to find Elsa. Plus, she really didn’t have anything else in the film going for her. The cape looks silly, but the overall likeness is fine and sure to please your daughter (it did mine).

Anna

Anna comes sporting her traditional look when she sets out to find her sister. Her body sculpt is the same as Elsa’s except her hair features two braids instead of one. She even has a smirking face and winking face as well on her head piece. Her cape looks much better by virtue of it being pretty simple making her my preferred Frozen sister. Her accessory is also a bit more fun, though also not tremendously important to her character as it’s just a lantern. It’s a unique piece though making it easy to find Anna in a blind bag. Once you found the leg base piece, just look for the lantern and the cylinder that goes inside of it.

Jafar

Series 1 of the Disney mini figures included Aladdin and the Genie, so why not Jafar in series 2? We need more bad guys, so the sorcerer is welcomed. He has his standard look and comes with his large serpent-topped staff, the piece to look for when hunting. He also has a cape, shoulder pads, and his rather large hat. His head only features one expression, but it’s not like Jafar needs anything aside from his scowl. Characters with a lot of distinct characteristics in their clothing seem to work best, and it’s why Jafar is one of the best figures in this series. Like Anna and Elsa, he also uses the robed base and the abundance of accessories make him a cinch to figure out. The only thing missing is a little parrot stand-in for Iago.

Jasmine

Another princess, this one also pairs nicely with Aladdin. Jasmine is a conventional figure with all of her clothing being printed on. The sides of her body are blue which makes her look rather weird at certain angles, but this is how Lego does this sort of thing to make its figures actually look less blocky. She comes with a bird as seemingly all Disney princesses are capable of conversing with animals. It’s not a particularly exciting accessory, but I guess giving her a tiger would have been a touch excessive. When on the hunt for Jasmine you basically have to use process of elimination as her figure is rather plain. From there, look for the hair which is in a long braid and is rather soft and pretty easy to locate.

Hades

Arguably the easiest one to figure out when feeling-up the bags is Hades. That’s due to his unique leg-piece which is similar to Ursula’s from series 1. It’s molded to feature his robes which have a life of their own in the film he’s from. And if for some reason you can’t locate it, the little flames are also pretty easy to fine. Hades has a great look and the flames on his head are actually glued on. He’s another welcomed bad guy, and while I’ve never been a fan of Hercules, I’ve always liked Hades in spite of his detestable voice actor. He’s one of the better looking figures in this set as the bad guys really stand out.

Hercules

Since we got Hades, it’s no surprise to see Hercules in this wave as well. He’s a traditional mini figure who features two expressions, two swords, a shield, cape, and hair piece. The circular shield is pretty easy to fine, and the two swords stand out as well. I already mentioned I’m not much of a fan of the source material here, but for what it’s worth Hercules looks pretty good. He’d be hard to mess up.

Sally

Coming in from the always popular Nightmare Before Christmas is that lovable scarecrow Sally. Sally is another conventional mini figure with no additions aside from her hair. And it’s that hair that makes her a dead giveaway when searching through bags as it’s huge and spoon-shaped. Which is good because her little flower accessories, which have to be assembled, are somewhat nondescript when on the hunt. Otherwise, her features are achieved entirely via screen-printing as Lego opted not to give her any cloth pieces, which feels like a mistake as her model in the film has such lovely textures that this figure just can’t capture. She’s one of my least favorites as I find this depiction a little boring.

Jack Skellington

Naturally, if you’re going to include Sally then you need to include Jack. He’s able to “wow” more than Sally by virtue of his easily translatable look and additional pieces. He has his bat-like bowtie and cloth suit tails. His accessory is a Christmas gift, I believe the one that houses the shrunken head in the film, only this time it’s filled with little circular snowflakes. The cubed box is the item to look for when figure hunting and should stick out like a sore thumb. Jack’s face looks great and overall it’s hard to find fault with this one. Lego could have gone with a unique head piece, but I think the standard one works just fine for the character. After all, part of the charm is seeing the characters converted into the Lego style.

Edna Mode

Serving as a compliment to last summer’s Incredibles 2 Lego sets is this version of Edna Mode. A previous one was available, but it was rather lackluster. This one uses the Lego child body and an oversized hair piece that features Edna’s glasses to really bring her look alive. She also comes with a pair of coffee mugs and what I assume is a purse. By virtue of the fact that she shares a base with the nephews, you’ll want to try and find that hair piece. It’s bowl-shaped and quite deep so you shouldn’t worry about confusing it for one of the caps included with the duck boys. Mostly, use process of elimination as the duck boy heads are easy to distinguish and the duck butt is as well. You shouldn’t worry about confusing her with the chipmunks as their legs can move and it’s rather easy to actually move them through the bag without fear of tearing it open. I’m not much of a fan of the Incredibles or this character, but she looks good for what Lego is shooting for.

Frozone

Lastly, we have Frozone. It was surprising to see him excluded from the Lego sets from last year, but I guess that’s because they were saving him for this wave. Frozone comes with two ice pieces that his hands can grip as well as a saucer meant to serve as one of his ice sleds, I suppose. That saucer is what will make him easy to find as it’s large and flat. Lego opted to screen print his cowl on rather than make it a separate piece and it works considering how tight his costume is supposed to fit. The little sled piece makes him fun to pose, and overall he’s a logical inclusion that looks great.

img_4021And that concludes series 2. Will there be a series 3? I sure hope so as Lego still owes us a Goofy. How he managed to avoid inclusion in this wave is beyond me since he really should have been in the first with the other Disney originals. Aside from him, Pluto would be wanted even if he was depicted as a mascot rather than a four-legged dog (maybe make him a unique figure for another Disney park set?!) and Lego has yet to tackle any of the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Woods. The Disney Afternoon is also teeming with potential figures, the most-wanted likely being Darkwing Duck. And if Lego insists on reusing its Mickey head well there’s a whole bunch of other outfits to explore. In short, a wave 3 would be easy to fill out and is probably likely to sell as well as any other series of mini figures, if not better, so hopefully it happens. I’m not ready for it to end.


Disney+ Revealed

Disney+It was only a matter of time until big companies got into streaming. Netflix was allowed to practically monopolize the market for years before facing any sort of real challenge. Now we have Hulu, Prime Video, as well as numerous niche offerings like WWE Network and Crunchyroll which cater to a specific type of fan. Premium channels like HBO can now be subscribed to without a cable subscription as more consumers look to change how they watch television. With Warner Media announcing in November of 2018 that it intended to offer a streaming service, it only made sense that Disney would follow suit. Not only did Disney possess its own vast library of works, it had recently entered into an agreement to acquire 20th Century Fox adding even more volume. And given how much money Disney had paid to acquire Fox’s portfolio, it only makes sense that the media giant would want to find a way to monetize that investment sooner rather than later.

We’ve known for months that Disney+ was coming. We’ve also known it was going to feature the entirety of Disney’s film library. This was notable when announced because it likely means the long-vaulted film Song of the South will be readily available for the first time in decades. Song of the South is a live-action animated hybrid first released in 1946. At best, it’s content was deemed racially insensitive and at worst flat-out racist as it sought to portray a setting of happy plantation workers in a post Civil War setting. Most historians seem to agree that Walt Disney’s heart was in the right place when the movie was made, but also acknowledge it’s very problematic. Today, most fans will just recognize the animated characters from the popular Disney World and Disneyland attraction Splash Mountain. Disney has long sought to distance itself from this film and never released it on VHS or DVD in the west. It has been released in some parts of the world where the issue of American slavery is less thorny. It’s likely appearance on Disney+ will be the first time many Americans are exposed to the film outside of a bootleg.

uncle remus

Disney+ will likely be how a lot of folks will first experience the controversial Song of the South.

A 70-year-old film that’s not very good wasn’t going to drive the success of Disney+ though. Song of the South will probably have high stream counts when the service launches and gradually fade away. The rest of the Disney film library will do a lot of the heavy-lifting, but how much was that going to be worth to consumers? Disney, more so than any other studio, has a pretty loyal following of fans that still buy its movies on physical media. While it’s certainly convenient to have films readily available on a streaming platform, what’s the value to Disney fans that already have most of these movies?

UPDATE:  Apparently “entire film library” does not apply to the controversial ones as it is now being reported that Song of the South will indeed be excluded from Disney+ when it launches this fall. In addition to that, Dumbo will see the infamous Jim Crow scene annexed from its film. Song of the South is not a good film so it’s not much of a loss to not have it on the streaming service. In the spirit of not hiding from one’s past, I would have liked to have seen it included with a disclaimer or even an introduction added on, but I’m also not surprised. Removing an entire scene, a rather pivotal one at that, from Dumbo is more concerning. If they’re going to start chopping up their films to remove questionable content (and there’s more than just Dumbo) then I’d prefer they just not include them on the platform.

Disney was going to have to make Disney+ special, and on April 11th the company at long last laid out what it envisioned for the service. The most important detail, as always, is cost. The service will launch in November 2019 at a cost of $6.99 per month in the US, or $70 per year. Other regions will follow as the company likely looks to stagger the release to get a read on how much their servers will have to work. Presumably, the cost will be the same or roughly the same in other parts of the world. It’s an aggressive price point, not in that it’s too high, but in that Disney clearly looks like it’s trying to undercut Netflix, which just raised its prices. Disney owns a 60% stake in Hulu so it likely doesn’t want to undercut that too much. And with the confirmation that it will be ad-free, Disney+ already looks like one of the better bargains in the streaming world.

disney+ dash

A concept of what fans can expect to see when they login to the service.

Disney+ will also include not just Disney films, but Star Wars and Marvel as well. This isn’t much of a surprise, but there probably were some wondering if one, or both, of those big brands would be sent to Hulu instead. It was also touted that the launch of the service will feature the newly released Captain Marvel, currently airing in theaters at the time of this writing. It’s interesting that Captain Marvel was highlighted, but not Toy Story 4 which is set for release this June. At the time Disney+ launches, Toy Story 4 will likely be heading to home media and digital for the holidays. That film might be the first litmus test for what fans can expect between home video and streaming release. It would be understandable if Disney wants a gap between the two so as not to harm home media sales, but it also needs to make its streaming service attractive in regards to new releases.

Disney knows it will need some original content to compete with the likes of Netflix, and it announced a few new shows destined for its streaming service. The Mandalorian is a Star Wars themed show about a bounty hunter that looks like Boba Fett because that character is inexplicably popular. There will also be an animated show based on Marvel’s What If? line of comics and a live-action show called WandaVision focusing on Scarlet Witch and Vision. Some what of a surprise was the announcement that the “live-action” Lady and the Tramp is going to be a direct-to-streaming film on the service as opposed to a theatrically released film. I suppose Lady and the Tramp isn’t as popular as the likes of Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, but given how much money these live-action remakes have been making it’s still a bit of a surprise to see it bypass the theater.

Disney-Simpsons

The Simpsons “welcome” their new corporate overlords.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was reserved for a non-Disney property:  The Simpsons. America’s favorite animated family is coming to Disney+ and all thirty seasons will be available on day one. I think most assumed that The Simpsons was destined for Hulu, but apparently Disney feels the brand is too valuable for that platform. It’s probably right, though this likely spells the end for The Simpsons World, the streaming portion of the FX Now app which currently is home to the entire series for anyone with a cable subscription. That app was limited, though it was still useful to have every episode on demand, with optional commentary no less. I assume the show will still air on FXX, assuming Disney keeps the channel around, but the on demand options to cable subscribers are probably about to decrease substantially.

What wasn’t touched on in as much detail as I would have liked is what is to come of the television properties Disney owns? Specifically, can we expect to see the entire Disney Afternoon collection of shows on this service? The announcement did make mention of Disney Channel programming so it’s expected all or most of the current programs will be there, but it wasn’t elaborated on. I also want to know if the classic theatrical shorts will show up, and if so, will they be remastered in HD? Some packages of shorts are currently available on Netflix, so it wouldn’t surprise me if those make it to Disney+ early on, but I’m really hoping all of the classic animation is included.

pooh and christopher robin

Disney+ could be a place where television shows like The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, one that has been ignored by Disney since it ceased airing, could finally find a new home.

Given the amount of content and the low introductory price, I think it’s safe to say that Disney+ will have a pretty successful launch. My household will likely be a day one subscriber as my kids probably average one Disney movie per day and this will save ware and tear on my Blu Ray collection. I suspect the price-point to change much faster than Netflix changed its pricing. The most popular Netflix subscription just increased to $13 per month, nearly twice what Disney+ will cost in November. There’s no way Disney, a company that really loves money, will stay at the low-end for long. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressively the company raises that number, with it likely staying put for a year or so. Disney will probably try to incentivize consumers to subscribe to the service in a package with Hulu and ESPN.

What we’re also likely to discover in the coming years as well is just how large an appetite the consumer has for streaming content. Cutting the chord used to be a radical concept, but now is starting to become pretty normal. It was once a way to drastically reduce the cost of television in the average household, but with more streaming options showing up spreading things around it’s no longer the value it once was. My guess is that consumers will become less loyal to any one brand and will be constantly switching between services on a monthly basis. That is, until the content providers start forcing or aggressively incentivizing consumers to subscribe to deals that last for months, or even years. It’s even possible they’ll be forced to turn to contracts, and then we’ll basically be right back to where we were with cable companies. The cycle will repeat.


Dec. 6 – “Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas”

goofy christmas dvd

Original air date December 5, 1992

Goof Troop was part of that next wave of Disney Afternoon shows following the likes of DuckTales and Rescue Rangers. And unlike those shows, this one starred one of the original Disney cartoon stars from the company’s early days – Goofy. Following a career in short films, first as part of Mickey Mouse cartoons and eventually his own line of toons, Goofy had mostly laid low like the rest of the gang. Those later shorts he starred in though often placed him in a suburban setting, and sometimes even with a son who was sometimes referred to as Goofy Jr. Those cartoons seemed to be the basis for Goof Troop, an animated sitcom in which Goofy (Bill Farmer) is a single dad raising his son Max (Dana Hill) while the Pete family lives next door. Old Peg-Leg Pete and Goofy were not frequent adversaries in the old shorts, and I actually can’t think of a solo Goofy short that featured Pete, but Pete has always been a natural foil/villain to the various Disney toons out there.

goof troop

Goof Troop was the story about a dad just trying to raise his son in the wacky 90s.

In Goof Troop, Goofy is basically the character we’ve come to know and love. He’s got a heart of gold and child-like appreciation for the small things and most importantly he loves his son. He’s also not very bright and an extreme klutz. Max is the opposite and is often embarrassed or at odds with his dad. He seems to know he’s not particularly bright so he’s careful to not hurt his father’s feelings, but it can be a struggle. Pete (Jim Cummings), on the other hand, is the polar opposite. He’s the next door neighbor who has everything and he can’t stand the Goof. He has a family of his own. His wife Peg (April Winchell) is a buxom bombshell who hardly resembles an animal, save for her little black nose, that Pete always answers to. His daughter Pistol (Nancy Cartwright) is a fast-talking little girl that exhausts him, but he otherwise seems to have great affection for. Son P.J. (Rob Paulsen) is a sweet-natured kid and Max’s best friend. He may look like his dad, but he doesn’t really act like him and it seems to disappoint the short-tempered Pete.

goofy xmas title card

Being a true special and not an actual episode, this is kind of like an encore for Goof Troop.

Goof Troop premiered on September 5, 1992 and would eventually total 78 episodes and this one Christmas special. There’s also a Goofy and Max segment in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas that seems to exist in this universe, and a sequel featuring a grown-up Max in Twice Upon a Christmas. Because it was a weekday afternoon show, it ran through all of its episodes in 1992 though it remained on the air for years after and even spawned a couple of movies:  the 1995 theatrically released A Goofy Movie and the 2000 direct-to-video An Extremely Goofy Movie. The show is no longer on television anywhere nor does it appear to be streaming as part of a packaged service. It can be digitally purchased through Amazon, which is the only way to see the show in its entirety now as, like many Disney cartoons, it has received an incomplete DVD release.

goofy and max

Three minutes in and we’ve already decapitated Santa. This one is off to a good start!

“Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas” was first-run on or around December 5, 1992 and is considered a television special, so it’s not technically part of season one or two. It was essentially the series finale, though there is no finality to it. And even though it’s a special it does not appear to have any additional bells and whistles in terms of its presentation, nor is it any longer than a typical episode. Disney must have just felt the show needed a Christmas special and commissioned one.

The special opens with Goofy and Max decorating for Christmas. A mishap with a Santa decoration causes an explosion rocketing Goofy through the snowy scenery to crash into the Pete household via the chimney causing daughter Pistol to mistake Goofy for Santa Claus. After the decorative title card, Pete and his daughter Pistol are decorating a rather pathetic looking Christmas tree. Pistol correctly points out it more resembles a toilet brush than an actual tree, and she even drops a Bart Simpson line on her dad (Nancy Cartwright voiced both characters, so I’m guessing that’s why they gave her such a line). Pete is clearly not in the holiday spirit and dislikes decorating for Christmas. Meanwhile, next door Goofy is the opposite (I’m noticing a theme here) as he’s loading up the house with various decorations. Max isn’t really feeling it, but Goofy is oblivious as usual.

goofy's gift to pete

Just being neighborly.

Seeing that his neighbor doesn’t have any decorations on his house, Goofy decides to loan Pete a light-up snowman. He brings it over and plugs it in which just annoys Pete. He orders the Goofs off of his property and then tries to remove the snowman, but cartoon law dictates that anything that lights up and is plugged in will shock a bad-natured character and Pete gets his fill. Angry and sick of Goofy, Pete decides he wants to spend Christmas without his annoying neighbor next door and packs up the family and heads for Aspen. Max, seeing his best friend P.J. leave, is bummed that he’s stuck with just his dad for the holidays. Goofy sees his son’s distress, and decides to take him on a trip to the mountains too for a wilderness Christmas vacation which delights his son.

Father and son (and cat, Waffles) arrive late in the night to find a rickety old cabin. A bear (Frank Welker), which looks like an off-model Humphrey Bear, was enjoying the abandoned cabin until the Goofs showed up and is forced to pretend he’s a bear-skin rug. Goofy is pretty happy with the cozy cabin, but Max less so. After some physical comedy with the “bear-skin rug,” Goofy sets to unpacking their belongings which are piled high on Goofy’s car and covered with a tarp. When Goofy unravels the tarp it’s revealed that he brought all of his outdoor Christmas decorations and incorrectly assumes Max will love it.

excited pete

That star gag is rather conventional. Why not reindeer? Get in the spirit!

Up on a hill above Goofy and Max’s cabin is another, much nicer, cabin. To no one’s surprise it’s being occupied by the Pete family and the entire family is asleep except for Pete, who is enjoying cold chicken and cable TV in bed. After polishing off a bowl of drumsticks, he turns off the tube and settles in for some sleep, only to hear someone singing Christmas carols outside. He heads for the window and screams for them to shut up, and in the process tumbles out and crashes to the ground. This is par for the course for this show; Pete gets mad, Pete yells, Pete gets hurt.

sleigh ride

Sledding!

Pete is horrified to see Goofy and Max occupying the cabin next door while Goofy is pretty happy to be able to spend Christmas with his neighbor. Max emerges from the cabin to see the garish decorations and is none too thrilled. The next day, Pete is suffering from a cold, possibly because of his trip through the snow the night before, when Goofy and Max show up to invite the family sledding. Pete has no desire to go sledding with the Goofs, but the rest of the family does. They all head down the mountain on various sleds with Goofy on a toboggan. Everyone encounters some mishap that throws them off of their sled, only to land on Goofy’s. Eventually everyone is on the toboggan, including our Humphrey look-a-like, the bear from last night who was awakened when the toboggan crashed through his cave. A tree limb clothes-lines the poor bear, which draws attention to him being there, and a little chase ensues that results in the bear ending up on a ski jump (cartoons, baby!). The toboggan does as well, and the whole gang ends up crashing into Pete’s cabin wrecking his jigsaw puzzle he was happily piecing together alone. Pete’s ready to annihilate Goofy, but Peg reprimands him and reminds him to be festive, which is apparently enough to prevent him from killing Goofy.

up in flames

Horrified Goofy is actually a rather unsettling sight.

That night, Goofy leads everyone on a walk through the woods with their eyes closed – he has a surprise for everyone. He leads them to his cabin where he unveils a colossal Christmas tree that he’s decorated. He offers Pete the switch to turn the lights on as a way of cheering him up. Goofy, you don’t know how right you are, buddy. Pete turns on the lights and everybody “ooo’s” and “ahh’s” for a moment until the lights short-circuit and the whole tree goes up in flames. Max and Pistol appear to be pretty impressed with the burning tree, until it topples over onto Goofy’s car and cabin. Goofy panics realizing Max’s presents are still in the car and manages to save one, but everything else is lost. Pete though is feeling a lot better and enjoys the misfortune of Goofy. At least he does until his wife invites Goofy and Max to stay in their cabin (which apparently is in good-enough shape following the accident from earlier). Goofy excitedly offers to cook which just further concerns Pete since he’s likely the only one smart enough to know that Goofy in the kitchen is going to lead to disaster.

pegs invite

Peg extends an invite to the dejected Goofs.

At the cabin, Goofy is preparing Christmas dinner while everyone else is getting cozy by the fire. While Goofy retrieves food from Pete’s car, Max awkwardly thanks the Pete family for taking them in and apologizes for how “wrapped-up” his dad gets during Christmas. Meanwhile, that bear is back and notices all of the food Goofy is bringing into the house and follows, since Goofy left the door open. Goofy doesn’t notice, but feels the bear’s presence behind him and assumes it’s just Pete. As the bear tries to grab food or inflict harm on Goofy, Goofy mistakenly swats him or opens cabinet doors in his face. When the bear growls he assumes it’s the sound of Pete’s stomach and crams a pickle in his maw. Pete eventually lumbers into the kitchen, as the laws of comedy dictate, and asks Goofy who he’s talking to. When he sees the bear he freaks out and eventually Goofy realizes the bear is there as well. They flee the kitchen, leaving the bear all of the food the family was going to eat. All except a lone pot of cranberries Goofy places on the fire.

goofy and bear

Just a bear in a kitchen.

Goofy tries to cheer everyone up with various Christmas traditions. He proposes singing carols or retelling “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” which no one is up for (those cynical 90s!). Goofy then decides it’s time to unveil The Reindeer Dance. He puts some horns on his head, and even has a pair for Max, and goes into a song and dance routine that’s actually neither funny nor catchy. Max is embarrassed, but gets roped into the routine when he tries to get his dad’s attention. As the duo dance, the pot of cranberries on the fire begins to rumble eventually exploding at the dance’s conclusion covering everyone in gooey cranberry sauce. A dejected Goofy is reprimanded by Pete for ruining Christmas, and points out how Goofy even ruined it “for your stupid kid!” Max doesn’t jump to his defense, and a dejected Goofy heads off into the wilderness mistaking their cat Waffles for a scarf.

With Goofy out of the way, the Pete family decides to open their presents on Christmas Eve. Pistol reminds Max that his dad managed to rescue one gift from their burning car and gives it to him. Max unwraps it to find a framed picture of he and his dad doing The Reindeer Dance, which just further saddens him. He grabs his coat and lets everyone know he can’t let his dad be alone out there on Christmas Eve, and Peg declares they’re going with him – even Pete.

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Some sad Goofs.

Goofy is shown solemnly walking through the rising snow with Waffles the cat feeling sorry for himself. Behind him, the rest of the gang are marching through the snow when Pete declares that he should be the leader if he has to go on this silly mission. That just allows him to be the one to fall off a little cliff so everyone can land on him when they do the same. Goofy had passed through the same area and wound up buried in the snow and they find his feet sticking out of a bank up ahead.

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Yay Christmas!

Having found Goofy, they all pile into a nearby cave and get a fire going. It’s there Goofy and Max get to have a bonding moment and everyone learns a lesson. Goofy apologizes for messing up everything, while Max just lets him know he’s growing up, but he still loves Christmas and his dad. Goofy understands that Christmas isn’t about decorations and all that, but in who you spend it with. It’s also about bears, because it turns out they’re in the bear’s cave from earlier and he’s not interested in sharing his space with them. Peg tries to pull a tough mom routine and boss the bear around, but seeing as they’re in his cave she realizes she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Max then comes up with the (bright?) idea of distracting the bear with The Reindeer Dance. Goofy joins him and the dance of the two Goofs proves too intoxicating as everyone eventually joins in – including the bear.

When the song and dance number is all through, we fade out and reappear on a makeshift Christmas tree. It’s more like a Christmas twig adorned with ice and items characters had in their pockets or on their person like car keys and jewelry. They’re all singing “Silent Night.” Goofy puts an arm around his son and wishes him a merry Christmas, while Pete suggests they spend next Christmas in the Bahamas. He lets out a mighty sneeze as our Christmas special comes to a close.

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I think this one has Charlie Brown’s tree beat in the pathetic department.

When I was doing research for this feature I was looking over the episode list for Goof Troop and I was initially surprised to not see a Christmas episode. Christmas with a single dad in a suburban setting just feels like shooting fish in a barrel, and for Disney to not take the lay-up came as a surprise. Of course, then I realized they did do a Christmas episode, but it was outside the episode guide as a “special.” Fair enough, as it is basically just another episode of Goof Troop that happens to involve Christmas. It largely plays as expected, with an excitable Goofy inadvertently making things hard on his son and neighbors via his Christmas enthusiasm. What I didn’t expect was for a large part of the message to take a swipe at what many of us have come to think of as simple Christmas cheer. The characters shun Goofy’s decorations, carols, and overall enthusiasm and in the end have the take-away be that Goofy was in the wrong. I guess it’s obvious that basically every position Pete takes is wrong as well, since he is often swiftly dealt with in the form of violence and mayhem, but it was bizarre nonetheless. I get the message that family and togetherness are what matters most, and Goofy is obviously bad at reading a room, but I guess I just don’t really go along with this particular special. In its message though, I suppose it ends up being the most authentically 90s animated Christmas special.

Visually, Goof Troop is a little behind a show like DuckTales. It has a more “toon” look to it with lots of exaggerated movements from the characters and mouths that flap all over the place. Perhaps it was the Tiny Toon Adventures influence or maybe this is just what networks thought the “outrageous kids of the 90s” wanted. It might have also been cheaper, which is certainly possible. It mostly looks fine though, and the snowy backdrops are also really well done. This is one of those cartoons where I feel cold just watching the characters trudge through the snow, especially during the night scenes. The music is fairly understated though, and even that silly Reindeer Dance isn’t punctuated with much instrumentation, just some saxophone.

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If we were to assign an MVP for this one I guess it would go to the Humphrey look-alike.

“Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas” kind of let me down. I went into this one expecting something emotional that would resonate, but instead I just got a lot of physical comedy. The disappointing aspect of the comedy is that it was all stuff that had been done before, and done better. Nothing felt inventive. The emotional aspects also weren’t leaned into very heavily. I expected something that would lead to a lump in the throat, but I was largely unmoved in the end. A lot was riding on people connecting with The Reindeer Dance and Max’s Christmas gift, but both fell flat. If you want to spend Christmas with Goofy and the gang, I’d recommend just watching “A Very Goofy Christmas” from Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas as opposed to this.

If after reading all of that you feel compelled to watch this special holiday edition of Goof Troop, then you’ll have to resort to streaming or purchasing it. Disney is really bad at celebrating its old TV properties. Even though they have multiple cable channels, they never re-air their holiday specials at this time of year which is a source of frustration for me. You can purchase this digitally or on DVD, or you can just watch it for free online. It’s even on YouTube, though the quality isn’t great, but at least the price is right!


DuckTales Season One Review

ducktales newRebooting an old cartoon property has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, reviving an old brand means the core of what you’re trying to build is already in place. Characters, relationships, stories, even music can all be mined from the old and adapted for the new. There are often tweaks made to the look of the show, new voices to cast, and a whole new team to assemble, but it’s undoubtedly easier and less expensive than starting from scratch. And it also allows a new generation of creators to take something they enjoyed as youngsters and mold it into something else. It also comes with risks, and as we’ve seen all too often recently there is an aspect of fandom that is, well, toxic to say the least. Take She-Ra, for example. Originally conceived as a way to market action figures to girls, She-Ra was integrated into He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, itself a show designed simply to sell toys to boys, and the backlash was swift and quick. Even those behind the creation of He-Man looked down on She-Ra and blamed her for hastening the decline of the franchise as a whole, “Now my sister wants to play with me? Gross!” This is all captured quite well in the documentary series The Toys That Made Us, if you want to know more.

She-Ra, I’m sure, had fans of her own, but they definitely were small in numbers, relatively speaking. Rarely did I ever hear anyone in conversation bring her up in a positive light and I literally met no one pining for a reboot in the same mold as He-Man himself. And yet, when a new concept was recently unveiled for She-Ra online the He-Man fandom and nerd culture as a whole was swift to pounce on it. Blaming it for ruining the character or for unoriginally adhering to the “CalArts style,” these fans were loud and largely obnoxious. It was similar to the backlash towards a new ThunderCats show that has yet to air. Did you ever watch ThunderCats back when it was originally aired? That show, just like She-Ra and He-Man and countless other programs, was terrible. It’s fine to be nostalgic for them because you grew up with them. I certainly watched a lot of crappy cartoons, but I don’t want to subject my kids to the same. If there are to be new versions of these shows I want them to be good! Not some 23 minute toy commercial. Fans should be happy these things still exist for a new audience. And the beauty of it all is, if you don’t like what’s new, you still have what’s old. It doesn’t go away or vanish the moment a new version shows up.

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The cast is much larger, but many episodes still revolve around Scrooge and his nephews (plus Webby).

It’s interesting that one of the companies behind the pivot from making shows that sell toys to just making good animated programming was Disney with its Disney Afternoon programming block. The original Disney Afternoon toon was Adventures of the Gummi Bears, but the show most associate with the block is none other than DuckTales. Basically a loose adaptation of the Carl Barks comics for television, DuckTales centered not around Donald Duck but around his rich Uncle Scrooge McDuck. He was partnered with his grand nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie along with his personal pilot Launchpad. Together they went on grand adventures searching for treasure. They wouldn’t just travel to far away places, but backwards and even forward in time! It was memorable for its lavish animation that went far beyond the likes of Dic and Hanna-Barbera. Not to mention for its incredibly catchy theme song.

As such, it seems appropriate that when it came time for Disney to adapt DuckTales for a new audience it largely escaped the internet backlash that had befallen other properties. Oh, I’m sure there are detractors that do not like the new visual style or the Felicia Barton sung intro, but by and large the response I have seen online and in person has been overwhelmingly positive. DuckTales just concluded its first season. Commercially, I have no idea how well the show has done, though it’s done well enough to receive a second season. It’s hard to judge that sort of thing in this day and age when ratings mean almost nothing thanks to streaming options and DVR. There hasn’t even been a tie-in toy-line until very recently so sales of that aren’t going to offer much of a measure. Creatively though, it’s hard to think of a cartoon reboot that has been more successful than DuckTales. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come close with their 2012 reboot, and really that ThunderCats reboot of a few years ago was miles ahead of the original, though it did not last very long. DuckTales is on another level though, and there are a lot of reasons why.

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After mostly chilling on the sidelines in the original series, Donald is a part of the main cast this time around. He doesn’t get to relax as much as this image suggests.

First and foremost, the work of Carl Barks has not been ignored. Scrooge is back to his red overcoat and he’s partnered with all of his nephews this time – including Donald Duck! Back when the original Disney Afternoon was conceived, Disney was hesitant about letting any of its big stars headline a show. Landing Donald for the few episodes he was in was a huge get, as characters like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were completely shut-out at the onset. That stigma has long since passed allowing Donald to finally star alongside his uncle as he should. Huey, Dewey, Louie are still around and now they have distinct looks and personalities all to themselves. The prior nephews in basically every iteration were interchangeable. It was part of their charm, but also pretty limiting from a character perspective. Now they’re free to be themselves and the writers are allowed to explore each individual duckling. Huey is the closest to the original mold, the burgeoning Junior Woodchuck. Louie is more slothful and laid back while Dewey embodies the adventurous spirit of his great-uncle with perhaps a touch too much enthusiasm. Webby is also back and she’s no longer the little girl who seems to get in the way, rather she’s an adventurer herself who looks upon the likes of Scrooge and Donald as something close to legendary figures. She’s good-natured, and her grannie Mrs. Beakly is still around to look after her. Oh, and Mrs. Beakly is no longer the meek maid to Scrooge but a former covert agent herself with a rather massive and intimidating physique.

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One of the more radical redesigns is that of Mrs. Beakley, who went from doting old maid to a tank-like brawler who still has a soft touch.

The show’s approach is similar to the original DuckTales, take Scrooge and the gang on adventures to fantastic worlds with treasures to uncover and villains to foil. Since the cast is larger, episodes will often pairs things down to just a handful and save the full cast for the most important episodes. It also includes more structured story-telling and the first season revolves around a character we’ve only ever seen mentioned, and rarely at that – Della Duck. Della is the sister to Donald and the mother to the boys, and at the end of the second episode (aired as one long episode for the premiere) the boys uncover a painting that depicts her alongside her brother and uncle. Della previously was basically only mentioned in the cartoon short “Donald’s Nephews” with Donald shown reading a letter from her asking her to watch her kids. She’s basically never been mentioned again and never seen, as far as I can recall. The boys start off knowing something happened to her and it may or may not have led to a falling out between Scrooge and Donald. The first episode deals with Donald reluctantly going to his uncle for help in watching the boys so he can go on a job interview, and that arch ends with Donald and the boys moving in as Donald seems to understand its best for his nephews (plus his house boat was destroyed in the process). The boys spend parts of the first season secretly investigating what happened to Della, and the mystery is unraveled slowly and takes some twists and turns. It even threatens to split the brothers apart as Dewey discovers something and decides to keep it from his brothers. Things come to a head in the penultimate episode leaving the finale, which just aired this past Saturday, to deal with the fall-out.

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Lena and Webby’s friendship is one of the main plot points weaved throughout the first season.

The other big teaser throughout the first season revolves around Scrooge’s old enemy – Magica De Spell (Catherine Tate)! She was a frequent foil in the original series so naturally she’s back. As basically the big baddie of the whole thing, it’s a lot of fun to see the show treat her as such. When the season begins she’s magically sealed away and only able to interact with the world through her niece Lena (Kimiko Glenn) who poses as a friendly sort in order to gain the trust of Scrooge and thus somehow free Magica from whatever keeps her sealed away. To do so she gets close to Webby and the two become best friends. Throughout much of the second half of the season we get to see Lena being pulled between the two forces in her life; her friendship with Webby and her loyalty to Magica. It’s nothing new, but it’s handled well and there are some genuinely emotional moments that come of this and there’s a lot of payoff in the end. Plus, the animators used this really creepy effect where Lena’s eyes turn black and “spill” shadows to form Magica. It’s genuinely unsettling.

The original DuckTales cartoon dealt with plots that continued from one episode into the other. There were even changes to the main cast as was the case with the introduction of Bubba and Gizmoduck. Those storyline pay-offs though were not on the equal with the new show. The main theme of family is at the core of this new show and it never strays too far from that. Very few of the episodes in the first season felt like filler as all seemed to serve some purpose. Either a character learns something about themself or their relationship to the others or something else happens to move the overall story along. It’s a great way to structure a show and I always love seeing what is primarily children’s programming take this sort of risk. There will always be television executives who look down on children and think the simpler the better, but trust me, kids notice this stuff and appreciate it when a show doesn’t treat them like brainless buffoons.

magica

Many of Scrooge’s old villains have returned.

Additional challenges arise when creating a new version of a 30-year-old show. Namely, the voice talent available isn’t the same anymore. Alan Young, who provided the voice of Scrooge for decades, is no longer with us. And since it was decided that the nephews would be approached differently this time around, the talents of Russi Taylor were declined and instead each was given a unique voice. These changes are often the hardest for the old fans since not only do these characters barely resemble what we fell in love with as children, but they also sound very different. Once you get past that change though, it’s hard to say bad things about this cast. David Tennant is a great Scrooge with a natural Scottish accent. He brings everything you need from a voice actor to the character. He can be gentle, intimidating, enthusiastic, and even sad. It was hard to say good-bye to Young, but Tennant has done a remarkable job in his first season at the helm. The nephews are voiced by Danny Pudi (Huey), Ben Schwartz (Dewey) and Bobby Moynihan (Louie) and they all impart their own personality on the characters. If there is one negative to this season, it’s that Dewey definitely feels more developed than the other two and thus Schwartz shines brighter than the others, but season 2 could easily rectify that. Kate Micucci is Webby and she was perfect in the role while Toks Olagundoye voices her grandmother Beakley. Beck Bennett plays a more aloof Launchpad, but otherwise kind of sounds like he’s trying to do Terry McGovern which is a little sad because I know McGovern really wanted the part. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with all of the newness in the cast then at least you have Tony Anselmo reprising his role as Donald Duck, as it should be.

The new visual style of the show is bright and expressive. It’s a bit flat, which seems to be a trend in 2D digital animation, but it has its own look which helps differentiate it from the original series. The look of the old series just can’t be duplicated in today’s environment, so the show was smart to not even try. I really like the new look for Scrooge and Donald and feel it suits them well. The nephews have taken some getting used to as they have really large heads and in some respects resemble chickens more than ducks. The backgrounds are all really well done and there’s plenty of variety to be found from suburban settings to creepy castles. There’s also more imaginative and fantastic settings to be found and the show does an admirable job of mixing things up. It does the same with the villains and guest spots and virtually everyone you know and love from the original series makes an appearance or two here. There are also a few new characters thrown around, some inconsequential and some rather imaginative (I’m looking at you statue-headed horse) and almost all have some pay-off.

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And many old allies are back as well.

Of the first season’s 23 episodes (25 if you count the premier and finale as two episodes) it’s hard to pick a favorite. The first episode, “Woo-oo” was wonderful for its patient and rewarding reintroduction of these timeless characters. Any episode that pits Scrooge against Glomgold was usually humorous and entertaining to watch and the episode “Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System” was equally humorous for its focus on Launchpad, plus it had Gizmoduck! Some of the episodes have some rather delightful Easter Eggs in them. You have undoubtedly seen or heard about the numerous Darkwing Duck ones, and the finale included one Easter Egg from the old NES game. And it’s really hard for me to not just pick the last three episodes as my favorites. They’re the most weighty with the biggest emotional moments in the whole season. I even get a lump in my throat just thinking about them.

As I said earlier, it’s hard to imagine a reboot having as successful a reintroduction as DuckTales did in 2017 and into 2018. The new show proves the old comics and original series still have legs, their foundation was one that can anchor any show in any era. This is the rare reboot that should have little trouble appealing to the old fans while also being something new for a younger generation that may never have even heard of DuckTales before 2017. If nothing else, my own children have proven to me time and again that the old theme song will never go out of style as the two will happily sing it at the dinner table, from their car seats, or while they play. It’s really rewarding as a parent to see your children embrace something you loved as a kid yourself, even if it’s not the same and in a new form. I have no doubt that DuckTales is in good hands right now and I look forward to watching the second season with my kids, or even on my own after they go to bed (it can be hard to focus on these things with a pair of short-attention span toddlers).


PhatMojo DuckTales – Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck

IMG_2498It’s been nearly a year since DuckTales returned to television airwaves. Scrooge McDuck, along with his nephews and surrogate niece Webby are back to solve mysteries and rewrite history. It’s a fun show that adheres more to the work of Carl Barks than to the series that ran in the 1980s while also doing its own thing. For the first time really ever, the nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie are distinguishable by more than just the color of their clothes and the cast is large enough that the writers don’t seem to feel pressured into fitting everyone into every episode. Sometimes Scrooge will be missing, other times Donald will be. It seems to be a show more about the kids and how they view the almost mythological Scrooge. And it also has other mysteries to uncover and it’s mostly good fun.

Back when the original series ran it surprisingly did not coincide with a ton of merchandise. Maybe this was a deliberate attempt by Disney to distinguish its cartoons from the competition which were often toys first, shows second. The only DuckTales toy I can remember owning was a Gizmoduck that came in a box of cereal. It seemed like this new incarnation was going to befall the same fate, but along came PhatMojo to rectify that. Now, I know nothing of this company and this is my first introduction to them, but I’ll say it’s mostly a positive one. Alongside some figurines and plush dolls, PhatMojo has put out its first line of DuckTales actions figures. Apparently exclusive to Target, the inaugural line contains single-carded figures of Scrooge, Donald, Launchpad, and Flintheart Glomgold. In addition to those figures are a pair of two-packs of Huey and Dewey and one of Webby and Louie. Also available is Launchpad’s airplane which also comes with his figure and Scrooge’s Money Bin playset, which seems more like a storage device for your toys than a full-fledged play set.

I have a weakness for toys, that is obvious to anyone who reads this blog, and perhaps a greater weakness for Donald Duck merchandise. Despite that, I’ve actually never owned a proper Donald Duck figure until now. I have statues and Lego mini-figures, but no action figures. Most of the is due to scarcity. There is a phenomenal Donald Duck figure available by a company called Herocross, but to import him is over $100. Yikes! There have been some Kingdom Hearts Donald Duck figures, but those have never spoke to me for one reason or another. Years ago there was a line of figures based on Mickey’s Christmas Carol and I do kind of kick myself for not collecting it. I was in high school when those came out and just didn’t have much money for action figures. I’m guessing if I looked them up on eBay right now I would not like what I see in terms of price too. As for Scrooge, he received a pretty darn good figure just last year from Funko, purveyors of those Pop! figures you’ve probably seen everywhere. That Scrooge was part of a line based on the old Disney Afternoon so it’s Scrooge with his blue coat. Herocross also released a version of Scrooge from that series and it’s both awesome and terribly expensive.

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“Hello?”

Not wanting to get too far into another line of toys, I forced myself to just stick with Donald and Scrooge when I encountered them over the weekend at my local Target. Might as well start with an overview of the line as a whole. These are mass-market retail figures, and even though I’m a man in his mid-30s, I can admit these are aimed at children. As such, it stands to reason you shouldn’t expect collector grade quality with these figures, and the price of 8.99 a piece captures that. The figures have unique sculpts with simple paint apps and even simpler articulation. The heads sit on a ball-joint that offers solid range of motion, but that’s it for fancy joints. The shoulders are on simple pegs and there’s no elbow or wrist articulation. The legs are also on simple peg joints at the hip with no knee articulation. As a result, these figures are very limited in what they can do as far as posing goes, but what’s there has a solid build and isn’t flimsy or anything.

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That’s the best he can do as far as taking a picture goes.

Let’s talk Donald Duck first. In case you are unfamiliar with the show or the work of Carl Barks, this Donald is in his comic accurate attire, which is how he’s presented in the show (his more popular light blue shirt gets set on fire in the first episode). His shirt is black with gold buttons and he wears a white hat instead of a blue one. The character is brought to life once again by Tony Anselmo and it’s really fun to see this Donald on television for the first time. He’s not as quick to anger as his personality in the cartoon shorts dictates and he’s very much a doting uncle most interested in the well-being of his nephews. Donald stands just under 4″ and comes with two accessories:  a camera and a smart phone.

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What you see is what you get, but what you see also is pretty good.

First of all, this figure is a dead-ringer for the show. He has that rounded look in the head with harder lines on the beak. The paint app is simple because it doesn’t call for much, and my figure looks pretty good in that area (some on the pegs were less impressive). Because of the limited articulation, he can’t really do much with his accessories, but he can kind of hold the phone like he’s talking into it. My only criticism of the sculpt is in how the legs meet the body which looks odd, but it was obviously done this way to keep it simple. The little tassel on his hat is also molded to his head and I wish it was jutting out on its own to impart a touch more personality, but again, this is the simple approach. Donald has a sunny disposition to him which may have felt out of place for his toon counterpart, but for DuckTales this feels appropriate. Overall, this is a very solid figure that, while not much fun to pose, definitely nails the likeness.

For Scrooge, we have a slightly more ambitious design. His tophat, glasses, and overcoat make him slightly harder to sculpt, but once again PhatMojo pretty much nails it. His hat pushes him close to 4 1/2″ and he has his little tuffs of hair pushing out from underneath it. Some may be disappointed that the hat is non-removable, but I think it looks better this way. Like Donald, this Scrooge is more in-line with the design of Barks and features a red coat instead of the blue one from the 1980s. Voicing him in the show is David Tennant, and man did he have some pretty big shoes to fill, but so far he’s pretty much nailed it. He comes with two accessories of his own, his trusty cane and a little gold colored idol that just sort of sits there. His articulation is the same as his nephew, only his overcoat really limits what can be done with his legs. In fact, I can’t even tell if his legs are articulated or not since they basically can’t move.

Paint-wise, he’s a bit more of a mixed bag. I had a hard time finding a good one at the store and had to settle for what I have. He has a little red dot on the brim of his hat and in a few places on his coat is a dab of white or black that shouldn’t be there. It’s not killer, but I notice these things. His eyeglasses are also kind of funky. Rather than use a piece of transparent plastic like Funko did with their Scrooge, PhatMojo just made a block of plastic to place on his beak and painted on glasses. This means the open area where there are no glasses is just painted yellow. It looks okay from a head-on perspective, as his nose should probably be there anyway, but from an angle of any kind it’s a bit clumsy. Again, this feels like a cost-cutting move as cutting out the dead-space would mean a more fragile piece in the end, but I wish they did a little better here. All of the figures I saw also had a weird little gap underneath Scrooge’s belt buckle. Not really noticeable when the figure is just displayed, but pick it up and you’ll see it. It’s probably the result of how the bottom part of his overcoat was connected to his torso.

Even with the problems I highlighted with Scrooge, I still think he’s a sound figure and he looks great on my desk alongside Donald and Funko’s Scrooge. Both Donald and Scrooge look like they’re supposed to given the source material. And considering the price, it’s hard to quibble with them too much. When I was a kid, I paid upwards of 7.99 for ToyBiz figures and that was in the early and mid 90s. To only pay 8.99 for these in 2018 is a pretty tremendous value. I don’t know how fun they are for kids given how limited they are in what they can do, but I played with similar as a kid and had no shortage of good times. If you like the look of the new DuckTales and want some figures from it, give these a look. You may want to catch them in person rather than through the web given the paint issues I saw. And if you’re a stickler for scale you may be a little disappointed with the others as Launchpad is definitely on the small side and the kids a little too big relative to Scrooge and Donald. The two-packs also run a tad more expensive at 12.99 each, but given you’re getting two 3″ figures instead of one 4″ the value seems about equal. For me, I’m probably content to just stick with these two. If a Darkwing Duck or Gizmoduck shows up I may give them a look. I’ll also probably try and push my kid towards these things as I’m always looking to foster more duck-enthusiasm in him. Got to start them young!


Dec. 14 – Bonkers: Miracle at the 34th Precinct

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Original Air Date November 27, 1993

Bonkers was a late inclusion in the Disney Afternoon, a post DuckTales/TailSpin/Rescue Rangers program and contemporary to Goof Troop and Gargoyles. It’s a show about a bobcat named Bonkers who serves in the Toon Police alongside his partner Lucky Piquel (pronounced Pickle by most characters, but it’s supposed to be Pee-kell, making it a running joke). Bonkers exists in a world where people and toons live together, making it sort of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? except the entire show is animated. It’s a cartoon I never really gave a chance because by the time 1993 rolled around I was invested heavily in Batman and X-Men and I really had no appetite for a more traditional cartoon. I watched some Animaniacs and Ren & Stimpy and that was kind of it. Plus Bonkers, who has an over-the-top “toon” aesthetic like Roger Rabbit just kind of annoyed me from what little I saw. The show’s intro is obnoxious and I honestly can’t remember if I ever sat down and watched an entire episode. As an adult, I appreciate the show’s premise much more. After all, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a personal top 10 film for me and one I adore so a cartoon that piggy-backs off of it sounds really appealing to me now.

Bonkers did have a Christmas special, and when I set out to do this it was one I looked forward to checking out. The title of the episode, “Miracle at the 34th Precinct,” implies a parody or adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street which also sounds appealing since it’s a classic Christmas story that’s rarely adapted by cartoons and sitcoms. Where as the contemporary show Darkwing Duck chose to do an It’s a Wonderful Life adaptation, which is so disappointing.

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A haggard looking Blitzen has to inform the elves he lost Santa.

The episode opens with Santa trying to navigate a pretty treacherous looking snow storm. He’s being tossed around and we’re soon taken to a a work shop where a pair of elves are wondering where Santa could be. We learn, through their dialogue, that Santa was off testing a new sleigh with only one reindeer, Blitzen, to guide him. The female elf of this duo immediately reacts with worry that Santa didn’t take Rudolf given the conditions outside (score one Christmas point for this one, it actually acknowledges the existence of the 9th reindeer) and immediately starts to panic. A tired Blitzen enters the shop with only pieces of the sleigh remaining. Santa apparently fell out somewhere over Hollywood. With only two days to go until Christmas, this is a pretty alarming development.

In Hollywood, unseasonable conditions are striking the locals. It’s snowing. Why? I don’t know. The camera pans to a building with a hole in the ceiling. Inside we find a mangey looking rabbit apparently named Fall-Apart and a large pile of snow. The pile shakes and out pops Santa, only he doesn’t know he’s Santa. Amnesia! The bane of all television personalities! Fall-Apart doesn’t seem to recognize him, but seems happy to have him around. Meanwhile, Lucky Piquel is being roused by his wife Dill (Dill Piquel, get it? I can’t believe Rugrats would repeat this joke later) for breakfast. He seems grumpy and his wife tells him not to be a Scrooge, which makes me think he’s going to be a Christmas curmudgeon – he certainly seems like he could play the part. He’s unmistakably voiced by Jim Cummings, which is interesting because Cummings also voices Bonkers so he has both leads in this show. Anyways, Lucky’s daughter is waiting for him at the breakfast table, with a toon pencil casually tucked behind her ear which is awesome as it shows how casually the humans and toons co-exist. She’s heard that Santa isn’t real, and Lucky and his wife seem unsure of how to handle this, only to assure her that lots of people believe in Santa.

Fall-Apart_meets_Santa

Fall-Apart meets Santa, I mean, Jim.

In comes Bonkers! He’s playfully tossing snow around and of course he hits Lucky in the face. My guess is these two are unlikely partners, just as Roger and Eddie were, with Lucky not exactly enjoying the relationship. Bonkers is there to assure the youngest Piquel that Santa does indeed exist, and he and Lucky head off to the precinct. Meanwhile, Fall-Apart (voiced by Frank Welker using a more intelligible version of his Slimer voice with a touch of Dustin Hoffman from Rainman) decides to take Santa (after dubbing him Jim since he can’t remember his name) for a little spin around Hollywood and loads him into his cab. He immediately becomes more of a tour guide and I’m wondering if he’s good-natured or if he intends to rob this Santa of all of his money by keeping the meter running. We shall see.

At the police station, the two elves from earlier are there to report a missing person – Santa. When Bonkers and Lucky stroll in they immediately suggest that Lucky could be a good stand-in, since he’s fat. Lucky’s boss thinks it’s a good idea, why he’s willing to give up a cop for this I don’t know, but Lucky wants no part of it. He regards the elves as being kind of crazy, suggesting adults in this world probably don’t believe in Santa (I wasn’t sure based on Lucky and his wife’s reaction to their daughters declaration). The elves toss some Christmas magic dust on him to make him envision his daughter waking up disappointed on Christmas since no Santa brought her presents. It’s enough to make Lucky openly cry and agree to put on the red suit.

Jingle_and_Bell_training_Lucky

At least Lucky looks the part.

Next comes Lucky’s Santa training. He seems to be having a hard time, but at least looks the part, while the elves are getting frustrated with him. Nearby at the beach, Fall-Apart is taking Santa water skiing because it’s snowing, so you’re supposed to ski. A fisherman somehow manages to hook Santa by the ass and reveals his underwear – classic. We then jump back to Lucky’s Santa training in the flight simulator. He makes a crack about the lack of an in-flight movie while he’s jostled around in a mechanical sleigh with a giant fan in his face, so the male elf activates a screen on the sleigh to give Lucky the rundown on what every kid wants for Christmas. Back at the beach, Fall-Apart crashes his boat and we see why he’s called Fall-Apart. Bonkers is there to help piece him back together, mistakenly putting Fall-Apart’s tail where his nose should be and his nose where his tail should be, which can’t smell great. Santa is out of the picture following the wreck, so Bonkers doesn’t see him. When he asks Fall-Apart if he’s seen Santa, he teases the viewer that he might say yes, but says he hasn’t seen him. I don’t think he’s doing that for nefarious reasons, he’s just stupid. He sees his frozen buddy, Jim, after Bonkers leaves and tells him they should go on a picnic, which just further confuses Santa-Jim.

Lucky’s Santa training has moved on from sleigh-piloting to breaking and entering, or rather chimney training. The male elf has whipped up a house of sorts for Lucky to practice on, though he expresses some concern with fitting down the chimney. We also find out that Lucky is actually fatter than Santa. Bonkers, basically frozen, returns to the Piquel residence to get warmed up. Lucky’s daughter hopes her dad can make it home for Santa and lets us know it’s Christmas Eve (I might have missed that morsel of info in the precinct scene earlier) while Bonkers withholds info on Lucky playing Santa. Bonkers tells the girl she’s not supposed to wait up for Santa, and manages to catch his tail on fire at the fireplace. Good thing there’s ample amounts of snow outside to put it out and he returns to his Santa hunt. Lucky, on the other hand, is not making any progress in his Santa training because he’s become lodged in the chimney. He manages to fall through and makes a kind of dark observation that having your life flash before your eyes can put you in the Christmas spirit. Whether he’s ready for it or not, they need to get moving if they want any hope of delivering the presents, and Lucky is still gung-ho to help out.

Bonkers-Miracle-at-the-34th-Precinct-002-403x300

This guy should probably never be let near an open flame.

Back at Fall-Apart’s apartment, the duo of Santa and the rabbit return with Fall-Apart remarking their picnic would have been better if Santa didn’t give away all of the food. It’s like he’s some gift-giving guy or something. When Santa sits on a toon lounge-chair he gets ejected out of the apartment. When Fall-Apart asks the chair why he did that he replies, “Because it was funny,” which makes a surprising amount of sense for a toon. Just then, a despondent Bonkers pops in. He’s afraid he won’t find Santa in time. Fall-Apart expresses some sympathy, then remarks he has to go help his friend Jim off the roof and describes him as a big guy in a red suit with a white beard. Bonkers realizes that Jim must be Santa, and when they find him on the roof his memory has returned thanks to the second bump on the head. With only an hour until Christmas, he needs to get to his elves Jingle and Belle (so they have names), but Bonkers first wants to bring him by the Piquel residence.

We cut to the Piquel house and the sleigh and reindeer are arriving. There are only six reindeer, which is bullshit. It’s Lucky and the elves. The elves felt that Lucky’s first house should be a familiar one. He expresses some hurt feelings over it while struggling to stand on the snow covered roof, before eventually falling off, which just justifies the concern the elves have in him. They get a call on their sleigh-phone from Bonkers to let them know Santa is all right and they’re relieved to hear it, naturally. Of course, Lucky is already on the job and fallen off the roof to boot, so they can’t tell him the good news.

Santa_with_Bonkers

Santa and Bonkers arrive on the scene.

Since he’s at ground level, and it is his house, Lucky decides to enter the conventional way even though it’s not the entrance he wants to make. Just as he enters the front door, Bonkers arrives with Santa. They shoot up to the roof where the elves give Santa the update on what’s going on. He grabs his sack and jumps down the chimney. Inside, Lucky’s daughter is already in tears about there being no Santa and left the room. As Lucky heads in further Santa drops in. Lucky doesn’t think he’s the real Santa, even though he has the Social Security card to prove it, and the two start bickering. Bonkers pops out of the chimney to admonish them when Lucky’s daughter comes in. At first she’s confused about there being two Santas, but not as confused as I would have expected. The real Santa gives her a gift, one she didn’t even tell her dad about, and Lucky finally believes Santa is the real deal when he pronounces his last name properly and gives him a gift to top it off. After Santa leaves, Lucky’s daughter gives her father a warm hug and Bonkers somehow gains the ability to float up the chimney like Santa just in time to see the big guy take off and wish him a merry Christmas.

“Miracle at the 34th Precinct” is not what I expected, since it isn’t really a take on the classic story at all. It also isn’t what I expected in that the plot is pretty straight-forward and it seems to take itself seriously. There’s very little “wacky” elements present for a cartoon world. The Fall-Apart and Santa scenes possessed some physical comedy, but for the most part I found the whole thing kind of subdued. I was expecting more parody, and maybe some satire, but instead this show was more earnest and genuine in its approach. I’m not about to judge the whole series based on one episode, but I don’t think I like this. It was kind of boring and the characters are just the sort of standard archetypes we’re used to seeing. I suppose there is some humor to be found in a world that looks at the toon elements as ordinary, but I feel like Tiny Toon Adventures already did that, and better. This does feel like Disney trying to do a Warner-type show, and maybe they just don’t have the ability to produce that kind of show. The animation, for the most part, is still well done though it’s not as crisp as something like DuckTales or Darkwing Duck. My guess is that’s intentional as they want the characters to have less definition and thus appear more “toon” in appearance. There’s an artful sloppiness in how the characters move and animate, in particular Lucky, which is kind of odd since he’s supposed to be the human. At any rate, at least it’s not A Christmas Carol parody though!


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