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Dec. 20 – Lilo & Stitch: The Series – Topper: Experiment 025

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“Topper” originally aired December 5, 2003.

Last year, I fell down a bit of a Lilo & Stitch rabbit hole when it came time to do this list. I first researched the animated series known as Lilo & Stitch: The Series and its Christmas special “Topper: Experiment 025.” I ended up reading about the expanded lore the universe established in 2002’s Lilo & Stitch and that was how I found out that there was an anime based on the series. That lead to my post last year about the anime’s Christmas special, in the process basically forgetting about the episode I originally had intended on talking about.

Well, this year I’m here to right that which is wrong. Not that I regret doing that post or anything, but this is the one I intended to run with. Following the success of the movie, Lilo & Stitch became a brand Disney felt it could not ignore. As it had done with film properties before, Disney turned to television. An animated series was commissioned and it arrived quite quickly to airwaves beginning in 2003 as part of the current block of Disney programming. This was essentially the waning days of the once treasured Disney Afternoon and I don’t think that branding was even in use at the time. Considering I was off to college and would not even see the film the show was based on for quite some time, I completely missed out on this show. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a thing.

Like many Disney Afternoon shows that preceded it, Lilo & Stitch got to take a stab at the old Christmas special thing. From what I understand, this show followed a format where a new experiment was unveiled basically every episode. As you may recall from the film, Stitch is experiment number 626 implying that there are 625 additional experiments out there for the show to explore. Interestingly, had the show run long enough to highlight all 625 experiments it still wouldn’t have as many episodes as The Simpsons currently boasts. Anyways, the show ran for two seasons spanning 67 episodes which is a rather solid run. There was a tie-in film as well, simply called Stitch!, and as far as I know the other Lilo & Stitch sequels adopted the show as canon as well. There’s a pretty large chunk of media based on this franchise I’ve never really touched, despite my liking the original film quite a bit, so maybe this will get me interested in all of that. Or, maybe it won’t.

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It’s time for the alien who loves destruction to learn all about the holiday that destroys bank accounts.

This episode is all about Stitch’s first Christmas on Earth. Following the events of the film, the aliens Jumba (David Ogden Stiers) and Pleakley (Kevin McDonald) have moved in with the sisters Nani (Tia Carrere) and Lilo (Daveigh Chase) as well as the main attraction himself, Stitch (Chris Sanders). Captain Gantu (Kevin Michael Richardson) is still out there making life harder for Stitch and he’s got some pals as well: the seemingly always hungry Experiment 625 (Rob Paulsen) and the nefarious rival of Jumba, Dr. Hamsterviel (not present in this episode).

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Present hunting has more rules than you would think.

When the episode begins, Stitch and Lilo are eating breakfast while Lilo gives Stitch the info on Christmas. She instructs him to sneak off with her and as they tiptoe through the house they attract the attention of Nani. Nani instructs Lilo not to go looking for Christmas presents and she agrees to do so, but that’s a lie. She leads Stitch to the attic and tells him it’s Nani’s job as the older sister to buy the presents, and her job as the younger sister to find them. Nani has hidden them in the same spot as last year, in a chest in the attic (how predictable), and Lilo shows them to Stitch. She also informs him she’s hoping for a shrunken head this year as a gift, and adds that she tried to make one herself but her friend wasn’t cooperative. It’s nice to see Lilo still has a bit of darkness to her. Stitch wants to dig right into the presents, but Lilo stops him and says he can never open a Christmas present before Christmas. She may be a little naughty by snooping, but Lilo has a code she lives by.

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Never let an alien decorate your Christmas tree.

Lilo then leads Stitch to the living room to soak in some of that Christmas magic via the tree. There they find Pleakley has decorated the tree with what he thinks are traditional spherical objects. Rather than actual ornaments, the tree is covered in balls and clocks and things like that. Lilo points out that he’s a bit confused, but Pleakley isn’t dissuaded and rather adamant about his holiday knowledge. He then informs them he was about to place the perfect topper on the tree, the three-holed orb, which to us earthlings is known as a bowling ball. When Pleakley places the bowling ball on the tree it collapses. Since this is Hawaii, I’m going to assume they go with artificial trees, but any Hawaiians reading this correct me if I’m wrong.

Lilo is dismayed that the tree is ruined and Nani comes running in to survey the damage. She mentions this is the third one this year and informs Lilo she can’t afford a fourth. Lilo wants her to fix it right now, but she’s got to get to work. Lilo despairs momentarily about not having a tree for Christmas, but she gets over it rather quickly and informs Stitch if he wants to learn more about Christmas they need to go to the most festive place around:  the mall.

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Experiment 625 loves food and Christmas. He’s not your typical villain.

Elsewhere, 625 is enjoying a sandwich while wearing a festive Santa hat when Gantu comes in. Gantu has apparently received a major reduction in size between shows as he’s now just merely large as opposed to colossal. He has another experiment orb labeled 025 and he intends to give it to Hamsterviel. In staying with the spirit of the season, 625 encourages him to gift it to their unseen boss and Gantu surprisingly goes along with the suggestion.

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That’s a surefire way to get on the naughty list.

At the mall, Lilo is showing Stitch around which includes a trip to see Santa. Stitch hops on his lap and whispers into his ear and Santa recoils in horror informing Stitch he is truly naughty. Stitch then snatches his beard and tries to wish everyone a traditional Hawaiian holiday greeting, mele kalikimaka, but butchers the words. Lilo is also angry with him for swiping Santa’s beard and so is Santa.

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If the beard-swiping didn’t do the job, then stealing presents will definitely make sure Stitch is on the naughty list.

Stitch then notices something at the gift wrapping table. A woman is wrapping what is undoubtedly the capsule for experiment 025. Stitch races over to snatch the gift, which only makes Lilo angrier. She scolds him for going after presents that aren’t his, but when Stitch rips it open he just finds a toy inside. He starts grabbing all of the other presents and then bolts leaving Lilo to clean up after him. She explains it’s his first Christmas and he’s a bit excited. She departs and then Gantu shows up dressed as Santa to claim the gift he had wrapped. The woman informs him there was an accident, and when he inquires further he finds out it was a destructive blue dog that caused the problem. He then makes a festive holiday threat towards Stitch about making him a part of Christmas past.

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This Santa leaves behind nothing but screams and tears.

Stitch then goes on a montage. He is so determined to get that experiment capsule that he sports a Santa hat and steals all of the presents on the island. The montage is set to a barely recognizable rock n’ roll version of “Jingle Bells” and is sprinkled with some humorous moments. All the while, Lilo is giving chase and unable to catch up with Stitch who is always one step ahead.

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The Grinch would be quite impressed with Stitch’s holiday thievery.

She eventually winds up back at her home where Stitch has locked himself in the attic. Jumba is angry with Stitch for not sharing any of the presents he’s acquired, but he’s having no luck getting through the attic door. Lilo informs him there’s another way, and as the two disappear off camera Stitch peers out of the hatch to check for them. Jumba’s hands then appear behind him to grab him and the door slams shut leaving us to imagine how the confrontation is going as the camera shakes and a big commotion is overheard. Jumba eventually falls out of the attic, but before he did he somehow got Stitch into a capsule. Lilo scolds him once more, but is then taken aback by how full the attic is with presents.

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Stitch needs some quiet time.

Things are moved back into the living room where Pleakley has taken it upon himself to be the family’s new Christmas tree. He’s basically background noise as Lilo and Jumba try to figure out what is up with Stitch. The capsule he’s been locked in is completely sound proof so they can’t hear his protests as Jumba wonders if maybe his bad programming is returning. They take things to Jumba’s lab where he’s able to use some scanner to read Stitch’s thoughts. They’re mostly food-related and there’s also an image of a toilet bowl and we get a mild pee joke. Jumba then finds the image of Stitch seeing the experiment orb being placed in the gift and Lilo realizes why he was taking all of the presents. Before they can do anything about it though, a loud noise comes from the house and we see the roof has a huge hole blown through it. Gantu’s ship is shown flying away with a comically large sack of gifts on it as he belts out a “Ho ho ho.”

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Something always breaks around the house near the holidays. Never fails.

With the presents stolen, Lilo and Stitch head out after Gantu leaving Pleakley and Jumba to repair the damage to the house. Jumba actually gets the whole roof framed before he and Pleakley decide they need to fix Pleakley’s tree costume by going to the mall. Well, Pleakley makes that declaration and Jumba is mostly just along for the ride. I hope they remembered to put a tarp over the house in case it rains.

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I enjoy a good bit of holiday bondage.

Lilo and Stitch arrive at Gantu’s spaceship lair where 625 is presently trying to enjoy a nice Christmas nap. He comes outside in order to quiet them down and is oblivious to their presence. There’s some slapstick involved as Stitch gets squished by the ship’s ramp. Eventually, they gain access and 625 doesn’t even put up a fight. Stitch wraps him up in Christmas lights while Lilo looks for the gift, but it’s gone. 625 then informs them that Gantu took the sack of presents back to the mall.

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I have to give these guys credit, they really get into the holiday spirit with their clothing.

For the second time this episode, our setting shifts to the mall where Pleakley and Jumba roam in elf costumes that do little to hide their alien heritage. They soon see Gantu once again dressed as Santa. It seems Gantu doesn’t know which gift is the one he had wrapped and he needs the help of the gift wrapper in figuring it out. She finds it immediately and hands it back to him. Jumba and Pleakley call 625’s spaceship and inform Lilo what’s happened, adding they initially mistook him for Santa, but it’s really Gantu!

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This is the kind of chaos one expects out of Stitch.

Lilo and Stitch arrive at the mall and find Pleakley and Jumba in a stand-off with Gantu. They’re not very good at this though and Gantu simply spins and fires at the pair. Since this is a Disney television show, his weapon is nonlethal and just contains a big net. Stitch goes after him stealing the gift, which he tosses to Lilo, before the two tangle. Nani is also there as she was looking to buy Lilo her shrunken head when she sees Gantu and Stitch go flying past her in Santa’s sleigh. They crash, and Lilo tosses a duffel bag with the experiment orb gift inside it to Stitch and tells him to go. Stitch races up a giant Christmas tree and Gantu gives chase by climbing it. He’s bombarded with ornaments, but eventually he reaches Stitch and the two end up falling from the tree.

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That certainly looks like a bad place to be.

Gantu dusts himself off, and with Stitch no where to be seen, he retrieves his gift and prepares to step on Lilo. He pauses in mid stomp when she accuses him of ruining Christmas. He seems actually hurt by this, and Lilo ends up discovering this all happened because Gantu was trying to give someone a Christmas gift. Lilo then feels bad as she realizes Christmas is about giving presents, not receiving them as Stitch returns to her side just in time for a hug.

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It takes eyes like that to get a Christmas present out of a gigantic alien.

A little girl takes notice of Gantu and his Santa costume and asks if he has a present for her. He says no, but her eyes well up with tears which gets to Gantu. He then hands over the gift intended for Hamsterviel and the girl opens it to find the experiment orb inside. Jumba takes it from her remarking that he remembers this one. Experiment 025 was intended to be a beacon for an alien armada and he seems to suggest it’s hardly destructive. Lilo takes the orb and places it in a fountain, as apparently water is needed to bring the experiment out. And from it emerges a little being that resembles a star. Lilo dubs him Topper (she’s really forced the other little girl out of the picture) and says she knows a great spot for him.

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Stitch caused all of that trouble to keep the world free from this adorable little guy.

Topper then takes his place atop Pleakley, who has a much improved Christmas tree costume. He glows brightly pleasing everyone around them. Gantu has also found a higher purpose as kids have lined up beside him thinking he’s Santa. As each one approaches he gives them one of the gifts Stitch had taken earlier. Lilo informs us that Ohana is the best gift of all, and Stitch tries to wish everyone mele kalikimaka, but he messes it up again. We then see in space that Topper’s beacon effect is working well as a bunch of spaceships hover in Earth’s orbit.  One voice wonders what the beacon is for, while another informs him it doesn’t matter because they have fruit cake down there.

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I wonder if this little guy just gets shoved in the attic with the other decorations when the holiday is over.

And that ends this one. In trying to teach Stitch about Christmas, Lilo comes to understand the holiday better herself. It’s about the giving, folks. All the while, the aliens around her also learn about the holiday and even the villainous Gantu finds it infectious, though he wants to play it off as if it’s annoyingly infectious. It’s rather fast paced and even though it features a plot contrivance I usually find anxiety inducing, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the dynamic of Stitch acting in good faith and the others not understanding him. Though, I also found that whole ordeal confusing since Stitch revealed he could talk just fine in the movie. I guess it’s just more convenient and more entertaining to basically return him to an almost mute character who just makes funny noises. Likewise, someone must have decided that Gantu needed to be smaller in order to work in this show as he’s no where near as big as he was in the film.

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We need that group shot to go out on.

I did not expect this show to resemble the visuals from the film other than in basic character designs. And it does not. Though I still expected it to look better than this. This show is very flat and the character models really lack texture. There’s an early scene of Jumba wearing a big purple coat that has almost no shading of any kind on it and it’s really ugly looking. The backgrounds are drab too and lack the lushness of the feature. Again, I wasn’t expecting feature quality animation, but this is below the standards of other Disney Afternoon shows.

What surprised me though, in a good way, was that Disney was able to return the excellent voice cast of the film basically in its entirety. Maybe there are some secondary characters who have new voices that aren’t in this episode, but all of the characters here have their respective voice intact. It’s a rarity to pull off such a feat, but it helps that Disney didn’t go with a big time celebrity cast for the film to begin with. Tia Carrere was probably the biggest “name” from that film, but she had basically transitioned to television anyways at this stage in her career. Rob Paulsen was also added and he provides several voices in this one which only adds to the show’s quality in the sound department.

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These two are responsible for much of the episode’s humor and they are a pretty fun pairing.

This episode could have taken things in a more melancholy direction given that Lilo and Nani both lost their parents some time ago. This could have been framed as their first Christmas without them, but the show decided to keep things light and funny. Pleakley was the most entertaining part of the show for me. He’s become an archetype Disney fans should be familiar with as it’s similar to what Scuttle from The Little Mermaid represents or Owl from Winnie the Pooh. He’s a know-it-all that really knows nothing, and his misunderstanding of the holidays are fodder for a few jokes (like a good visual gag early on with eggnog). There’s nothing particularly ambitious about the Christmas lesson to be taught here, and Lilo figuring it out isn’t quite convincing, but at least there’s some groundwork laid by pointing out that she does posses a code of sorts in her approach to gifts. It would have been a harder sell if she was a ravenous present monster like Stitch. I suppose this one is fine, and if you just want more of these very likable characters because you enjoyed the film then there’s something here to enjoy.

If you want to watch this episode of Lilo & Stitch: The Series then I have good news as it just got a lot easier. With the launch of Disney+ in November this episode, as well as the entire series, became easy to stream though it will cost you seven bucks a month to do so. This one wasn’t put out on DVD, so streaming is your only option. I wouldn’t sign up for Disney+ just to watch this show, but I am a subscriber for many other reasons so obviously I think it’s worth it. Since my kids enjoy the film, I’ll likely watch this with them too this year since we can as I’ll be on the hunt for every Christmas special on that network.


Dec. 15 – Animaniacs – “A Christmas Plotz”

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Original air date December 6, 1993

It’s rare when you encounter a cartoon series that has back-to-back episodes dedicated to Christmas, but that happened with the first season of Animaniacs. If you’re not familiar with the show, Animaniacs is essentially the spiritual successor to Tiny Toon Adventures as another Steven Spielberg presented cartoon series. It, even more so than Tiny Toons, draws inspiration from the golden era of cartoons when guys like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Friz Freleng were making audiences laugh at the movie theater. The series is a cartoon variety show with the main characters consisting of the fictional Warner brothers and Warner sister:  Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. It paired them up with many other newcomers like Slappy Squirrel, The Goodfeathers, and perhaps most famously the duo of Pinky and the Brain.

 

Animaniacs premiered on the Fox Kids network in the fall of 1993 and anchored Fox’s weekday afternoon lineup. Perhaps that’s why the producers and writers felt like they had room for multiple Christmas episodes. They aired back-to-back with a week of reruns in between with this one airing on December 6, 1993 and they were the last new episodes of the show to debut in 1993. Reruns took the Warners and Co. the rest of the way with new episodes premiering in 1994. Like a lot of Fox programs, the initial season was a direct to syndication order of 65 episodes with supplemental seasons tacked on. The show ran until 1998, finishing up on Kids’ WB after 99 episodes, and was followed by a direct-to-video movie, Wakko’s Wish, which is coincidentally a Christmas affair. It seems odd that the show wasn’t given one additional episode to get it to 100, an achievement it certainly deserved, but maybe that’s why Wakko’s Wish exists.

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Want to make an episode feel special? Just dress-up the opening credits a bit.

Animaniacs mixes a lot of slapstick humor with satire of celebrity culture. There’s numerous musical segments, honestly more than I remembered when I went back and watched it, and lots of micro segments which many fans probably recall fondly. I’m speaking of the Good Idea/Bad Idea stuff or that little kid who likes to talk about some other person named Randy. It also poked fun at broadcast standards via the Wheel of Morality and is also quite notable for slipping a few risqué jokes past the censors (Finger Prince?). It wasn’t a cheap show and often featured some of the best animation and musical numbers on television. It feels like a show that couldn’t exist today because of this, but Hulu is reportedly bringing the show back in 2020. It remains to be seen what the show will look and sound like, but most of the original cast is back onboard and it’s hard to imagine Amblin Entertainment allowing the show to look worse than it did 20 years ago.

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What’s better than dressing up the opening title sequence? Adding an homage to the old CBS Special Presentation bumper! Gets me every time.

The very first segment of the first Christmas themed episode is the one we’re looking at today:  A Christmas Plotz. Plotz refers to the name of the fictional CEO of the Warner Bros. Company Thaddeus Plotz (Frank Welker). He is ostensibly the one responsible for ordering the Warners be locked away in their tower, as detailed during the show’s infectious opening. He’s a miserable old miser, so you can probably see where this is going. Can Animaniacs do a worthwhile parody of A Christmas Carol, or is this yet another forgettable retread? Let’s find out.

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Warner Studios all ready for Christmas.

The episode begins with the fake news reel explaining the origins of the Warner Bros. Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell) and their sister Dot (Tress MacNeille) were classic cartoon characters deemed too zany and crazy to exist. Their cartoons were blacklisted and they were sealed away, along with the Warners themselves, in the studio’s water tower. This news reel begins many episodes of the show, but this time it’s presented with snowflakes falling all around. These snowflakes carry over into the opening title sequence and I do love when shows dress-up their opening credits for Christmas! The Steven Spielberg cartoons were frequent contributors to such.

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Thaddeus Plotz is a man in need of some Christmas spirit.

When that business concludes, we begin the show. It’s Christmas time at the Warner Studios lot and some carolers are cheerily singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” In his office, Thaddeus Plotz is not enjoying the festive singing. He opens his window to scream at them and fling fruit cake as well. It seems his subordinates all give him fruit cake at this time of year, even though he hates it (doesn’t everybody?). As he returns to his desk, his security guard Ralph (Welker) enters the office. Plotz instructs him not to sit down as this won’t take long, but Ralph interrupts him by going into a little prepared speech. It seems he expects this meeting to end with him receiving his Christmas bonus, and he thanks Mr. Plotz for letting him work there and presents him with yet another fruit cake. Ralph is the classic dumb guy cartoon archetype. He frequently starts sentences with “Ahh,” or “Duhh,” and adds random plurals onto certain words thus making him immediately sympathetic, which is important for what follows.

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This image makes me feel genuinely crushed.

When Ralph finishes his little speech and presents Plotz with the fruit cake the old man is able to put on a happy face briefly despite his disgust. He then holds up a line graph which apparently details rising costs directly tied to the damage caused by the Warners. It’s Ralph’s job to keep them in line, and he’s failed miserably. Plotz fires him on the spot, then wishes him a sincere-sounding Merry Christmas. As Ralph’s eyes well-up with tears, he slumps his shoulders and walks out.

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This one features a Slappy cameo, but sadly she’s the only one.

That night, Plotz is still busy in his office with budgetary matters. He’s recording a voice memo in which he mentions that in order to cut costs employees will soon be expected to provide their own toilet paper. As he finishes up, an apparition appears before him. It’s Slappy Squirrel (Sherri Stoner) in the Jacob Marley role. She’s mostly transparent and blueish with chains draped over her and isn’t particularly happy to be there. When a frightened Plotz demands to know why she’s here, she pulls out a notebook and reads her lines about him being visited by three ghosts. When he asks why, she tells him she doesn’t know as she lost the rest of the script. She then marches out of there grumbling about how she’s doing this for scale and remarks that she needs a new agent.

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Bring on the ghosts! First up is Wakko as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

With Slappy gone, Plotz thinks he hallucinated her due to working too hard. He drinks some water and then the phone on his desk begins to ring. He answers it and a spectral Wakko pops out of the receiver. He’s mostly blue save for his red nose and hat. He’s also dressed in a manner similar to the classic interpretation of Tiny Tim and immediately goes into a little musical number about taking a trip back to the past to see how Plotz got here. He sets up a little movie theater for the two and finishes his song with a kiss. The reel-to-reel projector is fired up as Wakko enjoys some popcorn and we’re taken to our first scene of the past.

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This is a pretty on-brand way for Wakko to present the past to Plotz.

It’s the birth of Thaddeus Plotz! His mother (Nancy Linari) is resting comfortably and seems quite content with her new babe, but then the doctor brings her the bill and little Thaddeus jumps up in anger. He’s still ticked about the whole spanking of the bum thing by the doc and informs him that he’ll be hearing from his lawyers. We’re then shown a five-year-old Plotz as he confronts a mall Santa surrounded by said attorneys to make his annual demands of St. Nick. He expects many gifts, including a horse, and Santa seems bewildered. The Plotz of the present then informs us he was gifted a pony that year and he still seems ticked off by it. Plotz demands this farce end, but Wakko then shows him another vision of the past, one he promises is the worst. This time he’s an adult and seated behind his current desk. He’s telling an old man (Maurice LaMarche) his services are no longer needed, despite him begging to be allowed to keep his job. That old man was his dad, and Plotz still sees nothing wrong with usurping the company from his old man as he allowed him to keep his medical benefits.

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You just knew they would utilize the present pun. Dot even feels the need to draw attention to it by pointing it out.

Wakko and his accessories then vanish as Plotz returns to his desk once again questioning if what he just saw was real or not. He sits down at his desk and blames his vision on bad cocktail weenies (because that food was considered inherently funny in the 90s, like cheese) when he notices a large present on his desk. He thinks it’s going to be another fruitcake, but a spectral Dot pops out dressed in old-timey clothes and demands to know who he’s calling a fruitcake. She also points out the pun of her being the Ghost of Christmas Present and popping out of a present. She too has a little song to sing, and as she kicks away the nameplate on Plotz’s desk we can see his own name was misspelled on it (Thadius), though I don’t think that’s a joke just an animation goof.

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Well, at least they’re happy.

Dot takes Plotz to a trailer park, and I bet you can guess who lives here. It’s the home of the recently fired Ralph who is seated in an easy chair trying to calm his son (Paulsen) who is irate with Plotz for firing his dad. He assures the boy that everything will be okay. The pair are summoned to dinner and we get to meet Mrs. Ralph who inexplicably looks and sounds exactly like her husband. Their kid seems well-adjusted and perfectly fine though, so he apparently hasn’t been ravaged by his incestuous origin. Mrs. Ralph is serving what they can afford for Christmas dinner:  Turkey Jell-O. It looks pretty terrible, but Ralph is excited to eat it while little Ralph Jr. is decidedly not happy about this current situation. He claims to the camera he’s adopted, and we believe him, and vows to get even with Mr. Plotz some day.

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And Yakko makes three.

Plotz is a bit unnerved by Ralph Jr’s hatred of him and wants out. He soon finds himself back in his office. He’s apparently accepted the reality of this evening as he’s now concerned about the arrival of the third ghost. The clock striking midnight and a thunderstorm brewing outside seem to spook him as he tries to call for security, forgetting momentarily that Ralph was security. He then tries to leave, but finds the door locked. Turning around, he screams when he sees the third ghost. A being resembling the Grim Reaper approaches, sickle and all. It pins him to the door and says his name in a deep, hollow, voice as it extends a boney finger towards Plotz’s throat.

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Yakko’s song and dance number is certainly elaborate, but is it funny? Eh…

Yakko then emerges from the robes to announce he’s the Ghost of Christmas Future. He ditches the spooky stuff and sports a tuxedo as he goes into an elaborate song and dance routine announcing his arrival and intentions. It’s complete with female dancers (voiced by Carol Lombard, Kimberly Fligsten, Brianne Lepon, and Sara Ford) which Yakko hits on mercilessly while Plotz is dragged around and forced to keep pace. Yakko slips in insults here and there while Plotz drops his fear for a minute to just get angry and annoyed. The presence of the women allow Yakko to work in his “Hello, nurse” catchphrase, and the whole thing ends with Yakko tossing Plotz off of the magical stairs that appeared to land in an armchair. I do not know if this song is a direct parody of anything, but Yakko does go into a brief Groucho bit for a moment.

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I wonder who that guy could be?

With both Yakko and Plotz seated comfortably, Plotz looks around and realizes they’re still in his office. Only now it’s not his office. Yakko directs Plotz’s attention to the new man in charge, an angry guy with a huge, bald, head. He’s yelling about Urkel looking ridiculous with his pants pulled up so high at his age as he’s on the phone with someone. He slams it down and returns to his work and Yakko points out to Plotz that this man is actually Ralph Jr. all grown up. It seems he did get his revenge on Plotz, as we soon find out his fate. Unlike Scrooge, Plotz is still alive in this future, but he has suffered a fate worse than death. He’s been made the new Ralph and tasked with keeping the Warners in line. He looks mostly the same, only he has an unkempt mane of gray hair and his eyes are a bit sunken looking.

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Old man Plotz is forced to try and keep pace with the Warners. It’s actually pretty impressive a man of his age can do this much.

Plotz is horrified by the sight, and it only gets worse. The Warners then show up to taunt him, and as he chases after them with a net Ralph Jr. emerges from his window to call down to him. He admonishes him for not catching them, and when Plotz informs Ralph that they’re too fast, he unceremoniously fires the old man punctuating it with a cheerful “Merry Christmas,” just as he did to his father years ago. The future Plotz walks away disheartened, while present Plotz begins to pout and cry.

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The ghosts may be done, but the Warners still have a role to play.

Plotz soon realizes he’s back in his office. It’s Christmas morning, and now he has his chance for atonement. He kisses his desk when he realizes where he is and races over to the window. He goes into the usual routine as he calls out to some kids asking what day it is. It’s the Warners in their holiday threads, only now they’re not blue ghosts. They tell him it’s Christmas Day, and Dot remarks to the camera how he’s not too bright. Plotz then throws down a sack of money and tells them to go buy the biggest fruit cake they can find and deliver it to Ralph’s house. He even tells them to keep the change. Wakko declares that they’re rich and the trio grab the money and run.

 

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Plotz never really atones for his mistake, he just tries to cover it up.

At Ralph’s trailer, the whole place is bouncing up and down with Christmas cheer. The family is singing around their 8″ tall tree when a knock at the door disturbs their celebration. Ralph Jr. answers it to find it’s Plotz armed with a stack of presents. He barges in and demands to know why he’s hearing that Ralph left the studio. A confused Ralph points out that he fired him, but Plotz corrects him by saying he inspires him! He then charms Mrs. Ralph, before turning his attention to Ralph Jr. He begs the boy not to take over the studio, and then tries to bribe him with a pony. The kid demands a horse instead and Plotz makes an expression that basically says, “I deserved that.”

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Grovel, you swine!

Another knock at the door gets Plotz’s attention and he opens it to find the Warners. They tell him they brought the fruit cake and an excited Plotz races outside wanting to know where it is. They tell him they got the biggest they could find, and they weren’t kidding. A helicopter delivers a massive fruit cake, and drops the two-story monstrosity right on top of Plotz. His feet stick out from under it and all we can hear is unintelligible ranting. The Warners jump on top armed with spoons and assure him they can have him out by Easter. Wakko then wishes us all a merry Christmas as the sound of Christmas bells take us out of the segment.

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A fitting punishment for a lifetime of dickish behavior.

And that’s it for “A Christmas Plotz.” It’s followed by a musical number based on The Little Drummer Boy in which the Warners assume the role of the drummer and lead us through a fairly straight interpretation of the tale. It’s not particularly memorable, but if you like your Christmas with a side of Jesus then it’s probably right up your alley.

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The Warners get the last word, per usual.

“A Christmas Plotz” is pretty entertaining, as most cartoons starring the Warners tend to be. It’s a bit disappointing that a show as creative as Animaniacs went in this direction though as it didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the old story truncated to 12 minutes or so and punctuated with jokes. The jokes are fairly easy, but still humorous. It’s still fair to question whether or not we ever needed Animaniacs to go this route. An original Christmas story would have been preferable, but obviously more work. I suppose I’m glad the Warners were thrust into the ghost role as opposed to that of the Cratchits. Maybe another holiday parody would have worked better? The slapstick nature of Home Alone would have lent itself well to the show, or maybe just have the Warners run wild through Santa’s workshop? A Christmas Carol parody is the lowest rung on the holiday special ladder, and I just can’t help but feel that this show is better than this. At least this show looks great as this particular episode was entirely animated by the renowned TMS Entertainment. Episodes of this show really don’t come any better in terms of looks than what you’ll see here.

img_0461Thankfully, if you want to spend the holidays with the cast of Animaniacs you have other options. There’s the episode that follows this which is less cohesive, but pretty fun. There’s also a Christmas cartoon starring Slappy featured in the penultimate episode of the show that’s fodder for a future countdown. And there’s also the previously mentioned Wakko’s Wish if you want to spend an even longer amount of time with the gang at Christmas. That feature has the added appeal of making use of the full ensemble so it’s a bit like a celebration or grand finale for the show. If you’re really into the show though, you’ll probably just want to watch all of them. And if so, don’t forget the excellent Pinky and the Brain holiday special!

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This cartoon is fine, but the episode that follows makes better use of the entire cast making it my preferred Christmas episode of the two.

If you do indeed wish to invest some of your Christmas viewing time into Animaniacs then it’s pretty easy to do so. The entire show is available to purchase on physical media or through digital means. By far, the easiest way though is via Hulu which has the entire series plus the movie on it. It also has other Spielberg cartoons so you can really indulge in some 90s animation and basically all of them feature a Christmas special or two. There’s certainly room for Animaniacs at Christmas time, so hopefully you find an episode that works for you.


Dec. 6 – “Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas”

goofy christmas dvd

Original air date December 5, 1992

Goof Troop was part of that next wave of Disney Afternoon shows following the likes of DuckTales and Rescue Rangers. And unlike those shows, this one starred one of the original Disney cartoon stars from the company’s early days – Goofy. Following a career in short films, first as part of Mickey Mouse cartoons and eventually his own line of toons, Goofy had mostly laid low like the rest of the gang. Those later shorts he starred in though often placed him in a suburban setting, and sometimes even with a son who was sometimes referred to as Goofy Jr. Those cartoons seemed to be the basis for Goof Troop, an animated sitcom in which Goofy (Bill Farmer) is a single dad raising his son Max (Dana Hill) while the Pete family lives next door. Old Peg-Leg Pete and Goofy were not frequent adversaries in the old shorts, and I actually can’t think of a solo Goofy short that featured Pete, but Pete has always been a natural foil/villain to the various Disney toons out there.

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Goof Troop was the story about a dad just trying to raise his son in the wacky 90s.

In Goof Troop, Goofy is basically the character we’ve come to know and love. He’s got a heart of gold and child-like appreciation for the small things and most importantly he loves his son. He’s also not very bright and an extreme klutz. Max is the opposite and is often embarrassed or at odds with his dad. He seems to know he’s not particularly bright so he’s careful to not hurt his father’s feelings, but it can be a struggle. Pete (Jim Cummings), on the other hand, is the polar opposite. He’s the next door neighbor who has everything and he can’t stand the Goof. He has a family of his own. His wife Peg (April Winchell) is a buxom bombshell who hardly resembles an animal, save for her little black nose, that Pete always answers to. His daughter Pistol (Nancy Cartwright) is a fast-talking little girl that exhausts him, but he otherwise seems to have great affection for. Son P.J. (Rob Paulsen) is a sweet-natured kid and Max’s best friend. He may look like his dad, but he doesn’t really act like him and it seems to disappoint the short-tempered Pete.

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Being a true special and not an actual episode, this is kind of like an encore for Goof Troop.

Goof Troop premiered on September 5, 1992 and would eventually total 78 episodes and this one Christmas special. There’s also a Goofy and Max segment in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas that seems to exist in this universe, and a sequel featuring a grown-up Max in Twice Upon a Christmas. Because it was a weekday afternoon show, it ran through all of its episodes in 1992 though it remained on the air for years after and even spawned a couple of movies:  the 1995 theatrically released A Goofy Movie and the 2000 direct-to-video An Extremely Goofy Movie. The show is no longer on television anywhere nor does it appear to be streaming as part of a packaged service. It can be digitally purchased through Amazon, which is the only way to see the show in its entirety now as, like many Disney cartoons, it has received an incomplete DVD release.

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Three minutes in and we’ve already decapitated Santa. This one is off to a good start!

“Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas” was first-run on or around December 5, 1992 and is considered a television special, so it’s not technically part of season one or two. It was essentially the series finale, though there is no finality to it. And even though it’s a special it does not appear to have any additional bells and whistles in terms of its presentation, nor is it any longer than a typical episode. Disney must have just felt the show needed a Christmas special and commissioned one.

The special opens with Goofy and Max decorating for Christmas. A mishap with a Santa decoration causes an explosion rocketing Goofy through the snowy scenery to crash into the Pete household via the chimney causing daughter Pistol to mistake Goofy for Santa Claus. After the decorative title card, Pete and his daughter Pistol are decorating a rather pathetic looking Christmas tree. Pistol correctly points out it more resembles a toilet brush than an actual tree, and she even drops a Bart Simpson line on her dad (Nancy Cartwright voiced both characters, so I’m guessing that’s why they gave her such a line). Pete is clearly not in the holiday spirit and dislikes decorating for Christmas. Meanwhile, next door Goofy is the opposite (I’m noticing a theme here) as he’s loading up the house with various decorations. Max isn’t really feeling it, but Goofy is oblivious as usual.

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Just being neighborly.

Seeing that his neighbor doesn’t have any decorations on his house, Goofy decides to loan Pete a light-up snowman. He brings it over and plugs it in which just annoys Pete. He orders the Goofs off of his property and then tries to remove the snowman, but cartoon law dictates that anything that lights up and is plugged in will shock a bad-natured character and Pete gets his fill. Angry and sick of Goofy, Pete decides he wants to spend Christmas without his annoying neighbor next door and packs up the family and heads for Aspen. Max, seeing his best friend P.J. leave, is bummed that he’s stuck with just his dad for the holidays. Goofy sees his son’s distress, and decides to take him on a trip to the mountains too for a wilderness Christmas vacation which delights his son.

Father and son (and cat, Waffles) arrive late in the night to find a rickety old cabin. A bear (Frank Welker), which looks like an off-model Humphrey Bear, was enjoying the abandoned cabin until the Goofs showed up and is forced to pretend he’s a bear-skin rug. Goofy is pretty happy with the cozy cabin, but Max less so. After some physical comedy with the “bear-skin rug,” Goofy sets to unpacking their belongings which are piled high on Goofy’s car and covered with a tarp. When Goofy unravels the tarp it’s revealed that he brought all of his outdoor Christmas decorations and incorrectly assumes Max will love it.

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That star gag is rather conventional. Why not reindeer? Get in the spirit!

Up on a hill above Goofy and Max’s cabin is another, much nicer, cabin. To no one’s surprise it’s being occupied by the Pete family and the entire family is asleep except for Pete, who is enjoying cold chicken and cable TV in bed. After polishing off a bowl of drumsticks, he turns off the tube and settles in for some sleep, only to hear someone singing Christmas carols outside. He heads for the window and screams for them to shut up, and in the process tumbles out and crashes to the ground. This is par for the course for this show; Pete gets mad, Pete yells, Pete gets hurt.

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Sledding!

Pete is horrified to see Goofy and Max occupying the cabin next door while Goofy is pretty happy to be able to spend Christmas with his neighbor. Max emerges from the cabin to see the garish decorations and is none too thrilled. The next day, Pete is suffering from a cold, possibly because of his trip through the snow the night before, when Goofy and Max show up to invite the family sledding. Pete has no desire to go sledding with the Goofs, but the rest of the family does. They all head down the mountain on various sleds with Goofy on a toboggan. Everyone encounters some mishap that throws them off of their sled, only to land on Goofy’s. Eventually everyone is on the toboggan, including our Humphrey look-a-like, the bear from last night who was awakened when the toboggan crashed through his cave. A tree limb clothes-lines the poor bear, which draws attention to him being there, and a little chase ensues that results in the bear ending up on a ski jump (cartoons, baby!). The toboggan does as well, and the whole gang ends up crashing into Pete’s cabin wrecking his jigsaw puzzle he was happily piecing together alone. Pete’s ready to annihilate Goofy, but Peg reprimands him and reminds him to be festive, which is apparently enough to prevent him from killing Goofy.

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Horrified Goofy is actually a rather unsettling sight.

That night, Goofy leads everyone on a walk through the woods with their eyes closed – he has a surprise for everyone. He leads them to his cabin where he unveils a colossal Christmas tree that he’s decorated. He offers Pete the switch to turn the lights on as a way of cheering him up. Goofy, you don’t know how right you are, buddy. Pete turns on the lights and everybody “ooo’s” and “ahh’s” for a moment until the lights short-circuit and the whole tree goes up in flames. Max and Pistol appear to be pretty impressed with the burning tree, until it topples over onto Goofy’s car and cabin. Goofy panics realizing Max’s presents are still in the car and manages to save one, but everything else is lost. Pete though is feeling a lot better and enjoys the misfortune of Goofy. At least he does until his wife invites Goofy and Max to stay in their cabin (which apparently is in good-enough shape following the accident from earlier). Goofy excitedly offers to cook which just further concerns Pete since he’s likely the only one smart enough to know that Goofy in the kitchen is going to lead to disaster.

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Peg extends an invite to the dejected Goofs.

At the cabin, Goofy is preparing Christmas dinner while everyone else is getting cozy by the fire. While Goofy retrieves food from Pete’s car, Max awkwardly thanks the Pete family for taking them in and apologizes for how “wrapped-up” his dad gets during Christmas. Meanwhile, that bear is back and notices all of the food Goofy is bringing into the house and follows, since Goofy left the door open. Goofy doesn’t notice, but feels the bear’s presence behind him and assumes it’s just Pete. As the bear tries to grab food or inflict harm on Goofy, Goofy mistakenly swats him or opens cabinet doors in his face. When the bear growls he assumes it’s the sound of Pete’s stomach and crams a pickle in his maw. Pete eventually lumbers into the kitchen, as the laws of comedy dictate, and asks Goofy who he’s talking to. When he sees the bear he freaks out and eventually Goofy realizes the bear is there as well. They flee the kitchen, leaving the bear all of the food the family was going to eat. All except a lone pot of cranberries Goofy places on the fire.

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Just a bear in a kitchen.

Goofy tries to cheer everyone up with various Christmas traditions. He proposes singing carols or retelling “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” which no one is up for (those cynical 90s!). Goofy then decides it’s time to unveil The Reindeer Dance. He puts some horns on his head, and even has a pair for Max, and goes into a song and dance routine that’s actually neither funny nor catchy. Max is embarrassed, but gets roped into the routine when he tries to get his dad’s attention. As the duo dance, the pot of cranberries on the fire begins to rumble eventually exploding at the dance’s conclusion covering everyone in gooey cranberry sauce. A dejected Goofy is reprimanded by Pete for ruining Christmas, and points out how Goofy even ruined it “for your stupid kid!” Max doesn’t jump to his defense, and a dejected Goofy heads off into the wilderness mistaking their cat Waffles for a scarf.

With Goofy out of the way, the Pete family decides to open their presents on Christmas Eve. Pistol reminds Max that his dad managed to rescue one gift from their burning car and gives it to him. Max unwraps it to find a framed picture of he and his dad doing The Reindeer Dance, which just further saddens him. He grabs his coat and lets everyone know he can’t let his dad be alone out there on Christmas Eve, and Peg declares they’re going with him – even Pete.

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Some sad Goofs.

Goofy is shown solemnly walking through the rising snow with Waffles the cat feeling sorry for himself. Behind him, the rest of the gang are marching through the snow when Pete declares that he should be the leader if he has to go on this silly mission. That just allows him to be the one to fall off a little cliff so everyone can land on him when they do the same. Goofy had passed through the same area and wound up buried in the snow and they find his feet sticking out of a bank up ahead.

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Yay Christmas!

Having found Goofy, they all pile into a nearby cave and get a fire going. It’s there Goofy and Max get to have a bonding moment and everyone learns a lesson. Goofy apologizes for messing up everything, while Max just lets him know he’s growing up, but he still loves Christmas and his dad. Goofy understands that Christmas isn’t about decorations and all that, but in who you spend it with. It’s also about bears, because it turns out they’re in the bear’s cave from earlier and he’s not interested in sharing his space with them. Peg tries to pull a tough mom routine and boss the bear around, but seeing as they’re in his cave she realizes she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Max then comes up with the (bright?) idea of distracting the bear with The Reindeer Dance. Goofy joins him and the dance of the two Goofs proves too intoxicating as everyone eventually joins in – including the bear.

When the song and dance number is all through, we fade out and reappear on a makeshift Christmas tree. It’s more like a Christmas twig adorned with ice and items characters had in their pockets or on their person like car keys and jewelry. They’re all singing “Silent Night.” Goofy puts an arm around his son and wishes him a merry Christmas, while Pete suggests they spend next Christmas in the Bahamas. He lets out a mighty sneeze as our Christmas special comes to a close.

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I think this one has Charlie Brown’s tree beat in the pathetic department.

When I was doing research for this feature I was looking over the episode list for Goof Troop and I was initially surprised to not see a Christmas episode. Christmas with a single dad in a suburban setting just feels like shooting fish in a barrel, and for Disney to not take the lay-up came as a surprise. Of course, then I realized they did do a Christmas episode, but it was outside the episode guide as a “special.” Fair enough, as it is basically just another episode of Goof Troop that happens to involve Christmas. It largely plays as expected, with an excitable Goofy inadvertently making things hard on his son and neighbors via his Christmas enthusiasm. What I didn’t expect was for a large part of the message to take a swipe at what many of us have come to think of as simple Christmas cheer. The characters shun Goofy’s decorations, carols, and overall enthusiasm and in the end have the take-away be that Goofy was in the wrong. I guess it’s obvious that basically every position Pete takes is wrong as well, since he is often swiftly dealt with in the form of violence and mayhem, but it was bizarre nonetheless. I get the message that family and togetherness are what matters most, and Goofy is obviously bad at reading a room, but I guess I just don’t really go along with this particular special. In its message though, I suppose it ends up being the most authentically 90s animated Christmas special.

Visually, Goof Troop is a little behind a show like DuckTales. It has a more “toon” look to it with lots of exaggerated movements from the characters and mouths that flap all over the place. Perhaps it was the Tiny Toon Adventures influence or maybe this is just what networks thought the “outrageous kids of the 90s” wanted. It might have also been cheaper, which is certainly possible. It mostly looks fine though, and the snowy backdrops are also really well done. This is one of those cartoons where I feel cold just watching the characters trudge through the snow, especially during the night scenes. The music is fairly understated though, and even that silly Reindeer Dance isn’t punctuated with much instrumentation, just some saxophone.

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If we were to assign an MVP for this one I guess it would go to the Humphrey look-alike.

“Have Yourself a Goofy Little Christmas” kind of let me down. I went into this one expecting something emotional that would resonate, but instead I just got a lot of physical comedy. The disappointing aspect of the comedy is that it was all stuff that had been done before, and done better. Nothing felt inventive. The emotional aspects also weren’t leaned into very heavily. I expected something that would lead to a lump in the throat, but I was largely unmoved in the end. A lot was riding on people connecting with The Reindeer Dance and Max’s Christmas gift, but both fell flat. If you want to spend Christmas with Goofy and the gang, I’d recommend just watching “A Very Goofy Christmas” from Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas as opposed to this.

If after reading all of that you feel compelled to watch this special holiday edition of Goof Troop, then you’ll have to resort to streaming or purchasing it. Disney is really bad at celebrating its old TV properties. Even though they have multiple cable channels, they never re-air their holiday specials at this time of year which is a source of frustration for me. You can purchase this digitally or on DVD, or you can just watch it for free online. It’s even on YouTube, though the quality isn’t great, but at least the price is right!


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

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Original air date December 25, 1993

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

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

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

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

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Taz seems to enjoy licking stamps.

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

Taz and Hugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now we’re getting into the spirit!

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

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

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

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Taz even has gifts for his enemies.

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

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I’m always down for a Bugs Bunny cameo.

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

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

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

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

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

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A sad, frozen, Christmas tear.

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

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We have to end it on the group shot too.

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


Dec. 21 – A Pinky and the Brain Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Behold the Noodle Noggin!

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

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

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Pinky and Brain disguised as elves.

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

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

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

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

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The work shop in action.

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

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

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

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

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They’re not the most convincing reindeer.

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

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I never thought Brain could appear so sad.

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

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

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Pinky gives Brain what he’s always wanted.

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

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

 


Dec. 2 – The Tick Loves Santa!

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The Tick Loves Santa! (1995)

The Tick arrived on the Fox Network’s Saturday morning programming block in 1994 after a wave of successful super hero cartoons. With the success of Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man it meant the timing was right for a parody hero like The Tick to get a shot at finding an audience. Often the last cartoon aired on Saturday, The Tick was like a fun palette cleanser following some of the more dram-laden shows and put a nice a bow on the whole thing. Reuniting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles voice actors Townsend Coleman and Rob Paulson as the duo of The Tick and Arthur, the show flourished with its impeccable voice cast, bright animation, and outlandish stories. The Tick was the hero we all needed at 11:30 AM on a Saturday.

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The Tick and Arthur out doing some holiday shopping.

“The Tick Loves Santa!” is the show’s Christmas episode and it arrived in season 2 first airing on November 25th, 1995. The episode opens during the holiday season where a sickly looking Santa Claus is ringing a bell looking for some spare change. Meanwhile, the local police are chasing a robber who happens upon this Santa-clad individual and steals his outfit hoping to thwart justice. His ruse doesn’t work and the police continue their chase. Meanwhile, The Tick and Arthur are walking down main street with their arms full of Christmas gifts trying to deduce what a sugar plum is. The Tick is happily counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds remaining until Christmas while Arthur worries about getting their apartment ready to host a Christmas party. The imposter Santa soon appears and runs right into the mighty chest of The Tick, nearly knocking himself unconscious. The Tick is beside himself with giddiness upon seeing Santa, while Arthur tries to tell him that’s not Santa. The crook comes to, snaps at the pair, and takes off with his sack of cash as the police show up.

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The criminal who will soon become Multiple Santa.

The Tick is horrified to see the boys in blue are pursuing Santa. Assuming there must be some mistake, The Tick jumps into action to help Santa. They end up on the rooftops where a police helicopter tracks fake Santa who’s growing increasingly frustrated. The Tick intervenes and a cop shouts down to tell him it’s not what he thinks in an almost bored tone as if the police anticipated that The Tick would cause problems for them given they’re chasing a guy dressed as Santa. The robber Santa tries to make a desperate leap and crashes into a neon department store sign and is electrocuted. He falls to his demise as the sack of cash goes up in flames. The cops, seeing that the money is no good, are done while The Tick falls to his knees in sadness at the apparent death of Santa Claus.

Back at their apartment, The Tick and Arthur host their friends for a Christmas gathering:  American Maid, Sewer Urchin, Die Fledermaus, Feral Boy, and Four Legged Man. Tick is miserable and despondent over the death of Santa while the other party-goers try and cheer him up. Arthur apparently decides enough is enough and tries to tell Tick that Santa isn’t real, which only makes Tick mad. Meanwhile, the crooked Santa thief wakes up in the alley he plunged into while duplicates of himself start popping out of the snow. It seems that the electric sign gave him duplicates and the villainous Multiple Santa is born! Naturally, he uses his duplicates (which are all incapable of speech except to say “Ho”) to go on a crime spree knocking off department stores and whatever else he wishes.

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The Tick trying to keep the peace. 

The Tick and his buddies decide to go do some caroling, but it does little to brighten Tick’s mood. Soon they encounter the gang of Santas and a fight breaks out. The Tick though is unable to fight back, for he can’t punch the face of Santa, even if it’s not the real Santa (who could take such a risk?) and is practically paralyzed with fear. The rest of the team is managing okay, until American Maid sends Multiple Santa into an electric box which only serves to create more Santas! They get trounced and everyone complains to The Tick later at the local diner about his inability to pitch-in. Sewer Urchin, in a voice that’s borrowed from Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man, lets Tick know he did a lot of ball-dropping. Definitely.

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That ain’t right.

Multiple Santa, now realizing the role electricity plays in creating more Santas, decides at his hide-out that he needs to head for the city dam for more power, and more duplicates. Meanwhile, The Tick and Arthur arrive back at their apartment to find it overrun with elves! And not just any elves, Santa’s Secret Service, who are sweeping the place to make sure it’s safe for the big man himself to enter. He soon does and The Tick is happy to meet his idol while Arthur can scarcely believe it (which doesn’t make much sense considering all of the other weird stuff they encounter every day), but soon becomes a kid in front of Santa. Santa tells The Tick he needs his help to stop Multiple Santa and takes a stern tone with him. Tick sits on Santa’s lap until Santa can’t take it anymore, and naturally agrees to do everything in his power to help Santa out.

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The Tick features some of the tallest elves I can recall.

The two strike out and Santa calls to tell them to go to the dam, since he sees everything. As Tick and Arthur approach they’re greeted by a tidal wave of Santas (a “Yuletide” as Tick puts it) and are forced to battle upstream, like a mighty blue salmon, with Tick narrating the whole way. See, Multiple Santa had arrived at the dam first and cut loose on the power there thus creating countless Santas to flood the whole city. When Tick and Arthur finally reach him, Tick still finds he can’t bring himself to punch Santa. Instead he opts for a noogie, and wouldn’t you know, the static electricity created by Tick’s knuckles causes the duplicate Santas to vanish. Striking down Multiple Santa himself, by tossing one of his clones at him, causes a chain reaction that makes all of the copies vanish thus saving the city and saving Christmas. The Tick puts a bow on everything, in the only way he can, and soon sugar plums are dancing around Tick’s head and Arthur’s too, since he’s now a believer.

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Just a little rub on the head will do.

“The Tick Loves Santa!” is a great episode of The Tick and a great Christmas special as well. It’s funny, charming, is well animated and well acted and it’s pretty unique for a Christmas special. The Tick’s constant struggle to find a way to fight a villain that looks like Santa was a constant source of humor for me and I enjoyed how dismissive Multiple Santa was of Tick, especially early on in the episode. The supporting cast got a chance to get some lines in as well, though the episode largely focused on Tick and Arthur, which it should have since it was a very Tick-centric plot. I enjoy how jaded and cynical basically everyone in the show is except for The Tick and Arthur, and the cops not really giving a shit that a person was electrocuted and fried was pretty dark for a kid’s show, even if the character would be shown to have survived a few minutes later. Working the real Santa into the episode in such an obvious way felt a little forced. Maybe the network wouldn’t go for a cartoon that says Santa isn’t real, but including a real Santa also feels like the right move anyway since Tick’s childlike exuberance needs to be justified. Maybe they could have incorporated Santa in a more subtle way, but subtlety isn’t really something this show tries. It’s got the charms though and enough Christmas spirit to justify its inclusion in this year’s Christmas celebration.


Batman: The Animated Series – “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement”

I've_Got_Batman_in_My_Basement-Title_CardEpisode Number:  13

Original Air Date:  September 30, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell

First Appearance(s):  The Penguin

Happy Black Friday, we’ve got kind of a silly one today. After three some-what weighty episodes we’re treated to something a bit on the lighter side. “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement” is unapologetically written to appeal to kids. Imagine if you were the one in Sherman Grant’s shoes and you had to protect Batman from the villainous Penguin?

Making his series debut is none other than The Penguin (Paul Williams), who’s arguably Batman’s most famous foe at this point in time following The Joker. He was featured prominently in the 1960’s Batman television show (played by the late, great, Burgess Meredith) and had just recently been in Batman Returns. His animated series look is strongly influenced by his appearance in the Tim Burton film as he’s a bulbous character with malformed hands and long black hair. He’s not nearly as grotesque looking as Danny DeVito’s version of the character, nor does he dwell in a sewer. Instead he’s a rather refined sort of villain. Well-spoken, he also has a taste for expensive avian themed baubles and when the episode begins we find him trying to steal a Faberge egg. His henchman make off with the item and lead Batman to an old factory of some kind where they meet up with their boss.

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You’ve got to hand it to The Penguin, the man knows what he wants.

Unbeknownst to them all, an aspiring detective named Sherman (Matthew Brooks) and his friend Roberta (Denise Marco) noticed a very strange bird flying over their Gotham dwelling. Sherman tracks the bird, despite some neighborhood kids telling him he’s crazy for thinking it’s a vulture, and Roberta tags along. The bird leads them right to the Batman/Penguin confrontation and they get a bird’s eye view (no pun intended) of the encounter from a catwalk. Sherman recognizes The Penguin right away, so we know he’s an established villain in this universe and, much like The Joker, has likely tangled with Batman numerous times before the events of this show. They naturally slip up and everyone is alerted to their presence. Batman tries to help the kids to safety, but gets hit with some poison gas from The Penguin’s umbrella which does a job on him. He stumbles to the Batmobile, and Sherman and Roberta give chase to try and help the caped crusader. Despite being too young to have ever driven a car, the pair manage to fire-up the Batmobile and race to Sherman’s house where they drag the semi-conscious Batman to the basement to sleep off the effects of the gas.

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Every kid’s dream, minus being pursued by The Penguin. Though there are worse villains to be chased by, I suppose.

The Penguin’s vulture soon finds them (it’s rather hard to hide the Batmobile, after all) and eventually The Penguin and his two henchmen (one voiced by the incomparable Rob Paulsen) are at the front door. Sherman, along with Roberta and the two neighborhood kids Frank (Richard Gilliland) and Nick (Adam Carl) do their best to keep The Penguin away from Batman. Sherman is able to figure out that Batman needs some anti-toxin capsules he keeps in the Batmobile, and eventually he’s able to snap out of it and come to their aid, though not before Sherman’s house is a wreck. In an amusing scene, we see his mother’s (Lindsay Crouse) reaction to what happened only for Batman to emerge from the basement which apparently gets her a little flustered. We don’t know if Batman made everything right, but after his brush with greatness Sherman is scene even more determined to become a great detective.

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This episode is mostly harmless fun, but this scene where Batman and Penguin “sword fight” is pretty stupid.

“I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” is just a fun episode of the series. It’s a bit unusual for The Penguin to be introduced in such a comedic fashion, but maybe they wanted to distance him from the scarier take found in Batman Returns. I do like this version of the character, which strikes a nice balance between his comic book persona and that film’s visual style. In The New Batman Adventures he’ll be redesigned to basically resemble the classic version of the character, which also didn’t really bother me. I have no real complaints about this one, other than maybe they could have found a more prominent role for Rob Paulsen, this is just a good episode if you’re not looking for something as serious as many of the other episodes in this series. The script is kind of dumb, and I know the episode has its share of detractors (Bruce Timm included), but I find it hard to be offended by this one. It’s light without betraying the show’s overall tone and most shows need an episode like this every now and then. There are plenty of episodes a lot worse than this one.

Up next, is perhaps the greatest episode ever for a super hero cartoon:  “Heart of Ice.” Unfortunately, you will have to wait a little while for my thoughts on that one as this blog is going all out for Christmas starting on December 1st. The Christmas Spot will be bringing you Christmas cheer advent calendar style through Christmas Day, then return to its regularly scheduled programming. This means the next episode recap for Batman: The Animated Series won’t be arriving until December 29th. Hopefully, the Christmas stuff is enough to tide you over until then. So please return then for more Batman goodness, same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Season One Review

nick_tmnt_wallpaper1280x1024_02Back in September of 2012, Nickelodeon unveiled the newest incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a one-hour season premiere.  On August 8th, 2013, the first season came to a close with a one-hour season finale.  The symmetrical first season had its ups and downs, but no one can deny it was a smashing success from a commercial standpoint as Nickelodeon has already commissioned a second and third season.  Once again, the Turtles franchise has proven that it’s harder to squish than a cock roach as it rolls on into its fourth decade of cultural relevance.  Such was likely never predicted of the franchise back when it burst onto the scene in the late 1980’s.  I would be willing to bet most adults viewed it as the latest flavor of the month they had to endure to keep their kids happy as toys and various other merchandise was consumed by the millions.  Perhaps more importantly to fans, the first season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not only a commercial success, but a creative one as well as it successfully melded the various depictions of the Turtles over the years into an all new show.

I watched and wrote about the season premiere when it first aired and described my reaction as tempered enthusiasm towards the show.  That would eventually be replaced with full-on enthusiasm as I set my DVR to record each new episode (which became a challenge to keep track of as the broadcast schedule was all over the place) to watch at my leisure.  The show got better as the weeks rolled by and the writers seemed to become more comfortable with the characters.  A lot of the humor early on missed the mark but eventually the show found its groove in that department and routinely was able to bring a smile to my face.  The show also introduced a major plot thread that was woven through the entire first season revolving around the alien race known as the Kraang which helped make the show feel more significant for regular viewers.  I’ve always been a big fan of this approach for television over stand-alone episodes.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

That’s not to say the show didn’t have stand-alone episodes here and there.  And quite frankly, that was when the show was its most uninteresting.  There was a period in the early part of the season where each episode felt like The Villain of the Week where some poor soul would be mutated into a monster the Turtles had to stop.  There was still humor to be found in these episodes and some nice action, but there was little lasting appeal.  Some of these monsters were also severely lacking in the personality department, both in a behavioral sense and visually speaking.  That is definitely one area where the old cartoon still reigns supreme as the villains often had a pretty interesting and fun look to them.  That was probably due to Playmates wanting a fun toy to market, but it worked.  The show did get better as the season went along, with one of my favorite looks for a villain popping up towards the end in the form of a newt with a Punisher-like pattern to his spots.

Overall, when compared with the old cartoon, the show was less reliant on guest spots and was content to rely primarily on a core group of characters.  The Shredder, obviously, was a big part of the first season even if he was secondary to the Kraang threat.  The writers wisely kept him out of action though, which made the episodes where he took up arms against the Turtles extra special.  He’s also a total bad ass when in combat, a far cry from the bumbling Shredder of the 80’s or even the original comic book Shredder who is famously decapitated by Leonardo at the end of the series’ first book.  This Shredder still retains his old look but with more black and bigger blades.  He’s also far more scarred than any other as his face has been badly burned and he appears to be blind in one eye.  Like the old Shredder, this one also has two mutant henchmen:  Dogpound and Fishface.  While these two are not as stupid as Bebop and Rocksteady, they’re not any more successful and are often beaten back by the Turtles.  Baxter Stockman also falls in with the Shredder during season one and provides him with some heightened technology.  Karai, Shredder’s daughter, is also introduced as a bit of tweener villain in that she has a bit of a friendship with Leonardo which serves as the backbone for a series of episodes during the middle part of the first season.  Other characters familiar to longtime fans also show up, such as Leatherhead and the Rat King, sporting new designs and new personalities.  I particularly enjoyed the new design for the Rat King and thought he was among the best of the villains shown off.  I hope to see more of him in the future.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

On the Turtle front, the cast basically stayed the same throughout the first season.  A lot of old favorites were brought back though such as a new take on the Turtle Van which is now a subway car.  The Turtles retain their signature personality traits but they feel more honest this time around.  Raphael, for example, doesn’t just get pissed-off because he’s supposed to and Leonardo is far from being an emotionless robot.  All of them have strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part, they also feel like teenagers.

Of particular enjoyment for long-time fans were all of the little easter eggs and throwbacks inserted into this series.  Metalhead was brought back as a robot constructed by Donatello.  He looks fairly similar to the old one, only much smaller.  There’s even a spot during the episode were one of the bran-like Kraang latches onto his head, which I have to believe is a nod to the original action figure’s sculpted brain.  The leader of the Kraang also inhabits a giant robot body and the antenna on its head evokes images of Krang’s body from the old cartoon.  Little things like that go a long way towards pleasing the older fans and trying to spot them is part of the enjoyment in watching the show for me.  The Technodrome is also introduced during the season finale, and the long-awaited Splinter vs Shredder confrontation takes place as well.  There’s a big reveal in the season finale that I think anyone familiar with the franchise saw from a mile away, but it was still done well and, despite being predictable, is actually a new direction for an old character.

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I'm actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I’m actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

From an artistic standpoint, the show animates quite well and is far superior to the DC CG cartoons currently airing on Cartoon Network.  The city streets of New York remained pretty barren for the whole of season one with some signs of life in the finale, but otherwise the show looks good.  I like the fact that each turtle has his own shape and anatomy instead of basically looking exactly like the others with the exception of the mask.

All in all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a good show that strikes the perfect balance between action and comedy.  The story-telling was also better than could be expected and the writing staff will have a hard time topping season one.  Its start reminds me quite a bit of the 2003 cartoon which, for me anyway, fell off quite a bit in the second season and seasons to follow.  Hopefully this show doesn’t meet the same fate.  Because season one was spread out over so many months, the wait for season two to begin is actually a fairly brief one as its set to kick off in late September.  This version of the Turtles may not be violent like the originals, or say “Cowabunga!” like the old toons, but they have a chance to go down as the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles yet!


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