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Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

After taking a trip to the past with Rocko’s Modern Life during the spring, it seems only fitting that I also take a look at the Rocko’s Modern Life movie from 2019: Static Cling. To be fair, the term “movie” is definitely used loosely when applied to this piece of media. Static Cling was originally conceived by Nickelodeon as a one hour TV special with commercials so the running time is a tidy 45 minutes. It’s basically a double-episode, but considering Rocko’s Modern Life had never had a special before it’s easily the longest story the show ever committed to.

The special was announced in 2016 by Nickelodeon and it rejoins the original cast, alongside series creator Joe Murray, and gives fans a look at what Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), Filburt (Doug Lawrence), and the rest have been up to since. The theme of the special is change as it’s a very metta look at how audiences grapple with the loss of something from their past and seek out nostalgia binges to fill that hole left behind. The special will drive that point home quite literally by having Rocko, who has been lost in space since the events of “Future Schlock,” return to an O-Town that has long since ridden itself of his favorite cartoon: The Fatheads. Rocko is forced to confront this new O-Town and adapt to a new modern without his binky and he finds it impossible. Conversely, he has to watch his two best friends adapt just fine as Heffer and Filburt become immediately enchanted by modern technology. A clerical error by neighbor Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler), whose life has apparently been bliss since Rocko and his friends were blasted off into space, causes the mega-corporation, Conglom-O, to lose all of its paper value thus plunging all of O-Town (since Conglom-O owns everything) into a depression. Rocko is able to convince the head at Conglom-O, Mr. Dupette (Adler), that a way to help the company out would be to produce a new Fatheads TV Special. The only problem is that series creator Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) hasn’t been seen or heard from in years.

Alternatively known as Static Cling: The Rocko Special.

The early bits of the special unfold in a predictable, but still entertaining, manner. Rocko and the gang are shown adjusting to modern life and the classic opening segment from the TV show is even redone with modern technology now harassing Rocko. There’s also a nice bit of the boys taking in a gritty reboot of Really Really Big Man that’s an obvious parody of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Even though the special is basically mocking those who have been begging for this show to return for the last 20 years, there’s still a ton of fan service throughout as basically every character of note returns for a cameo, at the very least.

Some of the jokes the special makes are rather easy, but they’re also the type of jokes that pretty much have to be made.

Static Cling was commissioned as a Nickelodeon TV Special initially, but the network wound up passing on it and selling the rights to Netflix. This caused a rather significant delay in getting the special in front of fans. Nickelodeon never offered up a reason why it chose to option the special to Netflix, but many speculate it has to do with the character formerly known as Ralph Bighead. A major plot device in the special is that when Rocko eventually finds Ralph, he finds that Ralph no longer identifies as male and has taken the name Rachel instead. The reaction of Rocko and his friends, and basically everyone in town, is very positive as they basically congratulate Rachel and that’s that. Rachel’s father, Ed, is the only one who has an issue with it resurrecting his line “I have no son!” from the Season Two premiere. Nickelodeon was reportedly supportive of the idea to add a transgender character, and it certainly fits the theme of change, but it’s not the best look for the network that it chose to pass on airing this. Maybe the network found it could make more by selling the distribution rights to Netflix, but how much would the pay-out have been affected if Nickelodeon chose to premiere it on its own network and then pass it off to Netflix? Probably not a lot and it’s a shame it didn’t see this as an opportunity to make a positive social statement.

The re-done opening credits gag will likely be a favorite part for many fans.

The look and sound of Static Cling is quite similar to what fans remember from the show, but also a bit different. Cartoons just aren’t made in the same manner they were back in the 90s so Static Cling doesn’t necessarily look like a 90s cartoon. It’s obviously all digital and a bit more “clean” to look at. Some of that Rocko’s Modern Life grime has been lost and this is overall a far less gross version of the show than viewers are used to. Not that Rocko’s Modern Life needed to be gross in order to be funny. The only big change I felt a bit jarring is that Rocko’s fur is a deeper shade of beige than it was before. As mentioned before, basically all of the cast returned to voice the main characters and the side ones as well. Pretty much all of them still sound the same, though Tom Kenny’s Heffer is a bit higher and is the most notable difference.

The Chokey Chicken has undergone a makeover.

Rocko’s Modern Life was able to garner itself a reputation for adult humor during its life as it sometimes found itself censored after airing. Fans hoping for something as titillating as “Leap Frogs” or the infamous moo-milker gag might be a little let down by Static Cling. The Chokey Chicken does get to have its original name restored (it’s mascot has also been slimmed down as it’s become health conscious in this new modern setting) and Really Really Big Man’s magic nipples get some screen time as well. The only borderline lewdness I picked up on was just an emphasis on Mrs. Bighead’s ample bosom. There’s a scene where a fence divides her and Rocko and her breasts hang over it right in Rocko’s face, though he doesn’t seem to notice. She even reaches into her cleavage to pull out an object, though that’s the kind of gag I feel like the original show could have got away with anyway (and maybe did).

Static Cling does an excellent job of giving these characters a reason to exist in the 2010s. The foundation is solid, though I found the last fifteen minutes or so started to drag for me. A lot of the best humor and gags occur early in the special and it doesn’t help that the Rachel Bighead plot feels very similar to Ralph’s debut in “I Have No Son.” It was both disappointing and predictable to see Ed Bighead serves as the conflict once again for Rachel and the character just re-learns the lesson he had already learned back in that old episode. Maybe it could have been more interesting if the opposite had occurred and it was Bev Bighead that took issue with Rachel? Anything to make it feel less redundant would have likely helped, though maybe it didn’t feel redundant to someone who hasn’t seen that episode in 20 years.

It shouldn’t be glossed over that the inclusion of Rachel is a pretty eventful change, and one that should be celebrated.

Ultimately, Static Cling does have something to say and it’s a worthwhile message. It’s examination of modern fandom and nostalgia is pretty on point, and the overall message that change is necessary is a statement worth saying. The fact that it also contains a positive portrayal of a transgender character is also great as that’s a minority that is still under-represented. It never stoops to cheap trans jokes too, which is a plus, as the production did seek input from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) during production. It’s also hard not to enjoy Static Cling for the reason it seems to not want the viewer to enjoy it for and that’s just the pure nostalgia trip one gets from interacting with these characters once again. I have no doubt that because of it’s approach to comically infuse cartoon characters into a modern society that Rocko’s Modern Life could make a full comeback and be just as funny in 2020 as it was in 1995. It’s perhaps the cartoon from that era that has aged the best. It doesn’t seem like Joe Murray is interested in a full-blown comeback, but at least we got a little taste of what life would be like for Rocko in the 2010s.


Dragon Quest: Your Story

dq your storyIn the 1980s, game designer Yuji Horii set out to create a role-playing experience similar to a pen and paper RPG for a video game console. The goal was to blend elements of those experiences with statistical and complex Western PC games like Wizardry and Ultima as the back bone. In order to make it appeal to a Japanese audience, he wanted to infuse it with what he had learned working with manga and add character and story to the equation. The end result of that was Dragon Quest, known for a time as Dragon Warrior in the West. In creating Dragon Quest, Horii gave birth to the genre we know and love as the Japanese Role-Playing Game, or JRPG for short.

Dragon Quest was a cultural phenomenon in Japan when it arrived for the Famicom game system in 1986. Three sequels would follow and all would be brought to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West. The series never caught on outside of Japan, and the series skipped the Super Nintendo all-together and didn’t return to a global release until Dragon Quest VII on the PlayStation. The series was the flagship title for game developer Enix, who would eventually be acquired by Squaresoft who had found great success with its Dragon Quest clone:  Final Fantasy. Those two franchises have come to define the JRPG genre and are still to this day looked to as being the trend-setter for the genre, which has admittedly sailed past its hey-day.

No matter, for Dragon Quest still has a dedicated and loyal following. And while the somewhat recently released Dragon Quest XI has taken it in a more modern direction, it still seems that the favorite game of the series amongst the fanbase is Dragon Quest V, also known as Dragon Quest V:  Hand of the Heavenly Bride.

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Dragon Quest: Your Story is based on Dragon Quest V which is easily the most beloved entry in the long-running series.

Dragon Quest V, released in 1992 and eventually in North America in 2009, was the first game in the series released on the Super Famicom and also the first to skip North America initially. Like basically every game in the series, the player controls a silent protagonist that they’re allowed to bestow a name upon. They journey with that player on a lengthy quest partaking in turn-based battles that result from random encounters on both a world map or a dungeon sequence. Where Dragon Quest V seems to really distinguish itself though is in the scope of the journey and subversion of expectations. During the course of the game, the player will be faced with a choice of whom to take as a bride and that marriage will result in the birth of twins who eventually join your party as playable characters. There’s also a monster collecting element at play that undoubtedly influenced the Pokémon series in which after defeating a monster some will randomly request to join your party becoming playable as well. The game ends up following the hero from child to adult and players seemed to really enjoy that aspect of the experience as it breads attachment. It’s actually surprising more games haven’t attempted the same.

To celebrate the franchise, Dragon Quest:  Your Story was conceived and released in Japan in 2019. It has just now become available on Netflix outside of Japan. The film adapts Dragon Quest V for the big screen with a CG adventure that takes the viewer through the events of the game basically from start to finish. The film is written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki with additional directing credits going to Ryuichi Yagi and Makoto Hanafusa. Shirogumi Inc was chosen to handle the animation with additional effects done by Robot Communications.

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The film opted to go with CG in place of two-dimensional, hand-drawn, animation.

Fans of Dragon Quest V seemed elated at the thought of the game becoming a feature-length film. Animation is definitely the way to go, though I wonder if many were disappointed to find out it would be a CG animated feature and not a more traditional two-dimensional anime. By including the tagline “Your Story,” it seems the film is also aiming to replicate the RPG experience each player goes through, even if it means this time around the hero needs a name.

Like the video game it is based on, Dragon Quest:  Your Story tells the tale of a hero named Luca (Yuri Lowenthal) who at a young age loses his mother to monsters. Together with his father Pankraz (Parker Simmons), Luca embarks on a mission to retrieve the fabled Zenithian Blade in the hopes that it will help them free their beloved. The blade can only be wielded by the Heavenly Hero, whom Pankraz believes to be his son. Along the way, Pankraz will meet his end forcing Luca to go it alone. Only, he’s not alone and will soon be joined by a sabre cat cub and a curious slime. He has allies in the young prince Harry (Zeno Robinson), scrappy Bianca (Stephanie Sheh) and magical Nera (Xanthe Huynh).

dq slime

Yes, we have a slime in this one.

Adapting a roughly 25 hour game to a 103 minute film is certainly a daunting task. Much of those hours in the game are spent grinding away through dungeons and such, but even stripping those away still leaves a lot of ground to cover. As a result, the film can’t really attempt at introducing everything the game throws at the player and basically boils it all down to a few key bullet points. There’s also a liberal dose of montage at work making this film really only accessible for those who played the game. To those who did not it will feel more like an animated summary with no room to breath or to form actual attachments to the characters presented here. This format might actually make it more accessible for younger kids with short attention spans, but older viewers with no familiarity with the brand will probably tune out.

The visuals for the film hold up quite well throughout. Series artist Akira Toriyama was not on-hand for the development of this film, but it’s clear his original art was referenced for the film’s visuals. The sabre cat in particular has a very Toriyama-like appearance as do others. Where the visuals suffer is in the dubbing. Either a direct translation was insisted upon for the English dub or there just wasn’t much attention paid to it because the mouth flaps of the characters rarely sync up naturally. It’s distracting, but this is a film that isn’t exactly dialogue heavy so it’s not as killer as it could have been. There are subtitled options available, and if you’re not averse to reading them it might be the better way to go. Much of the film’s music and sounds were lifted directly from the game, but updated with an actual orchestra where appropriate. It makes the film feel incredibly authentic in its presentation.

Where the film has garnered controversy though lies in its aim. Much of the film up until the climactic battle with the monstrous Bishop Ladja feels like a love letter to Dragon Quest V, but that’s ultimately not the film’s intention. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is aiming a bit higher. It wants to be a celebration of Dragon Quest itself and not just a particular game. Dragon Quest V is merely the chosen vehicle for that delivery. The end contains a twist that is rather high concept. I don’t wish to spoil it, but even if the idea sounded great on paper the execution is a bit awkward. It definitely torpedoes the excitement of the climax adding a layer of complexity onto a story that, up until that point, was anything but.

bianca

Bianca was probably my favorite aspect of the film, though given the rapid-pace of the film she ends up not being featured all that much.

As someone who does not have any particular attachment to Dragon Quest or Dragon Quest V, I can say that the ending did not anger me, though I certainly wasn’t satisfied either. I have played Dragon Quest V, so I was familiar with the story going into this and could follow the film. The ending to the game is possibly the least interesting aspect of it, so changing things up doesn’t bother me on the surface. The execution here is just clumsy, and some of the elements of the ending might have served the film better had they been introduced from the start. This isn’t the type of story that needs or wants a big twist. It doesn’t have enough depth to pull the viewer in and then reap the reward of dumping them on their head. For those unfamiliar with the game, it just feels like a noisy, dumb, fantasy picture that commands little attention. For those who love the source material, they just want to see it to its conclusion likely enjoying the ride well enough while knowing it’s incomplete and only scratches the surface. The film basically spends 90 minutes making fans of the game happy, then the last ten angry.

dragon-quest-your-story-smoke

Dragon Quest fan groups reacting to the ending.

As a result, Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a film that doesn’t really please anybody. Newcomers will likely find it dry, while longtime fans will be angry with the ending. I suppose Dragon Quest fans that aren’t that enamored with Dragon Quest V might be able to better appreciate what the film was striving for, but I have yet to meet a fan that fits that definition. For me, a casual player of Dragon Quest, I got very little out of this one. The visuals and music are mostly nice, even if I would have preferred a more traditional anime look. The action pieces are dull and the pace of the film is far too quick for any of the emotional beats to land with much impact. I found Luca charming and Bianca especially was charismatic, though she is in maybe 10 minutes of the film as a functioning character, when all is said and done. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a flawed and ultimately disposable piece of entertainment. It’s ending will give fans something to talk about, which unfortunately is likely to become the film’s legacy rather than as a celebration of a beloved franchise.


Dec. 22 – BoJack Horseman Christmas Special – “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”

BoJack-Horseman-Christmas-Special

Original release date December 19, 2014.

Netflix has officially arrived! For the first time we are doing a Netflix-only Christmas Special at The Christmas Spot. I know the streaming company has been waiting patiently for such an honor, and I would like to thank them for the “Christmas Bonus” they sent my way to get this up.

Netflix has changed the way we consume content. While television once operated on a weekly schedule in seasonal formats now it basically arrives like an avalanche at all times of year. Netflix was first just in the business of loaning out DVDs by mail to consumers providing a new way to rent movies as opposed to heading out to Blockbuster or whatever local rental place may have been nearby. Now Netflix is a content producer and it unleashes it all upon viewers via its on demand streaming network. If the mark of a true success is imitation, then Netflix is one of the greatest success stories engineered by humanity since streaming services keep popping up like weeds all around. And for the most part, all of them resemble Netflix with little deviation. The only one to really start doing anything different is Disney+ which is trying to bring back the weekly release schedule. So far so good for Disney, but it will be interesting if consumers demand that Disney give into “The Binge” and force a change.

One of Netflix’s earliest success stories in the field of animation is BoJack Horseman. The show was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and stars Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul with both Arnett and Paul also receiving Executive Producer credits as well. The show takes place in a fictional version of the US in which humans live alongside human-animal hybrids. The show almost never explicitly draws attention to that fact as character’s just accept everything at face value and the various different species all seem to interbreed, though there aren’t any weird hybrids that I’ve noticed. The main character is BoJack Horseman, a former actor who starred in a Full House styled sitcom in the late 80s/early 90s in which he played the lead role of the Horse who took in three orphans. Titled Horsin’ Around, it’s understood the show was terrible, but it’s BoJack’s only claim to fame and even though it made him fabulously wealthy he’s really depressed over the fact that it’s all anyone will ever know him for.

The show recently released the first half of what will be its sixth and final season. Most Netflix shows rarely reach a sixth season so it’s not a surprise the show is set to wrap-up soon, but it comes with some bad timing since the employees at production company Tornante Television recently voted in favor of unionizing. Almost immediately, another Tornante program was cancelled by Netflix and with BoJack set to end in January it’s possible Netflix will distance itself from Tornante, which is a real shame. While the shows are a bit ugly, they’re quite smart and the minimalist animation works for the material since this is more of a sitcom styled show as opposed to some wacky, animated, adventure.

todd_is_here

“Joy to the world, Todd is here. He drank up all your beer!”

One thing I do enjoy about Netflix is its propensity for Christmas Specials. It seems like every Netflix original has a Christmas Special so when a show doesn’t it’s actually surprising (looking at you Disenchantment). BoJack Horseman is no exception as the show’s Christmas Special arrived not long after season one in the form of BoJack’s Christmas Special – “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish.” The character of Sabrina refers to a character from Horsin’ Around played by the fictional actress Sarah Lynn. This episode is basically just BoJack and his house guest Todd watching a Christmas themed episode of Horsin’ Around for their amusement, and because the two have no one else to spend Christmas with.

The episode begins with BoJack (Will Arnett) being rudely woken up by Todd (Aaron Paul) who has burst into his room singing Christmas carols while wielding a giant candy cane. He also boasts, as part of his song, that he’s pretty loaded and BoJack is quite grumpy about being woken up. He doesn’t care that it’s Christmas, and mostly just wants Todd to leave. He informs Todd he didn’t get him anything, but that’s no problem as Todd reveals he used BoJack’s credit card to buy himself a new hat for Christmas, which looks exactly like his old hat.

todd_bojack

Todd is eager to watch some bad TV with his buddy BoJack.

Todd then brings up the subject of watching a Christmas edition of Horsin’ Around as a way to celebrate the holiday. BoJack, who normally never turns down an invitation to watch Horsin’ Around, isn’t onboard as he states Christmas Specials are just manipulative pieces of trash that aren’t worth watching. Todd insists that this is the best way to spend the holiday and eventually BoJack relents. They both sit on the edge of BoJack’s bed as Todd inserts the DVD into the player to get things started.

We’re then treated to the entire opening credits of Horsin’ Around. It’s at this point I realize this episode of BoJack Horseman is probably going to largely be an episode of Horsin’ Around. After the cleverly cheesy credits finish, the sitcom begins with the Horse sitting down for breakfast. His oldest daughter, Olivia (Alison Brie), is making breakfast while son Ethan (Adam Conover) reads the newspaper. We soon learn this behavior is out of character for Olivia as BoJack’s character points it out. Anytime a bad joke is uttered there’s an over-the-top laugh track from a “live studio audience” to really make this feel like an 80s sitcom. Olivia is angling for a leather jacket for Christmas so she looks cool on some dude’s motorcycle. Ethan, by comparison, points out he sees no need for fashionable attire and would prefer some functional, warm, socks. He’s supposed to be a nerdy character with a dash of Michael J. Fox’s Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.

horsin_around

The cast of Horsin’ Around (left to right): Olivia, the Horse, Sabrina, and Ethan.

Sabrina (Kristen Schaal) soon enters and the Horse sees her as a vessel for some holiday cheer since she’s the youngest of the three orphans. BoJack explains Christmas and the concept of Santa to the girl who has no concept of anything, which is laughable even for an orphan, but the show plays it straight. Sabrina is the sassy young girl character, basically Michelle from Full House, and she’s armed with a catchphrase that she gets to use twice in one scene – “That’s too much, man!” It’s actually a clever little piece of writing as she first uses it as a catch phrase then repeats it when she finds out Santa is always watching. One guy in the “studio audience” really seems to like it. Ethan then tries out his catchphrase, “Yowza-yowza-bo-bowsa!” to no reaction from the other characters or the studio audience. The Horse then tells the kids their Christmas will be a thousand times better than the ones they’ve had before. Since they’ve never had a Christmas, Ethan points out a thousand times zero is still zero prompting the Horse to deliver a playful noogie while imitating an Italian mob boss, a joke the show will return to.

We then shift settings with the Horse going to work. He apparently works at a law firm and as he approaches the secretary, Tracy (Nicole Sullivan), the two exchange some playful flirting that takes a bit of a creepy turn when the Horse makes a comment about his underwear. The Horse is trying to get ahead on work stuff with his boss, Mr. Liberatore (Stanley Tucci), so he doesn’t have to work on Christmas. He then starts speaking ill of his boss to Tracy as she makes gestures trying to quiet him. When he realizes what’s going on he says “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” but he’s actually not, rather he’s been on speaker the whole time and heard everything. He’s not too upset though and informs the Horse a Mr. Goldstein is coming in on Christmas and if Horse wants to make partner he needs to show that kind of initiative. When the Horse points out that Goldstein is Jewish, Mr. Liberatore reacts with surprise and then remarks under his breath that the boys at the country club won’t like that. He then tells the Horse he can spend Christmas morning with his kids, but he expects him to come to work that afternoon. As the call ends, the Horse hangs his head in despair.

goober

Get that Goober out of here, man!

Back at the house, Olivia and Ethan are reading magazines on the couch. When Olivia remarks that it’s too quiet, and Ethan agrees, that’s the cue for the wacky neighbor character to come bursting in unannounced. He’s known as the Goober (Fred Savage), and he’s essentially a male version of Kimmy from Full House who also has a crush on Olivia, so I guess that makes him a bit like Urkel too. He’s dressed as Santa and he tells the kids the Horse invited him over to help make Sabrina’s Christmas a magical one. When Horse and Sabrina enter, she sniffs out the disguise immediately and quite literally since he apparently wears a very fragrant cologne.

Todd interjects with an “Oh, Goober,” which earns him the ire of BoJack who appears to be getting into this episode of Horsin’ Around. When Todd points out as much, BoJack gets defensive and asks why they’re doing this again. Todd remarks that it’s tradition to watch bad TV at Christmas, and when BoJack disagrees Todd states “Things don’t become traditions because they’re good, BoJack, they become good because they’re traditions.” BoJack points out you can’t sound smart just by repeating things backwards, but Todd uses the same technique in response which further frustrates BoJack. Todd then changes the subject by saying he can’t believe Groober went and molested a bunch of Laker girls. BoJack, who is quite protective of his former show, gets upset and points out that Goober did no such thing, the actor who played Goober did those horrible things. BoJack then takes a swig from his flask as Todd points out this is nice. He disagrees and tells him to shut up and resumes Horsin’ Around.

Goober drops the act and goes with the old line that he actually works for Santa and can put in a good word. Sabrina has the whole gift thing explained to her again, and she starts asking for mundane items. The Horse really wants her to aim big though, so she does by asking Santa to return her dead parents to her for Christmas. Cue the sad music and dejected postures. Todd then tells BoJack he’s a really good actor which just annoys BoJack. This somehow leads to an argument about Die Hard and how John McClane’s cop helper (played by Reginald VelJohnson) was the cop from Family Matters, according to Todd. BoJack explains it was just the same actor and the cop characters are from different cities. Todd counters with Witness Protection and BoJack just screams into his pillow in frustration.

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How do you tell a kid who is acting perfectly they’re not getting what they want for Christmas?

Back on TV, the Horse can’t believe he has to work on Christmas and he ends up demonstrating some dance moves for Olivia in the kitchen. Sabrina then enters after shoveling the walk and we see she’s doing her best to be extra good so Santa will get her what she wants for Christmas. The Horse tries to explain how the Santa thing works, but Sabrina doesn’t get it and still clings to the notion that Santa can return her parents. When she leaves, the Horse voices his concerns to Ethan and Olivia as he tries to figure out a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve him telling Sabrina that Santa isn’t real. When Olivia asks if they’re sure Santa can’t raise the dead, Ethan has the line of the show, “On Dancer, on Prancer, on Necromancer.”

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You don’t! You just trick them into being bad so they experience the horrible guilt for an entire year!

The subject of tricking Sabrina into doing something naughty so that Santa doesn’t bring her anything is then raised by Olivia, but the Horse insists he can’t play such a trick on her. As he repeats himself over and over we eventually cut to Sabrina watching over a plate of cookies. The Horse explains they’re for Santa and needs her to guard them. He leaves her alone and then he and the other two watch from behind the door as Sabrina resists the temptation to eat the cookies. Olivia scolds the Horse for not leaving some milk as no one wants to eat cookies without milk!

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Sabrina doesn’t look too happy with her gift.

Christmas morning arrives and Ethan is quite happy to receive sensible winter socks. Olivia excitedly opens her gift and the Horse teases she’ll need it for when she rides on that motorcycle, only she opens the box to find a helmet. Sabrina opens her gift and finds a playset she had initially asked for before she was provoked into thinking bigger. She’s disappointed, and as it looks like she’s about to cry that smart ass Ethan chimes in with a “And cue the water works in thirty, twenty-nine…” prompting BoJack to hit the fast forward button on the remote. When Ethan’s absurdly long countdown is concluded, Sabrina discovers a letter on the tree that’s apparently intended for her. She somehow knows that, but then reveals she can’t read! She hands the letter to the Horse who reads it aloud for her. It’s a letter from her parents in Heaven, and they’re sorry they can’t be there, but they love her and all of that stuff. This only makes things worse as Sabrina gets angry and reminds everyone she wanted her parents, not a letter. She then tells everyone she hates Santa, and Christmas, and a bunch of other stuff as she storms off to her room.

The Horse enters Sabrina’s room for the big talk. You know, that contrivance that ended basically every episode of Full House. It progresses like the usual sappy talk but then takes an odd turn when the Horse admits that Santa is made up after he becomes frustrated with Sabrina’s misunderstanding of the whole scheme. He tells Sabrina that Santa comes from good intentions, but since he’s fake he can’t bring her parents back. Sabrina takes it all in stride, and really she should since a few days ago she had apparently never heard of this Santa fellow. Then the conversation takes a dark turn. As the Horse explains how he never expected to be in this situation, but wants to express that he’s happy he ended up this way, he basically says he’s glad her parents are dead. Sabrina then shockingly agrees, and the two hug it out. The Horse then gives her a present from him, some pencils with her name on them which was her initial gift request. She reveals in the moment that she can’t even read her own name, which is rather sad since my three-year old can pull that off. Sabrina then heads back downstairs, but before the Horse follows he calls his boss to tell him he won’t be coming in at all today. Mr. Liberatore is proud of the guts the Horse displayed in calling him and gives him a promotion to partner in return because it’s Christmas! He also says Goldstein can work somewhere else if he wants to work on Christmas prompting the excitable member of the studio audience to scream, “Fire that Jew!”

horsin_around_endBack downstairs, Sabrina is happily playing with her new pony toy and her pencils. Olivia asks the Horse how he got her to come back down and he returns to the Italian mob boss voice and says he “Made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.” They have a laugh and Ethan tries his catchphrase again. He once again gets no reaction from the studio audience, while the actors look embarrassed for him. Olivia then compliments the Horse on his idea for writing a letter from Sabrina’s parents. He tells her he didn’t do it while she and Ethan deny responsibility. The camera then pans to the star tree topper and we hear a “Ho ho ho!” as the episode within the episode ends.

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That’s a lot of beer for a half hour show.

Todd then expresses confusion to BoJack about who wrote the letter. He points out the laughter at the end suggests Santa wrote it which further confuses Todd as he asks if Santa is real in this fictitious world. BoJack then gets frustrated and says they were all on cocaine when they made the show. BoJack then says he can’t believe he wasted nine years of his life on that show. Todd tries to cheer him up and points out two episodes in particular in which Sabrina befriended a black person and Ethan learned a valuable lesson about not staring directly into a solar eclipse. He then says he liked spending part of his Christmas with BoJack and wishes him a Merry Christmas. He gets up to leave when BoJack points out there are eight other Christmas episode of Horsin’ Around. He somewhat shyly asks Todd if he wants to watch more. Todd finishes off his giant candy cane and then pulls out another as he’s eager to watch more. They climb into bed to and Todd then asks if they can do other Christmas things and lists them off:  get a tree, make snow angels, drink eggnog, etc. BoJack says no to everything except drinking bourbon as the credits hit.

No one would watch an episode of Full House and call it a well-written show. However, there is an artform to writing intentionally bad scripts with sincerity. That’s why this episode of BoJack Horseman ultimately works. Horsin’ Around comes across with an authentic earnestness that makes it believable as a corny sitcom. The bad jokes are ironically funny and the character archetypes are well-executed parodies to the point where they feel natural. The only joke within the joke I felt got old was the one audience member who would shout out the obvious. That part felt like a Family Guy gag, but I’ll admit he got me with his “Fire the Jew!” remark so I guess he proved his worth in the end.

And speaking of the end, that final conversation between the Horse and Sabrina helped make the episode. Seeing the two stumble into a conversation that included the phrase “I’m glad your parents are dead and never coming back,” is well-executed dark humor. They play it so straight leading up to that point and after that it works as a piece of shock humor without feeling cheap. It helps that Todd and BoJack, who interject little comments all episode, don’t even react to it and draw attention to it further selling the show’s attempted sincerity by implying that its audience is totally accepting of it.

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The ending with Todd and BoJack ready for more is surprisingly sweet.

The Todd and BoJack dynamic from season one is on full display here. It’s a pairing that worked really well in the show that is sadly no longer really a part of the later seasons. Todd annoys BoJack and appears to be a leach since he just lives in BoJack’s house rent free. The relationship is more like the other way around though as BoJack needs Todd around to hide from his own demons and provide a distraction. It gives him an easy target too as he can blame some things on Todd rather than himself. During the episode Todd’s candy cane gets progressively smaller while beer cans pile up around BoJack. It’s a nice piece of visual comedy and there is some genuine sweetness to the episode’s end with both characters eager to watch more Christmas specials.

Since this show is basically a dark comedy, there aren’t many genuine Christmas feels to find and exploit. Horsin’ Around is almost so effective at evoking bad sitcoms that it almost pulls off a sappy Christmas vibe, but that ending turns it upside down. We never get a glimpse of Santa besides Goober and there’s just a little holiday decorating going on in Horsin’ Around. The scenes in BoJack’s bedroom contain little or no Christmas flair, aside from Todd’s candy cane, so this isn’t the sort of special you turn to expecting something sugary. It does provide some laughs, but not really laugh out loud moments. If you’re the sort of person that prefers Bad Santa to It’s a Wonderful Life then this is probably for you.

If you want to catch the BoJack Horseman Christmas Special then your best and most convenient option is Netflix. The show was also made available on DVD and Blu Ray so you have that option as well. Comedy Central did show the first season and I am unsure if they have the rights to the Christmas episode. It doesn’t hurt to look I suppose and if I come across it I’ll update this post. The show as a whole is worth exploring so I do recommend this episode. It basically exists outside the show’s usual continuity and I think it’s more rewarding for those who have at least watched the first season, but there’s enough good character work here that I think you could just drop in and enjoy it as well. It’s not for everyone though.

 

 

 


24 Hours of Disney+

disney+_welcome.jpgIt’s a bit funny to me what we get excited for in our modern era. If you had told me when I was a kid that people would be geeking out over new phones, subscriptions, and chicken sandwiches I probably would have wanted time to slow down even more than I already did. That’s where we are though and on November 12, 2019 the world paused for Disney+, the first dedicated streaming service from the massively popular (and just plain massive) Walt Disney Corporation.

We’re now well into the streaming era for entertainment consumption. The old days of Netflix sending a DVD in the mail feels like the stone age by comparison. Netflix helped push us into this new frontier, with an assist from rapidly rising cable costs and a government-sanctioned monopoly, and the concept of chord-cutting is no longer a radical one as more and more streaming platforms keep coming. Netflix was initially just a means to an end as it licensed content people wanted and then delivered it to them. It’s no surprise that the content producers were taking notice and weighing the pros and cons of licensing out its media to a third party versus just creating the infrastructure to deliver it themselves. Netflix was quick to notice as it got into the content producing business and now has a whole bunch of shows and movies under its umbrella as it battles with other providers for non-Netflix content. Meanwhile, the biggest media creators are striking out on their own.

Disney is no stranger to production and delivery. Gamers will recall when Disney decided to stop licensing its characters for video games instead taking things in-house to create its own product. Eventually, game production grew too costly and Disney shuttered its studios to go back to licensing. With a streaming platform, costs are more fixed and Disney can charge whatever it wants to consumers. Some might question why Disney decided to create Disney+ since it already had a controlling stake in Hulu, but it’s all about branding. Disney+ is now the home for all things Disney. Those 20th Century Fox productions not named Star Wars can go to Hulu. Oh, and don’t forget they also own ESPN which has its own streaming platform as well. Yeah, there really are a lot of options out there now.

Since this is hardly uncharted territory, consumers have expectations of what a streaming platform should look like and how it should function. Disney was able to basically just do what Netflix did before it and give it a new coat of paint. Disney+ is a very boring interface, though hardly ugly, as it just lays everything in front of the user in a familiar form. Users can browse by genre, media type, character, brand, and so on. Everything is accompanied by a thumbnail image and a larger splash image meant to attract eyes. There are trailers for some films and new series and a summary of the program as well.

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Disney+ means access to classic movies and new shows, but it also means some older shows that never got the DVD treatment are finally viewable in their entirety.

Even though this is all well-trod territory, Disney+ still has a few odd quirks or missing features. For one, it’s not obvious what the runtime is for anything you’re looking at or considering. It’s not a big deal for old television shows which are fairly standard, but I had no idea how long any of the new programs were or some films. I had to start them and then pause them to see the counter displayed on the screen. The app also doesn’t remember where you left off with a given series. This is a standard feature on other platforms and it’s puzzling to see it not present here. Basically, it’s on you to remember how many episodes of a show you just watched and where to go next. You’re probably thinking that’s not a particularly difficult thing to remember, but it’s a lot trickier to remember where you kids left off watching a show you don’t care about. And they typically have no idea until the episode starts forcing you to embark on a series of trial and error until you get it right.

Those are small quirks that I expect will be remedied fairly soon. Others may take longer. By far, the biggest issue consumers encountered on launch day was performance-related issues. Slow buffering, shows disappearing, or the app completely crashing were frequently cited problems across social media. That was to be expected given that Disney didn’t allow users to preload the app before launch and is also giving curious consumers the option to partake in a free trial. Demand was going to be high, though that doesn’t absolve Disney as the company should have been prepared for this and able to address it quickly. Shows disappearing may have been part of that corrective action just to shrink the library temporarily. I saw quite a few complaints from users that Gargoyles wasn’t available for a period of time, though I didn’t encounter this. I did view the new documentary Imagineering and then found it unavailable after viewing when I went to go back and add it to my watch list. Aside from that though, I was actually rather fortunate to not encounter many issues. When I first logged in and got going around 6:30 AM EST I found the app slow to navigate. By 7:30, it was taking so long I gave up, but I was also heading out to work. My wife dropped our kid off at school shortly after and then resumed streaming with no issues. It was on basically all day with no further issues in my household.

I did a little research on social media and asked folks what they went to first upon signing up yesterday and got a variety of responses. A lot of folks were eager to view shows from their childhood, mainly those from the beloved Disney Afternoon. Some were also excited to check out the old Marvel cartoons like X-Men and Spider-Man. Many were eager to check out the Disney+ original The Mandalorian, a live-action series set in the Star Wars universe. There was certainly a lot of enthusiasm for the app, and most respondents had a list of things they wanted to check-out on day one.

img_0566Perhaps not surprising, the most frequent response I received was for The Simpsons. Disney made a pretty big deal about having 30 seasons worth of The Simpsons on Disney+ on day one. Unfortunately, the biggest complaint outside of technical problems from users was directed at The Simpsons. You may recall, when FXX started airing “Every Simpsons Ever” a few years ago they made the controversial call to crop the image on the seasons shot in 4:3 and adapt them for 16:9. The accompanying app did the same much to the annoyance of longtime fans. Eventually, the app was corrected and both versions were able to stream and they even added commentary tracks. As a result, fans expected the same on Disney+ and there were reports that the early seasons would be presented in the correct aspect ratio. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Not having the commentary is not a surprise, but the 16:9 presentation is horrid. If this were the first time those old seasons were being made available it would be temporarily excusable, as it was with FXX, but in 2019 it most certainly is not. I think Disney will correct this, but it’s something the company needs to get out in front of.

As for me, I have had a pretty good 24 hours at this point with Disney+. My first view was for The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. As it was 6:30 in the morning and my kids were up, it felt like a good way to start the day. My kids watched a lot of Disney Afternoon content during the day as well as some movies they’re more than familiar with. In the evening, I checked in on some of my own personal favorite cartoons and also was able to check out The Legend of the Three Caballeros, the previously UK only show starring Donald Duck (and it was great). When the kids went to bed, my wife and I checked out The Mandalorian as it easily is the most hyped original program on the platform right now. The production values are high, and while the story and character so far seem conventional and even cliché, it was entertaining enough that I’ll continue to check it out as episodes are added. We also watched the first episode of the Imagineering docuseries which focuses on the creation of Disneyland and goes up to the death of Walt and early concepts for Disney World. It was very familiar territory for me, but still enjoyable. I’m probably looking forward to episode two of that series more than I am for The Mandalorian.

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We had to wait over a year, but now US audiences can finally (legally) view Legend of the Three Caballeros.

There is some other original content I intend to check out, in time. Lady and the Tramp is one of my favorite films from Disney so I feel obligated to at least give the live-action version a chance. I have low expectations, as it’s not something that needs to exist, but it’s there. There is also a collection of classic Mickey Mouse shorts which have been upconverted to HD that I’d like to see. I’m pretty sure they’re the same as what was present on the Blu Ray compilation released last year for Mickey’s 90th, but I passed on that set (since I have all of the DVDs) and I’d like to see how the conversion came out. I hope more classic shorts will be added, though I doubt that’s a priority for Disney right now. Hopefully we at least get the Christmas ones next month.

Disney+ launched with a few stumbles, but the framework is there for a successful existence. More importantly, Disney is rich in content and should have no issues getting people hooked at least in the short term. Right now, the service is cheap compared to Netflix and if you’re part of a Disney family like I am then you’re probably locked in for the next three years. Disney has been systematically pulling content from cable and streaming providers so my children’s addiction to Disney content will definitely keep Disney+ in my house for awhile. What will spur growth for Disney will be how the original content turns out. The platform is off to a good start, but it might take more to convince people adverse to multiple streaming subscriptions to drop Netflix in favor of Disney+. Disney will also have to make the difficult choice over what it releases on its cable channel versus what it reserves for Disney+. And how will competitors, and cable, respond? Disney+ is undercutting Netflix by quite a lot and I’m curious if Netflix will respond. I suspect it will wait it out at least a year to see if and when Disney ups the monthly rate, but if it starts losing subscribers it may have to do something about it. This is our new reality though and it feels like, if anything, the biggest casualty of all of this may be cable itself.


Disney+ Revealed

Disney+It was only a matter of time until big companies got into streaming. Netflix was allowed to practically monopolize the market for years before facing any sort of real challenge. Now we have Hulu, Prime Video, as well as numerous niche offerings like WWE Network and Crunchyroll which cater to a specific type of fan. Premium channels like HBO can now be subscribed to without a cable subscription as more consumers look to change how they watch television. With Warner Media announcing in November of 2018 that it intended to offer a streaming service, it only made sense that Disney would follow suit. Not only did Disney possess its own vast library of works, it had recently entered into an agreement to acquire 20th Century Fox adding even more volume. And given how much money Disney had paid to acquire Fox’s portfolio, it only makes sense that the media giant would want to find a way to monetize that investment sooner rather than later.

We’ve known for months that Disney+ was coming. We’ve also known it was going to feature the entirety of Disney’s film library. This was notable when announced because it likely means the long-vaulted film Song of the South will be readily available for the first time in decades. Song of the South is a live-action animated hybrid first released in 1946. At best, it’s content was deemed racially insensitive and at worst flat-out racist as it sought to portray a setting of happy plantation workers in a post Civil War setting. Most historians seem to agree that Walt Disney’s heart was in the right place when the movie was made, but also acknowledge it’s very problematic. Today, most fans will just recognize the animated characters from the popular Disney World and Disneyland attraction Splash Mountain. Disney has long sought to distance itself from this film and never released it on VHS or DVD in the west. It has been released in some parts of the world where the issue of American slavery is less thorny. It’s likely appearance on Disney+ will be the first time many Americans are exposed to the film outside of a bootleg.

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Disney+ will likely be how a lot of folks will first experience the controversial Song of the South.

A 70-year-old film that’s not very good wasn’t going to drive the success of Disney+ though. Song of the South will probably have high stream counts when the service launches and gradually fade away. The rest of the Disney film library will do a lot of the heavy-lifting, but how much was that going to be worth to consumers? Disney, more so than any other studio, has a pretty loyal following of fans that still buy its movies on physical media. While it’s certainly convenient to have films readily available on a streaming platform, what’s the value to Disney fans that already have most of these movies?

UPDATE:  Apparently “entire film library” does not apply to the controversial ones as it is now being reported that Song of the South will indeed be excluded from Disney+ when it launches this fall. In addition to that, Dumbo will see the infamous Jim Crow scene annexed from its film. Song of the South is not a good film so it’s not much of a loss to not have it on the streaming service. In the spirit of not hiding from one’s past, I would have liked to have seen it included with a disclaimer or even an introduction added on, but I’m also not surprised. Removing an entire scene, a rather pivotal one at that, from Dumbo is more concerning. If they’re going to start chopping up their films to remove questionable content (and there’s more than just Dumbo) then I’d prefer they just not include them on the platform.

Disney was going to have to make Disney+ special, and on April 11th the company at long last laid out what it envisioned for the service. The most important detail, as always, is cost. The service will launch in November 2019 at a cost of $6.99 per month in the US, or $70 per year. Other regions will follow as the company likely looks to stagger the release to get a read on how much their servers will have to work. Presumably, the cost will be the same or roughly the same in other parts of the world. It’s an aggressive price point, not in that it’s too high, but in that Disney clearly looks like it’s trying to undercut Netflix, which just raised its prices. Disney owns a 60% stake in Hulu so it likely doesn’t want to undercut that too much. And with the confirmation that it will be ad-free, Disney+ already looks like one of the better bargains in the streaming world.

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A concept of what fans can expect to see when they login to the service.

Disney+ will also include not just Disney films, but Star Wars and Marvel as well. This isn’t much of a surprise, but there probably were some wondering if one, or both, of those big brands would be sent to Hulu instead. It was also touted that the launch of the service will feature the newly released Captain Marvel, currently airing in theaters at the time of this writing. It’s interesting that Captain Marvel was highlighted, but not Toy Story 4 which is set for release this June. At the time Disney+ launches, Toy Story 4 will likely be heading to home media and digital for the holidays. That film might be the first litmus test for what fans can expect between home video and streaming release. It would be understandable if Disney wants a gap between the two so as not to harm home media sales, but it also needs to make its streaming service attractive in regards to new releases.

Disney knows it will need some original content to compete with the likes of Netflix, and it announced a few new shows destined for its streaming service. The Mandalorian is a Star Wars themed show about a bounty hunter that looks like Boba Fett because that character is inexplicably popular. There will also be an animated show based on Marvel’s What If? line of comics and a live-action show called WandaVision focusing on Scarlet Witch and Vision. Some what of a surprise was the announcement that the “live-action” Lady and the Tramp is going to be a direct-to-streaming film on the service as opposed to a theatrically released film. I suppose Lady and the Tramp isn’t as popular as the likes of Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, but given how much money these live-action remakes have been making it’s still a bit of a surprise to see it bypass the theater.

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The Simpsons “welcome” their new corporate overlords.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was reserved for a non-Disney property:  The Simpsons. America’s favorite animated family is coming to Disney+ and all thirty seasons will be available on day one. I think most assumed that The Simpsons was destined for Hulu, but apparently Disney feels the brand is too valuable for that platform. It’s probably right, though this likely spells the end for The Simpsons World, the streaming portion of the FX Now app which currently is home to the entire series for anyone with a cable subscription. That app was limited, though it was still useful to have every episode on demand, with optional commentary no less. I assume the show will still air on FXX, assuming Disney keeps the channel around, but the on demand options to cable subscribers are probably about to decrease substantially.

What wasn’t touched on in as much detail as I would have liked is what is to come of the television properties Disney owns? Specifically, can we expect to see the entire Disney Afternoon collection of shows on this service? The announcement did make mention of Disney Channel programming so it’s expected all or most of the current programs will be there, but it wasn’t elaborated on. I also want to know if the classic theatrical shorts will show up, and if so, will they be remastered in HD? Some packages of shorts are currently available on Netflix, so it wouldn’t surprise me if those make it to Disney+ early on, but I’m really hoping all of the classic animation is included.

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Disney+ could be a place where television shows like The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, one that has been ignored by Disney since it ceased airing, could finally find a new home.

Given the amount of content and the low introductory price, I think it’s safe to say that Disney+ will have a pretty successful launch. My household will likely be a day one subscriber as my kids probably average one Disney movie per day and this will save ware and tear on my Blu Ray collection. I suspect the price-point to change much faster than Netflix changed its pricing. The most popular Netflix subscription just increased to $13 per month, nearly twice what Disney+ will cost in November. There’s no way Disney, a company that really loves money, will stay at the low-end for long. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressively the company raises that number, with it likely staying put for a year or so. Disney will probably try to incentivize consumers to subscribe to the service in a package with Hulu and ESPN.

What we’re also likely to discover in the coming years as well is just how large an appetite the consumer has for streaming content. Cutting the chord used to be a radical concept, but now is starting to become pretty normal. It was once a way to drastically reduce the cost of television in the average household, but with more streaming options showing up spreading things around it’s no longer the value it once was. My guess is that consumers will become less loyal to any one brand and will be constantly switching between services on a monthly basis. That is, until the content providers start forcing or aggressively incentivizing consumers to subscribe to deals that last for months, or even years. It’s even possible they’ll be forced to turn to contracts, and then we’ll basically be right back to where we were with cable companies. The cycle will repeat.


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