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Dec. 24 – Silly Symphony – “The Night Before Christmas”

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Originally released December 9, 1933.

We have reached a day of great, holiday, release – Christmas Eve. And what better way to mark the occasion than with a holiday short titled The Night Before Christmas. A lot of cartoons have made use of this title, but today’s subject is the Silly Symphony short that falls under that heading. It felt right to tackle this one in the wake of the Merrie Melodies short we looked at a few days ago. Those two brands are forever linked by their similar titles and the competition that existed at the time between the Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. Studios, a competition that still exists today.

The Silly Symphony collection was essentially Walt Disney Production’s play area. The Mickey Mouse shorts the studio was famous for were more straight-forward, while the Silly Symphony shorts could be just as narratively tight or could be more experimental in nature. In some respects, the shorts were a testing ground for techniques the studio would employ for its feature-length theatrical productions, like the multi-plane camera used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Technicolor debuted here as well before making the jump to Mickey Mouse and even the studio’s greatest creation, Donald Duck, debuted in a Silly Symphony short (I may be a touch biased there). The shorts could be funny, whimsical, scary, whatever they needed to be. And sure, a bunch of them did just end up being characters largely dancing to some music, but there was also some great stuff in there.

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Note the top, in case you forgot who the real star is.

This short, The Night Before Christmas, is the 1933 sequel to the 1932 short Santa’s Workshop. In that cartoon, we watched Santa and his elves prepare for Christmas at the North Pole and it ends with the big guy saying “goodbye” to his loyal workers and heading off to deliver the presents. Well, this one is going to show us Santa on his journey that night through at least one house. This one was directed by Wilfred Jackson with Dick Huemer getting the credit for the animation. And as you would expect, it’s an adaptation of the famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore. And since this is a 1933 short, it’s in Technicolor unlike the Merrie Melodies short we looked at earlier.

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The cozy confines for today’s short.

Like so many cartoons, this one also begins with a rendition of “Silent Night” as the title card is shown. Lest we forget who the real star is, this is credited as Mickey Mouse presents…, in case you had no idea what Walt Disney Productions was famous for. After the title card is removed the cartoon begins. A narrator is singing the poem from which this short takes its name. Leigh Harline is credited with the music on this short, but I do not know who the vocalist is that’s singing the song. The visuals show us a cozy home covered with snow. Everything is quiet, as the poem demands, and the home’s children are snug in a rather large bed – all 8 of them.

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That was a close one, boys.

The vocals end with the sound of sleigh bells as we see Santa flying high overhead with his team of eight not-so-tiny reindeer out in front single-file. They barely fit onto the roof of the house, which is maybe why Santa’s reindeer are often in a two-across formation, but the lead reindeer is able to keep from sliding off and Santa seems ignorant to the near miss. He climbs out of the sleigh and makes his way down the chimney. He’s a fairly large Santa and certainly a round one. He has a permanent smile affixed to his face and he is prone to frequent bouts of laughter. He’s not exactly the quiet kind of Santa.

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Fire just loves Santa’s ass.

When he emerges from the chimney he’s all covered in soot, but doesn’t seem to mind. Somewhat surprising for a 1930’s short, his sootiness isn’t in the form of a blackface gag which is nice to see. He shakes the soot off and seems to notice the hot coals in the fireplace, a near miss for Santa’s rump. When he turns his back on the hot coals they grow into tall flames which reach out and caress Santa on the bum. He jumps and spins around waving a finger at the fire. He then laughs and the flames go out making me wonder if he has this sort of playful relationship with all of the fireplaces he’ll visit this evening.

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There’s something familiar about that toy in front, and something odd about that sheep one.

Santa then gets to work. He first pulls out a modest tree from his sack which isn’t quite as tall as he is. He opens it like an umbrella and places it on the floor. He then pulls out a toy bugle and uses it to summon the toys to work. A marching band comprised of toy clowns emerge first from the sack as they lead the rest of the toys which soon includes dolls and even a toy Mickey Mouse riding on a scooter. The animation with Mickey repeats several times almost as if they wanted to make sure everyone noticed the rather hard to miss cameo. One toy squeezing a sheep is a bit curious looking. I don’t want to say it’s definitely blackface, but it’s close.

The toys then begin decorating the tree which includes some lit candles (there must have been countless Christmas tree related fires over the years). My favorite gag, if you can call it that, would be the team of toy soldiers firing ornaments out of a toy canon at the tree. A plane flies around leaving a trail of garland on the tree while toy firemen coat the tree with artificial snow.

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Santa pretty much thinks anything he does is hilarious.

While the toys take care of what is apparently their job, Santa starts filling stockings. Some are a bit shabby looking, but all have a little note in them detailing what the kid wants for Christmas. One stocking is actually a diaper, which Santa puts a doll in. Another appears to be three socks stitched together which is the perfect size for a baseball bat, which forces a laugh out of Santa. When he comes to one with a hole in the toe, he improvises by first sticking an umbrella in it upside down and then dumps a bunch of toys into it laughing all the while.

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That’s a mighty fine tree there, toys.

Horns sound to apparently announce that the tree has been decorated. All that is left is for a toy zeppelin to fly to the top with the star-shaped tree topper. Once it’s placed where it belongs a small cheer goes up and the clown band starts playing “Jingle Bells.” The other toys dance merrily while Santa gets in on the act via a toy piano. If you’re thinking this must be noisy as hell, then you would be right. Soon, the kids perk up due to all of the commotion, and a patch on the comforter even flips open to reveal a ninth kid had been sleeping underneath it. The kids race to the top of the stairs for a look, with our ninth kid apparently the focal point as he’s the straggler and the seat of his pajamas is unbuttoned revealing his naked bottom. As the kids look on, it’s this little guy who tries to hold back a sneeze, and fails, alerting Santa down below.

Santa hastily orders the toys back to their places. They all head for their spot under the tree with some toys returning to their packaging. As the kids descend the stairs, Santa squeezes himself into the fireplace with his empty sack, places a finger beside his nose, and vanishes up the chimney.

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And we almost made it to the end…

The kids then attack the tree as they all reach for the toys that stand out most to them. Our little straggler, who is apparently named Junior, is the only one who apparently noticed a disturbance by the fire place and he heads for that first. Looking up the chimney, a blast of soot falls on his face and there we have it – a blackface gag (sigh). Our attention is soon directed to an unopened present under the tree addressed to Junior and he heads over and opens it. Inside is a little, black, Scottish Terrier which licks the soot off of his face. All of the kids then run to the window when they hear the sound of sleigh bells and they watch as Santa and his team of reindeer fly off into the creepiest looking moon I’ve ever seen. It has an unpleasant grin, and this is basically the same shot that ended the previous short, Santa’s Workshop. The vocalist from earlier returns as well to sing the final stanza of the poem with the short ending on the now famous line “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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Having an adorable puppy erase the blackface is probably the best outcome we could have asked for.

The Night Before Christmas is a fairly tame piece of animation, that one instance of blackface excluded. It has a simple premise and follows the Silly Symphony formula of showing a bunch of characters acting out a mundane process, but with a touch of fantasy. There’s no spoken dialogue in this one, aside from the narration of the poem, as Santa just laughs a bunch and never actually says a word to the reindeer or the toys. He doesn’t even get to belt out that closing line. The kids also don’t really say anything, they just cheer or make a noise of surprise or delight. I like that they never actually see Santa until they get to the window, as even from atop the stairs they couldn’t see anything since the room Santa was in is blocked by a door.

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I expected an ending in which Santa flies in front of the moon. What I did not expect was for that moon to wear a maniacal grin.

What this short does have some fun with is merely the process Santa goes through at each house. It’s a bit surprising to see so many toys bestowed upon these children since this was released during The Great Depression. I suppose we get some sense of that via the shabby stockings and the fact that all of the kids share a single bed. Santa bringing the tree and decorating seems to be a relic of the old days. I know my dad’s family never decorated their tree, that was Santa’s job, though I think they at least put it up first. I think some families did decorate it together on Christmas Eve before going to bed, as I’m sure some probably do that now. I think for many homes though the customary thing to do now is to get a tree and then decorate it as soon as possible. The only matter up for debate is how soon is too soon. I like getting as much visual enjoyment as possible from a tree so I’m more of the sooner the better camp. However, I have my limits. My neighbors literally put their tree (an artificial one) up the weekend after Halloween which is something I thought only happened in Bob’s Burgers. If you want my advice, even though it’s pretty useless advice coming on Christmas Eve, I say cut down your own tree if you can that way you can put it up in early December and it will still be relatively fresh come the end of the month. Those lot trees are often cut in October which is why they often don’t last very long. And if you do have a tree, don’t put lit candles on it or leave it plugged in when you’re not home or asleep. Lets avoid those Christmas tree fires, everyone.

If you want to check out this short this year then it would be rather helpful to have the collection of Silly Symphony shorts, More Silly Symphonies, which was released in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Treasures line. It’s since gone out of print, and as of this writing it wasn’t on Disney+ and if you’re reading that then it wasn’t added before this went up, which is a shame, but that blackface gag could be to blame. There’s still hope though as Disney is not very protective of these shorts so if you just punch it into your preferred search engine you’ll probably find it no problem. And if you can’t, maybe that too is a bit of a good thing as it likely means Disney is prepping this for a future release on Disney+ or via some other method. We’re still waiting on an HD release of all of the classic shorts, so come on Disney, what are you waiting for? Needless to say, have a Merry Christmas Eve and hopefully you can find some time to check back tomorrow for the final entry in this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot.


Dec. 19 – The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives

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Original release date January 7, 1933

Every year I do this I am reminded at how surprising it is that so few Christmas themed Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes shorts exist. Disney put out several memorable ones over the years featuring their characters, but Warner Bros. mostly stayed away. Bugs Bunny would eventually get a Christmas television special in the 70s, but that was well past the age of the cartoon short.

That’s not to say Warner didn’t produce any Christmas cartoons under their two most popular banners, just that most didn’t feature the company’s most recognizable faces. The first of which, The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives, contained no recognizable faces even though this was during the heyday for Bosko. The Rudolf Ising directed short was the first Merrie Melodies cartoon released in 1933, missing the Christmas holiday by a couple of weeks. Even though the Merrie Melodies line of shorts is often distinguished from Looney Tunes due to the presence of color (that wouldn’t come until 1934), this is a black and white film that’s fallen into the public domain.

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Possibly the nicest piece of animation in the short.

The short is a Depression-era cartoon, hence the name The Shanty Where Santy Claus lives. It’s not a particularly well known short as it wasn’t shown on television much given that it’s associated with a holiday and thus confined to a short window for release. Since it’s from 1933, it also doesn’t look particularly great compared with the more popular Warner cartoons and, as I already mentioned, it’s devoid of the characters the studio is known for. Despite that though, it did receive some play on Cartoon Network during the 1990s, but sometimes with alterations. I honestly can’t recall if I ever saw this one on the channel. I used to love falling asleep to the Christmas Eve programming on Cartoon Network which ran all night and mostly consisted of winter or Christmas themed cartoons. I could usually bank on seeing Peace on Earth at that time and only that time. This cartoon was probably shown as well, but I don’t remember it specifically. When viewing it now, it has an air of familiarity to it, but that could just be my imagination.

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Our downtrodden protagonist.

The cartoon begins with bells ringing and they are gorgeously animated. It then heads for ground level where the animation is less gorgeous and is accompanied by “Silent Night,” something that will become a trope in Christmas specials to come. A disheveled looking kid is drearily stomping through the snow with a floppy hat and his hands stuffed into his pockets. His exaggerated feet practically look like snowshoes. He hears singing coming from a church, but declines to enter. He perks up momentarily when he hears another commotion. Racing over to a window he looks in on a bunch of kids dancing around a Christmas tree. He then turns to the camera with a sad face as the wind howls.

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Listen kids, normally it’s not okay to run off with an old guy promising toys.

The boy gets caught in the gust which tosses him into the side of his shanty. The snow falls off the roof and buries him momentarily. He pulls himself up and heads inside. It’s a one-room shack with hardly anything inside, including parents. He’s rather down, even weeping, until he hears something outside. Sleigh bells herald the arrival of Santa Claus who comes bursting in singing the short’s signature song. Santa offers to take the boy with him to his shanty where toys and wonderful things await. The kid is more than eager to take old Saint Nick up on his offer and the two head outside. Santa puts the boy on the back of his sleigh before climbing in himself. He orders the reindeer to “giddy-up” and as they take off the boy tumbles from the back of the sleigh. Malnutrition has apparently not affected the boy’s speed or conditioning as he races after the sleigh and essentially outruns the reindeer to get back into Santa’s arms. This time the old man is smart enough to put the kid in the sleigh proper and the two take off into the sky.

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You are correct if you assumed Santa flew past that moon before landing in front of his shop. Maybe the first ever animated shot of Santa in front of a moon?

Santa and his team of two reindeer (the Depression even impacted Santa) make it to Santa’s shanty. And it’s hardly a shanty. The two head inside and the kid’s eyes widen to see all of the toys waiting to be delivered to new homes. Some of them are a bit…iffy looking, but we pan back to the kid pretty quickly who’s looking quite happy. He heads in further and starts playing with a kangaroo toy. When he squeezes a ball on the end of a tube it makes the little joey pop out of the pouch. Cute.

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Well, this just went wrong very fast.

The boy then turns his attention to a musical toy and….oh no, here’s our reminder this is a cartoon from the 1930s. A toy of jazz musicians is displayed and they basically all look like they’re pulled from a minstrel show. We then see a baby doll crying out for it’s Mama before tumbling off the shelf into a box of soot. It then emerges, in blackface, crying for its “Mammy” who then shows up to retrieve the toy. And we’re not done! A rag doll starts dancing as the short’s song returns with two other dolls that also look like blackface dolls. She then ditches the pair to watch on the side cheering them on with some maracas.

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Oh my god, it just got worse!

More toys are spotlighted including a doll that tries to blow up a balloon. She sucks in the air and turns into a woman of generous proportions who begins to sing “Shine on Harvest Moon” in what is undoubtedly a caricature of singer Kate Smith. There’s also a toy soldier on a baby bank. When the register pops open it’s, get this, full of babies. A teddy bear is shown playing a trombone and a jack-in-the-box beside it pops out and it’s thankfully not racist. The trombone keeps hitting it into a drum which is mildly amusing.

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Make it stop!

We then end up at the Christmas tree which has a lit candle on it. One of the toys knocks it over and soon the tree catches on fire (and you thought those giant bulbs from the 40s and 50s were a fire hazard) forcing the fire brigade into action. The toy fire brigade, that is. A fire engine races over and tries to put out the flames, but it is just a toy. We then see the boy again, the supposed main character who has apparently just been watching this whole thing and is possibly willing to let the racist toys burn, who decides he should take some action. A hose is conveniently at his feet and hooked up to a sink. He inserts the other end into some bagpipes which are just laying on the floor and runs over to the tree. He squeezes the bagpipes spraying water out of the various pipes which douse the flames. The toys cheer triumphantly and the short comes to an abrupt end.

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Kid, maybe you should just let this place burn.

I suppose when I saw this cartoon was in the public domain I should have expected some racism. Cartoonists, for whatever reason, loved these blackface gags in the 20s and 30s and really seemed to like the black figures seen here. Maybe it’s a benign reason, since these cartoons are in black and white it was an easy gag to get over, but it is what it is. When Cartoon Network aired this one it eventually edited out those parts, though I think at one point in time they were left in. Considering the short is a little over 7 minutes with that stuff intact, it must have been incredibly short without it. If you watch a lot of old cartoons, there’s nothing in here you haven’t seen before. I don’t think those images would keep this from being released as part of a collection of Warner cartoons, but it sure would earn it a disclaimer.

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Well, the fire’s out and…it’s over? Okay then.

Visually, this is an old cartoon and it shows. The backgrounds aren’t very detailed and certainly pale in comparison to what Disney was doing at the time. The characters have noodle-like limbs and their mouth movements are a bit odd. There are some twin characters that were probably just doubles of the film cells or possibly traces from one image to another as they move in perfect unison. The kid main character also doesn’t look particularly good, but a lot of effort was put into Santa who has a nice, jolly, demeanor.

As a Christmas toon, this is essentially a piece of wish fulfillment. A poor kid is not going to get to enjoy Christmas like the more well-off children will, so Santa shows up to whisk him away. It probably wasn’t something a poor kid needed to see as it would have felt patronizing. Santa is also barely in it as he just shows up to take the kid and then basically disappears once we get to his work shop. I kept waiting for him to come in and put out the fire (or destroy those racist toys), but he must have left to go find some other poor kid. There’s a lot of public domain Christmas music at play though, and the one original song works well enough.

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He’s certainly not as charismatic as Porky.

The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives is a public domain cartoon that is quite easy to come by. Just typing the name into a search engine should produce plenty of results, or you can even just go straight to YouTube. There are various public domain Christmas VHS and DVDs that include it, and Warner even featured it on a laser disc release of shorts back in the day, but I doubt you want to go that route. Because it’s free, the quality can vary. Some claim to be upscaled to HD, but they get a blurry, smear, effect as a result. Some are very gray in appearance and there’s even some that are practically yellow. Still, you don’t have to look too hard to find one with nice enough contrast levels. I don’t really recommend it, but it is only 7 minutes so it’s not exactly much of a time commitment. It’s a shame the few gags present are mostly racist humor. The only memorable non racist gag was the baby bank, which wasn’t particularly funny either. As the first Christmas-themed Merrie Melodies short, it at least has some historical significance. Just beware of the racist stuff.


Dec. 12 – Teen Titans Go! – “Halloween vs. Christmas”

 

halloween vs christmas

Original air date October 27, 2016.

It’s a battle for the hearts of children around the world! What is the superior holiday:  Halloween or Christmas? Today’s entrant is founded on the premise that Halloween is the only holiday to rival Christmas as far as what children look forward to most. This feels more or less on point as a kid I definitely had strong affection for both, with Thanksgiving serving as the necessary evil standing in between the two of them. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that Christmas was indeed my preferred holiday of the two, but Halloween was not without its charm. As for second best? Yes, I suppose that title went to Halloween though Easter was pretty close. It included candy as well plus I always got a toy from the Easter Bunny to go along with that candy. And as a kid, I much preferred toys to candy. Still, I’d probably go with Halloween because the whole costuming and going out at night was pretty charming. And as I got older it became a chance for mischief when parents no longer supervised the trick and/or treating that took place.

Even though I’m in agreement that Halloween is quite popular, I’d never put it on equal footing with Christmas. Especially not as a kid. As an adult, there are things that come with Halloween that I enjoy more now. And as a parent, dressing my kids up and unleashing them on the neighborhood is its own unique brand of joy. It doesn’t rival Christmas morning though, and I’m big on the whole build-up thing. Yes, Halloween is great, but don’t make me choose between the two because Halloween just can’t win that one.

And that’s partly what makes this episode of Teen Titans Go! so interesting. One would think if Halloween was to be pitted against Christmas the challenge would come from Halloween or a being associated with Halloween. It does not. Rather, this episode comes at things from the opposite perspective, but it creates a character that makes it work

mummy santaThe episode begins on Halloween night. Everyone is getting ready for trick or treating, but a group of individuals dressed as mummies are up to no good. There are four of them, one much larger than the others, and they’re swiping everything Halloween related from town:  candy, decorations, even costumes right off of the children! The Teen Titans happen to be in the area as Robin (Scott Menville) instructs the other Titans that they must secure provisions for the evening’s festivities. As they do so they come to find there’s nothing in town to purchase. Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) tells them to fear not, for he has saved some candy from last year that they can hand out to trick or treaters. He reaches into his pants and pulls out a greasy looking jack-o-lantern bag of treats and the others do not seem repulsed enough by this.

After Beast Boy produces the candy, the mummy group arrives to request it. They offer a “Trick or treat,” when prompted and Beast Boy is ready to hand over the candy, but then they notice something is off with these trick or treaters. One seems too old for the activity, while the others are really small. They wield Christmas stockings instead of Halloween bags or buckets and the big one even has what appears to be a white beard sticking out through his bandages. Robin correctly realizes that this group is really Santa Claus (Robert Morse) and his elves in disguise and he orders the Titans to the car.

The Teen Titans speed off as Santa gives chase in his sleigh. Rudolf leads the way firing lasers from his eyes that eventually pop one of the tires of the escape vehicle. Robin converts it into a nifty hover jet and it flies off into the Titans’ headquarters. Once inside, the Teen Titans regroup and all wonder what’s going on. Robin has it figured out though when he hypothesizes that Santa views Halloween as the only threat to Christmas so he’s seeking to gain control of it by seizing all of the candy and decorations. The other Titans are horrified, and then Santa shows up to basically confirm that Robin is correct.

santa megaphoneSanta hovers outside the armored HQ in his sleigh pulled by three reindeer. He demands they hand over the last bag of candy, but the Titans refuse. He then offers them bribes in the form of gifts, which nearly tempt Starfire (Hynden Walch) into handing over the candy. Robin instructs her to remain strong and the Titans are able to resist. This forces Santa to try a new tactic:  Christmas music! The music is supposed to infect the group with so much Christmas cheer that they cannot resist the demands of Santa. Cyborg (Khary Payton) is the first to crack as he attempts to run and grab a tree, but he’s stopped by his team members. They all confess that it’s too hard to resist the Christmas spirit with even the dour Raven (Tara Strong) affected by it. Robin concedes they must agree to meet Santa and make a deal.

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That treacherous Santa came armed.

The Titans let down their guard and allow Santa access to their roof where they all meet. Santa isn’t alone for he has two large grunts and three elves with him. Robin is outraged that they brought weapons and demands they lay them down. Santa does as Robin requests, but he asks that his little elves be allowed to keep their candy cane snacks. Robin allows it and the group begins to barter. Robin offers up other holidays in hopes of appeasing Santa, starting with President’s Day. He tosses a bound George Washington at Santa’s feet, but the fat man isn’t having any of it. Robin counters with a tandem of St. Patrick’s Day and a baby that’s either representing Baby New Year or maybe it’s a cupid. Either way, Santa brushes aside the offering of “trash holidays” and demands Halloween. The elves then turn their candy canes on the Titans revealing they’re actually guns forcing the group to retreat back inside their base.

With the negotiations failed, Robin turns to Raven and her dark arts for help. She requests a pumpkin, but Beast Boy offers up a gourd. In a throwback to the candy sack gag from earlier, the gourd comes from his pants. When asked why he would have a gourd in his pants he offers the same reason, suggesting you never know when you’ll need it. I choose to believe he’s using it to enhance his “package” and the little mugging he does for the camera makes me think I’m right.

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Behold! A new icon for Halloween!

With the gourd in her possession, Raven begins an incantation. She summons the Spirt of Halloween (Payton) who strongly resembles Samhain from The Real Ghostbusters, only with a gourd for a head instead of a pumpkin. The spirit is not alone though, as the Titans return to the roof to unleash their new team on Santa’s minions:  Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolf Man! Together with the Titans, they put up quite a fight, but Santa ends up getting his claws on the Halloween Spirit and the Titans are forced to surrender.

santa vs halloweenWith defeat pulling their chins towards the ground, the Titans hand over the last sack of candy rather than see Santa kill the Spirit of Halloween. Santa is delighted to have the candy in his possession, but when he opens the sack he finds it’s full of dynamite. Cyborg detonates it with a remote blasting Santa all the way back to the North Pole where’s shown with his head stuck in the snow. The Titans all celebrate, and in what is a parody of many Christmas specials, the Halloween Spirit uses his magic to bring Halloween to the town. He even creates a sleigh with skeletal reindeer not unlike what Jack Skellington rode in The Nightmare Before Christmas. As Robin wishes everyone a Happy Halloween, the Titans and Halloween Sprit ride off into the night with the full moon serving as the perfect backdrop.

“Halloween vs Christmas” serves as an offbeat Christmas special. Or is it a Halloween special? It features both so I think it counts as both, similar to the previously mentioned The Nightmare Before Christmas. Where that movie leans more towards Christmas, this one definitely leans more towards Halloween, which is fine. It doesn’t really settle the premise implied by the title, but together with the Spirit of Halloween, the Teen Titans are able to preserve Halloween by fending off St. Nick. It features the usual Teen Titans Go! brand of humor. The villainous Santa the episode came up with is pretty amusing. He gets by with a touch of shock humor since it’s a surprise to see Santa behave in such a manner, but American Dad has been running with an adversarial Santa for quite awhile now too. I really like the performance of Robert Morse as Santa and his affinity for referring to the Titans as “garbage children” kept making me chuckle.

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Happy Halloween everyone! Or, Merry Christmas?

The look of this show is something you either like or do not like. It’s very flat as it’s a modern 2D animated show, but it’s also colorful and the actual animation is pretty good. There’s an obvious anime influence to the action shots and in how the characters emote. I find it charming, but I also wasn’t a viewer of the more traditional Teen Titans show that came before this. Some fans of that show seem resigned to hating this one for being a comedy show, but that’s their loss, I suppose. I don’t think this show is going to be remembered as one of the best of its era, but it’s fine and it’s not something I mind watching. It knows when to leave a joke behind and the episodes are too short to really get stale, though I do wish Cartoon Network didn’t show massive blocks of this show seemingly every day when it has plenty of other quality shows it could boost.

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It’s more of a Halloween special, but it still knows to end on a moon shot after a flying sleigh just went by.

This is the second Teen Titans Go! episode to appear in one of the countdowns, the other being “Second Christmas.” Neither is a traditional Christmas episode, which feels appropriate for the brand. I found both entertaining, but the holiday mash-up gimmick utilized here makes me appreciate this one just a bit more. Regardless, Cartoon Network is likely to show both more than once this December so keep an eye out if it’s something you want to check out. You can also buy the episode digitally and may even be able to stream it on Cartoon Network’s app. It should be one of the easier specials to find this year should you choose to seek it out.


Dec. 10 – Merry Christmas, Super Dave!

 

img_0265There are a lot of cartoons that have come and gone in my lifetime, many I forgot even existed until something jars my memory. Earlier this year we lost comedian Bob Einstein. Einstein is probably best known for his role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but twenty years ago he was best known for his character Super Dave. Super Dave was essentially an Evel Knievel parody, a daredevil who is really bad at his profession. He would attempt wild stunts and wind up getting hurt quite frequently. He would show up on late night shows and in television specials and he even made appearances on WWF’s Monday Night Raw.

In 1992 Super Dave was given an animated series on the upstart Fox Kids Network. Titled Super Dave:  Daredevil for Hire, it captured the character’s follies in animated form with an added plot device of Super Dave being a hero as well. It was produced by DiC and Bob Einstein was onboard to both voice his character and to end each episode with a live-action segment which usually recycled one of his old stunts. The show only lasted 13 episodes and I mostly remember it as just being the show that came on after X-Men, which basically spelled the end of my cartoon viewing on a Saturday morning. Sometimes I watched it, sometimes I went on to do something else. I never got attached to it, and the most memorable aspect of the show for me was the opening credits as I probably sat through them before turning the TV off. The show premiered on September 12, 1992 and blew through its episodes rather quickly. Fox still kept it on the air though through August of 1993.

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Bob Einstein’s self-absorbed Super Dave Osborne had a pretty nice run for himself.

The penultimate episode of the cartoon series was dedicated to Christmas. I could not find an original air date for “Merry Christmas, Super Dave!” but I would assume it likely aired in November or December of 1992. If the episodes aired in order, then it would have premiered on December 5, and may have been shown again on the 19th or 26th. It’s a bit surprising to see a show of only 13 episodes get a Christmas episode, but I’m not complaining. The episode is going to have Super Dave save Santa, a rather conventional and predictable plot, but since Santa flies high over the world there is certainly a chance for our hero to suffer a terrible fall and experience tremendous pain. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

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Gotta toss in the obligatory episode title image.

The episode begins with Super Dave (Bob Einstein) testing out his latest stunt with his stunt coordinator/sidekick Fuji Hakayito(Art Irizawa). He’s going to be shot out of a canon dressed up as Santa with a sack of toys, apparently to deliver them to some kids as part of the stunt. It’s to take place that night, making this stunt feel like a “Fireworks Factory” kind of thing. Fuji fires Dave out of the canon and he misses the target, which was an oversized chimney. He lands harmlessly on a net though and he informs us that he never uses nets, but this practice run is important. He then tries to remember how to get off a net and then recalls his training. He basically does a tuck and roll to get off of it, only to find out the net is probably 100 feet off the ground. He takes a terrible fall, and the sack of toys follow to add some additional pain. A large robotic Santa basically laughs at him, annoying Dave and prompting him to demand Fuji shut it off. He questions Fuji why the net wasn’t the standard 6 feet off the ground, and Fuji replies he just didn’t have time to set it up. Then he whips out a controller and hits a button producing the proper net. It appears under Dave and bounces him in the air (they call it a net, but it and the other net are more like a trampoline) into the higher net. He then ping pongs off the two apparently stuck in a loop while the robot Santa remains active to continue its mocking laughter.

 

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That seems like a bit of an overreaction at the sight of a grown man dressed as a baby.

Super Dave and Fuji are then shown at the mall. Fuji is disguised as a baby and Dave is pushing him in a stroller because Fuji wants to meet Santa, but they think he won’t want to meet an adult man. Dave is embarrassed to be doing this and tells Fuji there’s no way anyone will think he’s a kid. A woman then, basically on cue, stops to comment on the cute baby and informs Dave that he looks just like him. Dave then removes the woman’s glasses and buffs and polishes them before returning them to her face. She then looks at Fuji and screams in what ends up being a pretty solid gag.

 

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Santa is a bit confused by this apparent child.

Dave and Fuji then approach Santa. First they’re inspected by an elf (possibly voiced by Kath Soucie, the credits aren’t great on this show) who mispronounces Fuji’s name as Fooey, but it sounds like a baby’s name I suppose. They then meet Santa and “Fooey” hops on his lap and starts reading from a rather long list. Dave then reminds Fuji that Christmas isn’t a time for selfishness, and Fuji remarks to Santa the secret password that he just wants peace and junk. Santa (Frank Welker) is so taken by Fuji’s selflessness that he reaches into his sack and pulls out some special Super Dave high-bounce sneakers. Dave himself then lodges a protest at Santa giving away his merch for free. A guy’s got to watch out for his bottom line, you know?

 

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The characters enjoy breaking the fourth wall in this show, something I did not remember.

Dave and Fuji return to the Super Dave compound to continue preparations for the night’s festivities when they receive a phone call. The call is concluded quickly with the phone exploding, and Fuji and Dave explain the phone was Fuji’s invention made to speed-up calls. They also remark it serves as a convenient way for them to explain the plot of the episode to the audience, as they both turn and mug for the camera.

 

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That sure looks painful.

Dave then heads to a payphone, as he was apparently instructed during the call. Santa has been kidnapped, and Dave needs to deliver the ransom of 10 million dollars which he apparently has with him in a briefcase. On the other end of the phone is the kidnapper (Welker) and he’s going to send Dave all over the place to I guess make it harder for any law enforcement to track him. First, he needs to head to the docks and find Alphonso and compliment him on his pretty, pink, dress. Dave heads to the docks and finds a large ship and calls up to a guy on the deck. He assumes this man is Alphonso and compliments the dress. The problem is the guy isn’t Alphonso and he’s not wearing a dress and as thanks for the compliment he drops a giant anchor on Dave’s spine. While he’s on the dock in pain, Dave looks up to see the real Alphonso staring over him. Rather than compliment him on his dress, he gives him some advice on how to improve his appearance (focusing primarily on the man’s hairy feet). Alphonso tells him he needs to head to a junkyard to find little Willy with a gold tooth before departing. Dave says he’ll do that once feeling returns to his legs before the dock gives out and he falls into the water.

 

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Now feels like an appropriate time to point out that Super Dave is not terribly smart.

Dave does indeed head for the junkyard and there he’s confronted by a rather nasty looking Doberman. He assumes the growling beast is Willy and he reaches into the beast’s mouth in search of a gold tooth. As he’s doing so, the real Willy (Charlie Adler) emerges from behind. Dave at first pays him no mind, but then he notices the gold tooth. He then grabs the ID on the dog’s collar to see his name is William. The dog yanks him offscreen to inflict violence upon old Dave and Dave narrates that the dog is chewing his bones and burying him. Ouch.

 

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Our villains of the episode.

After recovering from his dog bites, Dave heads to his next destination which is a warehouse or hangar of some kind. There he’s confronts by the main kidnapper, Alphonso, and Little Willy who display a bound Santa for Dave. They demand to see the “dough” while Dave demands to see Santa and this goes on for a bit. Dave finally opens the briefcase though after confirming via his radio set with Fuji that there’s a tracking device inside. When he shows the contents of the briefcase to the crooks though, he finds that Fuji only placed a tracking device inside. When Dave demands to know where the money is, Fuji remarks he thought it would be safer with him at the compound. Dave ducks into his shirt to chew him out some, but our surprisingly patient kidnappers aren’t too pleased and take Dave prisoner as well.

 

img_0258Dave and Santa are then bound together inside the warehouse. We get a brief look at a pair of reindeer also tied up as the crooks rig the place with explosives via a trail of gunpowder to a large stockpile of the stuff. Fuji shows up with the money to free them, and the crooks take the money and run, but not before first setting the gun powder on fire (to a festive holiday song sung by Willy “We wish you a big explosion!”). Fuji tries to put it out as it slowly burns its way towards the explosives, but he has no luck. Dave demands Fuji just untie them first, and then the three set to trying to think of a way to get out of this mess. Dave asks Santa if anything in his sleigh could put out the fuse, but Santa says no and lists stuff in his sleigh that wouldn’t work like dolls, toys, and some weird device a kid named Fooey wanted. Fuji then asks if it’s the hydraulic, attenuated, nuclear, super-charged, magno-rectifier he wanted. Santa just says “Whatever,” before informing him that it took his elves a year to build. When Fuji is asked what the thing does he says it’s for putting out explosions. How convenient?

 

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The device that will save us all. I question the need for it to be nuclear powered.

Fuji retrieves his gift from the sack on Santa’s sleigh and turns it on. It’s a boxy thing that has two cartoonish hands that extend from it. They simply put the spark out by pressing down on it with a finger, and Super Dave looks at the camera with a “Really?!” expression. Super Dave then informs Santa he can go deliver the presents now, while he goes after the crooks. Fuji tells Dave not to worry and that he already took care of the crooks. We then see them being loaded into a police wagon outside a car lot called Tricky Dick’s. When Willy asks the cop how he knew the money was stolen he informs them because they’ve never had a President Fuji and displays a bill which has Fuji’s likeness on it.

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It just wouldn’t be Christmas without more pain.

Dave is happy with his sidekick for once, and once again tells Santa to get a move on. Santa tells him that he’ll need their help since he’s getting a late start as he heads for his sleigh. Dave says they’ll never get anywhere fast enough in that old thing, when Fuji tells him his wacky Christmas gift has another function. It apparently transforms into a rocket sleigh and Dave excitedly jumps in to pilot it. He fires it up and the thing shoots straight up in the air before crashing back down to earth leaving Dave a charred mess.

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Of course Fuji and Dave are getting a ride in Santa’s sleigh!

Santa then informs them that his sleigh is more than adequate, and the trio board it and take off. As they fly through the air, we have it confirmed that this Santa is the same as the mall Santa from earlier (which the viewer probably knew, but apparently Dave and Fuji did not). Dave had previously told Fuji the mall Santa was just a helper and probably a pool man, which the crooks even repeated before they left, so he feels a bit stupid. Santa then gifts Dave a pair of Super Dave high-bounce sneakers which Dave is surprisingly quite happy to receive. Santa then demands payment for them which catches Dave off-guard, but he’s reminded that he’s just doing what Dave instructed him to do. We’re then wished a merry Christmas and as the trio fly away Dave lists off all of the injuries he incurred during this adventure.

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The shot that ends most Christmas specials.

We’re then taken to a special Christmas greeting card. It’s a Christmas song sung by Super Dave set to the Twelve Days of Christmas that mostly just lists off misfortunes incurred by Dave throughout the show. It features clips from past episodes and lasts about a minute. It’s cute. We’re then taken to the live-action segment of the show, which involves a gag where Super Dave tries to hold onto a pickup truck and keep it from driving off for thirty seconds. He can only manage to do it for 15. When the announcer instructs the crew to get that truck out of there it takes off and Dave’s arms, which were still bound to the bumper, stretch to a comical length. And that’s the end.

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An actual “stunt” is included as well.

Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire is not a particularly well-animated show. It’s one of DiC’s lesser productions, but I wouldn’t call it ugly. It’s just fairly simple, which isn’t surprising since it’s pretty weird that it even exists. The daredevil craze was well past its expiration date come the 1990s and Super Dave was known, but not exactly a household name. The show has some laughs to offer, though they’re not found where I expected them to be. The physical comedy bits are what I recalled most from the show, and they’re fine, but I mostly found the show amusing when it breaks the fourth wall or when Dave is shown being pragmatic. Though the joke of Fuji essentially being a deus ex machina might have been overused.

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This show has its moments, like this Santa robot that basically mock’s Dave during his practice run.

As a Christmas episode, this is pretty by the numbers. Super Dave is a hero, so having him save Santa is expected. The actual rescue was a bit weird with a lot of padding by having Dave need to go on a scavenger hunt of sorts. It was not at all surprising to find the real Santa was the same as the mall one, which Dave had dismissed. Visually, there’s not a ton of Christmas to be found outside of the opening stunt sequence and the mall. And speaking of that opening stunt, I was shocked the episode didn’t return to it. I figured it was going to be a bookend and we’d see Dave’s actual Santa stunt go comically wrong in front of an audience. I feel cheated! It really was a “Fireworks Factory” after all!

 

Interestingly, there appears to be two versions of this episode: the original and an edited one. The edited one features changes to the Fuji character to de-emphasize his more racial features, namely his eyes and even a re-recording of his speech. The skin tone may have been altered as well, or that could just be a difference in quality between the two videos I found. Most of my images come from the edited one as it was of a better quality, but you can see the changes in the images above. Art Irizawa, who is Japanese-Canadian, played the character in live-action and voiced him here in both versions. Apparently, an Asian-American Child Psychologist by the name of Kenyon S. Chan voiced complaints about the character. I found a story on the subject from the LA Times. It mentions the character will be changed for Season Two, but that never came to exist. I’m guessing they went back and made these changes for the summer rebroadcasts and maybe in anticipation of making it appear the same as the next season.

In the end there isn’t much of a Christmas message or lesson to impart. Santa even took Dave’s advice and decided to charge for the special sneakers. I’m fine with it though, not everything needs a moral. The additional song at the end is appreciated as it does inject a bit more Christmas spirit into the thing. The live-action finale though feels out of place since it didn’t involve Christmas at all. Maybe they should have just ended this episode with the song and a merry Christmas from the real Super Dave?

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Not a lot of people remember this cartoon which means it’s easy to find for free online, but in poor quality.

If you want to watch this one this year it probably won’t surprise you to hear it’s not readily available anywhere. No DVD release was ever done and streaming platforms don’t see any value in paying for it. Plus with Einstein no longer with us there’s likely even less reason for anyone to attempt to profit off of this cartoon. The good news is since no one cares about it then no one is punishing piracy. If you want to watch it, just google it. You’ll even find it on YouTube with a few bumpers and commercials as well. And honestly, sometimes those are better than the actual show.


Dec. 3 – Mega Babies – “A Mega Christmas”

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“A Mega Christmas” first aired on November 24, 1999.

Considering how gross a lot of cartoons had become in the 90s, it should come as no surprise that the decade concluded with Mega Babies, a cartoon about literal snot-nosed, super-powered, babies featuring diapers overflowing with excrement in the opening title. Mega Babies was a short-lived production from the Tremblay brothers, Christian and Yvon, who are probably best known from their work on SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron, a perfectly cromulent action-adventure cartoon from Hanna-Barbera. Mega Babies is quite different from that production, opting for a shorter format (roughly 11 minutes an episode) and taking a comedy bent. The premise strikes me as Rugrats, but crass, and the kids have super powers.

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The show ran from October 1999 through April 2000 on Teletoon (Canada) and the Fox Family Channel.

Mega Babies stars three colorful babies in Derrick (Laura Teasdale), Buck (Sonja Ball), and Meg (Jaclyn Linetsky). All three babies are voiced by female actresses, but only Meg is female in the show. This is fairly common in animation as all of the babies in Rugrats were voiced by women. The babies are orphans granted super powers when the planets aligned, or some such nonsense quickly established by the opening credits. Their caretaker is Nurse Lazlo (Bronwen Mantel), an old lady the babies simply refer to as Nursie, who appears to be of Russian descent and was also granted super intelligence by the same planet thing as the babies. The only other credited members of the cast are Richard M. Dumont, who is an announcer on the program, and Dean Hagopian who is credited on IMDB as simply handling various male voices. Wikipedia lists many other actors who likely handled bit roles on the show, but were frustratingly not credited in the actual program. Since the show isn’t exactly well-remembered, maybe they preferred to not be credited.

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The show is known for being rather gross. Expect lots of boogers and poop.

Mega Babies is a joint US and Canadian production which was common in the 90s as Canadian voice actors famously did not belong to any union. They were often cheaper to employ and studios love saving a buck or two when possible. The production company is CinéGroupe which had been in the business since 1974. A lot of the productions have been Canadian in nature, so your place of origin may impact what you feel is the company’s most notable work, but for me I best know it from Heavy Metal 2000. This particular show has the look of a lot of cartoons from this era. It’s likely digital in nature at a time when animators were struggling to produce digital art on par with traditional hand-drawn animation. It’s a bit cheap looking in places, and also fluid and experimental in others. It has a post 90s vibe to it in that it shares a lot of similarities with other shows of the era, namely contemporary Ed, Edd, n Eddy, but it’s also struggling to push this style further and beyond what’s been done before.

When this show debuted on the Fox Family Channel I was in high school. Cartoon Network was somewhat on my radar due to its programming towards teen audiences, so I was tangentially aware of some its more straight-forward kids entertainment. Fox Family Channel, on the other hand, was pretty far from my mind and I never knew this thing existed. It’s yet another program I’ve discovered via this project of mine as I’m always on the hunt for Christmas shows. The premise is somewhat attractive as I enjoy shows where the main characters are ignorant children. And Rugrats is a show I find mostly charming, so a show that’s basically a mash-up of Rugrats with the gross humor of my favorite Nicktoon Ren & Stimpy sounds more than a little intriguing.

Which brings us to “A Mega Christmas.” This is the 18th episode of the show’s inaugural season, first airing November 24, 1999. Interestingly, the first season would stretch on to contain 26 episodes with the finale airing on Boxing Day, December 26th. I’m a bit surprised this episode wasn’t pushed a little further into the year, but there is a 2-week gap in the episode airing found on the internet so my guess is it was rebroadcast on December 15. This is also the Teletoon airing schedule, so who knows what Fox Family did. I purposely did not watch any other episodes of this show, preferring to see how weird it is going in cold turkey, so let’s see what one can glean from one episode.

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Everyone loves a snot-coated Christmas tree.

The episode opens at the home of the Mega Babies. “Joy to the World” is playing us in, as it so often does with Christmas themed episodes of cartoons. The babies are decorating their tree, and one is stringing brownish-green snot around it like garland. Meg, from atop a ladder, calls down to Derrick (the yellow one) that he’ll ruin the tree if he adds canned snow and the two bicker momentarily. Meg calls for Nursie, and her lips grow to gargantuan proportions as she does, while Nursie simply calls back to the babies to be nice. Derrick interprets this as permission to cover the living room in fake snow before all three babies argue who gets to put the “perfect” angel on top of the tree.

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It would be a nice, traditional, Christmas image if not for the boogers.

Nursie then comes into the room baring presents, but they’re to go under the tree. She tells the kids not to peek as she heads off to the kitchen to continue cooking a traditional Christmas goose. The kids then commence with the peeking until they’re distracted by the TV. Booger Ranger is coming on, and I assume this is a program they watch often in other episodes. The character basically looks like a giant nose with limbs and a mouth with green snot constantly dripping. Plus he’s got a cowboy hat and boots. Lovely.

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These aliens are rather wild looking, but sadly will spend the majority of the episode in disguise.

Meanwhile, at the North Pole Santa Claus is getting ready to board his sleigh to go do his thing. There is no official credit I can find, but this Santa is definitely voiced by John Stocker who you may recall as Toad from the Super Mario Bros Super Show and Graydon Creed from X-Men. As he gets ready to depart, four aliens drop from the sky. They’re hideous, scaly, horned, drooling, aliens and their leader goes by the name of Claw (who I assume is Dean Hagopian doing his best Cam Clarke impression). As such, it seems only natural for him to want to assume the mantle of Santa “Claws.” I get the impression these guys are frequent antagonists in this show, but I could be mistaken.

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Imposter Santa ready to spread bad tidings.

These aliens apparently have a limited ability to shape-shift. They can assume another form, but their skin always remains green. Claws assumes the form of Santa, and his underlings take on the shape of elves. They want to spread chaos and genuinely cause a bad time across the world, and by taking over for Santa that seems like a pretty solid way to accomplish their goal. The fake Santa looks at his list and the first destination is Your City, USA which is home to the Mega Babies, but he’s apparently unaware of that. He declares it’s time to go make kids cry and departs in a sleigh pulled by two, fat, reindeer. This is your first reminder for 2019 that my Christmas special pet peeve is when Santa’s sleigh is pulled by fewer than 8 reindeer (I don’t demand it be 9 to include Rudolph, but there damn well better be 8!).

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Christmas:  the magical time of year when alien Santa turns a lifeless nutcracker into a rampaging goblin.

At the home of the Mega Babies, Booger Ranger has reached its disgusting conclusion. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker apparently, as the babies empty their snot receptacles into some once clean hankies when it’s over. The doorbell then rings as Nursie grapples with the raw goose, and who could it be?! Meg orders Buck to open it stating it could be Santa, but instead it’s a bunch of carolers and Buck promptly slams the door in their face. Meg then seems to correct herself and says Santa only comes down the chimney, and seemingly on cue who drops in? It’s Santa! Only it’s not Santa as the fake one has arrived. After being smothered with affection by the babies, and then Nurse Lazlo, he makes for the tree and magically turns Meg’s nutcracker into some kind of troll-monster that destroys all of the other presents which then drops dead.

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Mrs. Claus says the children caused Santa to “go postal.” I’m surprised they got away with that one.

Santa departs with a “Scary Christmas!” leaving the children confused. Why did he show up just to destroy all of their presents? Nurse Lazlo leads the children to another area where she intends to contact Santa from. Lazlo has a giant telescope from which she can see Santa’s home and a large black hole above it. She produces a comically large rocket with a phone inside it and shoots it off to the North Pole via slingshot. There it crashes into the home of Santa and Mrs. Claus, where Mrs. Claus answers it surrounded by her alien captors dressed as elves. She assures Nurse Lazlo that everything is fine, and excuses Santa’s odd behavior as him “going postal” on account of being screamed at by 2 billion children. The old bird isn’t convinced. She and the babies set off to find out what’s going on with Santa, fearing the worst.

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It’s extra funny since Santa’s VA once voiced Toad who was ga-ga for a snowboard in the Mario Christmas special.

At the North Pole, Mrs. Claus asks her captors if they’re hungry and they reply in the affirmative. She grabs a fruit cake and smashes them in the face with it, given it’s basically a brick. She then frees Santa, referring to him affectionately as Sweet Cheeks,  and tells him to go fix this situation. Without his sleigh though, Santa is at a loss for how he can track down the aliens. She then tells him that all of the kids complain he isn’t hip enough, and tosses him a snowboard. I do not know where she is receiving this information, but I can assure you I have never once questioned Santa’s “hipness.” Apparently a snowboard in the hands of a magical being like Santa, even if he looks a bit disheveled, is more than enough as Santa flies around on it tossing out some bad slang in the process.

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I’m pretty sure it was in the series’ bible that one baby must always have snot visibly dangling from a nose when all three are in the same shot.

Santa soon winds up in Your City where he crosses paths with Nurse Lazlo and the babies. He recognizes Lazlo and even refers to her as Sweet Lips. They went to college together and I guess they shared some good times (and the two appear to be open to sharing some more) during those years. The babies need some convincing though that this is the real Santa, and Derrick orders him to prove his identity by telling them what they want for Christmas. He predictably aces this test, and it’s revealed that Buck adorably just wants a hug from Santa (aww!).

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This is apparently what makes them “mega” babies.

With that out of the way, Santa now has some willing and able super-powered babies to help him save Christmas. He heads back to the North Pole for replacement presents, while the babies enthusiastically prepare to kick some alien ass. As demonstration of their enthusiasm, their arms swell-up to gargantuan proportions and become veiny and beefy (Trogdor!). They head for a nearby toy store where they find the imposter aliens up to no good. With their cover blown, Claws bursts forth from his costume in gross fashion to demonstrate his hideousness.

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One alien gets pressed through a shopping cart. The art directors apparently liked the gag so much they immediately went to it again when another is forced through a net.

The babies then do battle with the aliens and a series of bland visual gags and even worse puns take place. With the visual style of the show being so exaggerated, I had some large expectations for the type of violence we would see, but felt let down. Two aliens get shredded in almost identical fashion as they’re turned into strings of goo similar to Playdoh spaghetti (it sounds a lot more gross than it really is). Claws is saved for last, and the babies just punch into space with their oversized arms.

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These two totally just fucked.

As the babies were doing their job, Santa and Nurse Lazlo were getting cozy on Santa’s reclaimed sleigh. Really, Santa? Your wife beat back some aliens to save you and you repay her by cheating on her with some old flame from college?! The two are fully clothed, but the implication is almost one of post-sex cuddling. The babies then show-up with a shopping cart full of alien parts. They boot that into space as Santa and Nurse Lazlo praise them. Santa then informs them that he still needs their help if they’re going to save Christmas. Too much time has elapsed for him to deliver all of the presents, and Nursie says she has an idea.

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Aww, the little babies fell asleep!

A quick wipe-effect lets us know some more time has past and Nursie and the babies are returning to Santa in their rocket car. She informs Santa that they’ll take the southern hemisphere leaving him the northern one and they’ll meet in Rio when the job’s done. Santa is delighted to have their aid, and thanks them as he departs once again referring to Lazlo as “Hot Lips.” He’s picked up one reindeer during all of this, but that still leaves him five short, as he takes off. Nursie remarks that she loves that man before turning to the babies to tell them they’ve got work to do. She finds the babies are fast asleep on the pile of toys, prompting her to close out this show with a “Merry Christmas to all, and to my babies a good night.”

“A Mega Christmas” is a Christmas special with a pretty loud visual style. The over-exaggerated mannerisms of the characters combined with their pliable anatomy and abundance of snot certainly garners attention. What does not is the bland plot and dialogue and pedestrian visual gags. The art directors seem to think boogers alone are enough to create laughter. The booger garland on the tree felt predictable to me, and I’ve never even watched this show before! The only moment I found genuinely funny was when Buck answered the door to find carolers. Otherwise, I appreciate the show’s embracing of chaos as the plot is nonsensical and no one seems to care about how weird the world around them is, but without quality jokes backing up that randomness it just feels lazy.

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The show’s only attempt at being traditionally heartwarming is when it’s revealed that the number one item on Buck’s Christmas list was a hug from Santa.

Aside from the gags, the visual elements of the show are a mixed bag. Often times the babies are practically inanimate to draw attention to how wild their arms are. They move all over the place stretching when needed. It’s far more elegant than say the George & Junior cartoon I covered two years ago, but it also feels a touch overdone. The mouth animations on the babies are pretty fun though, and Lazlo is well-animated and at-times even takes on a hand-drawn quality. The backgrounds though are fairly bland often populated with large swaths of solid colors and little detail. There’s little warmth to find in what should be the cozy confines of the living room setting, and also no real coldness to find in the outdoor scenes. The world just exists without feeling alive.

The aliens, on the other hand, are a bit more interesting to look at. Perhaps they proved too interesting and complicated since they spend most of the episode in simpler forms disguised as elves and Santa. When they’re not, their design is quite evocative of old MTV interstills or Ed Roth’s Rat Fink. The smooth-talking leader is an interesting subject since his voice does not match his appearance. I don’t know if these guys are reoccurring villains, the babies certainly don’t act like they know who they are, but they at least seemed interesting.

As such, I can’t really recommend “A Mega Christmas.” It’s supposed to be a funny and offbeat Christmas special that is only partially successful in the presentation department, but lacks much in the way of humor. The best thing I can say about it is that if you want to watch it you totally can and it’s free. The Mega Babies YouTube channel has most or all of the episodes available including this one and if you’re curious about it after reading this then I have more good news as it will only consume about 11 minutes of your life, less if you skip the credits.


Dec. 19 – Stich and Santa!

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Originally aired in Japan on December 24, 2008

Stitch, of Lilo & Stitch fame, is apparently quite popular in Japan. Disney is popular in general over there, but it seems like Stitch struck a chord. He has a lot of Japan exclusive merchandise and his popularity has extended well past the movie from which he originated. In the US, Stitch and his pal Lilo did get an animated series as well as multiple direct-to-video films so it’s not as if he isn’t popular domestically as well. He’s just so popular in Japan that he’s received multiple anime series that ran from 2008-2011. Following that, a series of specials aired with the newest released as recently as 2015. Since then, Stitch has actually switched markets in Asia and gone to China, where a new series launched in 2017.

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Stitch! premiered just over 10 years ago in Japan.

The first of these anime was the Madhouse produced Stitch!. It premiered on October 8, 2008 so happy ten year anniversary to Stitch!. Unlike the American cartoon series, Stitch! is not a continuation of the story started in the film but a reinterpretation. Stitch (Ben Diskin) fell to Earth and is accompanied by Dr. Jumba (Jess Winfield) and Pleakley (Ted Biaselli). He ended up on the island of Izayoi which is near Okinawa where he encounters The Spiritual Stone. He befriends a young girl named Yuna (Eden Riegel), the Lilo of our story, and is promised by The Spiritual Stone to be made the strongest in the universe if he can complete 43 good deeds. Stitch is quite mischievous though, so completing these deeds will not be easy because a bad deed takes away from his total. Pleakley crafts him a counter to keep track of his deeds, and together with Yuna, they set out to complete the task.

Standing in Stitch’s way are other experiments of Dr. Jumba gone rogue. The main villain is Dr. Jacques von Hamsterviel (Kirk Thornton), who looks like a cross between a hamster and a rabbit. He attended college with Jumba and seems to just want more power and he sees a way to attain that via Stitch’s good deed counter, or something. He’s also not a new villain as he premiered in the direct-to-video sequel to the original movie, Stitch. Gantu (Keith Silverstein) from the film works for him after he was dishonorably discharged from the Galactic Federation for bad karaoke and he’s rather incompetent. He has an obsession with an Earth soap opera called The Young and the Stupid, in particular with its lead actress. Also joining them is Reuben (Dave Wittenberg), Experiment 625, who basically just makes comments and sandwiches. He loves sandwiches and he also previously debuted in Stitch.

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Stitch is quite excited about this whole Christmas thing.

Stitch! was first run in Japan, but was also dubbed in English for other regions, though surprisingly the US was not really one of them. Only five episodes aired in the US on Toon Disney before the show was abruptly pulled. It’s possible Disney just felt it was too different from the franchise that is featured here and didn’t want to confuse audiences. Or someone just didn’t like it. The main English cast also was not utilized for the show, but that’s not surprising. As you can imagine, the show has not been released in the US as a result.

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That’s quite a Christmas tree.

The episode opens with Yuna getting ready for Christmas. Stitch has no idea what Christmas is, but Pleakley is happy to inform him since he is an Earth expert and all. He confuses basically all of Earth’s holidays as one and even thinks part of Christmas is the consumption of red-nosed reindeer, which gets Stich quite excited. Venison and presents! His excitement messes up Yuna’s tree decorating, but he refashions it into a facsimile of himself. It’s an improvement. Pleakley did at least get the Santa stuff mostly right, giving Stitch something to look forward to that night. Yuna also gifts her alien friends stockings of their own so that Santa can leave them a present tonight.

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The villains of the show with really only Hamsterviel being an actual villain. Gantu only cares about a soap opera while Reuben is just really into sandwiches.

In space, Hamsterviel is plotting to utilize Christmas to get rid of Stitch. He is planning on masquerading as Santa Claus to gain the trust of the Earth children and Stitch, and launch a plan from there. Reuben and Gantu are expected to help, with Gantu to just seeing this scheme as a means to stop his favorite actress on The Young and the Stupid from getting married. On Earth, Yuna receives a letter from Santa instructing her to meet him in the forest for her Christmas present. She and Stitch are so excited they don’t notice the obvious Hamsterviel stamp on the envelope.

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These kids want their present!

Turns out, more than just Yuna received a letter from Santa as the island’s children are shown heading for the designated spot. Along the way they talk amongst themselves trying to figure out why Santa would change things up. A particularly bratty girl named Penny (Meghan Strange) is the most vocal. When they arrive at the area, Hamsterviel is there floating in an egg-like device dressed as Santa. Gantu is dressed as a reindeer and is playing music while Reuben is just there making sandwiches. Santa Hamsterviel offers the children a cookie, and when they eat it they grow whiskers and buck teeth. It becomes clear they’re under Hamsterviel’s control, but he does still give them presents – sandwiches and plush versions of he and Gantu.

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These kids aren’t very smart if they think that’s Santa.

Not present at the gift ceremony is Yuna, who with Stitch is running late. They’re hopeful that all of the presents aren’t gone. They’re intercepted by Kijimunaa, a little yokai who’s basically a mouth and a pair of nostrils with a mop of hair on top. He witnessed what happened with the kids and warns Yuna and Stitch that it isn’t Santa who’s giving out gifts. They confront Hamsterviel and see the transformed children who threaten to bite them and tickle them with their whiskers. Seeing there isn’t much they can do, Yuna and Stitch retreat to seek the help of Jumba. He’s irate to find out Hamsterviel stole his idea for mind-control cookies so he’s happy to help foil his scheme. He quickly builds a little, golden, cat idol that spits out cookies. These cookies should reverse the mind control Hamsterviel inflicted upon the children.

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Yuna and Stitch are not putting up with this crap, especially not on Christmas Eve!

Armed with the statue, Stitch and Yuna return to the forest where apparently Hamsterviel was content to just hang out and have the kids massage his feet. Stitch jumps around and fires cookies out of the idol at the children who consume them and return to normal. With the spell on them broken, Hamsterviel and company are forced to retreat. As the kids walk back to town, they’re all a bit dismayed they fell for such a scheme. It leads them back to the topic of Santa Claus, and Penny is that kid who wants to spoil everyone’s fun and insists that Santa is their fathers. Stitch is shocked to hear such a thing, but Yuna insists Santa is not their dads. Penny’s response is to point out that of course Santa isn’t Yuna’s dad because her dad is never home (unlike Lilo, Yuna’s dad is alive, he’s just always working so while this is a vicious burn it isn’t as vicious as it would be if she and Lilo shared the same origin) which upsets Yuna and causes her to stop dead in her tracks. She then sadly remarks, mostly to herself, that’s how she knows Santa isn’t her dad because he is never around.

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Santa apparently doesn’t dress lighter when delivering gifts in Hawaii.

At home, Yuna is a bit more upbeat than she was following her encounter with Penny. She writes a letter to Santa, but won’t tell Stitch what’s in it, that she places beside her pillow as she goes to bed. Stitch seems a bit thoughtful, but he too lays down to sleep but is soon awoken by a sound on the roof. He heads outside to find the big man himself, Santa Claus (Dave Wittenberg), on the roof. He thanks Stitch for what he did in stopping Hamsterviel earlier and also asks for his help. Stitch is very eager to help Santa, and the jolly old elf outfits him with his own Santa suit (Stitchy Claus!) and a tiny, one-deer, sleigh. Stitch surprisingly doesn’t seem tempted to eat his lone reindeer and Santa hands him a sack of toys to deliver throughout the island.

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All right, that’s pretty damn cute.

Stitch sets forth and the action unfolds as a montage. He visits most of the kids we saw earlier and places a gift in their stocking, which most seem to hang from their bed (a Hawaiian tradition?). He even gives that jerk Penny a gift, and saves Yuna for last. In the morning, the kids are gathered at Yuna’s house to show off their presents. Yuna got exactly what she wanted, while Penny got a book on how to be nice. Even Hamsterviel is shown as having received a gift – a giant hamster wheel because he’s out of shape. Gantu received a costume from his favorite soap opera, which brings him to tears, while Reuben has decorated their tree with nothing but sandwiches. On Earth, Kijimunaa asks Stitch what Santa got him, which causes Stitch to realise he didn’t receive a gift! He heads back to his room and finds a letter from Santa thanking him for all he’s done. Stitch then checks his good deed counter and watches it increase by five deeds. This excites him quite a bit as he looks to the heavens and the episode ends.

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But this is actually cuter.

“Stitch and Santa” was a pretty charming way for me to get acquainted with this series. Prior to this, I knew it existed but had never sought it out. It looks like a fairly typical anime, while the character designs of the characters we know from the films largely look the same. The voice cast is fine and Hawaii is still a lavish setting. I enjoyed the design of Hamsterviel who is so cute he isn’t threatening and it was interesting to see the new interpretation of Gantu. A lot happens in the 20 minutes the episode lasts to build up to the climax of Stitch helping Santa. There’s something really charming and cute about that whole sequence making it a really nice pay-off following the rather breezy scheme plot.

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Stitch saying “Thank you, Santa” is also pretty adorable. I can’t handle the cuteness!

Since the lore of the show is so different from the film it makes it a bit difficult to just drop-in. Stitch being friendly with Jumba and Pleakley isn’t too odd since that’s basically how the movie ended, though the presence of Yuna is confusing. I at first thought she was just an anime version of Lilo, but obviously I was mistaken. I had no idea about the deed counter though, so Stitch’s ultimate present was a bit of a head-scratcher until I read-up on the series. I’m a little disappointed this didn’t get a US broadcast and release as it seems like it has potential. Because it wasn’t released, it would seem Disney doesn’t care about protecting its asset so this was exceptionally easy to find streaming online. If you like Stitch and want to see a different take on him, go ahead and check it out. There’s enough Christmas feels here to make it a worthwhile holiday viewing experience.


Dec. 11 – “Santa’s Surprise”

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“Santa’s Surprise” first released December 5, 1947

Cartoons were a pretty big deal at one point in time. Any studio that wanted to be thought of as a major studio had its own animation division and its own characters. Everyone knows the big ones from Disney and Warner and then after them I suppose the next biggest was MGM with Tom & Jerry, as well as others. Eventually animation became less important as television invaded the homes of people all around the world. No longer did customers heading off to the movies expect a newsreel, cartoon, and feature and the cartoon short started to disappear. Now it’s largely a novelty and a bunch of the lesser ones have slipped into the public domain.

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Paramount’s Noveltoons ran from 1943 until about 1967.

Of the many cartoons that appear to be floating around in the public domain, it would seem a lot belong to Paramount Pictures. They were there early as well, with the likes of Betty Boop and Popeye, but they scrambled for stars in the 40s and 50s. This was a time when the short was fading, and even Mickey Mouse had all but been retired. One of the studio’s stars during this era was Little Audrey. She was basically a replacement for the more popular Little Lulu character that Paramount declined to keep licensing. I wouldn’t say Little Audrey is a total rip-off of the Little Lulu character, but there are certainly some similarities. Paramount was at least smart enough to give her a different voice, and tasked Mae Questel with the honors. Questel is best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl.

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A rather pleasant looking Santa flies around singing to himself on Christmas Eve. The man loves his job.

The debut for Little Audrey is actually not a true Little Audrey cartoon, but she’s the most recognizable face in it. “Santa’s Surprise” is a 1947 Noveltoons cartoon short that depicts some kids giving Santa a present of his own on Christmas. It opens rather simply with Santa flying around in his sleigh on Christmas Eve. Ahead of him, six chunky reindeer pull his sleigh. It hasn’t come up much this year so far, but my biggest Christmas special pet peeve is when Santa is depicted with less than 8 reindeer. I won’t demand they include the 9th, but come on! There has to be at least 8!

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I guess this kid thinks this face on his pillow is enough to fool Santa. Looks like it worked.

As Santa flies around he enters homes to stuff stockings. From under beds and behind blankets little eyes watch his every move. Audrey has the most auspicious debut when Santa arrives at her house to find she cut a hole in her stocking, thus attempting to trick him into refilling it over and over. Santa laughs and it’s clear he’s having himself a good time. He even stops to take note of a little stocking hanging outside a mouse hole and stuffs a wedge of cheese into it. Poor cartoon mice, all they ever get is cheese.

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I have my name on my bed too.

With his work done, Santa returns home to the North Pole. His existence in this cartoon actually seems rather sad as his house is empty. No elves. No Mrs. Claus. Just a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Santa is pretty tired and climbs into bed, though he pauses to wish himself a “Merry Christmas!” in the mirror, which is either cute or just further adds to his depressing surroundings. As he snores away, the tassel on his night-cap billowing with each snore, some eyes emerge from his sleigh. It’s a group of multi-cultural children! They’ve stowed away in Santa’s sleigh throughout the night to reach his home. This is clearly not the same Santa of my youth who was impossible to catch in the act.

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Little Audrey, center, is going to tell these kids what’s up.

The kids all climb out of the sleigh and peer into Santa’s home. They take note of the dour surroundings and decide they should do something for Santa since he does so much for the children of the world. Little Audrey is basically the focal point of the group as she’s the one who suggests they help him out. As the white American of the group, I’m guessing the animators thought no one else could possibly lead this bunch. We get a little word from everyone, and boy are there some uncomfortable depictions here. The little black kid somewhat resembles a white kid in blackface. It’s not good. The Chinese child has tiny slits for eyes and speaks in stunted English. There’s a Hawaiian girl that seems to only communicate in hula and another questionable accent on the Spanish girl. This is 1947, folks!

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The kids sneak around, until they realize they don’t really have to.

From here it’s a pretty benign little cartoon. The kids sneak into the house and try to keep quiet as they get busy cleaning up the place. One of the boys gets the seat of his pants set on fire and has to plant it in the snow, which is probably the only real physical comedy here. I did find it amusing how they keep insisting on being quiet so as not to wake Santa, and then Little Audrey just starts singing a song as she dusts the place.

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The physical comedy is not high in this one, but a kid does set his ass on fire.

When they’re finished, they leave Santa’s tree decorated and with a present under it. He’s startled and wakes up to find the children have fled, but he sees how clean everything is and finds the present under the tree. It’s a music box with all of the faces of the children on it and there’s a little note reminding Santa not to forget them next year. He gives a hearty laugh, and the short is over. How did those kids get home? I have no idea.

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Little Audrey, just over here dusting this fish.

If it weren’t for the dated representations of the other cultures of the children, “Santa’s Surprise” would be a totally boring, but sweet, Christmas cartoon short. It’s got a nice, simple, message about repaying acts of kindness with more kindness. Who is more deserving of a Christmas present than Santa Claus himself? It’s not an unheard of thing, and other shorts and specials have tackled the same and probably have done it better. The Prep & Landing short “Operation:  Secret Santa” is one that comes to mind. While it doesn’t feature children giving something to Santa in thanks, it does feature Mrs. Claus trying to get the perfect gift for Santa.

The absence of Mrs. Claus is also rather bizarre. I don’t know if she is more of a modern staple, but it seems like the concept should have been common in the 40s. After all, she was in the agreed upon very first story about Santa. This completely lackadaisical and certainly jolly Santa Claus is both nice and weird. He really doesn’t seem to care if he’s seen or heard and obviously he doesn’t check the sleigh much. I always do enjoy seeing simple homes from this era depicted in cartoons like the ones Santa visits. Maybe we should just go back to hanging a sock for gifts instead of filling up the underside of a tree? My credit card bills would like that very much.

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“Santa’s Surprise” has been released a bunch of times on video since it entered the public domain.

Paramount isn’t the most well-remembered producer of animation, and if we’re judging them solely on the quality of their animation then it’s relatively easy to see why. This picture is not on par with what the other studios were putting out. It almost looks like it’s ten years older than it really is. The characters are bit rubbery looking and there isn’t a ton of animation that’s out of the ordinary. It’s far from ugly or off-putting, but you definitely know you’re watching something old. It’s also possible this wasn’t preserved all that well and there could be some deterioration at work here as well. The backgrounds are nice though and there’s a cold, yet cozy, quality to them. There’s lots of wood which means lots of wood grain, but nothing seems too busy or cluttered.

If you want to check out “Santa’s Surprise” and other cartoons that feature Little Audrey, then I actually have some good news. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released some restored cartoons from the public domain and “Santa’s Surprise” is included. At least, that’s according to Wikipedia. It claims it was released on October 11 of this year, but I can’t find anything online and it’s not cited. “Santa’s Surprise” has been released on DVD over the years and it’s not expensive. Since it’s also public domain, you can find streams of it online with relative ease as well, including Prime Video. It’s really not worth seeking out, but if you want something light and have a taste for old cartoons then you might get something out of it.


Dec. 7 – Dexter’s Laboratory – “Dexter vs Santa’s Claws”

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Original air date April 29, 1998. Yes, you read that right.

After yesterday’s entry ran 3,000 words, it seems like a nice time to slip in one of the shorter specials we’ll be looking at this year. This one comes from the Cartoon Network original Dexter’s Laboratory. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, Dexter’s Laboratory was one of the inaugural series to be spun-off from the Cartoon Cartoon/What A Cartoon! show which was basically an elaborate testing ground for cartoon pilots. Cartoon Network, which at the time mostly consisted of old Hanna-Barbera shows, would package together three cartoon shorts and air them over a half hour of television. Viewers could call into a hotline and vote for the short they liked best. At the end of the year, Cartoon Network would have a big New Year’s countdown ranking all of the shows in order of what was most beloved and what was not. The network wasn’t beholden to do anything with the results so for all we know they decided on what to promote and what not to, but Dexter’s Laboratory was one of the most well-received and it was the first to get a full production order.

The show is about the title character, Dexter (Christine Cavanaugh), a boy-genius with an elaborate and high-tech laboratory hidden under his parents’ house. They’re unaware of their son’s impressive intellect, but sister Dee Dee (Kathryn Cressida) is not. Despite Dexter’s best efforts, Dee Dee often finds a way into his lab and drives him crazy often times ruining whatever his latest invention is. He also has a rivalry with another boy genius, Mandark, and one of his laboratory monkeys also got to star in his own series of shorts. An episode was usually broken out into three short segments and I have mostly fond memories of it.

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What Dexter thinks happens on Christmas.

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” was the third segment of episode 37 of season 2 which first aired on April 29, 1998. Why did a Christmas episode air in April? I do not know. The show did have some issues with production delays, but that’s not out of the ordinary for a cartoon series. Often when that happens networks will just sit on a holiday episode and air it the next time that holiday comes around, but Cartoon Network apparently didn’t want to do that. The network didn’t even want to wait for Christmas in July. In looking over the episodes from season 2, a Halloween one premiered the prior month so I’m guessing this was supposed to air in 97 or something, or Cartoon Network just didn’t care.

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What really happens on Christmas!

The episode begins with Dee Dee using Dexter’s super computer to make her Christmas list. Dexter is irritated she would be utilizing his computer for such a foolish task and reprimands her. He explains she’s wasting her time for Santa Claus is just make-believe. When Dee Dee counters with a question of who puts the toys under the tree, Dexter explains, through rap, that their father does that. The humor is in how far Dexter thinks his parents carry the ruse insisting that their dad not only dresses up as Santa, but he disguises the car as a sleigh and puts it on the roof. Their mother, dressed as a reindeer, greases him up and sends him down the chimney with all of the toys. Dee Dee insists that’s not what happens, cutting his very poor rap off in the process, and gives the more conventional explanation of elves and magic. Dexter vows to prove her wrong.

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Dexter confronts Santa, who only speaks in “ho’s”

That night, while everyone sleeps, Dexter sits in front of his monitors fighting off sleep hoping to catch their father in the act. When a sleigh and some reindeer go whirling past he thinks he’s got him. He emerges from his lab to find Santa in the living room getting down to business. The Santa model looks almost exactly like the one from A Flintstone Christmas only he seems incapable of speech and just keeps saying “Ho ho.” Dexter accuses him of being his dad in disguise, forcing Santa to magically flee up the chimney. Still not convinced, Dexter heads for the roof as well and confronts Santa once again as he climbs into his sleigh. He manhandles a reindeer, thinking it’s an elaborate costume worn by his mother, and even snaps its antlers off. Santa then takes off leaving Dexter stuck in the chimney.

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Dexter is basically a violent, little, asshole this whole episode.

Dexter was apparently prepared for such a development as the chimney morphs into a high-tech spaceship and detaches from the house. In doing so it takes the side of the house with it leaving Dee Dee’s room without a wall. She awakens due to the frigid air and goes to shut her already closed window when she catches sight of Santa. She watches as her brother pursues him firing missiles which Santa intercepts with gifts (“Those better not be my presents!”). Dexter resorts to laser-fire and eventually he hits Santa causing him to crash into their home.

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When Dee Dee doesn’t have her pigtails in, the flatness of her head makes her look like Hulk Hogan.

Now with Santa incapacitated in the ruined livingroom, Dexter approaches armed with an electric razor. As he shaves off Santa’s beard his father (Jess Bennett) enters the room demanding to know what Dexter is doing. His mom (Kath Soucie) follows, still wearing her rubber cleaning gloves that she always wears, and is horrified to see the Christmas tree and everything else in ruin. Dee Dee then follows and scolds Dexter further demanding to know where her presents are. Dexter is forced to apologize for ruining Christmas, again, and apparently realizing he’s in a Christmas special, implores his family to treasure that they’re together and not fret over the destroyed gifts and decorations. He breaks into a rendition of “Oh Christmas Tree” and Dee Dee puts a stop to that telling him he’s wrong and calling him a block-head. When he asks what Christmas is about then, a beard-less Santa let’s him know, “The presents.”

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Do you like dog fights in your holiday specials?

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” is a pretty odd entry in the world of Christmas specials. We’ve seen plenty of cynical specials, and some that are just bizarre, but this one has an all-together different feel. Dexter basically beats up Santa Claus. He’s relentless and cruel. Unlike network-mate Johnny Bravo, he didn’t mistake Santa for an intruder or something he’s just trying to beat a confession out of him. And possibly worse, he assaults a reindeer and breaks its antlers off, which just sounds painful. The only really cute aspect of the episode is Dexter’s hypothesis on what really happens on Christmas Eve. Even though he’s super-smart, he’s still a kid and isn’t capable of just assuming his parents stick presents under the tree, they have to make it elaborate. The ending of the episode with the message being that Christmas is about the presents is pretty much the cynical 90s cartoon take. A lot of the comedy shows delighted in upending norms and that’s a pretty logical point for this one to make.

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Ruined Christmas.

Revisiting this series reminded me how flat the design is. The characters are about as flat as those on South Park and they practically slide across the screen rather than trying to create the illusion that they exist in three dimensions. It’s a stylistic choice more than a budget one, I think, but it’s not unique to this show as basically all of the Genndy Tartakovsky shows were animated in this fashion. I really enjoy Christine Cavanaugh (RIP) as Dexter. He’s one part Chuckie from Rugrats (who Cavanaugh also voiced) with an accent that kind of sounds like Ren from Ren & Stimpy, with perhaps a slight Swedish twist? It’s an accent that doesn’t exist in the real world and it’s a funny quirk of Dexter. The show is also very bright and the characters change attires even in this brief little short which is kind of neat. I also definitely liked the homage to the Flintstones Christmas special. I wouldn’t think they were able to actually re-use the model from that special, but this Santa was definitely drawn to look almost exactly like it.

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There is something very unsettling about a beard-less Santa.

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” is not going to make you feel good about Christmas. It might make you uncomfortable to see Santa get his ass handed to him, but it also might make you laugh. It’s certainly different and I don’t regret watching it or anything, but it’s more dark than funny so ultimately I suppose it comes up a bit short. If you’re looking to check it out this year, Dexter’s Laboratory can be found on Hulu and iTunes. The entire series is also available on DVD, but it’s out of print and kind of pricey. This specific episode can also be found on The Powerpuff Girls:  ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas DVD and also on the Cartoon Network:  Christmas Rocks DVD and both are cheaper than getting the entire series. And as usual, if you’re not picky about quality you can probably find this one streaming for free somewhere on the world wide web.


Dec. 25 – Daze Before Christmas

maxresdefault-18Wait, what is this? We’ve reached the final day of this year’s advent calendar style countdown of Christmas specials and it’s not even a show, movie, or stupid commercial? No friends, for December 25th we’re taking a look at Daze Before Christmas, the Sunsoft produced 16-bit Christmas video game that never saw release in North America. Christmas and other holidays are rarely captured in video games. Sometimes a game might take place at Christmas time (Twisted Metal originally did), but few actually make the holiday a focal point of the game. Daze Before Christmas, developed by Norwegian outfit Funcom, said nuts to that and made a platform game starring St. Nick himself. And you know what? It’s actually not that bad.

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Funcom was a little developer out of Norway that apparently liked Christmas a lot.

Daze Before Christmas was originally released in Australia for Sega’s Mega Drive console (Genesis to you Americans) in 1994. It was eventually ported to the Super Nintendo for release in Europe and Australia, but a planned North American version was scrapped. Apparently, Santa is more marketable outside of the US. In this game you play as Santa Claus. An evil snowman has taken over the North Pole while Santa was sleeping or something and everything is in disarray. The player controls Santa through 25 levels collecting presents, freeing elves and reindeer, and even delivering the presents as well. Along the way he’ll explore his work shop, ice caves, and the skies of the UK and other countries and even take on some bosses here and there. When Santa finds a cup of coffee though, he’ll turn into Anti-Claus – a devilish Santa wielding a sack. He’s impervious to damage, but can’t collect presents (a trade-off most will take). As Santa, players can run and jump and shoot some white substance at enemies. There’s also a power-up that allows Santa to shoot fire which comes in handy when battling snowy fiends.

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I get the impression that Anti-Claus was supposed to be the break-out star of this one. I wouldn’t mind seeing him come back in a game of his own, as unlikely as that sounds.

The levels in Daze Before Christmas vary from short, linear, bursts with traditional genre trappings (moving platforms, disappearing ones, blind jumps) and numerous enemies to other levels that are more expansive requiring Santa to explore vertically as well as horizontally. There are checkpoints in each level and finding the star icon will end the stage. In addition to surviving a level and finding the exit, Santa is tasked with recovering presents for the delivery stages. Those stages are few and far between, but in them the game becomes a horizontal scrolling flying game where Santa and his team of reindeer (only four, and I’m giving the game the benefit of the doubt there since only two are visible from the side view) have to avoid obstacles while dropping gifts down chimneys (we call that the Fred Flintstone method of gift delivery). Those levels are simple, but offer a nice diversion and it’s good to see that Funcom made an attempt at getting Santa’s central purpose into the game.

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Santa coming face to face with his alter-ego.

The thing that sticks out most about Daze Before Christmas are its visuals. When I went to play this one, almost begrudgingly, I expected a very cheap looking game. And while some aspects of it are kind of cheap looking (namely the backgrounds), for the most part this looks like a game with some real resources behind it. The Santa sprite is pretty adorable. He’s short and round and has a red nose. When he ducks he goes into his hat and when standing idle he sways from side to side with a nice rotation effect on the sprite. He’s exceptionally well animated as everything is in motion as he runs and jumps through the air and overall he just plain looks great. The enemies have a lot of spunk and personality too, be they flying toys or angry rock creatures. My personal favorite was probably the snowmen that toss their own head at you. The bosses are well-animated as well and I particularly enjoyed the Louse the Mouse boss as he requires Santa to drop anvils on his head with some nice cartoon effects when successful.

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Look out below!

The high number of animation frames seem to have one cost though, and that’s with collision detection. While I never felt robbed of a hit when attacking enemies, vanquishing them has little or no satisfaction as they kind of just disappear. There’s a disconnect there and it’s really felt with some of the bosses as I wasn’t even sure at times I was damaging them. Some of the levels, in particular the earliest stages, almost feel directionless and play rather bland. I couldn’t help but get the impression that Funcom spent most of the development time on making sure the game looked right first, then tried to construct something that was fun to play off of that with little idea for what makes a platform game fun and unique.

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The flying levels are kind of ugly, but offer a nice change of pace. Norwegians also must think footballs are just constantly flying through American skies.

That’s not to say Daze Before Christmas isn’t fun, it’s a mostly solid play through with little frustration. It’s just not particularly ambitious in what it asks of the player. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, the game is a breeze for anyone with average skill and familiarity with games from this era. The biggest danger comes from blind or near blind jumps where the player might not be certain if they’re supposed to go down a certain gap or try to clear it. Actual fatalities from repeated collisions with enemies are pretty few, and the boss fights are pretty painless. Levels start to feel repetitive and too familiar by the time the game is nearing its end, and there’s even a pair of stages where Santa runs up and down a small hill and jumps into a hole, lasting all of 15 seconds or so, which feels like an obvious attempt at padding (the game operates like an advent calendar so Funcom needed 25 levels).

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The pre-level title cards are actually pretty awesome.

The presentation extends beyond Santa’s well done sprite. The game, perhaps not surprisingly, makes liberal use of “Jingle Bells” throughout as well as other Christmas tunes, but they’re all handled rather well and I was surprised by the fact that I didn’t get annoyed with them. There’s some original music as well that’s actually really good, especially one of the cave levels. In between levels you also get some nice title cards that usually depict Santa confronting an enemy or something that are drawings as opposed to sprites from the game. The storyline, touched on earlier, is a bit confusing, but hardly essential. At the start of the game, it sounds like an evil snowman named Louse has screwed Christmas up for Santa, but the snowman is dispatched in level 5. Louse is actually the mouse character I mentioned as requiring anvils be dropped on his head. There’s a clock boss too, and the final boss is actually a cloud named Mr. Weather. Sadly, Rudolph does not offer an assist to take him out. The present delivery levels also occur in different countries and there’s little touches in each to refer to the country being presented. Maybe it’s because I live there, but the United States level amused me the most as Santa flies by the Statue of Liberty and you have to avoid footballs sailing through the air. Though Japan did feature a mouse with a rocket strapped to his back.

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There are some nice touches to certain levels, such as these cartoony wrapping machines that can disguise Santa as a present.

Daze Before Christmas, due in part to its relative ease, is a game that’s probably completed in about an hour and a half. If you really know what you’re doing, where to jump, and care little about collecting presents, you can probably complete this one in under an hour. The only incentive to revisit is, as far as I can tell, is to get a higher score by finding all of the presents, but that’s not likely to motivate many. This is a pretty average platformer, though if you think the average platformer is actually pretty bad then maybe you’d consider this one slightly above average. It separates itself from the pack with its Christmas theme, and it got me thinking about the subject of Christmas games a bit more. Perhaps a game where Santa actually has to infiltrate houses to deliver gifts, avoiding detection by nosey kids, angry dogs, and cartoon wackiness would be a fun experience. It’s certainly not a genre that’s been tapped out and exploited by any means, as the most famous Christmas video game I could think of other than this one is maybe Elf Bowling. Because this wasn’t released in high quantities or in North America, it’s a pretty expensive cart to acquire. If you want to play it, it’s certainly not worth the dollars it commands on the secondary market and you’re better off experiencing it via other means you’re likely aware exist. If you want some Christmas cheer in your gaming life, you have few other options and this is certainly better than a lump of coal. Personally, I say get your Christmas cheer from other media and just grab Super Mario Odyssey instead.

Well folks, that’s a wrap. Hopefully you enjoyed this year’s countdown to Christmas. Tune in Friday for regularly schedule programming as we return to Batman: The Animated Series with an all-time classic episode. And by all means, have a very merry Christmas!


Dec. 7 – Woodland Critter Christmas

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“It’s Critter Christmas, dude, it sucks ass”

This episode of South Park feels so infamous that I don’t feel the need to include South Park in the title of the post. South Park’s most recent Christmas special, now 13 years old mind you, is a rather notorious episode. It’s so farcical that it feels silly even by the standards of the show, and if you’re at all familiar with South Park you know how ridiculous it can get. After centering most of its Christmas episodes around a magical, talking poop, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably felt like there was little left for them to do with South Park. In the year before this episode, they sent the boys to Canada for a Wizard of Oz parody that felt a little off, as far as Christmas episodes go. It was the special before that, “Red Sleigh Down,” that felt like a conclusion to the stories they had been telling centered around the holiday. In some respects, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t stop there, but maybe since the show originated as a Christmas special they felt compelled to keep returning to the subject. And it suddenly makes sense that the framing device for this episode is a boy telling a story about Christmas. A woodland, critter Christmas, if you will.

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The little boy in the red poof-ball hat and his new “friends.”

The episode opens with a narrator, a narrator who will stick with us throughout the episode and is very obviously Trey Parker (like most of the voices on the show). The episode sets up South Park as a quiet little mountain town getting ready for Christmas, and we’re taken to the forest where the little critters are busy getting ready for Christmas too. It’s over the top in its sweetness, complete with a sappy song, but the episode does a good job of playing things off as sincere. The episode even gets its own title card with all of the critters as they sing their little song about Christmas being almost here. The narrator introduces all of the critters and they all have simple names which is just the name of the animal with an “e” sound added to the end, e.g. – Rabbitty the rabbit, Beary the bear, etc. The scene is evocative of “Frosty the Snowman” when the animals in that special decorate the forrest for Christmas. South Park takes it one step further by making these critters able to speak and they also all wear a festive scarf, sweater, or hat. It’s also probably inspired by the Chucklewood Critters, and if you aren’t familiar with that series then tune in a bit closer to Christmas for something on them.

A little boy in a red poof-ball hat happens upon the scene of the critters decorating their tree. The boy is Stan, and he’s kind of surprised to see animals behaving this way, but also couldn’t really care less. The critters need a star for their tree, but they can’t make one themselves, and they implore Stan to give them a hand. Stan is our unwilling participant in this story as he’ll need to be pushed along, often times trying to ignore the will of the narrator or being outwardly defiant towards him. Since making a star isn’t too bad, Stan obliges then goes home. The critters are appreciative and celebrate Stan (I should say, Stanny) as their new best friend while Stan walks away probably hoping to never see them again.

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Evil Satanic powers at work.

That night, the critters surprise Stan by visiting him in his room. They wake him up in the middle of the night with some “exciting” news:  Porcupiney is pregnant! There’s a catch though, she’s been impregnated immaculately and the critters believe she will give birth to their savior. A savior of their very own! They need Stan’s help though to build a manger for Porcupiney, and Stan reluctantly helps. He leaves the warmth of his bed to drowsily assemble a pretty decent looking manger, only for a mountain lion to show up and frighten he and the critters. It is then revealed to Stan that this happens every year:  a critter gets pregnant, and a mountain lion kills the critter before the birth can take place. The critters need Stan’s help to slay the mountain lion. Once again, Stan reluctantly helps out the critters and seeks out the mountain lion. He finds the creature in a cave and is able to get the beast to chase him up a mountain that looks suspiciously like Mt. Crumpet. There he is able to dodge the lion’s charge sending her plummeting to her demise in a scene reminiscent of Mufasa’s death from The Lion King. Once the lion strikes earth, its cubs emerge sad and dismayed to see their mother dead. Stan pleads ignorance, as the talking cubs question why he killed their mom and seem resigned to their orphaned state. Stan, speechless, slumps back to the critters.

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Well, we were all expecting the episode to take a dark turn at some point, but few probably predicted this.

The critters learn of the mountain lion’s demise and are elated. Now their savior can be born – Heil Satan! What?! Stan is beside himself to hear the critters praise the dark one, and is speechless as they sacrifice Rabbitty to the devil and take part in a blood orgy. The camera lingers long enough for us to see most of the details of the blood orgy as the critters pleasure themselves around the manger in a scene no one probably ever expected to see in a cartoon.

Stan returns to his home, seemingly resigned to the fact that he played a part in the soon to occur birth of the antichrist. He wants no part in what’s to come, but our persistent narrator gets Stan to get off of his butt and head back to the forest. When Stan attempts to take down the manger he built, the critters are forced to use their evil, Satanic powers on him shooting him with lasers and summoning demonic flames. Stan is forced to run and the narrator clues him in to the fact that three mountain lions still live that can maybe stop this. When Stan returns to the cubs he’s mocked by the trio as they’re quick to point out they can’t do anything to stop the critters. Then Stan has an idea – he can take the cubs to an abortion clinic. There they can learn how to perform an abortion and perhaps prevent the birth of the antichrist from ever occurring! Stan does just that and we get perhaps the weirdest montage to ever appear in a Christmas special as the cubs happily mess around in an abortion clinic while patients giggle and the doctor is happy to show them all he knows.

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Santa’s here and he isn’t messing around.

Armed wth this new found knowledge, Stan and the cubs return to the critters only to find out they’re too late. The antichrist has been born! The antichrist needs a human host though, and since Stan was raised Catholic he’s been baptized and thus can’t serve in that role. They had tried asking him earlier and were dismayed to know their old buddy couldn’t be of further use, but unknown to Stan the critters had happened upon his best friend Kyle. Kyle is Jewish, and therefore he has not been baptized. When Stan and the cubs find the antichrist born, they also find Kyle tied down to a stone altar of sorts. A red star bleeds in the night sky to mark the occasion, which also alerts Santa Claus of the danger. Santa arrives as the critters are preparing to put their savior in Kyle. Santa is rather displeased in the role Stan has played up to this point, and seems all together annoyed he has to deal with this situation. He produces a shotgun and immediately starts laying waste to the critters, their Satanic powers doing little to stop him.

With the critters destroyed all that is left is for the antichrist to die. Since it lacks a host, Santa informs the boys they don’t need to do anything, it’ll die on its own. That’s when Kyle springs into action. He wants the antichrist inside of him so he can make the world a better place for the Jews!

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Ever see a mountain lion cub perform an abortion on a nine year old boy? You have now.

We’re immediately brought to a classroom scene as Kyle shouts for Cartman to cease reading his story. Apparently this whole time Cartman was essentially our narrator as he reads a Christmas story to Mr. Garrison’s fourth grade class. Kyle doesn’t want Cartman to continue since it’s become obvious the whole story served as a means for Cartman to mock him for being Jewish. Mr. Garrison tells Cartman he can’t continue because Kyle’s mom will raise Hell if he allows him to make fun of Kyle for being Jewish. Cartman reluctantly leaves his stool at the front of the class while the rest of the kids in class plead with him to say what happens, with Stan asking him if he has a merry Christmas. Kyle theorizes on where the story goes with Cartman insisting he has it all wrong. When the other kids plead with Kyle to let Cartman finish the story he angrily relents and Cartman returns to the head of the class.

When the setting shifts back into the story, we find Kyle is now the antichrist, only it doesn’t feel so good. He immediately comes to regret his decision, while Santa informs him that he has to kill him now. Stan has a different idea though, and tells the lion cubs to use the knowledge they gained at the abortion clinic to fetch the antichrist out of Kyle’s ass. They get right to work, and sure enough, they yank the yapping little creature out of Kyle’s rectum. Santa then smashes it with a sledgehammer and the skies return to their normal appearance. Santa, now not so sour about what took place, tells Stan he deserves a special Christmas present for all he has been through. Stan asks Santa to restore the life of the mountain lion, which he does. Everyone is happy as the camera slowly pulls back on a shot of the snow-covered town. Then it cuts quickly to Kyle in a hospital bed and the narrator informs us that he got AIDS and died two weeks later.

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The critters returned years later as some of the chief villains of the Imaginationland trilogy.

“Woodland Critter Christmas” is an uncomfortably hilarious episode of South Park, and it’s not surprising they have declined to attempt a true Christmas special ever since. It’s one of the few episodes I can remember where everyone I knew was talking about it after it aired, “Did you see that episode of South Park with the woodland critters?” It takes the mold of a generic Christmas special and subverts it expertly. Most episodes that tried to do something like this probably would have abandoned the narrator after the first act, feeling the joke was done, but South Park keeps it up for the entire duration of the episode. The fact that the critters turn out to be a bunch of devil worshippers is not entirely surprising, since anyone familiar with the show knows there’s more to them than meets the eye when first encountered, but the angle is pursued in such an uncompromising fashion that it’s hard to believe. And it then takes things one step further by, in a Christmas special, using abortion as a tool to stop the antichrist and save the world. I remember being home for the holidays and making my little sister watch this episode on Christmas Eve because she hadn’t seen it. My dad watched with us up until the Satan reveal and then went to bed, remarking stuff like this is why America is so screwed up. I had never seen him react in such a way to anything before, and I haven’t since.

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This special, and all of the others, can be found on the Christmas Time in South Park DVD released in 2007.

Because the episode is so uncomfortable for some, I can understand if this isn’t exactly a beloved holiday classic. My very own sister thought it was pretty hilarious, but also doesn’t really enjoy watching it again. And to some extent, the episode doesn’t really hold up well with repeated viewings. Most of the humor is derived from the surprises that crop up and they’re obviously not surprising any longer. I still think it holds up as an absurd Christmas special. Maybe not a classic, but a lot of the shocking imagery still makes me laugh in an “I can’t believe they did this” kind of way, even though the show has probably done far worse since.

“Woodland Critter Christmas” is likely to receive numerous airings all month long on Comedy Central and wherever South Park is syndicated. The episode can also be found on the DVD set for South Park Season 8 and on the DVD release Christmas Time in South Park, which may be out of print at this point, but is still pretty easy and cheap to acquire. That set is pretty great if you just want all of the South Park Christmas specials, of which there are seven, in one convenient package.


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