Tag Archives: disney

Dec. 5 – The Weekenders – “Worst Holiday Ever”

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“The Worst Holiday Ever” originally aired December 2, 2001.

When I was a kid, and going as far as back as the 1970s, Saturday morning meant one thing:  cartoons! Usually beginning at 7 AM, all of the broadcast networks came at me with full cartoon force. Now, rarely was I awake that early and programmers seemed to know that. The earliest hours were often dominated by shows aiming at a younger audience and as the morning went on the target demographic would shift ever so slightly. Come 11 o’clock was when I really got my jam on as that’s when X-Men would air on the Fox Kids Network. Not long after, Spider-Man would join the party and force me to make sure I was awake by 10.

Fox Kids was where I spent most of my Saturday morning, but it was obviously not the only kid on the block. CBS had cartoons like Skeleton Warriors and eventually Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. ABC was there as well usually with Disney properties like The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and also with the occasional odd-ball like that cartoon based on MC Hammer. ABC was also unique as it would usually devote one Friday per year to its Saturday programming by having TGIF change format to be a preview of the new cartoons coming in the fall. It was smart of the network considering TGIF was largely viewed by children even though it tried to play-up that it was family entertainment.

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The good old days.

In 1997, ABC rebranded its Saturday morning block as ABC’s One Saturday Morning which eventually became Disney’s One Saturday Morning. It’s five hours of summer once per week, which is what the network wanted us to think, but mostly it was just five hours of cartoons I didn’t care about. I was aging out of this stuff, as I explained on the Sam & Max post, and ABC really wasn’t trying to win me back with stuff like Recess and Doug.

Maybe I should have stuck around because Saturday morning cartoons are now dead. Ratings probably played a role, but mostly I think it’s due to the proliferation of cable. Most of the networks are owned by a parent company that also has dedicated cable channels for cartoons and children’s programming. ABC, for instance, is owned by Disney which has several channels. In the 90s, there were still plenty of cable-less households. I was one for some time and I think my next door neighbors resisted the temptation for my entire childhood. Now, if a house doesn’t have cable it’s because streaming was found to be a better, and more affordable, option. In other words, cartoons are everywhere, and Saturday morning lost its novelty as a result. It’s a shame, but I get it and it’s not like kids today can miss something they never had.

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Left to right we have Tino, Lor, Tish, and Carver.

A late arrival for Disney’s One Saturday Morning was The Weekenders. By the time this episode aired, the programming block had changed to just ABC Kids, likely reflecting the fact that Disney had purchased Fox Family Worldwide and wanted to piggy-back on the Fox Kids branding which had been the most popular of the Saturday morning blocks. The Weekenders is an animated sitcom created by Doug Langdale that follows the lives of four seventh graders:  Tino, Lor, Carver, and Tish. Each kid comes from a different background and the differences between each often drive the plot of each episode. Tino (James Marsden) is an Italian-American boy from divorced parents. Lor (Grey DeLisle) is a tomboy from a large family, Carver (Phil LaMarr) is an African-American boy who appears to really be into fashion, and Tish (Kath Soucie) is a Jewish American of Lithuanian descent. And as we’re about to see, these kids all celebrate a different holiday come December.

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Tino explains the lack of snow in their lives.

The Weekenders begins with a song by Wayne Brady, who was still all over ABC in the early part of the millennium. After the upbeat, but long, song concludes we get right down to business. No title cards here, but this thing is titled “The Worst Holiday Ever.” It begins with Tino giving us a chalkboard lesson on how he and his friends celebrate different holidays. He’s voiced by James Marsden, only his voice has been pitched up and it sounds like James Marsden on helium. I don’t like it. We’re about to get a look at one holiday experience shared by all four kids.

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Granny’s beloeved RV: Ol’ Angus.

The setting for this show is a fictional city modeled after San Diego. As such, these kids have never experienced snow and that’s the driving force behind the plot to this one. Lor’s grandmother, simply referred to as Granny (Kerri Kenney Silver), is going to take the kids on a little RV trip to the mountains to find some snow. The kids pile into the rough-looking RV and hit the road. The enthusiasm seems muted, but Granny is certainly a character as she’s rather rough around the edges and seems to have an affinity for powdered foods.

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Granny, the intended comic relief of the episode, is more annoying than funny.

An annoying holiday song plays us through a driving montage that ends at the base of a park. A park ranger by the name of Trooper Sue (Soucie) informs Granny that a big snowstorm is coming and the roads are impassable beyond where they are. Granny tells the kids they’re going to camp here for the night and see how things turn out in the morning. When they wake up on Saturday (I assume most episodes take place over a weekend, given the show’s title) they find themselves surrounded by snow and unable to move. Stuck in the RV, the kids are forced to amuse themselves with stories and that’s the framing device for this sucker.

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I can identify with this.

Lor tells us about the worst Christmas she ever experienced. It involved a holiday gathering and we see a scene of her very large family at Christmas. It looks like chaos and it reminds me of my own holiday gatherings at my grandparents’ house where my dad was one of nine kids. That place turned into a warzone real fast. Lor’s story involves her PE teacher visiting, Coach Colson (LaMarr). He apparently brought a big bowl of mashed potatoes for dinner, and Lor is going to witness him dropping them on the floor and then scooping them back into the bowl with his bare hands.

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If this cartoon had been made in 92 there would probably be puddles of barf all over the place.

At dinner, everyone is enjoying the potatoes except Lor. She knows their horrible secret and refuses to eat them. However, she also fears retribution from the coach should she out his deed. She ends up eating everything on her plate, except the potatoes, and hopes for the best. After dinner though, everyone is getting violently ill except Lor. She’s left to hand out buckets, and all of the gross stuff is merely implied as opposed to shown because we’re no longer in the 90s, folks. Feeling she can’t keep it in any longer, she reveals what happened to the potatoes. Granny corrects her though and says some potatoes falling on the floor won’t make you sick. Then she posits it could have been the liver stew she made for dinner that had apparently been maturing in her trunk since last Christmas. Lor was apparently the only one who didn’t sample that monstrosity.

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Tino’s mom apparently has a thing for red flashlights.

The end result of the night, and Lor’s story, is that she had to clean up after everyone and Coach Colson still punished her anyway with remedial chores during practice. Next up is Tino, who is going to try to top Lor’s awful holiday with a tale of his own. Because we have four kids who all need to celebrate something different, Tino gets to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Normally associated with paganism, Tino’s family just celebrates it because his mom got sick of Christmas. It would have been interesting to see a Pagan or Wiccan family, but Tino gets to distinguish himself by being the child of divorced parents.

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That’s one hell of a hairstyle.

Even though they don’t celebrate Christmas, their house sure looks like one that does. They have a tree, and since Tino’s mom (Lisa Kaplan) grew frustrated with the tangled up lights, she’s hanging flashlights instead (why do they have so many flashlights?) while Tino hangs stockings. He puts up one for his dad, which his mom objects to. She does so in a sensitive manner, but then does the divorced parent no-no of basically bad mouthing the absent parent if front of the kid. She apologizes, and then tells Tino she invited a neighbor over for dinner to share in the holiday.

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She definitely seems like the type of woman who would have that license plate.

That neighbor is Totie Weems (Soucie), and she’s an old, judgmental, lady. She basically bad mouths Tino’s mom to her face for being divorced referencing how divorced moms were essentially shunned back in her day. She’s a pretty awful dinner guest, and things get worse when it’s revealed she invited her nephew over as well. He comes in wearing headphones and sunglasses apparently oblivious to all around him. He just stuffs his face with food and makes a mess of the place while Totie settles in on the couch to do some knitting. In order to have a quiet, holiday, moment, Tino and his mom flee the house to her Jeep where they sit in the darkness and embrace one another. It’s pitifully sweet.

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Carver’s pointless tale. Once again, it’s Kwanzaa that gets the shaft.

With Tino’s story over it’s now time for Carver’s. Seeing as how he’s the black kid, his holiday story is about the worst Kwanzaa ever. His story is also the shortest. It’s just a one-note joke about Carver opening a Kwanzaa gift. He likes it, but then discovers he’s wearing miss-matching socks. The embarrassment results in him declaring it the worst Kwanzaa ever! When the other kids point out how silly his story is, he revises it to include a swarm of insects and aliens. It’s his story, after all.

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I wouldn’t eat that.

Tish now gets her chance to describe the worst Hanukkah ever. She explains how each year her mother bakes names into a knish and serves it in the lead-up to the holiday. When each member of the family eats their piece, they find the name of the person they’re to buy a gift for. Tish gets her aunt, and she’s elated because her aunt is famously easy to buy for as she only loves two things:  cats and mugs. When the day of the celebration arrives though, Tish is thrown a curveball by her cousin who comes baring a gift for Tish even though she didn’t pick her name.

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Someone in Tish’s family has an adorable monkey. That’s the story I want to hear!

Tish doesn’t know how to respond, so she lies and says she has a gift for her cousin too. She races upstairs to dig through her closet and ends up finding a sweater that still has the tags on it. She boxes it and gives it to her cousin, who is angered to find out it’s a re-gift of the present their cat-loving aunt gave the two of them last year. Not only does this anger Tish’s cousin, but her aunt starts to cry, and someone’s pet monkey, Oliver (Robbie Rist), angrily hands over a half-eaten bag of peanuts. Apparently, Oliver drew Tish’s name in the gift exchange. Anyways, there’s a freaking pet monkey with a hat! Talk about burying the lede!

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Must be some of that dreaded quick-snow I keep hearing about.

With Tish’s story concluded, all of the kids have shared an awful holiday experience. That just leaves Sunday to come when the kids find out the roads won’t be cleared enough for them to travel further, so it’s back home they need to go. They wanted to experience the snow though, so they head out to play in the snow outside the now dug-out RV and immediately sink into the ground. That’s not really how snow works, but whatever.

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Granny and her granny.

The grumpy kids then need a lesson from Granny, who shares her own holiday story that took place years ago with her great-grandmother. While picking berries, they happened upon a turkey caught in a trap. They freed the bird and seemed ready to continue on their way, but a horde of angry turkeys caught sight of them. In a scene reminiscent of South Park‘s first Thanksgiving special, Granny and her granny are chased by the birds and forced to seek shelter in a cave. The birds won’t enter the cave because it’s the home of a hibernating bear.

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That’s a menacing group of turkeys, and yet it’s a group of crows that gets to be called a murder.

The two old women (Granny has apparently always been old) make the most of their surroundings and eat snow, make a snow tree, and catch some Z’s. The next morning, they try to make their escape, but the turkeys spot them. They chase them off a cliff. With the two women dangling precariously by a scarf, the turkey from the day before that they rescued shows up and makes the save. And that’s why Granny doesn’t eat turkey at Christmas, but will for basically any other occasion.

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Just let them fall, please.

This all leads into a lesson from Granny that the only thing that matters is spending the holidays with people you care about. It’s a rather conventional, but effective, message. The kids come to realize this adventure wasn’t so bad, and as they journey home Granny decides to pull over so they can play in the snow one more time. There’s far less where they stop, but still enough to make a snowman.

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More grumbling ensues.

So it turns out the kids had a pretty fine holiday, in the end. And that’s how our story ends. This thing is rather packed, so there’s really no attempt at educating the audience on the differences between the holidays celebrated by the main characters. Really, it doesn’t even matter that they were different as all of the celebrations are pretty much the same. Except Granny’s, of course, which was just an oddball story. Of the five, I suppose I liked Tino’s the most. It had the humorous visual gag of hanging flashlights on a tree plus a rather sweet ending. Tish’s was the most conventionally horrifying as no one likes to be surprised with a gift from someone when they don’t have one to give, nor does anyone like getting caught in a re-gift. Lor’s story was mostly fine, while calling Carver’s half-assed would be generous. And I found Granny’s story to be pretty stupid.

The segments in between the stories were mostly intended to be funny with lots of jokes at Granny’s expense. Or rather, through her. Powdered food is referenced several times as well as Granny’s beef jerky. None of it is particularly humorous, but the kids do interact with each other in a rather authentic manner that I found refreshing. The ultimate message of the special is rather bland. I’m not even sure if it was effective.

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In the end, they get their act together and mostly do fine. This is fine.

The Weekenders is a rather interesting show for what it’s attempting. Despite its initial success, dethroning Pokémon in the ratings when it premiered, the show sort of fizzled out and hasn’t really been heard from since. It made the jump to expanded cable via the Toon Disney channel before wrapping in 2004 where it hasn’t been heard from since. Disney is rather notorious for releasing incomplete versions of its television properties to retail, but The Weekenders hasn’t even been gifted with that. If you want to watch this, you’ll have to look it up online. How much you enjoy it probably depends on your level of nostalgia for the program. For me, I have zero nostalgia for it so I just found it all right. The animation is fine, but the character designs are just a touch better than Klasky-Csupo, which I mostly despise. This isn’t the type of cartoon I went for as a kid, but I appreciate that it exists. If you want a more grounded holiday special (excluding the ridiculous turkey segment) you could do worse.

 


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.


Frozen II

frozen 2 posterA lot has changed in my life in the past six years since the original Frozen debuted in theaters. My girlfriend and I attended a viewing of that film together and mostly enjoyed the experience. The film arrived with minimal fanfare initially for a Walt Disney Pictures film, but soon a phenomenon was born. I remember leading up to the release of the film seeing piles of ignored Frozen merch at my local Disney Store. Once the film landed and people got to experience it that merch evaporated. Parents looking to put an Elsa or an Olaf under the tree for Christmas were left scrambling, staking out shops before they opened in hopes of landing a coveted toy.

Since then my girlfriend has become my wife and we’ve welcomed two kids, a boy and a girl. Frozen was just another quality Disney film for us to occasionally enjoy, but now it’s practically a lifestyle. My daughter is a certified Frozen nut. She loves Elsa, and every night asks to wear her Anna pajamas even if she wore them the previous night and got them covered in Cheerios at breakfast that morning. She loves to sing and frequently can be heard belting out the lyrics to “Let it Go.” If you happen to enter the bathroom at my house and shut the door behind you, you’ll be probably be serenaded as you do your business. It starts with a knock, then a question:  “Elsa?” Then you’re treated to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and if you know your Disney and insert a, “Go away, Anna,” at the right time the sequence ends with a dejected “Okay, bye.” If in that amount of time you’re still not finished though, expect the process to begin again.

When Frozen II was announced it was a foregone conclusion that my wife and I would have to take the kids. It became abundantly clear when the first trailer dropped and my daughter lost her mind when she saw Elsa was wearing a purple dress, her favorite color. Thankfully, theater assigned seating makes it much easier these days to attend a film on opening night and that’s what we did, taking in Frozen II on Thursday the 21st. My daughter arrived in fashionable style wearing her Elsa dress she picked out when we vacationed at Disney World last winter (she went with Elsa’s winter dress from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, if you’re curious) and both kids got to pick some candy as we settled into our seats. The theater was bustling with patrons, mostly mothers and daughters. Some adults were even in full costume, proving that Frozen-mania isn’t something only children suffer from, and there were some men in the audience as well. Even some that appeared to have no children with them.

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Elsa and Anna will journey north in a bid to find out the secrets of the past.

It was a rather raucous setting to partake in a film, but it felt appropriate given the excitement this franchise has created in viewers. Frozen II largely picks up where the previous film left off. If you have skipped the two shorts released since then you won’t miss out on anything as everyone is where you would expect them to be, for the most part. Elsa (Idina Menzel) is adjusting to life as a queen while Anna (Kristen Bell) is still mostly carefree. She’s in a relationship with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who is now struggling with how he should pop the question to his beloved. Sven is by his side still, and of course there’s Olaf (Josh Gad). When we first see the precocious snowman we find out almost immediately that Elsa has given him a coating of permafrost, apparently the animators didn’t want to have to include a flurry over his head for an entire film. He’s also strangely obsessed with growing old and gaining more maturity. Something he talks about with Anna early on.

This discussion quickly leads into a feeling of “sequel-itis,” as it brings about a discussion on change. Every thing is the same, but different, and it’s a reoccurring theme in the film. The main plot point though concerns Elsa, as she’s hearing a voice that apparently no one else can here. It’s not exactly driving her mad, but it is annoying her and she wants to know where it’s coming from. A strange sequence in which the elements themselves appear to attack Arendelle bring about our friends the trolls from the first film. Through them, and a flashback to a story Anna and Elsa hear from their father, the heroes are sent on a journey north to discover why the elements are raging and to make up for the mistakes of the past.

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Anna and Olaf still make for a great pairing.

The journey our heroes will embark on will test the bonds of friendship and family. Anna in particular is determined to remain at her sister’s side. It seems like it’s something that could even come between she and Kristoff. Elsa, for her part, wants only what is best for her sister and her kingdom and does not wish to put her sister in harm’s way. Characters will go through periods of self doubt leading to numerous pep talks. It gives the first half of the film a real laborious pace, but the characters remain likable throughout so it doesn’t become too oppressive.

As a continuation of the story, Frozen II is a mostly satisfying ride. It doesn’t possess many surprises, though a few twists may shock some younger viewers. There may be moments that even reduce children to tears, so parents be warned. The film is a bit weary of the larger cast and change in dynamics from the first film. It feels more confident when characters are either on their own or paired up. I was looking forward to seeing these characters as more of an ensemble, but the film doesn’t really go in that direction. Ultimately, I think parents and children will be satisfied with the story of the film, though younger viewers may not grasp everything that’s going on. It’s more challenging in that respect, and you may get peppered with questions during some parts. I will be interested in seeing how often this film is on my television when the day comes, so in some respects it feels like the film’s true judgement day is still far off.

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In terms of new characters, this little guy will likely be a crowd pleaser.

Aside from the tale of sisters looking out for each other, what really stood out with the first film was the music. “Let It Go” was probably Disney’s biggest musical hit from an animated film since The Lion King so the songwriting duo of Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez probably felt more pressure to make this film a success than even the directors. Based on the pre-release toys and the way the sequence is presented in the film, I’m pretty sure they’re banking on the Elsa track “Into the Unknown” as being this film’s version of “Let It Go.” Like the film itself, it’s a more demanding song than “Let It Go.” While it possesses a catchy hook, it’s probably not going to make the same sort of impact. “Let It Go” worked so well because it was basically a pop song with a familiar and easy structure to it while also suiting the character it was given to. It’s an empowering track, and it’s not something easily duplicated. When I first saw Frozen, when that song came on I knew it was going to be a hit.

Nothing in Frozen II gave me that impression. Kids will likely enjoy “Into the Unknown,” but for the most part the musical numbers in this one adhere more towards the old Broadway approach. They’re used for exposition as much as for entertainment. Some are even a bit of a bummer like Anna solo effort, “The Next Right Thing.” The song that might actually win over the most fans is the Kristoff track “Lost in the Woods.” It sounds like an 80s piece of pop rock and really caught me by surprise. There’s even a version of it recorded by Weezer which plays over the end credits. The biggest spectacle is another mostly Elsa solo effort called “Show Yourself.” It might be the film’s best moment, but the arrangement of the song is done to serve the film and not the song, so I don’t know if it will take off like other tracks.

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Autumn is my favorite season so I’m always happy to see it on screen.

The original Frozen had a bit of a tortured development process, originally being conceived as a 2D film. It went through a lot of re-writes and when it finally hit theaters little of that showed in the film’s story and music, but I found the visuals a bit underwhelming. The snow effects were great, but textures were plain and boring and some of the animation was very puppet-like in places. Frozen II, to probably no one’s surprise, is a much more impressive visual experience. It helps that it’s going with a new season as this one takes place during autumn. The reds, oranges, and browns of the forest really help give this film a different feel from the other productions. It’s quite a sight to behold, and of course our heroes have new wardrobes to show off and keep the people in marketing happy. Some of the new faces aren’t particularly interesting to look at, but they’re not a low-point either. Fans will probably like the little flaming salamander that shows up, and the animators still enjoy playing with Olaf’s anatomy in unexpected ways. There’s also several dramatic sequences that top anything from the first film. You’ve probably seen snippets of many of them in the trailers, but the film reserved a few choice moments to keep as a surprise.

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The film has plenty of “wow” sequences, such as any involving the massive earth elementals.

Frozen II was going to be a tough one. It does suffer in the usual ways sequels do, and it doesn’t help that the film basically admits as much during points in the story. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure though as I still came away satisfied, and I saw this film in a theater full of screaming children (I have to point out though, my kids were good as gold because I am a proud papa). The film answers some of the questions from the first movie, and if you really like the music of the first film you’ll be happy to see this one is loaded with musical numbers. There is some padding here and the film probably doesn’t need all 103 minutes of its running time. I think fans will mostly be pleased though and it’s hard to imagine that this is the last we’ll see from these characters. Perhaps the best endorsement I can give it comes from my beloved daughter herself, who while walking out of the theater made sure we knew that she wanted to go see it again.


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.


Take My Money, Hasbro, Give Me X-Men Animated Series Legends!

 

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Let’s talk some X-Men!

It’s been probably 13 or 14 years since I’ve purchased a Marvel-branded action figure. This is somewhat shocking to me because from the age of 7 to around 25 I spent who knows how much money on Marvel action figures. I was there for the inaugural Toy Biz line of Marvel Superheroes and X-Men action figures and I continued buying Toy Biz figures well past the age of when it was considered “appropriate” by my peers. And even after I stopped actually playing with my toys I still kept them on display in my room. Two pieces of old countertop on milk crates served as my makeshift shelves. Good guys on one side, bad guys on the other. As characters changed allegiance in the comics, so did their placement on my shelf. Aside from that, I didn’t like to mess with them and the dust would grow thicker and thicker and probably contributed to my constant sneezing. I didn’t care though, because I really loved my toys.

When action figures grew up with me I grew extremely excited. There were a few dedicated collector lines, most memorably one based on the Onslaught mini series, but things really changed with Marvel Legends. I was a bit tepid at first with them, mostly due to the absence of X-Men, but eventually I got into it. I started with just a figure here and there, and soon enough I found myself buying entire waves. I also added the occasional Diamond Select figure which at the time prioritized sculpt over articulation making some of the toys little more than glorified statues. I even got into Mini Mates for a period, since they initially focused on the Ultimate X-Men which was a comic I grew attached to pretty quickly.

Eventually, I stopped collecting. Part of that coincided with the dissolving of Toy Biz by Marvel which chose to instead license its properties to Hasbro. Those first few Hasbro waves weren’t very strong, and with the build-a-figure shrinking down to more normal proportions it failed to really motivate me. I think the last wave I bought to completion was whichever one featured The Blob. And even with that, I think I had to buy some figures based on X-Men: The Last Stand which did not sit well with me. That also happened to coincide with me moving out on my own trading the confines of my old bedroom for a small apartment. I didn’t want to have to lug a bunch of toys around with me every time I moved, and once I got settled into my own home that I purchased the itch had passed. I had moved onto other hobbies and comics just didn’t appeal to me like they once did. Sure, there have been a few figures over the years that tempted me, but the rising cost in standard toys makes it pretty easy to just focus on the things that really bring me joy.

That could change though, and if Hasbro wanted me back (and who wouldn’t?) there is one thing the company could do that would guarantee it many of my dollars and it has to do with my favorite show as a child:  X-Men.

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This recent action figure three-pack is what put my brain into this mode. These almost work as animated versions, but they’re different just enough to not be perfect. And I’m not just referring to Wolverine’s bone claws.

Nostalgia currently has me hooked via NECA’s line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys based on the old cartoon series. That show may not be particularly good, but I loved it as a kid and it’s something I can’t let go of. Similarly, I have a huge amount of affection still for X-Men. That show was my life for a few years and unlike TMNT, the show is still watchable today even if it doesn’t hold up as well as Batman or possibly even Gargoyles. And I know I am not alone. There is a lot of love out there for that show and that has been preyed upon via action figures based on the costume designs of the Jim Lee era X-Men from the comics. There was a recently announced three-pack featuring Wolverine, Jean Grey, and Cyclops which is what really got my juices flowing. Those characters bare a strong resemblance to their animated counterparts, but the figures are also clearly aiming to capture the look of the comics and not a cartoon.

What gives me hope that such a line could work is because animated versions of these characters are not far off what is already out there. Take your standard Wolverine action figure, for instance. To make him better resemble the cartoon, Hasbro basically just needs to reduce detail. No stubble on his face, not much hair on the arms, and less muscle definition. DC has done a great job bringing Batman: The Animated Series to plastic form in terms of aesthetics, so why not do the same, Hasbro?

Because I’m such a generous guy, I’m even going to provide a road map for Hasbro. I envision six figures per wave with a build-a-figure bringing the total to seven. Adhering to modern times, the extra buildable figure is not some titanic character, but something closer to a standard sized figure. It would be a good fit for those figures that would need to be 7 or 8 inches as opposed to 5-6, which is what I imagine most figures would fall into. They could be done, and really should be, in scale with Marvel Legends and I would prioritize characters from the first two seasons. If the line’s a success, then sure go for more. If the series happened and worked out as outlined below, then I would definitely buy every figure and really annoy my wife as I hunted for more space to display them.

Series 1

  • Wolverine
  • Cyclops
  • Rogue
  • Morph
  • Mystique
  • Magneto
  • Build-a-Figure:  Sabretooth

This mix would get some fan-favorite good guys out early and also a few villains to pose them against. Wolverine is an obvious must for the first series as he was the most popular character. He should come in his standard uniform and additional hands, some with claws in and some with claws out. A second, unmasked, head would complete the look. Cyclops should also just have his normal look. If a removable flight jacket could be added without harming the sculpt, then all the better, but not necessary. Similar to modern Cyclops figures, he should have a second head with a blast effect and probably an extra set of hands including one with two fingers extended on his right hand to activate his “X” communicator. Morph, on the other hand, should have his flight jacket since he was most often depicted wearing it. He should also have black hair as he did in seasons one and two and an alternate “evil” head. Mystique would need few additional accessories, making her the likely landing spot for a larger piece of the build-a-figure. Magneto would need a helmeted and un-helmeted head to properly capture his long hair. A nice, heavy, fabric cape would also look great, but soft plastic wouldn’t be bad either. Sabretooth, being featured in episode one, makes for a good choice as the first build-a-figure given his size relative to the other characters.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

That’s how I want my Wolverine to look, bub.

Series 2

  • Gambit
  • Bishop
  • Storm
  • Cable
  • Pyro
  • Avalanche
  • BAF:  The Blob

Wave Two would be anchored by the next most popular character after Wolverine, Gambit. He’d just need various hands and his bo staff to be authentic. Storm would be the other character from the team, and in the interest of “keeping them wanting,” would be the only other from the main team. Bishop and Cable both played large roles as guest characters and lend themselves well to action figure form. Cable should probably have his season two look which featured a metallic left arm, a more common look than the season one version. Bishop should also feature a removable time bracelet to go along with his really big gun. Pyro and Avalanche would serve as the villains with the BAF being their comrade Blob. A desire to assemble Mystique’s troop would hopefully help drive sales.

x-men_L48

Everyone can relax, Gambit is in series two.

Series 3

  • Beast
  • Jean Grey
  • Archangel
  • Civilian Wolverine
  • Graydon Creed
  • Mr. Sinister
  • BAF:  Apocalypse

Series 3 would be the one that nearly completes the main team. Beast, unlike most figures based on the character, should have a cheerful disposition as opposed to an angry one. Jean Grey would need her cartoon-accurate costume, something Toy Biz never delivered on when the show was popular, which was blue and orange as opposed to blue and yellow. She should also probably come with a Cerebro helmet. This would also be a good time for a second Wolverine figure. Since he was so often featured in plain clothes (yellow flannel with a brown jacket), a figure based on that look makes sense. He should have two pairs of clawless hands, ones that look like normal fists and ones that have the steel ports on his hands as he was incorrectly portrayed in season one. Diehard fans of the show, such as myself, really appreciate little details like that. Creed was a big player in season two, and he warrants a figure as a result. Of course, Sinister was the main big, bad, guy of that season and series three feels like a good spot for him. Lastly, Archangel should be included (with a masked head and unmasked head) to pair with the BAF Apocalypse who would be depicted in his animated purple and blue color scheme.

apocalypse cartoon

I don’t know why they made him purple, but the toy better follow in the same footsteps!

Series 4

  • Jubilee
  • Colossus
  • Omega Red
  • Forge
  • Civilian Cyclops
  • Professor X
  • BAF: Juggernaut

Series 4 would finish the main squad by including Jubilee and Professor X. Xavier would be the tough one to include as he would need his hover chair. Recently, Hasbro did a Professor X that I think retails for more than a standard Legend. The company could save money by retooling it and if it has to retail for more then so be it. Colossus guested a couple of times and is deserving of a figure himself. He should be clad in his blue pants and white tank top to match his appearance in the show. If a second, non-transformed, upper torso could be done then that would be really neat. Omega Red is a villain with a great, 90s, design, and even though he’s a bit bigger than other characters, I don’t think he’s so large that he would need to be a BAF. Cyclops had enough non-costumed appearances to be the second main cast member worthy of a civilian look. And Forge had multiple appearances as well. He should come with an alternate head so he could be depicted as main timeline Forge and future Forge. The Juggernaut is the last character that serves as an obvious choice for a BAF and would be a sought after one helping to make sure fans buy the entire wave. That only challenge with him is I think he would need two heads as well, one masked and one unmasked, because it’s hard to make a good-looking Juggernaut figure that features a removable helmet.

colossus 92

Colossus proved you didn’t need a real costume to be a hero.

Series 5 and 6

  • Phoenix
  • Gladiator
  • Nightcrawler
  • Dazzler
  • White Queen
  • Sebastian Shaw
  • Henry Gyrich
  • Bolivar Trask
  • Dark Phoenix
  • Banshee
  • Fabian Cortez
  • Empress Lilandra
  • BAF:  Sentinel

I’m grouping these two together because I have a radical idea for the BAF. It would be a sentinel and the pieces spread between both waves. The piece loadout would be like Giant Man from the Toy Biz days which did an oversized wave of Marvel Legends as a Wal-Mart exclusive. This would allow Hasbro to do a bigger figure to do the sentinel justice, because we need a sentinel for such a series since they were so important in that first season. The desire to have a cartoon sentinel would help move some of the less exciting, but still essential, characters contained in this wave. Trask and Gyrich, specifically, would be unsexy figures, but they had such a large presence over the first season that it feels wrong to exclude them. Much of these waves would also be devoted to the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Sagas. Doing both regular Phoenix and Dark Phoenix would also save Hasbro money since they’d basically be the same figure, different head. For Lilandra, I’d also go with the Empress version of the character as that would just make for a more striking visual. Cortez is the only character from a later season, but I see more opportunity for villains and I just happen to like him more than someone like Erik the Red or D’Ken.

sentinel 92

I don’t see how you could have a toy-line dedicated to the X-Men cartoon and not feature a sentinel somehow.

If the line was a success, it wouldn’t have to end there. I completely ignored Sinister’s Nasty Boys and all of the mutates from the Savage Land. They would really help to bolster the ranks of the villains, but it might be hard to convince people they’re more deserving of plastic than some of the others. An entire Savage Land wave could even be done, though I don’t know if that would be a big seller. Another big bad guy I left out is Mojo who would probably work best as a BAF. If he was done, then he would need to be paired with a Longshot.

As for heroes, there are alternate versions of other characters that could pad things out. Civilian versions of Storm, Rogue, Jean and Jubilee (or her in a flight suit) could be added. Beast and Gambit had other looks as well, but nothing really drastic (though Beast with his Howard the Duck shirt is pretty tempting). Archangel also briefly appeared as Angel in season one and returned in season four sporting his white and blue Angel costume. Wolverine had other looks as well, though my personal favorite would probably be the alternate timeline Wolverine from “One Man’s Worth” which also featured a mohawked Storm. Other guest heroes included Iceman, Psylocke, Alpha Flight and X-Factor so there are certainly more characters to mine from, I’m just not sure any really need a dedicated figure based on their look in the cartoon.

Hasbro missed its chance to honor the cartoon with a line of figures to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary. There’s still time though to recognize the 30th in 2022 and a toy-line near then would be an appropriate way to do so. If 2022 seems too far away right now it could be timed to end that year. The show is also about to gain new exposure via Disney+ where it and other X-Men cartoons will be available day one. And with Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox it stands to reason that the X-Men will soon join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe bringing even more of a spotlight to the brand. The time is right, Hasbro, make it happen!

 

 


Funko Pop! Halloween Huey, Dewey, and Louie

There’s a scourge taking over our local record stores, clothing outlets, and gaming boutiques. It comes in mass quantities dominating its chosen territory at the expense of other merch. It swears no allegiance to anyone and will even place mortal enemies side by side as it amasses an army of licensed property of yesterday and today. I am, of course, speaking of Funko Pop! vinyl figurines. Where I once had a local record store, I now see what is practically a dedicated Pop! outlet. Gamestop devotes considerable shelf space to them and they even show up in drug stores. It’s hard to find a licensed property that isn’t in Pop! form these days and since they keep on coming it leads me to believe they’ll be around for some time to come.

And considering the brand’s scope, it’s obvious people are into these things. Funko sells special cases to keep your Pop! mint-in-box and I do see people get legitimately excited for new releases, even though every time I’m at a store that features these things prominently I rarely see someone actually pick one up and head for the register. I don’t think they’ve reached the level of Beanie Baby popularity from the 90s, but they must be doing well for them to persist.

The source material for today’s subject.

If you’re not familiar with Pop! figurines then you’re probably not human, but I’ll indulge you anyway. They’re essentially little plastic statues that adhere to a standard form. They all feature an oversized, oval, head with a tiny body. They’re either non-articulated or just the head swivels. The eyes are always circles and one color, typically black. Most characters don’t have a mouth, but as the line has persisted I’ve noticed more unique head-sculpts that do indeed feature a mouth. It’s a simple, identifiable, style that can be applied to virtually anything depending on how much effort Funko puts into the sculpt. It seems to work well for cartoon characters, especially anthropomorphic characters, but it’s not universal. For one, I think the ones based on The Simpsons look awful, but I’ve encountered many that look fine. Live-action personalities can also be adapted and they typically turn out all right. It’s a brand, and it’s obviously successful. I would rather purchase a Kid Robot mini-figure, but at least these ones don’t come in blind boxes.

 

When it comes to my own interaction with Funko Pop! I am merely a casual participant. I wouldn’t even call myself a casual fan or collector, I’ve just somehow managed to end up with some here and there. I used to buy the Frozen ones for my wife as she expressed a fondness for them and I’ve picked up other Disney ones here and there. I currently have a Remy from Ratatouille in my kitchen because he looks cute and fits in with the setting. Mostly, they end up being the occasional thing I’ll buy for my desk at work, but I’ve mostly reached my limit there. I don’t seek out any particular license, it’s more just a case-by-case thing where if I really like how something turned out then I may buy it. That’s how I ended up with Rocko, Scrooge McDuck, and Stimpy. Rocko in particular works well in this style, and I liked the personality on display of the other two. I considered getting Ren to pair with Stimpy, but I just didn’t like how he turned out. Normally I can’t leave a character all by itself, especially from a famous duo, but with Pop! I just don’t have much of a collector’s impulse.

 

What I do have a weakness for though is Donald Duck, especially limited merchandise based on him or one of his cartoons. I am especially fond of the classic shorts, and there isn’t many better than 1952’s Trick or Treat. That’s the cartoon where Huey, Dewey, and Louie team up with a new character, Witch Hazel, to get back at Donald for refusing to treat on Halloween. In that cartoon, the nephews are depicted in Halloween costumes and they’re quite adorable. The designs are so popular and beloved that they were reprised for the 2017 Mickey Mouse special The Scariest Story Ever.

 

In celebration of that short, Funko did a special release of Huey, Dewey, and Louie in costume as Pop! figurines. This isn’t their first Pop! exposure as they were part of the DuckTales wave as well. They were sold exclusively on Funko’s website as a three pack and I just couldn’t resist.

A little defect on Dewey’s broom.

The trio are each packaged separately in a box under the Mickey Mouse and Friends banner. I wish they had come in a special box together, but that adds cost and companies are usually loathe to do that. It also would have been nice to see some artwork from the sour material, but oh well. Since their costumes are quite different, Funko wasn’t able to do the usual of creating one figure and painting them different colors. The likenesses are quite good, though obviously they’re in that Pop! style. It helps for Louie in particular that his character was pupil-less in the cartoon so the Pop! dead eyes aren’t as noticeable here. The paint applications are mostly clean and I like that they included Louie’s pumpkin on his head. Only Dewey appears to have any defects as he has some slop on his hat and feet plus an odd mark on his broom handle (pictured).

 

Even though Pop! figurines are sold at toy stores, I wouldn’t call these toys. My kids certainly like the aesthetic of the figures and were pretty excited when they came in the mail, but there isn’t anything they can really do with them. These guys are destined for a shelf, and I was even tempted to leave them in their boxes, but found they didn’t display as nice. These will be a part of my annual Halloween décor like the Grinch Pop! figures I own and display at Christmas. One thing I appreciate about these figurines is the packaging is easy to utilize for storage. There’s a plastic, molded, tray inside the box that is easy to remove and reinsert. There’s no tape on the top flap so you don’t even need to bust out a razor blade to get into these things.

I had to include a picture with their Uncle Donald.

If you’re interested in acquiring these yourself, they’re currently for sale on Funko’s website. They’re sold together for $45 plus shipping and taxes which is pretty close to the retail price most Funko figures sell for. If you don’t like Pop! figures then these aren’t going to change your mind. For Pop! figures, I think these are well done and there is enough of the classic design of these characters contained in the figures while conforming them to Funko’s brand. And they’re fun, decorative, seasonal figures that aren’t horribly priced. I do wish they were closer to the 10 dollar range as opposed to 15 as the current price point is basically the maximum Funko can charge without really turning folks off. It’s especially attractive for people who like to acquire merchandise related to the Trick or Treat short, as the Walt Disney Classic Collection of ceramics are way beyond my price range.


Russi Taylor

 

Russi TaylorEven though they made their debut together, Minnie Mouse has rarely been celebrated as much as Mickey. Last year marked Mickey’s 90th birthday, a tremendous achievement, but seldom was it mentioned that his beloved Minnie was also celebrating a birthday too. Such has been the case with Minnie as she started off as a fixture of Mickey Mouse shorts, but slowly saw her star fade. When Mickey and the gang made their big return to the world of cinema with Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983, Minnie was there as always at his side. Unfortunately, she was the only one of the classic characters who appeared in that film to not have a single line or word of dialogue. She was practically invisible.

That changed in 1986 with the hire of Russi Taylor as the voice of Minnie Mouse. Taylor was already known to the world of Disney as the voices of Huey, Duey, Louie, and Webby on DuckTales. Taylor likely voiced Minnie for theme park segments and attractions initially, as the world would be properly introduced to her version of Minnie via Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 1988 as well as the NBC television special Totally Minnie that same year. Taylor’s high-voiced, but sweet tempered, version of Minnie was an instant success, a perfect fit for the venerable mouse. And she held onto that role for the rest of her days, voicing Minnie on the small and big screen in hundreds of features.

totally minnie

Totally Minnie was essentially a reboot for the character.

Because of her contribution to the company and her role as the voice of Minnie Mouse, Russi Taylor was recognized as a Disney Legend in 2008. Also receiving that same honor that day was her husband, the late Wayne Allwine who had been the official voice of Mickey Mouse for decades. It was a tale too perfectly sweet for this world as the voices of Mickey and Minnie found happiness and love in each other’s arms.

I had never met Russi Taylor or had an interaction with her, but based on what I’ve seen in interviews over the years I get the impression she was a very humble woman. She would insist that Minnie is the star and she was just there to give her a voice. I must respectfully disagree for Minnie would not be the character she is today without Miss Taylor’s contribution. Her Minnie is wonderfully versatile. She can be the sweet-natured mentor to children everywhere via The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse as well as a songstress. She demonstrated more recently her knack for comedic timing with her more manic and bubbly version of the character for the present line of Mickey Mouse shorts. In those cartoons, Minnie has finally become her own character capable of being funny and entertaining without playing off another character. Her star rivals that of her famous partner and others – she’s that good! If you’ve been sleeping on those wonderful cartoons then you owe it to yourself to check them out.

martin pool

The role of Martin Prince may be retired following Taylor’s passing which has been the custom for The Simpsons.

Beyond Minnie Mouse, Taylor had many contributions to the world of voice acting. She was in-demand if you needed someone who could pull-off a convincing child or needed to provide words to a kind-hearted woman. Her most famous non-Disney role (well, until recently) is likely that of Martin Prince on The Simpsons. Martin was often called on during the show’s golden years to provide a laugh, often at the character’s suspense, and Taylor always delivered. She was also the voice of twins Sherri and Terri on the same show, a smaller role, but one still often proving to be very funny.

the disney fab four

People my age have grown up with these individuals serving as the voices for the iconic Disney characters. Left to right:  Tony Anselmo (Donald Duck), Wayne Allwine (Mickey), Bill Farmer (Goofy), and Russi Taylor (Minnie).

Russi Taylor has been a presence in the media I consume for basically my whole life. I’ve never really known another Minnie Mouse, and the same is obviously true of my kids. I have a daughter who will be turning 3 in the fall and Minnie Mouse is her world. She often requests, no demands, to wear a Minnie dress daily. When we took her and my son to Disney World for the first time this past winter, she was playfully shy with all of the characters she met, basically sticking close to mom or dad and waving from a distance. All except Minnie, of course. She ran to Minnie and gave her a big hug. I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to get her out of there. It was a heart-warming moment, and I have to believe part of my daughter’s love for Minnie can be credited to the performance of Russi Taylor.

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My own little princess would be devastated if she knew that Minnie Mouse had passed away.

Russi Taylor passed away this past Friday at the age of 75. I don’t know how the news was received by those who knew her in life, but for fans it came as a shock. Images of this happy, smiling, woman flooded my mind when I heard the news, then came the images of all of the voices she provided. Her legacy is incredible, and my condolences go out to her friends, family, and colleagues who must all be hurting right now. Many of them have expressed some wonderful sentiments all across social media and through entertainment channels. I encourage you to seek them out. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Russi Taylor was the best Minnie Mouse yet. I mean that as no disrespect to the women (and man, as Walt himself once voiced her) who came before her. Someone out there is about to land the role of a lifetime, and they’ll have some big shoes to fill.

There are likely more cartoons to come featuring Taylor, as well as episodes of The Simpsons. A new attraction will be opening at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios soon, a ride featuring Mickey and Minnie which is something that is long overdue. Her voice will be featured there likely for many years to come. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the ride ends up being dedicated to her and will hopefully serve as one of many enduring tributes. The last Mickey cartoon released before her passing, Carried Away, also strikes me as a fitting farewell. It features Russi Taylor’s singing as Minnie, something the writers of these shorts seem quite fond of because she does it so well. It contains a great twist of an ending that encapsulates the modern spirit of Minnie Mouse so see if you can watch it without having a tear come to your eye. I know I can’t.
wayne and russi


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