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Batman: The Animated Series Wrap-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dec. 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.


The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  Robin (Tim Drake), Mo, Lar, Cur

After pausing for a week to discuss the 1998 film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero we have now finally arrived at The New Batman Adventures era of the show. This is essentially the start of a sequel series, but it’s been retconned over the years (or just simplified) as Season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series. The Blu Ray set released in 2018 simply refers to it as such and the intro for each episode is the Season One intro from the Fox Kids era. The show largely exists thanks to two new developments since the previous series ended in 1995:  the WB network, and Superman.

Warner Bros. and Fox had a nice relationship in the 1990s where WB created several shows that Fox aired as part of its Fox Kids lineup on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning. At some point, the executives at WB decided it would just make more sense for them to start their own network. On January 11, 1995 The WB was launched and alongside it came Kids’ WB. That block of programming would be occupied by cartoons primarily, most of which included characters WB owned. Gradually, as the license agreements with Fox expired the shows WB had created for that network migrated to its network.

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The New Batman Adventures placed greater emphasis on Batman’s supporting cast.

The network’s flagship action cartoon was Superman, or Superman: The Animated Series. It was decided that it would make a lot of sense for Superman to simply be partnered with Batman to form an hour programming block of DC’s hottest heroes. It would make sense for the two to cross paths, and so WB commissioned a new Batman series envisioned as a sequel to BTAS. Like the second season of that show, this one would focus on Batman and a supporting cast of heroes. Dick Grayson would return, but not as Robin but rather Nightwing. In his place was a new, much younger, Robin and Batgirl would be there as well. The show would need to be updated to match the style of Superman and to also make the show cheaper to produce. “Dark Deco” was now out, in its place was a modern Gotham with cell phones and (gasp!) color TV. Oddly, Gotham would also feature a red sky apparently to heighten the darkness of the show vs the much brighter Superman. There is a reduction of shadows as well making everything lighter in appearance. Perhaps something that disappoints only me is the dropping of title cards. I loved the title cards on BTAS and I was so bummed to see they weren’t continued here. It also makes each one of these posts a little less interesting to look at.

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A look at the various villains from the show, some old some new.

This new style meant character redesigns. Batman would ditch the blue of his prior costume opting for a strictly black and gray ensemble. His belt was also muted in tone and more utilitarian in appearance. Robin’s costume dropped the green and Batgirl ditched the gray as well. On the villain’s side things were a bit more extreme. We’ll mostly get to them as they show up. To highlight a few; Scarecrow received an entirely new look while Joker featured an aggressive redesign that removed the sclera of his eyes and the red of his lips. Some of these redesigns are quite interesting on their own, while some are just plain inferior to the previous look. The characters had to be simplified to reflect the shrinking budget, but some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.

Most of the creative staff was returned for the new series. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm served as executive producers alongside Alan Burnett. Dini and Timm would both contribute to multiple episodes as writer while Dan Riba returned to direct multiple episodes as well. Also returning was the majority of the voice cast from the prior series, with the only notable change being Tara Strong (then known as Tara Charendoff) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. A lot of new blood was also brought in, many of which would hang around the DC Animated Universe which was about to expand to include The Justice League and Teen Titans. This is basically the beginning of an expansive television universe by WB and DC which is basically the television equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m primarily only interested in Batman when it comes to DC, so don’t expect me to do this for the other shows. Hopefully no one is disappointed.

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New show, new logo.

The New Batman Adventures was released on DVD as Volume 4 of Batman: The Animated Series and is included in both the DVD and Blu Ray box set of the series as Season 3. For this feature, I considered simply sticking with the BTAS title, but decided this show was different enough to change it up. I’ll include both the episode number as it relates to this series as well as how it relates to the entire series. We’re also sticking with production order as opposed to air date order. The show was ordered as one season, but aired as two seasons of 13 and 11 episodes respectively concluding in January of 1999. At some point I’ll summarize my thoughts on the whole of Batman: The Animated Series, but since we’re getting started with The New Batman Adventures I’ll say upfront that I find this series to be inferior to its predecessor. It’s less unique looking and not as well written. The new villains introduced aren’t as memorable and we also lose a little bit of Batman by switching to an ensemble format. He’s made to be more grim, apparently to heighten how different he is from his younger companions, and as such loses some of his humanity in the process. He’s overall just less interesting as a character, and the focus on the others doesn’t really make up for that. It feels like a diservice to the excellent Kevin Conroy, who simply has less to work with in regards to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Anyways, let’s finally start talking about this first episode, shall we? First airing just over 2 years after the conclusion of BTAS, “Holiday Knights” is a pretty bizarre way to kick-off this series. For one, it’s a Christmas/New Years episode that’s presented in anthology format with three separate mini stories starring different heroes and villains. It’s based on the Batman Adventures Holiday Special released in 1995 written by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Oddly, WB chose to air this as the premier as well in September rather than stashing it away until closer to Christmas like Fox did with “Christmas with the Joker,” the second episode from BTAS. Also complicating things, the new Robin (Mathew Valencia) debuts here even though the second episode is the one that details how he met Batman and came to assume this persona. Clayface is also the featured villain of the middle tale, but his actual return from the events of “Mudslide” is recounted in a later episode as well. This episode almost feels non-canon as a result, and it’s just overall a weird and confusing way to bring the series back.

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Ivy has apparently spent the past few years avoiding the sun.

The episode begins on December 22 and quickly reintroduces us to a pair of villains:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). Harley largely looks the same as she did in the previous series, while Ivy has received a fairly dramatic makeover. Her hair is more stylized and her skin bone white. She displays what is basically the new female body-shape on the show:  short, pointed, with an oversized head. It’s a more “toon” presentation and is less realistic compared with BTAS. I personally don’t care for it, but it is what it is.

Harley is bored and not at all excited to be stuck in a slummy motel for the holidays. She bemoans their lack of a Christmas tree, which naturally sets Ivy off as she views them as a form of genocide against trees. Ivy insists she has a plan that will brighten up their holiday and urges her friend to trust in her. We’re then taken to a gathering of the wealthy at the Vreeland estate where we get our first look at the new Bruce Wayne. He dresses all in black now with a white shirt under his suit and red “power” tie. His hair is black as well and slicked back to give him a real douchey look befitting a billionaire playboy. He’s socializing with Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) who has returned to her red-haired look after a brief dabble with being a blonde and seems amused when a gaggle of women swarm Bruce. While Bruce is being pushed around by the ladies, one of them plants a kiss right on his lips. It’s Ivy, and as we learned way back in “Pretty Poison” getting a kiss from her is not something anyone should desire.

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Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

Bruce leaves the party and as he heads for his car he’s invited into a limo by a pair of women. Bruce finds himself unable to control his own body as he’s subjected to Ivy and Harley’s whims. They then use Bruce and his fabulous wealth to go on a shopping spree. A montage plays which feels fitting for a holiday special and is set to a saxophone rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The women seem to enjoy themselves while Bruce is helpless. As they force him to carry all of their purchases he begins to make some headway in fighting off the effects of the poison. The girls realize too late that he needs another dose, and as they approach to do so Bruce is able to back away falling into an open elevator shaft. The girls are indifferent to Bruce’s plight as they still have his credit cards and continue on with their evening. Meanwhile, the gloved hand of Batman reaches up from the depths of the elevator shaft.

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The Ivy and Harley montage is probably the best part of the whole episode.

Harley and Ivy make their escape in their stolen limo being driven by another brainwashed lackey, but soon enough the cloaked outline of Batman flashes behind them. Harley warns Ivy about who’s on their tail and Ivy makes some evasive maneuvers to avoid The Dark Knight which leads them to a toy store – how fitting. Batman enters and encounters all manners of toy-related traps:  wooden soldiers, giant boxing gloves, and Harley’s trusty mallet. The ladies lure Batman through their fun house leading up a tower of toys before they hastily attempt a retreat. As the duo turn to rub salt in his wounds, Batman fires his redesigned grappling hook (it makes a less satisfying hissing sound when fired and features an end that’s just a bladed Batman logo) to hook the base of a massive Christmas tree. He topples it landing right on the thieves putting a damper on their holiday, but returning to the Christmas tree gag with Harley who’s strangely comforted by its presence.

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Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

Our second story takes place on Christmas Eve. Barbara is shopping at Mayfield’s Department Store for a gift for her father. As she’s paying for her gift, a crying child gets her attention and the clerk remarks it’s been like that all day. Not far from the checkout station is a department store Santa being played by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). Apparently, Bullock isn’t the best Santa and tends to leave the kids who sit on his lap in tears. Serving alongside him as his elf is Officer Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and the two are apparently on a stake-out which is why Bullock isn’t exactly into this whole Santa schtick. Bullock does at least find the Christmas spirit momentarily when a little girl sits on his lap asking to have her dad back for Christmas. Apparently, her dad is a crook Bullock just helped get put away. Not really knowing what else to do, he gives her some money. That should cheer her up.

Barbara is amused by Bullock’s turn as Kris Kringle and makes her way for the exit. Along the way she notices a child who appears to be shoplifting. The daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner can’t stand idly by as someone commits a crime, so she reaches out to grab him only she comes away with a handful of mud instead. Montoya then receives word to be on the lookout for a rabble of child thieves which fellow detectives are chasing through the store. They corner the kids, who then all merge into one being right before their very eyes.

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Batgirl showing off her new attire.

It’s Clayface (Ron Perlman), and he’s not the type of bandit to go quietly. He immediately begins trashing the place forcing Barbara to duck out and re-emerge as Batgirl. She takes the fight right to Clayface knocking him through an oversized window and onto a skating rink outside causing him to smash through the ice. Santa and his elf arrive to provide backup, though their guns do little to bother Clayface. Batgirl hollers at them to stop wasting their ammo and to aim for the Santa. Bullock at first confuses her command to mean him, but above Clayface is a giant, lighted, Santa as well as strings of Christmas lights. Bullock and Montoya take aim and blast the Santa down to land on top of Clayface. The frayed wires land in the water around Clayface electrocuting him and putting a stop to his rampage. Montoya then leaves Bullock to handle the clean-up.

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I don’t like this new Joker at all, but at least we still have Mark Hamill doing his voice.

Our final tale takes place on December 31 and involves The Joker (Mark Hamill). He’s sent out one of his famous broadcasts to the people of Gotham revealing his New Year’s resolution to not kill anyone in the new year. This means he needs to make up for it all tonight and send the current year out with a bang! A taping of this broadcast is being viewed by Batman and Robin in Commissioner Gordon’s office. It would seem Gordon stopped heading to the gym following the events of BTAS as he’s a lot smaller and older looking now than he was before. Gordon (Bob Hastings) informs Batman that they have a lead on Joker as a GothCorp scientist was murdered earlier in the day. The scientist specialized in sonics and had been working on a new weapon that could kill with sound. Batman deduces that Joker’s likely target will be The New Year’s Countdown in Gotham Square and it’s likely he’ll have this new weapon in hand.

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Joker’s party favors.

Joker is shown at Gotham Square with some of his finest: Mo, Lar, and Cur (all voiced by Ron Perlman and obvious reference to The Three Stooges). They’re rigging the sonic bomb to a massive bell. Apparently at midnight, the bell goes up to ring in the new year and when that happens the bomb will go off. And to make things harder on Batman, Joker has some “party favors” to distribute.

Batman and Robin head for the party and realize finding Joker will be a bit harder than expected. Joker has distributed his Joker masks to all of the party-goers making it hard to find the real Joker. Batman peers through some binoculars and spots a clown in a purple suit at a piano in the middle of the gathering onstage. He’s wearing ear muffs and so are the rather large men flanking him. Figuring that’s his man, Batman and Robin head for the stage and Batman dings Joker’s head with a Batarang knocking off his ear muffs. They then turn their attention to Joker’s goons, but find they’re pretty hard to deal with. Joker ends up grabbing the upper hand by smashing a bucket full of ice and champagne over the back of Batman’s skull.

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This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

Joker grabs the bottle of champagne to celebrate and apparently die with everyone else. As Joker gloats over Batman, The Dark Knight is able to snatch the bottle of champagne and spray it all over the controls to the bell shortening out the killing device. As he does so, Joker tries to stop him and shoots at him and actually hits Batman in the right arm. As Batman lays on the ground, Joker laughs like only he can. As he does so the bell begins to fall, and it just so happens to land right on Joker who offers a well-timed “Ouch,” from beneath it to close out the scene.

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We’re introduced to an annual tradition for Gordon and The Dark Knight.

With Joker’s plot foiled once again, Commissioner Gordon is shown entering a diner around 2 AM. The owner (Corey Burton) ushers everyone out and tells them he’s closing up as Gordon takes a seat at a booth. The man brings him a mug of coffee as well as a second mug and wonders aloud if Gordon’s buddy is coming. Gordon assures him he is, and Batman soon enters through a rear door. He sits down and the two indicate this is a yearly tradition of theirs. They speak only a few words before Gordon turns to request something from the kitchen to go. When he turns back he finds an empty booth and a couple of bucks left on the table to cover the tab. Remarking he’ll one day beat him to the check, Gordon collects himself and heads out into the night while Batman is seen swinging off into the red sky himself.

As I said, this is an odd way to begin the series. Three fragmented stories which lean heavily into comic relief that contain characters who will require a true introduction (or reintroduction) further down the road. It at least gets a lot of characters on-screen though giving us a peek at this new look. In general, I’m not much of a fan for how this series looks. It uses mostly straight lines in its characters and the women and children have huge heads. I mostly hate the new Joker as his face just lacks personality and is so bland and wooden to look at. The removal of his lips also just makes his mouth flaps look odder as he’s all teeth gnashing together. He looked so great in BTAS so it’s just really disappointing to see him reduced to this. This practically elderly looking Commissioner Gordon is also not a favorite of mine and Bullock looks like he’s gained about 50 pounds.

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Clayface doesn’t come across looking so hot. Meanwhile, less censorship apparently extends to Montoya’s attire as well.

Not surprisingly, Clayface isn’t as well animated as he was before. He still contorts his body into weapons and other beings, but not a lot of resources are spent on the transitioning animation. He’s also far more stable looking than he was in “Mudslide” and has almost a rocky appearance compared with his old one. It should also be pointed out he was previosuly immune to elecrocution so either that was a goof by Dini or they intentionally took that immunity away from him. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is just a less interesting looking show. They wanted it to be in-line with Metropolis from Superman and it wouldn’t make sense to have Gotham look like it was trapped in the 1940s and Metropolis like something from the 90s.

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It’s nice to have a little Christas in June, right? Interestingly, the comic this episode is based on portrayed Harley as Jewish.

There is one advantage this show has over its predecessor and that appears to be with the level of violence on display. It’s blatantly discussed that Joker murdered someone and he has an apparent lust for carnage and mayhem that was more tip-toed around on Fox. Batman is also free to punch people while villains, and the police, are still able to wield realistic looking weapons. Warner must have desired a way to differentiate its network from Fox and upping the violence was apparently one such way.

As an episode, this is a pretty benign, disposable, piece of entertainment. And there is entertainment value for it largely as a comedic vehicle. I wish it had chosen to end on Batman and Gordon sipping coffee together rather than turn to the tired gag of Batman vanishing whenever someone turns their back on him. I think that would have been the way the old series would have ended this one with a somber, but also sweet, ending. I guess this is just one more way for this show to announce it’s here and it’s not the same one we’re used to. Since I am a bit of a Christmas cartoon junkie, I should add that as a Christmas episode this is also just all right. It doesn’t linger much on the holiday, but it also doesn’t beat anyone over the head with Christmas clichés. It’s probably a touch better than “Christmas with the Joker” actually though less memorable. I don’t think either makes a strong case to be included with annual Christmas viewings, but you could certainly do worse.


Dec. 10 – The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries – “Feather Christmas”

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Original air date December 12, 1999

One of the earliest Kids’ WB shows was The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries. It centered on Granny (June Foray) and her pets Tweety Bird (Joe Alaskey), Sylvester the cat (Alaskey), and Hector the bulldog (Frank Welker) and they went around, I bet you’ll never guess, solving mysteries. The personalities of the characters are all pretty much the same as you remember from the old Warner cartoon shorts. I don’t know if Hector technically is the same character as the bulldog who often showed up in those cartoons, but he’s just a big dog who likes to inflict pain upon Sylvester, usually in response to the cat trying to eat Tweety. Yes, even though they’re on a team now, Sylvester still very much wants to eat Tweety. The show ran from 1995-2000 with even one holdover episode not airing until 2002.

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The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries ran from 1995 to 2000 and produced 52 episodes.

The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries was not a show I watched. By the time it premiered I was aging out of television cartoons. I did take a look when it first launched, but found the show too long and a tad boring. That first season of 13 episodes contained one long-form story over the half hour television slot while future seasons would switch to a two-segment formant. The little I’ve seen of those are definitely much improved in the pacing department, though I haven’t seen enough of them to really offer an opinion.

Our episode today is from season 4, so it’s actually just half of an episode. “Feather Christmas” is the first segment in the show’s 41st episode and it originally aired December 12, 1999. The second segment (not covered in this post) is actually a New Year’s special and is titled “A Fist Full of Lutefisk,” if you’re interested.

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A pair of Christmas crooks.

The special opens with a shadowy couple sneaking around a home at night. They snatch a bird from a cage and then sneak around the Christmas tree to hand it off to a driver outside. As he leaves with the creature, a little girl shows up with an empty bird cage in hand. She’s clearly just woken up and is immediately distressed about the bird-napping. The lights come on and it’s revealed the thieves are actually her parents.

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Hey cat, tampering with the mail is a federal crime.

At Granny’s home, Sylvester is making out his Christmas list. He recounts how each year they head to New England to visit a comically distant relative of Granny’s and every year he gets the same present:  a rubber mouse. This year he wants a little yellow bird (what else?) and he hopes that by being extra good Santa will finally gift him what he wishes. Tweety shows up to inquire what he’s doing and Sylvester hides his letter from him. Tweety then basically taunts him as he seals it in an envelope and heads out to a mailbox to send the letter. As Tweety sits perched on the mailbox lid, Sylvester gets sick of his incessant nagging and flicks him down into the mailbox. When Tweety reminds him he needs to be nice or Santa won’t give him anything, he immediately regrets his decision and starts reaching into the mailbox and pulling out letters. Tweety slips out the rear door of the mailbox (apparently it wasn’t locked) and then watches and continues with his chattering. A Mailman shows up and eventually puts a stop to Sylvester’s mail destruction.

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I’ve stared at this picture for several minutes and I still have no idea what’s in Hector’s mouth.

Sylvester winds up in a snowdrift just outside the house, while inside Granny is singing a rousing rendition of “The Feast of Stephen” while Hector snoozes beside. She leaves when the phone rings allowing for Hector to go nosing through the bags of gift-wrapping by the piano. Granny returns to announce they have another case, while Hector emerges from the wrapping with a bunch of…something…in his mouth. Dog treats? I don’t know.

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Nice house.

At the Fontleroy residence, the little girl (Laura, voiced by Laraine Newman) from earlier is howling about her missing bird while the parents try to sell her on a new pet. As the dad (Mark L. Taylor) lists off different pets as options, their butler presents an example. The one for a dog is an old Warner character, a brown dog that may or may not have a name, but he’s pretty recognizable. It ends up being the butler who passes on Granny’s business card to Mr. Fontleroy and at first he mistakes Granny for a pet substitute, then smartens up.

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Laura is portrayed as a brat, though she’s also clearly been wronged by her parents in regads to her bird. I’m not sure who to root for.

Granny shows up and the Fontleroys explain what happened. They hated the bird, and Mr. Fontleroy claims it even bit him several times, so they had their chauffeur take it away in the middle of the night. Now they regret their decision since their daughter is inconsolable and they want Granny to find it. The problem for them is their chauffeur is off for the rest of the year and they don’t know what pet store he returned the bird to. Granny agrees to take “the case,” though this doesn’t strike me as much of a mystery.

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Sylvester “helping.”

Granny heads out with her animal companions and Sylvester is eager to appear nice and helpful. He opens the door to the pet store for Granny, but mistakenly pins Hector and Tweety between the door and the wall in doing so. Hector does not take kindly to this and he and Sylvester have a rumble through the store causing a great mess. The store had taken in the bird, but the problem is the owner then traded it to another pet store for a blue-tongued skink.

Granny heads to the next store, and this time she forbids Hector and Sylvester from coming in with her and Tweety. They sit outside on the curb when Hector notices a tree lot nearby and silently asks Sylvester (Hector is mute) to watch his “spot” on the sidewalk until he returns, which Sylvester agrees to do. Hector happily runs over to doggy paradise while Sylvester notices a Salvation Army-like volunteer ringing a bell for charity donations. Sylvester heads over to help and begs for change alongside the bell-ringer. When that fails to generate any additional donations he straps himself into a one-man band costume and makes a ton of noise which just drives everyone away.

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Hector gets caught relieving himself on a tree.

At the tree lot, Hector finds a nice douglas fir to mark and is enjoying himself until the tree lot owner chases him away. He hides in another tree to avoid the attendant, or at least that’s what the guy thinks, and he pounces only to find it’s a little old lady. A much bigger man in her company comes over and pounds the man into the ground. Meanwhile, Granny finds out this second pet store has traded the bird to a third pet store, and she’s off to Bob’s Pet Emporium for another try.

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More of Sylvester’s helping, though actually he’s not really to blame for this one.

When Granny and Tweety enter the store, Sylvester notices a woman trying to string up Christmas lights. He sees this as another opportunity to be helpful and thus impress Santa Claus. Sylvester offers to take the lights up the ladder for the lady, and she’s happy to let him do so. She holds the ladder, which is on wheels, while Sylvester strings the lights, but a phone call from inside her shop causes her to abandon the “puddy cat.” The ladder rolls off, and Sylvester is forced to hang on for dear life. He uses the string of lights as a lasso to rope a giant Christmas tree that Hector was about to pee on. The tree is uprooted and is taken along with Sylvester while Hector gets caught as well. Inside the pet shop, Granny finds out the store is expecting the bird to arrive at any minute. Outside, Sylvester and gang come to a stop when they collide with a delivery truck. Granny heads outside to find the damaged bird cage the little yellow bird was traveling in, but no bird.

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Were you aware that Sylvester is a Christ-like figure?

At the Fontleroy residence, Granny is dismayed to only be able to present to the family a damaged bird cage with no bird. Outside, Sylvester is watching when the bird flies over to land on the window beside him. He thinks it’s his gift from Santa and he’s overjoyed to have a little yellow bird of his very own to consume. He looks over at the sad little girl, and it’s enough to convince him to give the bird to its rightful owner. As he goes to present it, the girl sees Sylvester and decides she’d rather have him. Her parents point out that she has her bird back, but the tantrum ensues nonetheless.

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Every Christmas special needs an unselfish act.

Back at Granny’s house, everyone receives gifts from the Fontleroys as a thank you for returning the bird. Sylvester rips his present open to find yet another rubber mouse. Tweety flies over to smartly remind him there’s always next year, which just provokes Sylvester into chasing him around as the camera zooms out on the house.

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And Sylvester’s unselfish act is largely unappreciated.

Since “Feather Christmas” is only one segment of a half hour show, it ends up being rather brief. It works out well then that there isn’t much of a mystery to solve, since there’d hardly be time for anything substantial. Instead, it’s basically just a story about Sylvester trying to be good, but also not trying all that hard. A problem I have with the show in general is present here and that’s in how the physical comedy bits feel a bit redundant with the old cartoon shorts. I suppose that’s fine if you were a little kid in 1999 who may not have been that familiar with those toons (though I think they were still on television then), but if you grew up with the packaged blocks of those cartoons then this episode probably won’t make you laugh. I liked some of the personality in Hector and his embarrassment over getting caught urinating on a tree. There isn’t a lot of Tweety in this episode, which I’m also okay with as he was never one of my favorites. I always rooted for Sylvester in those old cartoons.

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Tweety just has to get in one last dig before the episode ends.

It’s a bit surprising that Sylvester is shown doing the right thing at the end, Christmas spirit and all, but actually doesn’t get anything. There isn’t even an implied presence from Santa Claus at the episode’s end, just gifts from the family they (sort of) helped out. On one hand, you’re not automatically owed anything for doing the right thing, but on the other characters usually receive some token from old Saint Nick in these tales. I suppose it’s intentionally trying to up-end the norm for a Christmas special, but it didn’t really do it in a funny way. Not much of this was very amusing, so I can’t say I missed out on anything by not watching this show in the 90s. For what it’s worth, the show is at least well-animated and the voice acting is good. Other episodes feature more cameos of classic Looney Tunes characters and those are probably a bit more enjoyable for that reason alone.

The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries have only received a partial home video release. The 13 episode first season, which contains a different Christmas episode that will likely be covered here some day, is on that set. This episode was never released though along with the other seasons. This show actually was still airing on Boomerang as recently as 2017 so I suppose there’s an outside chance it could pop-up this month? I’m not sure if the channel still has the rights to broadcast it. If you must watch it though, it looks like WB isn’t too concerned about piracy so it’s not hard to find. If you want my opinion though, if you really want to spend Christmas with Sylvester and Tweety just check out the far superior “Gift Wrapped.”


Dec. 3 – X-Men: Evolution – “On Angel’s Wings”

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X-Men: Evolution “On Angel’s Wings” originally aired on December 15, 2001.

Long after the X-Men animated series that originated on Fox Kids had ended, along with basically every other Marvel cartoon at that network, X-Men:  Evolution showed up on Kids WB. It’s kind of odd considering WB owned DC and yet they went in on X-Men, but X-Men were still popular and were gearing up for a run on cinema. It also didn’t hurt that a lot of talented people were attached to the show, and today’s episode features the duo of Boyd Kirkland and Frank Paur, both former directors on Batman:  The Animated Series.

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A snowy New York, which may have possibly been edited considering the events of 9/11 two months prior to air date for this one.

X-Men:  Evolution was an attempt at making the X-Men appeal to a younger audience. It fit-in with WB’s programming which also included super heroes like Static Shock and Batman Beyond. Even The New Adventures of Batman had placed an emphasis on the allies of Batman, including the very young Robin and the not quite so young Nightwing and Batgirl. The setup for X-Men:  Evolution was not that radical from other depictions:  young mutants were gathered at the home of Professor Charles Xavier (David Kaye) to learn how to control their mutant powers. Only in this show, basically everyone is in the Kitty Pryde/Jubilee role of being a teen and they include:  Cyclops (Kirby Morrow), Jean  Grey (Venus Terzo), Nightcrawler (Brad Swaile), Spyke (Neil Denis), Rogue (Meghan Black), and Kitty (Maggie Blue O’Hara) herself. The twist comes in that the students do not receive their schooling at Xavier’s mansion and instead attend a normal high school where they are put into conflict with a teenaged version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Also, Storm (Kirsten Williamson), Beast (Michael Kopsa), and Wolverine (Scott McNeil) are teachers at Xavier’s home. Yes, Wolverine is in kind of a grumpy uncle role in this show, which is definitely an odd place for his character, but probably better than having a teenaged Wolverine. Thankfully, he doesn’t lust after Jean in this one. Honestly, the setup of the show never appealed to me and sounds kind of dumb. I checked out a couple of the first season’s episodes when this show premiered and they were pretty lame. Surprisingly, the show started to find itself in season two. It established some strong conflicts and the young team assembled works well. I was wrong about the show, and it actually turned out quite well in the end.

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A lonely, wealthy man, just watching some TV. Note the lack of Christmas decor.

In season two the show rolled the dice on a Christmas episode. “On Angel’s Wings” is predictably about the character Angel (Mark Hildreth), who previously had not appeared in the show. It starts off in New York, where the wealthy Warren Worthington is shown in an isolated state. He’s ignoring his phone calls and watching television. Elsewhere in the city, a fire is ripping through an apartment building and a disabled woman is trapped inside. Her daughter is pleading with firefighters to save her mom, and this mobilizes Worthington. He flies to the sight, enters the building, and removes the woman leaving her safely on a nearby bench. No one witnesses it, but her daughter soon spots her mom and runs over to her. They embrace, and when the daughter asks how she escaped she tells her a real, live, angel carried her to safety.

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Rogue sheepishly gives Cyclops his Christmas present early. They actually would have made a cute couple.

At Xavier’s mansion, everyone is getting ready for the holidays. The kids will be leaving to head home and they’re having a little party in celebration. Two students will not be leaving:  Cyclops and Rogue. Cyclops, being an orphan, has no home to go to while Rogue is a runaway with a poor home life. There’s nothing for her to return to. As the other kids give gifts and Nightcrawler tries to steal a kiss via mistletoe, Jean looks on with jealous eyes as Rogue gives Cyclops a gift. If I recall correctly (and it’s been many years), Cyclops was one of the few to be nice to Rogue when she first showed up early on so she took a liking to him. Plus, they’re both able to kind of bond over the fact that neither is able to fully control their mutant powers. Rogue’s crush was not reciprocated in a romantic way, and Cyclops may even be oblivious, but Jean notices. And like basically every other version of the X-Men, Jean and Cyclops are romantically linked. As everyone departs, leaving only Xavier, Beast, Cyclops, and Rogue behind, Jean looks on with some sadness and worry as her limo drives away (what a tough life).

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Angel in action.

In New York, the Angel makes another appearance in Central Park thwarting a mugging. An onlooker is shown and he looks rather menacing. Later, a car gets into an accident on a suspended bridge (maybe the George Washington?) and the Angel, now in a resplendent super hero costume, swoops in to make the save. The car is up against the cables and he first saves a child from the backseat then returns for the parents. As everyone celebrates his heroics, the shadowy man from the park emerges. Summoning powers of his own, he makes one of the broken, steel, cables grab onto Angel. Startled, he flutters his wings and accidentally knocks the little girl he just saved off of the bridge. He dives into the water after her and does return her safely to the bridge, though she’s unconscious. The man, obviously Magneto (Christopher Judge), then shouts that it was the angel who knocked her off. The crowd of onlookers then turns on the hero, declaring he’s not a real angel just some freak, and he’s forced to flee.

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I miss CD shopping.

At the mansion, the X-Men have heard the reports of the angel sighting in the city. Feeling kind of restless, Rogue wants to head out and see what they can uncover and she and Cyclops are permitted to go. They have a discussion and it’s revealed that Cyclops kind of wants to believe the person is indeed an angel, while Rogue is dismissive of the concept. She does apologize to Cyclops though, fearing she hurt his feelings, but he assures her he’s fine. They go to a music store and are browsing CDs when they hear about the latest sighting. It’s quite a trip seeing the pair thumbing through music and Cyclops listening to the free previews on a headset – my how the times have changed.

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The city of New York is alive with Angel Fever!

We’re then whisked away to a hospital room. The little girl Angel saved is in a coma and her parents are understandably worried. Angel drops in on her and seems depressed over what happened. He swipes a doctor’s jacket and heads off into the hallway. There, Rogue and Cyclops are at a nurse’s station asking about the young girl and they’re told they just missed her parents who left to head to church. Angel overhears this and starts heading off. Rogue notices a feather wafting out from underneath the coat and alerts Cyclops that it’s him, rather loudly. This startles Angel and he takes off running. The two X-Men in training give chase, but he escapes out a window.

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I will admit, that’s one bad ass looking Magneto.

At the church, the girl’s parents are shown praying in an otherwise empty building. Angel is looking on from a balcony in the back, shamefully.  The camera pans and a figure lurks in the shadows behind him. It’s Magneto, now in costume, and he confronts Angel. He knows who he is and that he lives an isolated, lonely, life. He points out how quickly the people turned on him at the bridge, despite his best efforts, and uses a lot of the same arguments you’ve probably heard from Magneto before about why humanity can’t be trusted. He offers him a place for people like Angel and he, but Angel turns him down rather angrily not wanting to associate with “freaks and weirdos.” He’s a self-hating mutant.

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Angel meets the X-Men. They discuss tailors.

Magneto is not going to let Angel just walk away. He attacks, and Angel is forced to flee the balcony. The people below see him as Magneto uses a chandelier to wrap Angel in a chain. As he falls from the sky, a red laser beam cuts through the air and blasts Magneto out of the church through a stained-glass window. Cyclops and Rogue, now too in costume, come running in and free Angel. Magneto quickly returns as a confused Angel flees once more. With Magneto baring down on the young X-Men, Angel emerges from behind Magneto and wraps him in a bear hug. Cyclops calls for him to stand down, and pummels Magneto with more optic blasts knocking him from the sky. While on the ground, Rogue is able to get up close and personal with the Master of Magnetism and syphon away some of his energy. Now armed with the powers of magnetism herself, Rogue is able to chase Magneto through the skies of New York City. Magneto though is a pro with these powers and is able to knock her from the sky, but Angel is there once again to make the save causing Rogue to playfully remark, “I’m starting to think you are a real angel.”

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Of course, Rogue needs to be rescued by an angel since she was a non-believer earlier.

Apparently admitting defeat, Magneto is gone and the trio of heroes are back at the hospital. They’re in the waiting area probably hoping to hear how the young girl is doing. Cyclops explains who they are and gives the X-Men sales pitch to Warren, who questions how they’re any different from Magneto. As they talk, a doctor comes out to tell the parents of the girl that she’s awake and going to be all right. Warren is overjoyed and sneaks over to the girl’s room. As he does, Rogue asks Cyclops if he thinks Warren will join the X-Men and he curtly responds, “No.” They join Warren though as the little girl tells her parents she saw her angel again in her dreams. This puts a smile on Warren’s face while Rogue squirts a few tears. We’re then treated to a little montage of the other X-Men and how they’re enjoying their holiday. Jean with her family, Kitty doing Hanukkah stuff, and Wolverine kind of sadly just playing pool all by himself in a dimly lit dive. Xavier and Beast are shown last toasting a couple of hot beverages in front of a Christmas tree to close this one out.

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Looks like that little girl is going to have a Merry Christmas after all!

“On Angel’s Wings” is what I consider a quiet Christmas special. It takes place around the holiday, but Christmas just serves as a backdrop for the events in the episode. Tying Angel to the holiday is a smart move, since his obvious biblical appearance lends itself well to the theme. Though despite his presence, this doesn’t go full Hallmark Channel on the Jesus stuff. Beast quotes the Bible at one point, and other than the brief talk of Cyclops possibly believing in angels, the episode chooses not to dive into that subject. There’s also no Santa Claus or anything of that nature. The episode is also very stand-alone as it doesn’t aim to resolve anything like Jean’s jealousy or Wolverine’s loner tendencies or even what Warren Worthington will do next, but it’s still a satisfying little story. The ending is a bit sappy, but the montage was rather tasteful. Also, it should be noted, this show looks terrific and is miles ahead of the old animated series. New York City looks especially authentic and I always enjoy the cool tones of winter in a cartoon.

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We need to slide this one in for the Jewish fans.

The voice cast for the show does leave a little something to be desired. Our leads are pretty good, and I think Xavier and Beast sound about right (though Beast is basically a carbon copy of the same character from Fox’s X-Men), but there is also a woodenness to some of the performances. Not every line is crips. The tone of Megneto’s voice is rather intimidating, but the inflections aren’t there (especially when he can’t just be scary, like when he was shown among the mob on the bridge). The character designs are fairly simple and work well. Cyclops has a bit of an X-Factor vibe to his costume, but with the open Jim Lee cowl. Magneto looks rather imposing as his face is often entirely black when in costume, the shape of his helm also reminds me of Age of Apocalypse Magneto. Rogue’s costume is a bit on the bland side though and I never much cared for the design. It has an odd piece of green armor across the chest that’s rather boxy looking. And in general, the female X-Men are drawn rather maturely. It’s a tad creepy how sexy the animators made these children.

X-Men:  Evolution has seen an incomplete home video release. It’s also no longer on television, but good news, no one seems to care about it so it’s easy to find online for free. If you want to spend the holidays with Marvel’s most famous mutants then go for it. It’s better than the other X-Men Christmas episode and it should put you in the Christmas spirit.


Dec. 21 – A Pinky and the Brain Christmas

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For as great as this episode looks, that is one ugly title card.

When Warner Bros. was looking to launch its own network which would feature weekday afternoon and weekend morning cartoon blocks they looked to the past to fill out the ranks. In particular, they went to their cartoons that had been running on the Fox network for sometime. When the rights to those shows expired, such as with Batman and Tiny Toon Adventures, Warner simply moved them to their own network. For something like Animaniacs which was still ongoing, they simply created a spin-off. And probably the most popular part of Animaniacs, aside from the main Warner siblings, was Pinky and the Brain.

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This special, like many holiday themed episodes, received a VHS release.

If you were a kid in the 90s then you’re likely familiar with this odd couple duo. Pinky and the Brain, as the theme song informs us, is a duo of lab mice where one is a genius and the other is insane. You can probably guess which is which based on their names. Each short they were featured in on Animaniacs involved Brain coming up with a scheme for world domination, and it was always introduced with this setup:

Pinky:  Gee Brain, what are we going to do tonight?

Brain:  The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!

Brain is voiced by Maurice LaMarche doing his Orson Welles impersonation that has been featured on The Simpsons and Futurama at this point. Cartoon veteran Rob Paulsen handles the role of Pinky in his most outlandish toon voice (I seriously forgot it was him until doing research for this write-up) that he can probably do. Familiar voices Frank Welker and Tress MacNeille were also regulars on the show. The show lasted four seasons airing from 1995 – 1998. Almost every episode involves Brain coming up with a crazy scheme and Pinky usually messes it up for him. Why a brainiac like the Brain kept Pinky around is something we’ll never understand. For their own show, the plots were freshened up some to seem less redundant, but the goal was always there. Brain, surprisingly, is actually pretty gentle with Pinky. He’s a not a Ren-type who slaps his dim-witted partner when he fouls-up, so maybe he actually genuinely likes his mentally-challenged friend. Also a bit surprising, is during the show’s first season the writers tackled a Christmas episode. Airing on December 13, 1995, “A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” involves the Brain coming up with a plan to use Santa Claus to take over the world.

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Adding some holiday flair to the opening credits is a nice touch previously seen with Tiny Toons.

The episode opens with the familiar credits dressed-up for the holidays. There’s snow falling and some of the lyrics are changed-up to reflect the coming Christmas holiday. It’s a nice touch and one the Warner cartoons did on more than one occasion. Pinky is in a jolly mood bouncing around being his looney self singing Christmas carols while Brain is hard at work. Pinky sits down to start writing his letter to Santa, while Brain drops a doll that resembles himself behind Pinky. When Pinky turns to look at the Brain-doll, Brain starts speaking through it and is able to hypnotize Pinky. He makes Pinky do some stuff to demonstrate the doll’s power including making him think he’s standing in hot sand (Pinky doesn’t try to get off the “sand” and instead screams) and asks him to impersonate William Buckley resulting in Pinky just shrugging his shoulders indicating he has no idea who that is. Brain asks him to do Regis Philbin instead and Pinky goes bonkers giving us our first dated joke of the episode.

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Behold the Noodle Noggin!

After releasing his hold on Pinky, Brain explains he can use his doll, Noodle Noggin, to also hypnotize humans. Pinky then asks him if he’s sure he wants to take over the world on Christmas and we get some cut-away gags! I didn’t watch this show a lot as a kid, but I don’t remember the cut-away being a big part of the show’s construction. They’re introduced just like Peter Griffin would, “Remember that time you played Santa?,” and it’s kind of amusing for that reason. The actual jokes aren’t great, although the second one references those suction-cup stuffed animals tons of people would have in a car window. Brain insists he wants to go through with his plan on Christmas and explains it to Pinky. They need to get a Noodle Noggin into every home so Brain can hypnotize the world. Unfortunately, creating the billion dolls they need to pull this off would require over 100 years of labor for the two of them. Then Brain notices a help wanted ad in the paper for elves at the North Pole giving him the idea to use Santa’s work shop to create the billion dolls they require.

Pinky is over-joyed to be going off to see Santa as the duo plan to play elves. They create a very crude dummy (during the commercial break) to play the role of their caretaker and hitch a ride on a small plane to the North Pole. The pilot isn’t very bright and just thinks her passenger is quiet comparing him to a previous boyfriend, who she informs us turned out to be a propane tank. She’s a character, all right. While riding in the plane, Pinky continues work on his letter to Santa. When Brain ridicules him by saying Santa could not possibly read every letter, Pinky corrects him by saying the elves in the mailroom handle that and enter everything into a massive computer. Brain bristles at the thought, but I’m certain Pinky’s assumption will prove true because that’s the kind of joke this series likes to make.

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Pinky and Brain disguised as elves.

When the pilot tells the dummy to take the wheel for a minute they go into a dive. She slaps the dummy and his head pops off, though she doesn’t react in a horrified manner to decapitating her passenger. Instead she continues to scold it while Pinky and Brain struggle to remain in their cage. The passenger door pops open and the dummy tumbles out. Brain is able to grab the dummy’s falling head, which was apparently a pillow case, and he and Pinky are able to use it as a make-shift parachute. As they fall, Pinky remarks to Brain that he doesn’t want to be an elf. “What do you want to be?” “A dentist!” “You’ve seen too many Christmas specials, Pinky.”

The mice somehow manage to acquire a team of sled-dogs and manage to find the North Pole with minimal effort. Once there, they put on their elf disguises and head in for a job interview. Brain lists his many qualifications to the interviewer whom agrees they’re worthy of a hire, but sends them to the mail room. As expected, the mail room is exactly as Pinky imagined. He’s loving being in Santa’s work shop, and Brain isn’t too down-hearted as he sees a way to make this work to their advantage. Brain simply adds Noodle Noggin dolls to all of the lists and we cut to Santa working out (while eating a turkey leg) and looking over the lists wondering what a Noodle Noggin doll is.

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The duo are unable to evade Schotzie, who was previously mocked by Santa for still having a goatee.

Back in the mailroom, Pinky is delighted to see all of the elves are being invited to a party at Donner the reindeers house. Brain remarks that he sees no appeal in joining the Donner party for anything – hah! I bet that one went right over the heads of this show’s target audience. When Brain finishes with the letters, Pinky points out there’s still his to enter and Brain tells him to grow up. They set out for the work shop with Brain’s Noodle Noggin blue prints so they can get these dolls into production. They spot the design room and when the elf in plain sight heads off somewhere, they enter to drop off the plans. They, however, run into the elf that interviewed them (Schotzie, who appears to be Santa’s #1 elf) and he questions what they’re doing there. Brain tries to say it’s a union-mandated break, but the elf points out they don’t have a union prompting Brain to question if that’s wise. Santa’s work shop is apparently very against unions because the elf reacts negatively and gives chase, pulling off their ear disguises in the process. Recognizing that Pinky and Brain are in fact not elves, he sounds the alarm.

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The work shop in action.

Pinky and Brain run into a toy room full of toy cars. They try a girl’s toy first, but it’s just a fancy makeup case that won’t drive. The second is a dump truck that is much too slow, while the third is a race car that’s plenty fast. Unfortunately for them, it’s also an RC car and Schotzie has the remote. He crashes the car and apprehends the two, pulling off the remainder of their disguise. Brain tries to tell him they’re Canadian elves just trying to blend in, but Schotzie informs them they’ve failed.

a p and b christmas copy

I’m not sure if this was a print ad or something, but it would have been a much better title card for the episode.

After the break, Pinky and Brain find themselves under the bright lights in an interrogation room. Schotzie wants answers, but Brain is naturally reluctant to reveal why they’re really there. They’ve also been fully undressed and they’re just sitting there as lab mice. Another elf finds the Noodle Noggin blue prints and Schotzie immediately thinks it’s espionage. He accuses them of working for other various holiday institutions before Pinky tries to explain how they really came to have the blue prints. Brain hushes him, happy to have Schotzie and the elves think they’re common thieves and still produce his doll. Schotzie falls for it and tells the other elf to get these into production and fast. While doing so, Brain and Pinky run off. They’d have probably been able to escape but Pinky happily yells out that they’re getting away, thinking it’s all a game, apparently.

A chase scene commences and we get a look at the rest of Santa’s work shop. Various assembly lines are shown constructing toys, including Brain’s Noodle Noggin. Brain decides to hide out among the dolls by jumping into the assembly line and instructs Pinky to do the same and to just look like him, which he does rather well. Schotzie almost spots them, but gets called away because Santa can’t remember that thing he always says to make the sleigh fly. The plan is going well, until Brain realizes they’re about to have Noodle Noggin arms jammed into their bodies. That’s not as bad as what’s next – head removal so a speaker can be inserted. Brain tries to free himself from the assembly line’s feet shackles, but can’t, and a doomed look crosses his face. Off-camera, the technician apparently fails at removing Brain’s head and he’s tossed into a bin marked “Rejects.” There, we see Brain’s head has been turned completely around. He fixes it just as Pinky comes sailing in. A janitor elf, with what appears to be a candy cane dangling out of his mouth to resemble a cigarette, comes by to empty the bin into his garbage can.

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They’re not the most convincing reindeer.

Outside, the duo finds themselves in a dumpster, but they’re just in time see Santa as he heads to his sleigh. Brain sees this as an opportunity for escape, while Pinky sees it as his last chance to give Santa his letter. Brain angrily tells Pinky they’re not going to do that, and the two disguise themselves (poorly) as reindeer amongst Santa’s team (which includes Rudolph!). Santa and Shotzie stand over the two ridiculous looking mice and regard them appropriately, but not enough to remove them from the team. Santa takes off and when Brain notices they’re above ACME Labs they remove their harness and plummet all the way through the ceiling window (apparently they didn’t really need that parachute earlier) smashing onto a lab bench. Unfortunately, they landed on Brain’s transmitter for his Noodle Noggin dolls and he must scramble to rebuild it.

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I never thought Brain could appear so sad.

Pinky, now realizing he’ll never be able to give his letter to Santa, becomes inconsolable. Brain needs Pinky to stand by a power switch and turn it on when the meter hits red, but Pinky is basically sobbing and hysterical. Brain grows ever-frustrated, snatches the list, and places Pinky into position who just whimpers obediently. Brain, standing with a maniacal look on his face, prepares for the moment to arrive. We see Noodle Noggin dolls have been delivered all over the world, including even to President Clinton. As Pinky goes to throw the switch, Brain takes notice of Pinky’s letter. Turns out, it was a letter to Santa from Pinky telling Santa how much he loves his best pal, The Brain. It includes observations about how determined he is in spite of his many failures, and asks Santa if he has The World in his sack. Brain is overcome with emotion, and when the time comes to broadcast he’s at first speechless. Pinky implores him to speak through his machine, and finally finding words, all Brain can do is command the world to have a  Merry Christmas while sobbing like a child. He then goes about smashing the device, apparently viewing it as something that caused him to hurt his dear friend Pinky.

The world reacts accordingly, and it appears everyone does indeed enjoy a very, merry Christmas. Brain gives Pinky a Christmas gift – a spell checker, apparently inspired by Pinky’s letter writing. Pinky gives Brain his gift too – the world, as a keychain, plus a great big hug. Brain resists only slightly, as Christmas carols lead us into the familiar Pinky and the Brain theme song.

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Pinky gives Brain what he’s always wanted.

“A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” is pretty entertaining, and I’m surprised I didn’t see the ending coming until basically it got there. I figured Pinky’s letter to Santa would play a role in foiling things for Brain, just not in that way, though I probably should have. The humor isn’t as manic as Animaniacs, and some of the jokes are quite dated, but Pinky manages to be over-the-top without being too annoying and Brain is the perfect foil. I like that Brain ended up foiling his own scheme this time. The plan essentially worked, and global domination was in his hands, but he turned it down because his quest made him treat his friend like crap. It’s a cute ending, though maybe not as emotional as the writers thought it would be. The animation is wonderful though, and that whole ending sequence shows it off with the various facial expressions made by both Pinky and Brain, which are the type we hardly ever see from them.

2As for watching this special this year, that remains to be seen. Boomerang was showing Pinky and the Brain, but I don’t know that it still does. The show was released on DVD in its entirety and this special even had its own VHS release back in 1996, if you really want to dust off your VCR. Perhaps more than any other special I’ve covered this year, this one feels worth digging up because it’s pretty unique, and for me it’s still pretty fresh as I’ve rarely seen it on television. I always enjoy cartoons the focus on diminutive main characters as seeing the world from their perspective is a great deal of fun for me. Check it out, if you can.

 


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