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Dec. 21 – A Pinky and the Brain Christmas

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For as great as this episode looks, that is one ugly title card.

When Warner Bros. was looking to launch its own network which would feature weekday afternoon and weekend morning cartoon blocks they looked to the past to fill out the ranks. In particular, they went to their cartoons that had been running on the Fox network for sometime. When the rights to those shows expired, such as with Batman and Tiny Toon Adventures, Warner simply moved them to their own network. For something like Animaniacs which was still ongoing, they simply created a spin-off. And probably the most popular part of Animaniacs, aside from the main Warner siblings, was Pinky and the Brain.

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This special, like many holiday themed episodes, received a VHS release.

If you were a kid in the 90s then you’re likely familiar with this odd couple duo. Pinky and the Brain, as the theme song informs us, is a duo of lab mice where one is a genius and the other is insane. You can probably guess which is which based on their names. Each short they were featured in on Animaniacs involved Brain coming up with a scheme for world domination, and it was always introduced with this setup:

Pinky:  Gee Brain, what are we going to do tonight?

Brain:  The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!

Brain is voiced by Maurice LaMarche doing his Orson Welles impersonation that has been featured on The Simpsons and Futurama at this point. Cartoon veteran Rob Paulsen handles the role of Pinky in his most outlandish toon voice (I seriously forgot it was him until doing research for this write-up) that he can probably do. Familiar voices Frank Welker and Tress MacNeille were also regulars on the show. The show lasted four seasons airing from 1995 – 1998. Almost every episode involves Brain coming up with a crazy scheme and Pinky usually messes it up for him. Why a brainiac like the Brain kept Pinky around is something we’ll never understand. For their own show, the plots were freshened up some to seem less redundant, but the goal was always there. Brain, surprisingly, is actually pretty gentle with Pinky. He’s a not a Ren-type who slaps his dim-witted partner when he fouls-up, so maybe he actually genuinely likes his mentally-challenged friend. Also a bit surprising, is during the show’s first season the writers tackled a Christmas episode. Airing on December 13, 1995, “A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” involves the Brain coming up with a plan to use Santa Claus to take over the world.

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Adding some holiday flair to the opening credits is a nice touch previously seen with Tiny Toons.

The episode opens with the familiar credits dressed-up for the holidays. There’s snow falling and some of the lyrics are changed-up to reflect the coming Christmas holiday. It’s a nice touch and one the Warner cartoons did on more than one occasion. Pinky is in a jolly mood bouncing around being his looney self singing Christmas carols while Brain is hard at work. Pinky sits down to start writing his letter to Santa, while Brain drops a doll that resembles himself behind Pinky. When Pinky turns to look at the Brain-doll, Brain starts speaking through it and is able to hypnotize Pinky. He makes Pinky do some stuff to demonstrate the doll’s power including making him think he’s standing in hot sand (Pinky doesn’t try to get off the “sand” and instead screams) and asks him to impersonate William Buckley resulting in Pinky just shrugging his shoulders indicating he has no idea who that is. Brain asks him to do Regis Philbin instead and Pinky goes bonkers giving us our first dated joke of the episode.

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Behold the Noodle Noggin!

After releasing his hold on Pinky, Brain explains he can use his doll, Noodle Noggin, to also hypnotize humans. Pinky then asks him if he’s sure he wants to take over the world on Christmas and we get some cut-away gags! I didn’t watch this show a lot as a kid, but I don’t remember the cut-away being a big part of the show’s construction. They’re introduced just like Peter Griffin would, “Remember that time you played Santa?,” and it’s kind of amusing for that reason. The actual jokes aren’t great, although the second one references those suction-cup stuffed animals tons of people would have in a car window. Brain insists he wants to go through with his plan on Christmas and explains it to Pinky. They need to get a Noodle Noggin into every home so Brain can hypnotize the world. Unfortunately, creating the billion dolls they need to pull this off would require over 100 years of labor for the two of them. Then Brain notices a help wanted ad in the paper for elves at the North Pole giving him the idea to use Santa’s work shop to create the billion dolls they require.

Pinky is over-joyed to be going off to see Santa as the duo plan to play elves. They create a very crude dummy (during the commercial break) to play the role of their caretaker and hitch a ride on a small plane to the North Pole. The pilot isn’t very bright and just thinks her passenger is quiet comparing him to a previous boyfriend, who she informs us turned out to be a propane tank. She’s a character, all right. While riding in the plane, Pinky continues work on his letter to Santa. When Brain ridicules him by saying Santa could not possibly read every letter, Pinky corrects him by saying the elves in the mailroom handle that and enter everything into a massive computer. Brain bristles at the thought, but I’m certain Pinky’s assumption will prove true because that’s the kind of joke this series likes to make.

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Pinky and Brain disguised as elves.

When the pilot tells the dummy to take the wheel for a minute they go into a dive. She slaps the dummy and his head pops off, though she doesn’t react in a horrified manner to decapitating her passenger. Instead she continues to scold it while Pinky and Brain struggle to remain in their cage. The passenger door pops open and the dummy tumbles out. Brain is able to grab the dummy’s falling head, which was apparently a pillow case, and he and Pinky are able to use it as a make-shift parachute. As they fall, Pinky remarks to Brain that he doesn’t want to be an elf. “What do you want to be?” “A dentist!” “You’ve seen too many Christmas specials, Pinky.”

The mice somehow manage to acquire a team of sled-dogs and manage to find the North Pole with minimal effort. Once there, they put on their elf disguises and head in for a job interview. Brain lists his many qualifications to the interviewer whom agrees they’re worthy of a hire, but sends them to the mail room. As expected, the mail room is exactly as Pinky imagined. He’s loving being in Santa’s work shop, and Brain isn’t too down-hearted as he sees a way to make this work to their advantage. Brain simply adds Noodle Noggin dolls to all of the lists and we cut to Santa working out (while eating a turkey leg) and looking over the lists wondering what a Noodle Noggin doll is.

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The duo are unable to evade Schotzie, who was previously mocked by Santa for still having a goatee.

Back in the mailroom, Pinky is delighted to see all of the elves are being invited to a party at Donner the reindeers house. Brain remarks that he sees no appeal in joining the Donner party for anything – hah! I bet that one went right over the heads of this show’s target audience. When Brain finishes with the letters, Pinky points out there’s still his to enter and Brain tells him to grow up. They set out for the work shop with Brain’s Noodle Noggin blue prints so they can get these dolls into production. They spot the design room and when the elf in plain sight heads off somewhere, they enter to drop off the plans. They, however, run into the elf that interviewed them (Schotzie, who appears to be Santa’s #1 elf) and he questions what they’re doing there. Brain tries to say it’s a union-mandated break, but the elf points out they don’t have a union prompting Brain to question if that’s wise. Santa’s work shop is apparently very against unions because the elf reacts negatively and gives chase, pulling off their ear disguises in the process. Recognizing that Pinky and Brain are in fact not elves, he sounds the alarm.

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The work shop in action.

Pinky and Brain run into a toy room full of toy cars. They try a girl’s toy first, but it’s just a fancy makeup case that won’t drive. The second is a dump truck that is much too slow, while the third is a race car that’s plenty fast. Unfortunately for them, it’s also an RC car and Schotzie has the remote. He crashes the car and apprehends the two, pulling off the remainder of their disguise. Brain tries to tell him they’re Canadian elves just trying to blend in, but Schotzie informs them they’ve failed.

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I’m not sure if this was a print ad or something, but it would have been a much better title card for the episode.

After the break, Pinky and Brain find themselves under the bright lights in an interrogation room. Schotzie wants answers, but Brain is naturally reluctant to reveal why they’re really there. They’ve also been fully undressed and they’re just sitting there as lab mice. Another elf finds the Noodle Noggin blue prints and Schotzie immediately thinks it’s espionage. He accuses them of working for other various holiday institutions before Pinky tries to explain how they really came to have the blue prints. Brain hushes him, happy to have Schotzie and the elves think they’re common thieves and still produce his doll. Schotzie falls for it and tells the other elf to get these into production and fast. While doing so, Brain and Pinky run off. They’d have probably been able to escape but Pinky happily yells out that they’re getting away, thinking it’s all a game, apparently.

A chase scene commences and we get a look at the rest of Santa’s work shop. Various assembly lines are shown constructing toys, including Brain’s Noodle Noggin. Brain decides to hide out among the dolls by jumping into the assembly line and instructs Pinky to do the same and to just look like him, which he does rather well. Schotzie almost spots them, but gets called away because Santa can’t remember that thing he always says to make the sleigh fly. The plan is going well, until Brain realizes they’re about to have Noodle Noggin arms jammed into their bodies. That’s not as bad as what’s next – head removal so a speaker can be inserted. Brain tries to free himself from the assembly line’s feet shackles, but can’t, and a doomed look crosses his face. Off-camera, the technician apparently fails at removing Brain’s head and he’s tossed into a bin marked “Rejects.” There, we see Brain’s head has been turned completely around. He fixes it just as Pinky comes sailing in. A janitor elf, with what appears to be a candy cane dangling out of his mouth to resemble a cigarette, comes by to empty the bin into his garbage can.

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They’re not the most convincing reindeer.

Outside, the duo finds themselves in a dumpster, but they’re just in time see Santa as he heads to his sleigh. Brain sees this as an opportunity for escape, while Pinky sees it as his last chance to give Santa his letter. Brain angrily tells Pinky they’re not going to do that, and the two disguise themselves (poorly) as reindeer amongst Santa’s team (which includes Rudolph!). Santa and Shotzie stand over the two ridiculous looking mice and regard them appropriately, but not enough to remove them from the team. Santa takes off and when Brain notices they’re above ACME Labs they remove their harness and plummet all the way through the ceiling window (apparently they didn’t really need that parachute earlier) smashing onto a lab bench. Unfortunately, they landed on Brain’s transmitter for his Noodle Noggin dolls and he must scramble to rebuild it.

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I never thought Brain could appear so sad.

Pinky, now realizing he’ll never be able to give his letter to Santa, becomes inconsolable. Brain needs Pinky to stand by a power switch and turn it on when the meter hits red, but Pinky is basically sobbing and hysterical. Brain grows ever-frustrated, snatches the list, and places Pinky into position who just whimpers obediently. Brain, standing with a maniacal look on his face, prepares for the moment to arrive. We see Noodle Noggin dolls have been delivered all over the world, including even to President Clinton. As Pinky goes to throw the switch, Brain takes notice of Pinky’s letter. Turns out, it was a letter to Santa from Pinky telling Santa how much he loves his best pal, The Brain. It includes observations about how determined he is in spite of his many failures, and asks Santa if he has The World in his sack. Brain is overcome with emotion, and when the time comes to broadcast he’s at first speechless. Pinky implores him to speak through his machine, and finally finding words, all Brain can do is command the world to have a  Merry Christmas while sobbing like a child. He then goes about smashing the device, apparently viewing it as something that caused him to hurt his dear friend Pinky.

The world reacts accordingly, and it appears everyone does indeed enjoy a very, merry Christmas. Brain gives Pinky a Christmas gift – a spell checker, apparently inspired by Pinky’s letter writing. Pinky gives Brain his gift too – the world, as a keychain, plus a great big hug. Brain resists only slightly, as Christmas carols lead us into the familiar Pinky and the Brain theme song.

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Pinky gives Brain what he’s always wanted.

“A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” is pretty entertaining, and I’m surprised I didn’t see the ending coming until basically it got there. I figured Pinky’s letter to Santa would play a role in foiling things for Brain, just not in that way, though I probably should have. The humor isn’t as manic as Animaniacs, and some of the jokes are quite dated, but Pinky manages to be over-the-top without being too annoying and Brain is the perfect foil. I like that Brain ended up foiling his own scheme this time. The plan essentially worked, and global domination was in his hands, but he turned it down because his quest made him treat his friend like crap. It’s a cute ending, though maybe not as emotional as the writers thought it would be. The animation is wonderful though, and that whole ending sequence shows it off with the various facial expressions made by both Pinky and Brain, which are the type we hardly ever see from them.

2As for watching this special this year, that remains to be seen. Boomerang was showing Pinky and the Brain, but I don’t know that it still does. The show was released on DVD in its entirety and this special even had its own VHS release back in 1996, if you really want to dust off your VCR. Perhaps more than any other special I’ve covered this year, this one feels worth digging up because it’s pretty unique, and for me it’s still pretty fresh as I’ve rarely seen it on television. I always enjoy cartoons the focus on diminutive main characters as seeing the world from their perspective is a great deal of fun for me. Check it out, if you can.

 

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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. 15 – Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales

Bugs_Bunny's_Looney_Christmas_TalesOnce upon a time, Bugs Bunny was a big enough star to land numerous television specials. He’s still a recognizable character across the world, but I sometimes feel as if Bugs isn’t as loved as he should be. I can’t recall the last time I saw him standing next to a Warner Bros. logo in front of a film. I just feel like he should be on the same level as Mickey Mouse and Disney does a much better job of promoting their mascot than Warner.

In 1979 Bugs returned to the small screen for a Christmas special. Unlike some other Bugs TV specials, this one wasn’t just a collection of previously released theatrical shorts but a collection of all new shorts with an obvious Christmas theme. It features the most recognizable of Looney Tunes as well as the voice of Mel Blanc. It’s broken up into three acts that are each different shorts:  Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol, Freeze Frame, and The Fright Before Christmas. Fritz Freleng directed the book-end shorts as well as the joining segments while Chuck Jones handles Freeze Frame.

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Our carolers for the evening, no Daffy is pretty disappointing.

The special opens with Bugs leading some other Looney Tunes characters in some carols before we’re whisked away to an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. In this, Bugs is sort of the narrator, but he’s also a part of the story as Fred and Jacob Marley. Yosemite Sam is Scrooge and Porky is Cratchit. Tweety is the Tiny Tim character, though he’s not really essential to the story. Bob asks Scrooge for some coal, which Scrooge denies because he gave him a piece last Tuesday (Disney will kind of steal that line). Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is there to wish his uncle a Merry Christmas with the carolers and notices Bob’s predicament. When Scrooge tosses him out, Fred swipes a piece of coal and gifts it to Bob. Scrooge’s cat, played by Sylvester, sees this and alerts Scrooge who tosses everyone out and fires Bob. Bob thanks Fred, even though he did kind of get him fired, and invites him over to his home for dinner. There he meets the rest of the family and sees how little they have. A knock on the door is from a man with the light company and he comes in and takes the family’s candle. Another knock is from the bank – Scrooge is foreclosing on the mortgage and kicking the family out tonight. That’s one harsh lender.

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You know what they say about a fool and his money.

Bugs takes it upon himself to teach Scrooge-Sam a lesson uttering a popular Looney Tunes line of, “Of course you know, that this means war.” He returns to Scrooge’s house to first annoy him with carolers. Then he throws snow in his hot bath. To really scare him straight though, he dresses up as a ghost and convinces Sam that he’s his deceased former partner Jacob Marley. Rather than run through the usual past, present, and future routine, Bugs is able to just get to the point by threatening Scrooge with eternal damnation. It’s enough and Scrooge heads over to the Cratchit house to set all the wrongs right, though he’s not particularly happy to do it. Once done, it’s revealed to be a sort-of play and Sam assures Bugs he’ll be getting his money back. Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner look on from outside the house, which leads us into the next segment.

The Coyote is busy researching road runners (book title “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Road Runners but were Too Afraid to Ask”) and discovers they love deserts and hate snow. One ACME snow-seeder later and the Coyote is buried under a pile of snow. Every time he tries to use the snow generator it just drops a pile on him, even when he takes shelter in a cliff face it just shoots the snow horizontally. Realizing that’s a dead end, he resorts to the tried and true method of switching two road signs, one pointing to the desert with one pointing to a snow summit. The Road Runner falls for it and ends up on a frozen pond unable to get much traction. The Coyote is ready with a pair of speed skates and calmly skates a circle around the Road Runner intending for the bird to fall through the ice. Of course, the ice under the Coyote drops instead out leaving the Road Runner floating on a circular piece of ice. He runs in place and creates an outboard motor effect to escape the trap.

Screenshot1-2Next the Coyote uses rocket-powered skis to chase the Road Runner while some subtle Christmas music sets the mood. The two become buried in the snow with only their tails exposed. In a repeat from an old Bugs Bunny short, the Road Runner’s tail splits in two when he approaches a tree there-by allowing him to go around the obstacle, while the Coyote possesses no such ability and merely crashes into the tree. He then acquires a dogsled with a team of 12 92lb dogs guaranteed to run-down any road runner. Turns out, the dogs also love coyotes and they maul him. Had he checked the invoice more thoroughly he would have noticed. Next comes what’s probably the Coyote’s worst idea of the short – he rides a rocking horse like a sleigh while wielding a Road-Runner Lasso. All he does is entangle himself in the lasso while the rocking horse plunges off a cliff. It has the misfortune of landing on some train tracks. You know the rest. The Coyote then makes a giant snow ball he intends to crush the Road Runner with. He just ends up getting stuck to it and when it rolls towards a cliff he falls with the snowball close behind. He pops out of the snow looking like Santa Claus and holds up a sign wishing the viewer a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

We go back to the carolers and Bugs is still leading them in song when his nephew shows up to remind him that he owes him a Christmas story. Bugs informs him that he’s going to tell him all about Santa Claus and the night before Christmas. We’re then taken to the North Pole where Santa is speaking offscreen about getting a move on. High above an airplane soars by and the pilots are discussing their cargo – a tasmanian devil. The cargo falls from the plane and Taz ends up landing in Santa’s suit which was hanging out on a clothes line. He ends up in the sleigh (six reindeer, grrrr!) and the reindeer take off.

Clyde_in_Bugs_Bunny's_Looney_Christmas_Tales_02Back in Bugs’ home, or his nephew’s, he’s reading the little bunny A Visit From Saint Nicholas when a sound on the roof causes his nephew to get all excited for Santa. Bugs sends him to bed while Taz jumps down the chimney and lands in the roaring fire below. Bugs cracks some jokes at Taz’s expense, but invites him in for a snack. Taz is eager for food and not only does he devour Bugs’ milk and cookies but the entire table as well. Bugs then reads him his nephew’s Christmas list while Taz sets to eating the decorations on the Christmas tree. Eating the lights cause him to get electrocuted, but it doesn’t seem to bother him too much. Bugs suggests he sit by the fire so he can make him some popcorn, but Taz eats the kernels before Bugs can get the popper and the heat from the fireplace causes them to pop in his stomach. He starts to wreck the place, and Bugs sets up a gift exchange booth and gifts Taz a present – a self-inflating rubber raft (I expected TNT). Taz eats it, and when it inflates he floats away.

Bugs’ nephew Clyde wakes up disappointed that Santa didn’t bring him anything. Bugs assures him everything will be all right and they set out to return Santa’s sleigh. As they soar through the air Bugs wishes us a Merry Christmas. Back from the break, the Looney Tunes are sleighing along and singing carols when Taz decides in to eat their sleigh. That’s basically the end and they must have only tacked on this final segment so Porky can chime in with his signature good bye, only he stammers his way through “Happy Holidays” instead of the usual.

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Mmm, lights.

Bug’s Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales is pretty underwhelming for the old rabbit. A lot of the gags have been done before, and the animation is definitely television quality as opposed to move theater quality. Of the three segments, the middle one, Freeze Frame featuring the Road Runner and Wile E, is probably the best. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but it’s a solid Road Runner short with just a dash of Christmas thrown in. Yosemite Sam as Scrooge makes a lot of sense, but it’s still a tired tactic to adapt A Christmas Carol. At least  the light department gag is probably the best joke in this one and probably the only time I laughed out loud. Tweety is essentially wasted though. And where’s Daffy? Did someone think he and Bugs could not co-exist in the same Christmas special? Is Daffy too big a star to play second banana to Bugs?

Watching this one, I inevitably feel compelled to come back to the Bugs and Mickey comparison. While Mickey was given Mickey’s Christmas Carol, yes a trope to adapt that story but done so well it’s probably my favorite adaptation of it ever, Bugs was gifted this. It’s unfortunate. While it’s true the format of a typical Bugs short doesn’t lend itself to a Christmas tale quite as easily as the more adaptable Mickey Mouse, they still could have done better. Why not have Bugs just wind up in the North Pole and his antics there mess up Santa’s plans or something? We don’t need to make Bugs more wholesome, we just want to laugh and get in a little Christmas cheer at the same time. Oh well.

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Of course Bugs would end up in Santa’s sleigh at some point.

Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales probably won’t be shown on television this year. If it’s shown at all, it would probably be on Boomerang. If you insist on viewing it, you can find it on the fifth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection set of DVDs. They’re sold individually or as a box set with all six volumes and it’s actually really affordable and comes highly recommended by yours truly, even if this special isn’t particularly…special.


12 films of Christmas #9: Gremlins

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Gremlins (1984)

It’s hard not to take some pity on parents at Christmas time who feel pressured into getting their kid some must-have toy as a present, often to be left by Santa Claus. My own children are not yet old enough to where I have to concern myself with such, but I know a day will come when I’ll find myself lined up outside a department store four hours before opening in hopes of scoring the latest holiday fad.

Gremlins isn’t quite a film about getting some hard to find toy, like Jingle All The Way, but it does feature a father looking for something unique for his son Billy. Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Paxton) thought he found such a present for his teenaged son when he stumbled into a little shop in Chinatown and bought a gremlin. Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) was his name, and though the shop keeper was reluctant to sell him to anyone (Peltzer makes a deal with the guy’s grandson), Gizmo seems from all angles to be an easy to manage and perfect pet. And he is! He’s a living stuffed animal. He purrs like a cat when happy, is capable of simple speech, yet lacks even the playful aggression of the most well-behaved dogs and cats.

Gremlins is a horror film, the rare Christmas horror film, so naturally things aren’t what they seem with Gizmo. He came with three important rules that the Peltzers were to heed:  don’t expose him to sunlight; don’t get him wet; and don’t feed him after midnight. The midnight one also confused me, as on a military clock midnight is 00:00:00 so every second post midnight can be considered after midnight. My guess, is that Gizmo isn’t to be fed between midnight and dawn. Anyways, the rules seem simple enough, but naturally Billy is unable to follow them. When his friend accidentally gets Gizmo wet, they’re shocked to see Gizmo “sprout” six additional and equally adorable gremlins. These gremlins prove to look rather cute, but do not possess Gizmo’s gentle nature. They’re more mischievous, and in the case of the alpha of the group Stripe, may even be evil.

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Gizmo is almost sickeningly adorable.

Billy (Zach Galligan), like most teens, has other problems to concern himself with. He has a job at a local bank where a regular has it out for his dog, Barney, and wants to see him put down. He’s also courting a neighborhood girl, Kate (Phoebe Cates), who seems to have a strong dislike for Christmas for some reason. In other words, he can’t watch the gremlins all of the time, and that eventually gets him and every one in town in a whole mess of trouble. It turns out, when gremlins eat after midnight they go into a cocoon and emerge as larger, scalier, more dangerous versions. Stripe and his minions are intelligent, so they find a way to get Billy to feed them and then go on a rampage. Properties are destroyed and people die. Suddenly the movie about the cute, furry, little gremlin is full of carnage and mayhem.

Gremlins is not directed by Steven Spielberg, it’s directed by Joe Dante, but it was produced by him and has that Spielberg feel most of his films possessed in the 1980s. There’s a lot of humor in how events unfold, but Gremlins doesn’t shy away from the horror elements. Obviously, this is what makes the film really stand-out amongst other Christmas films. And since the film centers around a Christmas gift, I think it more obviously can be considered a Christmas film as opposed to Die Hard. The film has a lot of charm and a lot of that comes from the wonderful puppets that bring the gremlins to life. Whether they’re fuzzy and cute, or scaley and sinister, they look great and possess a ton of personality. Stripe is borderline likable because he’s so expressive, even if he is clearly homicidal. Gizmo almost looks believable in the sense that he looks like a living creature. Certain features of his puppet make it obvious that he’s not, but he still possesses a lot of charm as well. The film also strikes a satirical tone at many points. The setting is appropriate for any garden variety classic Christmas film prior to the shift in tone and some of the gags and deaths are obvious throwbacks to classic era thrillers. In that respect, it has a lot in common with the Indiana Jones franchise.

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Stripe and his murderous band of carolers.

Gremlins also has the distinction of being one of the last PG films to feature such obvious death and violence. It’s credited with being one of the main drivers for the creation of the PG-13 rating, and it’s not hard to see why. Gizmo was obviously very attractive to younger viewers who likely begged their parents for a doll of the character. Many parents, upon viewing the film or even taking their kids to see it, may have regretted it afterwards. I honestly can’t recall how old I was when I first saw it, but I don’t remember it being a scarring experience, though it wouldn’t surprise me if my sister said otherwise. Gremlins 2 would follow a few years later and feature a much lighter tone in comparison. By doing so though, it lost a lot of what made the original so special. If you want to watch a film that has some of that Christmas spirit in it, but not the corn of so many Christmas movies, you could do a lot worse than Gremlins.


#5 Best in TV Animation: Batman – The Animated Series

Batman_the_Animated_Series_logoChildren of today can probably hardly imagine a world in which super heroes aren’t dominating the pop culture landscape. We’re in an era where even the Fantastic Four have received three chances at making a successful movie and less popular characters like Antman and Dr. Strange have either become mainstream or soon will. That wasn’t the case before 1990. Prior to that, only Batman and Superman had ever made a buck at the box office while The Incredible Hulk had a semi-successful television series for Marvel. When it came to cartoons, there was basically the many variations on the Super Friends and the Marvel Action Hour. The quality for these cartoons was something less than satisfactory.

When Tim Burton and Michael Keaton helped to make Batman popular once again, the powers that be at DC and Warner Bros. decided to give television another go with the caped crusader. Instead of another colorful super hero mash-up they opted to adapt the more current iteration of Batman. The resulting “Batman” (often subtitled “The Animated Series)” returned Batman to the night from which he was born. Developed chiefly by Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, the show embodied much of the recent films as well as the tone of the current comics. Robin was there, but only in a handful of episodes initially and he no longer dressed like Tinker Bell’s older brother. Villains that were popular on the older 60’s television program returned, but with a more serious take. Joining them were the more grounded villains like Roland Dagget and Rupert Thorne, mobsters who waged war from the comfort of their homes. Adding even more of a sense of realism to the program was the fact that the villains (and cops) carried and fired realistic weaponry as opposed to cartoonish laser guns that are always conveniently set to stun.

The pervasive darkness of the show is like a character by itself.

The pervasive darkness of the show is like a character by itself.

The Batman present in the animated series was not the ever-present optimist from the 60’s with the serious, but often cheerful, demeanor. This Batman, voiced exceptionally well by Kevin Conroy, was a moody, no nonsense, hero who truly embodied the term The Dark Knight. He’s driven by a quiet anger, it’s root cause being the murder of his parents he bore witness to as a child. Batman is fiercely driven and consumed by his urge to avenge his parents by cleaning up the streets of Gotham, a seemingly never ending task. His alter-ego Bruce Wayne exists only as a cover for Batman. This Batman has a lot in common with Frank Miller’s, only the delivery isn’t so heavy-handed and extreme. As usual, Batman has allies around him. By his side is his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who is more of a sidekick in the series as opposed to a moral arbiter. That role falls to Dr. Leslie Tompkins who often counsels Batman away from his life of crime-fighting. Commissioner Gordon heads the Gotham police department and relies on Batman probably more than he should while Detective Bullock is Gordon’s foil and often mistrusts the Batman. Robin is also around with an equally tragic backstory and Batgirl eventually comes into the fold during the second “season.”

Batman has no shortage of allies but he’d be nothing without his rogue’s gallery. The usual suspects are present such as The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) and Penguin. They’re presented well, but the show is best remembered for its fresh approach when adapting the lesser villains. Two-Face is introduced slowly as district attorney Harvey Dent before his eventual transformation. His character is handled with care and his sympathetic nature is sort of a calling card for the series. The villain most often cited as coming out of the show for the better is Mr. Freeze. Once a fairly corny player in the comics, the depiction of Freeze in the animated series is that of a vindictive killer. Juxtaposing his cold demeanor is the origins for his madness over his wife’s apparent murder. His debut episode, “Heart of Ice,” is often mentioned among the show’s best. The show doesn’t always rely on its villain of the week (day, actually, since the program aired week days originally) as illustrated in “Beware the Grey Ghost.” In this episode, the show runners have some fun by pairing Batman with an out of work actor typecast for his work as a super hero in an old television show. His voice actor? None other than Adam West.

The rogue's gallery for the show is a clever mix of classics and unknowns, with the unknowns often shining brightest.

The rogue’s gallery for the show is a clever mix of classics and unknowns, with the unknowns often shining brightest.

The artwork in the show is heavily based off of the set designs of Eric Radomski and the character designs of Bruce Timm. If you are not familiar with Timm’s work, it’s a low-detail approach with lots of angular lines. Lots of pointy-chinned females and square-headed males populate the show. His take on the various villains is often influenced by both classic works and the Burton films. Joker and Penguin are obviously takes on Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Danny DeVito’s more monstrous Penguin. Catwoman too resembles her look from Batman Returns but with the S&M aspect toned down. There’s a minimalist approach to the details with lots of flat, muted colors. Backgrounds were even done on black paper, most noticeably the opening title sequence, with light colors painted over them. This technique is credited to Radomski and often referred to as “Dark-Deco.” The show’s biggest contribution to the world of Batman though is easily the character of Harley Quinn, who first originated on television before making the leap to comics.

Whether you like the look of the show or not is a matter of opinion. It certainly needed to grow on me, but I appreciated the style of the show. Like the Burton films, Gotham is a modern city rooted in the stylings of the 30s and 40s. Batman possesses some pretty advanced technology but for some reason also watches a black and white television half the time. The low detail approach for the show’s look is a benefit to the animation itself. Rather than the somewhat stiff X-Men, Batman animates rather smoothly. The later series, The New Batman Adventures, who further reduce the detail to boost the animation but some would suggest they went too far as certain characters came across as too cartoonish.

The show maybe fairly serious in tone, but Batman still has plenty of toys at his disposal. Just no shark repellent this time.

The show maybe fairly serious in tone, but Batman still has plenty of toys at his disposal. Just no shark repellent this time.

Batman The Animated Series is truly one of the great achievements in kid’s programming. Its serious approach to the character of Batman and his many villains really enhanced the product above what is typically expected of children’s programming. The only thing holding it back is the show’s consistency. It was originally ordered as one season of 65 episodes which is a pretty daunting task to come up with 65 well-executed episodes. The show is often one of those programs where the good episodes are really special but there’s a lot of filler to work around. The show becomes more watered-down when the short second season is added to the mix as well as The New Adventures which surfaced years later. That run produced maybe 2 or 3 worthy episodes with the rest being kid stuff, sadly.

Even so, the good produced by Batman The Animated Series is worthy enough to place it at fifth on my top ten list for animated television programs. The show also spawned some feature films, though only one was released theatrically, the fantastic Mask of the Phantasm. When the films jumped the shark with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, it was the animated series that kept Batman relevant. It’s unlikely another super hero show could ever surpass it.