Category Archives: Television

Dec. 10 – Rocko’s Modern Christmas

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Rocko’s Modern Christmas first aired December 1st, 1994

Rocko’s Modern Life may be the most 90s cartoon created during that decade. It’s certainly the most 90s of the Nicktoons, Nickelodeon’s very successful foray into original animation after years of airing other studio’s work. Rocko’s Modern Life centered around a wallaby named Rocko, naturally, and his journey into adulthood, which most notably includes self-reliance. He has to maintain a job, a home, friendships, and relationships, in a world that mostly seems out to get him. It’s very adult for a children’s show, and I don’t mean that in just the sense that some of the humor skews older, but the subject matter. Rocko  deals with stresses kids don’t have to, but maybe they’ve seen their parents do so and are able to relate that way. And if not, there are plenty of gross gags to keep them occupied.

Since Rocko is very much a good-natured person, he’s a natural protagonist for his own Christmas special:  “Rocko’s Modern Christmas.” This is Rocko’s first Christmas on his own away from his family back in Australia. He wants to have a nice Christmas with his closest friends, and is in search of Christmas cheer. Across the street, a new family is moving into a previously vacant house and they’re apparently really into Christmas since their yard is outlandishly decorated with Christmas cheer. Rocko notices the family appears to be elves, and they’re cleverly designed to kind of resemble rolled up wrapping paper with limbs. Next door, Rocko’s curmudgeonly neighbor Ed Bighead, is this special’s Scrooge. He hates Christmas and the good feelings it brings out. He wants the world to be miserable like him, and he is very distrustful of these elves.

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Rocko wishes for snow. Apparently he didn’t think to check outside for snow before heading out with his sleigh and snow suit.

Rocko is a bit down at the lack of Christmas cheer in his community. It’s rainy, and there’s no snow, and few people decorate for the holiday. To explain the lack of snow, there’s a cloud over Rocko’s house that’s basically struggling to take a dump, hence the lack of snow (and our first dose of the show’s brand of visual humor). Rocko decides his house needs decorations, and he wants to throw a party for his friends. He calls up his two best buds, Heffer and Filbert, and invites them over for a Christmas party. Those two are eager to share the news around town, even though Rocko didn’t intend for them to, and soon the whole town is RSVPing to Rocko excited about coming to his party.

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Heffer:  The Tree Slayer

To get prepared, Rocko and his dog Spunky head out to the mall to do some shopping. Along the way they see their new neighbor, a shy little elf. He doesn’t respond warmly to Rocko, and instead tries to hide from him. Rocko is not offended and leaves the little guy to his own whims. At the mall, Rocko stops to buy a Christmas tree at a tent outside that’s being manned by Heffer and Filbert. In a sort of sad (but funny) gag, picking out a tree is like picking out a puppy, only the puppy-tree dies when it gets cut down. After securing a tree, Rocko heads into the mall. The little elf has basically been stalking Rocko this whole time, and eventually he gets accosted by some literal crocodile shoe salesman. Rocko sticks up for the little guy, and soon finds himself in over his head. He cleverly disposes of the salesmen, and finds the elf hiding in a shoe. They hightail it out of there and Rocko brings him home. There he meets a surly head elf, who seems to feel obligated to invite Rocko inside. Once in the home Rocko meets the other elves, who all have simple names associated with tools like Hammer and Drill. Like most Christmas elves, they’re toy makers and hard at work with Christmas just around the corner. Rocko also finds out one of the elves is missing. Mitch, who was the first elf to make it snow (or the last?), has been gone for sometime and is why there’s no snow. He also has three feet, for some reason.

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The shy little elf from next door.

Rocko decides to invite his new neighbors to the party, and Ed finds out via spying. He tells Filbert that elves have nasty foot fungus, and the hypochondriac Filbert immediately breaks out in a rash in fear of contracting the elven foot fungus. Just like how news of Rocko’s party spread quickly, so does word that some infected elves are planning on attending. The party-goers all get scared, and when the night of the party arrives Rocko surprisingly finds his house empty. He’s pretty disappointed, but a knock at the door brightens him up a bit. It’s the shy little elf, and Rocko welcomes him in, but can’t hide his disappointment that no one else came. The little elf feels bad for Rocko, and after Rocko falls asleep reading him a Christmas story he heads outside. It’s there he looks up at the cloud over Rocko’s house and thinks about how the quiet little wallaby helped him out back at the mall. Then a heart pops out of him and floats up to the cloud. Like cloud Ex-Lax, the rear of the cloud begins rumbling in a rather gross fashion before he unleashes some snow – hallelujah!

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The cloud struggling to “snow.”

When Christmas morning arrives, only Rocko’s house is covered in snow. The whole town comes out to marvel at it, and they apologize for skipping out on his party. Mitch the elf even shows up and explains he’s been gone due to the lack of Christmas cheer, but the cheer of his little brother, the shy elf, has brought him back. Everyone heads inside for the party, and Ed Bighead is left to stew in his house as he looks on. The little elf shows up at his door though and invites him to the party. Ed starts to show hints of being touched by the gesture, when the little elf whips out a hammer and smashes his kneecap. Ed reacts accordingly, and then chases after the elf and manages to get tangled up in Christmas decorations and plunges into Rocko’s house, much to the delight of his wife Bev who was already at the party. As one last dose of Christmas cheer, Rocko gets a call from his parents wishing him a merry Christmas. And as a parting gag, we get a look at the next morning when everyone chucks their tree carcasses in the street.

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It’s a Christmas miracle!

“Rocko’s Modern Christmas” succeeds both as a charming Christmas special and as a funny one. Rocko’s brand of humor is on full display, with a lot of bad stuff happening to our main character and a lot of visual gags that are sometimes gross, sometimes mean, sometimes uncomfortable, but usually also pretty funny. It’s an extended episode, as most Rocko’s Modern Life cartoons were split into two cartoon shorts. Pretty much every character that had appeared on the show up until now is present as well, and the cast was pretty big after only 19 episodes. It’s also fully dressed up to feel like a Christmas special with its opening sequence and ending credits. This is the best Christmas special to come out of the Nicktoons besting Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy. And I’m torn on if it’s the Nicktoon that’s held up the best, but it’s a close call between this and Ren & Stimpy.

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Ed is forced to embrace Christmas.

Thankfully, Nickelodeon has caught onto the nostalgia thing and realized that the kids who used to watch their shows in the early 90s are now adults wanting to relive those moments and share them with their own kids. Which is why we have The Splat, a block of programming on one of Nickelodeon’s channels that airs usually late night and focuses on 90s programming. There’s a lot of crap on there, but the Nicktoons are mostly well represented (except Ren & Stimpy, for some reason). And ever since they started airing The Splat, they’ve re-run a lot of the Nicktoons Christmas specials every year so you will likely be able to catch “Rocko’s Modern Christmas” on there more than once before the month is through, and I suggest you do.

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Dec. 9 – Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper

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Ugh.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Hanna-Barbera. Well, mostly hate. Their animation is lazy, a lot of their characters (including many in this so-called comedy Christmas special) just aren’t funny, and they were also impossible to ignore because they made so many damn, formulaic, cartoons. At the same time though, I grew up watching re-runs of their older material and even their newer stuff like The Smurfs and The Snorks. For a good portion of my childhood, it seems like every cartoon either ended with the whirling Hanna-Barbera star logo or the DiC moon (and DiC was no better at this game) so there’s a lot of nostalgia there for me.

Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper is certainly a mouthful. Released in 1982, it was Yogi’s second Christmas special following Yogi’s First Christmas, which if you can believe it is actually worse than this one and unbearably long too (oooh, a pun!). As the title suggests, this special is an ensemble affair. Yogi may be the central star, but basically all of the major players (and some of the not so major players) from Hanna-Barbera are going to appear, save for Scooby and the gang. It’s basically all of their animal characters, plus a few cameos, and almost all of the Daws Butler characters. Butler was basically Hanna-Barbera’s Mel Blanc (who coincidentally is also in this special), but less celebrated because his characters are mostly terrible. He did help Nancy Cartwright get her foot in the door though, so at least we have him to thank for Bart Simpson.

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When Yogi’s not on screen everyone should be asking, “Where’s Yogi?”

The special opens with a van full of characters heading to Jellystone Park to celebrate Christmas with their pals Yogi and Boo Boo. They are:  Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Hokey Wolf, Super Snooper, Blabber Mouse, Augie Doggie and his dear old dad too. They drop in on Ranger Smith, who’s content in his little ranger station because Christmas means the park is closed and Yogi is hibernating. As such, he’s not too happy to hear this gaggle of oddly colored animal folk is here to rouse Yogi from his slumber to celebrate Christmas. He has no interest in waking Yogi, but Hokey Wolf (who the heck is this guy?) threatens to call his friend from the Department of the Interior if he doesn’t help them out. Unfortunately for them, they get Yogi’s answering machine and it seems he’s departed with Boo Boo to head for the city to spend Christmas with them there. Oh my!

Yogi and Boo Boo have stowed away on a bus heading to “the big city.” Yogi is quite unsatisfied with the food he’s found amongst the luggage, but soon enough they reach their destination. Ranger Smith has apparently phoned ahead because two animal control officers are waiting and they chase Yogi and Boo Boo into a department store. In a bit of surprising cleverness from Yogi, he makes an announcement over the intercom that two bears are on the loose to create some chaos and aid their escape.

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Yogi and Boo Boo meet Judy, which sets the wheels in motion for this one.

Meanwhile, a young girl named Judy Jones is getting dropped off at the store. Her dad, apparently a wealthy businessman of some kind, is riding in the backseat of a big yellow limo with her and advises her to head into the store and charge a Christmas gift for herself to his account. She asks him to come with, but he’s too busy, and this animation is absolutely terrible as she exits the car. Inside, Yogi and Boo Boo have disguised themselves as Santa Claus and an elf and have infiltrated the Santa training program. As they exit the training room, little Judy takes note and wants a word with Santa Yogi. At this point, her father is already looking for her. Since he just dropped her off, we’re left to assume he’s not a horrible father and saw the huge commotion and decided to come in after her. He gets security involved who begin looking for her.

Yogi is a bit humbled by the girl as she speaks to him as if he’s actually Santa. He says a bunch of nonsense that’s supposed to be funny (it’s not), but does hear her out. She wants a father who will spend time with her at Christmas, which Yogi takes to mean she has no dad. By now security is onto him, and they know he’s not a part of their Santa program, and a chase ensues resulting in Yogi, Boo Boo, and Judy crashing a sleigh into a Christmas tree. Judy reminds us numerous times throughout the chase that she’s having a wonderful time, so I guess the producers worried Yogi kidnapping a little girl would seem kind of dark.

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This looks enjoyable – a picnic in the snow.

Yogi and the gang manage to escape the store, and since it’s a Yogi cartoon, they actually manage to find the one couple in the city looking to have a picnic in the snow. The writers at least acknowledge the ridiculousness of this scenario by having the husband say he always wanted to have a picnic at Christmas time, with his wife not wanting any part of it. Yogi uses his “cunning” to convince them to let him have the picnic on their behalf, and they hand over the picnic basket. Meanwhile, Ranger Smith has arrived in the city and overhears a news report about an imposter Santa kidnapping Judy Jones, the daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest men. The chief of police describes the Santa as resembling a bear, and we find out Yogi is 5’7″ and since he’s as tall or taller than basically everyone else it means this world is inhabited by some very short people. Yogi’s friends have also arrived in the city looking for him, and director Steve Lumley did a terrible job ordering who speaks first so characters that sound almost exactly the same speak one after the other. Plus we get another exchange from Augie and his father – I hate them so much.

Judy enjoys her picnic with Yogi and Boo Boo, and when Yogi comes clean about not being the real Santa, she reveals that she was well aware of that (one thing I’ll give this special credit for is that everyone seems capable of seeing the obvious and is well aware that Yogi is in fact a bear dressed as Santa). Yogi wants to bring Judy home, but can’t get her to tell him where she lives. He tried looking her name up in a phone book, but Jones is too common a name for that to be effective (more surprising logic from this show).

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Well this is kind of unexpected.

Now begins the part of our special where we get inundated with cameos. First, the bus of Yogi’s friends arrive and they knew to look for him in the park. They agree to help him figure out where Judy lives. Snagglepuss sets out on his own and finds Fred and Barney dressed as a couple of Santa’s seeking charitable donations on a street corner. He points out that this is a cameo, and a particularly preposterous one as they’re about 3 million years from home. Fred and Barney play it straight though, and when they can’t help him they tell him to go ask a wealthy looking woman across the street. When Snagglepuss does, the woman freaks out that a lion is approaching her and Fred and Barney tackle Snagglepuss. The woman, thinking she’s just been saved, makes a large donation to Fred and Barney’s effort and they remark that the kids in Bedrock are going to have a pretty fine Christmas party now.

Next we get a quick cameo from Mr. Jinks and the mice Pixie and Dixie when Quick Draw knocks on their door. Their cameo is brief as Mr. Jinks is no help, but the mice give him a Christmas present after the others leave, which just happens to be a massive bull dog. Wally Gator, Magilla Gorilla, and Yakky Doodle are up next as they just drop by the park to say they got nothing. Boy, I’m sure glad they were able to get those guys into this one. The police have spotted the efforts of this animal clan though, and are quietly pursuing them in an effort to “rescue” young Judy.

Mr. Jones is seen alone in his mansion, missing his daughter. He’s apparently coming around to understanding why he’s in a Christmas special as he remarks how big and lonely the house is without her. At the police station, Super Snooper and Blabber Mouse are using their connections to see if they can figure out where Judy lives, only to find out the police are seeking someone who fits the description of Santa and resembles a bear. They race off to warn Yogi, but the cops arrive at the park too quickly. Mr. Jones is there and demanding they arrest Yogi for kidnapping, while he insists he did no such thing and that Judy ran away. When Mr. Jones questions why his daughter would run away when he buys her everything she could possibly want, Yogi points out he doesn’t give her any time. This of course causes him to see the error of his ways and he declines to press charges telling the police it’s all his fault. Judy is delighted to see a change in her father’s attitude, she was already starting to miss him after watching Augie and his dear old dad fawn all over each other, and is ready to give him a full embrace. Yogi and Ranger Smith even share a nice merry Christmas moment, and everyone has a party in the park and sings “Jingle Bells” as this one draws to a merciful conclusion.

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Wait, why doesn’t the rich guy offer to host their party instead of hanging out in the park like a pack of bums?

When I was a kid, this special worked on me. I pitied poor Judy and rooted for Yogi and his friends to help make her father see the light. As an adult, I see it for what it is:  a lazy, thrown together Christmas special designed to get most of Hanna-Barbera’s most recognizable stars in one place. The problem is, their stars aren’t particularly funny or interesting and it sacrifices narrative for cameos. These characters are so damn hack that it drives me nuts. I was a bit surprised at The Flintstones cameo as it was one of the few genuinely amusing moments, not because I have any particular affection for The Flintstones, but because of how Snagglepuss acknowledged how preposterous their cameo was. The animation though is bad, and Daws Butler is stretched too thin as a voice actor. At least there were no annoying musical moments.

If you want to watch this one, and if it isn’t clear at this point it’s not something I recommend, it might air on Boomerang this season at some point. It used to air regularly on Cartoon Network around the holidays, but those days appear to be long gone unless the network does something unexpected. It also used to be easy to find on YouTube, but now it’s behind a paywall there so you can expect YouTube is now actively trying to prevent people from uploading it. The special is readily available on DVD, and for not much money, though anything more than a few bucks is probably too much. If you absolutely insist on watching Yogi this Christmas season, I will reiterate that this is better than Yogi’s First Christmas. That special is structured a bit better narratively, but it has no real hook, isn’t funny, and is about four times as long. This one is at least only about 24 minutes.


Dec. 8 – It’s A Very Merry Eek’s Mas

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I apologize, but there are not many high quality images on the internet of this one, so we’re making do with what we got.

For a pretty sizable chunk of the 90s, the Fox network really dominated the Saturday morning cartoon landscape. A network, at the time, more synonymous with “filth” somehow managed to corral the kid demographic away from the more wholesome ABC and CBS. Fox was largely able to do this by partnering with some big players:  Steven Spielberg, Warner Bros, Saban, and Marvel – all before a lot of them would go off and do their own thing such as Warner launching its own network. It was also rather impressive that Fox had a ton of original programming and it wasn’t relying on old standbys to fill air. Some of the shows it launched are still pretty beloved:  Tiny Toons, Animaniancs, Batman, X-Men, The Tick. Sure, not all of those shows debuted during the Saturday morning block, but they often ended up there and helped make way for more shows.

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Eek and his beloved Annabelle, who is voiced by Tawny Kitaen, of all people.

One show that probably isn’t remembered all that fondly is Eek the Cat. It’s not that Eek was a bad show by any means, it just kind of got lost in the shuffle of many hyper-active 90s cartoons. It was also usually one of the earlier shows in the block when some kids were just getting out of bed, and its star had no pedigree. Eek was a round purple cat who is pretty dim but has a heart of gold. He wants to help those in need, but often gets the short end of the stick leading to numerous instances of pain and misery. His girlfriend, Annabelle, is an obese pink cat that towers over him. She has a pet dog, the appropriately named Sharky, who hates Eek and bites him whenever he gets the chance. Eek’s existence is in many ways miserable, but he always finds the bright side which makes him a pretty likable cat.

Christmas is a holiday that should suit a fellow like Eek pretty well. He adores Christmas, as we would expect him to, and at the opening of his own Christmas special we find him carrying a stack of gifts as he remarks to himself how much he enjoys the holiday. He narrowly avoids mayhem as he works his way through the crowded, snowy streets and puts his gifts down to make a donation to charity. In doing so, his stack of gifts is gobbled up by a street sweeper, and we’re under way!

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Santa’s reindeer, lead by Blitzen (Bobcat Goldthwait) are on strike despite only working one day per year.

We’re soon taken to the North Pole. Santa’s reindeer are striking, despite Santa pointing out that they only work one night a year. Santa, voiced by William Shatner surprisingly competently, is distressed and voices his concerns to his reindeer assistant, Elmo. Soon his helpers go on strike, and even Mrs. Claus has left him. Who will save Christmas?!

Eek visits his beloved Annabelle and is surprised when Sharky doesn’t devour him. Annabelle is worried about Sharky, and the two enter his dog house which is typical looking from the outside, but inside it’s basically a mansion (I always loved similar gags in cartoons for some reason). Sharky is depressed and we find out it’s because he misses his family, who he hasn’t seen since he was a little pup. Eek, even though Sharky has never treated him well, resolves to help Sharky find his family for Christmas.

Due to a mishap with a discarded banana peel, Santa finds himself laid up in bed just two days before Christmas. He’s despondent, but Elmo the brown-nosed reindeer volunteers to head out into society to make people aware of Santa’s predicament and get help. Meanwhile, Eek and Sharky set out to find Sharky’s family with Eek deciding they need to consult a wise, all-knowing individual. Sharky, through guttural noises that Eek can understand, suggests Rush Limbaugh (apparently Sharky is a hardcore conservative) while Eek corrects him and suggests Santa Claus. They seek out all of the street corner Santas to no luck. While this is ongoing, Elmo appears on a call-in show to ask the public for Santa’s help. When no one calls, he’s booted out and happens to collide with Eek and Sharky in an alley outside the studio. They both reveal to one another how they need help, and they decide to set-off for the North Pole together. They have to take a commercial airline, since reindeer can only fly on Christmas Eve, and Elmo happily enjoys an issue of Play Doe while they ride.

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Not much is going to get this purple cat down.

When they arrive at Santa’s house, they find Santa is in a pretty low place. He’s depressed and even asks Eek to call him Mud at first. He has no help, the toys aren’t finished, and he can’t deliver them even if they were due to a broken leg. Eek, in an attempt to cheer him up, teases a song that Elmo and Sharky are eager to assist with, but Eek has to inform them he only prepared a speech. Santa finds his words nice and all, but they don’t change the reality of this grim situation. Eek volunteers to finish the toys and make the deliveries and a short montage takes place of Eek assembling numerous toys and piling them onto the sleigh. Elmo informs him they have no way of getting that sleigh into the air, and Eek tells him some stuff about bumble bees with his usual dose of optimism. We cut to Eek freezing in the snow, his optimism gone, as he realizes there’s no way he can get that sleigh to fly. They need to consult some serious minds if they want to pull this off.

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Santa is in need of some cheering up.

The Barbi Twins are those minds, and they end up being really smart because if they weren’t then the joke wouldn’t work. If you don’t remember or never knew who the Barbi Twins were, they were a pair of identical twins who were pin-up models in the early 90s. They were popular enough that their appearances in Playboy broke sales records. The twins devise a rocket, and the boys are eager to try it out. Their first flight only succeeds in destroying Santa’s house, but the second is more successful. In between launches, Santa is somehow able to rebuild his entire house. He can construct a home just fine in his condition but can’t fly around in a sleigh. The second rocket may be successful, but it also takes out Santa’s house. Poor guy can’t catch a break.

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The Barbi Twins are ready to help. Who knew they possessed such knowledge?

While flying around the world, Eek notices the island of shark dogs on Santa’s map and deduces that this must be where Sharky is from. Before they can check it out, he overhears a small voice calling for help and he steers the rocket-sleigh down to investigate. There they find a young girl who’s lost her bunny. Sharky is plenty eager to track a rabbit, and he and Eek are able to find him rather effortlessly. While doing this, the rocket-sleigh starts to slide and Elmo is unable to get it under control. It plunges off a cliff but Elmo is able to grab a tail fin and prevent it from falling to the ground. Somehow he’s able to hold the impossibly large rocket until Eek and Sharky show up to help. A Grinch parody takes over as Sharky’s heart grows three sizes and he’s able to lift the rocket high over his head. When Eek points out that this is the wrong Christmas special for that, Sharky’s strength vanishes and the lot of them fall with the rocket smashing as they hit the ground.

With the rocket destroyed, they have no alternative but to pull the sleigh themselves. Eek is able to make it budge about six inches, which is all the motivation Elmo and Sharky need to lend a hand. They start dragging the sleigh and delivering gifts montage style as news crews from around the world flock to take up the story. The coverage centers on how these three brave souls are willing to do what it takes to save Christmas, while no one else will as the camera pans to reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of people just watching the trio freeze and struggle to pull the sleigh. The montage ends and we find out they still have tens of thousands of houses to get to, so it wasn’t as effective as a montage typically is. Just then, the little girl who lost her bunny, Dolores, returns with some friends to help them. Better yet, her giant of a brother is with her and they all help pull the sleigh. This attracts more kids, then Santa’s elves, and finally even the reindeer pull themselves away from their new gig as wall ornaments to finally pitch in.

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Elmo and Sharky, even with all that’s going on, still find time for some TV shopping.

With things now running smoothly, there’s only one gift left which is to reunite Sharky with his family. Elmo gets them right on trajectory to Sharky’s home, and the reindeer then depart. As the sleigh speeds through the air it attracts a military plane which is advised to shoot the unidentified object down. We then are taken to the island of shark dogs, where Sharky’s family is saying it’s form of grace before Christmas dinner, remarking how they wished they had a cat for dinner and how they miss their favorite son (this is all done through subtitles as Sharky’s dad speaks in grunts like his son). In an answer to their prayers, Eek and Sharky fall from the sky and land in the giant cooking pot. Sharky is delighted to see his family, and even gives Eek a hug. Eek remarks on how this has been a wonderful Christmas, then hopes aloud they can stay for dinner because something smells good as the camera pans back to reveal he’s still in the pot and the other shark dogs are dumping salt and fixings on him. With a wave of his hand, Eek wishes us a merry Christmas and our special is concluded.

Eek the Cat’s first Christmas special is a solid entry. It takes an unoriginal premise but goes about it differently enough that it doesn’t feel too familiar. This was, after all, before The Santa Clause re-popularized this type of story and the most noteworthy before it was probably “Christmas Flintstone.” This episode is less manic, less loud, than I remember most Eek the Cat episodes being. It’s also longer as it takes up the full run-time of the half hour block. Also, to my surprise, this special debuted in primetime on Fox in front of Martin, which was pretty popular at the time. I never remembered Eek being that big of a star as to warrant a primetime debut, but maybe Fox was really pushing him. The show had a pretty decent run of five seasons, so it had staying power, even if it’s not remembered as fondly as its peers. Because of that, this special is a bit tough to come by these days. The show has not been released on DVD, and likely never will be at this point, so the internet is your best bet for seeing this one. If you don’t mind watching Christmas specials on YouTube, this one is actually worth the effort as it’s different and entertaining enough, though it does lack some real laugh-out-loud kind of moments and the animation is just so-so. If you just want something different though, it gets the job done.


Dec. 7 – Woodland Critter Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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Evil Satanic powers at work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dec. 6 – “Gift Wrapped” starring Tweety Bird

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“Gift Wrapped” (1952)

After yesterday’s rather lengthy write-up, I need something a bit more bite-sized today, so how about a Looney Tunes short? Surprisingly, there really aren’t a lot of Christmas themed Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts out there. Sure there’s a Christmas gag here and there, but usually those are not in cartoons actually taking place on Christmas. Bugs Bunny did have a television Christmas special in the 70s, and Daffy Duck got one decades later, but when it comes to classic shorts the most well known starring a Looney Tunes character is probably “Gift Wrapped.”

“Gift Wrapped” is a Tweety Bird short so naturally it also features Sylvester the cat and Granny. Tweety isn’t one of my favorites as his shorts are almost all interchangeable. Yeah, you could say the same of most of these characters, but his just stuck out the most. In that sense, “Gift Wrapped” isn’t particularly remarkable as a cartoon, but it does take place at Christmas and if you’re only going to watch one Tweety cartoon why not go with the Christmas one?

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If ever your cat eats one of your other pets just give him a firm slap on the butt.

The short opens with a shot of a cozy looking house in the falling snow. A narrator is reciting “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” and Sylvester feels compelled to confirm that there are indeed no mice stirring as he hungrily sits outside a mouse hole. The narration cuts out soon after and it’s Christmas morning. Sylvester comes running down the stairs like a kid all excited to see what Santa brought him. When he unwraps his gift to find a rubber mouse he’s dejected – he wants a real mouse. He soon overhears a small voice singing “Jingle Bells” and notices one of the gifts for Granny is a bird cage with a little yellow canary inside. In a move a little too clever for Sylvester, he re-wraps his gift and switches tags with Granny’s gift.

Granny soon emerges excited for Christmas. She’s a bit puzzled when she opens her gift and finds a rubber mouse, but quickly realizes the tags must have been switched. When she goes to give Sylvester his mouse she finds a contented cat and an empty bird cage, feathers floating in the air. She grabs him and starts smacking him on his rear and out pops Tweety, none too pleased. She dangles some mistletoe over the little bird and tries to get Sylvester to be nice, but it’s a non-starter.

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Yeah, this isn’t going to work. Nice try, Granny.

From here the cartoon becomes a pretty typical Tweety vs Sylvester face-off. Tweety is in his cage and Sylvester is going to try his hardest to get that bird. Sylvester get his hands on the little canary, only to be directed to a Christmas present for him which turns out to be a giant dog. Sylvester tries to use a toy crane to snatch Tweety’s cage, only to accidentally grab Granny instead which earns him a few whacks with a broom. A classic Looney Tunes gag is utilized in which Sylvester cuts a hole in the ceiling to retrieve Tweety’s cage, only for Tweety to hop out and replace himself with a stick of dynamite. The explosion occurs offscreen, and Sylvester quietly lowers the now battered cage back into place before emerging from the ceiling a smoldering wreck. A Sylvester as Native American gag plays out next, only for Tweety to produce a cowboy outfit and pop gun, which wouldn’t you know, ends up firing like a real gun right in Sylvester’s face. Tweety then tries to take a ride on a model train around the Christmas tree, and Sylvester adds additional pieces of track to the train so it drives right in his mouth. The big dog from earlier is waiting though, and once Sylvester eats Tweety the dog eats him forcing Granny to swat the dog until Sylvester pops out, and then do the same to the cat in order to free Tweety.

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Take that, cat!

By now Granny is fed up that none of her pets can get along, especially with it being Christmas! She declares that they will get along and we next see a shot of the three animals from behind as Granny is seated at a piano playing a Christmas tune. The camera eventually circles around and we see over-sized Christmas stamps have been placed over Sylvester and the dog’s mouths while Tweety is free to sing happily. The end!

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It just wouldn’t be a Looney Tunes short if someone didn’t get shot in the face.

As I said, this a pretty straight-forward Tweety cartoon with Sylvester trying different schemes to get the bird, only for Tweety to outsmart him. All the while Tweety is free to break the fourth wall and talk into the camera uttering his typical catch phrases. Granny at least adds a fun dynamic as she gets involved in foiling most of Sylvester’s schemes and the Christmas theme is worked into almost all of the gags in some way. I also appreciate that all of the characters are happy that “Santa came” and no other origin for those gifts is suggested. Lets keep the kids in the dark, right? This is a fun short though, and while I don’t think it measures up to the Disney Christmas shorts from that era it’s still good enough. In the 90s, Cartoon Network could be counted on to play this and other non Looney Tunes Christmas shorts around the holidays, but they basically ditched all of that programming and kicked it on over to Boomerang, which can also no longer be counted on to show these. It used to be readily available on Youtube, but it would seem Warner has cracked down on that practice as I had a hard time finding it there so if you want to watch it I recommend getting the Looney Tunes Golden Collection which has this plus over 300 other cartoons and is usually pretty cheap, like under $40 cheap. There may not be a lot of Christmas cartoons in that set, but how can you go wrong with nearly 400 Looney Tunes cartoons? And you still have time to add it to your list for Santa!


Dec. 5 – The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin: Winter Adventure

maxresdefault-12For a brief time in the mid 1980’s, there was a stuffed bear by the name of Teddy Ruxpin who basically owned Christmas. He wasn’t just an ordinary teddy bear, but a bear built around a cassette player with motors in his face. Insert one of his tapes and press play and Teddy comes alive to tell your kids a story, or terrify them which happened a lot. Teddy was the first hot item at Christmas that I can remember. He set off a craze not unlike the one for Tickle Me Elmo would a decade later. Parents did dirty, shameful things to secure one for their kid at Christmas, and it’s probably not surprising to hear that Teddy was able to make the jump from retail shelves to television screen.

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This is what people were going nuts for in 1986.

Creating a TV show based around Teddy Ruxpin was actually pretty easy. The stories and books that the toy worked with could be used to storyboard actual episodes of the cartoon without the need for much additional writing. The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin thus largely stayed close to the source material and was created with the idea of going straight to syndication. For a show with so many episodes, it’s kind of interesting how it just sort of faded away from the public consciousness about as quickly as it arrived. Now in 2017, there’s a new Teddy Ruxpin at retail, but as far as I know there are no plans for anything beyond that.

Full disclosure, this episode is not technically a Christmas episode. It’s based on a story of the same name from the books and basically described a holiday that might as well be Christmas. To get you up to speed, if you’re not familiar with the world of Teddy Ruxpin, Teddy and his caterpillar-like friend Grubby are far from home on an adventure to find a treasure. They’ve befriended a human named Newton Gimmick, an inventor who was willing to share his house with them. There they live in the shadow of Tweeg’s tower, a villainous sort who’s very protective of his recipes (seriously) and has it in for Gimmick and his new friends. He frequently fires off cannons at Gimmick’s house, but his aim is notoriously bad and thus no one actually fears him. When they’re not at home, Teddy and his friends search for treasure in Gimmick’s airship.

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Teddy and his pal Grubby.

The episode opens with Teddy, Grubby, and Gimmick who are all freezing in Gimmick’s house. They realize winter has arrived when they notice the falling snow (which has already accumulated a lot so apparently they aren’t very observant) and decide to venture out and play in the white stuff after breakfast. We then get a brief scene of the chief villain of the series, Quellor, who looks like a pile of robes with horns. He’s distressed about the incompetence around him. This guy is basically after the same treasure Teddy is searching for, and leads an organization called M.A.V.O. (Monster and Villains Organization) which Tweeg is trying to gain entry into. He’s not real important for this episode, and we quickly join up with Teddy and his friends as they play in the snow and sing a happy song.

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The villainous Tweeg, who’s mostly harmless despite his best efforts.

While outside, Teddy and Grubby discuss a custom from their homeward where at the onset of winter it becomes customary to give gifts and treats to those you call friends (which is where our Christmas feeling comes in). Gimmick is not familiar with the custom, but he loves it and suggests they carry on the tradition here. The trio head into the house to start baking and getting to work on making gifts while Tweeg pops up to spy on them. He notices they’re using buttermilk, and Tweeg’s character is convinced he has a recipe to convert buttermilk into gold, and so he becomes very suspicious of their actions and is convinced his subordinate, L.B., gave away his recipe.

Tweeg returns to his tower to scold L.B. He’s naturally confused by Tweeg’s anger and denies giving his formula away. Nevertheless, Tweeg kicks L.B. and his fellow bounders (little red creatures with no arms and a horn on their head) out of his tower during which we get a canned sound effect that Hannah Barbera used to use all of the time on The Flintstones when Fred would start running. After the bounders leave, some M.A.V.O. goons show up. Their boss wants Tweeg’s formula and they tie him up and start trashing his tower in search of the recipe. They’re brazenly stupid and some-what proud of it. There’s a lot of attempts at humor, but I’m not sure any are laughing. There’s even our first audio screw up where the wrong voice comes out of the wrong character. During all of this, Tweeg is tied up and mortified about how his stuff is getting destroyed. L.B. shows up by the window, for no apparent reason other than the writers wanted him to, and basically mocks Tweeg as he leaves him to his fate.

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L.B. the bounder. Notice the “Return to Tweeg” stamp on the cannon balls.

Meanwhile, Teddy, Grubby, and Gimmick are busy putting together their gifts. When Gimmick steps out he warns the other two not to go poking around in the closet. Grubby wants to almost the second the door shuts, but Teddy, playing the straight man, lets him know that isn’t okay and Grubby doesn’t put up a fight. The bounders soon gather around Gimmick’s house. They’ve apparently grown to miss Tweeg already, since he was the only boss they ever had. Teddy, Gimmick, and Grubby soon emerge from the house with their gifts for their friends and head straight for the airship, completely oblivious to the four bounders gathered outside the house (they literally walk right past them without batting an eye, bright red creatures against a white backdrop). They take off and the bounders head inside.

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Teddy and friends deliver gifts to the fobs.

The heroes take to the sky and embark on a musical montage of them giving out gifts to their friends. We get brief cameos from the fobs (little fuzzy bird-rats that speak like Alvin and the Chipmunks), the Wooly Whatsit, the Grunges, and Leota the wood sprite. Afterwards, they return home to find the house all lit up and the back door open, the bounders having just escaped detection. Apparently they just needed some supplies to create a dummy that looks like Tweeg. How they managed to stick one together without arms is a true mystery. They return to Tweeg’s tower to find everyone asleep and Tweeg still tied up. The goons apparently fell asleep after wrecking Tweeg’s kitchen. After trading insults, L.B. agrees to free Tweeg and they replace him with the dummy. The monsters awake soon after they leave and happily scoop up the dummy to bring to Quellor.

Back at Gimmick’s house, the friends are exchanging gifts and are all really happy with the gifts they receive from each other. Soon they’re surprised by a knock on the door and all of their friends from the earlier montage show up with gifts for them. The gift-giving song from earlier is reprised and we get our dose of warm, Christmas feelings even though no one utters the word Christmas. Tweeg, in a very Grinch-like moment, hears the singing and decides he needs to fire a canon at the commotion. The resulting canon blast creates an avalanche and Tweeg and his co-horts are buried in the tower. Teddy and company load up the airship and bring Tweeg some hot chocolate and seem to sincerely give him a shovel to dig his way out of the mess, rather than in a mocking fashion, before departing with a “see you in the spring.”

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Gimmick, Teddy, and Grubby deliver a gift to Leota.

After they leave, Tweeg apparently was able to free himself and is bit by the gift-giving bug and gives the bounders snow hats for saving him early. They reward him by saying his name properly (all episode they’d call him something like Dweeb instead of Tweeg, a running gag throughout every episode). They comment on how this is the nicest day they’ve had, then vow to go back to being mean and nasty the next day. L.B. remarks how all of this niceness can make a guy gag. We then take a quick trip to M.O.V.A. headquarters where Quellor is gifted with Tweeg, which turns out to be the dummy. He’s irritated and demands the recipe book with the buttermilk to gold recipe. His lackeys soon realize they used the recipe book as wrapping paper for the dummy, but assure their boss they can glue it back together. Quellor then slumps back to his throne wondering why he didn’t just collect stamps instead of dummies before going out with a “Why me?” as so many 80s cartoons villains before him.

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The source material.

That’s Teddy Ruxpin’s “Winter Adventure.” It basically feels like an 80s time capsule with typical animation, humor, and characters from that era. Virtually all of the enemies are dumb, and the only ones with an ounce of intelligence seem to only rely on imbeciles to do their dirty work. Meanwhile Teddy and his friends are pretty sterile. I find Teddy’s voice so saccharine that it’s grating. It’s the same voice actor as the toy, but in that format it never stuck out as much. This episode is mostly in-line with the book it’s sourced from. I should know as I still have the copy from my youth. Basically all of the stuff with Tweeg and M.O.V.A. was added for television as the book was basically just concerned with the gift-giving concept. The songs are even from there as well, and to be honest, they don’t bother me. I even kind of like them, but maybe that’s nostalgia.

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If you want more Teddy, the entire series is available on DVD. All 65 episodes. Just make sure it’s what you really want.

The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin obviously are no longer on television and haven’t been for a number of years. If you’re interested in checking out “Winter Adventure” you can either watch it on youtube or purchase the DVD set of the entire series. You’re not likely to find it in a big box store, but amazon carries it. I can’t really recommend the DVD set. It’s 65 episodes of a forgettable cartoon with a pretty subpar transfer (I’m sure the masters weren’t in the best working condition since who ever thought this show would merit a home video release down the line?) and no special features. The packaging is kind of nice relying on some stock images from the books. The show was presented in a serialized format, so plot points carry over from episode to another which is pretty cool for an 80s cartoon. It’s still not enough to make it very interesting, so unless you’re really nostalgic for the show or have a kid that somehow got into Teddy Ruxpin, there’s almost no reason to purchase the set. Teddy Ruxpin would eventually tackle Christmas properly in the books, but never on television. Still, this feels like a Christmas special, which is why it’s here.

 


Dec. 4 – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)

Rankin/Bass is almost synonymous with Christmas because of the many television specials the company produced in the 60’s and 70’s. Most people associate them with the stop-motion process used to create Rudolf, but the studio also did traditional animation as well. Most famously, “Frosty the Snowman” was done in this style and the next most popular is the subject of today’s post:  “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

For hand-drawn animation, Rankin/Bass relied on Topcraft out of Japan, which would eventually become a part of Studio Ghibli. If you’re expecting Ghibli level quality though, you’ll be pretty disappointed in “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The characters do have a very slight anime look to them, but otherwise there’s not much here that gives away where the animation originated or what the studio would go on to produce.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is loosely based on the 1832 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” which opens with that line. That poem focuses on what is essentially the last three minutes or so of this special, so the folks at Rankin/Bass had to come up with a plot to lead up to that and make it interesting. This isn’t an unfamiliar position for the writers there as basically all of their specials had to do the same. In this case, the story they came up with isn’t too bad, though it’s pretty odd that they felt the need to include a family of mice as part of the protagonists. And they also felt that waiting for Santa to arrive needed to be more suspenseful, so we get a thin-skinned and vengeful Santa as a result.

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Father Mouse and Joshua have some kind of relationship with one another that really isn’t explored.

The story takes place around the turn of the century in a fictitious town called Junctionville. The story follows the Trundles, a family of four who’s patriarch Joshua is a clock maker, and the mouse family that dwells in their home. It unfolds as a flashback, with the special opening on Christmas Eve with narrators Joshua and Father Mouse nervously waiting to see if Santa will arrive. And that anxiety is born from a letter that appeared in the town paper claiming Santa Claus isn’t real. Apparently the paper receives distribution in The North Pole because Santa sees it and, furious it calls his very existence into question, returns the town’s Christmas letters. Father Mouse is able to figure out his own son Albert is the one behind the letter and confronts him with the rest of his family. Albert is a brainy kid who can’t possibly allow himself to believe in Santa (even though he himself is a talking, clothes-wearing mouse) and owns up to writing the letter with his friends. Father Mouse is upset and scolds his son ordering him to write another letter and apologize, but Albert won’t go against his own convictions, which is rather noble in a way.

Meanwhile, Joshua Trundle devizes a plan to create a clock tower on town hall that will play a song welcoming Santa on Christmas Eve, as as sort of mea culpa. The mayor and town council are welcoming of the idea and Trundle gets right to work. When the big unveiling occurs ahead of the holiday (and judging by the setting, it would appear it took place during the fall, but still well in advance of Christmas), the clock malfunctions and the mayor is embarrassed. So embarrassed is he that he won’t even allow Trundle to attempt a repair opting instead to just let the broken clock exist in perpetuity (I really hope this guy didn’t get re-elected). The public failing on the part of Trundle means no one trusts him with their own time pieces and his business takes a severe dive. He and his family are plunged into poverty with their pathetic looking Christmas tree serving as the most obvious statement of their present condition. The Mouse family feels the pinch too as few crumbs are making it to them forcing them into a sort of starvation as well.

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The Mouse family.

It’s soon revealed that the reason for the clock’s malfunction was Albert poking around inside the clock. Father Mouse is apparently a clock maker himself, I guess, and his son has an interest in it. When he learns this he tells Albert he can’t sit around feeling sorry, he has to own up to what he did and solve the problem. Since Trundle can’t get in there it falls to Albert to repair it (I guess it’s a bit of hard parenting that his dad doesn’t go with him, but it sure feels like he should have) which is what he sets out to do. On Christmas Eve.

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Stupid looking reindeer.

The Trundles and all of the people of Junctionville are forced to wait and hope, not all realizing they’re depending on a mouse, that the song will play and Santa will come. Of course it does, or else we would never get to that poem, precisely a minute after midnight. Santa was on his way past Junctionville, but hearing the song, he turns around and heads for the Trundle residence. The family gets to watch the little fat elf do his thing, with broadcast standards in the 1974 allowing Santa to puff on his pipe the whole while. He’s a short little bulbous thing, with read cheeks and a red nose that are illustrated in such a way that they look like sunken in welts on his face. He is kind of elf-like, which isn’t a common depiction, and he lacks a mustache to pair with his beard. They clearly were trying to make him look as the poem describes, but I always kind of hated how this Santa looked even as a kid, mostly due to the red welts. If they weren’t solid red splotches and instead were just light reddening of the cheeks he’d probably look fine.

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Smoking on the job. Between his bad habit and tendency to go down chimneys I’m betting he’s got quite the set of black lungs.

The special is some-what compelling for an adolescent, not so much for an older viewer since we know there’s no way Santa is skipping town. There are a few musical numbers that are admittedly catchy, and I would go so far as to say that “Christmas Chimes are Calling Santa” is actually pretty good for a Christmas song. The rest of the special has an odd feel though. Why is Santa so easily hurt by one letter? It was signed “All of Us” as a way of explaining why Santa would take his anger out on the whole town, but I thought this guy was a bit more omniscient than that? It feels rather cruel. I also must point out that this special features perhaps the worst reindeer of any special. They’re tiny and look like mice. Once more, I understand they have a poem to work from that does indeed call them eight tiny reindeer, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them. At least there are indeed eight.

dfd3148e39819b2bd7f18bf8e8e1308d--the-night-before-christmas-christmas-loveThe rest of the cast of characters in this one are either bland or unlikable. Father Mouse comes across as a kind and understanding father, but Trundle is a push-over. The rest of the respective families, besides Albert, are basically ignored. I’m guessing the people who really like this special enjoy it mostly for the music or they find the plot interesting when compared with other holiday specials. It’s not terrible, and there was a time when I really liked it as a kid, but as an adult I’m not really into it. I’ll watch it once and that’s enough, which is how I feel about most of the Rankin/Bass stuff.