Tag Archives: mel blanc

An Easter Viewing Guide

easter_south_park

Never forget the reason for the season.

If you are a regularly reader at The Nostalgia Spot, then you’re probably familiar with the holiday version that comes every December:  The Christmas Spot. Christmas is such a big deal in our society that there is an abundance of Christmas themed media, enough to sustain an annual blog for 25 consecutive days. And people like Christmas, despite how much grumbling surfaces every year about decorations appearing in stores in October or the music filling grocery store aisles for weeks on end. I know people like it, because in all likelihood The Christmas Spot has more regular readers than the rest of the stuff I do. My readership always spikes in December and I assume there are a handful of readers that bookmark the page only to come around for December.

When it comes to television, no holiday compares with Christmas and the only one that comes close is Halloween. When I was a kid though, the holiday tier list when like this:  Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving, any holiday that resulted in a day off from school, and then the rest. Christmas was number one because it was the big one:  the toy holiday. I loved toys as a kid, and I still do, so it was a clear number one. Halloween came at number two because it was a unique experience, and it came with lots and lots of candy. Easter was like the compromise holiday. I had Catholic parents, but the religious aspect of the holiday was never enforced in my house so it was just a day that Santa-Light, aka The Easter Bunny, entered my home at night and hid a basket of goodies somewhere for me to find in the morning. That basket contained assorted Easter candies, all of which were awesome:  Reese’s Eggs, pastel M&M’s, Peeps, Cadbury Eggs, and so on. Usually there was one central, big, piece of candy be it a chocolate bunny or one of those giant candy bars that went beyond a king size. In my house, the Easter Bunny also always brought a toy of some kind. Usually it was a modest thing. At most I seemed to get a couple of action figures or a small toy vehicle playset like a TMNT motorcycle thing or something. And that’s why Easter felt like a compromised merger of Christmas and Halloween in my house. There were toys, but way fewer than what Santa would bring, but also a good amount of candy, but not as much as I’d come away with on Halloween.

The combination of toys and candy, plus the fun of hunting for an Easter basket or Easter eggs, made Easter an important day in my house. And I carry forward that tradition now for my kids and I look forward to watching them experience the holiday each year. And in my house, holidays are marked by indulging in moves and television based around that holiday theme. For Easter, I’ve had to put in some work to find stuff. There’s an assortment of biblical videos and such that are just terrible. I mean, if you’re into that component of Easter and get enjoyment from them then more power to you, but they’re not for me. I look for the fun stuff that centers around rabbits and junk. Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve put together a solid collection of Easter specials for my kids and I to take in this year and I thought I’d share that with you all. It might seem a little late in the game with Easter so close, but we’re not talking a massive volume here. And most are suitable for all audiences, so that’s a plus, though I did include one that would probably best be reserved for adults only, or at least teens and adults. And I should stress, I’m not saying these are all necessarily good or essential, there’s definitely some crap here, but it’s crap that at least has nostalgic appeal. And when you’re talking one, annual, viewing there’s a considerable tolerance level in place. Let’s get this going and we’ll go in chronological order of release starting with…

iwantaeasteregg

I can hear this image.

Easter Yeggs (1947)

The classic Easter themed Bugs Bunny short directed by Robert McKimson is probably best remembered for the annoying little kid that just says “I want an Easter egg!” over and over. He, like everyone else in the short, is voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc. In this cartoon, Bugs Bunny agrees to help out the Easter Bunny whom he stumbles upon early in the short who appears to be pretty stressed out over this whole Easter thing. Turns out he’s actually just lazy, but Bugs is game and finds out that being the Easter Bunny is no fun. He eventually encounters Elmer Fudd who has designs on consuming the Easter Bunny (what a killjoy) leading to a fairly traditional Bugs and Elmer cartoon. Which is just fine because Bugs Bunny cartoons are pretty wonderful and I need to write about them more. If you want to watch this one, it’s available as part of The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3 and I can’t recommend the entire Golden Collection enough. It’s also available in HD on the Platinum Collection Volume 3. If you’re strapped for cash though, it can easily be found online for free.

happy_go_ducky

He’s just so cute!

Happy Go Ducky (1958)

I completely forgot about this cartoon until this year when I just happened to stumble upon it. This is a Tom and Jerry short from the tandem of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who are better known for producing some of the worst cartoons you’ve ever seen. Back in the 40s and 50s though, they were the Tom and Jerry guys churning out award-winning cartoons to rival what Warner and Disney were doing. This little short features an appearance by Quackers, a seldom-used duckling character voiced by Red Coffee doing his best “duck” voice a-la Donald Duck. Quackers is just adorable, as he’s left as a gift for Tom and Jerry by the Easter Bunny, but proceeds to drive them nuts as he floods the home in search of an adequate swimming pool to meet his needs. The sweet thing is that he eventually overwhelms and wins over the duo with his cuteness. Watch this one with young kids and you’ll be hearing them imitate Quackers, as best they can, and his frequent line, “Happy Easter!” This short is available as part of the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 3 which is still easy to find and cheap to acquire (especially if you opt for a used copy). It can also be found online, but many places feature a cropped version that probably aired on television years ago as this cartoon was originally done in Cinemascope. Interestingly, there’s an edited version on YouTube just titled “Happy Easter” that isn’t cropped, but is missing several scenes as nearly 2 minutes were shaved off of the running time. This might be my favorite of this list.

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Snoopy helping Linus avoid more embarrassment. He’s a good boy.

It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974)

You can always count on The Peanuts gang for a holiday special. These kids even have an Arbor Day special, for crying out loud. Charlie Brown and his friends seem to have a problem with everything, including Easter. For Peppermint Patty, it’s teaching her friend Marcy how to color eggs. For Sally, it’s finding the right pair of shoes for the holiday. And for Linus, it’s people mocking him for his belief in an Easter Beagle. As was the case with Halloween, Linus appears to have picked the wrong holiday mascot to back. What’s rewarding is the other kids remind him of his Halloween foolishness, but he’s somewhat vindicated in this one. And then there’s Lucy, getting victimized by Snoopy once again. Despite the title, Charlie Brown plays a very small role in this one though he still gets reminded that he is indeed Charlie Brown come Easter. This cartoon gets bonus points for making a good Christmas joke when the kids go to the mall and find it already decorated for that holiday. See people, it’s not a new thing to complain about Christmas arriving early in stores as this thing was made in 1974. Strangely, it doesn’t look any network is airing this special this week (I may have missed an earlier airing this month), but it is available to stream on Amazon. Or you could be like me and just buy a DVD to watch at your leisure each season. Charlie Brown holiday DVDs and Blu Rays are often really easy to find at a cheap price during the offseason. And as a bonus, you’ll get that Arbor Day special!

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This one just might cause you to miss the old shorts.

Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-citement! (1980)

After the era of the cartoon short ended, but before the explosion of cable providing for a landing spot for old cartoons, Warner Bros. put their now meager staff to work making television specials starring the Looney Tunes characters. Many of them featured Bugs Bunny and some included old shorts with some new wrap-around animation connecting them, but many also featured all new toons. The catch for these though was that the quality was abysmal. If you thought the Warner shorts of the 50s looked poor then you better make sure you sit down before watching anything made in the 70s or 80s. Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-citment is no except as it looks downright terrible in some places. There’s a shot of Daffy and Sylvester both digging for food out of the trash that is so garish and bright it makes me feel ill. This TV special contains three new shorts:  The Yolks on You, The Chocolate Chase, and Daffy Flies North. In between the shorts, Daffy is present to argue with the animator as he did in the classic short Duck Amuck only it’s far less amusing this time around. None of these shorts are particularly good and all recycle old gags and concepts from past toons. Some even recycle assets from other cartoons. Of the three, I suppose Daffy Flies North is my favorite, but it’s also the least festive. Mel Blanc is at least on hand to do the voices, though he’s obviously a little old at this point. It was also an odd choice to pair Daffy with Sylvester in The Yolks on You since both characters sound so similar. This TV special isn’t a very good Looney Tunes production, but a not very good Looney Tunes production is still better than a lot of other stuff. Plus it’s a lot shorter than The Ten Commandments! If you want to watch this, it’s included on The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6 as well as The Essential Daffy Duck. It’s also received a stand-alone release. Warner isn’t particularly protective of it, so you can also find it online without too much issue.

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This really happened.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “The Turtles and the Hare” (1991)

The Fred Wolf produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon that dominated the late 80s and early 90s did not feature a Christmas episode, but it did find time for an Easter one. In it, the Turtles are preparing for Easter when they have a chance encounter with Hokum Hare who actually isn’t the Easter Bunny, but is actually the hare from the fable The Tortoise and the Hare, hence the episode’s title. He sure looks the part through as he’s a big, white, bunny in purple overalls. He’s also pretty annoying. The Turtles end up in his world, Fableland, in pursuit of some crystal and the story turns into mostly nonsense as many episodes of this show do. It all ends with Hokum serving as the Easter Bunny for some Channel 6 Easter Egg Hunt. Most of the episodes of this show are terrible and this really isn’t an exception. It’s amusing for how absurd a concept it is to basically have the Turtles meet a pseudo Easter Bunny, and as terrible as the show is it usually never fails to produce a smile or two from me just because I once loved it so. For nostalgia lovers only. You can find this episode as part of Season 4 of the old cartoon which is available on DVD. If you’re feeling really retro it received a stand-alone VHS release back in the day too. It’s also not particularly hard to find online as well.

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Cartman is relegated to one scene in this episode, but it just might be my favorite one.

South Park – “Fantastic Easter Special” (2007)

South Park has had a pretty nice run of holiday specials, and it saved one of its best shots for Easter. A parody of The Da Vinci Code takes on the form of an Easter special in which Stan questions all of the bizarre traditions surrounding Easter and tries to square them up with the whole Jesus thing. They don’t make sense, and he soon uncovers an underground Easter Bunny cult of sorts that his father belongs to which seeks to protect the true meaning of Easter, as well as the true pope of the Catholic faith. It’s bonkers, and it never lets up as it finds a way to just keep escalating the crazy as the episode continues ultimately building to a pretty satisfying conclusion. This one being South Park, it’s not for the kids nor is it for those who take the holiday seriously. It’s pretty hilarious though, and it came around when the show really hit its peak. If you want to indulge in this one, you’ll be able to see it for certain on Comedy Central (as well as the other, lesser, Easter special) tonight at 5 EST and it’s available in various formats as part of Season 11 of the show.

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Horrifying.

Teen Titans Go! – “Easter Creeps” (2017)

The Teen Titans Go! series has become a reliable source of holiday entertainment. Often times, they find a way to work Santa into the mix too as they did in the first Easter special and in the “Halloween vs Christmas” episode. “Easter Creeps” is amusing to me because the show envisions the Easter Bunny as a humanoid rabbit. He basically looks like The Noid only he’s pink and wears a vest. He lays eggs, which grosses every one out, and he’s overall just kind of creepy as the episode title implies. And because of that, he’s declared the worst thing about this otherwise wonderful holiday. This episode is a bit like the “Halloween vs Christmas” one as it’s going to pit the Easter Bunny vs the Tooth Fairy. It’s a silly experience that’s funny enough without overstaying its welcome. Cartoon Network airs this show all the time and tonight is no exception. A block of Easter programming is premiering at 7 EST tonight that will feature a new Easter special from the show. I can only assume this episode will be featured as well since it’s a full hour of programming.

That’s my list for 2020. If you think I missed any worthwhile Easter entertainment feel free to let me know. I’m always on the look-out for more holiday specials. Happy Easter!

 


Dec. 14 – Heathcliff – “North Pole Cat”

 

north pole catHeathcliff, despite being a cat, shares a similarity to a certain cookie. And that cookie is Hydrox, the chocolate and cream sandwhich style cookie often mistaken for an Oreo. When I was a kid, Hydrox was the inferior Oreo, the knock-off, and I suspect that was true for a lot of people. The funny thing is, Hydrox predates Oreo. Nabisco essentially stole the concept and mass-produced its own version which eventually became more popular than the original. And how does this apply to Heathcliff? Well, most seem to view him as the Garfield knock-off even though he predates Garfield by a solid three years.

Heathcliff debuted in 1973 as a comic strip by George Gately. He became popular enough that he made the jump to animation in 1980 where he was given a voice by the late, great, Mel Blanc. Heathcliff, the cartoon series, consisted of two seasons of 13 episodes each. Heathcliff was paired up with some characters called The Ding-bats and later fellow comic character Marmaduke. The show was still shown for much of the 80s, but in 1984 a new cartoon was created by DiC also titled Heathcliff. This is the show I remember most from the 80s due in large part to the catchy theme song performed by Noam Kaniel. For this show, Heathcliff was paired up with some new characters called the Catillac Cats which is why this show is often referred to as Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats to differentiate it from the series that came before it. Each episode was organized into two segments, one Heathcliff and one Catillac Cats with the two rarely crossing over. The show produced 86 episodes and was shown in syndication into the 90s.

heathcliff strip

Like a lot of 80s toon stars, Heathcliff first began life as a daily comic in print.

The final episode of the series is the one we’re going to talk about today. “North Pole Cat” is the lone Christmas segment and it stars Heathcliff. Wikipedia claims it originally aired on October 7, 1985 though IMDB simply lists it as airing in 1986. The plot borrows slightly from the much more viewed ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in which letters to Santa are returned and someone needs to figure out why. That someone is Heathcliff and he’s dragging his adversary Spike(Derek McGrath) along for the ride as the two make their way to the North Pole to figure out what’s going on.

heathcliff catillac cats

When Heathcliff returned to TV in 1984 he was joined by the Catillac Cats leaving that loser Marmaduke far behind.

The episode opens with Spike training with Muggsy (McGrath) so he can become a better bully, or “bull” as Muggsy calls him. He looks to test out his new skills on the unsuspecting mailman making his rounds who jumps with terror at the approach of the massive mut. Heathcliff watches from his stoop disapprovingly. He decides to get involved, and utilizing the mail carrier’s satchel like a matador does his red curtain, he tricks Spike into crashing into a number of obstacles before finally falling into an open manhole.

rudolf spike

This one wastes little time in getting going.

The mailman thanks Heathcliff and then hands over the mail. It seems both he and his owner, Iggy, have had their letters to Santa returned. I’m not sure what time of year it is as everything looks sunny and lovely, but I guess we can assume it’s sometime close to Christmas. The mailman adds this is the tenth such letter he’s had to deliver today and wonders if Santa has called it quits. Heathcliff wonders the same, but decides he needs to take action. Putting on a parka and some earmuffs, Heathcliff is ready to set off for the North Pole, but he needs a dog sled to get there. He decides to enlist Spike, and when he makes a crack about needing a red nose to pull Heathcliff’s sleigh the orange cat slaps one on him. He then produces a whip, and Spike is forced to go along with this plot.

heathcliff workshop

Santa’s rather bizarre workshop.

Heathcliff and Spike make tremendous time in getting to the North Pole. There they encounter a blizzard and the scene almost immediately shifts to Santa’s workshop. It looks like something designed by Dr. Seuss and inside an assembly line of toys is running. A cranky elf named Tuck seems intent on breaking toys rather than assembling them. An older elf calls him aside and wants to know why some of Santa’s letters were sent back. Tuck basically confesses and he’s proud to do it. He hates Christmas and thinks it’s a sham to get kids to behave all year to receive presents on one day. Well, this attitude has not gone unnoticed as the older elf informs Tuck that Santa has given him the order to let him go. Channeling another elf, Tuck declares he can’t be fired, for he quits, and takes his leave.

heathcliff north pole

Not much of a pole, is it?

Out in the snow, Heathcliff is rather mercilessly whipping Spike to get him to go faster until Spike decides he’s had enough. He stops and declares he won’t move another inch. Heathcliff just looks at him with an expression of bewilderment as he stands on the sleigh, which slowly starts to slide backwards. As it takes off down an incline, Spike gets pulled along with it smashing his head into a giant ice spike sticking up from the ground. Heathcliff declares this ice formation is the actual North Pole (I guess it doesn’t always need to resemble a candy cane) and congratulates Spike for finding it, who is looking a bit shell-shocked.

tuck mallet

This is Tuck and he’s pretty much a murderous asshole.

Tuck has taken notice of the cat and dog duo and decides to make a little mischief. He rolls a giant snowball at the pair which knocks them both out onto some ice. Heathcliff warns Spike the ice won’t hold forever (you’re at the North Pole, Heathcliff, it’s probably pretty safe) as the two slowly crawl back to land. Tuck is apparently intent on murdering them as he starts smashing the ice with a mallet. The ice beneath the pair splits open and Spike is left dancing on a small, floating, chunk while Heathcliff climbs all over him. Tuck then pelts the two with snowballs until they fall in. He tells them to have a nice day and squeezes a bicycle horn he has affixed to his belt for punctuation, I guess that’s his “thing.”

cold spike

Poor Spike is feeling a little chilly. This is actually rather sweet of Heathcliff to lend him his parka.

Heathcliff paddles a frozen Spike back to land and then kindly wraps Spike in his parka (which magically grows in size to fit Spike) and earmuffs before taking off after Tuck. Tuck continues to pelt him with snowballs forcing Heathcliff to build a giant snow fort for protection. Tuck apparently does the same as the two are now behind castle-like fortifications made of snow which of course makes me think of the classic Disney short Donald’s Snow Fight. Heathcliff quickly assembles a seesaw and puts a giant snowball on one end before smacking the other with a mallet he apparently keeps in his back pocket. The snowball smashes into Tuck’s wall forcing the elf to run away in terror as the ball of snow rolls after him.

heathcliff polar bear

Remember kids, icicles will stop a rampaging polar bear.

Heathcliff, satisfied with himself for taking care of the elf, turns when he hears a loud growl. Poor Spike is being set on by a polar bear and Heathcliff dashes off to help his sometimes adversary. Spike is frozen with fear as the bear sniffs him. A scream from Tuck, who’s still being chased by a rolling ball of snow, causes Spike to yell which in turn causes the bear to rise to its hind legs and do the same. As Tuck runs by, the snowball finally gets him and the bear sending the two into a cave. Heathcliff and Spike look on as Tuck screams for help. Reasoning that Santa might be watching, Heathcliff decides to help the elf out by tossing a snowball at the cave entrance causing a bunch of icicles to drop down forming a cage which prevents the polar bear from leaving the cave.

Heathcliff and Spike then approach Tuck who is trying to catch his breath. He thanks them for the help, but Heathcliff is still pretty salty about all of the stuff Tuck tried before the rescue. Tuck apologizes, claiming he’s going through “some stuff” at the moment, before declaring he’ll help them see Santa. Heathcliff and Spike are amazed at the workshop while Tuck acts nonchalantly about the whole thing. The old elf from earlier doesn’t seem surprised to see Tuck return so soon. He remarks it’s a jungle out there, but Tuck corrects him by saying “Actually, it’s a blizzard,” honking that horn again (this guy sucks). Tuck then starts begging for his job back, but the old elf instructs him he’ll have to take his plea to the big boss man and gestures towards a door at the top of some stairs.

heathcliff santa

The big man himself ready to pass judgement on Tuck and our heroes.

The trio enter and find Santa sitting at his desk. He’s a pretty warm and friendly sort of Santa who may or may not be voiced by Peter Cullen. He asks what they want and Tuck asks Heathcliff to explain it for him. Heathcliff holds up the letters and explains they were sent back. Tuck immediately fesses up to sending them back, then starts begging for his job back. Santa is a pretty generous guy and does indeed restore Tuck’s employment. He then thanks Heathcliff and Spike for returning the letters to him. Then he goes into his whole “Have you been good this year?” routine and Heathcliff and Spike both claim that they have. Each time one starts to make that claim, the other stomps on their foot. Santa gives a chuckle seemingly amused by their petty violence and tells them returning the letters essentially undoes whatever bad deeds they committed. He then points out they need a ride home and orders Tuck to saddle-up his team as the duo dance happily about going for a ride on Santa’s sleigh.

shitty reindeer

Maybe the A-Team only flies on Christmas and these are the D-List reindeer.

Santa’s sleigh is apparently to be pulled by two shoddy looking reindeer, with one being blue for some reason. I don’t think it’s Christmas Eve, so I guess that explains why the full team isn’t needed. Before they depart, Santa asks Tuck if he wants to go for a ride too and the little, blue, elf perks up and climbs in excitedly. They whiz past the moon, as is customary, and Heathcliff points out his house to Santa. The town is now covered in snow and Santa deposits the two in the street. As Heathcliff turns to head home, Spike mentions how they’re supposed to be nice to each other and stuff. Heathcliff then gets nailed by a snowball. He turns to find Spike preparing to hurl another in his direction. A halo forms above his head, and quickly falls down around his neck as Heathcliff decides they don’t need to start being nice right away. The two then engage in a snowball fight as the episode comes to an end.

heathcliff moon

I’d be shocked if this shot wasn’t in the episode.

“North Pole Cat” is a fairly run-of-the-mill Christmas special of a pretty run-of-the-mill 80s cartoon. My most enduring memory of this show was the theme song, and with good reason. It’s a catchy little number, and the cartoon that follows is largely unremarkable. The intro promises a character in Heathcliff who plays pranks, but he seems like more of a righteous character in this episode. There are attempts at one-liners, but they all fall flat. It’s also a bit odd the plot is essentially a homicidal elf who hates Christmas tries to kill Heathcliff for no reason, but then is in turn saved by the cat and returns to his old post. Why would Santa employ an attempted murderer? Is it because the life of a dog and cat mean nothing to him? For shame, Santa.

heathcliff sleigh ride

If Heathcliff was really all about playing pranks on everyone then he’d definitely be spitting right now.

Mel Blanc’s performance is actually the best aspect of the show as it’s unique enough amongst his many performances to stand-out. The rest of the voice cast is fine, though like many shows of this era it’s really hard to figure out who is voicing who outside of the main characters. The role of Tuck sounds similar to Charlie Adler, but I could not find any indication that he did work on this show. It’s not unheard of for actors to go uncredited, but usually that stuff is revealed leaving me to believe whoever did the voice for Tuck (as well as the other one-off characters like Santa, the mailman, and head elf) is someone in the main cast. Which, for the record, included Danny Mann, Peter Cullen, Stanley Jones, Ted Zeigler, Derek McGrath, Danny Wells, Donna Christie, Jeannie Elias, and Marilyn Lightstone.

heathcliff snowball fight

The eternal battle rages on.

As a Christmas special, this one doesn’t try to do too much. It has one character in Tuck sort of come to appreciate the spirit of the holiday, but not really. Heathcliff and Spike don’t learn anything and Santa confirms you can undo a year of naughtiness with a single act at the last second. Visually, the look of Santa’s workshop is interesting, but we barely see anything. Santa himself looks fine and so do the elves, except Tuck who’s a bit odd looking. The overall animation is pretty much what you would expect of a DiC program. It’s better than what Hanna-Barbera were doing in the 70s, but not as good as what would follow. Both Spike and Heathcliff have a white rectangle on their nose that’s supposed to create the illusion of a round, shiny, nose, but often has no curve to it and really annoyed me. And the reindeer looked terrible, like malnourished donkeys with horns stapled to their heads.

If you wish to watch this one yourself this holiday season, and I don’t really recommend that you do, the easiest way is to simply plug it into YouTube. Heathcliff is not a bankable star these days so his cartoons are rather easy to find. You can pay for digital copies if you want to, though I don’t know why you would. After receiving sparse, partial, releases on DVD the entire series was released as a set in 2016 by Mill Creek Entertainment. It retails for about 12 bucks brand new so if Heathcliff is your kind of cat then why not get the whole show? Though if you really are into Heathcliff then you probably already own it and disagree with my take on this episode entirely. Either way, merry Christmas!


Dec. 25 – A Jetson Christmas Carol

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Original air date December 13, 1985

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

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The Jetsons first preiered September 23, 1962

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

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In the future, everyone has terribly ugly laser trees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That would be ghost robot number one.

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

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

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

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Simple yet fearsome. I like ghost number three.

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

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Spacely to the rescue!

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

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

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

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Hey! A Flintstones cameo!

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

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

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

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In the end though everyone is pretty happy.

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


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

220px-Movie_poster_who_framed_roger_rabbitNormally, I don’t like doubling-up on posts in a single day on this blog, and ever since last fall Friday has belonged to Batman. Well, I’m breaking my own self-imposed rule today, but it’s for a very good reason. Today is the 30th anniversary of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. On this day in 1988, the then most expensive movie in film history was released to the general public with a lot of buzz and a lot of trepidation. It was a collaborative effort between some of Hollywood’s hottest names; Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Walt Disney Studios. Adapted from the Gary Wolf novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, there was a lot of fear that the movie would be too “out there” for a general audience. So uncertain about how the film was to be received, actress Kathleen Turner, who voiced Jessica Rabbit, declined to be credited for her role in the film. There was some fear this thing would be received about as well as Howard the Duck, a notorious flop at the time, but it ended up being so much more.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the story of a rabbit named Roger (voiced by Charlie Fleischer) who is framed for a murder he did not commit. Aside from the fact that he’s a rabbit, the plot sounds rather pedestrian at face value. What sets the film apart is its world and the world it shares with the “real world.” Roger Rabbit is a toon. He is a literal cartoon character. In the world created by this work of fiction, cartoons are just as real as you and me. They go to work, make cartoons, and go home. The toons behave like golden era cartoons – they’re wacky, prone to accidents, and always on the lookout for a laugh. At one point in the film, Roger is handcuffed and needs to get himself out. He ends up simply removing his hand from the cuff at one point, then putting it back. When his partner, Eddie, notices and gets furious with him for not just doing that to begin with, Roger explains he could only remove his hand when it was funny.

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Bob Hoskins stars alongside Robert as private eye Eddie Valiant.

Roger works for R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) and is a star of Maroon Cartoons. Set in 1947, the film basically takes place during the waning days of the animated cartoon short. He is married to the impossibly attractive Jessica Rabbit, a buxom, hourglass figured toon who more or less resembles a human. The film starts out with Roger stressed out because there are rumors that Jessica has been up to no good with another man. Maroon wants private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to do some digging to help his star out. The problem is, Eddie hates toons, but he loves money more. Eddie takes the job, and finds out that Jessica has actually been playing pat-a-cake with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the owner of Toon Town. When shown the images of his wife playing such a lurid game with another man, Roger goes off the deep end and is plunged into a depression (pat-a-cake is serious business to a toon, apparently). Then things take a dark turn when Marvin Acme turns up dead, and Roger is suspect number 1. Roger proclaims his innocence to Eddie, and Eddie is forced to decide if he wants to help out the incredibly annoying, but likely innocent, Roger or just walk away from the whole thing.

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Even humans are drawn to Jessica Rabbit.

The story unfolds like a classic mystery. You have the gruff detective, the innocent victim, and the femme fatale. Of course, nothing is ever truly what it seems. Shadowing the protagonists is the villainous Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) who too seems to have a hatred for toons. Eddie and Roger are going to have to do some sleuthing, and even take a trip to Toon Town where all of the toons reside, in order to solve this case.

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Roger’s co-star, Baby Herman, is used sparingly, but he’s a scene-stealer.

The story is admittedly fairly simple. The character of Jessica Rabbit is the most intriguing, and not because of her figure, but because she is a femme fatale done well. She possesses an air of mystery and uncertainty, the fact that she is apparently the most attractive toon and is attached to the rather goofy Roger helps to play this up. What truly sets Who Framed Roger Rabbit apart is the presentation. Live actors mix with cartoon ones in truly spectacular ways. We’ve seen this before from Walt Disney with the likes of Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but not on this level. Those films merely feature a few sequences of cartoons and actors co-mingling, where as Who Framed Roger Rabbit is built around that dynamic, and it looks spectacular! When Eddie rides along in the toon cab, Benny, he looks like he’s really riding in it. When he wields a toon gun, it’s convincing. And the world of Toon Town is especially marvelous to look at with its impossible architecture and lavish color scheme. The movie is so visually stimulating that you could watch it in mute and still enjoy it.

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Christopher Lloyd is appropriately sinister as Judge Doom.

Even with the flashy presentation, the film still needed true chemistry between its real-life lead Eddie, and it’s toon co-lead Roger. Hoskins is fantastic at playing the straight-man Eddie. He takes everything seriously and has explosive reactions to all of the nonsense around him, but not in such a manner that would break the film. Helping to make sure he was able to form good chemistry with Roger, voice actor Charlie Fleischer dressed up as the character and would voice it off-camera. Seth McFarlane utilized a similar method when filming the more recent Ted to similar effect. I suppose it’s impossible to say if this truly worked or did not, but the results speak for themselves.

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Eddie and Roger go for a ride in Benny the Cab.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a unique looking film that was impossible to ignore when it was released, but it was still relying on a lead that had never been seen before in Roger. That’s why to help spruce up the film, Spielberg and Zemeckis wanted to make sure that Roger’s world was inhabited by recognizable cartoon characters. That ended up being the film’s strongest selling point as it promised, for the first time ever, that characters from both Disney and Warner Bros. would share scenes together. This leads to the wild team-up between Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo, with some archivable Clarence Nash) and Daffy Duck (Mel Blanc, in one of his last performances) who have a dueling pianos scene where the more outlandish Daffy seems to get on Donald’s nerves more and more as the scene goes on. Mickey Mouse (Wayne Allwine) and Bugs Bunny (Blanc) also get to share a brief scene, which contains an easter egg of Bugs flipping Mickey the bird (apparently, Disney was a bit of a pain to work with concerning how the characters could be portrayed and this was one way for the animators to have a little fun at their expense). Those represent the biggest cameos, but there are many, many more throughout the film from both companies, both major and minor. Part of the fun of watching the film is looking out for them and there’s always a chance that on re-watch you’ll see another you may have missed.

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Toon Town is a rather chaotic place.

There are so many things to pick out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit that it’s way too much for me to cover here. Suffice to say, if you’ve never seen this baby then you owe it to yourself to check it out. Much of the effects still stand up today, and much of the credit is owed to animation director Richard Williams. The toons are two-dimensional, but a lot of effort is made to make sure they look like they’re really inhabiting this world in the manner in which lighting is utilized and how often the camera moves. Working on this film must have been exhausting, but oh so rewarding in the end. Due to the nature of the license rights, the complexity of it shots, and incredible of expense of animating over live-action, a sequel has never truly got off the ground. Author Gary West has returned to the character for his novels, and Disney and Spielberg would probably both love to cash-in on the brand, but there are just too many hurdles to clear. Zemeckis has campaigned for a sequel on multiple occasions, but he’s been less vocal about it in recent years. Additional Maroon Cartoon shorts of Roger Rabbit were produced after the film, but even that was a touchy subject as Spielberg wanted to run them alongside his films while Disney wanted them for theirs. And supposedly Disney wanted to create a television show starring Roger Rabbit for their Disney Afternoon block, but Spielberg who was working on televised cartoons of his own (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, etc) wouldn’t allow Roger to be utilized forcing Disney to create the character Bonkers the Bobcat. Roger has at least been allowed to live on in Disneyland’s Toon Town where he still has a dark ride to this day. Given that Disney has been replacing a lot of older dark rides to make way for more current franchises, one has to wonder if Roger’s days there could be numbered.

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One of the more character-packed shots in the whole film.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is likely one of the most popular and successful films to never get a sequel. It took in around $330M in 1988 dollars, a pretty substantial haul, which more than covered its estimated $50M cost. Its story and presentation are both timeless and also proof that Tex Avery styled humor and gags may never truly go out of style. The rather manic Roger Rabbit can appear off-putting to some, especially younger folks who may not have grown up on Looney Tunes, but apprehensions tend to fade away once the movie really gets going. I’ve introduced this film to a few people that weren’t enthusiastic about giving it a shot, only to see them won over in short order. It’s really one of the best things the Walt Disney Company has ever produced, even if it was released on their Touchstone label. I know it’s a Friday, but if you don’t have plans tonight, you could do a lot worse than settling in on the couch with your favorite snack and beverage for a showing of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


Dec. 15 – Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales

Bugs_Bunny's_Looney_Christmas_TalesOnce upon a time, Bugs Bunny was a big enough star to land numerous television specials. He’s still a recognizable character across the world, but I sometimes feel as if Bugs isn’t as loved as he should be. I can’t recall the last time I saw him standing next to a Warner Bros. logo in front of a film. I just feel like he should be on the same level as Mickey Mouse and Disney does a much better job of promoting their mascot than Warner.

In 1979 Bugs returned to the small screen for a Christmas special. Unlike some other Bugs TV specials, this one wasn’t just a collection of previously released theatrical shorts but a collection of all new shorts with an obvious Christmas theme. It features the most recognizable of Looney Tunes as well as the voice of Mel Blanc. It’s broken up into three acts that are each different shorts:  Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol, Freeze Frame, and The Fright Before Christmas. Fritz Freleng directed the book-end shorts as well as the joining segments while Chuck Jones handles Freeze Frame.

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Our carolers for the evening, no Daffy is pretty disappointing.

The special opens with Bugs leading some other Looney Tunes characters in some carols before we’re whisked away to an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. In this, Bugs is sort of the narrator, but he’s also a part of the story as Fred and Jacob Marley. Yosemite Sam is Scrooge and Porky is Cratchit. Tweety is the Tiny Tim character, though he’s not really essential to the story. Bob asks Scrooge for some coal, which Scrooge denies because he gave him a piece last Tuesday (Disney will kind of steal that line). Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is there to wish his uncle a Merry Christmas with the carolers and notices Bob’s predicament. When Scrooge tosses him out, Fred swipes a piece of coal and gifts it to Bob. Scrooge’s cat, played by Sylvester, sees this and alerts Scrooge who tosses everyone out and fires Bob. Bob thanks Fred, even though he did kind of get him fired, and invites him over to his home for dinner. There he meets the rest of the family and sees how little they have. A knock on the door is from a man with the light company and he comes in and takes the family’s candle. Another knock is from the bank – Scrooge is foreclosing on the mortgage and kicking the family out tonight. That’s one harsh lender.

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You know what they say about a fool and his money.

Bugs takes it upon himself to teach Scrooge-Sam a lesson uttering a popular Looney Tunes line of, “Of course you know, that this means war.” He returns to Scrooge’s house to first annoy him with carolers. Then he throws snow in his hot bath. To really scare him straight though, he dresses up as a ghost and convinces Sam that he’s his deceased former partner Jacob Marley. Rather than run through the usual past, present, and future routine, Bugs is able to just get to the point by threatening Scrooge with eternal damnation. It’s enough and Scrooge heads over to the Cratchit house to set all the wrongs right, though he’s not particularly happy to do it. Once done, it’s revealed to be a sort-of play and Sam assures Bugs he’ll be getting his money back. Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner look on from outside the house, which leads us into the next segment.

The Coyote is busy researching road runners (book title “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Road Runners but were Too Afraid to Ask”) and discovers they love deserts and hate snow. One ACME snow-seeder later and the Coyote is buried under a pile of snow. Every time he tries to use the snow generator it just drops a pile on him, even when he takes shelter in a cliff face it just shoots the snow horizontally. Realizing that’s a dead end, he resorts to the tried and true method of switching two road signs, one pointing to the desert with one pointing to a snow summit. The Road Runner falls for it and ends up on a frozen pond unable to get much traction. The Coyote is ready with a pair of speed skates and calmly skates a circle around the Road Runner intending for the bird to fall through the ice. Of course, the ice under the Coyote drops instead out leaving the Road Runner floating on a circular piece of ice. He runs in place and creates an outboard motor effect to escape the trap.

Screenshot1-2Next the Coyote uses rocket-powered skis to chase the Road Runner while some subtle Christmas music sets the mood. The two become buried in the snow with only their tails exposed. In a repeat from an old Bugs Bunny short, the Road Runner’s tail splits in two when he approaches a tree there-by allowing him to go around the obstacle, while the Coyote possesses no such ability and merely crashes into the tree. He then acquires a dogsled with a team of 12 92lb dogs guaranteed to run-down any road runner. Turns out, the dogs also love coyotes and they maul him. Had he checked the invoice more thoroughly he would have noticed. Next comes what’s probably the Coyote’s worst idea of the short – he rides a rocking horse like a sleigh while wielding a Road-Runner Lasso. All he does is entangle himself in the lasso while the rocking horse plunges off a cliff. It has the misfortune of landing on some train tracks. You know the rest. The Coyote then makes a giant snow ball he intends to crush the Road Runner with. He just ends up getting stuck to it and when it rolls towards a cliff he falls with the snowball close behind. He pops out of the snow looking like Santa Claus and holds up a sign wishing the viewer a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

We go back to the carolers and Bugs is still leading them in song when his nephew shows up to remind him that he owes him a Christmas story. Bugs informs him that he’s going to tell him all about Santa Claus and the night before Christmas. We’re then taken to the North Pole where Santa is speaking offscreen about getting a move on. High above an airplane soars by and the pilots are discussing their cargo – a tasmanian devil. The cargo falls from the plane and Taz ends up landing in Santa’s suit which was hanging out on a clothes line. He ends up in the sleigh (six reindeer, grrrr!) and the reindeer take off.

Clyde_in_Bugs_Bunny's_Looney_Christmas_Tales_02Back in Bugs’ home, or his nephew’s, he’s reading the little bunny A Visit From Saint Nicholas when a sound on the roof causes his nephew to get all excited for Santa. Bugs sends him to bed while Taz jumps down the chimney and lands in the roaring fire below. Bugs cracks some jokes at Taz’s expense, but invites him in for a snack. Taz is eager for food and not only does he devour Bugs’ milk and cookies but the entire table as well. Bugs then reads him his nephew’s Christmas list while Taz sets to eating the decorations on the Christmas tree. Eating the lights cause him to get electrocuted, but it doesn’t seem to bother him too much. Bugs suggests he sit by the fire so he can make him some popcorn, but Taz eats the kernels before Bugs can get the popper and the heat from the fireplace causes them to pop in his stomach. He starts to wreck the place, and Bugs sets up a gift exchange booth and gifts Taz a present – a self-inflating rubber raft (I expected TNT). Taz eats it, and when it inflates he floats away.

Bugs’ nephew Clyde wakes up disappointed that Santa didn’t bring him anything. Bugs assures him everything will be all right and they set out to return Santa’s sleigh. As they soar through the air Bugs wishes us a Merry Christmas. Back from the break, the Looney Tunes are sleighing along and singing carols when Taz decides in to eat their sleigh. That’s basically the end and they must have only tacked on this final segment so Porky can chime in with his signature good bye, only he stammers his way through “Happy Holidays” instead of the usual.

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Mmm, lights.

Bug’s Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales is pretty underwhelming for the old rabbit. A lot of the gags have been done before, and the animation is definitely television quality as opposed to move theater quality. Of the three segments, the middle one, Freeze Frame featuring the Road Runner and Wile E, is probably the best. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but it’s a solid Road Runner short with just a dash of Christmas thrown in. Yosemite Sam as Scrooge makes a lot of sense, but it’s still a tired tactic to adapt A Christmas Carol. At least  the light department gag is probably the best joke in this one and probably the only time I laughed out loud. Tweety is essentially wasted though. And where’s Daffy? Did someone think he and Bugs could not co-exist in the same Christmas special? Is Daffy too big a star to play second banana to Bugs?

Watching this one, I inevitably feel compelled to come back to the Bugs and Mickey comparison. While Mickey was given Mickey’s Christmas Carol, yes a trope to adapt that story but done so well it’s probably my favorite adaptation of it ever, Bugs was gifted this. It’s unfortunate. While it’s true the format of a typical Bugs short doesn’t lend itself to a Christmas tale quite as easily as the more adaptable Mickey Mouse, they still could have done better. Why not have Bugs just wind up in the North Pole and his antics there mess up Santa’s plans or something? We don’t need to make Bugs more wholesome, we just want to laugh and get in a little Christmas cheer at the same time. Oh well.

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Of course Bugs would end up in Santa’s sleigh at some point.

Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales probably won’t be shown on television this year. If it’s shown at all, it would probably be on Boomerang. If you insist on viewing it, you can find it on the fifth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection set of DVDs. They’re sold individually or as a box set with all six volumes and it’s actually really affordable and comes highly recommended by yours truly, even if this special isn’t particularly…special.


Dec. 9 – Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper

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Ugh.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Hanna-Barbera. Well, mostly hate. Their animation is lazy, a lot of their characters (including many in this so-called comedy Christmas special) just aren’t funny, and they were also impossible to ignore because they made so many damn, formulaic, cartoons. At the same time though, I grew up watching re-runs of their older material and even their newer stuff like The Smurfs and The Snorks. For a good portion of my childhood, it seems like every cartoon either ended with the whirling Hanna-Barbera star logo or the DiC moon (and DiC was no better at this game) so there’s a lot of nostalgia there for me.

Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper is certainly a mouthful. Released in 1982, it was Yogi’s second Christmas special following Yogi’s First Christmas, which if you can believe it is actually worse than this one and unbearably long too (oooh, a pun!). As the title suggests, this special is an ensemble affair. Yogi may be the central star, but basically all of the major players (and some of the not so major players) from Hanna-Barbera are going to appear, save for Scooby and the gang. It’s basically all of their animal characters, plus a few cameos, and almost all of the Daws Butler characters. Butler was basically Hanna-Barbera’s Mel Blanc (who coincidentally is also in this special), but less celebrated because his characters are mostly terrible. He did help Nancy Cartwright get her foot in the door though, so at least we have him to thank for Bart Simpson.

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When Yogi’s not on screen everyone should be asking, “Where’s Yogi?”

The special opens with a van full of characters heading to Jellystone Park to celebrate Christmas with their pals Yogi and Boo Boo. They are:  Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Hokey Wolf, Super Snooper, Blabber Mouse, Augie Doggie and his dear old dad too. They drop in on Ranger Smith, who’s content in his little ranger station because Christmas means the park is closed and Yogi is hibernating. As such, he’s not too happy to hear this gaggle of oddly colored animal folk is here to rouse Yogi from his slumber to celebrate Christmas. He has no interest in waking Yogi, but Hokey Wolf (who the heck is this guy?) threatens to call his friend from the Department of the Interior if he doesn’t help them out. Unfortunately for them, they get Yogi’s answering machine and it seems he’s departed with Boo Boo to head for the city to spend Christmas with them there. Oh my!

Yogi and Boo Boo have stowed away on a bus heading to “the big city.” Yogi is quite unsatisfied with the food he’s found amongst the luggage, but soon enough they reach their destination. Ranger Smith has apparently phoned ahead because two animal control officers are waiting and they chase Yogi and Boo Boo into a department store. In a bit of surprising cleverness from Yogi, he makes an announcement over the intercom that two bears are on the loose to create some chaos and aid their escape.

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Yogi and Boo Boo meet Judy, which sets the wheels in motion for this one.

Meanwhile, a young girl named Judy Jones is getting dropped off at the store. Her dad, apparently a wealthy businessman of some kind, is riding in the backseat of a big yellow limo with her and advises her to head into the store and charge a Christmas gift for herself to his account. She asks him to come with, but he’s too busy, and this animation is absolutely terrible as she exits the car. Inside, Yogi and Boo Boo have disguised themselves as Santa Claus and an elf and have infiltrated the Santa training program. As they exit the training room, little Judy takes note and wants a word with Santa Yogi. At this point, her father is already looking for her. Since he just dropped her off, we’re left to assume he’s not a horrible father and saw the huge commotion and decided to come in after her. He gets security involved who begin looking for her.

Yogi is a bit humbled by the girl as she speaks to him as if he’s actually Santa. He says a bunch of nonsense that’s supposed to be funny (it’s not), but does hear her out. She wants a father who will spend time with her at Christmas, which Yogi takes to mean she has no dad. By now security is onto him, and they know he’s not a part of their Santa program, and a chase ensues resulting in Yogi, Boo Boo, and Judy crashing a sleigh into a Christmas tree. Judy reminds us numerous times throughout the chase that she’s having a wonderful time, so I guess the producers worried Yogi kidnapping a little girl would seem kind of dark.

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This looks enjoyable – a picnic in the snow.

Yogi and the gang manage to escape the store, and since it’s a Yogi cartoon, they actually manage to find the one couple in the city looking to have a picnic in the snow. The writers at least acknowledge the ridiculousness of this scenario by having the husband say he always wanted to have a picnic at Christmas time, with his wife not wanting any part of it. Yogi uses his “cunning” to convince them to let him have the picnic on their behalf, and they hand over the picnic basket. Meanwhile, Ranger Smith has arrived in the city and overhears a news report about an imposter Santa kidnapping Judy Jones, the daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest men. The chief of police describes the Santa as resembling a bear, and we find out Yogi is 5’7″ and since he’s as tall or taller than basically everyone else it means this world is inhabited by some very short people. Yogi’s friends have also arrived in the city looking for him, and director Steve Lumley did a terrible job ordering who speaks first so characters that sound almost exactly the same speak one after the other. Plus we get another exchange from Augie and his father – I hate them so much.

Judy enjoys her picnic with Yogi and Boo Boo, and when Yogi comes clean about not being the real Santa, she reveals that she was well aware of that (one thing I’ll give this special credit for is that everyone seems capable of seeing the obvious and is well aware that Yogi is in fact a bear dressed as Santa). Yogi wants to bring Judy home, but can’t get her to tell him where she lives. He tried looking her name up in a phone book, but Jones is too common a name for that to be effective (more surprising logic from this show).

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Well this is kind of unexpected.

Now begins the part of our special where we get inundated with cameos. First, the bus of Yogi’s friends arrive and they knew to look for him in the park. They agree to help him figure out where Judy lives. Snagglepuss sets out on his own and finds Fred and Barney dressed as a couple of Santa’s seeking charitable donations on a street corner. He points out that this is a cameo, and a particularly preposterous one as they’re about 3 million years from home. Fred and Barney play it straight though, and when they can’t help him they tell him to go ask a wealthy looking woman across the street. When Snagglepuss does, the woman freaks out that a lion is approaching her and Fred and Barney tackle Snagglepuss. The woman, thinking she’s just been saved, makes a large donation to Fred and Barney’s effort and they remark that the kids in Bedrock are going to have a pretty fine Christmas party now.

Next we get a quick cameo from Mr. Jinks and the mice Pixie and Dixie when Quick Draw knocks on their door. Their cameo is brief as Mr. Jinks is no help, but the mice give him a Christmas present after the others leave, which just happens to be a massive bull dog. Wally Gator, Magilla Gorilla, and Yakky Doodle are up next as they just drop by the park to say they got nothing. Boy, I’m sure glad they were able to get those guys into this one. The police have spotted the efforts of this animal clan though, and are quietly pursuing them in an effort to “rescue” young Judy.

Mr. Jones is seen alone in his mansion, missing his daughter. He’s apparently coming around to understanding why he’s in a Christmas special as he remarks how big and lonely the house is without her. At the police station, Super Snooper and Blabber Mouse are using their connections to see if they can figure out where Judy lives, only to find out the police are seeking someone who fits the description of Santa and resembles a bear. They race off to warn Yogi, but the cops arrive at the park too quickly. Mr. Jones is there and demanding they arrest Yogi for kidnapping, while he insists he did no such thing and that Judy ran away. When Mr. Jones questions why his daughter would run away when he buys her everything she could possibly want, Yogi points out he doesn’t give her any time. This of course causes him to see the error of his ways and he declines to press charges telling the police it’s all his fault. Judy is delighted to see a change in her father’s attitude, she was already starting to miss him after watching Augie and his dear old dad fawn all over each other, and is ready to give him a full embrace. Yogi and Ranger Smith even share a nice merry Christmas moment, and everyone has a party in the park and sings “Jingle Bells” as this one draws to a merciful conclusion.

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Wait, why doesn’t the rich guy offer to host their party instead of hanging out in the park like a pack of bums?

When I was a kid, this special worked on me. I pitied poor Judy and rooted for Yogi and his friends to help make her father see the light. As an adult, I see it for what it is:  a lazy, thrown together Christmas special designed to get most of Hanna-Barbera’s most recognizable stars in one place. The problem is, their stars aren’t particularly funny or interesting and it sacrifices narrative for cameos. These characters are so damn hack that it drives me nuts. I was a bit surprised at The Flintstones cameo as it was one of the few genuinely amusing moments, not because I have any particular affection for The Flintstones, but because of how Snagglepuss acknowledged how preposterous their cameo was. The animation though is bad, and Daws Butler is stretched too thin as a voice actor. At least there were no annoying musical moments.

If you want to watch this one, and if it isn’t clear at this point it’s not something I recommend, it might air on Boomerang this season at some point. It used to air regularly on Cartoon Network around the holidays, but those days appear to be long gone unless the network does something unexpected. It also used to be easy to find on YouTube, but now it’s behind a paywall there so you can expect YouTube is now actively trying to prevent people from uploading it. The special is readily available on DVD, and for not much money, though anything more than a few bucks is probably too much. If you absolutely insist on watching Yogi this Christmas season, I will reiterate that this is better than Yogi’s First Christmas. That special is structured a bit better narratively, but it has no real hook, isn’t funny, and is about four times as long. This one is at least only about 24 minutes.


Dec. 6 – “Gift Wrapped” starring Tweety Bird

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“Gift Wrapped” (1952)

After yesterday’s rather lengthy write-up, I need something a bit more bite-sized today, so how about a Looney Tunes short? Surprisingly, there really aren’t a lot of Christmas themed Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts out there. Sure there’s a Christmas gag here and there, but usually those are not in cartoons actually taking place on Christmas. Bugs Bunny did have a television Christmas special in the 70s, and Daffy Duck got one decades later, but when it comes to classic shorts the most well known starring a Looney Tunes character is probably “Gift Wrapped.”

“Gift Wrapped” is a Tweety Bird short so naturally it also features Sylvester the cat and Granny. Tweety isn’t one of my favorites as his shorts are almost all interchangeable. Yeah, you could say the same of most of these characters, but his just stuck out the most. In that sense, “Gift Wrapped” isn’t particularly remarkable as a cartoon, but it does take place at Christmas and if you’re only going to watch one Tweety cartoon why not go with the Christmas one?

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If ever your cat eats one of your other pets just give him a firm slap on the butt.

The short opens with a shot of a cozy looking house in the falling snow. A narrator is reciting “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” and Sylvester feels compelled to confirm that there are indeed no mice stirring as he hungrily sits outside a mouse hole. The narration cuts out soon after and it’s Christmas morning. Sylvester comes running down the stairs like a kid all excited to see what Santa brought him. When he unwraps his gift to find a rubber mouse he’s dejected – he wants a real mouse. He soon overhears a small voice singing “Jingle Bells” and notices one of the gifts for Granny is a bird cage with a little yellow canary inside. In a move a little too clever for Sylvester, he re-wraps his gift and switches tags with Granny’s gift.

Granny soon emerges excited for Christmas. She’s a bit puzzled when she opens her gift and finds a rubber mouse, but quickly realizes the tags must have been switched. When she goes to give Sylvester his mouse she finds a contented cat and an empty bird cage, feathers floating in the air. She grabs him and starts smacking him on his rear and out pops Tweety, none too pleased. She dangles some mistletoe over the little bird and tries to get Sylvester to be nice, but it’s a non-starter.

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Yeah, this isn’t going to work. Nice try, Granny.

From here the cartoon becomes a pretty typical Tweety vs Sylvester face-off. Tweety is in his cage and Sylvester is going to try his hardest to get that bird. Sylvester get his hands on the little canary, only to be directed to a Christmas present for him which turns out to be a giant dog. Sylvester tries to use a toy crane to snatch Tweety’s cage, only to accidentally grab Granny instead which earns him a few whacks with a broom. A classic Looney Tunes gag is utilized in which Sylvester cuts a hole in the ceiling to retrieve Tweety’s cage, only for Tweety to hop out and replace himself with a stick of dynamite. The explosion occurs offscreen, and Sylvester quietly lowers the now battered cage back into place before emerging from the ceiling a smoldering wreck. A Sylvester as Native American gag plays out next, only for Tweety to produce a cowboy outfit and pop gun, which wouldn’t you know, ends up firing like a real gun right in Sylvester’s face. Tweety then tries to take a ride on a model train around the Christmas tree, and Sylvester adds additional pieces of track to the train so it drives right in his mouth. The big dog from earlier is waiting though, and once Sylvester eats Tweety the dog eats him forcing Granny to swat the dog until Sylvester pops out, and then do the same to the cat in order to free Tweety.

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Take that, cat!

By now Granny is fed up that none of her pets can get along, especially with it being Christmas! She declares that they will get along and we next see a shot of the three animals from behind as Granny is seated at a piano playing a Christmas tune. The camera eventually circles around and we see over-sized Christmas stamps have been placed over Sylvester and the dog’s mouths while Tweety is free to sing happily. The end!

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It just wouldn’t be a Looney Tunes short if someone didn’t get shot in the face.

As I said, this a pretty straight-forward Tweety cartoon with Sylvester trying different schemes to get the bird, only for Tweety to outsmart him. All the while Tweety is free to break the fourth wall and talk into the camera uttering his typical catch phrases. Granny at least adds a fun dynamic as she gets involved in foiling most of Sylvester’s schemes and the Christmas theme is worked into almost all of the gags in some way. I also appreciate that all of the characters are happy that “Santa came” and no other origin for those gifts is suggested. Lets keep the kids in the dark, right? This is a fun short though, and while I don’t think it measures up to the Disney Christmas shorts from that era it’s still good enough. In the 90s, Cartoon Network could be counted on to play this and other non Looney Tunes Christmas shorts around the holidays, but they basically ditched all of that programming and kicked it on over to Boomerang, which can also no longer be counted on to show these. It used to be readily available on Youtube, but it would seem Warner has cracked down on that practice as I had a hard time finding it there so if you want to watch it I recommend getting the Looney Tunes Golden Collection which has this plus over 300 other cartoons and is usually pretty cheap, like under $40 cheap. There may not be a lot of Christmas cartoons in that set, but how can you go wrong with nearly 400 Looney Tunes cartoons? And you still have time to add it to your list for Santa!


#9 – A Flintstone Christmas

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A Flintstone Christmas (1977)

It may have been considered a slight when I passed over The Flintstones for inclusion in my top ten animated television shows, but maybe a 9th place finish here will take away some of that sting. The modern stone-age family has been around a long time, and while their profile has certainly diminished over the years, The Flintstones are still pretty well known.

Basically every time I have chosen to talk about The Flintstones on this blog it has been related to one of the Christmas specials, and in particular, A Flintstone Christmas. A Flintstone Christmas came after the show stopped airing new episodes and is essentially the episode “Christmas Flintstone” re-done as an hour-long television special (for more on that, check out my review last year of A Flintstone Christmas Carol which also includes “Christmas Flintstone”). It used to be that you could count on seeing the special re-air every year on either Cartoon Network or TBS but that hasn’t been the case of late. So like yesterday’s entrant, A Garfield Christmas, A Flintstone Christmas is in danger of becoming kind of an unknown Christmas special.

The story for A Flintstone Christmas revolves around Fred and Barney filling in for Santa Claus. Fred is supposed to play Santa for his work’s Christmas party, but when the real Santa gets injured on Fred’s roof (sound familiar?) Fred has to put on the Sant suit and fill-in. Barney tags along as Fred’s elf, and the two stumble their way through the night. At one point they lose all the presents and have to head back to the North Pole to get more, but this serves as a way for the show to present Santa’s work shop and his many elves.

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When Santa gets hurt, it’s up to Fred and Barney to make sure Christmas goes on without a hitch.

There’s a few original songs thrown in to liven things up. They’re actually not too bad and it’s kind of nice to not have to hear the same public domain songs over and over. The only one I don’t care for is the overly sappy song that revolves around Pebbles waking up on Christmas morning. Fred (Henry Cordon) has some singing parts that can hardly be labeled as singing, so those songs are kind of lousy as well. All in all though, the music gets the job done.

The animation is pretty standard Hanna-Barbera stuff and doesn’t look all that different from the show. It’s probably slightly better and there’s some very minor visual effects at work in some places. It’s really only noticeably better if you watch this special and then watch an episode of the show. Unfortunately, there aren’t any great dinosaur gags to speak of, which was a major part of the show’s charm. It would have been fun to see some odd dinosaur appliance incorporated into Santa’s work shop, but oh well.

A Flintstone Christmas is kind of hard to come by these days. Since it’s not shown on television anymore, the only way to see it is either online or by purchasing the special on DVD. For some reason, A Flintstone Christmas Carol appears to be the special of choice that gets peddled around each holiday season while A Flintstone Christmas has been relegated to Amazon’s manufacture-on-demand printing service. As a result, the DVD release is as bland as it gets, though it does also include the 90’s special A Flintstone Family Christmas, which actually isn’t that bad. It’s a really fun special though with a premise that would clearly be ripped-off down the road. There’s some laughs and nice Christmas sentiments tossed-in and it never feels overdone. Hopefully A Flintstone Christmas will eventually find its way back to television where it belongs this time of year.

 


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