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Dec. 17 – The Mask – “Santa Mask”

Original air date November 4, 1995

In the world of film, 1994 belonged to Jim Carrey. On television, 1995 belonged to TV shows based on those 94 movies. Well, not exactly, since all of the shows based on Jim Carrey movies made little impact, but like yesterday’s show I’d hesitate to call today’s subject a failure.

The Mask began life as a comic book by John Arcudi and was turned into a film of the same name. It then made the journey to the small screen for a cartoon also called The Mask. Like the Ace Ventura cartoon, this one was developed by Duane Capizzi and aired on the CBS network alongside Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Unlike its network-mate, this show had a much more grounded visual style. Perhaps influenced by other superhero cartoons, most of the people in The Mask look like actual humans as opposed to oddly proportioned and exaggerated cartoon characters. Wang Film Productions Company handled the animated for this particular episode, but it looks like the show relied on multiple overseas studios for the animation.

The cartoon series of The Mask is basically an extension of the film. Stanley Ipkiss (Rob Paulsen) is a milquetoast bank teller frequently pushed around by his boss Charlie (Mark L. Taylor) and landlady Agnes (Tress MacNeille), but when he puts on the titular mask he morphs into a Tex Avery cartoon character come-to-life known as The Mask. Unlike the film, the cartoon series basically turns The Mask into a superhero who does battle with other super-powered individuals and freaks of nature. At his side is his trusty dog Milo (voiced by Frank Welker, as if there’s another choice for a cartoon canine) who also finds himself turned into The Mask on occasion, as he did in the film. All the while, The Mask is dogged by Lt. Mitch Kellaway (Neil Ross) who basically serves as the true foil for The Mask. He’s accompanied by the somewhat dimwitted Detective Doyle (Jim Cummings) who seems to have a positive impression of The Mask and does more harm than good as far as Kellaway is concerned.

The Mask aired from 1995-1997 over three seasons totaling 54 episodes, a bit more than Ace Ventura, but still short of the magic number of 65. Unlike Ace, it was a CBS show that never migrated to another network and the fact that it ended up with a few more episodes seems to jive well since I think of it as just a bit better than Ace Ventura. Even though the two shows clashed visually when compared side-by-side, it didn’t stop the two from having a crossover episode in each series. The series finale for The Mask was actually dedicated to the crossover, and oddly enough, Ace appears in this show as he does in his own, which is a truly bizarre sight to take-in. That is the third season though, and this Christmas episode actually takes us back to the first season.

Poor Stanley, out in the cold.

“Santa Mask” begins with Christmas descending upon Edge City. Stanley is being forced to dress as Santa and stand in the freezing cold outside of the bank he works at to attract customers. He badly wants to come in out of the cold, but his jerk boss, Charlie, has no time for complaints. He tries to make the best of things by calling out to a fellow Santa across the street, but unfortunately for Stanley he is no friend.

I don’t think he’s friendly.

The other Santa is actually a villain in disguise. Walter, I believe, is the strong silent type who saunters over to Stanley with an evil look on his face. He was apparently in the midst of a robbery, and likely has his eyes set on the bank now. Before he can do Stanley any harm, another pair of Santas show up. Dak (Cam Clarke) and Eddy (Jeff Bennett), also known as Putty Thing and Fish Guy, are here to rip-off the town dressed as Santa. It’s such a good idea that fellow villain Kablamus (Jim Cummings, using a slightly altered version of his Winnie the Pooh voice) is about to do the same thing! The scene keeps getting more ridiculous as more villains dressed up as Santa emerge, including a Zorro knock-off and apparently Rocky?!

This is actually a common problem around these parts.

The whole episode causes Mayor Tilton (Kevin Michael Richardson) to declare that anyone dressed as Santa be arrested and jailed. Apparently this is a regular problem for Edge City around Christmas time as we see video of many phony Santas causing mayhem over the years. This lands Stanley in jail as this new ordinance must have been retroactive. He’s stuck in a holding cell with all of the Santas from earlier, and also a new one. This guy (Cummings) looks like the real deal though, and he is not happy about being locked-up on Christmas Eve. He has some harsh criticisms of Edge City’s criminal justice system and turns to Stanley as someone he can dump on. Stanley obviously doesn’t think he’s the real Santa, but this guy has some pretty convincing credentials including pictures of his elves and a North Pole sleigh-driver’s license (we also learn that parallel parking eight reindeer is quite a bitch).

If he’s the real deal, he’s the most intimidating Santa I can recall!

Stanley is soon set free as the police were finally able to figure out he meant no harm, but this Santa guy isn’t as lucky. Before Stanley can exit the cell, Santa pulls him aside to let him know that while he may not believe in Santa, millions of kids do and they’re all about to have a pretty crummy Christmas with Santa locked-up. He tells Stanley that he needs someone to fill-in for him, and unfortunately he’s the best he can do on short notice. Stanley still isn’t sure what to believe, and as he exits the cell he begs the guard to confirm for him that there is no Santa, but the guy just shrugs his shoulders.

It wouldn’t be much of an episode if he didn’t put it on.

On his way home Stanley encounters a father and son pair (both voiced by Clarke) with the kid mistaking Stanley for Santa at first. Stanley pulls up his beard and puts on a smile, but the kid sees right through it. At his apartment, Stanley is torn on what to do as he doesn’t want to be known as “the jerk who couldn’t save Christmas.” Feeling he has no other alternative, he turns to The Mask!

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting a traditional sleigh.

The Mask (also voiced by Paulsen) takes to the Santa thing with open arms. He puts on the suit, complete with padding so he looks like a big, red, blob, and even comes up with a sleigh. How did he produce a sleigh? I don’t know, but this is a character who can seemingly pull a mallet out of his trousers with no regard for the rules of physics so I guess maybe he just did the same for a sleigh? It’s a rather slapstick looking affair as it has a whirling propeller over the top of it and one lone reindeer. That reindeer is, of course, Milo suspended by balloons with antlers and a red light bulb placed over his nose – poor little guy.

Chimneys are for chumps.

The duo heads to the first little house on the square, home to some little girl. Rather than go down the chimney, The Mask instead jacks up the roof and hops into the girl’s bedroom. She’s surprisingly not terrified to see this loud, green-faced, man enter her room, but she is looking forward to a Christmas present. She’s a bit frustrated with Mask Claus though as he doesn’t seem to know what she wants, even though she told “him” when she sat on his lap at the store. Eventually, she reminds him that she wanted a rocking horse, so The Mask one-ups her request and removes a real, live, racing horse from his rather massive sack. She’s pretty thrilled by this development, and The Mask hands her a stack of bills to wager on an upcoming race for him before exiting.

Elsewhere, Lt. Kellaway and Detective Doyle are out patrolling the streets for more renegade Santas. Doyle, being the “dumb” one, is rightfully concerned they may lock up the real Santa and mess up Christmas for a whole bunch of kids. Kellaway thinks he’s an idiot and tells him there is no Santa. His evidence? He never got some dumb train as a kid, so you can bet he’ll get it before the episode is over.

Well, at least he noticed his face was green. That makes him smarter than Cindy Lou Who.

The two soon run across The Mask as he was attempting to scale the next house on his list and Kellaway is eager for a chase. The Mask rides along beside their car and Doyle questions why Santa’s face is green. Kellaway breaks the news to him that it’s not Santa, but The Mask, and a chase is underway! It ends on a nearby pond that’s frozen over with the two officers exiting the car only to have The Mask ice skate over to them. The Mask gifts the pair a present each; a VCR for Doyle and a flannel shirt for Kellaway. The Mask informs him it matches his flannel underwear, which is when The Mask gives him a giant wedgie. The Mask laughs and skates a circle around the pair, and their car, and since he operates under the laws of cartoons you know this means he just cut a large hole in the ice. Kellaway and Doyle seem to be well-aware that the usual laws of nature do not apply here as they run from the car as a giant hole appears in the ice to swallow the vehicle up. The Mask leaves and Kellaway makes a call to the rest of the force requesting a helicopter and a very large crane to remove his car from the pond.

It’s wedgie time!

The Mask gleefully takes to the sky, but soon finds himself targeted by a rather odd looking police helicopter. Seriously, this thing looks more like a Transformer than any real world helicopter I’ve seen. The Mask instructs Milo to provide a diversion as he bails on the sleigh in favor of running across the rooftops. Fearing his city has become hostile towards Santa, he’s elated to see a smoke stack with neon lights welcoming Santa. He turns into a whirlwind and shoots up the smoke stack, leaving behind the word “No” added in lights to indicate that there are actually no Santas present inside.

Well that’s convenient.

The Mask disappears down the smoke stack only to find out it was all a trap! It would seem the villainous Doctor Septimus Pretorious (Tim Curry) has laid a trap with the intent to capture Santa Claus! This guy is a recurring villain who is some sort of robot with outlandish eyebrows and what looks like a cat sphincter in the middle of his forehead. Anyway, he wants to uncover the secrets of Santa’s magic sack since it can seemingly carry trillions of toys inside of it while looking mostly like an old pillow case. He’s eager to take a look and is apparently oblivious to the fact that he’s actually captured The Mask, and not Santa.

They just couldn’t leave Dickens out of this one.

The Mask rather effortlessly breaks free and then takes Pretorious on a Scrooge-like journey that wraps up in roughly a minute as opposed to the usual running-time such a thing entails. He changes wardrobes rapidly with the story, and when he needs Pretorious to do the same he simply rips his head off and shoves it where he needs it to be. Pretorious seems totally flabbergasted by the whole affair and basically just lets everything happen. When The Mask is done, or maybe just bored, he leaves, but not before he gives Pretorius his present: a bomb. As he exits the smokestack he also changes the lettering on it once again this time instructing the police to check there.

Admit it, you forgot about these guys. I know I sure did.

Outside, The Mask is unable to call for Milo, so he whips out a remote to summon him instead. The poor dog arrives out of breath and the two return to the sky with The Mask a bit dismayed to realize he’s only delivered one present this evening. Elsewhere, the other incarcerated Santas have devised a way to escape. Kablamus has let the others in on the fact that he’s a living bomb and the Rocky guy is rather impressed. For those who don’t watch the show, Kablamus is a supervillain who can make himself explode without harm. You would think the cops would have taken some precautions there. They blow the wall open and all of the Santas are free, including the real one.

I would really like to know who decided fruit cake was funny.

The Mask is then preparing to enter a home, but the sound of looting disturbs him. The Mask is forced once more to abandon his Santa duties to put a stop to these miscreants and does so by taking on the role of a drill sergeant to get their attention, then a Spanish singer to whip them into a frenzy. It’s basically all a performance to distract the crooks and group them all together (there’s a method to his madness) until they figure out they’re villains and shouldn’t be singing and dancing. The Mask then switches tactics and begins a speech about turning to some aspect of Christmas that is unloved, and the second it begins I catch myself saying aloud “not fruit cake!” Yes, it all builds to a dumb fruit cake joke. Actually, a joke basically utilized by another Paulsen show, Animaniacs, as a giant fruit cake magically falls from the sky to land on the villains. The Mask them wraps them up with a bow complete with a “Do Not Open till X-Mas” card, though I have to believe we’re past midnight at this point. Kellaway and Doyle then come upon the scene, driving a tow truck, and Doyle is predictably the only one to express affection for fruit cake.

Well, would you look at that?

With that mess taken care of, The Mask is finally able to get to the next house on his list. The only problem is right after he lands the sleigh (on the lawn, for some reason) he realizes that it’s actually dawn. He pulls off his face and The Mask is once again just Stanley Ipkiss. He’s dismayed that he’s let down Santa and realized his destiny as “the jerk who couldn’t save Christmas,” but as he peers through the window of the house he was about to enter he sees the same kid he encountered on the street earlier. Only this kid is excited because Santa left him some new action figures that look a lot like G.I. Joes. Stanley is relieved to see this and at that moment realizes that Santa must have escaped with the other inmates and set everything right.

Honestly, Stanley is lucky the worst that happened to him was his faith in Christmas was crushed. You go around grabbing people like that in the city and you’re liable to get stabbed. Or worse.

Stanley returns to the city proper and is eager to share the news that Santa is real! Most people on the street regard him suspiciously, and he even runs into Kellaway outside the police station. Kellaway has no interest in entertaining Ipkiss. He’s not even content to let Stanley think what he wants and instead informs him that all of the Santas who escaped were recaptured and takes him into the precint to show him. Stanley flips through the mug shots and doesn’t see the real Santa and begins to doubt himself. He leaves and Kellaway enters his office smugly to retrieve his bowling ball as that’s how he’s spending Christmas. There he finds the dumb train he wanted as a kid sitting on his desk. With tears welling up in his eyes, he looks to the sky hopefully, and then dismisses the possibility of an actual Santa. We don’t have room for two miracles in this one.

That’s the toy that made him lose faith in Santa?! Even the weenie whistle is better than that!

A somewhat down Stanley is then shown walking home. His experience at the police station has left him thinking there really isn’t a Santa, and that’s just sad. A present then lands on the sidewalk in front of him and Stanley picks it up. We hear a Santa voice-over thanking Stanley for at least trying to help out. His true gratitude is apparently expressed on the tag as Kellaway has been crossed out and replaced with Stanley. Inside is the flannel shirt The Mask had gifted Kellaway and Stanley is happy to have it. He picks up Milo and tells him, “Yes, Milo, there is a Santa Claus!” As the camera zooms out and we see the snow falling, the little girl from earlier goes riding by on her new race horse and Stanley gives her a wave.

The part of Virginia will now be played by Milo.

For Christmas, writer Dean Stefan basically took The Santa Clause approach, or Flintstones approach if you prefer, for The Mask. It’s a solid premise as imagining The Mask in the role of St. Nick certainly seems like it has some comedic appeal. In spite of that, I really didn’t find much to laugh at. Maybe if I were 7 this would be funny, but most of the jokes were too familiar. I liked some of the inexplicable humor, like Rocky being a villain (he’s apparently named Dynamite Joe), but few actual jokes did much to move me. The fish guy seemed like he had potential, as he’s basically just a fish, and there were some jokes at his expense once the Santas were captured as he apparently does not possess a pleasant odor. The Mask as a character isn’t really that funny though. He reminds me of The Tick, only instead of aloof he’s self-aware. He’s certainly loud and the nature of the character means he can lend himself well to gags, but few were present here. The fruit cake joke was dumb and it’s a punchline relied upon way too much in cartoons. Same with The Mask calling out fake reindeer names at one point which included Nixon instead of Blitzen – I think that’s another gag we can retire.

That’s not to say I did not enjoy the performance of Rob Paulsen. He’s a voice acting legend and he’s certainly able to match the intensity of the film performance. The other performance I quite enjoyed belonged to Tim Curry, which isn’t much of a surprise since he tends to be terrific whenever he takes on a voice role. He really didn’t have many lines as Dr. Pretorius in this one, but the way he emphasized the word “sack” was one of the few moments I actually chuckled aloud. Some words are just inherently funny when spoken a certain way, and Curry certainly found that with “sack.”

Her parents must have been pissed.

Otherwise, this episode does at least make an attempt at some Christmas feels with its resolution. There’s some cynicism present though, and it’s even embodied by the show’s real Santa character. And re-inserting the horse girl into the end was a good touch. Even though I found this one a bit short on laughs, it is written competently and I liked how it kept coming back to the fact that The Mask was so awful at playing Santa he only delivered one present.

Even though I consider The Mask to be superior to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, it’s a bit harder to come by. Only the first season was released on DVD, but at least this episode is a part of that. And because of that, it’s also available streaming. The good news is that there’s also less protection of it. If you look at the credits, there were a lot of different companies involved in this series and I’m guessing that’s why it’s not more readily available. There are just too many parties to compensate in order to make it worthwhile. Instead, no one cares about it and you can find this online streaming for free should you wish to spend Christmas with The Mask.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Fear of Victory”

Fear_of_Victory-Title_CardEpisode Number:  24

Original Air Date:  September 29, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Samuel Warren Joseph

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s been awhile, but making just his second appearance of the series (and first since episode two) is Robin, coming back to play a fairly large role in this week’s episode “Fear of Victory.” This episode was actually the television debut of Robin, since his first appearance came in the Christmas episode which was held back to air closer to the holiday. As a kid, I remember seeing the preview for this episode which featured Robin and getting all excited about it. I really don’t know why since I’ve always much preferred Batman to Robin, maybe it was just because it was something different? Plus, Robin had yet to appear in anything Batman related in quite some time, outside of the comics, so it had been a long while since I had interacted with The Boy Wonder.

As you can probably guess from the title, our villain for this episode is The Scarecrow. Making also his second appearance, Scarecrow has a re-design that makes him look far more fearsome than how he did in “Nothing to Fear.” His face is more interesting to behold and features a crooked mouth full of oddly shaped teeth. In some respects he reminds me of Clayface, and the animators take some liberties with his mask to make him look more fearsome when they want to. He also now has a mass of straw hair under his hat, further adding to the whole scarecrow thing he has going on. Over all, definitely an improvement over that eggplant shaped head he had going on previously. This episode is also noteworthy since it tries to show us how Batman’s enemies might go about getting money for their nefarious schemes. Scarecrow isn’t trying to exact revenge or take over Gotham or anything crazy, he’s just trying to scam bookies by rigging sporting events using his fear toxin. Since he was fired from his university post, he likely needs some funds to get a good lab up and running to further his experiments, though the lack of which apparently didn’t prevent him from creating what he needed for this episode.

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Robin starts freaking out pretty early in the episode – way to make a good first impression, Boy Blunder.

The episode opens on a sports highlight package that displays various performers collapsing in fear during their respective games. Dick Grayson is watching the program from his dorm when his roommate receives a telegram from a skinny, red-headed courier. I’ve got a pretty good memory, so I know who that guy is immediately (and the title card is a total give-away anyways). The telegram is from “a fan” and cautions Brian, Dick’s roommate and quarterback for the school’s football team, not to take fear lightly. When Robin is out on patrol with Batman he fills him in on the odd telegram, and they wonder if it has any connection to the odd things they’ve been seeing in the sports world, including his own roommate getting freaked out on the field. They fire off the first appearance of the crappy version of the grapple guns, the ones that just end in metal Batman logos and stab into the ledges. When Robin has a panic attack while confronting some goons, it tips off Batman that someone is poisoning the athletes and causing them to experience fear.

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Scarecrow’s new look is appropriate.

Some testing back at the lab confirms Batman’s hypothesis and naturally leads him to suspect The Scarecrow. They pay Arkham Asylum a visit where we get some cameos from the likes of Joker and Poison Ivy. Oddly enough, they’re all depicted in their regular villain attire instead of inmate jumpsuits. Batman arrives just as Dr. Crane’s food is being served and he witnesses an orderly tossing it in the garbage rather than delivering it to the appropriate inmate. Batman decides to check out Scarecrow’s cell, which the orderly really doesn’t want him to do, and he finds there’s a scarecrow there in his place. My guess is the writers/story boarders came up with this first and thus were pigeon-holed into putting the other villains in their regular attire as a result. All so they could have a scarecrow in place of The Scarecrow.

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When Brian hallucinates the animators get to have fun with some face-morphing animation to depict his fear.

Figuring out who is behind everything is obviously elementary. Dr. Crane is shown throughout the episode delivering the telegram and also collecting his winnings and each time he’s in disguise. This isn’t to hide the fact that it’s The Scarecrow from the viewer, but to seemingly hide his redesign which pays off when he scares his bookie’s hired muscle. We get an extreme closeup of his face where liberties are taken to add sharp, piranha like teeth to his mask and really make him look kind of freaky, at least I remember it being that way to me as a kid. And the guy he is scaring in that scene is voiced by Tim Curry, who was supposed to be The Joker before it was decided to go with Mark Hamill. They must have had him record some ancillary characters (Hamill voices the orderly in this episode) that they elected to keep. The real tension, I suppose, of the episode is Robin trying to overcome the fear toxin he was exposed to via his roommate’s telegram. He has a panic attack early that almost costs Batman dearly, and Batman has to kind of keep him at arm’s length for the confrontation with Scarecrow. Batman basically gives him tough love as there’s no cure for the toxin, you just need to power through until its effects ware off.

The Dynamic Duo figures out that Scarecrow is targeting the big Gotham Knights game. In a bit of hack story-telling, Batman and Robin’s “fight” with The Scarecrow is cut in sync with the actions of the football game, including Scarecrow’s vial being dropped cut with a fumble in the game. It’s stupid and the type of thing director’s can’t seem to resist when football pops into an action series (I remember contemporary series Rugrats doing something similar). There’s also a really long pass at one point in the game that’s animated to look more like a punt, making me wonder if the animators had ever seen American football (probably not). Since Scarecrow isn’t much of a physical threat, he’s caught rather easily once his threat to poison the entire arena is rendered toothless by Robin overcoming his fear and collecting the vial. Scarecrow suggests his one vial could have infected the whole stadium, which seems ludicrous. I guess since he was cornered in some scaffolding with no way out he could have just been lying in a desperate bid to escape, Batman seems to buy it though.

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Okay, now I’m scared.

“Fear of Victory” is an okay episode of Batman: The Animated Series. I like The Scarecrow and I like his new look, which he’ll hang onto until The New Batman Adventures. The little side story with Robin is fine and it makes sense since we’ve already seen Batman have to deal with the toxin, so why not Robin? It gives him some credibility since he does overcome it in the end, and since Batman doesn’t just tell him to stay home, it does tell us that Batman must value him as a sidekick. What is never really explained is just what drives Robin to actually accompany Batman on his various outings. Because his roommate got scared playing football? Okay. He’ll just kind of show up for no reason from time to time until season two. I prefer Batman as a solo act, so I’m fine with this arrangement and I’m fine with this episode.


Dec. 11 – Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas

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November 1997

So this one is a little different. Basically all of the entries up until now have been for television specials and cartoon shorts. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is a feature-length direct-to-video Christmas special based on Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast. It’s sort of confusing to describe, because I guess you would call it a midquel (assuming that’s a real word), but it’s also a sequel since the events of the film are told via a flashback. See how that can get confusing? Anyways, I’ve mostly been running through the plots of these specials scene by scene, but doing so for a feature would take quite awhile, even though it’s admittedly a pretty short sequel since it only runs about 71 minutes, so I’ll try to be brief here, but probably won’t succeed.

The Enchanted Christmas was released in November of 1997 and is yet another direct-to-video film based on a popular animated one. Disney was churning these things out left and right during the 90s until John Lasseter was hired to oversee all of Disney’s animation and basically put an end to them. They’re mostly terrible and do nothing to enhance the value of the original films that spawned them. They’re basically cash grabs meant to capitalize on the popularity of those films without sinking in the capital required to make a legitimate sequel. They did more harm than good to both the Disney brand and the original films, and I honestly haven’t seen one that I consider good, though I admittedly haven’t seen many of them because of their subpar reputation.

As you may have guessed, The Enchanted Christmas is no exception. I did enter into this thing expecting the worst, and I can at least say my expectations were not met. This film isn’t terrible. On its own, its a serviceable piece of entertainment. It would probably be more fondly remembered if it had just been a television Christmas special rather than something you actually had to spend money on to either purchase or rent (and these videos usually weren’t any cheaper than the released to theaters features) in order to view.

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Belle and The Beast get to enjoy a nice moment early in this one, but some meddlesome instruments mess it all up.

The Enchanted Christmas opens with the characters from the film preparing for Christmas. They’re human, so we know this is occurring after the events of the movie. They start talking about the previous Christmas, which is what sets up Mrs. Potts to tell us about the Christmas that almost wasn’t. Now we’re back in time and everyone is enchanted as household objects. Belle is imprisoned in the castle following her escape attempt and The Beast is somewhere licking his wounds. The main chunk of the movie is going to take place in this window, or essentially the montage from the original film in which Belle grows accustomed to The Beast and they have a snowball fight and it all leads to the ballroom sequence. The main plot of this story is Christmas is coming and Belle is a bit excited about it. The servants of the castle also view her enthusiasm for the holiday and the general good vibes it typically brings about as an opportunity to perhaps bring Belle and Beast closer. The problem is that the curse they’re all under was apparently inflicted upon The Beast and his subjects during the Christmas season, so Beast has a hatred for the holiday as a result. It’s a convoluted setup for a film, but in the end it’s a pretty conventional setup for a Christmas special.

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This is Forte and he looks pretty terrible, but with Tim Curry’s voice at least he sounds good.

Surprisingly, basically everyone from the film has returned to voice their character for this. I’m not sure if they were contractually obligated to, but at least Disney was willing to spend money to make the characters sound the way they’re supposed to. There are some newcomers, of course, and one of them is unveiled early. Tim Curry is the voice of Forte, a large organ in the bowels of the castle. He apparently is a trusted advisor for The Beast and someone he confides in alone, making it at least somewhat believable that he could have existed during the events of the original film without our knowing. Forte is actually quite content as an organ since he’s essentially immortal. He doesn’t need to eat, or sleep, and is free to compose his music for as long as he pleases. Since he likes being this way, he has a vested interest in keeping The Beast from falling in love with Belle. He also has an assistant named Fife, a piccolo voiced by Paul Reubens. We’ll also be introduced to Angelique, the former castle decorator who was turned into a Christmas angel decoration and Axe, who works in the boiler room.

The gist of the movie is Belle trying to bring Christmas to the castle, and something preventing that from happening. Fife works for Forte because Forte promised him a solo in an opera he’s written. It seems like a pretty silly incentive, but I guess when you’re a literal musical instrument something like that sounds promising. He’s so eager that he interrupts Belle and Beast when they’re having a little moment while ice skating. He basically serves as Forte’s eyes and ears since Forte is immobile in his present form. Meanwhile, Belle sets out to decorate the castle, only for The Beast to intercede and forbid it.

Belle’s machinations lead her to finding Angelique among the castle’s Christmas decorations. Angelique is convinced that The Beast’s foul mood and general pessimism towards Christmas won’t end well and does not wish to participate. She’s also a bit glum, since being a Christmas decoration, she’s not really free to roam the castle either because she’s out of season or because The Beast hates Christmas – I’m not sure which is the reason. Belle uses her gift of song to raise Angelique’s spirits and gets her to come around to the whole Christmas idea allowing this feature to at least pretend that it’s a typical Disney movie.

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Angelique, who as a Christmas decoration is apparently banished from sight until December, or at least until after Halloween.

Fife lets Forte know what Belle is planning, and he basically uses that info to further drive a wedge between she and The Beast. He tells Beast that Belle doesn’t care how Christmas makes him feel, only how it will make her feel and trys to play it off as Belle being selfish. It works too as we find out Beast is pretty easily swayed. This sets up a nasty confrontation between Belle and The Beast when she tries to secure a Yule log from Axe. She explains to Beast that everyone is to place their hand on the log and make a Christmas wish, to which The Beast mocks her by asking what her wish was last year, because it certainly could not have come true for her to be where she is now.

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The little guy next to Chip is Fife, who is voiced by Paul Reubens.

Like most Christmas stories, a heartfelt gift is a way to thaw a frozen heart. Belle creates a book for Beast, and even though he’s put a wrench in her plans, she still gives it to him. When Beast is alone with Lumiere he ponders opening it, but the candlestick man says he can’t open it until Christmas, but does remind him that people typically make gifts for others they care about. This gets through to Beast, and he returns to Forte to command him to write a song for Belle as a gift. Forte is not surprisingly pretty irritated at this request, but he goes along with it and starts playing an enchanting melody. It gets the attention of Belle who comes into the room to check it out. Prior to this, she was talking about getting a Christmas tree, and Forte preys on that by telling her where to go for a tree:  The Black Forrest. Now, Belle is apparently none too bright because that sounds like a pretty ominous place to venture. Of course, Forte is setting her up, and Belle plays right into it.

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I bet you can’t guess which one is Axe.

To my surprise though, The Black Forrest isn’t so bad. All Forte wants is for Belle to break her promise to never leave the castle. Following that whole wolf attack in the first film, it sounds like a sensible idea anyways. Once Belle sets off with Chip and Axe, Forte brings her absence to the attention of The Beast which just sets him off. He destroys the Christmas decorations in the main hall and races off to bring her back. Before he gets there, Belle and her horse Philippe fall through some ice after Fife startles the horse. The Beast arrives in time to save her, but that doesn’t spare her from the dungeon.

Angelique visits Belle during her incarceration in the dungeon. She admits that she was wrong to deny Christmas and gives us our first lesson of the holiday:  Christmas isn’t about fancy decorations and gifts, it’s about being with those you love. They resolve to have the best Christmas they can, given the circumstances. Beast, after being told to destroy the rose by Forte and give up on being human again, finds himself alone with the enchanted rose and watches as another petal falls and lands on his gift from Belle. Opening it, his heart grows three sizes that day and the true meaning of Christmas enters his soul and The Beast gains the strength of ten Beasts – plus two! Maybe not exactly, but pretty much, and he goes and apologizes to Belle and lets her out.

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Forte, before the enchantment took hold. How did Beast not know this guy was a villain?!

Forte is pretty pissed at this point and decides it’s time to just reduce the castle to rubble. He begins playing as loudly as possible, and since his pipes run through the castle wall he’s capable of really getting the place shaking. Fife finally figures out a solo in some opera for no one probably isn’t a good enough reason to allow a bunch of people to die, and he gets The Beast. When The Beast enters the room he’s not really sure what to do, but Fife instructs him to destroy the keyboard on Forte. In doing so, Forte is unable to continue playing and he gets destroyed. The Beast mourns him a bit, but who’s going to let such a thing stop them from having a good Christmas? Certainly not The Beast! We jump back to the present and everyone seems happy to have relived those events through story and Belle receives a single rose from The Prince as a gift. She seems happy to have it, though I personally think he could do better.

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Beast’s showdown with Forte is very…green.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is okay. I’ve seen worse. It kind of retreads a lot of tropes from Christmas specials that came before it. As a midquel, it does okay at fitting the story into the events of the movie. We can kind of believe that the story could have taken place without some of these extra characters showing up. It would have been nice if instead of creating new characters like Fife and Angelique if they could have just given a voice to a background character from the film, but I can’t say it really bothers me much. The animation is obviously not on par with the original film, and Forte is animated using some rather crude CGi. This is that era of film making where CGi was new and exciting and being shoe-horned into traditional animation even though it looks way out of place. Forte isn’t the worst instance of this sort of thing, but he doesn’t look good. Tim Curry gives a nice performance though, and I actually enjoyed the concept of Forte more than I expected. He works as a villain, just not as a visual. Had he been animated in the same style as the others he would have been all the better for it. The new songs are not memorable though, and it’s a major drop from the original film.

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And a merry Christmas was had by all! The end.

If you want to see this film you’re best bet is to just go out and get it. It went out of print for a little while, but I started seeing it show up at retail last year probably to capitalize on the excitement over the forthcoming live action film. My guess is that Disney probably prints off a few this year as well to sell at Christmas and that’s that. Whether or not you encounter a copy “in the wild” might be a matter of luck, but online retailers are likely to have some stock and it’s available digitally too. For a little while, it was a bit pricey on the second hand market, but that seems to have come down. I’ve never seen this film shown on television, and since most of these sequels, prequels, and midquels are kind of regarded as Disney’s dirty little secrets it’s probable that the studio likes to distance itself from them and not air them on television. Or they actually sell well enough on their own at retail and they don’t want to diminish that return (and this one has made a ton of money for Disney, reportedly almost $200 million). If you choose not to watch it though this holiday season you probably won’t be missing much. This basically exists for those who really adore the original film to the point that they don’t care about the quality of the story here, they just want a chance to spend some time with these characters once again.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Be A Clown”

Be_A_Clown-Title_CardEpisode Number:  9

Original Air Date:  September 16, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Ted Pedersen and Steve Hayes

First Appearance(s):  Jordan Hill

Thus far, Batman:  The Animated Series has basically given us an episode either featuring The Joker as the main antagonist or basically a no-name villain (at the time) for Batman to do battle with. Here we are at episode 9 and already it’s the third Joker episode for the series. The series will not be so Joker heavy much longer, and truthfully it’s hard to argue with the strategy of making new stars out of Poison Ivy and Scarecrow while also mixing in a liberal dose of Joker. This is also the second episode directed by Frank Paur, who gets a shot with a big-time villain following his series debut with “The Underdwellers.”

The episode opens with Mayor Hamilton Hill (Lloyd Bochner) giving a press conference when some hoodlums come speeding through to disrupt things. They’re fleeing Batman, who swoops in and nabs them before departing as quickly as he arrived. Unfortunately for Hill, this all happened while he was downplaying the amount of crime in Gotham and it prompts a reporter to ask him about the criminals, as well as Batman. Hill reveals himself to be of the Bullock mindset that Batman is no better than criminals like The Joker – cut to The Joker watching all of this on television which enrages him. He’s angry that anyone, especially the mayor of Gotham, would compare him to Batman and deems it a grievous insult.

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Mayor Hill doesn’t share his son’s enthusiasm for magic.

Sometime later, Hill is throwing a birthday party for his son Jordan (Justin Shenkarow), who isn’t particularly excited about it. Hill basically reveals himself to be a greasy politician who stocks his son’s birthday party with various political personalities in Gotham as well as wealthy individuals like Bruce Wayne. Jordan is not at all amused by any of this, but he is delighted when Jekko The Magnificent shows up to entertain the party goers. Jordan is an aspiring magician himself, so he’s drawn to the clown performer immediately. When asked how to become a great magician, Jekko tells Jordan he should run away and find a mentor. As viewers we are not fooled by The Joker’s disguise, and anyone who was is soon tipped off when Jekko places a stick of dynamite on the birthday cake which features a head sculpt of The Joker himself. Wayne notices, and finds a way to “accidentally” knock the cake into a swimming pool before it explodes. Interestingly, when Joker places the candle he instructs the children to run along indicating he’s only interested in blowing up the adults. It’s an interesting bit of morality from The Joker, and I wonder who’s decision it was to soften The Joker in this manner.

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The guests at Jordan’s party apparently aren’t too observant.

Jordan, predictably, runs away and stashes himself in Jekko’s van. The police are summoned for a missing person and also happen upon the real Jekko, whom The Joker had tied up and left on the side of the road. Bruce is still hanging around the Hill residence to hear all of this and races off to track down Joker and Jordan. He tracks them to an abandoned amusement park where Joker has somewhat reluctantly taken Jordan in as a protege of sorts. He actually sincerely shows Jordan a few tricks before Batman shows up. Jordan, distrustful of Batman thanks to his father and also a bit intimidated by his appearance, goes along with Jekko’s scheme to lure Batman into a trap that succeeds in knocking him out. When Batman awakes, he finds himself inverted in a water tank with a straight jacket and no utility belt. Jordan, realizing this trick is intended to kill Batman, tries to free him only for Joker to finally reveal himself.

Jordan runs off, and for some reason The Joker decides to give chase rather than watch Batman drown, which naturally helps to allow Batman to escape. A chase sequence ensues involving a roller coaster, and if you played the Super Nintendo game based on this series it will seem familiar to you. Batman is able to deal with The Joker, who falls into a nearby body of water. Jordan has to overcome his fear of Batman in order to be saved, but naturally everything works out. We don’t get any closure on The Joker, who we presume gets away since I doubt anyone thought he perished from his fall, nor do we see Mayor Hill’s reaction to learning his son was rescued by Batman.

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Joker in his Jekko gear corrupting young Jordan.

This episode does not mark the first appearance of Mayor Hill as he was a part of the pilot, but it might as well be his true introduction. It’s actually nice to see people who question Batman and I like that his only real ally at Gotham PD is Gordon (and apparently Montoya following “P.O.V.”). It is sort of surprising to see a politician come out against Batman as I also assumed the general population of Gotham approved of Batman, but maybe they don’t? This episode also has some fun easter eggs in it. When Jekko pulls out a poster for a magician named Prosciutto the drawing is clearly supposed to resembled famed comics writer Alan Moore. There’s also a clown robot at the amusement park which laughs at Jordan when he runs by it. The laugh was taken from Tim Curry’s Joker audition (uncredited) as he was originally cast as The Joker before losing the role due to bronchitis. It’s interesting to hear because it most likely represents what The Joker would have sounded like (at least when laughing) had Curry been retained.

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Batman dodging Joker’s bladed throwing cars is a fun little animation sequence in this episode and a warm up for the roller coaster chase.

“Be a Clown” is one of the better Joker episodes as it captures what I like about the character. He’s easily set off by some of the most mundane things and is more interested in stirring up trouble than doing lasting damage (though he probably did intend to murder some of those party-goers with his dynamite candle). It’s also interesting to see him try and corrupt a child. The Jordan/Mayor Hill dynamic is believable in that he’s more of a political prop for his dad and feels isolated as a result. Hill comes off as a bit of a slime ball, but we do see that he does genuinely care for his son so he’s not a true bad guy. The only thing I don’t particularly care for about the episode is Batman is given some one-liners that mostly fall flat. I don’t mind the writers injecting a little bit of dry humor into Batman, but it’s a delicate game and the script wasn’t up for the task this time. And as always, the score for any Joker episode is excellent as the playful, but somewhat malevolent, Joker theme is always welcomed.

As I stated in the intro, this is already The Joker’s third appearance in this show, but we still haven’t made it to his actual broadcast debut! The order is all over the place, but this is our best Joker episode so far and when all is said and done it will probably still place in the top five, I would guess


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