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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. 11 – A Flintstone Family Christmas

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Original air date December 18, 1993

The Flintstones got its start back in 1960 and for many years it was the standard for prime time animation. It was really the only prime time animated show for decades and has now been firmly supplanted by The Simpsons in almost every conceivable fashion. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, being new to sitcoms, treated The Flintstones as if it were just another sitcom in many ways. A lot of the characters and gags were borrowed rather liberally from The Honeymooners (though Joseph Barbera wants us to think that wasn’t intentional) and the show made use of a laugh track. It also followed adult characters navigating social situations, work, and marriage. Really, the only thing making it feel animated was the setting of Bedrock, a stone age location populated with people, dinosaurs, and other creatures long extinct.

The show was pretty stand-alone in terms of approach, but in season three it added a new character:  Pebbles. Like any other sitcom, this meant Wilma had to go through a lengthy pregnancy captured on film before finally having a baby girl. Not long after, neighbors the Rubbles welcomed Bamm-Bamm via adoption, and suddenly the show started to skew young. Sponsor Winston cigarettes was out and in came Welch’s, maker of jelly and grape juice. Ratings began to slide and the show eventually came to an end, but it would find extended life in children’s timeslots for years to come. The 166 episode total may seem minor considering The Simpsons has gone well beyond that mark, but it’s still a healthy total and represents a long run.

In the 1980s the show was resurrected via spin-offs and specials. The brand also remained pervasive in grocery stores via cereal and vitamins which still exist to this day. The franchise was still popular enough in the 1990s to receive a prime time animated Christmas special titled A Flintstone Family Christmas. Airing on December 18, 1993, it depicts Fred and Wilma as grandparents waiting to welcome their family home for the holidays. Pebbles has married and had children with Bamm-Bamm, essentially making Fred and Barney family officially. It made use of a lot of voice actors that had become prevalent in shows of the era, and it’s a bit of a trip to hear them work on The Flintstones.

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Fred is all about Christmas in this one.

The special begins with Fred (Henry Corden) decorating his home for the holidays while Barney (Frank Welker) looks on. Fred is putting lights on his house that just look like rocks that apparently light up. The source of power for these lights is a tank of water with an electric eel inside. When Fred drops the wire into the tank, the eel goes to work lighting up the display. It soon explodes, changing Fred’s holiday greeting to read Fatso’s House. Fred’s neighbor, Mr. Gravelberry (sp?), shares his disapproval of Fred’s light show, but nothing is going to take Fred out of his holly jolly mood. Not even the paper, which contains stories about drive-by stonings and other non-Christmasy happenings.

Betty (BJ Ward) and Wilma (Jean Vander Pyl) are wrapping gifts when Fred and Barney come inside to find out the kids are on their way home from Hollyrock. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm have two little ones and Fred can’t wait for them to see him play Santa in a Christmas parade. Wilma lists off all of the things they have to do before the kids get there and usher the boys out to pick up some stuff.

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Well that certainly doesn’t look like a jolly, old, elf.

As Fred and Barney leave a store with a rather large prehistoric turkey, a street Santa gets their attention. He’s soliciting donations, at least that’s what they think when they approach him only to get held up. He takes their belongings, and as he runs away it becomes obvious this Santa is actually two children with one standing on the shoulders of the other. He apparently didn’t get far as Fred and Barney are shown at the police station picking their mugger out of a Santa line-up. Wilma and Betty think it’s rather funny when they see it was just a kid that mugged them, but Fred is insistent that this kid needs the book thrown at him.

A social worker named Stella Stalagmite (Didi Conn) then enters to tell us all about the kid, Stony (Christine Cavanaugh). He’s a cave-less child, which horrifies Wilma. No one wants him, and they’ve tried appealing to all of the major religions too, but no one can get this kid to fly straight. Fred finds out it was a stick and not a gun that the kid was holding when he held them up, and becomes irate when Wilma suggests they bring him home. The two argue, with Fred insisting there’s no way this kid is coming over to his house, which can only mean one thing…

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Fred is rather protective of his television which appears to be powered by magic.

Stony is indeed brought home to the Flintstone residence and is amazed by what he sees. He’s very polite and complementary, but Fred isn’t buying it. As the Rubbles head off to make dinner, Fred is left alone with the kid who marvels at his big screen TV. Stony rewires it so that Fred can get all of the channels illegally and some all cave girl network pops up on the screen. Unlike most Flintstone gags featuring modern tech in a stone age world, there’s no explanation for how this TV works. As best I can tell, it’s just a regular TV in a stone box. Fred is interested in this racy channel at first, but soon changes the channel insisting they watch what he wants to watch. The remote is at least low tech as a little bird flies out of it to manually change the channel to It’s a Wonderful Stone Age Life. Fred declares it’s his favorite movie, while Stony isn’t impressed. We then get what’s probably going to be the prevailing message of this special when Stony imagines himself entering the movie only to have the main character to tell him to beat it, “We don’t want to think about your kind at Christmas!”

Stony relays his distaste for the holiday to an incredulous Fred. He doesn’t understand how a kid could dislike Christmas and declares him defective. Wilma has to break up the fight, and suggests that they go get a Christmas tree. Fred wants to wait for the grandkids, but when Stony offers to get them a tree for only 20 bucks Wilma insists they should let him do it so that they can demonstrate their trust for him. Fred reluctantly gives Stony a twenty, and he takes off and reappears quickly with a fully-decorated tree. Fred can’t believe it, but then Barney re-enters the picture and immediately recognizes the tree as his own.

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Will nothing go right for Fred and the gang? Stay tuned!

As Wilma fits Fred for his Santa suit, Pebbles calls with bad news. It seems she and the family are stranded at O’Harestone (this is already like the fifth “joke” that’s just the name of something from the real world with “stone” added onto the end of it) and she isn’t sure when they can make it home. This bums Fred out and Stony tries to cheer him up. They get into a little conversation about Stony not understanding what he did wrong, Fred gave him a 20 and he produced a tree. Wilma reasons the kid is just acting in the only manner he knows how, while even Barney sticks up for him as he apparently hooked him up with the cave girl channel too. Fred then tells Stony he just wants him to try and enjoy Christmas, and it seems like our special is turning hopeful. They then pile into the car to make what Wilma calls their “Christmas rounds.”

The next segment is a montage set to an original song. If I had to guess, I would say it’s titled “It’s a Merry Christmas in Bedrock This Year.” During the montage, the gang is shown caroling while Stony solicits donations to himself which Fred puts a stop to. They then deliver cookies, and we get our shot of Stony looking thoughtful on the kind gesture. Fred tries to show the boy how to figure skate, which ends in pain for Fred, and then they all gather for a picture and Fred puts the kid on his shoulders.

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The best character in this special.

When we exit the song, Fred and Wilma are taking Stony to see Santa Claus. Fred expresses to Wilma that he’s getting through to Stony, while Stony sits on Santa’s lap. He tells him how he used to have a red suit like that, until the pants ran away. This sets the Santa into a sad story about his own life. He admits he’s not the real Santa and then adds how he feels like he’s under tremendous pressure to tell the kids who see him that they’ll get what they want for Christmas, even though he’s powerless to make it so. While he tells his story, Stony swipes a handful of candy canes from Santa’s sack. Fred approaches and tells the Santa to brighten up and hands him a homemade ornament. Santa does as he’s told, and Stony is apparently warmed by Fred’s holiday spirit and slips the candy canes back into the sack.

The family then heads to pick out a tree. Wilma eyes an eight-footer, but Fred is scared off by the price. Stony tells him he needs to get a good tree for his grandkids’ first Christmas, but Fred remarks he can’t print money and they walk off. This gives Stony an idea as he tells the salesman to hold the tree. We then see him hosting a table game. He has three turtle shells and is taking money from people to see if their eye is quicker than his hand. When a very large man insists Stony cheated him, he runs off seeking the help of Fred. He insists to Fred, with a tear in his eye, that he didn’t cheat the guy and Fred stands up for him. This doesn’t go so well for Fred as the big guy grabs a Christmas tree and hits Fred over the head with it.

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A hospital bed for Fred – what’s next?

The tree did enough damage that Fred needed to be hospitalized. As he lays in a hospital bed with Wilma and the others at his side he openly wonders how this Christmas could get any worse. Mr. Slate (John Stephenson) then enters to tell Fred he’s taking him out of the parade. He can’t risk Fred’s health and have Santa die in the middle of the thing. Fred is heartbroken, and as Stony looks on he starts to feel sorry for himself declaring this is all his fault. He then spies Slate’s car waiting for him outside and a smile crosses his face as he apparently has another idea. When Mr. Slate returns to his car, he orders the driver to head to Flintstone’s house so he can retrieve the Santa suit. As the car drives away we see it’s Stony who is behind the wheel.

Stony brings the suit to Fred’s hospital room, and upon hearing what he did to his boss, Fred flips out. He takes off with Stony in tow and we see that Stony locked Mr. Slate in Fred’s bathroom. As he shouts for help, he gets the attention of the police who soon show up as Fred arrives. When Fred goes to free Mr. Slate from the bathroom, the door falls on him and out comes Mr. Slate. The cops order everyone to put their hands up, and all three do with Fred’s coming from underneath the door.

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Jail – that’s what’s next. It ends up being a nice time for a heart-to-heart about Christmas though.

Stony and Fred are then shown being taken to a jail cell. They’re in pin-striped suits and Fred looks pretty mopey. Stony tries to cheer him up by telling him it’s not so bad, but it’s not getting through. He imparts some advice to Fred as well, like don’t slow dance with Bubba or play Marie in the prison play. Fred has had enough of Stony and draws a line on the cell they share and orders Stony not to cross it. Stony gets back on Fred’s good side when he produces some crumb cake he smuggled into prison (he doesn’t elaborate on how he snuck it in). When Fred asks why he did that he explains when you live on the street you never know where your next meal is coming from so you always try to save something. He even gives Fred a bigger chunk of the cake which leads into the sappiest moment yet where the two have a heart-to-heart. Stony explains he just wanted to help Fred out since he helped him out with that big guy at the tree lot. Fred explains that Stony’s intentions are good, but his methods are not.

As the two have their happy Christmas moment, which includes the both of them resigning themselves to spending Christmas in jail, the cell door opens and in comes Mr. Slate and the social worker from earlier. Slate has the Santa suit and slams it on Fred. He cleared up the charges and still wants Fred to play Santa in the parade. As Fred struggles to get the beard over his head, the social worker takes Stony out as she assumed the placement with the Flintstones isn’t working out. As he’s lead away, Fred is dragged by Mr. Slate as he calls out for Stony.

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The Flintstones have had a lot of different reindeer stand-ins over the years.

Fred is at the parade sitting in Santa’ sleigh, which is pulled by six giant birds (why not 8?), when Wilma, Betty, and Barney show up. They’re glad to see him out of jail, but Fred is depressed over Stony being taken away. The parade starts and the birds pull him along and as he heads down the street he realizes something is in his hat. It’s a star-shaped Christmas card that Stony slipped inside his hat, and as Fred wishes the lad a merry Christmas, he sees Stony getting into the social worker’s car. He then snaps the reigns and orders the birds to fly. They sail over the parade and over the mayor’s car (the mayor, by the way, looks just like Fred but with a moustache) which Mr. Slate was riding in. He shouts out “Flintstone!” as he often does at the sight of Fred abandoning the parade.

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Gotta have this shot.

Fred soon catches up to the social worker’s car and reaches down to pluck Stony from the rear seat. He tells the social worker Stony has a home and the two fly off into the required Santa in front of the moon shot. They head home, where Pebbles and the gang are waiting for them. They’re singing a Flintstone’s version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while Stony shows the babies his turtle shell game. Fred then approaches to tell them it’s time for the family tradition where the newest member of the family puts the star on the tree. Stony hands over the babies thinking that honor falls to them, but Fred hands him the star instead. Bamm-Bamm lifts the boy on his shoulders and Stony places the start on the tree, an amber rock with a firefly inside of it. Fred then remarks to Wilma that this is the best Christmas ever, and everyone sings about wanting chocolate pudding. A “Merry Christmas!” lets us know this one is over.

This is a mostly serviceable Christmas special starring The Flintstones. I don’t have tremendous affection for The Flintstones, but I will say that as a Flintstones special this is rather weak. There aren’t any good puns and the stone age technology isn’t very creative at all. The writers seemed to think just tacking the word “stone” onto the end of everything serves as a joke all by itself. The special at least doesn’t repeat the trope of Fred having to find a new appreciation for Christmas, as we’ve seen him do in other Flintstones Christmas specials (he’d even play Scrooge the following year), but that’s a low bar to clear.

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Can I get a “Looky what he can do?”

As a Christmas special though, this isn’t terrible. Stony coming around to see the good aspects of Christmas and feel accepted by his new family happens pretty quickly and conveniently. Having the Flintstones adopt another kid certainly makes them look good, though I don’t think Stony every shows up again (not that much follows this special). When the gang all return in 1994 for A Flintstone Christmas Carol, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are kids again so it obviously takes place at a different time. Both specials essentially mark the end of The Flintstones as a prime time network attraction and it’s possible they only exist to cross-promote with the film which came around the same time.

Visually, this one looks like a 90s cartoon. It’s in-line with the level of quality that would show up in other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The characters are on-model, though they have exaggerated 90s flourishes to their actions. It’s actually refreshing since a lot of Flintstones animation was re-purposed and reused often. The sound design is also of a similar quality as most of the voices fans were familiar with were still around to voice these characters. And Frank Welker does a pretty good Mel Blanc impression as Barney Rubble.

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Exit on everyone singing, and that’s a wrap!

If you like The Flintstones then you’ll probably think this is okay, but may also feel let down. The Flintstones premise was never very creative making the only charming aspect of the show often the little gags tossed in which usually revolved around some animal appliance. This special is missing that as what is present just isn’t funny. It’s a heart-warming Christmas special though, so if you’re just looking for some Christmas feels it will probably get the job done. And at only 23 minutes, it’s not like it hangs around too long.

If you want to add this to your viewing this year, your options are a bit limited. The video-on-demand service Boomerang still shows episodes of The Flintstones, but it’s a paid subscription service. The special was sold as a manufacture-on-demand DVD with A Flintstones Christmas through Amazon as A Flintstone Christmas Collection and that might still be the case. That’s how I came upon it. Just taking a look, it appears it’s no longer available from Amazon, but third party sellers have it for less than 5 bucks. Warner Bros. doesn’t appear too protective of the property these days, so if you want to watch it without spending any money it’s not hard to find.


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. 9 – The Real Ghostbusters – “Xmas Marks the Spot”

 

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“X-Mas Marks the Spot” originally aired December 13, 1986

The 1980s sometimes feel like they belonged to the Ghostbusters. That’s because, for me, the Ghostbusters were always around. The film came out when I was but a wee baby, but by the time I had a real interest in television The Real Ghostbusters (not to be confused with the Filmation series) was airing in syndication every afternoon on ABC. To go along with that series were numerous toys and action figures. Some were roleplaying toys and many came with a vial of actual slime – something my mother still can recall the smell of because she had to clean up so much of it. My first big Christmas present I can recall was the much sought after Ghostbuster’s Fire House. It had a whirling pole the figures could ride down and even featured room for Ecto-1 where it could burst forth from behind the double red doors just like it did on TV.

 

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Every weekday at 4:30 you could find me in front of the TV watching this one.

Being a cartoon about ghost hunting, The Real Ghostbusters naturally lent itself quite well to Halloween. There are dedicated Halloween episodes of the show, but almost any episode works. The show ran from 1986 until 1991totaling 140 episodes when it finished up under the title of Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters. Along the way Lorenzo Music was replaced by Dave Coulier as the voice of Peter Venkman, a truly horrible decision at the time. Arsenio Hall, voice of Winston, also left the show and was replaced by Buster Jones. The show was a DiC production with Saban providing the music including a redone version of the popular song from the film. The pilot, which the opening animation sourced, was animated by the famed TMS Entertainment production company in case you ever wondered why it looked so much better than the actual show, which actually looks pretty good all things considered as DiC basically shopped it around so TMS did some episodes as well as Toei Animation.

The inaugural season for The Real Ghostbusters was a tidy 13 episodes which ended with a Christmas episode. Proving that the Ghostbusters could handle Christmas as well as Halloween, “Xmas Marks the Spot” premiered on December 13, 1986 and would be the last new episode of the show for almost a year when season 2 premiered in November. While it may seem like Christmas is an odd fit for the property, there is one rather famous story that features ghosts prominently thus serving as the entry point for our special.

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Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston made-up the team with Slimer also soaking up a great deal of screen time.

Yes, that story is A Christmas Carol. You don’t need me to recap it, nor do you probably need me to remind you that adaptations of that tale are the bane of Christmas specials. It’s been done, though in 1986 that feeling may not have been as pervasive as it is today. The Real Ghostbusters at least gets credit for approaching the old tale from a different perspective. It’s also a bit peculiar as it’s going to treat that story as if it’s fact. Essentially, the Ghostbusters are going to somehow stumble through time and bust the ghosts meant to turn Ebenezer Scrooge around. Scrooge is apparently really important to the existence of Christmas, and the Ghostbusters will have to mess around with time to undo their mistake and ultimately save Christmas.

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Nothing like a blizzard to set the mood.

The episode opens with the four Ghostbusters driving home from a job in upstate New York. The snow is coming down and visibility is poor, and so are spirits. Winston (Arsenio Hall) in particular is dismayed to be working on Christmas Eve and Ray (Frank Welker) is apparently responsible for a job not going well (something about a cat needing to regrow its fur). When Winston looks to find someone to share in his disapproval of working Christmas Eve he tries Peter (Lorenzo Music), but Pete couldn’t care less about Christmas. They soon arrive at a fork in the road and the strange thing is none of them can recall seeing it on their way in. Egon (Maurice Lamarche) tells Ray to take a left and as the Ecto-1 heads through the snow we see the turnpike sign has been knocked down and partially buried in snow.

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No one is particularly happy with the current predicament, but Winston is especially ticked to be working on Christmas Eve.

Eventually, the Ecto-1 gives out and the Ghostbusters are forced to resume their journey on foot. For some reason, they decide to strap on their proton packs. Winston once again tries to get Pete to share in his misery, but Pete shrugs him off. As Pete walks off, Ray explains to Winston that Pete doesn’t really like Christmas because his dad was always away as a kid. Egon says his apparent careless attitude towards Christmas is likely a coping mechanism and Winston adds once you spend so long pretending you don’t care about Christmas, you start to believe it.

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Not without my proton pack!

As the four walk, a strange vortex appears up ahead. They don’t seem to notice it, but they do notice the sudden gust of wind that tosses them into a snowbank. Once they emerge from the snow they’re surprised to see a village down below. Oddly, it’s very old looking, but they reason their must be a phone there somewhere. As they head off into town, we see a man with a boy on his shoulders head into a meat shop. The shopkeeper addresses him as Bob Cratchit (Lamarche) and he’s here for his Christmas duck. The shopkeeper hands over what looks like a Christmas sparrow, but Cratchit and his son don’t let it bother them as they head home. Once gone, the shopkeeper remarks to a woman in the store that Tiny Tim is always so optimistic and expresses regret that his father is stuck working for someone like Ebenezer Scrooge.

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‘Tis a fine bird, Master Cratchit!

The Ghostbusters are walking through the streets of this village apparently trapped in time, but don’t seem to pay it any mind. They hear a cry up ahead and look up to a ghost draped in chains emerge from a home and speed off into the night. Continued cries from inside prompt them to run in. They head for the bedroom and inside they find an old man in bed and three ghosts: a female, a large bearded male, and a grim reaper like apparition. The Ghostbusters open fire while the ghosts reprimand them. They don’t care though and soon trap the ghosts.

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Just 3 ghosts that need bustin’, nothing to see here.

A jubilant man jumps up and celebrates at the vanquishing of the ghosts. This old man (Peter Renaday) is positively delighted until Peter hands him a bill. He then sours on the Ghostbusters and initially says he won’t pay, but Ray threatens to set the ghosts free so the old man acquiesces. He tosses Ray a coin and at first Peter is ready to demand more money. Ray points out it’s an 1837 coin in mint condition and Peter seems to think it’s satisfactory upon hearing this. With the man not in possession of a phone, the Ghostbusters take their leave. Meanwhile, the old man heads for his window while talking to himself. He reveals what most likely already figured out, that his name is Ebenezer Scrooge, and feeling confident that he overcame the ghosts he declares war on Christmas!

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Oh shit, they just bailed out Scrooge!

The Ghostbusters, having failed to find a phone anywhere, return to the Ecto-1. To their surprise, the engine fires up and they head back to presumably take a right at the fork in the road. They end up back home in New York City and upon arriving Ray says he and Winston will take Pete with them to get a Christmas tree. Janine (Laura Summer) scoffs when she hears that and even gives them a “Bah! Humbug!” which surprises Egon. Slimer (Welker) even voices his displeasure at the prospect of a Christmas tree.

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The one true holiday classic.

Ray, Winston, and Peter head for Fifth Avenue where they can apparently purchase a tree. Along the way they find everyone is not in much of a Christmas mood and when Winston wishes some random guy a “Merry Christmas,” he gets a “Bah! Humbug!” in return. When they get to Fifth, Ray is shocked to see no Christmas decorations at all. Instead, the visage of Scrooge is everywhere and there’s even books for sale penned by Scrooge himself about how he vanquished Christmas by defeating the three ghosts. A bystander (Marilyn Lightstone) even clues them in when she hears Ray talking about the ghosts. At this point they figure out what happened and quickly realize they need to get back to the firehouse before Egon places the three ghosts in the containment unit. Peter, on the other hand, doesn’t think this new present is so bad.

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It’s at this point Ray informs the viewer they just killed Christmas.

The three get back to the firehouse, but they find out they’re too late. Egon had just emptied the trap dumping the ghosts into the containment unit. The only way to set them free is to free all of the ghosts also locked up in there. Egon, even though he knew something was up, is still surprised to find out from Ray that they went back in time and captured the ghosts of Past, Present, and Future. Ray is the one to break the bad news that they may have just killed Christmas.

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She may hate Christmas now, but Janine has not lost her affection for Egon.

As pedestrians on New York’s streets scream humbug at each other, the Ghostbusters are inside trying to figure out how to right this wrong. Peter recaps what happened (because this is the scene coming back from a commercial break) while Egon reveals a way to fix this. He explains he can open up a crack in the containment unit allowing him to enter. Once inside, he’ll have to find the ghosts and free them. The problem is, time is of the essence. It seems the past and present, as a result of that vortex, are operating simultaneously so time is passing in both. They can’t just go back to the point in time at which they trapped the ghosts. Confusing, isn’t it? Janine doesn’t see why they care about Christmas so much, and Winston uses her attitude to show Peter how he was acting, though he insists he wasn’t that bad.

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Egon’s got some work to do.

Ray thinks it’s crazy for Egon to go in alone, but because of the time constraints Egon says it must be this way. The other three are to head back to Scrooge, for if Egon can’t find the real ghosts, they’ll have to play the parts. As they leave, Egon informs Janine he’ll need her help with this. With hearts in her eyes, she excitedly agrees though she insists she’s doing it for Egon and not Christmas.

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Venkman’s convincing attire.

At Scrooge’s home, the old man is already working on his novel while the Ghostbusters get set up on a rooftop. Peter is up first and he’s dressed as some sort of Tooth Fairy or something to play the Ghost of Christmas Past. He swings in through Scrooge’s window and knocks him over causing his glasses to fall off. Even without the glasses, Scrooge isn’t convinced by Venkman’s disguise and is confused why the ghost would return after what transpired earlier. Peter activates some flares and a flashlight he’s wearing on his head to complete the ensemble. He then produces a Viewfinder which is apparently going to serve as Scrooge’s window into the past.

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Janine’s view of the containment unit.

At headquarters, Egon is basically dressed up like an astronaut with Slimer and Janine looking on. He has some ray gun pointed at the containment unit that’s on blast. It will allow for a small opening, I guess, while Egon’s suit will allow him to assume a molecular state that will grant him passage. The key part being he can only stay in that state for an hour. If he’s not back in time he’ll be trapped forever. He heads in and Janine heads upstairs to watch on a monitor. Inside the containment unit is basically like the movie Tron, at least the entering part. Slimer notices the ray gun machine is overheating, but he fails to get Janine’s attention leaving him to blow on it in a futile manner.

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Always good to have a Viewfinder on hand in case you find yourself stuck in the past.

Venkman is apparently having an all right time at convincing Scrooge he’s a legit ghost. The Viewfinder is loaded with pictures of a boarding school that Scrooge either recognizes as his own school or he’s just old enough to confuse it for his actual school (that seems more likely). Meanwhile, Venkman is pushing him around in circles in a wheelchair and claiming they’re flying. He’s clearly running out of breath. Scrooge describes how he was left at school by his father who had no time for Christmas, but Scrooge didn’t mind because he always had his books and things. Venkman takes a seat and explains how Scrooge’s view of Christmas is wrong, and thus realizes his own attitude has been wrong this whole time as well (aww). He’s dismayed to learn that Scrooge hasn’t quite been convinced of Christmas’s worth though, and takes his leave the same way he came in though not without some difficulty.

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The innards of the containment unit are not particularly inviting.

Inside the containment unit, which now just looks like floating rocks, Egon searches for the ghosts. Janine is able to watch on a monitor and communicate with Egon via a headset. Slimer is still trying to keep the machine from breaking apart, but it won’t matter if Egon can’t find the ghosts. Meanwhile, Winston is swinging around the rooftops of old England dressed as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Ray isn’t sure they can keep this up for much longer.

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Success at last! Present looks rather pissed.

Inside the containment unit, Janine urges Egon to give up, but of course he finds the ghosts at the last minute. He tells them to follow him and they say nothing and do as they’re told. At this point, many of the other ghosts have realized Egon is in there. This being the season finale, several ghosts from earlier episodes are shown and they start chasing Egon. This was probably rewarding for viewers who saw all of the episodes, though the only one I personally remember is Samhain, the Halloween ghost.

Janine heads downstairs and sees Slimer holding onto an open window and the ray gun machine about to blow. Egon then emerges with the ghosts just as the gun explodes. He closes the containment unit and returns to a more traditional state of being. He then implores the ghosts to jump in his trap citing he has no time to explain. Surprisingly, they agree.

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Ray’s costume has a real D.I.Y. vibe to it.

Back in the past, Ray is dressed in a sheet and trying perhaps too faithfully to play the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future. He’s not speaking so Scrooge and he are essentially playing Charades. Egon arrives, still in his astronaut suit, and he races inside shoving Ray aside. He frees the ghosts then informs Scrooge what is to befall him this night. For his part, Scrooge seems dismayed that he has to endure another round of ghosts so maybe their work will be easier than usual. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Mona Marshall) then steps in to take things from the top. On the roof, the Ghostbusters get a minor lecture from the Ghost of Christmas Present (LaMarche) and he asks Pete if he too learned a lesson. Apparently, this whole time travel thing occurred because Pete had lost faith in Christmas. Well, it worked and Peter is totally onboard now. Present then uses his ghostly powers to send the Ghostbusters home.

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Scrooge isn’t exactly thrilled to find out he’s got more ghosts on the way.

Back home, the Ghostbusters are delighted to see that Christmas has indeed been saved. They gather round a punch bowl that looks like it’s just full of water and Pete is the one to propose a toast to Christmas. Winston remarks how he thought the tale of Scrooge was just a story (are we now trying to convince viewers it was real?) and he wonders aloud if other apparent works of fiction could be real. On cue, a booming voice is heard from outside and it unmistakably belongs to Santa Claus (Welker). He’s shouting out commands to the reindeer and giving a hearty laugh. Peter mugs for the camera and gives a “Why not?” while Santa goes into his routine, “Merry Christmas to all,” with the Ghostbusters finishing the line, “…and to all a good night!”

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Where we find out this whole episode was basically Peter’s fault for not liking Christmas.

And thus ends a rather unconventional adaption of a A Christmas Carol. It probably is a little confusing for younger viewers who may have walked away thinking the story of Scrooge is true. If it also convinced them that Santa is real as well then I suppose the deception is worth it. It is a clever way to marry a brand like the Ghostbusters to Christmas. It’s definitely a bit contrived, especially the subplot surrounding Peter, but not annoyingly so.

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Well, Christmas is saved, time to get our drink on!

Then again, I also have fond memories of this show. The personalities of the individual Ghostbusters all entertain me. Winston is the everyman and we’re supposed to identify with him the most. Ray is the more emotional one which is why he gets to deliver the dramatic news that they killed Christmas. Egon is the brain who is intrigued by everything, often reacting to things with a “Fascinating.” Peter is the one given the sarcastic remarks, much like his film persona, and Lorenzo Music’s performance is basically legendary. He’s just so good at deadpanning Peter’s lines that they don’t even have to be that well-written. This episode was light on Slimer, which is probably for the best. In hindsight, I’m surprised he didn’t join Egon or something in searching for the ghosts, but I don’t think he would have added much.

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This show was always pretty good at making the ghosts actually scary.

Visually this show has always been solid. I often associate the turn in children’s animation occurring with the Disney Afternoon, but The Real Ghostbusters is no slouch. It’s miles ahead of the likes of He-Man or Transformers and overall I found this one engaging from a visual sense. Peter’s methods of duping Scrooge were clever and visually amusing, as was Ray’s awful costume. Seeing the inside of the containment unit was probably thrilling for viewers as well. I don’t recall this episode specifically, but I recall other episodes that took place inside the unit as being among my favorite when I was a kid.

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I have to give this one credit, the concept is pretty unique and certainly on-brand for the show.

As a Christmas special, this one gets the job done. It may go the lame route in adapting A Christmas Carol, but it’s unique enough to get away with it. The episode has Pete learn about the importance of Christmas, though in a mostly superficial sense. There isn’t some grand meaning assigned to the holiday, we’re just supposed to accept that it’s good and people should like it. That’s fine, as not everything needs to get too preachy. The big question, of course, is should you watch this? If you like the Ghostbusters, then why not? It’s fine. It won’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it may make you laugh and is at least visually entertaining.

If you wish to watch “Xmas Marks the Spot” then your best bet is to either purchase it digitally or on DVD. The show used to stream on Netflix, but sadly it was removed this year. It’s on Volume I of the DVD release which contains 30 episodes and is probably worth it to fans of the show. If you have young kids who either liked the movies or enjoy spooky stuff in general, then you may get enough enjoyment out of it to justify the purchase. It shouldn’t set you back much should you choose to go that route.


Dec. 25 – A Jetson Christmas Carol

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Original air date December 13, 1985

Merry Christmas! We have reached the end on our advent calendar celebration of the holiday season. This is the third complete 25 day advent calendar here at The Nostalgia Spot and fourth overall. For this year, I managed to shy away from the tropiest of the tropes when it comes to Christmas television specials – adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. For this final feature though, I’ve decided to go traditional. I like to weigh these features by visibility, so if I’m covering a special that might actually air on TV during the countdown I try to put that up front. For the ones that have no shot, I tend to save them for the end. In the case of “A Jetson Christmas Carol,” I saved it for last since it’s a conventional holiday special that many people have probably seen. While it’s unlikely to be broadcast on a major cable channel, it’s easy enough to find in the wild and it’s a perfectly satisfying take on the classic Christmas tale.

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The Jetsons first preiered September 23, 1962

The Jetsons was Hanna-Barbera’s logical next step following the success of The Flintstones. Where The Flintstones depicted a fictional family of prehistory, The Jetsons focuses on a family of the future. It premiered on September 23, 1962 in prime time on ABC and was the first show broadcast on that network in color. It would last one season with the final new episode airing in March and reruns taking it all the way around the calendar where it was removed from the lineup in September of 1963. It was then moved to Saturday mornings where reruns were shown for the younger audience. It’s popularity endured though into the 1980s and with cable now expanding television lineups Hanna-Barbera would return to the series to bring the total episode count to 65. A third season of ten episodes would follow and the series was essentially capped-off by the 1990 animated feature film. The Jetsons would continue to have a presence in syndication, along with a lot of Hanna-Barbera’s works, for much of the 90s before eventually being ousted by newer programs.

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In the future, everyone has terribly ugly laser trees.

The Jetsons may have seemed derivative of The Flintstones, but it’s take on the common nuclear family played well for audiences. Where The Flintstones focused more on the adult problems of Fred, The Jetsons was more confident in spreading things around. The family, as introduced by the very catchy and lavishly produced theme song by Hoyt Curtin, consists of George Jetson (George O’Hanlon), his wife Jane (Penny Singleton), teenaged daughter Judy (Janet Waldo), son Elroy (Daws Butler) and they’re also joined by the family dog Astro (Don Messick) and robot maid Rosie (Jean Vander Pyl). For the second season, the little alien Orbitty (Frank Welker) was added to the cast as another pet, of sorts. George is a typical working man who has a job at Spacely Sprockets working for Mr. Spacely (Mel Blanc), a short man with a big temper who often is at odds with his employee. They live in a future as envisioned by folks in the 60s so Jane is a stay-at-home mom while George is the bread-winner. Their lives are made easier by technology with Jane’s housework largely automated or falling to Rosie while George just pushes buttons from a console at work. They have flying cars, video phones, and a host of other contraptions some of which have since become reality while others remain just fantasy.

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What would the Jetsons be like if they were rich? Well, we’re going to find out.

“A Jetson Christmas Carol” is from the show’s second season and it first aired on Friday the 13th in December of 1985. As the title implies, this is a re-telling of A Christmas Carol. In the place of Scrooge we have Mr. Spacely with George serving as the Bob Cratchit of the tale. In the role of Tiny Tim is surprisingly not Elroy, but Astro the dog who’s very life depends on the actions of Mr. Spacely.

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George is a bit concerned with the size of the Christmas shopping list this year.

The episode opens with the family sitting at the table while machines feed them breakfast. Jane is talking about how she needs to finish the Christmas shopping while the kids are eager to hit the mall. Astro is off in the corner sneaking a peek at Jane’s Christmas list until she snatches it from him. When George sees it he asks aloud how they can afford so many gifts and Jane matter-of-factly informs him that they can’t, but also that they can’t worry about such things at Christmas (what an awful sentiment). George, surprisingly cheerful, leaves for work while Jane hopes he can get out early for Christmas Eve. She and the kids leave for the mall, though not before Judy expresses some indecision on what to wear (all the while using space puns or 80s teen lingo) before just settling on the same outfit she always wears. Once they’re gone, Astro heads for the neon Christmas tree with hovering ornaments and starts snooping around.

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The mall on Christmas Eve is crowded no matter what year it is.

While the kids shop at a very crowded mall, George hosts an office Christmas party attended entirely by robots, other than himself. He jokes with his computer partner RUDI (Messick) who shares a corny joke until Spacely catches them via video monitor and orders everyone back to work while also declaring he hates Christmas. After Elroy gets a lesson on “want” at the mall, we head home to find Rosie whipping up some eggnog (ingredients:  one egg and one nog). Astro helps Elroy hang up some mistletoe and then goes back to gift-snooping. Orbitty calls Astro out and Jane catches him opening his gift. When she tells him it’s supposed to be a surprise, he insists he is surprised (Astro is on the same level as Scooby Doo in terms of communication skills) and finds a toy cat inside. The robot cat (Welker) rolls around on a wheel while Astro gives chase and seems to be enjoying himself.

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And you thought Futurama was the first to depict drunk robots.

Back at Spacely Sprockets, George is literally counting down the seconds until quitting time, but just as that time arrives Spacely pops-up on the video monitor to tell him he’s working late. George, sullen, doesn’t really offer up a fight and turns back to his console. Jane soon phones in and gets the bad news, while George returns to work wishing some ghosts would visit Spacely like they did Scrooge.

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This is unfortunate for Astro, but what about the obviously sentient robot cat?

At the Jetson residence, Astro continues to chase his toy while the family seems to be getting along all right without their patriarch. Astro ends up catching his toy leading to a crash. The robot explodes and as Astro is left lying on his back a single sprocket lands in his mouth and is ingested. The family runs over to him with worry, while Astro’s fur takes on a greenish hue. They bring him over to the couch for a look and all are worried. Elroy wants to call a vet, but Jane isn’t certain they can find one on Christmas Eve. As he and Judy head out to find one, Astro wails that he’s dying. This is actually kind of dark.

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Hopefully there’s some booze leftover from that office party.

At the office, an exhausted George is finishing up the orders as he lays on the terminal pushing the last button. Spacely pops back in on the monitor to ridicule George for working too slow. He tells him he’ll see him in the morning, but George at least stands up for himself a little by reminding Spacely that tomorrow is Christmas and it’s a day off, to which Spacely remarks “Too bad,” to himself. George beats a hasty retreat only to emerge in a snowstorm. Remarking he’ll be lucky to get home by Groundhog’s Day, his car seems to have little trouble lifting itself out of the snow. At home, Astro is running a fever of 102 as Elroy and Judy return home with bad news:  they couldn’t find a vet open at Christmas. Jane tells them things are looking grim, as George makes his triumphant entrance. He’s in a celebratory mood, but finds the family is not. He takes a look at Astro and arrives at the same conclusion as his wife, though when he finds out Astro got hurt chasing his toy he admonishes him for opening his gift early. He then questions if he’s faking it while Judy scolds him.

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That’s what you get for peeking, Astro – death!

At Spacely Sprockets, Mr. Spacely is seated in his office enjoying his money. Since it’s too late to deposit it at a bank, he decides he better spend the night with his money at the office. Upon falling asleep he’s greeted by the ghost of his former business partner, Marsley (Blanc). Marsley gives him the usual Jacob Marley talk while Spacely angrily insists he’s dreaming and orders Marsley to go away before remarking he was always a bit of a sicko. He goes back to sleep only to be awakened by a weird, floating, robot (Messick). It’s the Ghost of Christmas Past, and he takes Spacely back to his days on the playground where he had little Georgie Jetson run his lemonade stand. A young Spacely (Welker) flies in to find George counting the cash and snatches it from his hands returning only a penny. When George questions this arrangement the young Spacely tells him to not be greedy before taking off. They then journey to a fly-in movie theater where a college-aged (and bald) Spacely (Welker again) is watching The Flintstones with his future wife. When she questions if he loves money more than her he insists that of course he loves money more! He promises to take half a day off for their wedding, which is apparently good enough.

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Jacob Marsley – not one of the show’s better puns.

Spacely is returned to his office in quite a happy mood. He saw nothing wrong with the actions of his past as he resumes his sleeping only to be roused by yet another ghost (Welker). This one is a giant Christmas present, a too on the nose joke on the Ghost of Christmas Present. The giant box with extendable arms takes Spacely to the home of the Jetsons where they look at the family as they worry over Astro. Spacely is unmoved by the family’s plight, insisting he’s a business man and not a dog-father. He’s returned to his office, but he’s not alone for very long.

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That would be ghost robot number one.

A giant, black-green, robot with red buttons looms over him. Spacely is a bit unnerved by this silent third ghost who soon zaps him to the future. There they arrive at a mansion and Spacely is over-joyed to see what he assumes is his future home. Instead though they find the Jetsons inside happily discussing how fabulously wealthy they are. Spacely is annoyed to see this and demands to know how they got so rich, and even though George can’t hear him, he’s happy to fill him in. They attained their wealth thanks to a lawsuit against Spacely after Astro’s death as a result of swallowing that sprocket. The family is sad recalling their old dog, though if they’d give up this new lifestyle to bring him back I’m not sure. George then elaborates on what became of Spacely as Spacely questions how George could sue his beloved boss, thus proving he has no concept of how people really feel about him. After the suit, his company went under and his wife left him. Last anyone knew, he was on skid row. As Spacely turns to the ghost to ask if this is all set in stone or just a vision of what might be, the ghost zaps him back to his office.

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Did I say Marsley was bad? Okay, this one is worse.

Spacely wakes up on his hands and knees begging for another chance. When he realizes where he is, he immediately perks up and sets out for the home of the Jetsons. For now it’s Christmas morning, and the family is still worried about their dog who at least made it through the night. Spacely arrives with his personal vet whom he dragged out of bed (this is still Spacely, after all, who will absolutely force a man to work on Christmas if it means saving his money) to treat Astro. He demonstrates some neat future tech when he whips out a portable X-Ray to spot the sprocket in Astro’s stomach. Then he demonstrates that vet technology has only come so far as he simply reaches down Astro’s throat to remove the obstruction. Astro immediately feels better and Spacely also announces he’s brought gifts for the whole family. Elroy gets the rocket guitar he was eyeing while Judy gets some nuclear roller skates. He departs by telling George he’s getting a big, fat, raise as he heads home to spend Christmas with his wife. George and the family then join arms to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with Astro and Orbitty getting the honors of the last line as our holiday special comes to an end.

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Simple yet fearsome. I like ghost number three.

That last act gives this special an interesting wrinkle. Spacely’s motivation for acting “good” is purely to save his money, unlike Scrooge who is motivated to save Tiny Tim out of the goodness of his heart. Had Spacely not acted, Astro would have died, but the Jetsons would have been thrust into an easy life. No more crappy job for George while Elroy and Judy would find their higher education not limited by financials. The kids are a bit spoiled in the future vision, so perhaps their character suffers, but George is also quick to remind them of how they ended up in this position so it isn’t as if they’ve lost sight of what the costs were for this new life. There aren’t many episodes to follow, but for what it’s worth Mr. Spacely remains unchanged following this one so he didn’t really learn anything.

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Spacely to the rescue!

Being one of the 80s episodes of the show, it actually is animated a little better in places than it was in the 60s. There’s less of characters just standing around, and best of all, no laugh track. There are a few instances of that canned running sound Hanna-Barbera was so fond of, but the voice acting is overall quite good. It’s pretty neat that the studio was able to return the entire original cast for the relaunch of the show, though O’Hanlon and Blanc would eventually both pass away during production on The Jetsons Movie. Some of the backgrounds are a bit abstract or even empty, and the trip through time with the ghosts and Spacely is surprisingly static. I suppose in most versions of the story there is little depicting the change in time between past, present, and future so I suppose I can’t really deduct points here. The plight of Astro is actually genuinely sad. The poor dog knows he’s dying and is borderline hysterical. The show is quite honest in how grim his outlook is.

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An early joke about Judy taking forever to pick an outfit even though she can change outfits literally in an instant.

A lot of the humor in this show stems from essentially the same joke. A character complains about something, then we see how trivial the complaint is. For example, Elroy complains about how long it’s going to take Judy to get changed, when she literally steps into a machine that can instantaneously change her outfit. The joke is basically “Ha, they have no idea how easy they have it!” There’s also a lot of material meant to appeal to working class folks with the greedy Spacely lording over Jetson. He makes Jetson do all of the work while he sits back and takes in all of the money. This feels like a mainstream attitude back then that has some-what shifted, and that shift seemed to begin in the 80s where wealth became the be-all end-all measurement of success. If you’re not rich then it’s because you didn’t work hard enough. It’s preposterous, but it seems to permeate our culture today and a leading cause of current clash division. Then there’s also the dated jokes at Jane’s expense where she’s characterized as a do-nothing housewife. In her case, times have obviously changed as fewer and fewer women can even afford to be stay-at-home mothers and housewives. It’s not as if the show though portrays George as some work-a-holic though as he often gripes about work while being shown doing actually very little. Though in his defense, many people now have jobs where they just sit and push buttons, and while it may not be manual labor, it’s strenuous and ultimately still a job that keeps us from doing things we’d rather do.

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Hey! A Flintstones cameo!

It’s a bit surprising how dated a show about the far-off future can seem, but there’s no predicting where society is truly heading when looking so far ahead. The Jetsons is actually fine entertainment and I would probably prefer to watch it over The Flintstones. Neither show is as good as some of the prime time animation that followed, but for its time it was good enough. This version of A Christmas Carol can be described in similar terms – good enough. It has a few laughs, some down moments, and ultimately a happy ending. It’s a fine ending for the 2018 version of The Christmas Spot.

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This one isn’t afraid to get a little grim.

If you’re hoping to sneak in a viewing of “A Jetson Christmas Carol” before the holiday is through then you’re in a relatively good spot. The Jetsons are available on DVD and there are even special holiday editions of Hanna-Barbera cartoons sold separately likely destined for the discount bin tomorrow. Season Two of the show was a manufacture on-demand release so it’s a little tricky to come by, but hardly impossible. While the show isn’t presently streaming on a major service in 2018, episodes of this show (including this one) can be found online for free rather painlessly.

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In the end though everyone is pretty happy.

Well, that about does it. I hope you enjoyed 25 days of 25 blog posts on 25 pieces of Christmas media. For me, it’s a great way to really bask in the season both writing and reading similar pieces, not to mention actually consuming all of this media either again or for the first time. Even though it’s a lot of work, I always enjoy doing it so I have no plans on stopping. I hope to see everyone back again next year when we do 25 more. As always, thanks for reading and I hope you have a very, merry, Christmas and a happy new year!


Dec. 20 – The Garfield Show – “Caroling Capers”

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Original air date December 15, 2009

Back in the 1980s, Garfield was pretty damn popular. His presence was pervasive in pop culture, so much so that younger people today would probably be surprised. He originated as a comic strip by Jim Davis, but his popularity grew enough to pave the way for some prime time animation specials. These proved popular, and were the springboard for his own show:  Garfield and Friends. Of those old specials, one of the most celebrated was A Garfield Christmas. It’s one of my personal favorite holiday specials and I included it in my countdown a few years ago as one of the 10 best holiday specials of all-time. It premiered in 1987 on CBS (my mother, who liked Garfield, somehow missed it when making our Christmas tape VHS that same year) and would be shown every holiday season for a few years, though it quietly disappeared in the 90s. Maybe audiences grew sick of Garfield, but I’m a bit surprised just how fast it fled from the annual network rotation. Later on in the 90s you could sometimes find it on cable, but now the special is seldom shown.

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The Garfield Show ran from 2009 to 2016.

What’s not really remembered too fondly is the second cartoon series based on the fat cat. Simply titled The Garfield Show, it premiered on Cartoon Network in November of 2009 and would run for over 100 episodes, eventually making the move to Boomerang in 2015. The Garfield Show is a CG animated program executive produced by Davis and it actually returned a lot of the cast and creative group behind Garfield and Friends. It was a half-hour based program in which each episode was split into two cartoons. It’s not a show I am that familiar with. I was aware of its existence when it originally aired, mostly just from seeing it on the channel guide and mistaking it for the old cartoon. It’s not something I was supposed to be aware of though since I didn’t have kids at the time and few of my friends did. It was created to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the character and I assume it was to re-introduce the characters to a new audience. Since it ran for so long I’m left to assume it was fairly successful.

“Caroling Capers” is the show’s first Christmas episode and it aired during the first season on December 15, 2009. It features the main cast of characters. There’s Garfield (now voiced by Frank Welker as Lorenzo Music passed away in 2001) whose personality is unchanged from his other iterations. Odie (Gregg Berger) the dim-witted mutt with a heart of gold. Jon (Wally Wingert) is just as awkward as always and is constantly being pestered by his cat for more food. And in this episode we also have Nermal (Marc Saez) the vain kitten from next door who annoys Garfield to no end.

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“Caroling Capers,” like most Garfield stories, is all about Garfield trying to get some free food.

The episode opens with Jon decorating his Christmas tree and having a difficult time with the star. He remarks how Christmas is his favorite time of year and that it feels like just yesterday he took down the Christmas decorations from last year. Garfield, watching television and looking quite relaxed in a lounge chair, remarks that’s because he probably did and that Jon rarely gets to taking them down before Halloween. Odie is watching TV as well and seems very into the Christmas special they’re watching. He angrily glares at Garfield who won’t shut up about his growling stomach (the sound of which also seems to annoy Odie). On television, Garfield takes note of some carolers in the program Odie is watching. They sing for an old woman, who then gifts them some treats. Garfield, after being informed the Christmas turkey is still hours away from being ready, decides that this may be the solution to his tummy trouble.

Putting on a festive hat and scarf, Garfield hits the neighborhood hoping to score food in exchange for Christmas carols. He first shows up to the front door an old man whom he interrupts while cleaning the floor. He sings a carol and his performance is quite terrible prompting the grumpy old man (Welker) to toss a bucket of water on Garfield and slam the door in his face. Undeterred, Garfield goes to another house and its the home of some bachelor who I have seen featured in other episodes (and is also voiced by Welker, who basically voices everyone, it seems). Garfield again performs for this guy and he’s just as awful as before so the man fetches a spray bottle to get Garfield the Hell off his property.

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Garfield’s singing fails to impress.

Odie has been watching this whole time and laughs at Garfield’s misfortune. Nermal then shows up to offer his 2 cents and also to demonstrate how to properly carol. Nermal invites Odie to be his backup singer and the duo perform for the same man that just sprayed Garfield. He falls for the two and offers them a prime rib dinner and figgy pudding. Garfield faints in shock while the two chow down, with Nermal remarking you either got it, or you don’t.

Garfield rises from the ground and gives chase, proposing they share some of that delicious food in keeping with the holiday spirit. Nermal shoots him down pointing out that Garfield never shares his food with them, which Garfield is forced to concede. He then suggests he could be their vocal coach, and Nermal seems to find the idea absurd. Garfield demonstrates his singing once more, and a Christmas ornament on a decorated tree in someone’s yard shatters (which makes no sense, since Garfield is singing low, not high). When Garfield tries again, the needles fall off the tree. Even after such a poor demonstration, Nermal offers to let Garfield in on their caroling if he can hit a high C note. Garfield explains the best way to do that is to yank out a nose hair, which he does and then (mostly) hits the note while running around in pain. Nermal lets him in, and Garfield explains he’ll be the conductor at the next house. When they begin their caroling for an elderly woman, Garfield stops them and demonstrates how he wants them to perform, prompting the woman to dump a bucket on his head. Nermal and Odie then resume their duet for food as he reminds Garfield he’s just not adorable enough.

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Garfield is about as good at conducting as he is at singing.

Garfield decides he needs to find a way to be more adorable if he wants to score food with this idea. He peeks in on a gentleman watching the same special Odie had been watching and notes that the carolers all sing rather high. Garfield decides he needs to sing higher if he wants to impress, which strikes me as a bad idea. Garfield tries some warm-ups, that sound terrible, then tries again on the next guy. He seems startled to see this bulky gentleman in the doorway, but he goes through with his performance. Singing so high he sounds like Welker’s version of Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters, it’s not much of an improvement, but it certainly is higher. The gentleman at the house is not impressed though and thinks Garfield is making fun of his unusually high voice. As the high-voiced man glares down at the cat, Garfield runs away suggesting maybe he needs some back-up singers.

Garfield is then shown conducting in a shed. It sounds fine, and it’s revealed he’s leading a trio of performing mice. The mice agree to join Garfield’s troupe so long as they get first dibs on any cheese gifted their way. With that, Garfield leads his new band to the next house which happens to be inhabited by a young woman. She sees the cat and his three mice performing and immediately freaks out. She grabs a broom forcing the critters to run. The lead mouse tells Garfield they’re out.

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Nermal and Odie actually make for a fun pairing.

While Garfield is wearily walking down the street, Nermal and Odie are performing for the first house Garfield hit. They have a wagon full of food at this point, and the old man who once dumped water all over Garfield happily gifts them a pair of hams. Garfield can’t believe it, and angrily kicks a can that was sitting on the sidewalk which lands in a nearby wheel barrow. The pinging sound catches Garfield’s ear, and he gets an idea. Rummaging through a nearby trash can, he comes out with some sticks and more cans. The sound of steel drums are then heard and they attract Nermal and Odie who find Garfield drumming on the cans which he placed in the wheel barrow. They both look at each other as if to suggest they have an idea, and soon we get a montage of the two caroling while Garfield plays “drums.” The people they visit all react favorably and hand out more food, and Garfield finally gets to share in the festivities.

The montage ends at the Arbuckle residence with Jon setting out the turkey and calling for Garfield and Odie. Odie drags the wagon into the room with Garfield laying in it, patting his full stomach. Nermal is there as well and they’re all too stuffed to consider eating dinner. Jon remarks that Garfield not being hungry must be a Christmas miracle, which causes Garfield to rethink his fullness. He smiles at the turkey while remarking that maybe he can handle a few bites as the episode ends.

jon turkey

Jon is also still around and still making way too much food for a bachelor and his pets.

The Garfield Show, for one, really shows its age. I don’t think it looked particularly good when it aired, but the CG looks pretty dreadful in 2018. The show basically looks like a Playstation 2 game with very simple textures and backgrounds. There’s obviously some other limitations at work as Garfield and his buddies keep hitting the same houses throughout the episode instead of showing us new faces. Garfield’s mouth also moves this time, implying he (and Nermal) are actually talking though the mouth movements aren’t particularly good. There’s also lots of animation shortcuts as we usually see the aftermath of the water being tossed at Garfield, or the needles falling off of the tree, rather than seeing those things actually animated. I would not call the show ugly, but it’s definitely not as charming as the original specials and cartoon. I will say the Christmas decor looks fairly nice, and I like the festive clothing worn by the characters in this episode.

As the voice of Garfield, Frank Welker is obviously trying to do a Lorenzo Music impression and he mostly does a decent job. It’s sort of odd that someone with Welker’s background would feel the need to imitate another voice actor, but maybe he just also felt this was the most appropriate voice for the character. Garfield is a low energy character, and the sleepy quality of his voice is part of his charm. The other music in the episode is kind of weird and sounds like an episode of Rugrats. For the carols, the characters just say “La-la-la” or “meow-meow-meow” to the tune of “Deck the Halls” which is fine. The sound design on Garfield’s drums is quite nice though.

One thing this episode does get right is the humor of Garfield. It’s not a laugh out loud kind of show and is more of an understated brand of comedy. It fits with the character, it’s the limitations of the technology behind the show that ultimately hold it back and keep it from being a true holiday classic. I’d much prefer to watch the classic holiday special, which in addition to being funnier is also rather sweet and does a better job of getting that Christmas message into the show. This one is just fine though, and as a 12 minute cartoon the caroling scheme works well with the character. Garfield just wants to get fed while doing as little as possible.

If you want to watch this one this Christmas, then you have several options. While I don’t expect Boomerang to air it, the entire show is on Netflix. There was also a holiday themed DVD of the show released titled Holiday Extravaganza which may or may not be easy to come by. There’s also an official YouTube channel for the show, so I feel comfortable actually linking you to this episode since it’s apparently official. It’s also free!


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

goofy christmas dvd

Original air date December 5, 1992

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

goof troop

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

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

goofy xmas title card

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

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

goofy and max

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

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

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

goofy's gift to pete

Just being neighborly.

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

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

excited pete

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

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

sleigh ride

Sledding!

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

up in flames

Horrified Goofy is actually a rather unsettling sight.

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

pegs invite

Peg extends an invite to the dejected Goofs.

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

goofy and bear

Just a bear in a kitchen.

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

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

sad cave scene

Some sad Goofs.

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

reindeer dance finale

Yay Christmas!

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

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

some tree

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

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

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

fake humphrey

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

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

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


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