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Dec. 3 – Super Mario World – “The Night Before Cave Christmas”

Original air date October 12, 1991.

Last year, we took a trip to the Mushroom Kingdom (kind of) and watched the Super Mario Bros. save Christmas from the evil King Koopa. Since Koopa failed, it would make sense for him to attempt the same trick at a later date, especially since he would go on to become “King Dad” and Christmas presumably got a lot more expensive around Koopa Castle (or should it be Kastle?). Well, he apparently did not agree as he’s left Christmas alone ever since, but Cave Christmas? Now that, is apparently appealing!

In the early 90s, if anything was popular either in toy aisles or on gaming consoles it had a cartoon, and Mario was at the forefront of that. He first had The Super Mario Bros. Super Show followed by The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, and concluding with the Super Mario World cartoon. Other popular Nintendo, or Nintendo-adjacent, properties had to settle for a cameo on Captain N The Game Master, but Mario was able to front his own toon. None of these cartoons were any good, and as the franchise marched forward it feels like the budget set by DiC just got smaller and smaller. The live action segments hosted by Danny Wells and Lou Albano were dropped, and the voices of the Mario brothers were replaced with Tony Rosato and Walker Boone, respectively. John Stocker, who saw his character Toad written out for Super Mario World, got to keep working by voicing new addition Oogtar while Tracy Moore (who came onboard for the Super Mario 3 show) and Harvey Atkin (the only one to voice the same character from start to finish) continued to voice Princess Toadstool and King Koopa, respectively.

How do we feel about Yoshi’s portrayal in this show? Love it? Hate it? I can’t decide!

Super Mario World, like the video game it’s based on, is set in the fictitious Dinosaur World. Mario and his friends are vacationing there, only to find King Koopa and his many Koopa kids have followed them. They make friends with the cave people, and Princess Toadstool more or less throws her weight around as royalty to take over, and take-in a young dinosaur named Yoshi (Andrew Sabiston). Each cartoon is little more than 10 minutes in length and DiC wisely dropped the use of song parodies so the syndicated cut and retail releases were able to retain the original music this time around. The show was bundled with Captain N to air as a block and both shows mainly exist to sell video games. There’s not much to the plot of each episode, characters experience little or no growth, and most episodes can be drilled down to a simple formula. Only 13 episodes were produced airing from September 1991 into December of that year. The show didn’t seem to find much success following its initial run as the episode count was likely too small to interest most cable networks. It did receive a DVD release from Shout Factory, and the show today is mostly remembered as being pretty bad with certain aspects of it being enjoyed mostly from an ironic perspective as the character of Yoshi is both annoying and ridiculous, which I guess makes him a tad charming?

The fifth episode for the show is titled “The Night Before Cave Christmas.” It aired before Halloween, but since Cave Christmas is a made-up holiday by Mario I guess it didn’t need to air during the Christmas season? As mentioned before, this is the second, and final, Christmas episode from the Mario universe of cartoons as DiC declined to do one in The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. I’d say it’s a shame we didn’t end up with 3 Christmas cartoons, but considering the first one was pretty terrible, and this one might actually be worse, I guess it’s no real loss.

It looks the show is simply titled Super Mario World, but it’s actually “Super Mario-Super-Mario Super Mario….World.”

The cartoon begins with a brand new theme song. The previous cartoon cheeped out by forgoing a traditional theme for just narration over some video game inspired music, a severe downgrade following the greatness that is “The Plumber’s Rap.” This new theme is a bit of an ear worm, despite not being great. It’s full of tribal drums and has a Caribbean feel to it, though I’m skeptical DiC paid for an authentic singer and probably just had some white dude fake an accent. Mark Mothersbaugh is credited as composing the theme, but I don’t know who actually sang on it. The lyrics are a bit lacking as the song closes by rhyming the word blast with…blast! I’m getting flashbacks to the “Wrap Rap” from last year!

Poor little mammoth…

When the cartoon begins, we find Yoshi and Oogtar fighting over some barbecued mammoth ribs, which are pretty small for mammoth ribs (maybe they picked off an infant). Mario starts complaining to Luigi and the Princess about how Oogtar is a pain in the ass who spends all day getting into fights with Yoshi. Luigi points out it’s not just Oogtar, as we pan to see other cave people fighting with each other. One poorly animated boy and girl pair are just hitting each other like Itchy and Scratchy, minus the mallets. Mario then hatches up an idea based on the notion that people start acting really nice to each other around the holidays. Luigi asks if he means Christmas, because it’s currently the middle of August so that doesn’t make much sense. Mario basically responds by reminding him that cave people are stupid and will believe anything they tell them. This cartoon really shines a light on what’s awful about colonialism.

It’s a sparsely populated village.

Mario then goes over to the squabbling Yoshi and Oogtar and starts telling them about Christmas. Mostly, he wants to convey the message that good boys and girls are rewarded with treats and presents, and Oogtar immediately becomes nervous because he knows he’s a little piece of shit. Mario christens it Cave Christmas and hangs a big wreath on one of the stone huts and announces, “Merry Cave Christmas!” to all of the onlookers. Nearby, Koopa pops his head out of what I guess is a trash can fashioned out of a stump. Referring to Mario as a “pipe-squeezer” (which got a chuckle out of me), he questions the plumber’s sanity by noting it’s the hottest day of the year before closing the lid and returning to his hiding spot.

The smell of freshly cut evergreen should help cover the smell of body odor and dinosaur shit.

The gang then sets to making the place look like Christmas. Mario and an unnamed cave person cut down a tree, while Oogtar and Yoshi help the Princess collect nuts from nearby trees. Koopa and his son Bully (Dan Hennessey) watch and Bully informs his dad he wants a Christmas tree too. We then go back to town where Princess Toadstool is trying to hang candy canes on a tree (that has a creepy face), but Yoshi keeps eating them as she hangs them. She reminds him about how he needs to be good if he wants presents from Santa, and the dinosaur promptly regurgitates the candy canes back onto the tree. It’s not made to look as gross as it could have. Bully and King Koopa pop out of the garbage stump and Bully takes note of the Princess’s description of Santa and calls the guy a wimp. His dad agrees, but then the garbage dinosaur shows up and tosses the whole stump (which seems very inefficient) into a stone dumpster strapped on his back.

Looks like someone is getting a savage beating for Cave Christmas!

Since there is a severe lack of toy stores in a prehistoric setting, the Marios have to make the toys for Cave Christmas. In a dome, they’re hard at work building shadow boxes and jack-in-the-boxes. Luigi’s emblem on his hat is miss-colored, a frequent occurrence in this show. Oogtar has snuck in though and is trying to get a peek at the presents. Luigi catches him hiding in a jack-in-the-box. He bolts and attempts to hide in a box of dolls, but Luigi picks him up by his shirt and tosses him out the door.

Even the Flintstones had sense enough not to make their sleigh out of stone

The Princess is then shown piling gifts into Santa’s sack while Mario appears to be constructing the sleigh out of stone and wood. Good luck getting that thing to fly! The Princess remarks how she can’t wait to see all of the kids react to the presents on Cave Christmas morning (she makes sure to include the Cave distinction), but lurking just outside the window is King Koopa once again. He laughs to himself and remarks that the Princess won’t get to see any of that because he plans on stealing the toys so his kids can have a jolly Koopa Christmas (Kristmas?). Considering he is mean and green, I suppose it makes sense for Koops to play the Grinch in our story.

The one true king.

The next day, Mario and Luigi are seen shoving their stone sleigh out the door. Mario expresses joy that its Cave Christmas Eve and prods Luigi by remarking it’s just like being back home, Luigi isn’t buying it though. As they head back inside their makeshift toy factory, Oogtar slips in and heads over to the sack of toys. With an evil look on his face, he lets the audience know he intends to cherry-pick the best toy out of the sack early leaving the crummy stuff for the goody-two-shoes. When he hears someone coming back in, he panics and dives into the sack of toys to hide. He seemed to think it was one of the Mario brothers that were coming, but it’s actually Koopa! Because DiC thinks its audience is stupid, Koopa has to explain out loud that he’s stealing the toys for Koopa Christmas and casually strolls out with the sack of toys and Oogtar inside.

Laughing at Luigi’s hateful gay joke. Apparently, Luigi plays the role of drunk, racist, uncle back in Brooklyn for the holidays.

Mario, who this whole time was just standing mere feet away from the cave-napping, is trying on his Santa costume (What? Did you think he’d actually let Luigi play Santa?!) which consists of a hat, white beard (his black moustache is still visible) and a red toga-like garment worn by the cave people which is worn over his red overalls and looks stupid. When he asks how he looks, Luigi tells him he wouldn’t get away with wearing that in Brooklyn. Mario gives a knowing chuckle and I have no idea how I’m supposed to interpret this joke. This is from the early 90s, so it reads like a homophobic joke. Would they attempt such in a kid’s show? Koopa did refer to Mario as a pipe-squeezer earlier…

How dare Koopa steal fake Santa’s present on fake Christmas!

Mario then notices the toys are gone! They run over to the empty place where the massive sack once sat aghast that someone would steal toys on their fake holiday. The Princess announces she knows who is responsible, which is cute of her since we all know who did it. She picks up a scale from the ground and says it belongs to Koopa, and I say, it doesn’t matter. Koopa and his kids are the only bad guys in this entire world! Santa Mario remarks this is somehow worse than what Koopa usually does (I don’t remember enough of this show to know if that tracks or not, but it sure feels like hyperbole) and vows to get them back!

Well, at least this Christmas special got one thing right.

Mario takes off in his one-dinosaur sleigh as poor Yoshi has to pull that stone monstrosity through the air with his wings power-up. They do find time to pass in front of the moon. Meanwhile, Koopa empties the sack of toys back at his “neon” castle and finds Oogtar inside. Oogtar, apparently lacking any sense of danger, is still preoccupied with getting all of the toys and gets into an argument over it with Koopa who intends to give them to his kids. Oogtar grabs one gift and Koops swats him across the room, rather gently unfortunately. Oogtar rips it open, only to find a ba-bomb inside it which he promptly tosses back to Koopa. He shouts he’s glad Koopa isn’t his dad with a gift like that, but aren’t these all gifts Mario and the gang wrapped? Were they trying to murder Oogtar?!

Merry Cave Christmas, Ratgoo!

The bomb predictably explodes in Koopa’s face, even though he tried telling it that it’s not supposed to blow until Christmas. Oogtar tries to book it, but Koopa grabs him. He’s got something special planned for Oogtar as he strings him up with a pulley system. The rope is a vine and Oogtar finds himself dangling over a pit in which a hungry dinosaur waits at the bottom. Koopa places a lit candle under the vine and leaves Oogtar to his certain death rather than stay and watch. I’d think he’d want to see the little twerp get it, but I guess he has other plans. As he departs, he chides Oogtar by reminding him that his name spelled backwards is “Rat Goo,” an actual worthwhile zinger for this show! I like this Koopa fellow.

Probably not the most discrete way to travel.

Santa Mario and Yoshi arrive and hear the screams of that little baby, Oogtar, coming from the castle. Mario runs over with his toolbox and spies Oogtar through a barred window. Seeing Oogtar in danger, he then runs to a different window for some reason and pulls out some little dinosaur from his toolbox that he uses to bend the bars. Yoshi, who seemingly lost his wings despite not taking any damage, is then advised to help Santa squeeze through the opening he just created, but he’s still too wide. We get a predictable diet joke out of Yoshi, and Mario informs him that a diet is not in the cards and that he needs to push harder! As Yoshi backs up to get a running star, he sees a terribly off-model Boo ghost and panics, crashing into Mario sending both tumbling into the castle where a horde of mecha-koopas descend upon them.

I’ve always felt the Santa suit could use a cape!

We then go into the chase segment. I think every cartoon in this show features one where the characters go running through the castle, avoiding enemies, all while a song plays in the background. The song is almost unintelligible. It sounds like the Koopa Kids making up a Christmas song. There’s something about a sleigh in there and I can’t make much out. It’s not good. Mario rides Yoshi through part of the castle avoiding catastrophe until they have a trio of the football guys from the video game chasing them down. Mario is able to conveniently find a super feather in a block and becomes caped Santa! He grabs Yoshi and the two fly through a pipe that leads them to Oogtar.

Look at this stupid, smiling, asshole. Hopefully Yoshi is happy because he’s thinking about how he gets to fill Ratgoo’s stocking with dinosaur droppings.

Oogtar, unfortunately, is still dangling over the hungry dinosaur infested pit. The vine breaks and Oogtar heads for doom, but Mario grabs the end of the vine. As Oogtar rises out of the pit, Mario goes in! Narrowly avoiding the chomping jaws of the dinosaur lurking within, Mario is able to fly out of the pit, catch Oogtar, and safely land outside the pit while the poor, endangered, creature in the pit is left hungry. Mario does a “ta-da” pose and a puff of smoke seemingly indicates his cape power wearing off, but when the smoke dissipates the cape is still there. Only when Mario starts laying into Oogtar is his cape finally removed from his model. Oogtar tries to weasel out of the discussion, but Mario points out that he’s already gone through all of Santa’s presents. Oogtar finally cops to being a little shit and Yoshi calls him bad (his eyes are all over the place in this segment too and it’s really distracting). Oogtar then promises to be a good little cave kid for the rest of his life, but Mario notes he’s got his fingers crossed behind his back. Oogtar, astonished, asks Santa how he knew and Mario gives a chuckle that he was once a little “bambino” too. Cave Christmas magic!

There wasn’t much screen time for the Koopalings in this one, which is tragic because they’re easily the best characters in the show.

Mario then comes running out of the castle with the sack of toys, which looks much smaller than before. They’re apparently just going to “yadda yadda” over how he managed to sneak into the throne room and grab them. With Oogtar in the sleigh and Yoshi hitched up, Mario tells him to take off, but there’s one problem – Yoshi doesn’t have any wings! Mario retreats to a nearby castle wall and just starts punching blocks until some wings pop out – the solution was so easy why bother even creating the problem in the first place? With the wings in place on Yoshi, they can finally leave, and just in time too as the threats of Bully Koopa start echoing from inside the castle. The whole Koopa clan races out as Santa’s sleigh lifts off.

Don’t fall for his bullshit, Santa Mario!

Back at Dome City, Santa Mario tucks Oogtar into bed. Before he can leave, Oogtar grabs Santa’s shirt so he can tell him that he’s been a bad kid and doesn’t deserve any presents. Being saved from the dinosaur is present enough (I bet the town wishes they could trade the presents they’re about to get in exchange for feeding Oogtar to that dino), but if Santa wants to leave Oogtar something it would make him happy. Mario remarks this isn’t like Oogtar, implying this one bit of manipulation on Oogtar’s part erases how terrible he is. Mario, predictably, leaves Oogtar a present before he and Yoshi fly off into the night.

Way to ruin Christmas, Mario.

The next morning, Mario is snoring away in his very uncomfortable looking vine bed still in all of his clothes. As he sleeps, Oogtar slips in with a wrapped gift as he notes Santa didn’t leave Mario anything. He places the gift by Mario’s bed as the plumber wakes up. Oogtar wishes “Mario dude” a merry Cave Christmas. The episode ends with Mario breaking the fourth wall to ask the audience, “Wouldn’t it be nice if every day were Christmas?”

And that is the rare holiday of Cave Christmas. It’s just like regular Christmas, only Santa is a plumber and his stone sleigh is pulled by a winged dinosaur. Also, the toys look pretty lousy. And it’s set in August. I don’t think I thought much of this episode (or this show) as a kid and have almost no memory of this, specific, episode. As an adult, it’s hard for me to ignore the inherent colonialism in the Mario brothers setting up shop in a remote location among the natives and basically brainwashing them in a bid to control them. It’s actually pretty shitty. It’s made worse by the fact that they’re also spreading a religious holiday to these people, though the religious aspect of Christmas is not touched upon at all, for the better.

Get this piece of rat goo the hell away from my holiday!

Even if I accept that I’m reading way too much into this extended video game commercial, there’s no polishing this turd of a Christmas special. Oogtar is unlikable and pretty damn annoying. I really don’t want to see him learn a lesson or have a merry Christmas in the end, I just want him to go away. He also didn’t really learn anything as I get the impression he just goes back to being a shit the next day once Cave Christmas is concluded. He tried to lie to Santa! Beyond that, the episode is poorly scripted, plotted, and paced and almost demeaning to its audience. The good guys have to be stupid in order to not see a giant turtle monster skulking about town stealing their stuff, and they make sure to tell the audience everything that’s happening because no one apparently trusted the kids to understand this stuff. The only positive I can give this thing is Harvey Atkin is still dynamite as Koopa and he even made me chuckle on two occasions.

You got two tries at a Christmas special, Mario, and you blew it! You are hereby cut off! No more Christmas for you!

If you absolutely must journey to Dinosaur World this Christmas then you’ll be pleased to know that all 13 episodes of Super Mario World are available on DVD. And since the show is bad, you can probably find it for very cheap as nostalgia seekers probably impulse bought it when it was new and then were eager to get rid of it. Nintendo also hates these old cartoons and basically just wants nothing to do with them so no one is actively enforcing the copywrite presently and you can find this one streaming online for free. With seemingly every IP under the sun getting locked into exclusive deals with some official streaming service, this one might actually remain free for awhile since Nintendo doesn’t appear interested in even shopping this stuff around. I’m actually a little surprised they aren’t throwing their weight around to wipe this thing from existence, but I guess their inattention to the show is everyone’s gain. Or loss.


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

Original air date October 23, 1989

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

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

Danny Wells loves being Luigi.

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

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

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

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

This is not a show with a large budget.

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

Better than a toilet…

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

Behold! Koopa Klaus!

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

Mario gets to wear this stupid outfit the whole episode.

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

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

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

Toad grave. Sadly, it’s short-lived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Snoweegi!

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

And I bet you thought Bender did it first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koopa’s new friend.

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

That is one punchable face.

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

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

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

Looks like they saved Christmas after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swing your arms…

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

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Original Air Date December 20, 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A cozy, Christmasy, setting gets things started.

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

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That feeling of calm is quickly abandoned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That is one amazing neck.

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

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

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Max, ever eager to climb insane a human body.

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

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

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

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Let’s get silly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I suppose it’s better than solitary.

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

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Grannie gets her Christmas wish.

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

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Obligatory holiday message.

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

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

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

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

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


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