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Batman: The Animated Series Wrap-Up

btas redOne-hundred and nine episodes plus three features leading to one-hundred and twelve blog entries have been devoted to the subject of Batman: The Animated Series. It started as a celebration of the show turning 25 and then as a curiosity piece. Since its premiere in 1992, the show had become much celebrated and praised all over. It’s exceptionally rare in this age of social media to see anything basically universally loved, but that was the case for BTAS. I had a lot of good memories of the show myself. I watched it as a kid and when the show received a DVD release I bought it up. And I watched them all. Batman became a show I had experienced and enjoyed both as a kid and as an adult, but some ten years or so removed from when I last watched it in total I still wasn’t sure just how good the show was.

And so I watched it again. And after each episode I made a little blog entry afterwards. Well, at first they were fairly little as I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Did I want to do an episode review or did I want to do a recap? I started leaning more towards the review side while also inserting a brief summary. Perhaps being influenced by all of the recap style podcasts I listen to, the entries drifted more towards that style. And they grew. Oh, did they grow. This little weekly entry soon routinely ran for thousands of words. I’m not saying that makes them any better or worse, but it certainly transformed my little project from something I could regurgitate via my keyboard rather quickly to something much more demanding.

Even though my vision for this feature grew beyond my initial plans, that doesn’t mean I regret anything about it. Far from it, actually, as I really enjoyed my time with this show once again. I may have even enjoyed it more than ever as I found it much easier to find things I liked about episodes I previously wasn’t very high on. Some of those episodes are still rather poor, but I can at least see what the writers were thinking and for the most part the animation is always quite good. It’s a very entertaining program, and while it’s still primarily a children’s cartoon, there’s enough depth there to captivate an older audience.

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The character of Batman drew people in, and villains like Two-Face and Mr. Freeze kept them coming back.

In re-watching the show I found there were certainly things that consistently worked and things that did not. When the show centered on a sympathetic villain it was usually at its best. Batman can be pretty ruthless in his application of justice, but the guy does have a heart. He often makes the right decision, though he’s also not perfect. Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and Clayface ended up being my favorite villains. And when Harley Quinn was thrust into a sympathetic role she soared. Even Arnold Stromwell was interesting when we saw his softer side. That doesn’t mean everyone needs that to work though. Rupert Thorne was consistently nasty and thus interesting, same for Roland Daggett. The Joker was also often very entertaining and the show never made an attempt at deviating from what he is, which is something filmmakers today could learn from.

There were still a few duds when it came to the villains. Surprisingly, Catwoman was rarely compelling as the show didn’t seem to know what to do with her. For whatever reason, there was a desire to portray her as something other than a villain. Rather than make her an antihero, she more or less just became a victim. There was a bit of a course correction in season two, but only when the show returned as The New Batman Adventures did it feel like the show actually knew what it wanted to do with one of Batman’s most popular foils. Two-Face also tended to flounder after his strong debut. He was able to rebound a bit, but it was a shame to see so much of what his debut built up was seemingly cast aside. The Penguin, another famous Batman villain, was also rarely up to the task when called upon with many of his leading roles serving as the show’s worst. He was usually most entertaining when paired up with other villains to play off of them. The show seemed to acknowledge this by putting him in more of a supporting role later on when he became a club owner.

Mostly, when I consider the legacy of this show I mostly recall what it did for the lesser villains. Going into 1992, the only Batman villains I was really aware of were the ones featured in the Adam West show. The Riddler, Penguin, Joker, and Catwoman were the most famous, but I also recalled Mr. Freeze and, for some reason, King Tutt. This show is how I was introduced to other, lesser, villains such as Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Clay-Face, and others. And for the most part I loved these “new” villains most of all. Sure, there were some duds for me like The Clock King or the one-off werewolf character and Lock-Up, but mostly the new guys were pretty interesting. And you can’t talk about this show without talking about what it did for Mr. Freeze. Previously more gimmick than character, Freeze became one of the most popular Batman villains seemingly overnight thanks to his portrayal in “Heart of Ice.” No, he never had another story as good as that one, but because that episode was so good it made any future appearance appointment television just to see if another Freeze story could match that one.

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Oddly enough, the show seemed to struggle with Catwoman not knowing if it wanted to portray her as something of an antihero or as her more traditional cat burglar persona.

Since this show is primarily a half-hour cartoon intended for kids, it runs into some issues. The format it strived for is a limitation. That inaugural 65 episode first season included several two-part stories, but following that every other story was confined to a single episode. This limitation is only a limitation if the writers allow it to be one, but sometimes it felt like certain episodes were short-changed. It also leads to numerous instances of Batman just turning to his wonder computer to solve a problem. That was definitely my biggest pet peeve with the show this time around as it quickly became a trope of the show. Batman turning to his computer felt like The Simpsons using the living room television to either start or advance a plot. An episode can still be good when that element is present, but it certainly feels cheap.

I also can’t offer a proper conclusion on the show without talking about the move from Fox to the WB and the creation of The New Batman Adventures. The switch did lead to some good things. For one, it advanced characters like Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon and let us see some actual development. Some conflict between Batman and Robin was teased during the Fox years and it was rewarding to see that go somewhere. I think the show could have mined that conflict for more material, but it was mostly handled well. Barbara, on the other hand, was a bit glossed over. Sure, she was now an accepted ally as Batgirl, but we learned very little about her character. Did she have a new outlook on crime fighting? What was her end game? We also never even got to see what came between she and Dick, which was unfortunate.

Aside from that, the move to WB also allowed for less censorship. This didn’t have a huge impact on much unless you’re really turned on by seeing a thin line of blood streaking from a character’s mouth, but it did really open up The Joker. He went from being mostly just a lunatic to being a violent lunatic. He has a few moments to be truly mean during his time on WB giving the character a similar feel to how he was portrayed in Mask of the Phantasm. This did lead to some criticisms I had with the direction of Harley Quinn, but I think I did a good job of highlighting those issues in my posts on the episodes she appears in.

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No matter how many times I see the new-look Joker I just can’t fall in love with it.

What obviously stands out the most though in the change in networks was the new design. While some characters looked unchanged and a few looked better than before, I mostly disliked the new style choice. Less detail and odd choices are mostly to blame, but even the animation came across a bit too cartoony for this show. The whole tone of the show was also thrown off and I think that had to do with the ensemble cast and the simplified portrayal of each of the leads. The writers basically assigned one archetype to each character and mostly stuck with it. This left no room for nuance and it had the most drastic impact on our main lead, Batman himself. In the first two seasons we got to see different sides to the character, but in The New Batman Adventures he’s basically just grim and curt. He’s so boring, and sadly none of the other leads outside of Nightwing really offer much. Robin is mostly just a vehicle for bad puns and Batgirl offers even less.

As a result, I can comfortably say that The New Batman Adventures era is inferior to what came before it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still quality to be found there. Much to my surprise, a few episodes actually rank quite highly and the worst of the show is still found in those first two seasons. A lot of that third season is just okay or average with few true stinkers. Though that is a post for another day.

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The show is exciting and fun and gave us some truly memorable characters. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to Batman, if not the best.

Ultimately, I set out to decide for myself if I felt Batman: The Animated Series was overrated or properly rated. It never occurred to me that it could be underrated, and it certainly is not. While the show didn’t deliver a slam dunk each episode, it also totaled 109 episodes and what show has ever hit a home run every episode for such a long time? Even much celebrated shows like Breaking Bad have a lesser episode here and there, and that particular show produced far fewer than 109 episodes (though to be fair, in terms of total minutes it’s probably much closer). And no, I’m not trying to compare this show to Breaking Bad, but making the point that it doesn’t have to “wow” the audience every time out to be a great show. Calling it the greatest television show based on a comic book feels right. It’s certainly the greatest cartoon, and I also came away feeling that it’s totally defensible for this to be someone’s favorite depiction of Batman in any medium. It’s a great show with a lot to offer. It’s primarily an action vehicle, and the wonderful animation allows it to be a pretty great show based on its action alone. What puts it over the top are the stories, the captivating villains, and it’s wonderful sense of style. The music of Shirley Walker, the performances of actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, it’s a production that oozes quality. So yes, Batman: The Animated Series is properly rated and if I am certain of anything it’s that I will watch this series in its entirety again. And again…


Dec. 18 – Little Dracula – “The Bite Before Christmas”

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Original air date September 6, 1991, the rare Labor Day Christmas special!

There was a huge demand for cartoons in the early 90s. Cable was expanding and needed content for all ages while a new broadcast network was also making noise. That network was Fox, and after scoring primetime hits with Married…with Children and The Simpsons, the network started to look at other areas where it could compete. It would end up placing a premium on original sports content and also children’s programming. Before long, Fox Kids was the premiere destination for cartoons and other kid’s shows forcing the more venerable networks like CBS and ABC to play catch-up. Out of this success came a lot of cartoons people remember fondly, but Fox’s “try anything” philosophy also meant a lot of shows came and went.

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Little Dracula produced a total of 13 episodes, but only 6 aired in 1991 with the rest seeing broadcast in 1999.

One such show is Little Dracula. The Walker Hahns Productions show ran for a mere six episodes in the fall of 1991. Based on a book series of the same name by Martin Waddell, the tagline present on IMDB refers to the titular character as a green-skinned, child, vampire who aspires to be like his father, Big Dracula, yet also enjoys rock ‘n roll and surfing. Sure sounds like a winner! Fox aired just five episodes on its network basically over one week in September and then brought it back for a Halloween special the next month. Despite that, a full 13 episode season was produced and the remaining seven episodes went unaired until 1999 when the show was brought back on Fox Family, likely to fill some time during the Halloween season. The show was released across several PAL VHS tapes (as the books originated in the UK), sometimes paired with other cartoons, and was generously merchandized as well with action figures and various toys. It’s the toy commercial I remember most, which isn’t surprising considering how quickly the show came and went. I know I saw at least a little of this show as a kid and was likely perplexed when it went away, but I moved on and never really thought about the show again. That is, until now!

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This one is going to be a bit different from your normal Christmas special.

Airing in that first group of episodes on Fox Kids was a Christmas episode, “The Bite Before Christmas.” It’s a bit perplexing that Fox elected to air a Christmas episode in September, but my guess is maybe it was going to be held until December but someone at the network just did not like this show and wanted to just get it over and done with. The show was essentially replaced by Beetlejuice, so it’s not as if the network was against horror themed cartoons, but maybe they just didn’t see the appeal of this particular cast of characters. The show may have been short-lived, but it appears the producers at least sprung for a decent cast of actors. They brought in Joe Flaherty from SCTV to handle the role of Big Dracula and gave the roles of Granny and Igor to veteran comedian Jonathan Winters. It’s an amusing little quirk for the show to possess, but obviously it wasn’t enough to impress anyone into ordering more episodes.

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Little Dracula can apparently tolerate sunlight, which I assume has something to do with that ridiculous hat.

How does a family of vampires celebrate Christmas? Well, we’re about to find out. This episode begins with Little Dracula (Edan Gross), his friend Werebunny (Joey Camen), Igor (Jonathan Winters), and Deadwood (Melvyn Hayes) out chopping down a Christmas tree. Little Dracula, sometimes called LD, is wearing a weird looking hat and Werebunny looks more like a bat than a bunny. I don’t know what Igor’s relationship is to everyone, or if he’s even a vampire. He looks like a less gross version of the Walter Cobb character who will show up on The Ren & Stimpy Show eventually. I think he’s the castle’s handyman and inventor. I remember his action figure featured an action in which his brain popped out, so maybe he’s some kind of undead thing. Deadwood is a purple skinned guy in torn shorts and the way he takes orders makes me assume he’s a vampire’s thrall, but during the opening credits it’s shown that Igor may have brought him to life in a Frankenstein’s Monster way.

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Igor and Deadwood are probably my favorite characters. Deadwood likes to make little offhand comments which Igor seems to frown upon, likely because he views him as something akin to a slave or dog, at best.

Igor makes a remark how he loves it when they fight it, in reference to the tree being difficult to chop down, which is rather creepy. He’s going to hitch the tree to a sleigh and makes Deadwood, dressed up as Rudolph, haul it back to the castle. Before doing so, Deadwood makes a remark to the camera so he’s apparently our character capable of breaking the fourth wall. As the sleigh heads back to the castle high up on a hill, Little Dracula informs Werebunny what Christmas is to them. Basically, Big Dracula has been trying to capture Santa for 10,000 years so their custom is to lay traps. Werebunny is horrified by this, but Little Dracula sees no reason to reevaluate his position on Christmas.

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Garlic Man is a wonderfully terrible villain.

As they make their way into the castle, a snowbank rumbles and inside is one of the villains of the show. Maggot (Neil Ross), who looks like a wart-covered goblin, is spying for his boss Garlic Man (Brian Cummings) to see what’s going down at Christmas. Garlic Man resembles a man in a radiation suit, only his head is a bulb of garlic with sunglasses and some kind of mouth apparatus that makes his breathing sound a little like Darth Vader’s. He’s rather absurd looking, but it’s also a bit funny so I like it. At his side is another henchman by the name of No Eyes (Danny Mann). He’s just a big, ugly, dude with no eyes and a cybernetic hand. Garlic Man wants to spring a trap on the Dracula family and I guess destroy them? I don’t know if he possesses a higher purpose. It’s interesting to see the family of monsters who feed on humans as the good guys, which is probably why the villains are so ugly and obviously bad so viewers aren’t confused.

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Mrs. Dracula’s television special is the B plot of this one. The payoff isn’t particularly good so don’t get your hopes off.

Inside the home, Big Dracula (Joe Flaherty) awakens. It’s nighttime, and as he rises from his crypt he hears his wife talking to someone. Mrs. Dracula (Kath Soucie) is speaking into a television camera as she’s apparently hosting a Dracula Christmas program. There’s also a narrator, though he is only heard and not seen which confuses Big Dracula. Mrs. Dracula makes some comment about filling time now that a shopping network is gone and I don’t know if that’s just a one-off remark or if that refers to a previous episode. She hands her hubby a sweater to give him that “Arsenio Hall casual look” which helps to date this one. Dracula rightly points out he’s not a casual guy, but he’ll relent and put it on.

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Even the undead appreciate a nice tree.

The others return and it’s basically time to decorate the house. Their Christmas décor is surprisingly traditional, and we get a look at some other secondary characters. There’s Granny (Winters), a toothless old vampire who apparently wants to smooch Santa. She remarks she hasn’t been kissed in quite a while which is essentially kid’s show speak for saying it’s been awhile since she got laid. We also see the family has a little pet that’s just essentially Thing from The Addams Family. Igor is the one who is going to be responsible for putting together a trap, while Little Dracula and Werebunny are expected to clean up.

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I’m sure this will work.

On the roof, Garlic Man is on the scene dressed as Santa. No Eyes is wearing a reindeer or moose head over his and the eyes are marked with an “X” which is clever. Maggot is there as well dressed as an elf, and they’re a bit confused why Garlic Man wants to pose as Santa when the Draculas intend to capture him. He brushes their concerns aside while pointing out that Dracula is “0 for 10,000” in regards to capturing Santa and jumps down the chimney. In the room below, Little Dracula uses his magic wand to make the base of the fireplace disappear leaving a hole that goes into the basement or somewhere. He does this to sweep a bunch of dirt into it, but it also causes Garlic Man to extend his fall. As Maggot and No Eyes listen above, Maggot comments on how fast Garlic Man must be going while No Eyes sees this as an opportunity to get drunk with their boss gone. He removes his mechanical hand and affixes a tap handle to it instead which dispenses black eggnog. The liquid is coming from somewhere in his body, which doesn’t seem to concern Maggot.

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Horn-ball Granny has some ookies to tame first if she wants to get her man tonight.

Big Dracula and the kids have crafted a massive cage to trap Santa. Little Dracula baits it with hot cocoa while Granny brings in the cookies. Only there was come confusion and she made Christmas “ookies” instead. They’re basically little monsters with adorable stocking hats. Granny tries to subdue them with her hypnotic powers, but she’s apparently well past her vampire prime as the little devils resist until her eyes literally pop out of her head. Those bounce everywhere and the family is forced to track them and the ookies down. Igor also enters to announce he’s finished his part of the trap, and stumbles into the chaos. He adds he built a loveseat for Granny and Santa to enjoy inside it as well, so apparently everyone is in on this whole “get Granny laid” subplot.

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I think Igor just put a sign on the washing machine and called it a Santa trap.

When things are settled down the family gets to celebrating Hawaiin style, apparently for Mrs. Dracula’s show. They’re having a grand old time until their Santa trap is sprung! Excitedly, they go to see what’s inside and Granny dives in first to get her kiss. We hear her smooching up a storm, but when she pulls away a beard and mask are stuck to her kisser. The mask belongs to Garlic Man, who then emerges angrily and retrieves his mask and proceeds to blowing garlic on Big Dracula. Maggot and No Eyes emerge as well and they’re able to round up the family, except for Little Dracula and Werebunny. They run for it, but LD promises they will return, as he uses his wand to create another hole to escape through. I guess that’s all the wand can do? They wind up in LD’s fancy flying car, which I know was released as a toy, and take off. High in the sky, LD radios to some spirit guide network to inform them what happened and request help. He’s pointed to a truck stop, because truckers are apparently tough and nothing else is open on Christmas Eve.

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Your stereotypical tough guys.

Little Dracula and Werebunny enter the truckstop and find a whole bunch of tough looking folks. As the camera pans, we see a Rambo look-alike arm-wrestling with a tough looking dude. There’s a table of ninjas swinging swords and an angry looking muscled woman drinking alone. Even Popeye appears to be enjoying a cold one at the bar. Little Dracula announces to the bar that they require assistance. In the background, we can see the bar TV tuned to the Dracula Christmas Special, which Garlic Man has taken over. A lone voice answers Little Dracula’s call. He sounds like John Wayne, but all we see are his boots.

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You’re in trouble now, Garlic Man, because here comes the big man!

At the Dracula residence, Garlic Man is finally ready to apparently kill Big Dracula. Little Dracula makes his triumphant return though, and he’s brought some backup. The backup he brought is none other than the big man himself, Santa Claus! He jumps from his sleigh to confront Garlic Man who cowers in fear because Santa represents goodness. He wails that he’s melting, but maybe something was lost in translation as he doesn’t melt at all, but rather shrinks until he’s just an ordinary bulb of garlic. Maggot then approaches Santa to ask if he brought him the bicycle he asked for, and Santa produces. He brushes aside Maggot’s badness and essentially puts it all on Garlic Man. Meanwhile, No Eyes has picked up their boss and jumps on Maggot’s handlebars and tells him to get going before anyone notices.

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It just wouldn’t be Christmas if Dracula and Santa didn’t end the night as friends.

With the bad guys departed, attention turns to Big Dracula and Santa. Dracula thanks Santa for his help and expresses a willingness to put their rivalry to bed. Before they can shake hands though, Mrs. Dracula’s show gets his attention once again as the narrator is signing off. He demands to know where the voice is coming from, as this has been a running gag all episode, and Little Dracula picks up a microphone and opens it up to reveal a tiny person with a huge mouth inside, a rather tepid payoff though I don’t really know where they could have gone with this. Granny then goes after what she wants, and gets it. As she smooches Santa her head pops off when he recoils. The camera quickly pans to a group shot of the rest of the family who wave and do the customary wishing of a happy holiday as the episode ends.

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The special ends with perhaps the least festive “Merry Christmas” I can recall seeing.

Well that was certainly something. Horror themed Christmas specials are pretty interesting and a welcomed change of pace, even if the horror elements are rather minimal. The best gag was probably Deadwood reaching into a stocking and pulling out a severed foot. The books apparently had lots of gross gags like this that the cartoon really couldn’t get away with. This show visually is all right, no better or worse than what was common in the era. Igor had some fun lines here and there, and it was bizarre watching the characters try to corral Granny’s eyes, but little else stood out as memorable. The lead character, Little Dracula, is possibly the worst part of the show as he doesn’t contribute much. The cliché vampire accent he speaks with makes it tough to understand what he’s saying, not that he’s ever saying anything worth hearing. He makes too many puns involving the word “Drac” (his favorite being Drac Attack) to the point where it feels like each episode had a quota on them or something that they needed to hit.

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Garlic Man turned out to have a rather major weakness.

I mostly liked the villains, even if their motivations are a bit perplexing. Garlic Man’s plan worked, but he just kind of sits on his hands and waits for Little Dracula to save the day. Maggot and No Eyes are actually refreshing as they were not depicted as comically inept henchmen. Instead they’re more like abused help and it shows when Garlic Man takes his fall and they see it as an opportunity to essentially drink on the job rather than go to their boss’s aid. Santa had a fairly conventional design with the only notable element being he goes sleeveless in this universe. The John Wayne voice was an interesting choice. I don’t know that it works, but at least it’s different. The ultimate resolution of the episode was quite weak though as Santa literally just had to stand in Garlic Man’s presence to defeat him. The show may not have had the budget for a true action scene, but man, is that weak.

As for Christmas cheer, there’s not a whole lot here. Sure, Santa saves the day, but he doesn’t impart any message or anything. We don’t even get the full Santa experience as the show apparently lacked the budget for reindeer. They appear briefly and don’t appear to be even animated. It did avoid the Santa in front of the moon sequence though, which is notable in and of itself. There is some festive décor going on in this episode, but that’s rather minimal as well. Most of the Christmas stuff is basically contained to the opening moments where the characters chop down a tree and a group of zombies moan carols briefly.

Still, horror tinged Christmas shows are hard to come by and if that’s something you like then this might be worth a look. Little Dracula is not a highly regarded cartoon or one that is well-remembered, despite it seemingly being average as opposed to poor. As a result, it’s not streaming on any of the major platforms nor is it available on DVD. Since it’s essentially a dead IP, you can find this and other episodes on YouTube for free. Your only other option would be to track down a PAL VHS cassette and I don’t even know if this episode was released on any of them. You probably wouldn’t want to do that anyways so YouTube is your best option.


Dec. 15 – Animaniacs – “A Christmas Plotz”

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Original air date December 6, 1993

It’s rare when you encounter a cartoon series that has back-to-back episodes dedicated to Christmas, but that happened with the first season of Animaniacs. If you’re not familiar with the show, Animaniacs is essentially the spiritual successor to Tiny Toon Adventures as another Steven Spielberg presented cartoon series. It, even more so than Tiny Toons, draws inspiration from the golden era of cartoons when guys like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Friz Freleng were making audiences laugh at the movie theater. The series is a cartoon variety show with the main characters consisting of the fictional Warner brothers and Warner sister:  Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. It paired them up with many other newcomers like Slappy Squirrel, The Goodfeathers, and perhaps most famously the duo of Pinky and the Brain.

 

Animaniacs premiered on the Fox Kids network in the fall of 1993 and anchored Fox’s weekday afternoon lineup. Perhaps that’s why the producers and writers felt like they had room for multiple Christmas episodes. They aired back-to-back with a week of reruns in between with this one airing on December 6, 1993 and they were the last new episodes of the show to debut in 1993. Reruns took the Warners and Co. the rest of the way with new episodes premiering in 1994. Like a lot of Fox programs, the initial season was a direct to syndication order of 65 episodes with supplemental seasons tacked on. The show ran until 1998, finishing up on Kids’ WB after 99 episodes, and was followed by a direct-to-video movie, Wakko’s Wish, which is coincidentally a Christmas affair. It seems odd that the show wasn’t given one additional episode to get it to 100, an achievement it certainly deserved, but maybe that’s why Wakko’s Wish exists.

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Want to make an episode feel special? Just dress-up the opening credits a bit.

Animaniacs mixes a lot of slapstick humor with satire of celebrity culture. There’s numerous musical segments, honestly more than I remembered when I went back and watched it, and lots of micro segments which many fans probably recall fondly. I’m speaking of the Good Idea/Bad Idea stuff or that little kid who likes to talk about some other person named Randy. It also poked fun at broadcast standards via the Wheel of Morality and is also quite notable for slipping a few risqué jokes past the censors (Finger Prince?). It wasn’t a cheap show and often featured some of the best animation and musical numbers on television. It feels like a show that couldn’t exist today because of this, but Hulu is reportedly bringing the show back in 2020. It remains to be seen what the show will look and sound like, but most of the original cast is back onboard and it’s hard to imagine Amblin Entertainment allowing the show to look worse than it did 20 years ago.

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What’s better than dressing up the opening title sequence? Adding an homage to the old CBS Special Presentation bumper! Gets me every time.

The very first segment of the first Christmas themed episode is the one we’re looking at today:  A Christmas Plotz. Plotz refers to the name of the fictional CEO of the Warner Bros. Company Thaddeus Plotz (Frank Welker). He is ostensibly the one responsible for ordering the Warners be locked away in their tower, as detailed during the show’s infectious opening. He’s a miserable old miser, so you can probably see where this is going. Can Animaniacs do a worthwhile parody of A Christmas Carol, or is this yet another forgettable retread? Let’s find out.

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Warner Studios all ready for Christmas.

The episode begins with the fake news reel explaining the origins of the Warner Bros. Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell) and their sister Dot (Tress MacNeille) were classic cartoon characters deemed too zany and crazy to exist. Their cartoons were blacklisted and they were sealed away, along with the Warners themselves, in the studio’s water tower. This news reel begins many episodes of the show, but this time it’s presented with snowflakes falling all around. These snowflakes carry over into the opening title sequence and I do love when shows dress-up their opening credits for Christmas! The Steven Spielberg cartoons were frequent contributors to such.

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Thaddeus Plotz is a man in need of some Christmas spirit.

When that business concludes, we begin the show. It’s Christmas time at the Warner Studios lot and some carolers are cheerily singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” In his office, Thaddeus Plotz is not enjoying the festive singing. He opens his window to scream at them and fling fruit cake as well. It seems his subordinates all give him fruit cake at this time of year, even though he hates it (doesn’t everybody?). As he returns to his desk, his security guard Ralph (Welker) enters the office. Plotz instructs him not to sit down as this won’t take long, but Ralph interrupts him by going into a little prepared speech. It seems he expects this meeting to end with him receiving his Christmas bonus, and he thanks Mr. Plotz for letting him work there and presents him with yet another fruit cake. Ralph is the classic dumb guy cartoon archetype. He frequently starts sentences with “Ahh,” or “Duhh,” and adds random plurals onto certain words thus making him immediately sympathetic, which is important for what follows.

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This image makes me feel genuinely crushed.

When Ralph finishes his little speech and presents Plotz with the fruit cake the old man is able to put on a happy face briefly despite his disgust. He then holds up a line graph which apparently details rising costs directly tied to the damage caused by the Warners. It’s Ralph’s job to keep them in line, and he’s failed miserably. Plotz fires him on the spot, then wishes him a sincere-sounding Merry Christmas. As Ralph’s eyes well-up with tears, he slumps his shoulders and walks out.

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This one features a Slappy cameo, but sadly she’s the only one.

That night, Plotz is still busy in his office with budgetary matters. He’s recording a voice memo in which he mentions that in order to cut costs employees will soon be expected to provide their own toilet paper. As he finishes up, an apparition appears before him. It’s Slappy Squirrel (Sherri Stoner) in the Jacob Marley role. She’s mostly transparent and blueish with chains draped over her and isn’t particularly happy to be there. When a frightened Plotz demands to know why she’s here, she pulls out a notebook and reads her lines about him being visited by three ghosts. When he asks why, she tells him she doesn’t know as she lost the rest of the script. She then marches out of there grumbling about how she’s doing this for scale and remarks that she needs a new agent.

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Bring on the ghosts! First up is Wakko as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

With Slappy gone, Plotz thinks he hallucinated her due to working too hard. He drinks some water and then the phone on his desk begins to ring. He answers it and a spectral Wakko pops out of the receiver. He’s mostly blue save for his red nose and hat. He’s also dressed in a manner similar to the classic interpretation of Tiny Tim and immediately goes into a little musical number about taking a trip back to the past to see how Plotz got here. He sets up a little movie theater for the two and finishes his song with a kiss. The reel-to-reel projector is fired up as Wakko enjoys some popcorn and we’re taken to our first scene of the past.

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This is a pretty on-brand way for Wakko to present the past to Plotz.

It’s the birth of Thaddeus Plotz! His mother (Nancy Linari) is resting comfortably and seems quite content with her new babe, but then the doctor brings her the bill and little Thaddeus jumps up in anger. He’s still ticked about the whole spanking of the bum thing by the doc and informs him that he’ll be hearing from his lawyers. We’re then shown a five-year-old Plotz as he confronts a mall Santa surrounded by said attorneys to make his annual demands of St. Nick. He expects many gifts, including a horse, and Santa seems bewildered. The Plotz of the present then informs us he was gifted a pony that year and he still seems ticked off by it. Plotz demands this farce end, but Wakko then shows him another vision of the past, one he promises is the worst. This time he’s an adult and seated behind his current desk. He’s telling an old man (Maurice LaMarche) his services are no longer needed, despite him begging to be allowed to keep his job. That old man was his dad, and Plotz still sees nothing wrong with usurping the company from his old man as he allowed him to keep his medical benefits.

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You just knew they would utilize the present pun. Dot even feels the need to draw attention to it by pointing it out.

Wakko and his accessories then vanish as Plotz returns to his desk once again questioning if what he just saw was real or not. He sits down at his desk and blames his vision on bad cocktail weenies (because that food was considered inherently funny in the 90s, like cheese) when he notices a large present on his desk. He thinks it’s going to be another fruitcake, but a spectral Dot pops out dressed in old-timey clothes and demands to know who he’s calling a fruitcake. She also points out the pun of her being the Ghost of Christmas Present and popping out of a present. She too has a little song to sing, and as she kicks away the nameplate on Plotz’s desk we can see his own name was misspelled on it (Thadius), though I don’t think that’s a joke just an animation goof.

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Well, at least they’re happy.

Dot takes Plotz to a trailer park, and I bet you can guess who lives here. It’s the home of the recently fired Ralph who is seated in an easy chair trying to calm his son (Paulsen) who is irate with Plotz for firing his dad. He assures the boy that everything will be okay. The pair are summoned to dinner and we get to meet Mrs. Ralph who inexplicably looks and sounds exactly like her husband. Their kid seems well-adjusted and perfectly fine though, so he apparently hasn’t been ravaged by his incestuous origin. Mrs. Ralph is serving what they can afford for Christmas dinner:  Turkey Jell-O. It looks pretty terrible, but Ralph is excited to eat it while little Ralph Jr. is decidedly not happy about this current situation. He claims to the camera he’s adopted, and we believe him, and vows to get even with Mr. Plotz some day.

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And Yakko makes three.

Plotz is a bit unnerved by Ralph Jr’s hatred of him and wants out. He soon finds himself back in his office. He’s apparently accepted the reality of this evening as he’s now concerned about the arrival of the third ghost. The clock striking midnight and a thunderstorm brewing outside seem to spook him as he tries to call for security, forgetting momentarily that Ralph was security. He then tries to leave, but finds the door locked. Turning around, he screams when he sees the third ghost. A being resembling the Grim Reaper approaches, sickle and all. It pins him to the door and says his name in a deep, hollow, voice as it extends a boney finger towards Plotz’s throat.

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Yakko’s song and dance number is certainly elaborate, but is it funny? Eh…

Yakko then emerges from the robes to announce he’s the Ghost of Christmas Future. He ditches the spooky stuff and sports a tuxedo as he goes into an elaborate song and dance routine announcing his arrival and intentions. It’s complete with female dancers (voiced by Carol Lombard, Kimberly Fligsten, Brianne Lepon, and Sara Ford) which Yakko hits on mercilessly while Plotz is dragged around and forced to keep pace. Yakko slips in insults here and there while Plotz drops his fear for a minute to just get angry and annoyed. The presence of the women allow Yakko to work in his “Hello, nurse” catchphrase, and the whole thing ends with Yakko tossing Plotz off of the magical stairs that appeared to land in an armchair. I do not know if this song is a direct parody of anything, but Yakko does go into a brief Groucho bit for a moment.

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I wonder who that guy could be?

With both Yakko and Plotz seated comfortably, Plotz looks around and realizes they’re still in his office. Only now it’s not his office. Yakko directs Plotz’s attention to the new man in charge, an angry guy with a huge, bald, head. He’s yelling about Urkel looking ridiculous with his pants pulled up so high at his age as he’s on the phone with someone. He slams it down and returns to his work and Yakko points out to Plotz that this man is actually Ralph Jr. all grown up. It seems he did get his revenge on Plotz, as we soon find out his fate. Unlike Scrooge, Plotz is still alive in this future, but he has suffered a fate worse than death. He’s been made the new Ralph and tasked with keeping the Warners in line. He looks mostly the same, only he has an unkempt mane of gray hair and his eyes are a bit sunken looking.

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Old man Plotz is forced to try and keep pace with the Warners. It’s actually pretty impressive a man of his age can do this much.

Plotz is horrified by the sight, and it only gets worse. The Warners then show up to taunt him, and as he chases after them with a net Ralph Jr. emerges from his window to call down to him. He admonishes him for not catching them, and when Plotz informs Ralph that they’re too fast, he unceremoniously fires the old man punctuating it with a cheerful “Merry Christmas,” just as he did to his father years ago. The future Plotz walks away disheartened, while present Plotz begins to pout and cry.

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The ghosts may be done, but the Warners still have a role to play.

Plotz soon realizes he’s back in his office. It’s Christmas morning, and now he has his chance for atonement. He kisses his desk when he realizes where he is and races over to the window. He goes into the usual routine as he calls out to some kids asking what day it is. It’s the Warners in their holiday threads, only now they’re not blue ghosts. They tell him it’s Christmas Day, and Dot remarks to the camera how he’s not too bright. Plotz then throws down a sack of money and tells them to go buy the biggest fruit cake they can find and deliver it to Ralph’s house. He even tells them to keep the change. Wakko declares that they’re rich and the trio grab the money and run.

 

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Plotz never really atones for his mistake, he just tries to cover it up.

At Ralph’s trailer, the whole place is bouncing up and down with Christmas cheer. The family is singing around their 8″ tall tree when a knock at the door disturbs their celebration. Ralph Jr. answers it to find it’s Plotz armed with a stack of presents. He barges in and demands to know why he’s hearing that Ralph left the studio. A confused Ralph points out that he fired him, but Plotz corrects him by saying he inspires him! He then charms Mrs. Ralph, before turning his attention to Ralph Jr. He begs the boy not to take over the studio, and then tries to bribe him with a pony. The kid demands a horse instead and Plotz makes an expression that basically says, “I deserved that.”

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Grovel, you swine!

Another knock at the door gets Plotz’s attention and he opens it to find the Warners. They tell him they brought the fruit cake and an excited Plotz races outside wanting to know where it is. They tell him they got the biggest they could find, and they weren’t kidding. A helicopter delivers a massive fruit cake, and drops the two-story monstrosity right on top of Plotz. His feet stick out from under it and all we can hear is unintelligible ranting. The Warners jump on top armed with spoons and assure him they can have him out by Easter. Wakko then wishes us all a merry Christmas as the sound of Christmas bells take us out of the segment.

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A fitting punishment for a lifetime of dickish behavior.

And that’s it for “A Christmas Plotz.” It’s followed by a musical number based on The Little Drummer Boy in which the Warners assume the role of the drummer and lead us through a fairly straight interpretation of the tale. It’s not particularly memorable, but if you like your Christmas with a side of Jesus then it’s probably right up your alley.

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The Warners get the last word, per usual.

“A Christmas Plotz” is pretty entertaining, as most cartoons starring the Warners tend to be. It’s a bit disappointing that a show as creative as Animaniacs went in this direction though as it didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the old story truncated to 12 minutes or so and punctuated with jokes. The jokes are fairly easy, but still humorous. It’s still fair to question whether or not we ever needed Animaniacs to go this route. An original Christmas story would have been preferable, but obviously more work. I suppose I’m glad the Warners were thrust into the ghost role as opposed to that of the Cratchits. Maybe another holiday parody would have worked better? The slapstick nature of Home Alone would have lent itself well to the show, or maybe just have the Warners run wild through Santa’s workshop? A Christmas Carol parody is the lowest rung on the holiday special ladder, and I just can’t help but feel that this show is better than this. At least this show looks great as this particular episode was entirely animated by the renowned TMS Entertainment. Episodes of this show really don’t come any better in terms of looks than what you’ll see here.

img_0461Thankfully, if you want to spend the holidays with the cast of Animaniacs you have other options. There’s the episode that follows this which is less cohesive, but pretty fun. There’s also a Christmas cartoon starring Slappy featured in the penultimate episode of the show that’s fodder for a future countdown. And there’s also the previously mentioned Wakko’s Wish if you want to spend an even longer amount of time with the gang at Christmas. That feature has the added appeal of making use of the full ensemble so it’s a bit like a celebration or grand finale for the show. If you’re really into the show though, you’ll probably just want to watch all of them. And if so, don’t forget the excellent Pinky and the Brain holiday special!

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This cartoon is fine, but the episode that follows makes better use of the entire cast making it my preferred Christmas episode of the two.

If you do indeed wish to invest some of your Christmas viewing time into Animaniacs then it’s pretty easy to do so. The entire show is available to purchase on physical media or through digital means. By far, the easiest way though is via Hulu which has the entire series plus the movie on it. It also has other Spielberg cartoons so you can really indulge in some 90s animation and basically all of them feature a Christmas special or two. There’s certainly room for Animaniacs at Christmas time, so hopefully you find an episode that works for you.


Dec. 10 – Merry Christmas, Super Dave!

 

img_0265There are a lot of cartoons that have come and gone in my lifetime, many I forgot even existed until something jars my memory. Earlier this year we lost comedian Bob Einstein. Einstein is probably best known for his role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but twenty years ago he was best known for his character Super Dave. Super Dave was essentially an Evel Knievel parody, a daredevil who is really bad at his profession. He would attempt wild stunts and wind up getting hurt quite frequently. He would show up on late night shows and in television specials and he even made appearances on WWF’s Monday Night Raw.

In 1992 Super Dave was given an animated series on the upstart Fox Kids Network. Titled Super Dave:  Daredevil for Hire, it captured the character’s follies in animated form with an added plot device of Super Dave being a hero as well. It was produced by DiC and Bob Einstein was onboard to both voice his character and to end each episode with a live-action segment which usually recycled one of his old stunts. The show only lasted 13 episodes and I mostly remember it as just being the show that came on after X-Men, which basically spelled the end of my cartoon viewing on a Saturday morning. Sometimes I watched it, sometimes I went on to do something else. I never got attached to it, and the most memorable aspect of the show for me was the opening credits as I probably sat through them before turning the TV off. The show premiered on September 12, 1992 and blew through its episodes rather quickly. Fox still kept it on the air though through August of 1993.

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Bob Einstein’s self-absorbed Super Dave Osborne had a pretty nice run for himself.

The penultimate episode of the cartoon series was dedicated to Christmas. I could not find an original air date for “Merry Christmas, Super Dave!” but I would assume it likely aired in November or December of 1992. If the episodes aired in order, then it would have premiered on December 5, and may have been shown again on the 19th or 26th. It’s a bit surprising to see a show of only 13 episodes get a Christmas episode, but I’m not complaining. The episode is going to have Super Dave save Santa, a rather conventional and predictable plot, but since Santa flies high over the world there is certainly a chance for our hero to suffer a terrible fall and experience tremendous pain. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

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Gotta toss in the obligatory episode title image.

The episode begins with Super Dave (Bob Einstein) testing out his latest stunt with his stunt coordinator/sidekick Fuji Hakayito(Art Irizawa). He’s going to be shot out of a canon dressed up as Santa with a sack of toys, apparently to deliver them to some kids as part of the stunt. It’s to take place that night, making this stunt feel like a “Fireworks Factory” kind of thing. Fuji fires Dave out of the canon and he misses the target, which was an oversized chimney. He lands harmlessly on a net though and he informs us that he never uses nets, but this practice run is important. He then tries to remember how to get off a net and then recalls his training. He basically does a tuck and roll to get off of it, only to find out the net is probably 100 feet off the ground. He takes a terrible fall, and the sack of toys follow to add some additional pain. A large robotic Santa basically laughs at him, annoying Dave and prompting him to demand Fuji shut it off. He questions Fuji why the net wasn’t the standard 6 feet off the ground, and Fuji replies he just didn’t have time to set it up. Then he whips out a controller and hits a button producing the proper net. It appears under Dave and bounces him in the air (they call it a net, but it and the other net are more like a trampoline) into the higher net. He then ping pongs off the two apparently stuck in a loop while the robot Santa remains active to continue its mocking laughter.

 

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That seems like a bit of an overreaction at the sight of a grown man dressed as a baby.

Super Dave and Fuji are then shown at the mall. Fuji is disguised as a baby and Dave is pushing him in a stroller because Fuji wants to meet Santa, but they think he won’t want to meet an adult man. Dave is embarrassed to be doing this and tells Fuji there’s no way anyone will think he’s a kid. A woman then, basically on cue, stops to comment on the cute baby and informs Dave that he looks just like him. Dave then removes the woman’s glasses and buffs and polishes them before returning them to her face. She then looks at Fuji and screams in what ends up being a pretty solid gag.

 

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Santa is a bit confused by this apparent child.

Dave and Fuji then approach Santa. First they’re inspected by an elf (possibly voiced by Kath Soucie, the credits aren’t great on this show) who mispronounces Fuji’s name as Fooey, but it sounds like a baby’s name I suppose. They then meet Santa and “Fooey” hops on his lap and starts reading from a rather long list. Dave then reminds Fuji that Christmas isn’t a time for selfishness, and Fuji remarks to Santa the secret password that he just wants peace and junk. Santa (Frank Welker) is so taken by Fuji’s selflessness that he reaches into his sack and pulls out some special Super Dave high-bounce sneakers. Dave himself then lodges a protest at Santa giving away his merch for free. A guy’s got to watch out for his bottom line, you know?

 

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The characters enjoy breaking the fourth wall in this show, something I did not remember.

Dave and Fuji return to the Super Dave compound to continue preparations for the night’s festivities when they receive a phone call. The call is concluded quickly with the phone exploding, and Fuji and Dave explain the phone was Fuji’s invention made to speed-up calls. They also remark it serves as a convenient way for them to explain the plot of the episode to the audience, as they both turn and mug for the camera.

 

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That sure looks painful.

Dave then heads to a payphone, as he was apparently instructed during the call. Santa has been kidnapped, and Dave needs to deliver the ransom of 10 million dollars which he apparently has with him in a briefcase. On the other end of the phone is the kidnapper (Welker) and he’s going to send Dave all over the place to I guess make it harder for any law enforcement to track him. First, he needs to head to the docks and find Alphonso and compliment him on his pretty, pink, dress. Dave heads to the docks and finds a large ship and calls up to a guy on the deck. He assumes this man is Alphonso and compliments the dress. The problem is the guy isn’t Alphonso and he’s not wearing a dress and as thanks for the compliment he drops a giant anchor on Dave’s spine. While he’s on the dock in pain, Dave looks up to see the real Alphonso staring over him. Rather than compliment him on his dress, he gives him some advice on how to improve his appearance (focusing primarily on the man’s hairy feet). Alphonso tells him he needs to head to a junkyard to find little Willy with a gold tooth before departing. Dave says he’ll do that once feeling returns to his legs before the dock gives out and he falls into the water.

 

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Now feels like an appropriate time to point out that Super Dave is not terribly smart.

Dave does indeed head for the junkyard and there he’s confronted by a rather nasty looking Doberman. He assumes the growling beast is Willy and he reaches into the beast’s mouth in search of a gold tooth. As he’s doing so, the real Willy (Charlie Adler) emerges from behind. Dave at first pays him no mind, but then he notices the gold tooth. He then grabs the ID on the dog’s collar to see his name is William. The dog yanks him offscreen to inflict violence upon old Dave and Dave narrates that the dog is chewing his bones and burying him. Ouch.

 

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Our villains of the episode.

After recovering from his dog bites, Dave heads to his next destination which is a warehouse or hangar of some kind. There he’s confronts by the main kidnapper, Alphonso, and Little Willy who display a bound Santa for Dave. They demand to see the “dough” while Dave demands to see Santa and this goes on for a bit. Dave finally opens the briefcase though after confirming via his radio set with Fuji that there’s a tracking device inside. When he shows the contents of the briefcase to the crooks though, he finds that Fuji only placed a tracking device inside. When Dave demands to know where the money is, Fuji remarks he thought it would be safer with him at the compound. Dave ducks into his shirt to chew him out some, but our surprisingly patient kidnappers aren’t too pleased and take Dave prisoner as well.

 

img_0258Dave and Santa are then bound together inside the warehouse. We get a brief look at a pair of reindeer also tied up as the crooks rig the place with explosives via a trail of gunpowder to a large stockpile of the stuff. Fuji shows up with the money to free them, and the crooks take the money and run, but not before first setting the gun powder on fire (to a festive holiday song sung by Willy “We wish you a big explosion!”). Fuji tries to put it out as it slowly burns its way towards the explosives, but he has no luck. Dave demands Fuji just untie them first, and then the three set to trying to think of a way to get out of this mess. Dave asks Santa if anything in his sleigh could put out the fuse, but Santa says no and lists stuff in his sleigh that wouldn’t work like dolls, toys, and some weird device a kid named Fooey wanted. Fuji then asks if it’s the hydraulic, attenuated, nuclear, super-charged, magno-rectifier he wanted. Santa just says “Whatever,” before informing him that it took his elves a year to build. When Fuji is asked what the thing does he says it’s for putting out explosions. How convenient?

 

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The device that will save us all. I question the need for it to be nuclear powered.

Fuji retrieves his gift from the sack on Santa’s sleigh and turns it on. It’s a boxy thing that has two cartoonish hands that extend from it. They simply put the spark out by pressing down on it with a finger, and Super Dave looks at the camera with a “Really?!” expression. Super Dave then informs Santa he can go deliver the presents now, while he goes after the crooks. Fuji tells Dave not to worry and that he already took care of the crooks. We then see them being loaded into a police wagon outside a car lot called Tricky Dick’s. When Willy asks the cop how he knew the money was stolen he informs them because they’ve never had a President Fuji and displays a bill which has Fuji’s likeness on it.

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It just wouldn’t be Christmas without more pain.

Dave is happy with his sidekick for once, and once again tells Santa to get a move on. Santa tells him that he’ll need their help since he’s getting a late start as he heads for his sleigh. Dave says they’ll never get anywhere fast enough in that old thing, when Fuji tells him his wacky Christmas gift has another function. It apparently transforms into a rocket sleigh and Dave excitedly jumps in to pilot it. He fires it up and the thing shoots straight up in the air before crashing back down to earth leaving Dave a charred mess.

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Of course Fuji and Dave are getting a ride in Santa’s sleigh!

Santa then informs them that his sleigh is more than adequate, and the trio board it and take off. As they fly through the air, we have it confirmed that this Santa is the same as the mall Santa from earlier (which the viewer probably knew, but apparently Dave and Fuji did not). Dave had previously told Fuji the mall Santa was just a helper and probably a pool man, which the crooks even repeated before they left, so he feels a bit stupid. Santa then gifts Dave a pair of Super Dave high-bounce sneakers which Dave is surprisingly quite happy to receive. Santa then demands payment for them which catches Dave off-guard, but he’s reminded that he’s just doing what Dave instructed him to do. We’re then wished a merry Christmas and as the trio fly away Dave lists off all of the injuries he incurred during this adventure.

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The shot that ends most Christmas specials.

We’re then taken to a special Christmas greeting card. It’s a Christmas song sung by Super Dave set to the Twelve Days of Christmas that mostly just lists off misfortunes incurred by Dave throughout the show. It features clips from past episodes and lasts about a minute. It’s cute. We’re then taken to the live-action segment of the show, which involves a gag where Super Dave tries to hold onto a pickup truck and keep it from driving off for thirty seconds. He can only manage to do it for 15. When the announcer instructs the crew to get that truck out of there it takes off and Dave’s arms, which were still bound to the bumper, stretch to a comical length. And that’s the end.

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An actual “stunt” is included as well.

Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire is not a particularly well-animated show. It’s one of DiC’s lesser productions, but I wouldn’t call it ugly. It’s just fairly simple, which isn’t surprising since it’s pretty weird that it even exists. The daredevil craze was well past its expiration date come the 1990s and Super Dave was known, but not exactly a household name. The show has some laughs to offer, though they’re not found where I expected them to be. The physical comedy bits are what I recalled most from the show, and they’re fine, but I mostly found the show amusing when it breaks the fourth wall or when Dave is shown being pragmatic. Though the joke of Fuji essentially being a deus ex machina might have been overused.

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This show has its moments, like this Santa robot that basically mock’s Dave during his practice run.

As a Christmas episode, this is pretty by the numbers. Super Dave is a hero, so having him save Santa is expected. The actual rescue was a bit weird with a lot of padding by having Dave need to go on a scavenger hunt of sorts. It was not at all surprising to find the real Santa was the same as the mall one, which Dave had dismissed. Visually, there’s not a ton of Christmas to be found outside of the opening stunt sequence and the mall. And speaking of that opening stunt, I was shocked the episode didn’t return to it. I figured it was going to be a bookend and we’d see Dave’s actual Santa stunt go comically wrong in front of an audience. I feel cheated! It really was a “Fireworks Factory” after all!

 

Interestingly, there appears to be two versions of this episode: the original and an edited one. The edited one features changes to the Fuji character to de-emphasize his more racial features, namely his eyes and even a re-recording of his speech. The skin tone may have been altered as well, or that could just be a difference in quality between the two videos I found. Most of my images come from the edited one as it was of a better quality, but you can see the changes in the images above. Art Irizawa, who is Japanese-Canadian, played the character in live-action and voiced him here in both versions. Apparently, an Asian-American Child Psychologist by the name of Kenyon S. Chan voiced complaints about the character. I found a story on the subject from the LA Times. It mentions the character will be changed for Season Two, but that never came to exist. I’m guessing they went back and made these changes for the summer rebroadcasts and maybe in anticipation of making it appear the same as the next season.

In the end there isn’t much of a Christmas message or lesson to impart. Santa even took Dave’s advice and decided to charge for the special sneakers. I’m fine with it though, not everything needs a moral. The additional song at the end is appreciated as it does inject a bit more Christmas spirit into the thing. The live-action finale though feels out of place since it didn’t involve Christmas at all. Maybe they should have just ended this episode with the song and a merry Christmas from the real Super Dave?

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Not a lot of people remember this cartoon which means it’s easy to find for free online, but in poor quality.

If you want to watch this one this year it probably won’t surprise you to hear it’s not readily available anywhere. No DVD release was ever done and streaming platforms don’t see any value in paying for it. Plus with Einstein no longer with us there’s likely even less reason for anyone to attempt to profit off of this cartoon. The good news is since no one cares about it then no one is punishing piracy. If you want to watch it, just google it. You’ll even find it on YouTube with a few bumpers and commercials as well. And honestly, sometimes those are better than the actual show.


Dec. 8 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – “I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger”

 

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Original air date November 25, 1995.

Late in the summer of 1993 the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR) were unleashed upon the world. The build-up had been going on all summer with the Fox Kids Network running promos and print ads steadily to build-up momentum, and like a good little consumer, I was there for the premiere. The show became an immediate hit and soon supplanted X-Men as Fox’s highest rated children’s program. In my network, it first started airing weekday mornings which was a trying time to watch television as getting ready for school took precedent over everything. It eventually was moved to afternoons in the coveted after school timeslot and would also be shown Saturday mornings as well.

At this point, the story of the Power Rangers is probably well-known, but lets recap, shall we? Haim Saban is known for being notoriously cheap when it comes to television production, but he’s also been incredibly successful when it comes to children’s programming. Power Rangers is like the perfect Saban show because he owned the property and was able to create episodes on the cheap by splicing in footage from the Toei produced Super Sentai series, as well as other Japanese productions. Basically, there was footage of characters battling monsters in brightly colored costumes which was largely the domain of the Super Sentai program. And then you had the teens portrayed by American actors who were canonically the heroes under the masks. Except they weren’t. Their stuff was newly shot in the US and done on the cheap. It was so bad that three of the original cast members were let go when they stood up for higher wages with the original Red Ranger, Austin St. John, winding up homeless for a time shortly after leaving the show.

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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was inescapable in 1993.

As the show became hugely successful, the budget expanded, though still few extra dollars went to the non-union, agent-less, young actors playing the main characters. Instead, they were able to reshoot some of the stuff produced in Japan so that characters like the villainous Rita Repulsa could appear alongside the American actors and even have her mouth movements better sync with the English dub of her voice. The main series ran for three seasons and included a brand new feature film as well before the show spun-off into new iterations like Power Rangers Zeo and Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, among others. It’s still ongoing with over 800 episodes produced thus far.

When the show arrived, it largely caught my attention due to the intense marketing. Leading up to it, I had formed expectations for the show which it did not meet. I remember thinking the main characters, who received their powers via dinosaurs, would be part dino when in their ranger form. I had visions of a Power Ranger losing his or her helmet at some point to reveal some hybrid dino-human visage beneath it, so I was a little disappointed to see the show was just a campy martial arts thing. I still found it captivating, especially the Green Ranger arc. More than the actual show though were the toys. Produced by Bandai, the Power Rangers action figures were huge at about 9″ tall. They were the first toys I ever saw with finger articulation, and the assortment of monstrous bad guys were pretty fun too. Best of all, was the Megazord which consisted of five prehistoric robotic beasts that combined into one robot, similar to Voltron.

Liking the Power Rangers quickly became taboo in my age group. It’s rather funny to look back on because the show was hugely successful and likely everyone at school claiming the show was for losers were all going home and watching it. As a result, I rarely discussed the property with friends in a sincere fashion and did so only to make fun of it. And for kids that didn’t watch it, my friends all had strangely specific critiques and jokes to make at the show’s expense.

The toys were so popular they were nearly impossible to find. I know I requested a bunch for Christmas of 1993, but ended up with nothing. Not that I’m complaining, as that was the year I got a Sega Genesis and Mortal Kombat, but I never did get much for Power Rangers stuff. I remember being immensely excited when I found one, lone, villain at Toys R Us. It was some kind of mouse-rhinoceros hybrid. It was pretty lame, but being the only toy I saw in person I had to have it. Eventually, I would have luck finding the morphing action figures (which have been re-released recently) which were neat, but not as cool as the large-scale figures. I never did get that Megazord, or the Dragonzord, which is what I really wanted. I carried around a clipping of an advertisement for it from some catalog for months, but it was to no avail.

As for the show itself, I actually was somewhat honest when I told my friends I wasn’t into it. I didn’t watch it regularly, but certain arcs would pull me back in like when the show introduced the White Ranger. I think I rented the movie, which was probably my last real experience with the show. It was usually on a little early on Saturday, and I liked my sleep.

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Tommy calls upon the power of Christmas to make this little girl happy.

“I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger” arrived as part of the show’s third season when I wasn’t a regular viewer. I’m pretty sure I never saw it before watching it for this post, but I was looking forward to doing so very much. MMPR is super campy and corny with fun martial arts sequences and some pretty kick-ass costumes. I was willing to embrace the corn and was looking forward to just going with it, but unfortunately the Christmas episode is apparently not the best way to jump back into the show. I suppose I should have seen it coming since Christmas tends to bring out the side of a children’s show that is extremely cheesy. Sentimental, sweet, with usually some sort of lesson to impart – that’s a Christmas episode in a nutshell.

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A hopeful misery has taken over the group at the start.

The episode opens at the youth center or whatever the main hangout is referred to as. Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) and Aisha (Karan Ashley) are leading a bunch of children in singing Christmas carols. Aisha is the choir coach while Kimberly plays guitar. It’s a nice way to kill some time for a Christmas episode. When the song ends, we get all of our plot setup in rapid succession, while also making time for some Hanukkah music too. Kimberly is sad she isn’t spending Christmas with her mom while a little girl named Becky (uncredited role) is blue because she misses her dad. Tommy (Jason David Frank) tries to raise her spirits and everyone wears looks of concern. Our other Power Rangers, just to get it out of the way, are Billy (David Yost), Rocky (Steve Cardenas), and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch). Of which, only Billy is really called on to deliver much in the way of lines. Poor Rocky hardly gets to say or do anything.

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These are definitely the kind of cops that will help you finish a six-pack rather than confiscate it.

Bulk (Paul Schrier) and Skull (Jason Narvy) enter the scene and they’re now police officers. I vaguely recall this being a development on the show as the two first started off as a dimwitted duo of bullies. They’re still pretty slow and everyone should probably be terrified they’re able to meet the standards of Angel Grove’s police force. They’re here to supervise and apparently play Santa and helper later.

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Zedd be scheming because villains never take off at Christmas.

Elsewhere, the evil Lord Zedd (Ed Neil, Robert Axelrod as the voice) has decided he hates Christmas (I assume this isn’t a new development for him). He and his minions have a crazy new plan to ruin Christmas for everyone that involves sending the evil Rito Revolto (Danny Wayne, Bob Pappenbrook voice), who looks like he was ripped from a Megadeth album cover, to Santa’s work shop and take it over. Meanwhile, the rangers are all farting around and being mopey about their situations. Tommy helps Kimberly hang some mistletoe, and Skull takes the opportunity to smooch her. That’s some pretty shitty behavior for a cop.

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Santa has been laying off the cookies this year.

Revolto does as he’s commanded and storms the North Pole. There, a rather skinny Santa (Robert von Fliss) is the overlord to a bunch of little people, only one of which gets any lines (Romy J. Sharf, though dubbed by Wendee Lee). They meet virtually no resistance from Santa and his followers, aside from the customary pointing out of their presence on the naughty list. Zedd apparently intends to have the gifts switched and this will somehow lead him to gain control of the world’s children. He doesn’t go into great detail and he really doesn’t need to.

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It’s nice to see Alpha decorated the place for Christmas.

Tommy gets a notification from Zordon (David J. Fielding, Robert Manahan voice) that something is up, and everyone gets to look serious and dramatic. They head to Zordon’s base where Alpha 5 (Donene Kistler, voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz) is busy getting all flustered and the floating head of Zordon gives the rangers an update on what Zedd has done at the north pole. He also introduces an interesting wrinkle. Santa’s workshop possesses some kind of magic around it that will negate their ability to use their morphing powers. If you think something like that is going to stop the Power Rangers though, you’re sorely mistaken.

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A real convincing looking north pole.

The plain-clothed rangers head to the north pole and scope out the situation. Amongst a set that looks like something you would find at a mall, they spy from the door way Revolto and his forces. They reason that since their powers won’t work here that Revolto’s probably won’t as well. Even assuming that, they still reason storming the work shop could put Santa and the elves in danger so it’s agreed that stealth is probably the way to go.

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All right, so stealth isn’t their strong suit.

Kimberly and Aisha are then shown to have snuck into the work shop and are hiding behind some presents. They get the attention of the head elf and pull her aside to let her know help is here and to get the lowdown on the operation. They then just throw themselves out there and get Revolto to chase them outside. There they join up with the rest of the Power Rangers and gang up on Revolto, who is disappointed to find his powers aren’t working. Zedd sends Goldar (Kerrigan Mahan) to assist, but he just walks into an ambush. No powers, no problem, as the Rangers demonstrate they are true ninjas and a master of their environment, so naturally they turn to snowballs. Goldar and Revolto are forced to retreat, but the elves have some Home Alone-inspired traps awaiting them as they trip on some trimmings. The weird bird monsters Revolto brought with him are felled by marbles and the elves seem quite proud of themselves to have contributed in some way.

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Take that, evil-doers!

The bad guys get warped back to Zedd and Rita (Carla Perez, Barbara Goodson voice) by Alpha 5 in a pretty bundle for him to get upset over. At the youth center, Bulk and Skull have taken on new personas as Santa and his reindeer helper. Bulk, who’s fake beard is full of candy canes, is thoroughly miserable while Skull doesn’t seem to mind the gig too much. He hauls the next kid to Bulk over his shoulder and it gives me a real A Christmas Story vibe given how rough the two are with these kids. The kid unfurls a comically long list for “Santa,” and it’s a bit funny because all of the stuff he’s reading aloud to Bulk is clearly not written on the list. Zedd and the gang also partially get into the spirit when a gift shows up from Santa. It’s filled with old junk he had either withheld from them years ago, or stuff he took from them? I don’t know, but Revolto gets into the spirit by giving Goldar a present. They seem to be enjoying themselves, but Zedd and Rita react as if they’re about to get violently ill.

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A neat little package to wrap things up.

At the north pole, Santa needs some help to avoid a full-blown Christmas catastrophe. The rangers are happy to pitch in wrapping toys and everything seems to have come together in time. Santa then gives the rangers a big old sack of toys to bring to the youth center. They warp in, which is pretty bold of them if they’re trying to conceal their identities. The kids descend upon the sack of toys like a pack of wild animals. Becky is cheered up to see Kimberly has returned and didn’t abandon her. We then get to wrap up those plots from earlier in predictable fashion. Becky, who just wanted her dad for Christmas, gets her wish as her dad shows up. And as a result, she wants nothing else from Santa so she gets to thank him (Bulk, that is) instead allowing Bulk to finally understand the meaning of Christmas. Kimberly’s family shows up too, because Christmas, and she and Tommy finally get to share a kiss under the mistletoe. The choir is reconvened for some more singing, and the whole gang delivers a hearty “Merry Christmas!” to end the episode. And then during the credits, a bonus scene between Revolto and the elves is shown where it’s questioned if he has the capacity for goodness inside of him, and it’s determined he does not.

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How cute.

“I’m Dreaming of a White Ranger” is a pretty by the numbers Christmas special for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Despite the pun in the title, there is no White Ranger, or any actual ranger, in this one at all. This episode was possibly entirely shot for the show and perhaps that’s why the morphing powers were explained away since they didn’t have a good chunk of battle footage to drop in that would make sense given the different settings included here. Which is disappointing for someone like me who wanted to just jump-in for a nostalgic blast of MMPR, but all I got was the corny stuff and none of the action.

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These kids are monsters.

It’s not a total loss though. I found the character of Rito Revolto to be pretty entertaining. He also looks cool as his costume is pretty interesting, though I don’t know why half of him is camouflaged. The stuff with Zedd and the villains was also amusing in a silly sort of way. They’re classic inept villains that revel in doing evil which rarely fails to amuse me on a surface level. Everything involving the actual Power Rangers is pretty dull though. It’s clear to me that they’re the worst part of this show. Bulk and Skull are fine and I didn’t mind my time spent with them, but the kids add nothing.

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This thing wraps up with the only way it can.

In spite of that less than glowing review, should you still wish to partake in this one you have quite a few options. By far the most accessible is via Netflix which has the entire MMPR era of the show available to stream. The quality isn’t very good, but this is a show that’s never been known for having much money spent on it. The series is also available via physical media DVD and a cursory look online suggests getting Season 3 used won’t set you back much. If you want it new, then you’ll have to pay a bit. You can also buy the individual episode on Amazon for 2 bucks. If you just want to indulge a bit in the show though, I wouldn’t recommend this particular episode. There are also free means out there as well that aren’t hard to find, and serve as a nice way to take some screen captures since Netflix makes that hard. If you’re a big Power Rangers fan, you’ll probably watch this during the holiday season, and if you’re not then you probably won’t and you won’t be missing out on much if that’s the case.


Dec. 4 – The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police – “Christmas Bloody Christmas”

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Original Air Date December 20, 1997

Come 1997 I was moving away from what is largely considered “kid’s stuff.” I was in my teens and gearing up for high school and the Fox Kids I had grown up with was changing. My beloved X-Men came to an end that year and with it came my disinterest in Saturday morning cartoons. I preferred to stay up late on a Friday and sleep in till near noon on Saturday, and when I did wake, I often went straight for the computer or my PlayStation. As a result, I totally missed out on The Adventures of Sam & Max:  Freelance Police. It views like the heir apparent to Fox’s previous version of The Tick. Both are rather offbeat, comedy, comics geared towards a slightly more mature audience than the conventional super hero books and both had to be toned down in order to work on network television. How they both got to where they ended up was quite different though.

Sam & Max were largely created by artist/writer Steve Purcell. They actually originated in a comic his brother Dave created as a kid. He’d leave his unfinished works around the house and Steve would playfully finish them often completely changing the tone and poking fun at what his brother started. Eventually he started coming up with his own stories for the duo and as a birthday present in the 70s his brother signed over rights to the characters for Steve so that he could explore an official way to distribute his stories.

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Sam & Max’s foray into television only lasted one season despite being well received.

Sam is an anthropomorphic dog in detective clothing. He’s sort of the straight man in the pair and takes his work seriously, but is also prone to his natural canine instincts making him excitable and, at times, a touch vicious. Max is an undefined rabbit-like creature who prefers to be called a lagomorph. Where Sam is more straight-laced and serious about their work as police officers, Max is not. He’s violent, crazy, and possesses a very short attention span. The two debuted in 1987 as a counterpart to Fish Police, but when Purcell was hired by LucasArts his characters came with him where they enjoyed their greatest success.

It was at LucasArts that Sam & Max made the leap to video games. They first appeared as comics in a newsletter and due to their success they were given a starring role in their own adventure title. Sam & Max Hit the Road was a point and click adventure for PC in 1995 and it was quite successful. Despite that success though, attempts to create a sequel fizzled and were never released. This was largely due to the genre of game they helped refine falling out of favor with gamers, or at least the publisher losing confidence in the format. When the rights expired in 2005, Purcell took his talents to Telltale Games which had resurrected the adventure game and would find great success with episodic titles for the next decade+, until it eventually closed in 2018. Sam & Max starred in several Telltale titles and pretty much all of them were well received.

In 1997, the duo made the leap to television. The Adventures of Sam & Max is a toned-down take on the pair that strives to maintain the core beats of the source material. The violence is largely absent and the profanity as well, but Sam is still a pretty straight and narrow, albeit ignorant, detective while Max still has a touch of that homicidal nature to him. Neither character was allowed to wield a gun though, but at least the show does a faithful job in adapting the look of the comic. Twenty-four episodes were produced for the first season, with only the first and final episode being a standard half-hour format. The other 22 were approximately ten minutes each and shown in pairs.

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A cozy, Christmasy, setting gets things started.

For the 10th episode, one half was devoted to Christmas. “Christmas Bloody Christmas” is written by Purcell himself and isn’t as violent as the episode title would suggest. It involves Sam reuniting with his grandmother for a trip to Blood Island Maximum Security Penitentiary to bring Christmas cheer to those needing it most:  inmates. What could possibly go wrong?

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That feeling of calm is quickly abandoned.

The episode opens with Sam and Max in a cozy, festive, setting dressed in their pajamas. Max (Rob Tinkler doing a pretty decent Roger Rabbit impression) casually smashes a little music-playing Santa and remarks how Christmas with Sam’s granny will be different from most. Or rather, how each year he wishes it would be different and better and each year he’s let down. Since Max speaks with that diabolical grin at all times it gives all of his lines a bit of dryness to them that’s part of the show’s charm. Sam (Harvey Atkin) informs Max that instead of spending Christmas in front of the TV that Grannie has something special planned for them.

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Grannie Ruth is going to take the lead in this episode.

Just then, a commotion and bright lights appear outside the cozy cabin. Max thinks it’s the mothership of his species finally returning to bring him home, while Sam thinks it’s an ambush. Grabbing Max, he flees for cover instructing the lagomorph that he’ll have to use his endearing charms to distract their attackers so that he can ensure Grannie’s safety. The door bursts open and it’s Grannie (Pam Hyatt). She curtly orders the boys to suit-up because they’re heading out which takes us into the credits.

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I love the festive attire, in particular Max’s three hats.

After the credits conclude, we see Sam, Max, and Grannie are aboard a helicopter being piloted by the old girl. Sam and Max are dressed in festive holiday attire, with Max adorably sporting a Santa hat on each ear. Sam takes the time to inform Max that Grannie was once the warden at Blood Island, and they’re going to bring some holiday cheer to the folks there. Max reacts to this news by declaring he always hoped his last Christmas would be spent as an elf-shaped holiday appetizer. Sam assures him that they’ll be fine since all of the inmates loved his grandmother referring to her as The Iron Maiden.

As the helicopter touches down in the prison yard, the inmates rush it. The guards are prepared to act, but the warden instructs them to stand down – they just love that old girl. They cheer as Grannie and her “elves” emerge from the chopper with Sam and Max tossing candy canes to the prisoners. Off to the side, some tough looking inmates remark this could screw up their plans while a blonde Russian inmate with a wild-looking neck (the thing looks like an elbow) remarks that this might actually work out for them.

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Grannie should really be dressed-up too if she’s going to play Mrs. Claus.

Inside the prison, the inmates are lined up to meet Mrs. Claus who is just Grannie in her normal attire. Sam and Max make quips at the expense of the inmates, and one rather large looking fellow informs the pair he’s in jail because he ate his parole officer with some fava beans and seltzer, an obvious reference to The Silence of the Lambs that may not have been so obvious to the show’s target audience. It’s then that Grannie takes note of the Russian fellow from earlier. She’s not happy to see him and references his 43 escape attempts. She also calls him by his name, but I have no idea how to spell it. It sounds like Hurt-Sock. We’ll just call him Russian guy.

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That is one amazing neck.

Russian guy drops to his knees and begs for forgiveness for his past deeds from Grannie. He claims to be a changed man, and in the spirit of the holidays Grannie accepts. Max then gifts him with the most obvious, and tired, of Christmas gags:  a fruit cake. It’s incredibly heavy as the inmate nearly drops it upon receiving it. The music then gets sinister, and one of the other inmates from earlier is now sporting a baseball glove and making it clear to the Russian dude that he wants the “ball.” He tosses the cake to him who then pitches it to the third inmate from earlier. This guys grabs Max and swings him like a baseball bat, bashing the cake into an electrical switch on the wall and knocking out the power causing the room to go dark. Sam states the obvious in that this can’t be good, while Max sarcastically remarks that nothing could go wrong in a dark room full of violent offenders as he lights a candle.

After a break, Grannie, Sam, and Max are shown running through a hallway. They’re in the underbelly of the prison and Grannie assures the boys she knows this place like the liver spots on the back of her hand. Max breaks the fourth wall to make a dated SNL reference as Grannie leads them to a spot in the wall. Max uses his very large ears to listen for activity, and finding it, he punches a small hole in the stone wall and yanks the inmate who swung him like a bat earlier through the impossibly small hole.

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Max, ever eager to climb insane a human body.

Once the inmate is pulled into the hallway, he claims he won’t talk. Max enthusiastically requests that Grannie let him jump down the man’s throat and prepares to climb inside him, but he’s denied. Grannie then reprimands the man, telling him that his mother would not appreciate him back-talking old Grannie. Sam is then shown calling the guy’s mother on the phone and this causes him to break. He confesses that the Russian guy is planning on taking the warden hostage. With no further use for him, Grannie pinches the fella’s neck causing him to pass out. Max remarks this is a helpful maneuver all parents should know for bedtime.

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The characters are allowed to behave like classic toons when needed.

The trio then apparently head deeper into the prison as they’re shown traveling through the darkened hall by hanging from some pipes. Grannie suspects their target will use the prison’s pipes to get to the warden which is what they’re doing as they enter the pipes. The pipes start off large enough for them to crawl through, but eventually become too small. That doesn’t stop them though, considering they’re cartoons and all, and they eventually emerge from the shower heads. The show then makes a mild prison rape joke as Sam appears to be in awe and wonders aloud what the room would tell them if these walls could talk. Max remarks it’s probably best that they didn’t with a look of disgust on his face.

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Let’s get silly.

Outside the room, the sound of talking and laughter can be heard. Grannie instructs the boys to turn on the hot water making the room steamy. The bad guys enter and are surprised to find Grannie. They’re probably more surprised when Sam and Max emerge from the steam wearing towels and snapping additional towels in a threatening manner. The henchmen inmates, including the one previously knocked out by Grannie’s neck pinch, scream like girls and run away slipping on some stray soap. They crash into a wall and are rendered unconscious. Grannie then beckons the Russian guy to come at her, but he opts to flee by flushing himself down a toilet. Max requests he not be asked to chase after him, while Grannie becomes worried as she concedes he now knows this place better than her. As Sam reassures her, Max’s feet stick out from the toilet.

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No one told Max he had to do that, but he did it anyway.

The trio return to the pipes and are shown above a whirling fan in the ventilation system. They jump in, and the air causes them to hover as if they’re in a wind tunnel. Sam seems to enjoy the blast of cold air on his genitals, though he states it in a PG manner. Grannie instructs them to hang on as she throws a switch on the wall which causes them to get sucked out of the tunnel and into the night air.

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They make this stuff look easy. No wonder why Fox felt like they didn’t need guns.

In the warden’s office, the warden is unable to reach anyone by phone. The three inmates emerge and they have a hostage too. Before they can issue their threats, the Russian guy says he hears something. Just then, Max and Sam burst out of a vent and collide with the two underlings knocking them out, hopefully once and for all. As the Russian guy turns his gun on the pair, Grannie pops up and disarms him. Seeing no alternative, he takes a swing at Grannie, but she produces another fruit cake and his hand smashes into it. While he’s reeling from the blow, Grannie drops the cake on his foot and apparently the pain causes him to pass out.

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You’ve probably heard about your brain on drugs, well this is your fist on fruit cake.

As the gang soak up their victory, some big, red, butt cheeks pop out of a fireplace. They could only belong to Santa, and he surveys the room and confirms who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. He makes Sam sign-off on his naughty and nice list before departing. While they’re distracted by Santa, the Russian prisoner taunts them from a window. He’s got an inflatable kiddie float and laughs as he flees. The warden remarks there’s nothing but open water out there and that he’s most likely shark bait at this point. The others seem unconcerned, and Sam reminds everyone there’s a big spread down in the mess hall.

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I suppose it’s better than solitary.

In the mess hall, we see a gigantic Christmas tree. The two prisoners who were working with the Russian are tied up and hung like ornaments from the tree while Sam and Max reflect on the Christmas they just experienced. Sam is thankful for being able to bond with his dear old grandma for the holidays. Meanwhile, with a tear in his eye, the warden thanks Grannie for bringing some holiday cheer to this old prison. She accepts his thanks, but is disappointed she couldn’t hang that old “Hurt Sock” from the tree too. On cue, Max finds a present under the tree addressed to Grannie. Sam opens it for her and out comes the Russian guy all tied up and bound with wrapping paper. As they all gasp and wonder how this happened, Max gives a “You don’t suppose,” as the camera cuts to a silhouette of Santa flying by the moon with a “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” Max then finishes his line with another fourth-wall breaking joke, “we’d even think of employing such a sugary ending!” Sam and Max then do the customary wishing the audience a merry Christmas as well. The camera pans out to end as it started, with a Christmas card and some festive music to take us out.

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Grannie gets her Christmas wish.

“Christmas Bloody Christmas” isn’t as crazy as the title seems to suggest it will be. I knew going in this was a Saturday morning affair, but I did have some expectations of at least mild, cartoon, violence and the episode is actually fairly light on that. Despite that though, I found it rather entertaining. Sam’s matter-of-fact delivery of often bad news is endearing, and Max’s sarcasm was also amusing. Nothing made me laugh out loud, but I did find the whole thing pretty charming. Jokes about fruit cake and prison rape are certainly dated and overdone, but at least they didn’t make me cringe. And the fruit cake bit at least paid off in the end with a pretty comical shot of the inmate’s hand breaking as he struck it.

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Obligatory holiday message.

Visually the episode does a great job with its characters. In particular, Sam and Max. They look just as they should and I’m quite happy the artists opted to put them in festive attire for the episode. Max’s manic grin really helps sell his lines, and the few times his mouth changes stands out to help accentuate those scenes as well. The secondary characters are a bit cheaper looking, though I liked the main villain’s elbow neck which remained consistent throughout the episode. It was a nice, personal, touch for the character. The backgrounds look pretty good as well, though are a bit lifeless at times as well. When the characters first burst into the catacombs of the prison it looks like they forgot to animate a door too. I enjoy the cartoon aesthetic and properties of the show, such as the exaggerated actions of the characters or the very cartoony way they emerged from the shower heads.

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The show’s take on Santa is fine. He’s plump, but not ugly, and gets right down to business.

As a Christmas special, this one is predictably light on holiday sentiment. Sam does remark that he was happy to get a little closer to his grandmother, which is about as far as the episode goes. The warden’s tears of happiness are not at all heartwarming and I think it’s supposed to be played for laughs. And obviously, Santa’s gift for Grannie is intended to be humorous as well and a play on how many a sincere holiday special end. Bringing Christmas to inmates is actually surprisingly noble, but it’s not intended to be here at all. It’s a joke to the writers, and I suppose it’s fine. Some who have more experience with the real thing might view it as being distasteful, but the show does make sure to portray all of these particular inmates as exceptionally violent offenders that are probably hopeless to begin with.

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Santa is, however, missing some reindeer and that is something I cannot forgive.

I’d say overall I enjoyed this one. It’s lack of earnestness and the fact that it isn’t truly hilarious make it an unlikely annual viewing, but a once in a while viewing is certainly acceptable. If you want to view this one yourself this year, the complete series is still available on DVD brand new for about 20 bucks. If you’re willing to settle for a used copy then you can find it for considerably less. It’s a Shout Factory release which tend to be of acceptable quality but light on special features. You can also easily find this one via the usual means online and stream it for free. If you want to indulge in other Sam & Max media, there’s always graphic novels and such. A favorite toy maker of mine, Boss Fight Studio, is set to release action figures of the titular characters. I’m not a big enough fan of the property to indulge in such, but they’re certainly tempting given how well they turned out.


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!

 

 


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