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Dec. 4 – Taz-Mania – “No Time for Christmas”

no time for xmas

Original air date December 25, 1993

Before there was an entire broadcast television network owned by Time Warner, there was the relationship that existed between Fox and WB. Fox, needing a lot of content to launch its kid programming block The Fox Kids Network, partnered with WB and Steven Spielberg to bring the world Tiny Toon Adventures. It was a success, and before long Fox and WB were coming to terms on a number of shows. One such show we’ve covered quite a bit on this blog, Batman: The Animated Series, and another early 90s staple of Fox programming was Taz-Mania. Taz-Mania took the classic Looney Tunes character the Tazmanian Devil and gave him his own show. The character had become inexplicably popular in the early 90s in the realm of merchandising, as basically all of those characters did. He was just more surprising because the actual character was just a mindless predator out to consume the likes of Bugs Bunny. Aside from his rather interesting look, his other notable feature was his ability to whirl in place like a tiny cyclone. It was a pretty odd move to make him the vehicle of a whole new show, but it worked fairly well and Taz-Mania made it to 65 episodes which aired across parts of 3 years from 1991-1993.

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Taz and his family (left to right): Jake, Jean, Taz, Hugh, and Molly.

Taz-Mania stars the Tazmanian Devil, who is simply referred to as Taz (Jim Cummings) from now on. He is the eldest son of Hugh (Maurice LaMarche) and Jean (Miriam Flynn) and older brother to Molly (Kellie Martin) and Jake (Debi Derryberry). They live in Taz-Mania which is basically an offshoot of Australia as it’s populated by dingoes and platypus. Taz is similar to his classic portrayal, only he’s more of a gentle soul now. He still speaks in gibberish and shuns clothing, unlike his family. They’re all relatively “normal” individuals and all wear clothing and have modern concerns. Hugh, who sounds like Bing Crosby, is consumed with being a model patriarch and is often even-tempered. Jean is the classic go-go career woman and mother who doesn’t have much time for much of anything in her busy schedule, but always maintains a cheery disposition. Molly is a self-absorbed teen while Jake is a fairly typical little kid. They all seem to quietly tolerate Taz, but also sometimes take advantage of his mental shortcomings. In watching this episode and reflecting on the show in general, it’s a little uncomfortable at times how Taz is treated by his family since he obviously has special needs, and sometimes the family is almost unintentionally cruel towards him. This was the early 90’s when the “R-word” was still in fashion and those characters were played for laughs. If this show were invented today, I bet it would take a different slant or at least punish the characters who casually mistreat Taz.

In addition to the family, the show had a wide supporting cast and many of them will be covered in this write-up. The show also spawned a few video games though surprisingly I don’t recall much merchandise beyond that. No real toys lines or anything, but I suppose it wasn’t that kind of show. It helped keep Taz popular, and he went on to appear alongside the other Looney Tunes in Space Jam. His star, like most of those characters, has faded over the decades, but he’s still rather unique considering the other Tunes never really received a true starring vehicle like Taz-Mania.

Taz and Molly

Taz seems to enjoy licking stamps.

“No Time for Christmas” opens on the home of the Tazmanian Devil family on the day before Christmas. Taz is eagerly getting ready for Christmas and stuffing presents in a big, red, sack while his mother, Jean, is talking to someone on the phone. She rattles off all of the things she has to do, some mundane like wrap presents, and some insane like re-pave a parking lot. She’s baking cookies as she does this and Taz tries to get himself some, but he’s denied. She leaves behind one, lone, burnt cookie that Taz scrunches his face at, but eats anyway. Seeing that his mom has no time for him, he ventures off to Molly’s room. She’s busy writing and mailing Christmas cards and tries to get him out of her room before realizing that maybe he could be of use. She sets him up with a bunch of envelopes and stamps and instructs him to lick and place a stamp on each envelope. Taz is happy to help, but finds the glue on the stamps rather tasty and just licks them. Frustrated, Molly boots him out of her room.

Taz and Hugh

I do empathize with Hugh here as Christmas in a warm climate must be pretty weird.

Next Taz encounters his little brother Jake snooping around for presents in their parents’ room. Taz seems like he wants to help (he only speaks in grunts and noises, for the most part, aside from the occasional phrase), but Jake tells him, rather nicely, that this is a one-man operation and closes the door. Taz next encounters his dad in the living room. He’s all bundled up and standing by the television which is tuned to a fireplace channel and talking about Christmas. Taz realizes the room is freezing and his dad explains he’s cranked the air conditioner to simulate a real, northern, Christmas like the ones he’s never experienced. He’s lost in his own Christmas fantasy and Taz leaves him to it. Somewhat sadly, he wanders off from home with only his sack of gifts.

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Daniel and Timothy are looking to win a trip to Fresno by having the best decorated house.

Taz’s first stop is at the home of the Platypus twins, Daniel (LaMarche) and Timothy (Rob Paulsen). They’re a cheery duo with a deep affection for each other. If they weren’t brothers you would assume they’re gay. They’re the brainy characters of Taz-Mania and they’ve outfitted their home with an elaborate lighting display. The problem is, one of their elves has blown a head and Rudolph’s nose has burnt out. Taz shows up with a gift, and they’re happy to receive it, but have no gift to offer him in return as they’re much too busy. They incorrectly assume Taz would love to assist them in their work and they send him up a ladder with a new bulb for their reindeer. Taz goes along with it as the two brothers then take the ladder away saying they need it to retrieve a spare elf head. Taz replaces the bulb and the reindeer lights up. He then loses his footing on the roof and tumbles down into the space previously occupied by the broken elf. Now holding “hands” with the other elf decorations lining the roof, he appears to be taking the place of the discarded elf and the Platypus brothers thank him before remarking how it’s likely obvious where this bit is heading (they’re so smart that they’re self-aware and break the fourth wall rather liberally). They head over to a giant electrical switch and flip it, causing Taz to be comically electrocuted. He’s shot off like a cannonball from the house, and when one of the brothers remarks that he forgot his sack, Taz’s arm stretches back into the image to grab it before he resumes his flight.

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Taz exploding with electricity. This kind of thing seems to happen often when he visits Daniel and Timothy.

Taz next drops in on Didgeri Dingo (Paulsen) who was expecting him. He’s ringing a bell Salvation Army style in the middle of the deserted Outback and remarks that Taz is late. He quickly outfits him with a Santa Claus outfit while explaining that Christmas is the time for charity and they’re going to raise money for his favorite charity – Didgeri Dingo. Taz is rather delighted by the Santa suit, causing him to remark his catchphrase for the episode, “Taz like Christmas!” but he is not at all happy about being forced to ring a bell for charity in the middle of nowhere. In true cartoon fashion, Didgeri sends him off and he’s immediately hit by a bus that literally came out of no where. He’s then hit by a trio of trucks and a train to drive the point home as he’s swept away. Didgeri pauses to speak with the camera so apparently the Platypus brothers aren’t the only ones who get to break the fourth role.

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Now we’re getting into the spirit!

The train dumps Taz in another part of the Outback where a couple of bushes are speaking to one another. They have tails and hats and are obviously the Gator characters of Bull and Axl, two hunters who are always trying to catch Taz. They’re the common cartoon archetype of a short, intelligent, abusive, schemer and a tall, dumb, subservient one. The only wrinkle with Bull (John Astin) is that he possesses a rather cheery disposition. When Bull explains to Axl (Paulsen) they’re in a Christmas episode he pops him with an oversized candy cane to further remind me that WB cartoons actually just love to break the fourth wall.

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Nothing like a little Yuletide violence to warm the soul and dent the head.

Taz knows these two, and he’s not as dumb as we think. He intentionally lets himself get caught in their rope trap and is suspended upside-down as a result. Axl is somewhat horrified to see they’ve caught Santa, while Bull tries to explain to him that he is indeed wrong. Taz breaks free, and then clobbers the pair in a whirling cyclone that also relieves him of his Santa suit. He leaves the two their present before heading off, while Axl sees the error of his ways. They didn’t capture Santa, Taz is Santa!

taz, bull, and axl

Taz even has gifts for his enemies.

Taz’s next stop is the Motel Tasmania, where he is an employee. Bushwacker Bob (Cummings) is standing around trying to read his copy of Life magazine with Bugs Bunny on the cover while patrons of the motel keep bothering him on the phone. Constance Koala (Rosalyn Landor) bothers him further by bumping into him and then having the nerve to point out how her feather duster is in poor shape causing Bob to go on a rant. He’s the typical asshole boss character who thinks his employees do nothing but complain and act lazy. He further points out the “shoddy” work of Constance by gesturing to some fungus on the ceiling. His observation is incorrect and Constance points out he’s referring to the mistletoe she hung up. And since they’re both under it…

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I’m always down for a Bugs Bunny cameo.

Mr. Thickley (Dan Castellaneta), a wallaby, enters the picture next and when Bob suggests there’s something he’s supposed to be doing, Thickley can only assume he’s referring to the mistletoe once more and plants another big smooch on him further enraging Bob. Thickley goes off to do whatever it is he does, but he stops to say “Hi,” to Taz and also demonstrates he too possesses fourth wall breaking power. Bob takes notice of Taz and asks him what he’s doing out of uniform. Taz apparently says it’s his day off and Bob can understand his grunts, but he’s not really happy with the response. Taz gives him his present, and Bob seems upset at its small size. When he suggests there should be something more, Taz naturally assumes he’s looking for another smooch and gives him one causing Bob to throw him out. Then Taz, finding that no one has time for Christmas, slowly walks off into the sunset dragging his sack behind him while sad music plays.

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Mr. Thickley seems to have a lot on his plate.

Taz returns home to the frigid living room. He sits down in front of the television which is still playing a roaring fire. Taz’s pet, Dog the Turtle (Paulsen), comes running in excited to see him which picks up Taz’s spirit. He gives Dog his Christmas present, a bone, and Dog happily grabs it and runs off. When Taz whistles for him to come back, he does not. Dejected, Taz plops down on the couch while his tears freeze upon forming. Reminding himself that “Taz loves Christmas,” he lays down and falls asleep.

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Nothing says Christmas like the love between a boy and his dog, or, a devil and his turtle?

Taz is awakened the next morning by his family. His mom has baked him a tray of cookies and Molly apologizes for being a jerk and gives him a Christmas kiss. Soon all of the characters from throughout the episode enter the house to give Taz his Christmas presents. In doing so, we see that Taz had gifted them all very thoughtful gifts. The Platypus brothers received a new elf decoration, Didgeri a prized bottle cap, the Gators new nets, and so on. Hugh even ushers in the rest of the cast they ran out of time for leading to a whole, group, gathering in the Tazmanian Devil living room. Hugh then gives a speech about Taz and how he never lost the spirit of Christmas. His schtick is that he gives boring, long-winded, speeches and as he gets further into this one everyone else sneaks away leaving Hugh all by himself as the episode appears to end. It’s a fake-out, and the iris shot close re-opens as Hugh informs the audience they can’t end the show without a big holiday group shot. We’re wished a Merry Christmas, and they all imitate Taz’s various noises and tongue thing to close it out.

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A sad, frozen, Christmas tear.

“No Time for Christmas” is a simple and effective story. Choosing to focus on the rush of the holiday, the more free-spirited and pure-hearted Taz distills Christmas to just giving gifts to the people he cares about while the characters around him are caught up in everything else. Or in the case of the “bad” characters, they’re either ignoring the holiday or trying to enrich themselves through it. Everyone coming together at the end to make up for their mistreatment of Taz is predictable, but it works well enough. It’s certainly better than doing a parody. Because it’s rather obvious in where it’s going, the episode lacks a real emotional payoff. It’s still rather sad to see a dejected Taz, since that’s not a common sight, but the episode doesn’t really linger on it or really play it for tears. It’s a comedy show, and it never loses sight of that. It’s also not the type of comedy that’s uproariously full of laughter. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it subtle, since the numerous fourth wall breaking jokes are anything but subtle, but it’s the type of humor that just wants you to smile along as opposed to laugh. It’s also probably why Taz-Mania was never appointment viewing for me, because it was just fine as supposed to truly funny.

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We have to end it on the group shot too.

As far as Christmas Specials go, “No Time for Christmas” is suitable. Most who watch it will probably enjoy it well enough. Unlike most episodes of this show which were split into two shorter cartoons, “No Time for Christmas” uses the full 22 minute duration to tell its story. Shows that do such a thing sometimes struggle with the longer runtime, but this one moves along quite well. Like a lot of early 90s cartoons, Taz-Mania is no longer broadcast anywhere and hasn’t been for some time. Also like many cartoons from that era, it has only received a partial home video release and “No Time for Christmas” is not on either DVD set. The only way to watch this one is via streaming online, and it’s not hard to find. If you’re looking to watch a special you have not seen and want it to be good, then I think this one is worth the investment of time.

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Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series

previously

by Eric Lewald, published by Jacobs Brown Media Group LLC

A lot of cartoons made an impact on me as a child. My first love was The Real Ghostbusters. It’s goofy cast of characters and excitement were plenty of fun and there were interesting toys to supplement the series with, which was pretty much the goal of all cartoons in the 80s. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would come along and supplant Ghostbusters for me. For several years I was all about the Turtles, with a flirtation with Bucky O’Hare mixed in, though sadly the funky fresh rabbit never made it past 13 episodes.

In 1992 things changed, in more ways than one. My family had just been uprooted moving from the cozy confines of New Hampshire to what felt like a different world down in Virginia. For the first time ever, I was a fish out of water. As I was gearing up to start 3rd grade in a new state, a new town, a new school, I would be tasked with forming all new friendships either at school or in my new neighborhood. It’s not a task I’ve ever been particularly good at. Shy and a tad awkward, I wasn’t outgoing, nor was I particularly talented in anything so I had few ways of attracting people. As a result, my television was sort of my best friend for a time and thankfully I had a new friend in Batman who had just debuted on week day afternoons on Fox Kids, a network I really only knew of thanks to The Simpsons. Batman was all fine and good, and I consumed every episode as it aired (and have since gone on to write about, if you hadn’t noticed), but it never hooked me like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even though that was a program I found myself outgrowing. What did resonate with me almost immediately though was the cartoon that premiered not long after Batman, I’m talking about X-Men.

The X-Men were known to me in basic terms before the animated series premiered on Fox. About a year prior to the show debuting Marvel had launched a toyline complete with TV spots, even though there was no companion television series to pair it with. I suppose the toys could have been developed in conjunction with the Pryde of the X-Men pilot that had premiered and failed in 1989. The roster was pretty similar, though then relative newcomer Archangel replaced Dazzler in that initial run of toys. Aside from that though, I don’t think I had ever picked up an X-Men comic book and I may or may not have played the side-scrolling beat-’em-up arcade game that was also based on Pryde of the X-Men. And I didn’t even actually catch the sneak peek preview, which aired on Halloween of 1992. I had seen all of the television spots leading up to it and was very interested in the show, but I had tricks or treats to get and wasn’t good at working a VCR.

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The first attempt at brining the X-Men to television did not go very well.

At school, I would hear about it though. They had cool powers, but people hated them. Why? It seemed like such a foreign concept. One character got arrested and another died! Wow! Perhaps morbidly, I really wanted to see that character death, whom I’d come to know as Morph. Frustratingly, it would be awhile before I finally saw it. Somehow, whenever “Night of the Sentinels:  Part 2” was aired on television I would miss it. I wasn’t allowed to stay home alone, since I was only 8, so if my family had plans on Saturday morning I had little say. My mom even enrolled me in CCD, or church school, which convened at 11 on Saturdays, much to my horror. I think I only went to two of those classes before my mom got sick of the revolt each Saturday, finally freeing me to enjoy my new favorite program in relative peace.

In no time I was obsessed, and X-Men was my favorite show for basically as long as it aired. I still have the many toys I amassed during that period in my life, and though I no longer read the comics, I still enjoy revisiting this cartoon. It’s why when I heard that showrunner Eric Lewald was releasing a book all about his experience in making the show and bringing it to television that I had to get a copy. I received a copy last November, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself it took me this long to finally finish it and get to writing this post, but life is hectic.

Previously on X-Men is an account of how this unlikely hit came to be. When Fox premiered X-Men and Batman it was still a fledgling network. The Tracey Ullman Show and Married… With Children got the network its initial audience, and The Simpsons would then establish it as a viable alternative to the big 3:  ABC, CBS, and NBC. It was still struggling during the other parts of the day with programming often ending before 11 PM. Recognizing that there was a place for children’s programming, Fox brought together a web of studios and producers in a mostly haphazard manner that somehow led to network dominance. Shows like Bobby’s World and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes were filling out the kids portion of the programming early on, and while it sounds like they did okay numbers, they weren’t going to raise the network’s profile much. It would fall to the superheroes to do that.

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Julia and Eric Lewald

Lewald’s book does a great job in capturing those early days while also contrasting X-Men with its daily counterpart Batman. Batman was a show with tremendous financial muscle behind it in the form of Warner Bros. and DC. It was coming off two successful Tim Burton movies and featured a character recognized around the globe. As a result, it was largely an internal production at Warner and Fox got to reap in the benefits. And then there was X-Men, the troubled property that seemingly no one believed in. Thanks to so many television failures by Marvel in the past, there was almost zero enthusiasm for a show based on the property. Margaret Loesch, who formally headed-up television at Marvel and was hired away to run Fox Kids, was one of the few who believed in it. Having failed to get the show going while at Marvel, she knew a producer who she had hired and fired on more than one occasion that could handle the task. That man was Sidney Iwanter, and he produced the show along with many others for Fox Kids. Citing a belief that kids were smarter than network executives gave them credit for, he demanded excellence from the writing staff of X-Men, who were overseen by Lewald. These three probably deserve the most credit in getting X-Men to television and for it being the number one kid’s show when it finally did get there.

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Haim Saban, who is both a hero and a villain in this story.

The first 200 pages of the 400 page book are devoted to the development process and it’s a fascinating read. Lewald, who had no experience with the X-Men before getting hired to run the show, was entrusted with those initial 13 episodes. He had people at Marvel he could go to with questions, but in a pre-internet world that meant a phone call, fax, or worse. It wasn’t like there was a Google equivalent in 1992. Artist Larry Houston is credited with the look of the series, as he was one of the few onboard who was a fan of the comic. Also the Edens brothers, Michael and Mark, were Lewald’s main contributors in the writing department. Lewald’s wife Julia was also a part in the initial season and contributed to the book as well. It’s very interesting to read as Lewald takes the reader through that initial writing process, and it’s easily the most captivating section of the book. Their approach to character showed in the episodes, so a lot of what is said here was previously assumed. Such as the belief that killing off poor Morph in the second episode would create stakes and pull the viewer in.

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The early days of Fox Kids.

If there is an MVP character for the book though it just might be Haim Saban. Saban was a newcomer to television when Fox Kids partnered with him to bring the X-Men to air. Saban collected a fee for those first 13 episodes, but then it was on him to pay the writers and editors. Graz handled the art, while AKOM was contracted to do the animation. Saban is a notoriously cheap man, and reading about all of the accounts of his cheapness is both hilarious and frustrating. It’s well know now, but bares repeating to emphasize how cheap he was that Saban docked the pay for all of the returning writers for season 2. His reasoning? The show was a success, so now more people would want to write for it and therefore he could pay them less. The man is now a billionaire, so obviously he’s pretty good at making money, though he’s also a reminder of a lot of what’s wrong with modern capitalism. The second half of the book is comprised of interviews with the cast, writers, producers, and other executives and almost all of them have a comment about how cheap Saban was, and likely still is.

Many battles took place to bring X-Men to Saturday morning. Some I knew about before reading this book, and others I did not. It’s probably common knowledge that the first episode from AKOM was utter garbage in terms of animation quality. It’s a big reason why the show had to premiere as a sneak preview because the studio couldn’t get them right to premiere in the normal Fall window. A lot of money was spent getting it right, and it almost blew everything up. The original voice cast also had to re-do the initial episodes because the first takes were so bad. Saban, in order to save money, hired Canadian actors to voice the show because they were famously non-union, so casting, supervising, and ultimately editing the audio for the show was cumbersome. Having to send individuals up to Canada in order to re-dub the initial episodes was obviously time consuming.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

Oh Morph, I still mourn for thee.

And then there was Stan Lee. Stan Lee is a pretty famous guy. I’m not sure if he’s today more known for all of the comic characters he had a hand in creating or if he’s more famous for being that old guy who cameos in every Marvel film. Stan Lee created the X–Men alongside Jack Kirby in the 60s, but after that initial unsuccessful run, he turned it over to other writers and artists so he could focus on other things. As a result, come 1992 he basically knew nothing about the modern X-Men and yet he insisted he knew what was right for the show. Lewald and Iwanter had to fight with Stan on everything in those development days. He insisted on narrating the episodes, as he had done with previous Marvel television shows, and his approach was entirely wrong for the show they were trying to create. Supposedly, even proposed the premise of the show should be a few members of the team driving around and solving mysteries. They somehow managed to placate him, without really giving him a voice in the show, and eventually he went away as the show moved along through its first season and became a smash hit. The frustration in having to deal with Lee and the many other challenges is felt in reading this and I ached for Lewald even though he’s more than 25 years removed from this aggravation.

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The success of X-Men helped pave the way for more Marvel cartoons like Spider-Man.

That first season was only 13 episodes, a far cry from the 65 episode order Batman received. Fox was so unsure about the property that it wouldn’t commit beyond that, forcing basically everyone involved to move onto other shows. Lewald went on to helm Exosquad with the Edens, and thankfully that too only received a 13 episode order so he was available to return to X-Men when it finally received the full episode order. Others did not, because that’s how television works. If a show isn’t in production, you’re not getting paid. That first season’s decision to present itself in a serialized fashion also presented problems for the network, as production delays on one episode messed up the order of everything. As a result, the network demanded that season 2 be more episodic, but Lewald and his talented team of writers still managed to give it a serialized feel with The Savage Land segments and reoccurring villains like Mr. Sinister and The Friends of Humanity. A wise move, since the serialized nature of that first season is a big reason why it’s so special.

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“Nightcrawler” is frequently cited as a favorite episode of many of the creators involved with the show. The book also contains a deep dive into its creation.

Like the show itself, which I think produced its best work in those first two seasons, the book somewhat suffers from a strong first half that isn’t matched by the second. The many interviews that span roughly 200 pages are informative, but some more than others. The voice cast mostly repeats itself with remarks about how it was fun to work on something that felt different and how they came to understand their roles. The actual writers and producers offer the more interesting nuggets. There’s a lot of praise thrown around which might get tiresome for readers, though they all have reason to praise each other since it’s easy to forget how successful this show was. Especially when taken alongside the production and development hurdles. Of the interviews, I think I actually enjoyed the executive ones the most. Loesch and Iwanter were candid and did a great job of transporting me back to the early 90s and the hurdles they faced in backing this show. It’s fun to read about how close these people were with these characters that meant so much to me as a child. They cared about them, which is ultimately why the show ended up being as successful as it was.

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Marvel has resurrected the 92 X-Men for its comics line, but the results weren’t enjoyed by this blogger.

It should come as no surprise that, as a longtime fan of the show, I fully recommend Previously on X-Men to other fans of the show. Even if you were only a casual fan, but tuned into the animated scene at the time, you might enjoy reading this one. It’s fun to read the comparisons of how this show came to be with the experiences these people had with other shows. X-Men was a production mess, a wonderful, beautiful, mess. It was still garnering good numbers when it was cancelled, and one has to assume it was due to costs. By then, Saban had Power Rangers and was able to bring more stuff in house. X-Men had all kinds of hands on it so a lot of people had to get paid, and as we already covered, Saban wasn’t a fan of paying people. Even so, it’s hard to argue that the show was cut-down in its prime or anything, but reading this book and revisiting the show really made me realize how much I’d love to come back to this world. Marvel did launch an X-Men ’92 comic, but it did not satisfy me nor did it read like an episode of the beloved cartoon, rather it felt more like a parody. Marvel is now under the gigantic Disney umbrella and its films basically print money. With the Fox acquisition though, suddenly the X-Men are back in play. Marvel hasn’t bothered with animated films in awhile, though it’s sort of bringing that back with Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe a direct to video follow-up for the 92 X-Men could one day be in play. Pretty please? At the very least, how about a Blu Ray collection with episode commentaries, Disney? The people who created this wonderful show obviously wish to talk about it and they still have a lot to say.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Terror in the Sky”

terror in the skyEpisode Number:  45

Original Air Date:  November 12, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Steve Perry, Mark Saraceni

First Appearance(s):  None

We’re checking in on a bunch of faces from the debut episode this week. Once again, the Man-Bat is terrorizing Gotham and it’s up to Batman to uncover the identity of this creature and put a stop to it. It’s yet another tale of a human being mutated into an animal hybrid and mercifully the last for awhile. It’s weird that 3 out of 4 episodes ended up with a similar plot device, but production order doesn’t dictate air date order. And yet, these actually did all air pretty close together so I guess Fox Kids didn’t really care one way or another.

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I’m a sucker for these wintery settings.

The episode opens on a wintery evening at a loading dock when our old friend the Man-Bat attacks. It wrecks up the place and gives the workers there a good fright before fleeing. The episode cuts to Dr. Kirk Langstrom (Marc Singer) waking up in a cold sweat. His wife Francine (Meredith McRae) wakes up and encourages him to go back to sleep, but he’s obviously shaken up about something. Was what we just saw a dream of some kind?

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The Man-Bat has returned with some new threads.

We soon learn it was not, as the Gotham PD are on the scene. Batman is lurking in the shadows and hears enough to know he needs to go straight to Langstrom. He arrives, irate, to find a disheveled Langstrom in his lab. Batman accuses him of taking the serum once again to turn into the bat, but Langstrom insists he has done no such thing and it’s Batman’s antidote that is responsible for the creature’s return. Francine overhears everything and becomes angered herself. She takes Batman at his word, and storms off, while Batman is at least open to the possibility of his antidote being a failure. He takes a DNA sample from Langstrom to go analyze back at the Bat Cave and leaves Langstrom to repair his marriage.

Outside, Batman is ambushed by the Man-Bat as he’s mounting his motorcycle. The Man-Bat is a little different this time sporting torn up pink trousers with the remnants of a white blouse hanging around its neck. Batman tangles with the creature and is then forced to chase after it atop his motorcycle. The only thing Batman gets out of that is a busted bike when he runs afoul of a train and the Man-Bat escapes.

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Batman gets knocked around pretty well in this one.

Back at his home, Dr. Langstrom is trying desperately to track down his wife who has run off. He’s able to discover she’s currently at the airport ready to flee the city to get away from him. Batman drops in to let Langstrom know he’s run some tests and he found no trace of the bat DNA in his system. Someone else is the Man-Bat this time. An overjoyed Kirk takes off to go chase down his wife, while Batman turns his attention to another.

Batman drops in on Dr. March (Rene Auberjonois), Francine’s father and the one who originally created the serum. He’s working late and not at all happy to see Batman drop-in. Seeing him sifting through his files, March pulls a gun on Batman though he mentions it’s full of tranquilizers for some reason. Batman, hardly intimidated, disarms the doctor and demands answers. It turns out, March has remained obsessed with bats even after what transpired back in episode one. He’s continued his research in secret, though he insists he would never experiment on himself. He then recalls an incident a few days prior where Francine interrupted his work. Startled, he dropped a beaker containing his new formula on the floor causing it to shatter and create quite the mess. Francine helped him clean it up and cut her finger in the process and we have our Man-Bat. Or should I say She-Bat?

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Mid-transformation shots are always a personal favorite.

Francine has successfully boarded an airplane and is suddenly not feeling so well. As the flight attendant heads off to retrieve some aspirin, Kirk makes his move. He apparently got there in time to board the plane and he tells Francine what Batman told him – he’s cured. Francine and he share a happy moment, before Francine heads off to the latrine to gather herself. It’s there the bat inside of her is unleashed, and after scaring the crap out of the passengers on the plane, she bursts through the hull.

Batman arrives piloting his trusty Batwing, and after saving the flight attendant in a rather ridiculous manner, he turns his sights on the She-Bat. Langstrom had been sucked out of the plane as well, but the She-Bat was able to snatch him out of the air. She takes off for Gotham and sets down on-top of the Gotham bridge. Batman catches up with the pair and hops out of the Batwing armed with the antidote. The only problem is getting it into Francine. The two fight and Batman is able to hit her not once, but twice with the antidote eventually bringing her back to her normal self. Miraculously, the tattered remnants of her shirt reform so she’s properly attired, and after a brief scare, her husband snatches her from the ledge to prevent her from falling. The two embrace and Batman leaves them. Stranded on top of a giant bridge.

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It all ends with a hug.

“Terror in the Sky” is basically “On Leather Wings Part Two.” The story moves at a similar pace just with the players in the game re-arranged slightly. It’s a bit fun shifting the bat persona to Francine, though the attire of the She-Bat gives it away pretty quickly. There’s some nice sound effects on the She-Bat and some neat point-of-view shots as well. The animation holds up rather well throughout most of the episode, with only few instances of ugly frames. In particular, Batman is knocked aside by the She-Bat on the bridge and he takes on a rather peculiar shape. I kind of hate that Dr. Langstrom has to save his wife at the very end from falling off of the bridge – why did we need to make this guy the hero? It just rubbed me the wrong way.

Ultimately, this is a fine episode of Batman much like its predecessor. I don’t think anyone needed another Man-Bat story, but it’s nice when a new episode contains a clear call-back to another since so much of the show’s episodes are independent of one another. Likewise, I don’t think anyone needs a part 3 either, and we won’t be getting one. Maybe there could have been another story here, especially since Dr. March is probably owed some comeuppance. I like to think his daughter disowned him and he went off somewhere to die. Oh well, we’re finally past all of these mutant episodes and next week is one of my favorites so don’t miss it!


Dec. 17 – It’s A Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special

IAWTTCS-TCOn December 6, 1992, Tiny Toon Adventures aired its series finale, a Christmas special. After three seasons it was time to move on to spin-offs, additional specials, and new shows. It’s interesting because this episode deals with the show getting cancelled in a hypothetical way. It’s also a parody of It’s A Wonderful Life which means I’m loathe to watch it, but here goes nothing.

The episode opens with its typical opening – but wait! It’s all dressed up for Christmas and even the lyrics have been changed to reflect that. This I like. Once the episode starts, it gets right down to the parody nature with shots of various characters from the exterior of their homes praying to the heavens for someone to look out for Buster Bunny. Plucky tries to hide the fact that he’s looking out for Buster, but he also reveals he doesn’t want Buster to quit cartoons because then the show will be cancelled. Interestingly, a menorah appears in Hamilton Pig’s window. That seems like the wrong religion for a pig to choose, but I won’t judge. We then head up into the celestial bodies where two beings are communicating with each other about the prayers concerning Buster. The one in position to be our Clarence is actually named Harvey and he sounds a lot like James Stewart. Stewart also starred in a picture named Harvey about a guy who befriends a giant rabbit. This is not a coincidence.

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A little Grinch joke early on gets this one off on the right foot.

Just like the film it’s lampooning, this one then becomes a flashback and we see Buster and Babs sledding through a snowy landscaping singing a little song. There’s a Grinch-like character they thwart and a snowman that resembles Burl Ives who nearly gets taken out as well before the two reach an auditorium. They’re preparing to put on a performance for Christmas, and Buster is apparently in charge. Babs also has cleavage –  this is something I did not remember from my youth. As they’re getting ready to rehearse, Montana Max shows up in a wheelchair probably to evoke images of Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life. Elmira tries to steal a kiss from him and he promptly kicks her right in the ass! Violence against women, or girls, is also something I did not remember from this show.

Max is demanding and irritated that they got started without him. He pays off the network executives who were in attendance so he can take control of the show. Buster tries not to let it bring him down and gets back to rehearsing with Little Sneezer doing some Ebesneezer Scrooge bit with Bob Hope (not actually Bob Hope, in fact all of the celebrities are impersonations) that doesn’t go so well. Buster turns his attention to a duet ice skating routine from Babs and Cher. When he compliments Cher on her wardrobe, but fails to do the same for Babs, she gets a little ticked. Max is there to further inflame the situation by suggesting to Babs that Buster is flirting with Cher, which causes Babs to rough her up during their routing in which they sing a pretty poor parody of “I’ve Got You, Babe.” After Cher falls through the ice and the bit ends in disaster, Buster tells Plucky he can go on as The Little Drummer Duck for a scene with William Shatner. Plucky, after having his other roles be re-cast as Urkel previously (he was pretty hot in 1992), is overjoyed to take the stage and promises to wow the executives. When Max replaces the microphones with TNT the bit goes up in smoke – literally. By now Max has thrown enough money at the executives to gain full control of the production, and everyone else is pissed at Buster for how terrible it’s going. He sulks out, and the other toonsters seem to immediately start to regret how they acted.

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When Go-Go gets the canned boo’s you know you’re in trouble.

Buster, feeling dejected, decides to throw himself out of the picture and literally walks to the edge of the celluloid. That’s when Harvey is dropped in to prevent him from doing so. Harvey, depicted as a lanky white rabbit with a bow tie, hears Buster utter the magic words to set the second act in motion – “I wish I were never on Tiny Toons.” Buster gets his wish, and Harvey and he set out to see what life would be like for Tiny Toons had Buster never been involved with it.

Buster is whisked away to Montyville where literally every business on the street is owned by Montana Max including his Savings and No Loan. He and Harvey hit a store display TV to check out Tiny Toons without him and find that Plucky Duck is the star here. They watch the intro in which Plucky sings about how great he is and Babs repeatedly has anvils dropped on her head. When the show begins, Plucky and Babs introduce themselves and use the “No relation” line she and Buster would do, which Babs points out makes no sense before she’s hit with another anvil. Buster has seen enough and demands Plucky cease dropping anvils on Babs. Plucky, having no idea who Buster is, is offended when Buster calls him Goofy and accuses him of being a Disney spy. He has security remove him and takes a parting shot at Disney’s Jeffrey Katzenberg for good measure.

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The Plucky show has a different vibe than Tiny Toons.

Little Sneezer, being one of the guards, is confronted by Buster but claims to not know him. Buster gets booted out and winds up at Acme Looniversity, which is now Montana Max’s Business University. Max pops up on a closed circuit TV to announce that in honor of Christmas he’s shortening the school day to a mere 18 hours. He’s also heading off to Aspen with Morgan Fairchild, her second reference of the episode leading me to believe a writer thinks pretty highly of her, and Buster is left in a state of disbelief. Still clinging to the hope that someone will know him, he heads to his old home room. Harvey warns him there’s nothing funny going on inside there anymore, but he takes a peak anyway to find Madonna teaching the class and advising the students to wear their underwear on the outside to get some of that Warner money (which makes no sense since most of them don’t even wear pants let alone underwear). Buster still doesn’t get it, prompting Harvey to give him an ear full about how he was never a part of Tiny Toons and even says he never existed. Since this show is pretty metta, I suppose if he was never on Tiny Toons then no one would have ever created him. This thing just got pretty dark.

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Buster doesn’t particularly enjoy his new reality.

Having accepted the situation for what it is, Buster asks Harvey about Babs and if she has a different boyfriend in this reality. He tells him to go find out for himself and directs him to the film library. There he finds Babs, in librarian attire, watching cartoons. Porky lassos the moon for Petunia, while Pepe Le Pew puts on perfume before he resumes sexually assaulting that poor cat. Babs turns off the projector and laments her co-star-less life when Buster approaches her. Things go well, until he tries to tell her that they’re the stars of Tiny Toon Adventures. After hearing that, Babs just thinks he’s a crazy stalker and runs out. Buster, now satisfied with what he’s seen, asks Harvey to undo his wish, but Harvey can’t just yet because – commercials.

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The real star of the show.

After the break, Harvey vanishes and Buster is left confused. Babs enters the film room to see what’s up and he’s relieved that she knows who he is giving her a big hug and crushing her spine in the process. The animation really gets a little wacky for that part. Then Buster goes on his love tour just like George did, he loves Acme Acres, he loves his rabbit hole, he loves Spielberg, and even kisses the TV screen (I kiss it too). He returns to the auditorium to find everyone hates Max’s ideas for the show, including the network executives. He apparently didn’t bribe them enough because he’s soon fired and Buster is re-hired. Buster consoles him by assuring him he’s the star of the show. Cher flirts with Buster a bit, reminding Babs that she’s still mad at him. Cher tells her Buster was only whispering to her earlier to get a suggestion from Cher on what to get Babs for Christmas. When she asks Buster what she suggested, he plants a nice, long, lingering kiss on her smacker.

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This I like.

Buster and Babs hop in a sleigh and start to sing a little Christmas song all about togetherness. The other toons get their little moment to shine during the song and several of the “celebrities” cameo as well. Max gets to take his place as the star of the show – atop the Christmas tree. He hates it, and he really hates it when Elmira uses the fact that he’s incapacitated in his star costume to steal a kiss. No means no, Elmira! There’s also a very brief Charlie Brown parody, which I snicker at, and the horse-drawn sleigh takes to the sky and flies off. The camera pans back to reveal Harvey who remarks the show wasn’t bad, before producing a zipper and revealing that he was in fact Bugs Bunny this whole time. He adds a “for amateurs” qualifier to his previous statement, chomps a carrot, and walks out to end our picture.

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The whole gang on a musical sleigh ride. So long, Tiny Toons.

“It’s A Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas” plays this pretty conventional as far as It’s A Wonderful Life parodies go. It relies on a lot of its usual brand of humor of mocking celebrity culture and breaking the fourth wall. Sometimes these jokes land, and sometimes they feel lazy. Just inserting a cartoon version of a celebrity doesn’t count as a joke, and sometimes I feel like the show doesn’t quite get that. The animation is mostly good, but I feel like characters go off-model a lot in this episode, more so than I remember from the show. Maybe the third season had a smaller budget, or maybe it was an attempt to make the show look more “toon-like” or something. The voice cast for this show is exceptional though, and they do not disappoint. Tress MacNeille, John Kassir, Dan Castellaneta, Cree Summer, Danny Cooksey, Maurice LaMarche, Joe Alasky – all fantastic voice actors.  The show sticks to its parody format pretty strongly and doesn’t even deviate for a Santa mention. That’s fine and I do actually like this one. I find the show’s premise charming and since it’s so wrapped-up in Hollywood culture it does make sense for it to tackle It’s A Wonderful Life for its Christmas special. If you want to check this one out for yourself, I can’t think of a channel that would show it this year. A few years ago you could rely on Hub to do so, but that channel underwent a format change and eventually dropped the show in 2015. Tiny Toon Adventures is available on home media and streaming on Amazon, iTunes, and VUDU, and if you want my opinion, it’s a worthwhile show to own.


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. 2 – The Tick Loves Santa!

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The Tick Loves Santa! (1995)

The Tick arrived on the Fox Network’s Saturday morning programming block in 1994 after a wave of successful super hero cartoons. With the success of Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man it meant the timing was right for a parody hero like The Tick to get a shot at finding an audience. Often the last cartoon aired on Saturday, The Tick was like a fun palette cleanser following some of the more dram-laden shows and put a nice a bow on the whole thing. Reuniting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles voice actors Townsend Coleman and Rob Paulson as the duo of The Tick and Arthur, the show flourished with its impeccable voice cast, bright animation, and outlandish stories. The Tick was the hero we all needed at 11:30 AM on a Saturday.

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The Tick and Arthur out doing some holiday shopping.

“The Tick Loves Santa!” is the show’s Christmas episode and it arrived in season 2 first airing on November 25th, 1995. The episode opens during the holiday season where a sickly looking Santa Claus is ringing a bell looking for some spare change. Meanwhile, the local police are chasing a robber who happens upon this Santa-clad individual and steals his outfit hoping to thwart justice. His ruse doesn’t work and the police continue their chase. Meanwhile, The Tick and Arthur are walking down main street with their arms full of Christmas gifts trying to deduce what a sugar plum is. The Tick is happily counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds remaining until Christmas while Arthur worries about getting their apartment ready to host a Christmas party. The imposter Santa soon appears and runs right into the mighty chest of The Tick, nearly knocking himself unconscious. The Tick is beside himself with giddiness upon seeing Santa, while Arthur tries to tell him that’s not Santa. The crook comes to, snaps at the pair, and takes off with his sack of cash as the police show up.

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The criminal who will soon become Multiple Santa.

The Tick is horrified to see the boys in blue are pursuing Santa. Assuming there must be some mistake, The Tick jumps into action to help Santa. They end up on the rooftops where a police helicopter tracks fake Santa who’s growing increasingly frustrated. The Tick intervenes and a cop shouts down to tell him it’s not what he thinks in an almost bored tone as if the police anticipated that The Tick would cause problems for them given they’re chasing a guy dressed as Santa. The robber Santa tries to make a desperate leap and crashes into a neon department store sign and is electrocuted. He falls to his demise as the sack of cash goes up in flames. The cops, seeing that the money is no good, are done while The Tick falls to his knees in sadness at the apparent death of Santa Claus.

Back at their apartment, The Tick and Arthur host their friends for a Christmas gathering:  American Maid, Sewer Urchin, Die Fledermaus, Feral Boy, and Four Legged Man. Tick is miserable and despondent over the death of Santa while the other party-goers try and cheer him up. Arthur apparently decides enough is enough and tries to tell Tick that Santa isn’t real, which only makes Tick mad. Meanwhile, the crooked Santa thief wakes up in the alley he plunged into while duplicates of himself start popping out of the snow. It seems that the electric sign gave him duplicates and the villainous Multiple Santa is born! Naturally, he uses his duplicates (which are all incapable of speech except to say “Ho”) to go on a crime spree knocking off department stores and whatever else he wishes.

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The Tick trying to keep the peace. 

The Tick and his buddies decide to go do some caroling, but it does little to brighten Tick’s mood. Soon they encounter the gang of Santas and a fight breaks out. The Tick though is unable to fight back, for he can’t punch the face of Santa, even if it’s not the real Santa (who could take such a risk?) and is practically paralyzed with fear. The rest of the team is managing okay, until American Maid sends Multiple Santa into an electric box which only serves to create more Santas! They get trounced and everyone complains to The Tick later at the local diner about his inability to pitch-in. Sewer Urchin, in a voice that’s borrowed from Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man, lets Tick know he did a lot of ball-dropping. Definitely.

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That ain’t right.

Multiple Santa, now realizing the role electricity plays in creating more Santas, decides at his hide-out that he needs to head for the city dam for more power, and more duplicates. Meanwhile, The Tick and Arthur arrive back at their apartment to find it overrun with elves! And not just any elves, Santa’s Secret Service, who are sweeping the place to make sure it’s safe for the big man himself to enter. He soon does and The Tick is happy to meet his idol while Arthur can scarcely believe it (which doesn’t make much sense considering all of the other weird stuff they encounter every day), but soon becomes a kid in front of Santa. Santa tells The Tick he needs his help to stop Multiple Santa and takes a stern tone with him. Tick sits on Santa’s lap until Santa can’t take it anymore, and naturally agrees to do everything in his power to help Santa out.

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The Tick features some of the tallest elves I can recall.

The two strike out and Santa calls to tell them to go to the dam, since he sees everything. As Tick and Arthur approach they’re greeted by a tidal wave of Santas (a “Yuletide” as Tick puts it) and are forced to battle upstream, like a mighty blue salmon, with Tick narrating the whole way. See, Multiple Santa had arrived at the dam first and cut loose on the power there thus creating countless Santas to flood the whole city. When Tick and Arthur finally reach him, Tick still finds he can’t bring himself to punch Santa. Instead he opts for a noogie, and wouldn’t you know, the static electricity created by Tick’s knuckles causes the duplicate Santas to vanish. Striking down Multiple Santa himself, by tossing one of his clones at him, causes a chain reaction that makes all of the copies vanish thus saving the city and saving Christmas. The Tick puts a bow on everything, in the only way he can, and soon sugar plums are dancing around Tick’s head and Arthur’s too, since he’s now a believer.

ticklovessanta

Just a little rub on the head will do.

“The Tick Loves Santa!” is a great episode of The Tick and a great Christmas special as well. It’s funny, charming, is well animated and well acted and it’s pretty unique for a Christmas special. The Tick’s constant struggle to find a way to fight a villain that looks like Santa was a constant source of humor for me and I enjoyed how dismissive Multiple Santa was of Tick, especially early on in the episode. The supporting cast got a chance to get some lines in as well, though the episode largely focused on Tick and Arthur, which it should have since it was a very Tick-centric plot. I enjoy how jaded and cynical basically everyone in the show is except for The Tick and Arthur, and the cops not really giving a shit that a person was electrocuted and fried was pretty dark for a kid’s show, even if the character would be shown to have survived a few minutes later. Working the real Santa into the episode in such an obvious way felt a little forced. Maybe the network wouldn’t go for a cartoon that says Santa isn’t real, but including a real Santa also feels like the right move anyway since Tick’s childlike exuberance needs to be justified. Maybe they could have incorporated Santa in a more subtle way, but subtlety isn’t really something this show tries. It’s got the charms though and enough Christmas spirit to justify its inclusion in this year’s Christmas celebration.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (4Kids): The Christmas Aliens

images-166In 2003, Fox and 4Kids Entertainment launched a brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series.  This series was the first re-launch for the TMNT after a long hiatus from both film and television and was an attempt at introducing the Turtles to a whole new generation.  One of the consultants for the show was TMNT co-creator Peter Laird and his Mirage Studios.  Something everyone seemed to be in agreement on was that this new show would borrow more heavily from the original comic book run of the Turtles while still keeping a general audience in mind.  This is, of course, in stark contrast to the original cartoon which all but abandoned the comics as both Laird and Kevin Eastman felt it was impossible to adapt that for a children’s show.  It would be easy to point to that decision as a mistake, but really that original show gave the world a whole separate take on the Turtles that proved endearing, if nothing else.

The 2003 series was more mature, but still pretty much directed at kids.  It took a lot from the old comics but also did its own thing.  Eventually, it would more or less go off on its own, especially once it hit the Fast Forward seasons towards the end of its run.  I can’t pretend to be an expert on the series as I really only watched the first season before eventually losing interest.  The show seemed to be fairly successful, though not a huge hit, with kids.  There was a new toy line and I’m sure the show’s success had some part in the decision to do the feature-length TMNT film.

The source material for this episode.

The source material for this episode.

Something unique to this series is that it contains what is, so far, the only animated Christmas special the Turtles have ever done.  It seems crazy to me that there was a never a Christmas episode during the original cartoon run, but I checked, and there isn’t!  The new series has also yet to do one, but it wouldn’t shock me to see one pop up eventually.  The only Christmas special featuring the TMNT so far is the live-action “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” and if you’ve never seen it, DON’T WATCH IT!  The 4Kids series decided for its third season to adapt the Michelangelo (then Michaelangelo) Micro Series story for its first episode, “The Christmas Aliens.”  Having read that issue, I was interested in checking this episode out as that story is one of my favorites from the comics as it puts Michelangelo in the starring role as he attempts to make sure a donation of Christmas toys gets to a local orphanage.

Each episode of the series opens with a scene from later on in the episode, usually with a turtle or turtles in some kind of trouble.  This one opens with Michelangelo driving a truck as he’s being chased by some crooks before the opening credits hit.  The opening song for this show is one of its weak points.  I don’t care for the song on the new series, but it’s at least a throwback to the old series so I give it some points.  This one is just lazy.  When we get to the episode it shows Michelangelo strolling through the park on Christmas Eve.  The other guys are back at home in the sewer decorating for the evening’s festivities while Mike befriends some kids in the park and finds a stray kitten he dubs Klunk.  It doesn’t take long for Mikey to stumble upon a toy store that’s in the process of being robbed.  Apparently, this season’s hottest toy is a Christmas Alien doll (I believe in the comics it was intended to be a parody of the then mega-popular Cabbage Patch Kids) and it’s sold out everywhere.  A delivery truck loaded with them is the target of the thieves, but Mikey overhears the truck driver tell the crooks it’s intended for a local orphanage.  The crooks obviously don’t care as they make off with the truck and Mikey feels compelled to stop them.

That's one weird looking Santa.  I can't imagine he smells all that great as well.

That’s one weird looking Santa. I can’t imagine he smells all that great as well.

At the lair, various other characters start piling in.  I actually can’t name any of them since I didn’t watch the show regularly, except for Usagi Yojimbo who arrives with two other characters via some kind of portal.  All of the Turtles’ friends are here though to celebrate Christmas and some mischief is made.  Casey tries in vain to score a kiss under the mistletoe from April, while everyone tries their luck at beating the resident superhero in an arm-wrestling contest.  Everything has to be put on hold though as they all wait for Michelangelo to get home.

Meanwhile, Michelangelo has to contend with a bunch of crooks and even the police as he overtakes the delivery truck and heads for the orphanage.  The majority of the episode is a chase sequence, first with Mikey hanging onto the truck as he tries to take it over, then with more bad guys, and eventually the police.  The animation shows its limitations here as the truck looks extremely heavy.  It strikes parked cars and other moving vehicles and goes right through them without even the slightest wobble.  It’s an okay sequence, but not a very exciting one.  The Michelangelo character in this series is enjoyable though, and Klunk is supremely cute as he hides in Mike’s coat and pops his head out to take a look.

Michelangelo is eventually able to lose his pursuers and wind up back at the lair.  Everyone is ready to scold him for being late, but he of course explains himself and everyone heads to the orphanage.  The Turtles don elf costumes while Splinter goes as Santa and all the kids get their alien dolls.  We get a final lesson on giving, and everyone feels like a good person in the end.

Elf Mike and Klunk.

Elf Mike and Klunk.

As Christmas specials go, this is a solid entry.  It’s not too sentimental, there’s no silly drama, and everyone ends up with a good feeling when all is said and done.  There’s some light humor that is, while not inventive, at least amusing.  Michelangelo is a good choice for the lead role in this one as he’s always been the one that’s easiest to relate to.  His child-like state of mind doesn’t need to be exaggerated any further to make the story work.  In the comics, Klunk stayed around and would show up in future issues.  I don’t know if that was the case here or not but I never mind the addition of a kitten to story.  This episode was released on DVD as a Michelangelo’s Christmas Rescue and if you stumble upon it in your travels it wouldn’t be a horrible pick-up.  The running time is only around 22 minutes so definitely don’t pay too much should you come across it.  Since Nickelodeon launched the new series last year, episodes from this show are no longer on television so don’t expect to find it airing on any channels this season.  As always, there’s youtube if you really want to watch it.