Tag Archives: christmas

Batman: The Animated Series – “Christmas With The Joker”

Christmas_With_the_Joker-Title_CardEpisode Number: 2

Original Air Date: November 13, 1992

Directed By: Kent Butterworth

Written By: Eddie Gorodetsky

First Appearance(s):  Robin, Joker, Summer Gleason, Arkham Asylum

An interesting choice for a second episode of a series. It’s a Christmas episode, which feels kind of inline with Batman thanks to Batman Returns. It’s also the debut of The Joker, and introducing him through a Christmas themed episode also feels odd. Naturally, since the show premiered in September this episode was held back to be more topical when it did eventually air, though its original air date still came before Thanksgiving which still feels off.

In this episode, we are immediately introduced to The Joker, who with other inmates at the famed Arkham Asylum, is decorating a Christmas tree and singing “Jingle Bells.” In a moment that would probably now be described as “metta,” Joker adds in the “Batman smells,” variation which probably delighted 8 year old me at the time while he improbably blasts away on a rocket-powered Christmas tree just as he arrives at the “and The Joker got away,” part of the song. Right away, we see this episode isn’t going to care much for realism as Joker is going to quickly establish lots of unique traps and engineer a few kidnappings in a short amount of time with zero explanation on how he accomplished any of that. And unlike many of the villains who will follow, this is not a depiction of Batman’s first encounter with The Joker. It’s pretty clear that the two have a relationship that predates the events of this show and have been at this game for years, assumedly, just as this isn’t Robin’s first foray into crime-fighting even though it’s his first appearance in the show (we’ll get to see his origin later).

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The Joker’s humorous, but improbable, escape from Arkham.

Batman is naturally unnerved by The Joker’s Christmas break-out, while Robin (Loren Lester) thinks even villains prefer to spend the holidays with family. Batman is quick to remind him that The Joker has no family. Naturally, Batman is right and when Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson sit down to watch a television broadcast of It’s A Wonderful Life they soon find the airwaves taken over by The Joker. Joker has kidnapped three pretty important figures in Gotham:  Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, and television news reporter Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). Joker, lacking a family to spend the holidays with, has dubbed this trio the Awful Lawful Family and given them personalities of Mommy, Daddy, and Baby (Bullock gets to wear the adorable bonnet). They’re hog-tied, and presumably in danger, as are other citizens of Gotham.

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The Joker and his “family.”

Joker lays some traps, including taking out a railroad bridge and arming an observatory with a giant cannon, all while tormenting his captors in a mostly PG sort of way on television. His use of a discontinued toy is what clues Batman in on the fact that The Joker must be housed in an abandoned toy factory and he and Robin race to the rescue. They have a mostly slapstick encounter with The Joker and his toy-themed gadgets, and Robin even gets to make a pretty terrible bat pun when Batman makes use of a baseball bat. The ultimate goal of The Joker’s crime is to get Batman to open a Christmas present from him, and it’s genuinely amusing and makes The Joker look like a psycho, albeit a G-rated one, and I kind of appreciated that fact.

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Merry Christmas, Batman.

“Christmas With The Joker” is a middling episode of this series that’s neither great nor bad. It’s hamstrung somewhat by the Christmas theme and just feels inappropriate as the debut for The Joker. Of course, if I were going in broadcast order it wouldn’t be The Joker’s debut, and those of us watching at the time were introduced to the character in a better fashion. As the debut of The Joker though, it still is a fine reception for Mark Hamill in his second most famous role. His Joker is often regarded as the best voice for the character. It’s mostly goofy and fun, especially in this episode, but when he needs to get a little more malevolent he can slip into a darker tone with ease. And his laugh is brilliant.

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Not to be forgotten, this episode also marks the first appearance of Robin.

As a Christmas episode, I will give this one props for not being an adaptation of a more popular Christmas story. At first, I was afraid it would go in a It’s A Wonderful Life direction (a non-Christmas episode kind of will much later this season) when Robin name-dropped the film, but it thankfully did not. I do hate how Gordon and Bullock are just assumed kidnapped, and the episode is too eager to “yada yada” over such details. It’s the only episode written by Eddie Gorodetsky, and if he could do better it’s too bad he didn’t get a chance to show it. For a show that does a good job of elevating what children’s entertainment could be, this one feels too close to the cartoons of the 80s which treated its audience as imbeciles. It’s not as bad as those old shows, but definitely lacking when compared to future episodes. I’m probably being a little too hard on it, as even this mostly serious show is entitled to just have fun now and then. It’s still a worthwhile episode to toss into your Christmas viewing experience though.

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12 Films of Christmas #11: The Santa Clause

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The Santa Clause (1994)

A successful formula for any would-be Christmas film to adopt is that of shining a new light on the character of Santa Claus. Anytime a film can make Santa more believable to the viewer is usually something worthy of exploration. A lot of films, books, and other media have attempted to add to the Santa mythos which mostly originated in the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, and the ones that have done it the best are the most memorable.

The Santa Clause is just such a picture which set out to answer many of the questions children have about the character. For the life of many a youngster, Santa is someone believed in without question at first. After all, who wants to have doubts about a nice guy who leaves you presents for just being a good boy or girl (with the “good” part being highly subjective and a very low bar to clear)? As adolescents get older, they naturally become more inquisitive and thats when the questions about Santa Claus start to show up. How do reindeer fly? How can one man visit every kid on earth in a single night? How does he fit all of those toys in his sleigh?

The Santa Clause actually has one answer for just about every question a kid could have about Santa:  magic. It’s a rather easy explanation, but given the unbelievable nature of the character it’s often the best we have. The Santa Clause, in typical 90’s fashion, relies upon visual effects to make these answers entertaining beyond the whole “it’s magic, stupid!” Like many films from that era, the effects have not aged as well as maybe was expected.

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Charlie and Scott take Santa’s sleigh for a spin after accidentally killing him. Not many Christmas movies begin by killing Santa.

Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a toy developer with a son who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Charlie, played by Eric Lloyd, has been lead to believe by his mother Laura (Wendy Crewson) and step-father Neil (Judge Reinhold) that Santa is not real, which naturally irritates Scott. Scott is a bit of an absentee father, partly because of the divorce, and because he works a lot. Charlie doesn’t have much faith in his father, and he clearly dreads spending Christmas Eve with his old man. Not much goes right, but Scott does succeed in restoring his son’s faith in Santa, and himself, when the real Santa falls off his roof to his own demise and Scott, unwittingly, picks up the mantle for himself.

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Scott unwillingly morphing into Santa. I’d probably freak out if my kid tried to sit on that guy’s lap.

Scott’s first adventure as Santa is when we get to see the magic at work. Scott and the audience share in the experience as neither knows how any of this stuff is supposed to work – Santa can’t really be real, can he? When Scott picks up an empty sack, presents appear inside. It hovers and directs him to a chimney to slide down. When no chimney exists, a septic exhaust is used and a fireplace magically appears inside the house. I remember these effects delighting my family and I when the film first came out, but viewed at now they do leave something to be desired. The illusion isn’t destroyed, but parents showing this one to their modern kids may be disappointed in their reaction.

The rest of the film mostly takes place after Christmas as we lead-up to the next one. No one believes Charlie’s account of what happened, which causes his mother and step-father to think Scott is brainwashing the kid and to seek sole custody. Meanwhile, Scott is physically transforming into Santa whether he likes it or not (he read the Santa Clause after the first one died, and apparently he would need a really good attorney to get out of it) which only strengthens his ex-wife’s argument for sole custody. This makes Laura (Charlie’s mom) and Neil the villains of the film, even if they’re only looking out for Charlie. It’s a Christmas movie, so everything comes together at the end, but this is one of those plots where the viewer knows what really happened and has to be frustrated by the actions of those who aren’t in the know.

Tim Allen is essentially allowed to be himself in his role as Scott Calvin/Santa Claus. He’s basically no different than Tim Taylor from Home Improvement, and even does his trademarked grunt at one point in the film. How much you like the film will probably hinge on your affection for Allen. I think I mostly liked him when I was younger, but the years haven’t been kind to Allen’s style of humor. I find him irritating in many scenes now, and his punchlines are often punch-less. As an adult, I find myself identifying more with the stiffs around him than the Scott character. He’s not all bad, but I hesitate to call his performance a strength.

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By the film’s conclusion Scott is all-in on this Santa thing.

The other aspect of this film that annoys me is the end, and to some degree, the Charlie character. The end of the film just goes on way too long and we’re kind of done with the Christmas cheer before Charlie starts shaking his snow globe. The Charlie character also can’t help but be annoying throughout the picture. Some of his actions are defensible, because he’s a kid, others are not and seem to betray the intelligence we see out of Charlie in other parts. By and large, Lloyd is a pretty good actor, but the director asks him to get sad and cry at one point which he clearly wasn’t up to the task for.

The Santa Clause is still recent enough to be considered modern, and it can probably be described as a modern classic. It brings enough to the table as far as a Santa story goes (even if parts of the plot mirror the Flintstone’s Christmas Special) to be memorable. If you’re easier on the effects and overall 90’s look and style of the picture (I for one, find the techno-junk look of Santa’s sleigh off-putting) then you probably like this film a lot more than I do. And if you’re a fan of Tim Allen, then it might even be your favorite Christmas movie.


The 12 Films of Christmas #12: The Muppet Christmas Carol

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The bare minimum a Christmas television special or film can do to inject some Christmas cheer is to do an adaptation, or parody, of a popular public domain Christmas treasure like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In general, these are lazy and trite and form the foundation of the worst holiday dreck imaginable. Just tune into the Hallmark Channel at this time of year to find several variations on familiar stories, all of which bring nothing to the table other than sentimentality. So it is with some trepidation that I include one such work in this 12 Films of Christmas featurette, but hear me out.

The Muppet Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine and those wonderful puppets manages to be a worthwhile endeavor not because it does anything to shake up a familiar story, but because it tells that story with the charm and wit of The Muppets. When it comes to these types of Christmas stories, we likely all have our preferred vehicle of delivery. For me personally, it’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol which is one of my favorite holiday shorts. If I’m going to go feature-length though, I’m likely to turn to The Muppets if I want to hear about old Scrooge.

Caine stars as main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, and his supporting cast is made up of mostly Muppets. Kermit is his foil as the poor, but kind-hearted, Bob Cratchit and Robin stands in for Tiny Tim. That makes Miss Piggy Emily Cratchit, naturally. Stadler and Waldorf play the Marley brothers and are predictably hilarious in their role. Gonzo and Rizzo the rat are used as narrators and exist outside the story, despite occupying a physical presence on screen. They’re the main source of the physical comedy and the film made a star out of Rizzo, a mostly bit part in Muppet films and television specials prior to this. Fozzy, Animal, Beaker, and all of the other familiar gang show-up for spot roles throughout. The Muppets are all playing the role of someone from the original work, but still possess their own personality and character traits. In other words, Fozzy is still Fozzy even if his character is referred to by another name.

 

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Michael Caine is a natural at playing alongside the Muppets.

Caine is relied upon to carry the picture and act convincingly beside his non-human cast mates. For roles that correlate directly to Scrooge, a human actor is cast so it’s not as unbelievable as it could have been. For instance, Isabelle is played by Meredith Braun and Scrooge’s nephew Fred by Steven Mackintosh. Only Caine is really asked to do any heavy lifting and he’s surprisingly emotive and effective as a Scrooge. There may have been some expectations that a Muppet version of A Christmas Carol would just be a straight comedy, but the film doesn’t shy away from the dramatic moments. In fact, it probably does so to its detriment as the film sometimes spreads the laughs out too far apart. Some plodding occurs during Scrooge’s journey that likely will turn off younger viewers, and even some older ones. The redemptive portion of the film also feels rushed and the audience is denied in savoring Scrooge’s turn at the end. Perhaps this was done to keep the film under a 90 minute runtime, but if that was the goal, then other parts of the film should have been trimmed instead to allow more time for the fun at the end.

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Rizzo and Gonzo are the true show-stealers in this picture as the duo is easily responsible for the most laughs.

From a production standpoint, the film is a true star as the sets, puppets, and costumes all look fantastic. It’s obviously no surprise that a Muppets work would come out looking so well. The production department did a great job in giving the film a true big screen feel when compared with the various TV properties of the Muppets and their made for TV films. The film is in part a musical, like most Muppet productions, and the songs are actually on the light side. I personally consider that a positive, but others may not feel the same way.

In the end, The Muppet Christmas Carol succeeds because it brings its own heart and spunk to a dated work. Other films, like Disney’s A Christmas Carol, just try to retell the same story and possess no charm, and ultimately have no real reason to exist. At least with The Muppets you’re getting that Muppet brand of humor to add a dash of color to A Christmas Carol, ultimately making it worth your time each holiday season.


The 12 Films of Christmas

Last year I did an advent calendar sort of deal where I counted down the best Christmas television specials from December 1st through Christmas. Naturally, I wanted to do the same this year but with Christmas themed films instead!

Unfortunately, Christmas movies are pretty terrible. Sure, there are countless amounts of terrible Christmas television specials, but there are also enough that narrowing it down to 25 really wasn’t that hard. I even left out some that I genuinely like and make it a point to watch annually, especially repeat Christmas episode from long-running series. When I sat down to come up with 25 films I found it pretty trying. Now, I’m not an actual expert on Christmas movies, but I have seen a lot of them, but definitely not all of them. I’d love to say that I’m the foremost expert on them, but I’m not. Still, my original list of 25 was really shitty on the back-end. Since it was so poor, and my free time is even less than it was a year ago, I decided to go with a Twelve Days of Christmas spoof and do 12 Films of Christmas.

Starting tomorrow, you will see one entry per day on a Christmas movie I think is worth an annual viewing. That doesn’t mean they’re all great movies, but they work when viewed in that sweet spot between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I also created some rules for myself. All of the films I’m posting on were theatrically released, so if you’re a lover of those Hallmark Channel movies you’ll be disappointed to know that not one of them is among my twelve (they suck anyway). I also decided that each film needed to be, unquestionably, a Christmas movie. This is perhaps a controversial stance as it eliminates from contention films that take place during Christmas, but aren’t really Christmas movies. To be specific, there’s no Die Hard. Same for Batman Returns, though I don’t think that omission would cause much controversy. Other than that though, anything goes. I’m ranking these films based on pure enjoyment, not the amount of Christmas spirit contained therein or the presence of Santa Claus. I have no affection for the Jesus aspect of Christmas either, so don’t expect much of him in these films either.

So if you want to read about Christmas movies, check back tomorrow for number 12 and continue visiting each day for another film. I don’t make any money off of this site and I’m just doing it for the enjoyment of it and I hope you too enjoy reading about the dozen Christmas films to follow.635850679509887126969022607_wjud-dot-net


#23 – Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special

MV5BMTQ4NDMzMDg5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODcyNTUzMQ@@._V1._CR31,27,314,421_SY317_CR11,0,214,317_AL_Robot Chicken is the brainchild of veteran actor Seth Green and Mathew Senreich. It’s hard to believe the show has been running for ten years now, but that’s the reality of the world and in that time the show has produced three Christmas specials.

The show is basically an animated version of ToyFare magazine’s Twisted ToyFare Theater that sees popular toys dropped into humorous sketches. The focus is mostly put on turning old action figures, like Mattel’s popular Masters of the Universe line, into puppets to create stop-motion sketches. The integrity of the old toy is retained but it’s often modified to include more points of articulation to create better animation. Other times the show creates its own puppets or finds random toys to repurpose into new ones. Sketches vary in length, but it’s not uncommon for one to last merely a few seconds. In that sense they’re often like micr0-sketches when compared to a traditional sketch comedy program. Usually there’s at least one longer sketch that may last a few minutes that serves as sort of the feature sketch of the episode with each episode only lasting around twelve minutes.

The show is pretty funny, and I suppose it would have to be to have lasted ten years, and the fact that each episode is so short has helped to prevent the show from becoming stale. While it’s rare for all sketches in a single episode to be laugh out loud funny, there’s usually enough there for the show to be entertaining for its short duration.

As a result, it’s hard to really review a single episode like the Half-Assed Christmas Special. And in truth, both of the other two Christmas specials (DP Christmas Special and ATM Christmas Special) are basically just as good. And since these are actually the few shows I do not have a copy of, it’s hard to recall which sketch came from which special, so I’m just going to mention some I remember.

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You better watch out when Composite Santa is on the loose!

Since the show is stop-motion it’s naturally suited to parody Rankin/Bass productions. There’s a sketch that tries to discover who murdered Santa Claus where everything is basically done up at the North Pole Rudolph style, though a cocaine-addicted Frosty is present as well. The anime Christmas sketch features Santa enlisting the help of Goku and his son to save Christmas from Composite Santa, who’s half-Santa half-Frosty, and eventually a showdown with an Akira-esque Mrs. Claus occurs. The origin of Composite Santa is also detailed in his own sketch when a mad scientist tries to create an irresistible holiday character but he turns out to be genocidal.

Hermey from Rudolf shows up in “Hermey’s Dentistry,” where we see Hermey actually knows nothing about being a dentist and fails miserably at that and other professions. He returns to Santa to beg for his old job back and then the sketch turns into a Godfather Part II parody. “Co-opting Santa” sees Kris Kringle voice his displeasure with the Coca-Cola Company for co-opting his image for over 70 years in a very violent manner. A simple, but effective sketch, also features Santa getting mistakenly murdered after he had a sudden urge to drop a deuce while on the job. This simple, but crude, setup and execution pretty much sums up Robot Chicken in two minutes.

Unfortunately, Robot Chicken’s Christmas themed sketches aren’t available in one volume, to my knowledge, so if you want them you have to buy each individual season. Thankfully, Adult Swim is pretty good about broadcasting the specials every year a couple of times around Christmas and I would assume the same will be true for 2015. We may even get a fourth Christmas special if we’re lucky. Individual sketches are also available on Youtube. The Robot Chicken specials are too short to really feature any actual Christmas cheer, it’s basically just a funny use of Christmas imagery. It’s certainly not going to bring about those warm fuzzies other specials will, but they’re pretty good at getting laughs which makes them a unique entry in this top 25.


#25 – Moral Orel: The Best Christmas Ever

maxresdefault-2As we kick-off the best Christmas specials feature I say we start with something dark and cynical. It’s no secret that most Christmas movies and TV specials are sweet, warm, and offer a heartfelt message about the holidays (usually something about love, sharing, compassion, selflessness, and so on). That stuff is fine in small doses, but after many Christmases it can also become trite.

Moral Orel’s “The Best Christmas Ever” is hardly the typical Christmas special. If you are not familiar with the Moral Orel series, it’s a stop-motion short-form series that aired on Adult Swim from 2005-2008 and sporadically after. It focused on the title character, Orel, a goody goody two-shoes that just wanted to praise God and live by His word. Each episode usually centered around Orel taking something too literally from a  church sermon and doing something sacrilegious by mistake only to have his father set him straight in the end with a good lecture and a good beating. The adults surrounding Orel were mostly a bunch of miserable, sinful, hypocrites that rarely practiced what they preached, but Orel remains oblivious to his surroundings.

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Orel’s blind faith in God and ignorance leads to him concluding this was the best Christmas ever in the end.

For “The Most Wonderful Christmas Ever,” Orel hears about the second coming of Jesus during church and that he won’t be happy when he returns, ushering in the Apocalypse. When Orel overhears his parents arguing about his malcontent younger brother, with his dad proclaiming his doubts the kid is even his, Orel mistakenly reaches the conclusion that his little brother is Jesus reborn. Orel’s attempts to welcome the baby Jesus are pretty humorous, but the side story of his father’s depression over his crumbling marriage is some pretty dark stuff.

Moral Orel is basically a satirical black comedy and its Christmas special captures that perfectly. In a world full of terrible Lifetime and Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, Moral Orel is a nice piece of Christmas bleakness that is funny because it’s not like anything else. Even Bad Santa has more Christmas cheer than this one.


The 25 Greatest Christmas Specials

christmas-tvNo holiday spawns more television specials than Christmas. Really, no holiday spawns more of anything than Christmas (Halloween probably creates the most cavities in children). Christmas is a pervasive presence in our society. It’s everywhere, which makes the imaginary “War on Christmas” all the more ludicrous. Christmas is so inescapable this time of year that it’s hard to not feel cynical over the whole thing. Somehow I’ve managed to retain a fondness for the holiday despite having no religious givings in my bones. I enjoy the splendor, for the most part (Christmas songs are mostly terrible and annoying), and the warm fuzzies the holiday stirs inside me. Mostly though, I just like how I’m able to recall how excited I was as a child knowing Christmas was coming. It’s my ability to tap into that part of me that likely keeps the fire alive.

Each year since I started this blog I’ve taken the time to make Christmas-centered posts every December. This year I’m taking it one step forward and posting what I consider to be the 25 best Christmas specials created for television advent calendar style. What do I mean by that? Well I plan to post a short blog entry on each special on each day of December leading up to the holiday. You may be thinking this sounds like a rip-off of Chris Antista’s A Cartoon Christmas blog and you would be right. In defense of my own ranking I’ll say I’m not limiting myself to just cartoons (though expect the list to be dominated by them) and A Cartoon Christmas never attempted to rank the specials in such a fashion. Also, that site hasn’t been updated since 2013 and the last time the advent calendar format was utilized was 2012 so I think enough time has passed that someone else can do something similar.

My only criteria for selecting the best Christmas specials is that the special must have been featured on television at some point. This excludes Christmas movies, because they’re just a different animal, but not cartoon shorts that originally debuted on the big screen but have since become television staples around the holidays. This also means I’ll be doubling up on some specials that I’ve written about in the past. Many I covered in the first year of this blog as part of my Essential Christmas Viewing posts, but there they were covered in brief. A few have had full write-ups, and where that has occurred I’ll link to the original post but also offer up some fresh takes.

Now, my typical blog posts tend to stretch on for thousands of words, which is why I only end up making 2 or 3 a month. As a result, expect these blog entries to be much shorter than my typical ones. Hopefully by doing so I’ll be able to keep myself from falling behind. Obviously I’ll be writing and working on this list in advance of any being posted so expect this feature to pretty much dominate The Nostalgia Spot for the remainder of 2015, though I may find time to slip in a post or two on other subjects.