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DuckTales: Remastered

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DuckTales: Remastered (2013)

If you read yesterday’s post about DuckTales for the NES, you may have thought, “Wow, I’m surprised he didn’t mention anything about the re-make that came out in 2013.” Well, that’s because I was saving it for its own post! DuckTales: Remastered is a complete remake of the original NES game for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U. Initially a digital only release, DuckTales: Remastered would receive a tangible release as well, and for a game the started as a budget-friendly digital title, I can think of few others that received as much attention and fanfare as DuckTales: Remastered.

Capcom debuted the game at E3 with a memorable video hyping it up before indulging the audience in a sing-along of the memorable theme song from the show. The release of the game coincided with the 25th anniversary of the NES original, and it was a worthy title to revisit based on the fact that the original is still a ton of fun to play. Naturally, remaking a game many consider to be a classic is a tall task, but with such simple play mechanics, how could Capcom go wrong?

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Transylvania got a lot scarier over the last 25 years.

DuckTales the game is largely unchanged at its core. The player still controls Scrooge who jumps and pogos his way through various levels (now six) in an effort to accumulate more wealth for himself and eventually to recover his lucky dime. What is changed are the production values. Modern game consoles can obviously handle quite a bit more, and this being tied to a Disney property, means a remake needs to meet the expectations and standards of The Walt Disney Company.

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A comparison of the sprites from the NES original and the Remastered version.

For the first time ever, a Disney Afternoon property can now basically look just like it does in game form as it did on television. The game is still a 2D side-scroller, but now the sprites for the characters are lovingly hand-drawn in great detail in bright, expressive colors. Scrooge will mostly sport a happy expression, but when he encounters the Beagle Boys or Magicka DeSpell he’ll scrunch his face up into a frown. The enemies too feature changing facial expressions, and not just the boss characters, but even lowly spiders and the like. The levels really come to life as the difference in climate is really accentuated by the enhanced presentation. All in all, DuckTales: Remastered is a beautiful game to behold and one of my very favorites from a visual point of view.

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Another comparison shot to the original.

The enhanced fidelity of the game’s graphics are not the only aspect of the presentation to be enhanced with better technology. The audio is also greatly expanded upon featuring full-voiced characters with actors from the show as well as remastered music. Alan Young, in what is basically his swan-song as Scrooge, does a great job of voicing the greedy old duck and shows that time hasn’t taken much away from his vocal chords. Russi Taylor is on-hand to reprise her role as the nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, while  Terry McGovern returns as Launchpad. The wonderful June Foray was even brought back to voice Magicka DeSpell, making this a reunion of sorts for the cast. This seems all the more special since the new version of the cartoon set to launch this summer will feature an all new cast for these characters.

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I love how cold this cavern looks.

The downside to all of these resources is the need to make liberal use of them. DuckTales for the NES was a quick and fun to play title that would have worked even without the DuckTales license. For Remastered, a lot of cut scenes and cinematics were tacked onto the experience, not just in between levels, but even during them. They can be skipped, but even so they really break up the experience of playing the game and not in a welcomed way. Worse, I feel kind of guilty skipping over any line from Young and the other cast-mates, but it can get old hearing the same lines over and over if you’re forced to retry a stage. The game has also been lengthened quite a bit, not just with these scenes, but with a new level and longer boss encounters. Some of the boss fights are fine in their new form, while others do drag. I particularly hated the very final encounter with Magicka and Glomgold. What was a pretty simple race to the top of a rope in the first game, is now a death-defying escape from an active volcano with questionable hit detection. I had to replay the final, added level (which aside from the ending was quite good) repeatedly because I kept dying on this final part. Once I finally beat it I was too aggravated to enjoy it.

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And you thought only Zelda came in gold carts.

The game also adds additional collectibles that can be unlocked as you play, giving you something to do with all of the money Scrooge accumulates throughout the game. It’s mostly limited to concept art and background stills from the game but it’s still fun to look at, though not really enticing enough to encourage repeated play-throughs. I wish Capcom had gone the extra mile and included an unlockable version of the original game or its much rarer sequel. There was a press kit sent out to select individuals that included an actual copy of the original NES game, painted gold, and with the Remastered artwork on the cart. Acquiring one of those on the after-market will set you back a few grand, though it is a pretty neat collectible (and one that probably really irritated those select few that had a complete library of NES games in 2013).

Ultimately, DuckTales: Remastered is a fine enough love letter to the original game. It looks and sounds great, though it’s not quite as much fun to play as the original (though Scrooge’s pogo is still just as satisfying as it was back then) due to the pacing issues. It’s an odd duck (pun intended) in that regard, as most objective onlookers would take one look at both and immediately decide they’d rather play the remake. If you enjoyed the original, Remastered is still worth your time as it’s pretty cheap to acquire and includes enough fan-service to make you smile. And at the end of the day, it’s still DuckTales and still inherently fun, even if it could have been more.


#1 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

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Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Most people that know me personally are not surprised by my choice for number 1 on my list of the best Christmas specials of all time. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a holiday classic of the finest order. Few films and television shows are able to delight all of the applicable senses like this one does. Allow me to list the ways.

First of all, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was animated and produced by Chuck Jones, one of the greatest masters of the animated short. Jones is known primarily for his work with Bugs Bunny, and when he was tasked with bringing the Grinch to television he brought his A game. The Grinch exudes personality. He’s angry, grumpy, and is delighted with himself while acting out his schemes. He’s his own biggest fan. And that smile! Probably the most memorable part of the special is that moment when the Grinch gets his wonderful, awful idea. There’s a bit of a cat-like quality to his face (Seuss himself remarked it looked too much like Chuck Jones) but also this sort of odd, plant quality as well. He’s much more interesting to look at here than he was in the original book. In addition to the titular character, the setting of Who-Ville looks great and very Seuss-like. Little was lost in translation, and the whole world really pops when it needs to. Voiceless characters like Max are animated beautifully as well. Even though Max never speaks, we always know what he’s thinking and feeling. He’s also the most empathetic character in the film.

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The money shot.

In addition to the wonderful style and supreme animation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! also features some excellent voice acting and an iconic score. All of the songs are originals which is quite the rarity for a Christmas special. The flagship song is undoubtedly “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” song by Thurl Ravenscroft in an uncredited role. The song is stretched to cover the meat of the special and it’s up to the task. The lyrics are suitable and the song is incredibly quotable decades later. The uptempo instrumental when the Grinch and Max are racing down the side of Mt. Crumpet is compelling, and the other songs are catchy in their own right. This is a soundtrack I have no problems listening to around the holidays. Rounding things out, Boris Karloff narrates the tale and provides a voice for the Grinch. His depiction is spot-on for the character as he adds a slight growl to his voice when he reads the Grinch’s line. No voice of the Grinch since has come close to matching Karloff’s delivery. June Foray even pops up once again as Cindy Lou Who. Her presence is a small one, but as usual for her, she’s perfect for the role.

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It’s pretty impressive how many creative sequences can be found in this one short.

The special is flat-out entertaining, but it also has the required good Christmas message needed to be a timeless Christmas classic. And here it’s kept to a simple one, which is that Christmas isn’t about the material things but the time spent with family. The Grinch has no family at the start so he can only see the material aspect of Christmas, which he comes to loathe and attempts to steal. Of course, Christmas can’t be stolen and the Grinch realizes that in the end. It’s an easy concept to grasp and it’s told well.

The animated version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the best way to experience this classic story. The original book is wonderful in its own right, but is less thrilling than its television counterpart and obviously lacks the musical numbers. The feature film is a piece of garbage in which the Grinch character is reduced to a generic Jim Carrey screw-ball. The unfortunate thing is its title is identical to the short’s so it’s easy to get the two confused when looking at a television listing. Since How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is such a classic, it’s featured prominently on television on both network TV and cable. It’s also readily available on DVD and Blu Ray. Next year will mark the special’s 50th anniversary and hopefully it will be properly celebrated on TV just like Rudolph and Charlie Brown have been recently (and maybe it will receive its own line of stamps from the USPS too). Since it’s now Christmas Day, the Grinch has probably already received his last showing on television for the 2015 season so hopefully you didn’t miss it, and if you did, you have a copy to watch today. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the greatest Christmas special ever made. I doubt it will ever be topped.

Thus concludes this top 25 countdown. I hope you enjoyed it and that my rankings didn’t infuriate you too much. I also hope you had a great holiday season and a very merry Christmas. See you in 2016!


#3 – A Chipmunk Christmas

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A Chipmunk Christmas (1981)

Few properties have managed to return from obscurity like The Chipmunks. They originated in song with “The Witch Doctor” and ended up getting an animated television show. That show faded and their popularity waned, but was resurrected in 1981 with A Chipmunk Christmas which celebrated their popular Christmas song “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” The success of the special lead to a new animated series called Alvin and The Chipmunks and a string of direct to video films. Now the Chipmunks are back as a film property after a long absence and they even have a new TV show. They’re not exactly well received by critics, but kids seem to love them again.

The quality of these various shows and films has never exactly been the best, but the original Alvin Show has some genuine humor which A Chipmunk Christmas gets right. What the Christmas special does better though is add a little heart. The story goes that Dave, the Chipmunks’ guardian and manager, is getting his boys geared up to play a Christmas Eve concert while the boys are more interested in just being boys. That is until Alvin finds out about a little boy Tommy who’s very sick and also a big fan of The Chipmunks. What Tommy wants more than anything for Christmas is a golden Echo harmonica, which Alvin so happens to be in possession of. He sneaks away from a recording session to give Tommy the harmonica, under the guise of saying Tommy won a contest, but Alvin is afraid Dave will be mad at him when finds out he gave away his harmonica. Especially once it’s reveled that Alvin is expected to play it as part of their Christmas Eve show.

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The Chipmunks received a slight redesign for their special, which would be further modified for the TV show Alvin and The Chipmunks.

This is one of those stories where the audience is naturally frustrated because the protagonist has done the right thing but is misunderstood. Alvin becomes consumed with making enough money to buy a new harmonica so Dave won’t know he gave away the original, but Dave just sees Alvin’s schemes from the outside as Alvin being selfish. Since this is a Christmas special, Alvin does eventually find a way out of his predicament when an old woman (voiced by the immortal June Foray, who pops up a lot in Christmas specials) offers to buy him a new harmonica for helping her out. The special culminates with the concert, and the ending has a nice little surprise for the viewer which might be my favorite ending of any Christmas special.

The Chipmunks may have seen their popularity seesaw over the years, but their Christmas special has remained timeless. With their renewed popularity, A Chipmunk Christmas has returned to television after a lengthy absence, though I never came across it this year. The special is widely available on DVD and Blu Ray and can be streamed online for free. This one is a classic that hits all of the right notes by being funny, charming, and has a great Christmas message. Don’t hold those new movies against it.


#15 – Frosty the Snowman

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Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Frosty the Snowman is a Christmas special that everybody knows. It’s been airing on CBS every year since 1969 and will likely continue to do so for as long as there’s a Christmas. Starring comedian Jackie Vernon as the voice of the titular snowman, Frosty the Snowman is the rare Rankin/Bass production done in traditional animation as opposed to stop-motion and is based on the song of the same name.

Because the special is so well-known, there’s not a lot that can be said about it that hasn’t been said before. I could strike a more snarky tone and point out that, for some reason, a bunch of the children at the beginning are wearing shorts in the winter time. And what is going on with the voice of that kid in the gray sweater with the bowl cut? It’s almost as if they didn’t want to hire another voice actor so they just made some weird sound effect. Maybe he’s a robot? It’s also easy to question the wisdom of the kind-hearted Karen who opts to climb into a giant refrigerator when she’s not even wearing pants. And why does Santa only have four reindeer? That one has bothered me for years.

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Only four reindeer for Santa? Was it too much of a financial burden to give him four more? Was food so scarce at the North Pole that Santa and Mrs. Claus had to butcher the other four for meat?

Yeah, there’s some weird stuff in this one but there’s also some genuine humor. Frosty being rather dim is funny and a surprisingly logical move for a children’s program. It’s also incredibly quotable with lines sticking with me through the years such as “No money, no ticket!” and “We evil magicians have to make a living too.” Frosty may be the star, but I do think Professor Hinkle is the MVP. He’s easy to dislike, just inept enough to stay one step behind, and a constant source of humor. He has that truly wicked moment during the special’s climax as well that adds legitimacy to his character. Really, how often do we actually see the villains in these various Christmas specials do something truly evil?

For a Rankin/Bass production, this cast is pretty star-studded. I already mentioned Vernon but they also opened up the checkbook for comedian Jimmy Durante who serves as the special’s narrator. The first lady of voice overs, June Foray, lends her voice to Karen. Billy De Wolfe voices Hinkle and Paul Frees has a small role as the traffic cop. Woven throughout the special is, of course, the song “Frosty the Snowman” and they actually do a pretty good job bringing the song to life without it feeling forced (though I suppose striking up a random parade is a little odd) or overplaying it. There’s also the emotional pay-off towards the end that gives the special an added punch.

Frosty the Snowman is a nice little Christmas special that virtually everyone knows. It gets enough right for it to earn a spot on pretty much every list of this type. The only thing that really holds it back for me is that it is a little corny and a little dated. There’s probably some exhaustion bias at work here too since I’ve just seen it so many times. Still, I don’t think being the 15th best Christmas special, considering just how many there are, is anything to be ashamed of. And it’s also ten times better than any of the sequels and spin-offs that have been made after this special.