The Simpsons: Hit & Run

151790-the-simpsons-hit-run-windows-otherAfter a long stretch of posting about Christmas and Batman exclusively, it’s time to get things back on track here at The Nostalgia Spot. Here’s a subject I’ve been sitting on for quite some time. I love The Simpsons, and I also love video games, so it stands to reason I should love Simpsons video games! In a perfect world that would be true, but alas, we do not live in such a world.

The fact that Simpsons video games exist in the first place is kind of funny when you stop and think about it. After all, The Simpsons is essentially a family sitcom like Full House, except it’s actually good. I’ve never heard anyone sincerely bemoan the fact that there are no video games based on Full House, and yet we have around a dozen games based on The Simpsons. The most obvious difference between the two is that Full House is live action and The Simpsons is animated. Is that the criteria needed to enter into the world of video games?

the-simpsons-hit-and-run-download

The main stars of the game. Sorry, Maggie.

Not exactly, but we’re getting there. The wonderful folks over at Talking Simpsons, a podcast that is a chronological exploration of the series, spoke with writer and show-runner Bill Oakley about his time on the show and he revealed an interesting tidbit about The Simpsons that I wasn’t aware of:  the audience was predominantly children. It’s not a total surprise to hear that, but as someone who watched the show regularly growing up with his entire family it did surprise me some. Because the art form is most frequently used to create children’s content in the US, animation inherently appeals to kids. And Bart Simpson was a character most kids looked up to, rightly or wrongly. So given that, it’s not at all surprising why The Simpsons received so many video games in the early days because, back then, no one really associated video games with any demographic other than children.

1

Your first car is the (surprise!) famous Simpsons pink sedan which has inexplicably been turned into a convertible for this game.

Sadly, when the aim of a piece of media is to just appeal to children the end product is often pretty lackluster. The Simpsons were unremarkable in that respect as pretty much every licensed game from the 8-bit era was pretty terrible. The inaugural Bart vs The Space Mutants at least had an interesting They Live! inspired plot, but playing it was about as much fun as a trip to the dentist. The games that followed were the same, but without the quirky plot. Following the NES era the games became mini-game compilations on the GameBoy and SNES and the results were just as bad. The Playstation gave us Simpsons Wrestling, which the less said about that one the better. It wasn’t until we hit the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox generation where we actually received a home console game based on The Simpsons that was any good. Up first, was Road Rage, a Crazy Taxi parody that was decent, followed by Simpsons Skateboarding which was bad. The best though? A Grand Theft Auto parody called The Simpsons:  Hit & Run.

54286-the-simpsons-hit-run-windows-screenshot-in-game-locations-such

Basically every major Springfield landmark is in this game, some of which you can even enter.

Hit & Run took a lot of the assets created for Road Rage and made them more interesting. Road Rage was okay because the taxi setup leaves a lot of room for the characters to just be funny, but the gameplay gets a little old a little fast. Hit & Run slows things down and lets the player exit the vehicle. Even though it’s a GTA clone of sorts, the game plays more like a generic 3D platformer when not in a car. Characters can run, jump, double-jump, attack, and butt stomp just like Ratchet from the Ratchet & Clank series but without the awesome gadgets. Generic characters litter the virtual Springfield driving generic vehicles you’re free to commandeer at your leisure, though the best vehicles are the ones you actually have to purchase.

Hit & Run contains a fairly large version of Springfield that’s broken up into three main stages, so they’re not interconnected unfortunately. There’s a suburban setting that contains Evergreen Terrace as well as the projects and upscale neighborhoods. There’s a downtown setting where you can find Moe’s, the remnants of the monorail, and infamous Matlock Expressway. There’s also a waterfront setting that inexplicably contains The Android’s Dungeon but also features Duff Gardens and the Channel 6 lots home to fine programming such as Krusty the Clown. Just about every major landmark from the show is featured, though the layout of Springfield is definitely not canon.  There’s a sense that in creating the three main stages the game designers just wanted to make sure they had some important landmark reserved for each one. It’s not a big deal, but Springfield isn’t as cozy as it could have been. It’s also very limited by the technology of the time since no section is nearly as large as an open world from today (even GTA: San Andreas featured a much bigger setting).

174662_scr5_a.png

In a surprising move, Apu gets to take center stage for a level.

Springfield is the star of this game, but lets not forget about the playable characters. As you probably guessed, they include the main cast from the show:  Homer, Bart, Lisa and Marge. As you probably did not guess, there’s also a level for Apu. Why Apu? No idea, but it’s nice to play as someone who isn’t a member of the main family and Apu is better than Milhouse. Nobody wants to play as Milhouse. Each level stars one playable character and takes place in a different section of Springfield. Levels get recycled eventually, but with a slightly different take such as night vs day. The last level does something different that I don’t want to spoil, but I’ll say it’s pretty cool. At the start of each stage, your character has access to their default car plus any car that’s been acquired along the way. Naturally, the further into the game you go the better the cars get so you probably won’t use most of the earlier ones. Just about every car is taken from the series too so you’ll get to drive famous cars like Homer’s Mr. Plow truck and Martin’s Honor Roller.

Simpsons_Hit_And_Run_Level_2

Do it, Bart, take his head!

The setup of the game is pretty straight-forward. You’re given a task, and you need to drive over to a certain character to begin the mission. Just about every mission can be distilled into you driving to a checkpoint in a set amount of time. A timer counts down and often another character has hopped into the car with you to make fun of you while you drive. Complicating things is the hit & run meter. As you run over pedestrians and cause mayhem the meter fills. If it fills all the way you attract the attention of Springfield’s finest. Chief Wiggum and company are surprisingly capable of catching you, and unlike GTA they don’t have to yank you out of the car, just stop you. In the early stages you probably won’t have too much trouble, but as the game moves along things get harder and you’ll probably need to make sure you have the best vehicles available to complete the missions.

The plot of the game is unimportant and pretty weird, even for The Simpsons. Buzz Cola is spreading some new cola that turns people into zombies. It’s sort of a New Coke parody and for some reason there’s giant robot wasps. I mostly ignored it, but the plot pushes you along and into contact with basically every major character from the show. Since the game was released in 2003, it includes characters and references up to around season 13 of the show, so all of the best stuff was available and not as much of the not so great stuff. If you only like the old stuff, you shouldn’t feel too lost here. All of the voice actors contributed to the game and the dialogue is really funny. It’s easily the game’s best aspect.

207885-the-simpsons-hit-run-windows-screenshot-evil-homer-and-a-ufo

Say it with me now, “I am evil Homer! I am evil Homer!”

If Hit & Run did not possess The Simpsons license, it probably wouldn’t be remembered at all. The game probably runs about 8-10 hours depending on how thorough you are and towards the end the game’s structure does get a bit tiresome. There’s basically no mission variety to speak of, and while the game isn’t really hard some of the end stages will feature a mission or two that will likely get frustrating. I would often find myself getting bored and sloppy and that’s when my play quality would diminish leading to some angry moments. Usually putting the game away for a bit and returning another day remedied this and thankfully the game’s humor and charm were enough to keep me coming back. Once you’ve seen the three main hubs though the game does lose some luster since most of the Easter eggs have been explored by then.

screen_2

Of course the Monorail makes a cameo.

Hit & Run is at its best when you’re just exploring Springfield. Seeking out the special missions and homages throughout is definitely the most satisfying aspect of the game. The game keeps track of them too so you know if you’ve found them all or if there’s more out there. There’s some optional races too, but they’re sort of just padding. If that last level wasn’t so good I’d say you’ve probably seen enough after just level three. There’s also optional costumes to purchase in the game if you want to dress-up your character as Bartman or Evil Homer. Once you complete a stage too you’re free to jump back into it if you want in case there was something you failed to complete.

It’s debatable if Hit & Run is the best Simpsons game ever made. Virtual Springfield is much beloved by the community for its authenticity, though it isn’t really much of a game. Most people probably pick Konami’s arcade brawler, simply titled The Simpsons, as their favorite. It was available for a time on Xbox Live but I believe that is no longer the case. It is a fun game, though it’s also a traditional arcade game that exists mostly to devour quarters. It also was created during production of season 2 so it only contains references to the show’s first season, which is a bit disappointing. Hit & Run is definitely worth a look if you love The Simpsons. It was released across all three major consoles at the time, so it’s really easy to find a copy at a reasonable price. And if you like podcasts, definitely check out Talking Simpsons as, short of just watching the episodes, that’s the best way to enjoy the classic era of The Simpsons. The main podcast is free and is part of the Laser Time family of podcasts. There’s also a Patreon that has additional content (including the Bill Oakley interview I mentioned) most of which is available for just five bucks a month. I heartily recommend it (and no, I am not affiliated in any way with that show, I just enjoy it). However you go about, treasure The Simpsons since it won’t be around forever, as incredible as that may seem. Maybe we can even get one more game out of it. The Simpsons Game followed Hit & Run, and while the production values on that one blow away the other Simpsons games, the actual gameplay is atrocious and ruins the experience. A game that expands upon the basic formula of Hit & Run would probably work quite well, if enough time was sunk into it. I doubt we’ll receive another major Simpsons game, but it doesn’t hurt to wish.

Advertisements

Batman: The Animated Series – “See No Evil”

See_No_Evil-Title_CardEpisode Number: 17

Original Air Date:  February 24, 1993

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Martin Pasko

First Appearance(s):  Lloyd Ventrix

“See No Evil” is a relatively early production episode of Batman, but for whatever reason it was held until February of 1993. When a show receives a full 65 episode order right out of the gate, what gets to air first often is whatever is finished first. Sometimes a marquee villain or two-parter will be held until a nice ratings spot is needed, or a prime time window is available, so maybe this one just took awhile. And since it contains a no-name villain there likely wasn’t much excitement around it at Fox to get it to air.

“See No Evil” is an interesting episode because it’s both very grounded in terms of the story it’s telling, a father denied parental rights wanting to spend time with his daughter by any means necessary, while also containing some elements of the super natural in the form of an invisibility suit. Lloyd Ventrix (Michael Gross) is our antagonist and he’s a simple con-man who was formerly incarcerated, but has since been released. As a result of his run-in with the law he lost his wife and he lost all visitation rights with his kid. We’re not entirely sure, but it seems he may have tried to get his life in order. He got a job, at least, but when the episode opens he’s doing some not very legal things.

hqdefault-28

Jimmy talking to her “imaginary” friend, Mojo.

Kimmy (Elisabeth Moss) is a seemingly regular girl being raised by her mother. As is not an uncommon trait among young children, Kimmy has an imaginary friend she calls Mojo. Her mother thinks nothing of it, but it turns out Mojo isn’t just a figment of Kimmy’s imagination. He’s seen, or unseen, bringing her physical gifts and he actually speaks to her despite seemingly having no material form. Meanwhile, jewelry stores and the like are being knocked off and our caped crusader is having trouble figuring out who’s behind it since no one is picked up on security cams.

Naturally, there’s an explanation and it turns out Mojo is actually Ventrix in disguise. When he got out of prison he landed a job at a laboratory that was working on an invisibility material and decided to knock it off. It’s unclear if he’s still working there, but he’s been able to enrich himself thanks to the suit. This allows him to at least look the part of a well-adjusted individual and basically stalks his ex-wife Helen (Jean Smart) and tries to stage a simple run-in to demonstrate he’s a changed man. Helen doesn’t by it, and since she has a restraining order out against him she wisely flees warning him to stay away from her and Kimmy. This is essentially the last straw for Ventrix, and Mojo decides to lure Kimmy out of her house in a bid to kidnap her. When Mojo successfully does so he reveals himself to Kimmy, but she’s been well coached by her mother and runs.

sne

Nice suit, who’s your tailor?

All this time, Batman has been slowly unraveling the mystery of Gotham’s invisible man. He’s able to figure out where the tech came from, and the ex-con on the payroll is a bit of a smoking gun. He’s able to intercept Ventrix during his abduction attempt and a fight and chase ensues. This is the episode’s strength as pitting Batman against a foe he can’t see is pretty entertaining to animate. Not only does Ventrix possess the ability to make himself invisible, he can even make the car he’s in invisible as well. When he tries to escape Batman via automobile, Batman jumps onto the roof of the car as it speeds away. Other motorists can only see what appears to be Batman flying above the road zoom past them and it’s a pretty amusing visual.

Being invisible is definitely an advantage to have over Batman, but it doesn’t make-up for the huge gap in fighting ability between Ventrix and the Dark Knight. Batman is able to foil the plans of Mojo, and a tidy little bow is placed on the whole thing. There’s also a sweet little scene to end the episode that I like, and old Ventrix is never heard from again.

seenoevil1

There’s some great artwork in the fight scene that climaxes the episode. Batman has never looked so bad ass.

As a kid, I probably wasn’t that interested in this episode since it doesn’t feature one of Batman’s familiar enemies, but the simple and relatable premise of the episode makes it rather endearing. The show is careful to portray Ventrix as a selfish criminal who’s quick to anger and probably possesses a violent side. As a result, we can only sympathize with him on a surface level. Yes, it’s terrible to not have even limited visitation rights with your child, but the courts typically reserve that fate for the truly bad individuals in society and Ventrix happens to be one of them. He presumably had a path to his daughter that involved getting a stable job, a place to live, and he probably had to stay out of trouble for a certain length of time and at that point he probably could have had some visitation restored. He’s impatient though and thinks he can win back his ex-wife with money, money that just so happens to be ill-gotten. Helen assumes the worst of him, but she’s also right. Batman is there to provide the action, and the scenes of him battling with Ventrix in his invisibility suit are pretty special from an animation perspective. It might not be the first episode people think of when they hear Batman: The Animated Series, but it’s a pretty good one.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Cat and the Claw – Part II”

3366254-the+cat+and+the+claw+part+2Episode Number:  16

Original Air Date:  September 12, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Sean Catherine Derek and Laren Bright

First Appearance(s):  None

“The Cat and the Claw: Part I” was the big kick-off for Batman: The Animated Series. It was also the introduction of Catwoman, Batman’s closest foil, and portrayed her as a Robin Hood of sorts robbing from the rich to benefit the poor, neglected animals of Gotham. Her acts aren’t quite so noble as that, as she lives a pretty pampered lifestyle in a Gotham penthouse with an assistant on hand 24/7 so not all of those riches are going to the animals. It also introduced the relationship between Batman and Catwoman in which Catwoman has an attraction to Batman while Bruce Wayne has his eye on Catwoman’s alter-ego Selina Kyle.

Red_Claw_3

Ever remove the label from a can of Chef Boyardee?

Not to be forgotten, is the true villain of both episodes:  Red Claw. Red Claw is a soviet terrorist who has infiltrated Gotham and stolen a biological weapon in which she utilizes to hold all of Gotham at ransom. Catwoman is brought into the fold by virtue of the fact that a company Red Claw is conspiring with has seized a piece of land once intended as a sanctuary for large cats. Batman, naturally, just wants to make sure Gotham isn’t destroyed.

The episode picks up where the previous one left off. Catwoman has been followed back to her apartment by a member of the Red Claw gang and her identity is now known to her adversaries. Batman is tipped off about the gang’s intention of knocking off the plague weapon which is coming through Gotham on a train (seems to be some security flaws). Batman isn’t able to prevent the theft, obviously or else we wouldn’t have much of an episode, but he does get to come face to face with Red Claw.

The following day, Bruce and Selina are out to try and have a date once more when Bruce’s car is assailed by a member of the Red Claw gang. There’s a fun chase that ensues with the Red Claw car just trying to run Bruce and Selena off the road while Bruce gets to demonstrate his Batman driving skills as they eventually get away (Bruce can afford the repair bill). This was all the result of Red Claw knowing Catwoman’s identity, and since Selina has no idea about Bruce, she kind of figures out that they’re onto her. Bruce also notices traces of cat hair left behind by Selina and apparently this is good enough for him to know that she’s Catwoman.

CatClaw2

Thanks for the help, Batman. Next time, can you stop the bad guys with less fire?

The rest of the episodes ends up being a Batman/Catwoman team-up. Catwoman is portrayed as rather cocksure, as she was in the previous episode, and careless as a result, necessitating help from Batman. They both end up captured and have to escape from Red Claw. There’s some nice action sequences and their escape is actually pretty thrilling, even if it doesn’t seem in doubt. Red Claw proves to be rather ruthless, but just as ineffective as most Batman villains. A confrontation between her and Catwoman is setup, but doesn’t really pay off. Catwoman  is also teased to have some special connection with not just her pet Isis, but cats as a whole. I don’t recall this playing a role in a future episode, but I could be mistaken.

People hoping for a Batman/Catwoman pairing following this episode were probably let down by its ending. After the mess with Red Claw is cleaned up, Catwoman escapes and flees to her penthouse. Unknown to her, Batman has already been there to advise her assistant, Maven, to flee since Red Claw is looking for Selina. He’s there waiting for her and when she tries to turn on the charm to get out of the predicament he coldly slaps a pair of handcuffs on her while he suggests this hurts him more than it hurts her.

30-1

Just kidding, want to come over to my place?

Trying to portray Batman’s arrest of Catwoman as some noble act feels kind of silly. I know they only have so much time to work with, but Bruce’s affection for Selena could best be summed up as a simple crush. They never get to know each other, though I suppose a life-harrowing event such as the car chase might leave more than a mark. I touched on it in the last episode, but Batman breaks the law all of the time in small ways and is able to justify it. Selina seems like she does the same and perhaps Batman could have steered her into a better direction. Nevertheless, he’s not willing to bend.

Some have voiced displeasure with Catwoman as a whole and how the show handled her. Even Bruce Timm has suggested they could have done a better job with her and it’s hard to disagree. I wish she wasn’t so incapable of taking care of herself across two episodes, always needing help from Batman. I also think they couldn’t decide if she should be an anti-hero or a true villain and tried to have it both ways, which feels noncommittal and isn’t particularly satisfying. She’ll pop up again, but her future appearances seem to only exacerbate that aspect of her character.

Just as was the case with Part I, Part II does look great and the colors, animation, and style are some of the best the show would produce. I love the sequence of Catwoman just narrowly sliding under a closing steel door and the fire effects, perhaps dated, are still pretty spectacular. All of this leads me to render a verdict of style over substance in the case of “The Cat and Claw” as a whole, and especially Part II. Part I was decent setup, but the payoff wasn’t. At least they had the foresight to utilize a throw-away villain like Red Claw when the focus was going to be put on Batman and Catwoman. It just felt too early for those two to team-up and for Batman to figure out her identity. And for a character as prominent and popular as Catwoman I don’t think it would have been too risky to plan on featuring her in 2 or 3 episodes before this.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Cat and the Claw – Part I”

Cat_and_Claw-Title_CardEpisode Number:  15

Original Air Date:  September 5, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Sean Catherine Derek and Laren Bright

First Appearance(s):  Catwoman, Red Claw

This may be episode number 15, but it’s actually the very first episode of Batman: The Animated Series by air date. Airing as a special prime time sneak peak, “The Cat and the Claw – Part One” featured the debut of a very popular Batman foil – the not so villainous Catwoman. Like The Penguin, Catwoman was fresh off of starring in Batman Returns where she was played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Also like The Penguin, Catwoman was a regular on the Batman television series from the 1960s and was a featured villain in Batman: The Movie. In terms of Batman adversaries, few were as well known to audiences as Catwoman.

Catwoman_BTASUnlike The Penguin and Joker, Catwoman was not made an existing villain in this series. This episode marks her debut to both the television audience and to this version of Batman as well. They have never crossed paths before their meeting here, though one gets the impression that Catwoman has been up to this sort of thing for quite some time. She’s quite good at getting around and breaking and entering and even has little cat-shaped caltrops to make use of. Her outfit is very similar to Batman’s and I suppose that’s intentional. She even has a yellow-gold belt. Really, the only difference is she lacks a cape. This version of Catwoman is less an adversary and more another aspect of how Batman could operate. While he may be a vigilante out to do what’s right while largely adhering to the law of the land, Catwoman plays more fast and loose with the law and is willing to break it, going as far as thievery, if the ends are justified by the means. Batman’s ultimate goal is also to help the good people of Gotham by reducing crime, where as Catwoman is basically an animal rights activist who may or not prefer animals (in particular, cats) to people.

The episode opens with Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) out on the prowl. She’s after something and we get a look at how she operates. At her side is her trusty cat Isis whom has been trained to infiltrate locations and even deactivate traps. Catwoman is after a diamond necklace, but she attracts the attention of our hero. She and Batman have a playful little chase and it’s impressed upon us almost immediately that the Batman ignites something within Catwoman. Catwoman is able to elude Batman, in part because he stopped to save her precious cat from becoming roadkill. He seems willing to let her off and try another time.

291

Attaboy Bruce!

The Batman/Catwoman dynamic isn’t anything new, and it’s not surprising to see them go this route. Also not surprising, is that Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, Catwoman’s real life persona, are destined to meet. Wayne is attending a charity auction where a date with Gotham’s most eligible bachelors is what’s up for bid. Kyle grossly outbids the other ladies for the services of Bruce and he’s immediately smitten with the blond bombshell. Kyle is disinterest though, as she was only doing it for the charity which is an animal charity. We’re given insight into Catwoman’s motivations for her thievery. Rather than enriching herself, it would seem her aim is a bit like Robin Hood (in her mind), though instead of giving to the poor she’s donating to animal rights groups.

Before Bruce and Selina can formalize plans for their date, that Bruce insists upon having, gunfire is heard and Batman is forced to spring into action (this seems to happen a lot to poor Bruce). Batman has to deal with some terrorists, and upon doing so is informed by Commissioner Gordon that a terrorist known as Red Claw is believed to be operating in Gotham.

batman-the-animated-series-season-1-episode-15-the-cat-and-the-claw-part-1

They would make for a nice looking couple.

The next day, Bruce shows up for his date just as Selina is informed by her lawyer that a proposed sanctuary for large cats is being acquired by a corporation that intends to bulldoze the preserve and put up a resort. Selina is irate, but Bruce happens to know the CEO of the corporation, Multigon International, and arranges a face-to-face between he and Selena. It’s fruitless, and Selina storms out angry alongside Bruce. As they leave, Red Claw appears to inform the CEO of Multigon, Stern, to keep an eye on Ms. Kyle. Red Claw is somewhat shadowed but we see Red Claw (Kate Mulgrew) is actually a woman and a pretty tough looking one at that.

The-Cat-And-The-Claw-Pt-1-batman-the-animated-series-16815876-540-405

Sort of forgotten in the debut of Catwoman is the real villain of the episode – Red Claw.

Selina and Bruce agree to end their date prematurely, since she’s not much in the mood following their meeting with Stern, and agree to try again tomorrow. That night, Catwoman returns to Multigon to do some sleuthing. She’s able to get in, but not undetected. Soon she’s swarmed by guards and manages to reach the rooftop only to find herself in a precarious situation on the edge of the building. Naturally, Batman is there to make the save. They have another playful exchange, though Batman gets serious with her and demands she unmask. Catwoman feigns being hurt by Batman’s rejection, which causes Batman to react sympathetically giving Catwoman an opening to flip him over her shoulder and escape.

Back at her apartment, Selina boasts to her assistant Maven that the night was a success, but we’re soon shown an individual affiliated with Red Claw has traced her back to her apartment. He utters an ominous warning for us, the viewers, before the episode ends.

Isis_cat

Isis is a bit of a scene-stealer.

The first part of “The Cat and the Claw” successfully introduces us to this version of Catwoman and the role she’ll play in Batman’s rogues gallery. Her intentions are mostly good, but her means are unlawful. You could argue Batman’s are as well since he routinely sneaks into places he’s not welcome and performs search and seizures outside of the law, but Catwoman’s willingness to steal is apparently the line for Batman. The little we see of Red Claw, a villain created for this show, depicts her as a pretty ruthless terrorist and we’ll have to wait for Part Two to see just how far she can be pushed. This show seems to clearly love having sympathetic villains, so this turn for Catwoman isn’t too surprising. She bares no real resemblance to the character we had just seen in Batman Returns, aside from the general look of her costume and whip accessory. I am left wanting to see more of the Selina character. I’d like to know more about what brought her to where she is, but we’re never really going to get that from this show unfortunately. I also do like the dynamic at play with Batman where Catwoman clearly has the hots for the caped crusader while Batman knows he needs to keep his distance. That’s in contrast to Bruce Wayne’s obvious interest in Selina Kyle, while she seems completely uninterested in Bruce as a potential partner. It’s not a unique setup, but it is effective at creating some drama. It’s also easy to see why this was picked as the premiere, because in addition to the familiar villain, the episode also looks great. Lots of sharp blacks and great animation, especially with Catwoman’s adorable little cat Isis. We’ll have to wait for Part Two to see how this all plays out.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Heart of Ice”

Heart_of_Ice_(Batman-_The_Animated_Series)Episode Number:  14

Original Air Date:  September 7, 1992

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Mr. Freeze

Production episode number 14 was actually the third episode of Batman: The Animated Series to air. It’s also the first written and directed by the two individuals who receive the most credit for the success of the show, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, respectively. And wouldn’t you know, it’s also probably the best episode of the show and maybe the best episode of television based on a comic book.

heart-of-ice

“Heart of Ice” isn’t just the debut of Mr. Freeze for the show, but the start of a whole new life for the character.

Prior to this episode’s airing, its star villain Mr. Freeze was a bit of a joke. Dead in the comics, viewers most knew him from the campy 60’s TV series where he was just some old guy with an affinity for the cold. He was a nothing character and a throw-away villain for Batman to dispatch when a little variety was needed. After this episode, Mr. Freeze was suddenly a star villain in Batman’s rogues gallery and is now probably among his top adversaries in terms of notoriety. He was resurrected in the comics and his backstory was retconned to closely mirror the events of this episode. Freeze isn’t the only instance of the show influencing the comics, and it’s probably debatable which contribution from this show is most important:  Freeze or Harley Quinn. Regardless, this episode is my personal favorite from the show and one that stuck with me when I first saw it back in 1992. Prior to seeing this, I’m not sure if I had ever really empathized with a superhero villain on such a level and it really created a unique viewing experience for me as a child.

The episode opens in a foreboding fashion with a shot of a ballerina dancing in place. It’s a figurine encased in a snow globe and Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) is gazing at it longingly remarking how this is how he’ll always remember “you.” His character model is partially obscured by shadow and is illustrated like a background from the show clearly done on black paper. His mouth is the only thing that animates until his red, glowing eyes open. The eye bit makes no sense, since we’ll soon see that they’re goggles, but it does add a nice dramatic flourish which is something we will also see again.

Cut to a TV report from Summer Gleeson and the episode becomes a more conventional setup. Someone armed with an ice gun has been knocking off GothCorp locations and making off with some tech pieces. Batman, via his magic computer, is able to figure out what these pieces of equipment are being acquired for (a giant freeze canon) and knows what the next item targeted will be and where it’s manufactured. He’s able to arrive as Mr. Freeze and his henchmen hit the scene and Batman has his first encounter with his new adversary. Mr. Freeze, unlike some villains we’ve seen already, is debuting in the show and in the show’s universe as Batman has never encountered him before. We’re shown pretty early that he’s a vicious sort, not in his methods, but his mindset. He cares nothing for the men working for him or those his actions could harm. Batman is warned to stay out of his way, and he genuinely holds no ill will towards the caped crusader, but he also has no problem with killing him either. Freeze’s callousness is demonstrated in leaving behind one of his henchmen who he inadvertently froze. He shows no remorse and offers no apology that he froze the man with his handy ice gun and Batman is forced to help the guy out at the cost of letting Freeze escape.

hqdefault-27

Victor Fries seen pleading with Ferris Boyle not to pull the plug on his wife.

Batman decides he needs to do a little sleuthing about Freeze and goes straight to the source:  GothCorp CEO Ferris Boyle (Mark Hamill). Boyle is at a loss as to why someone would be targeting his company, but does tell Batman (as Bruce Wayne) that a former research scientist would possibly hold a grudge due to the company pulling funding, but adds that he died in a lab accident. It’s a curious thing to bring up if the man is dead, but it’s enough of a lead for Bruce to return as Batman to scour the security tapes. He locates the one for the accident Boyle mentioned and witnesses a rather disturbing scene. Scientist Victor Fries (pronounced Freeze, naturally) was experimenting with cryogenics and freezing a live human to place them into a state of suspended animation. His test subject was his wife, Nora, as she was terminally ill with what we can only assume is likely some form of cancer, and he hopes to keep her in this state until a cure is found. Boyle storms in with some guards to tell Fries his funding is being withdrawn as it’s proving too costly. He has the apparatus housing Nora Fries shutdown, despite the protests of Victor as this will surely result in his wife’s demise. Boyle cares little for the predicament of Nora, and when Victor begs him to reconsider Boyle tosses him aside into a bunch of random chemicals. Victor can only look on helplessly as his wife is essentially murdered before his eyes, the contact with the chemicals apparently resulting in his current state. It’s a haunting video, though I can’t help but snicker a little at the dramatic cuts contained in supposed security footage, but it helps tell the story.

hqdefault-26

Zzzzzap!

Batman is horrified, and even utters a “My God,” at the sight which was surprisingly allowed to make it to air as any mention of God like that is usually rejected by network censors for a kid’s show. Mr. Freeze conveniently shows up to offer a little commentary on Batman’s reaction to the security footage before firing his ice gun at the screen ending the scene. Batman is taken prisoner and suspended from the ceiling via ice shackles. From here he’s able to pry Mr. Freeze about the night Boyle ruined his life. The “accident” he suffered has forced him to reside in a sub-zero temperature as he cannot live in any other climate. The suit he wears keeps him alive, and we’ll learn later it also triples his strength making him a pretty good physical adversary as well for Batman. Batman offers his sympathy and tries to reason with Freeze, but Freeze doesn’t care. His heart is ice and he only desires revenge against the man who murdered his wife and no one will stand in his way.

heartofice

I’ve seen enough cartoons and movies to know that you probably shouldn’t just leave Batman like this.

This is where Freeze makes the mistake of behaving like a typical villain, for all of his bluster about not caring about the lives of those who get in his way, he makes the mistake of leaving Batman alive. He even spills the beans on his plan to crash a dinner where Boyle is being presented with a humanitarian award, and soon departs with his super weapon now complete. Batman is left to extricate himself from his confines and pursue Freeze. He’s able to arrive just in time as Freeze is in the process of encasing a begging, pleading, Boyle in ice. Batman even retrieves his utility belt, and it’s a good thing, because Alfred had equipped him with a thermos of chicken soup to fight off a cold he acquired during the episode which comes in handy when he uses it to smash the glass bubble around Freeze’s head. He hands the Gotham PD the security tape he took from GothCorp depicting what happened to Nora Fries. The episode ends on a sad scene of Mr. Freeze in his frozen prison cell gazing at his snow globe representation of his wife apologizing through tears that he could not avenge her.

“Heart of Ice” is a triumph due to its story-telling and its style. Mr. Freeze has a retro sci-fi look with a dash of Darth Vader thrown in. His voice is modulated and fuzzy since it’s being amplified by the suit, and the red goggles work to hide any emotion his eyes could convey. His brow is in a constant frown and his cold mannerisms are achieved naturally without being too overstated by the character (something the film version from Batman & Robin was unable to achieve). His ice gun is a fun piece of animation and it’s particularly neat to see him use it in a manner similar to how Marvel’s Ice Man uses his powers when he smashes a fire hydrant and creates an ice track to a high rise. The pacing of the episode is well done, though the limited running time is felt a bit when Batman is able to figure out Freeze is improbably building a giant ice canon right away. I guess an ice canon isn’t a completely foreign concept to Batman. There is also a goof that probably bothers Timm and Dini when they watch this when the colors on Batman’s logo are flipped, and I do kind of hate that Freeze just captures Batman and makes the classic villain error of revealing his hand to the hero and letting him live to do something about it.

The shortcomings for “Heart of Ice” are real and go beyond nitpicking, but they’re not enough to do any real harm to the episode or take away from the fantastic back story dreamed up by Dini for the character of Mr. Freeze. Giving him the motivation of wanting to avenge his lost wife, and in turn making Boyle the real villain of the episode, means the viewer is in some scenes rooting against Batman. We want to see Boyle get what’s coming to him and we don’t want Freeze punished further. At the same time, the episode does make the crimes of Mr. Freeze obvious so it doesn’t go too far in making him sympathetic. The tragic air of the episode’s conclusion is a somber touch to end on, and appropriate one given the mood of the episode. The only real drawback is it’s too good, making it hard for the show to come back to the character because how can it possibly top this?

Heart-of-Ice-BatmanThankfully, Mr. Freeze avoids the Two-Face treatment which saw that villain return more than once as basically a conventional Batman foil. The show never forgets the true motivation for Freeze and Nora is a part of the few times he does reappear. He never schemes with the Joker or serves as hired muscle for Poison Ivy. And best of all, Mr. Freeze is provided a legacy that still endures today making him one of Batman’s greatest foes, and he owes it all to this episode of a children’s cartoon.


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.

1450370121408

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.

daze-before-christmas-05

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.

1.jpg

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.

1450369648449

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.

DBC-9

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).

daze3

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.

DBX-2

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. 24 – Chucklewood Critters: T’was the Day Before Christmas

511N57VG66L._SY445_In the 80s, if you had any connection to a successful animation production unit you could probably get a shot at creating your own series. Such was the case for former Hanna-Barbera animators Bill Hutten and Tony Love. They left that famous cartoon factory to create a series of holiday specials that would eventually lead to a cartoon series:  Chucklewood Critters. The show centers round a Fox named Rusty and a Bear cub named Buttons. If it sounds sweet that’s because it is. This is a very sincere show that just tries to be a nice little cartoon. In some ways, it’s the type of show that just doesn’t get made anymore. The 90s were all about gross humor and characters so it’s kind of crazy these specials were turned into a series in 1998. The first special was released in 1983, “The Christmass Tree Train,” and the last in 1994. We’re not talking about that inaugural special from ’83 though, because it’s currently December 24th, better known as Christmas Eve, and it’s the day before Christmas so lets talk about “T’was the Day Before Christmas.”

The special opens with some really corny Christmas music, remember this special is ultra-sincere, and a duck in search of his flock flies by. His wings flapping sound like plastic tarps wafting in the wind and there’s very little animation. Something tells me this thing didn’t receive a large budget. We soon see our protagonists, Rusty and Buttons, as Rusty rouses Buttons from his hibernation to go sledding in the snow. They crash their sled into a snowbank and and a female fox and bear happen to walk by. Buttons seems pretty into the she-bear (I think he calls her Bear Bear, or something equally unimaginative). Moving along, they see the Christmas Tree Train in the distance and Rusty asks Buttons if he wants to hitch a ride prompting him to question Rusty’s sanity. Nice call-back. They also notice some large footprints in the snow and are creeped out.

hqdefault-24

The Chucklewood Critters brand was all about holiday exploitation. They even have a Thanksgiving special! No one does that.

Scared off by the prints in the snow, Buttons and Rusty go running to Buttons’ dad, Abner, and find him operating a giant wooden snow plow. They’re immediately taken by the giant machinery and seem to forget about the footprints. Abner is called away by his wife, and Buttons and Rusty decide to hop on the plow thinking they can make a nice sledding track with it. Instead the thing proves hard for the diminutive duo to control and they end crashing into some weird creature in a long fur coat (possibly the originator of the footprints?). The two kids are frightened by what they deem a monster as the creature runs off leaving them to survey the damage of the ruined plow.

As one would expect, Abner is pretty pissed when he sees his wrecked plow. His son insists it was the cause of a monster, but he seems pretty skeptical. The mothers of Rusty and Buttons seem to find this whole thing amusing and think nothing of their claim. Surprisingly, the two are allowed to go off sledding in search of Ranger Jones. I would have expected some kind of punishment for destroying the snowplow. When they get to the cabin of Ranger Jones, they find a note on the door informing them he’s left to visit his family for Christmas. The mailbox is overflowing with Christmas cards and Buttons and Rusty look at the festive images and wish they had a critter Christmas of their very own. Somehow, I don’t think this is going to lead to a blood orgy.

hqdefault-23

This angry little guy is Skeeter, maybe the only part of this special that doesn’t irritate me.

The two walk off still openly griping about the lack of Christmas for critters. A bald eagle observes them and tells them its nonsense to desire a Christmas for its beneath critters. Are the animators suggesting Christmas is un-American? The eagle does little to put a damper on things and Buttons and Rusty decide to create their very own Critter Christmas. Buttons doesn’t notice a hole in the ground and falls in leading to a rabbit den. There Skipper and Bluebell live and they’re surprised to see Buttons is awake and not hibernating. Rusty pops in and the two are happy to inform the bunnies that they’re throwing a Critter Christmas. The bunnies, apparently feeling this doesn’t infringe upon Easter, seem excited by the prospect. The four go off in search of a Christmas tree while, unknown to them, menacing music is playing in the background as it’s revealed the fur-coated monster from earlier is pursuing them!

The group find a tree, and that duck from earlier pops in for a second for some reason before flying off, only to find its inhabited by a rodent of some kind named Skeeter. Skeeter sounds like he’s from Brooklyn and is hiding from a monster. When he sees that the others are clearly not monsters he becomes more concerned with the fact that they want to dig up his home for their Christmas tree. He convinces them to use a different tree and leads them to one by a frozen creek. There he asks Buttons and Rusty just what is Critter Christmas? Buttons just says it’s a bunch of fun, basically, and mentions treats which is apparently what interests Skeeter most (he is a bit paunchy). Meanwhile, Skipper was left to dig out the tree while Bluebell just looks on to tell him he’s a sour-puss for complaining about doing all of the work. The fur-clad monster then pops in and scares them off. He pauses to question why everyone is so scared of him (he clearly can’t hear the music) and says he’s just the alligator friend of Buttons and Rusty – Lester. So I guess this isn’t going to be a mystery that takes us through the episode.

46d02092794674930d3d01b67fa5684f--easter-cartoons-christmas-cartoons

And down goes the tree.

Skipper and Bluebell run into Buttons, Rusty, and Skeeter to inform them of the monster. They’re getting out of there, leaving the others to ponder what to do about the monster, and their tree. Rusty suggests they go check it out thinking the monster may have left. Skeeter is not impressed, but when Buttons agrees he’s kind of stuck going along. Sure enough, no monster, but now they need to finish uprooting the tree without the help of the rabbits. Buttons casually leans on the tree to think, and of course this causes it to fall landing on the frozen creek. It shoots off on the ice and the trio has to pursue in their sled. Rusty is able to lasso the tree, but that just means they’re stuck going for a ride with it. Things only get worse when a water fall appears and the sled goes flying through the air. They whiz by that duck once again from earlier, still searching for his flock, and come crashing down to earth in a giant snowbank. The tree lands upright and the spot is apparently as good as any as Rusty remarks they need to now enlist the help of the other critters to decorate it. Skeeter, meanwhile, is still pretty ticked about the near-death experience he just had and rightfully so.

Up next, a musical montage! The staple of the Hanna-Barbera Christmas special lives on in the works of Hutten and Love. The critters are creating decorations and ornaments for the tree while a really annoying song plays to the scenes. The rabbits even returned to operate the toy assembly line (they really got that up and running fast) and someone thought it was a good idea to put a skunk in charge of the perfume. The song mercifully comes to an end after a brief amount of time to find Buttons and Rusty waking their turtle friend Turner up to help out. They basically order him to make decorations and give him no guidance, even though he’d rather stay in his nice warm shell. He doesn’t protest though and runs off to gather materials, I guess, and runs into Lester. As the others did before him, he mistakes Lester for a monster and immediately runs the other way passing Rusty and Buttons. They don’t understand how Turner could let a little thing like a monster come between him and their Christmas celebration. They decide not to work on convincing him otherwise as they need to focus on their new task – finding a star for the tree.

T_was_the_Day_Before_Christmas_TV-627077018-large

I’m not convinced they know what a proper Christmas decoration looks like.

Rusty and Buttons’ search for a star leads them to the work shop of Ranger Jones. There with Skeeter, they finish making ornaments and their star, but by the time they’re done the sun is setting. Buttons and Rusty are eager to get going while Skeeter has little interest in heading out after dark with a monster on the loose. He doesn’t voice his concerns to his friends, and instead offers to stay behind to dry the ornaments while they fetch the sled. Of course, after Rusty and Buttons take off Lester strolls in and Skeeter predictably freaks out. He races up a tree and screams for help as Lester approaches. I’m not sure why the cartoon is trying to drum up some tension here as we already know Lester isn’t a monster. When Rusty and Buttons return to the work shop with their sled, they see the tracks in the snow and assume Skeeter is in trouble. They race off after him and just as Skeeter was falling out of the tree into Lester’s waiting arms Rusty and Buttons crash into him with their sled.

lester-twas-the-day-before-christmas-12.3

It’s just Lester, guys.

Rusty and Buttons soon realize they were mistaken and the monster is no monster, but their friend Lester who came up from the bayou to visit. Apparently he had an open invitation following an appearance in a previous special (“The Honeybunch”). He explains his clothes because of the cold and tells them how he rode the Christmas Tree Train up to see them. Now that they’ve sorted everything out, Rusty and Buttons invite Lester to their Critter Christmas. They all gather around the newly decorated tree to bask in its Christmas-goodness, only for Lester to notice it needs lights. Just then, that stupid duck drops in again and Rusty and Buttons say what we’re all thinking, “Not again!” Lester has some info for the duck this time though as he saw his flock a few days ago. He offers to give him directions, in return for a favor – he’s to bring some friends back from the bayou for Lester. I think I know where this is going.

The critters pile onto the sled, with Lester serving as a reindeer to pull it, and they start reciting “A Visit From St. Nicholas” but with all of the words changed to reflect their Critter Christmas basically just recounting the events of the day. They zoom past most of the characters from before, and arrive at the tree as night falls. The duck returns with a bunch of fireflies in tow (called it!) and they serve as the lights for the tree. All of the adult critters remark how wonderful a job Buttons and Rusty did, and they point out they couldn’t have done it without Lester (apparently no one wants to thank the fireflies who are willing to just chill out on the tree so they can enjoy an illuminated Christmas tree). Ranger Jones then shows up with a big sack of goodies, and even the duck’s flock (his name is apparently Quackers, I should have guessed) goes flying by so he can join them. The special ends with Rusty and Butters wishing Quackers a merry Christmas as he struggles to catch up with the flock.

buttons__and_rusty_s_christmas_party_by_goodcaptainclack-daj337s

Hooray, the dumb little critters have their own tree!

“T’was the Day Before Christmas” is a by-the-numbers old school Christmas special. It tells a story and stars some cute animals, but doesn’t have anything to say or even lessons to teach. I will say it’s pretty cool that it acknowledges the events of past specials, since often cartoons exist in a vacuum. It’s pretty clear that this mindless special is what inspired South Park’s “Woodland Critter Christmas,” which was featured earlier in this year’s list. The animation is probably below contemporary Hanna-Barbera standards and the original music is brutally sweet. The orchestral parts are fine though and the voice cast does the best it can with the script they were given. The Lester mystery being revealed so early is kind of weird, as it seems like the show was trying to build tension with the monster in the snow. Since his head is covered until his true reveal, I wonder if his dialogue confirming his identity was added in later because someone felt it was too scary for kids or something. Surprisingly, no visit from Santa at the end. I guess he cares about Critter Christmas as much as I do.

If after reading all of that you still wish to view “T’was the Day Before Christmas” then you’re best bet is to probably just google it. No one cares about the Chucklewood Critters brand in 2017 so it’s not hard to find a free stream. All of the specials were released on VHS individually and the entire series was also released on DVD once upon a time, but is out of print. Despite that, the various DVDs are still pretty cheap if you must have them, probably because no one wants them.