Tag Archives: maurice lamarche

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

 

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

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

 

real ghostbusters title

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

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

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

real ghostbusters outro

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

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

ecto1 snow

Nothing like a blizzard to set the mood.

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

busters in car

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

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

ecto1 breaks down

Not without my proton pack!

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

ghostbusters cratchit

‘Tis a fine bird, Master Cratchit!

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

past present future

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

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

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Oh shit, they just bailed out Scrooge!

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

scrooge book

The one true holiday classic.

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

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

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

janines adoration

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

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

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Egon’s got some work to do.

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

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Venkman’s convincing attire.

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

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Janine’s view of the containment unit.

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

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

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

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The innards of the containment unit are not particularly inviting.

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

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Success at last! Present looks rather pissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

peters fault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dec. 16 – Mickey’s Christmas Chaos

christmas crisisAlternatively known as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis, Mickey’s Christmas Chaos is a Mickey Mouse Works cartoon from 2000. If you’re like me, you were probably “too old” for The Disney Channel around the turn of the millennium and are not too familiar with the Mouse Works toons. This was basically Disney’s attempt at creating a new series of cartoon shorts starring its classic characters. They’re 2D animated and usually run around 7 minutes and were shown on television as opposed to being a theatrical short. They vary in quality, and while very few measure up to the classic shorts, I’m happy they exist.

These shorts originally aired in blocks, but were eventually repackaged as part of the House of Mouse series which launched in 2001 as part of ABC’s One Saturday Morning programming block. House of Mouse basically packaged these shorts, and select classic shorts, together with a wrap-around animated segment taking place at the actual House of Mouse which was basically a club owned by Mickey and all of the animated characters would show up for the party. Again, it’s not a show I’ve seen a lot of and what I have seen never really wowed me, but I still think it’s great some attempt was made to keep these characters in a starring role.

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Mickey’s Christmas Chaos originally aired as part of the Mickey Mouse Works shorts.

Mickey’s Christmas Chaos first aired September 16, 2000 alongside Mickey’s Mix-Up and Whitewater Donald. It was then included in episode 44 of House of Mouse, “Clarabelle’s Christmas List,” where it was re-titled for some reason as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis. That episode aired December 2, 2002. As the title implies, this is a Mickey Mouse cartoon that takes place around Christmas and features Mickey’s loyal dog Pluto and adversary Mortimer Mouse.

house of mouse

The short was re-packaged with other Mouse Works cartoons as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis for the House of Mouse program.

The episode opens with Mickey (Wayne Allwine) emerging from his home to decorate his house for Christmas. Pluto (Jim Cummings) is alongside him and we learn that Mickey is aiming to win a local decorating contest. He decorates his house as only a cartoon character can affixing some garland to a toy airplane which flies around the house spreading the garland around while Pluto (in a sort of nod to Pluto’s Christmas Tree) flings ornaments from his tail to decorate as well. Next door, Mortimer Mouse (Maurice LaMarche) emerges from his house to mock Mickey’s decorating. He seems to think tacky is good as he brags about his electronic talking Christmas wreath while looking down on Mickey’s more traditional wreath. They then engage in a game of one-upmanship, as they each keep making their wreath more extravagant until Mortimer slips a toilet seat into Mickey’s box which he affixes to his wreath then reacts with horror.

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Mickey and Pluto have a deocrating contest to win.

The two mice then turn to one-upping each other via lights. Mickey has tastefully outfitted his house with Christmas lights, while Mortimer just throws a bunch of traditional lights onto his house such as lamps and bulbs. It’s hideous, but he seems to like it. Mickey counters by turning on his lights, which like Clark Griswald, causes a brown out across town. The heat from the lights even gives Mortimer a sunburn.

mortimers power

I think it’s fairly common knowledge now, but Mortimer was originally the name for Mickey but Walt’s wife Lilian disliked it. The character Mortimer was later created for Mickey’s Rival and designed to resemble Walt Disney.

It’s then onto the tree, and Mickey sets up a rather nice one in his yard by basically planting a box of Christmas decorations in the ground. Mortimer sets his tree up Grinch-style, opening it like an umbrella and allowing presents to fall out. Mickey then starts spreading items out on his lawn which include a church diorama and Uncle Scrooge and his nephews as carollers. Mortimer starts doing the same and even uses Pete as an angel to decorate his lawn while Mickey has a Goofy Claus. Mortimer swipes Goofy, and Mickey in turn swipes Mortimer’s nut roaster. They then get kind of nasty and even destroy each other’s trees, which also destroys Mortimer’s house momentarily.

mickeys house

Nice job, boys.

Then the two start just stealing each other’s decorations in outlandish fashion. Mickey has some extensive technological implants in the neighborhood which allows him to swap houses with the pull of a lever. Mortimer, to his credit, has a giant bucket-crane to pluck decorations off of Mickey’s house to place on his. Things then take a real Looney Tunes turn. When it appears Mortimer has won, Mickey gives him a wreath. It has a black ribbon on it that reads R.I.P. and when Mortimer sees that he looks over his shoulder at his Christmas tree which is loaded with bombs and TNT. The resulting explosion takes out both houses and leaves both mice covered in soot, but Pluto’s dog house is intact. The decorations fall out of the sky and land on Pluto’s house right as the mayor shows up to judge the contest. Pluto is awarded first prize, and when Mickey and Mortimer are about to come to blows a “Peace on Earth” marquee behind Pluto’s house reminds them what season it is. They then exchange gifts, seemingly putting an end to their feud, but each mouse takes a peek in the gift before opening it. They both angle their box at each other in an unassuming manner and when both open the package a spring-loaded boxing glove shoots out of each one knocking them both out.

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Mortimer’s a jerk, but Mickey gives as good as he gets which is unusual for him.

Mickey’s Christmas Chaos is a screwball cartoon. It’s much more Warner Bros. than Disney with two characters basically taking each other out and trying to raise the stakes with each gag. It’s not nearly as smart or as funny as a Warner Bros. short though. I like the little cameos of other characters including Scrooge and Chip and Dale and Mortimer is a great foil for Mickey. He doesn’t really get nasty enough though and I wish he at least had some good insults, but his dialogue is fairly routine. Same for Mickey, though at least he gets to be a bit more antagonistic than he typically is. This isn’t a perfect Mickey and he gets mad and even a little mean, especially with the bomb-tree. I also like that Pluto gets to be the only good character in the short, and in the end it’s he who is rewarded.

The animation is 2D, but fairly simple. The characters look nice and they animate in a very 90s fashion. Their movements are a bit exaggerated and they have a rubbery look to their limbs. The backgrounds are a bit disappointing though, especially in the long shots. There’s a disconnect between them and the action. As a result, this and basically all of the shorts from this series look inferior to the classic shorts, but I suppose that’s not surprising since those were made for the movie theater and not television. The thing that disappoints me a little though is these shorts aren’t even on par with the late era Disney Afternoon shows like Bonkers. This show came at a time when there was a shift in children’s programming and it wouldn’t be long before some networks pulled out of Saturday Morning all together and it’s reflected in the diminished budget for shows of this era.

mortimers gift

This one surprisingly doesn’t end with the two making up.

“Mickey’s Christmas Chaos” isn’t a bad cartoon, but it’s hardly memorable. That’s the case with most of the Mouse Works cartoons that I have seen. The ones I’m most familiar with are the Donald Duck ones included on the Chronological Donald – Volume 4, and even those I’ve only watched once or twice. As I said before, I’m happy these shorts exist and that the modern character actors got to voice these characters outside of Disney Park exhibits and early childhood shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but they’re not on par with the classics. Disney also hasn’t done much with these shorts since they ceased airing, but they’re actually pretty protective of them across streaming sites which stands in contrast with their attitude towards their classic shorts. Most have never received a home video release, and this cartoon is no exception (though snippets of it appear in Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse) in that regard. Disney basically stopped airing House of Mouse in 2009, so it’s probably not getting shown on television this month. And as I mentioned, it’s surprisingly tricky finding this online somewhere, but if you’re willing to dig, it’s there. Definitely search for the House of Mouse episode “Clarabelle’s Christmas List” instead of just looking for this cartoon. If you don’t want to look for it though and would rather watch Pluto’s Christmas Tree or Toy Tinkers then I don’t blame you one bit.


Dec. 4 – Taz-Mania – “No Time for Christmas”

no time for xmas

Original air date December 25, 1993

Before there was an entire broadcast television network owned by Time Warner, there was the relationship that existed between Fox and WB. Fox, needing a lot of content to launch its kid programming block The Fox Kids Network, partnered with WB and Steven Spielberg to bring the world Tiny Toon Adventures. It was a success, and before long Fox and WB were coming to terms on a number of shows. One such show we’ve covered quite a bit on this blog, Batman: The Animated Series, and another early 90s staple of Fox programming was Taz-Mania. Taz-Mania took the classic Looney Tunes character the Tazmanian Devil and gave him his own show. The character had become inexplicably popular in the early 90s in the realm of merchandising, as basically all of those characters did. He was just more surprising because the actual character was just a mindless predator out to consume the likes of Bugs Bunny. Aside from his rather interesting look, his other notable feature was his ability to whirl in place like a tiny cyclone. It was a pretty odd move to make him the vehicle of a whole new show, but it worked fairly well and Taz-Mania made it to 65 episodes which aired across parts of 3 years from 1991-1993.

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Taz and his family (left to right): Jake, Jean, Taz, Hugh, and Molly.

Taz-Mania stars the Tazmanian Devil, who is simply referred to as Taz (Jim Cummings) from now on. He is the eldest son of Hugh (Maurice LaMarche) and Jean (Miriam Flynn) and older brother to Molly (Kellie Martin) and Jake (Debi Derryberry). They live in Taz-Mania which is basically an offshoot of Australia as it’s populated by dingoes and platypus. Taz is similar to his classic portrayal, only he’s more of a gentle soul now. He still speaks in gibberish and shuns clothing, unlike his family. They’re all relatively “normal” individuals and all wear clothing and have modern concerns. Hugh, who sounds like Bing Crosby, is consumed with being a model patriarch and is often even-tempered. Jean is the classic go-go career woman and mother who doesn’t have much time for much of anything in her busy schedule, but always maintains a cheery disposition. Molly is a self-absorbed teen while Jake is a fairly typical little kid. They all seem to quietly tolerate Taz, but also sometimes take advantage of his mental shortcomings. In watching this episode and reflecting on the show in general, it’s a little uncomfortable at times how Taz is treated by his family since he obviously has special needs, and sometimes the family is almost unintentionally cruel towards him. This was the early 90’s when the “R-word” was still in fashion and those characters were played for laughs. If this show were invented today, I bet it would take a different slant or at least punish the characters who casually mistreat Taz.

In addition to the family, the show had a wide supporting cast and many of them will be covered in this write-up. The show also spawned a few video games though surprisingly I don’t recall much merchandise beyond that. No real toys lines or anything, but I suppose it wasn’t that kind of show. It helped keep Taz popular, and he went on to appear alongside the other Looney Tunes in Space Jam. His star, like most of those characters, has faded over the decades, but he’s still rather unique considering the other Tunes never really received a true starring vehicle like Taz-Mania.

Taz and Molly

Taz seems to enjoy licking stamps.

“No Time for Christmas” opens on the home of the Tazmanian Devil family on the day before Christmas. Taz is eagerly getting ready for Christmas and stuffing presents in a big, red, sack while his mother, Jean, is talking to someone on the phone. She rattles off all of the things she has to do, some mundane like wrap presents, and some insane like re-pave a parking lot. She’s baking cookies as she does this and Taz tries to get himself some, but he’s denied. She leaves behind one, lone, burnt cookie that Taz scrunches his face at, but eats anyway. Seeing that his mom has no time for him, he ventures off to Molly’s room. She’s busy writing and mailing Christmas cards and tries to get him out of her room before realizing that maybe he could be of use. She sets him up with a bunch of envelopes and stamps and instructs him to lick and place a stamp on each envelope. Taz is happy to help, but finds the glue on the stamps rather tasty and just licks them. Frustrated, Molly boots him out of her room.

Taz and Hugh

I do empathize with Hugh here as Christmas in a warm climate must be pretty weird.

Next Taz encounters his little brother Jake snooping around for presents in their parents’ room. Taz seems like he wants to help (he only speaks in grunts and noises, for the most part, aside from the occasional phrase), but Jake tells him, rather nicely, that this is a one-man operation and closes the door. Taz next encounters his dad in the living room. He’s all bundled up and standing by the television which is tuned to a fireplace channel and talking about Christmas. Taz realizes the room is freezing and his dad explains he’s cranked the air conditioner to simulate a real, northern, Christmas like the ones he’s never experienced. He’s lost in his own Christmas fantasy and Taz leaves him to it. Somewhat sadly, he wanders off from home with only his sack of gifts.

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Daniel and Timothy are looking to win a trip to Fresno by having the best decorated house.

Taz’s first stop is at the home of the Platypus twins, Daniel (LaMarche) and Timothy (Rob Paulsen). They’re a cheery duo with a deep affection for each other. If they weren’t brothers you would assume they’re gay. They’re the brainy characters of Taz-Mania and they’ve outfitted their home with an elaborate lighting display. The problem is, one of their elves has blown a head and Rudolph’s nose has burnt out. Taz shows up with a gift, and they’re happy to receive it, but have no gift to offer him in return as they’re much too busy. They incorrectly assume Taz would love to assist them in their work and they send him up a ladder with a new bulb for their reindeer. Taz goes along with it as the two brothers then take the ladder away saying they need it to retrieve a spare elf head. Taz replaces the bulb and the reindeer lights up. He then loses his footing on the roof and tumbles down into the space previously occupied by the broken elf. Now holding “hands” with the other elf decorations lining the roof, he appears to be taking the place of the discarded elf and the Platypus brothers thank him before remarking how it’s likely obvious where this bit is heading (they’re so smart that they’re self-aware and break the fourth wall rather liberally). They head over to a giant electrical switch and flip it, causing Taz to be comically electrocuted. He’s shot off like a cannonball from the house, and when one of the brothers remarks that he forgot his sack, Taz’s arm stretches back into the image to grab it before he resumes his flight.

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Taz exploding with electricity. This kind of thing seems to happen often when he visits Daniel and Timothy.

Taz next drops in on Didgeri Dingo (Paulsen) who was expecting him. He’s ringing a bell Salvation Army style in the middle of the deserted Outback and remarks that Taz is late. He quickly outfits him with a Santa Claus outfit while explaining that Christmas is the time for charity and they’re going to raise money for his favorite charity – Didgeri Dingo. Taz is rather delighted by the Santa suit, causing him to remark his catchphrase for the episode, “Taz like Christmas!” but he is not at all happy about being forced to ring a bell for charity in the middle of nowhere. In true cartoon fashion, Didgeri sends him off and he’s immediately hit by a bus that literally came out of no where. He’s then hit by a trio of trucks and a train to drive the point home as he’s swept away. Didgeri pauses to speak with the camera so apparently the Platypus brothers aren’t the only ones who get to break the fourth role.

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Now we’re getting into the spirit!

The train dumps Taz in another part of the Outback where a couple of bushes are speaking to one another. They have tails and hats and are obviously the Gator characters of Bull and Axl, two hunters who are always trying to catch Taz. They’re the common cartoon archetype of a short, intelligent, abusive, schemer and a tall, dumb, subservient one. The only wrinkle with Bull (John Astin) is that he possesses a rather cheery disposition. When Bull explains to Axl (Paulsen) they’re in a Christmas episode he pops him with an oversized candy cane to further remind me that WB cartoons actually just love to break the fourth wall.

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Nothing like a little Yuletide violence to warm the soul and dent the head.

Taz knows these two, and he’s not as dumb as we think. He intentionally lets himself get caught in their rope trap and is suspended upside-down as a result. Axl is somewhat horrified to see they’ve caught Santa, while Bull tries to explain to him that he is indeed wrong. Taz breaks free, and then clobbers the pair in a whirling cyclone that also relieves him of his Santa suit. He leaves the two their present before heading off, while Axl sees the error of his ways. They didn’t capture Santa, Taz is Santa!

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Taz even has gifts for his enemies.

Taz’s next stop is the Motel Tasmania, where he is an employee. Bushwacker Bob (Cummings) is standing around trying to read his copy of Life magazine with Bugs Bunny on the cover while patrons of the motel keep bothering him on the phone. Constance Koala (Rosalyn Landor) bothers him further by bumping into him and then having the nerve to point out how her feather duster is in poor shape causing Bob to go on a rant. He’s the typical asshole boss character who thinks his employees do nothing but complain and act lazy. He further points out the “shoddy” work of Constance by gesturing to some fungus on the ceiling. His observation is incorrect and Constance points out he’s referring to the mistletoe she hung up. And since they’re both under it…

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I’m always down for a Bugs Bunny cameo.

Mr. Thickley (Dan Castellaneta), a wallaby, enters the picture next and when Bob suggests there’s something he’s supposed to be doing, Thickley can only assume he’s referring to the mistletoe once more and plants another big smooch on him further enraging Bob. Thickley goes off to do whatever it is he does, but he stops to say “Hi,” to Taz and also demonstrates he too possesses fourth wall breaking power. Bob takes notice of Taz and asks him what he’s doing out of uniform. Taz apparently says it’s his day off and Bob can understand his grunts, but he’s not really happy with the response. Taz gives him his present, and Bob seems upset at its small size. When he suggests there should be something more, Taz naturally assumes he’s looking for another smooch and gives him one causing Bob to throw him out. Then Taz, finding that no one has time for Christmas, slowly walks off into the sunset dragging his sack behind him while sad music plays.

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Mr. Thickley seems to have a lot on his plate.

Taz returns home to the frigid living room. He sits down in front of the television which is still playing a roaring fire. Taz’s pet, Dog the Turtle (Paulsen), comes running in excited to see him which picks up Taz’s spirit. He gives Dog his Christmas present, a bone, and Dog happily grabs it and runs off. When Taz whistles for him to come back, he does not. Dejected, Taz plops down on the couch while his tears freeze upon forming. Reminding himself that “Taz loves Christmas,” he lays down and falls asleep.

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Nothing says Christmas like the love between a boy and his dog, or, a devil and his turtle?

Taz is awakened the next morning by his family. His mom has baked him a tray of cookies and Molly apologizes for being a jerk and gives him a Christmas kiss. Soon all of the characters from throughout the episode enter the house to give Taz his Christmas presents. In doing so, we see that Taz had gifted them all very thoughtful gifts. The Platypus brothers received a new elf decoration, Didgeri a prized bottle cap, the Gators new nets, and so on. Hugh even ushers in the rest of the cast they ran out of time for leading to a whole, group, gathering in the Tazmanian Devil living room. Hugh then gives a speech about Taz and how he never lost the spirit of Christmas. His schtick is that he gives boring, long-winded, speeches and as he gets further into this one everyone else sneaks away leaving Hugh all by himself as the episode appears to end. It’s a fake-out, and the iris shot close re-opens as Hugh informs the audience they can’t end the show without a big holiday group shot. We’re wished a Merry Christmas, and they all imitate Taz’s various noises and tongue thing to close it out.

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A sad, frozen, Christmas tear.

“No Time for Christmas” is a simple and effective story. Choosing to focus on the rush of the holiday, the more free-spirited and pure-hearted Taz distills Christmas to just giving gifts to the people he cares about while the characters around him are caught up in everything else. Or in the case of the “bad” characters, they’re either ignoring the holiday or trying to enrich themselves through it. Everyone coming together at the end to make up for their mistreatment of Taz is predictable, but it works well enough. It’s certainly better than doing a parody. Because it’s rather obvious in where it’s going, the episode lacks a real emotional payoff. It’s still rather sad to see a dejected Taz, since that’s not a common sight, but the episode doesn’t really linger on it or really play it for tears. It’s a comedy show, and it never loses sight of that. It’s also not the type of comedy that’s uproariously full of laughter. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it subtle, since the numerous fourth wall breaking jokes are anything but subtle, but it’s the type of humor that just wants you to smile along as opposed to laugh. It’s also probably why Taz-Mania was never appointment viewing for me, because it was just fine as supposed to truly funny.

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We have to end it on the group shot too.

As far as Christmas Specials go, “No Time for Christmas” is suitable. Most who watch it will probably enjoy it well enough. Unlike most episodes of this show which were split into two shorter cartoons, “No Time for Christmas” uses the full 22 minute duration to tell its story. Shows that do such a thing sometimes struggle with the longer runtime, but this one moves along quite well. Like a lot of early 90s cartoons, Taz-Mania is no longer broadcast anywhere and hasn’t been for some time. Also like many cartoons from that era, it has only received a partial home video release and “No Time for Christmas” is not on either DVD set. The only way to watch this one is via streaming online, and it’s not hard to find. If you’re looking to watch a special you have not seen and want it to be good, then I think this one is worth the investment of time.


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.

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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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