Before there was an entire broadcast television network owned by Time Warner, there was the relationship that existed between Fox and WB. Fox, needing a lot of content to launch its kid programming block The Fox Kids Network, partnered with WB and Steven Spielberg to bring the world Tiny Toon Adventures. It was a success, and before long Fox and WB were coming to terms on a number of shows. One such show we’ve covered quite a bit on this blog, Batman: The Animated Series, and another early 90s staple of Fox programming was Taz-Mania. Taz-Mania took the classic Looney Tunes character the Tazmanian Devil and gave him his own show. The character had become inexplicably popular in the early 90s in the realm of merchandising, as basically all of those characters did. He was just more surprising because the actual character was just a mindless predator out to consume the likes of Bugs Bunny. Aside from his rather interesting look, his other notable feature was his ability to whirl in place like a tiny cyclone. It was a pretty odd move to make him the vehicle of a whole new show, but it worked fairly well and Taz-Mania made it to 65 episodes which aired across parts of 3 years from 1991-1993.
Taz-Mania stars the Tazmanian Devil, who is simply referred to as Taz (Jim Cummings) from now on. He is the eldest son of Hugh (Maurice LaMarche) and Jean (Miriam Flynn) and older brother to Molly (Kellie Martin) and Jake (Debi Derryberry). They live in Taz-Mania which is basically an offshoot of Australia as it’s populated by dingoes and platypus. Taz is similar to his classic portrayal, only he’s more of a gentle soul now. He still speaks in gibberish and shuns clothing, unlike his family. They’re all relatively “normal” individuals and all wear clothing and have modern concerns. Hugh, who sounds like Bing Crosby, is consumed with being a model patriarch and is often even-tempered. Jean is the classic go-go career woman and mother who doesn’t have much time for much of anything in her busy schedule, but always maintains a cheery disposition. Molly is a self-absorbed teen while Jake is a fairly typical little kid. They all seem to quietly tolerate Taz, but also sometimes take advantage of his mental shortcomings. In watching this episode and reflecting on the show in general, it’s a little uncomfortable at times how Taz is treated by his family since he obviously has special needs, and sometimes the family is almost unintentionally cruel towards him. This was the early 90’s when the “R-word” was still in fashion and those characters were played for laughs. If this show were invented today, I bet it would take a different slant or at least punish the characters who casually mistreat Taz.
In addition to the family, the show had a wide supporting cast and many of them will be covered in this write-up. The show also spawned a few video games though surprisingly I don’t recall much merchandise beyond that. No real toys lines or anything, but I suppose it wasn’t that kind of show. It helped keep Taz popular, and he went on to appear alongside the other Looney Tunes in Space Jam. His star, like most of those characters, has faded over the decades, but he’s still rather unique considering the other Tunes never really received a true starring vehicle like Taz-Mania.
“No Time for Christmas” opens on the home of the Tazmanian Devil family on the day before Christmas. Taz is eagerly getting ready for Christmas and stuffing presents in a big, red, sack while his mother, Jean, is talking to someone on the phone. She rattles off all of the things she has to do, some mundane like wrap presents, and some insane like re-pave a parking lot. She’s baking cookies as she does this and Taz tries to get himself some, but he’s denied. She leaves behind one, lone, burnt cookie that Taz scrunches his face at, but eats anyway. Seeing that his mom has no time for him, he ventures off to Molly’s room. She’s busy writing and mailing Christmas cards and tries to get him out of her room before realizing that maybe he could be of use. She sets him up with a bunch of envelopes and stamps and instructs him to lick and place a stamp on each envelope. Taz is happy to help, but finds the glue on the stamps rather tasty and just licks them. Frustrated, Molly boots him out of her room.
Next Taz encounters his little brother Jake snooping around for presents in their parents’ room. Taz seems like he wants to help (he only speaks in grunts and noises, for the most part, aside from the occasional phrase), but Jake tells him, rather nicely, that this is a one-man operation and closes the door. Taz next encounters his dad in the living room. He’s all bundled up and standing by the television which is tuned to a fireplace channel and talking about Christmas. Taz realizes the room is freezing and his dad explains he’s cranked the air conditioner to simulate a real, northern, Christmas like the ones he’s never experienced. He’s lost in his own Christmas fantasy and Taz leaves him to it. Somewhat sadly, he wanders off from home with only his sack of gifts.
Taz’s first stop is at the home of the Platypus twins, Daniel (LaMarche) and Timothy (Rob Paulsen). They’re a cheery duo with a deep affection for each other. If they weren’t brothers you would assume they’re gay. They’re the brainy characters of Taz-Mania and they’ve outfitted their home with an elaborate lighting display. The problem is, one of their elves has blown a head and Rudolph’s nose has burnt out. Taz shows up with a gift, and they’re happy to receive it, but have no gift to offer him in return as they’re much too busy. They incorrectly assume Taz would love to assist them in their work and they send him up a ladder with a new bulb for their reindeer. Taz goes along with it as the two brothers then take the ladder away saying they need it to retrieve a spare elf head. Taz replaces the bulb and the reindeer lights up. He then loses his footing on the roof and tumbles down into the space previously occupied by the broken elf. Now holding “hands” with the other elf decorations lining the roof, he appears to be taking the place of the discarded elf and the Platypus brothers thank him before remarking how it’s likely obvious where this bit is heading (they’re so smart that they’re self-aware and break the fourth wall rather liberally). They head over to a giant electrical switch and flip it, causing Taz to be comically electrocuted. He’s shot off like a cannonball from the house, and when one of the brothers remarks that he forgot his sack, Taz’s arm stretches back into the image to grab it before he resumes his flight.
Taz next drops in on Didgeri Dingo (Paulsen) who was expecting him. He’s ringing a bell Salvation Army style in the middle of the deserted Outback and remarks that Taz is late. He quickly outfits him with a Santa Claus outfit while explaining that Christmas is the time for charity and they’re going to raise money for his favorite charity – Didgeri Dingo. Taz is rather delighted by the Santa suit, causing him to remark his catchphrase for the episode, “Taz like Christmas!” but he is not at all happy about being forced to ring a bell for charity in the middle of nowhere. In true cartoon fashion, Didgeri sends him off and he’s immediately hit by a bus that literally came out of no where. He’s then hit by a trio of trucks and a train to drive the point home as he’s swept away. Didgeri pauses to speak with the camera so apparently the Platypus brothers aren’t the only ones who get to break the fourth role.
The train dumps Taz in another part of the Outback where a couple of bushes are speaking to one another. They have tails and hats and are obviously the Gator characters of Bull and Axl, two hunters who are always trying to catch Taz. They’re the common cartoon archetype of a short, intelligent, abusive, schemer and a tall, dumb, subservient one. The only wrinkle with Bull (John Astin) is that he possesses a rather cheery disposition. When Bull explains to Axl (Paulsen) they’re in a Christmas episode he pops him with an oversized candy cane to further remind me that WB cartoons actually just love to break the fourth wall.
Taz knows these two, and he’s not as dumb as we think. He intentionally lets himself get caught in their rope trap and is suspended upside-down as a result. Axl is somewhat horrified to see they’ve caught Santa, while Bull tries to explain to him that he is indeed wrong. Taz breaks free, and then clobbers the pair in a whirling cyclone that also relieves him of his Santa suit. He leaves the two their present before heading off, while Axl sees the error of his ways. They didn’t capture Santa, Taz is Santa!
Taz’s next stop is the Motel Tasmania, where he is an employee. Bushwacker Bob (Cummings) is standing around trying to read his copy of Life magazine with Bugs Bunny on the cover while patrons of the motel keep bothering him on the phone. Constance Koala (Rosalyn Landor) bothers him further by bumping into him and then having the nerve to point out how her feather duster is in poor shape causing Bob to go on a rant. He’s the typical asshole boss character who thinks his employees do nothing but complain and act lazy. He further points out the “shoddy” work of Constance by gesturing to some fungus on the ceiling. His observation is incorrect and Constance points out he’s referring to the mistletoe she hung up. And since they’re both under it…
Mr. Thickley (Dan Castellaneta), a wallaby, enters the picture next and when Bob suggests there’s something he’s supposed to be doing, Thickley can only assume he’s referring to the mistletoe once more and plants another big smooch on him further enraging Bob. Thickley goes off to do whatever it is he does, but he stops to say “Hi,” to Taz and also demonstrates he too possesses fourth wall breaking power. Bob takes notice of Taz and asks him what he’s doing out of uniform. Taz apparently says it’s his day off and Bob can understand his grunts, but he’s not really happy with the response. Taz gives him his present, and Bob seems upset at its small size. When he suggests there should be something more, Taz naturally assumes he’s looking for another smooch and gives him one causing Bob to throw him out. Then Taz, finding that no one has time for Christmas, slowly walks off into the sunset dragging his sack behind him while sad music plays.
Taz returns home to the frigid living room. He sits down in front of the television which is still playing a roaring fire. Taz’s pet, Dog the Turtle (Paulsen), comes running in excited to see him which picks up Taz’s spirit. He gives Dog his Christmas present, a bone, and Dog happily grabs it and runs off. When Taz whistles for him to come back, he does not. Dejected, Taz plops down on the couch while his tears freeze upon forming. Reminding himself that “Taz loves Christmas,” he lays down and falls asleep.
Taz is awakened the next morning by his family. His mom has baked him a tray of cookies and Molly apologizes for being a jerk and gives him a Christmas kiss. Soon all of the characters from throughout the episode enter the house to give Taz his Christmas presents. In doing so, we see that Taz had gifted them all very thoughtful gifts. The Platypus brothers received a new elf decoration, Didgeri a prized bottle cap, the Gators new nets, and so on. Hugh even ushers in the rest of the cast they ran out of time for leading to a whole, group, gathering in the Tazmanian Devil living room. Hugh then gives a speech about Taz and how he never lost the spirit of Christmas. His schtick is that he gives boring, long-winded, speeches and as he gets further into this one everyone else sneaks away leaving Hugh all by himself as the episode appears to end. It’s a fake-out, and the iris shot close re-opens as Hugh informs the audience they can’t end the show without a big holiday group shot. We’re wished a Merry Christmas, and they all imitate Taz’s various noises and tongue thing to close it out.
“No Time for Christmas” is a simple and effective story. Choosing to focus on the rush of the holiday, the more free-spirited and pure-hearted Taz distills Christmas to just giving gifts to the people he cares about while the characters around him are caught up in everything else. Or in the case of the “bad” characters, they’re either ignoring the holiday or trying to enrich themselves through it. Everyone coming together at the end to make up for their mistreatment of Taz is predictable, but it works well enough. It’s certainly better than doing a parody. Because it’s rather obvious in where it’s going, the episode lacks a real emotional payoff. It’s still rather sad to see a dejected Taz, since that’s not a common sight, but the episode doesn’t really linger on it or really play it for tears. It’s a comedy show, and it never loses sight of that. It’s also not the type of comedy that’s uproariously full of laughter. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it subtle, since the numerous fourth wall breaking jokes are anything but subtle, but it’s the type of humor that just wants you to smile along as opposed to laugh. It’s also probably why Taz-Mania was never appointment viewing for me, because it was just fine as opposed to truly funny.
As far as Christmas Specials go, “No Time for Christmas” is suitable. Most who watch it will probably enjoy it well enough. Unlike most episodes of this show which were split into two shorter cartoons, “No Time for Christmas” uses the full 22 minute duration to tell its story. Shows that do such a thing sometimes struggle with the longer runtime, but this one moves along quite well. Like a lot of early 90s cartoons, Taz-Mania is no longer broadcast anywhere and hasn’t been for some time. Also like many cartoons from that era, it has only received a partial home video release and “No Time for Christmas” is not on either DVD set. The only way to watch this one is via streaming online, and it’s not hard to find. If you’re looking to watch a special you have not seen and want it to be good, then I think this one is worth the investment of time.