The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack: Low Tidings

titleDebuted in 2009

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Flapjack wants to experience Low Tides Day but K’nuckles hates the holiday due to a bad experience with it when mermen sacked him for being bad when he was young. K’nuckles tries to find a hiding place so that the mermen won’t sack him again but all the spots are taken, so Flapjack aims to make him into a good person instead so he will have nothing to fear. Eventually, Poseidon asks the mermen to stop sacking people and decides that sacks will be only be used to deliver gifts.

Fun Fact: This was the first two part episode of the show.

My thoughts: There are some specials that are fairly easy to summarize in three sentence and wow, this sure isn’t one of them. The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack ran for three seasons on Cartoon Network and chiefly centered around a boy, the talking whale who raised him and the pirate they rescued together. The premise of their Low Tides holiday is that good kids can lower their boots into the water, where Poseidon will fill them with toys and bad kids are tied up in sacks by mermen. Although most of the special is regular animation, there are some stop motion scenes and a bizarre live action Poseidon who interacts with the animated characters. The special opens with a version of ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ with some funny rewritten lyrics. Overall, the special is really weird, like the show, but it has its funny moments. It’s probably better appreciated by those who already watch and enjoy the show, though, as there’s a lot to absorb otherwise.

little-knuckles

Little K’nuckles has a lot of teeth.

flapjack

Flapjack seems to be experiencing some holiday ennui.

mermen-with-bag

I didn’t know mermen were so grumpy.

poseidon-talking-to-townsfolk

“Observe my impressive blue muscular arm!”

Individual Superlative: Weirdest Narrator – The episode’s narrator character is the town comedian, a strange looking guy named Lolly Poopdeck.

Want to Watch it? Flapjack: Low Tidings is available on YouTube and usually airs on Cartoon Network during the holiday season.

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Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever

titleDebuted in 2002

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Zim poses as Santa in order to get money and then, as he learns more about Santa, to lure humans to their doom. But the Santa suit he creates begins to believe he’s actually Santa and fills Zim with warm emotions and jolly feelings toward children. Dib and Gaz show up in time to stop him by jettisoning the mutated spirit of Santa into space.

Fun Fact: This was the last episode to be completed before the series was cancelled, but it was actually the first Season 2 episode to air in the US.

My thoughts: Invader Zim was a short-lived series on Nickelodeon created by comic book writer Jhonen Vasquez (best known for his Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comic series). The basic plot (an alien sent to Earth to infiltrate and plot world domination) is simple, but offers a lot to work with and the show had a fair-sized cult following. It’s a little confusing if you’ve never seen any of the show before, but still enjoyable even without the full knowledge of the characters. The show is bookended by a mechanical snowman narrator, telling a group of children the story we’re watching as something that happened in the long ago past. It’s definitely on the darker side, in plot elements and character design, but there are plenty of funny moments and quite a lot of unpredictability, which is always welcome in the world of overdone holiday plots. Definitely worth watching, especially if you enjoy things a little on the weird side.

snowman-narrator

The robot snowman should do something about that unibrow.

jolly-jail

The ‘Jolly Jail’ turns incarceration into minty holiday fun!

soft-hearted-santa

Santa’s going all emotional on us.

easter-platypus

Next plan: The Easter Platypus!

Individual Superlative: Least Reassuring Santa Outcome – In the story’s ending narration, the talking snowman tells the children that Santa isn’t dead (which is normally good news) but that he’s out in space, gathering power to come back and destroy us all. You better watch out!

Want to Watch it? Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever is available on DVD.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

titleDebuted in 1974

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon is teased by her friends for still believing in Santa Claus and she writes a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, asking if Santa is real. Her parents and friends share their thoughts on the situation and she worries that the editor will not answer her. The editor is unsure how to respond but after sharing a nice dinner with the family of a local paperboy, he writes a heartfelt letter affirming Santa’s existence.

Fun Fact: The voice of Virginia O’Hanlon was provided by Courtney Lemmon, daughter of classic film star Jack Lemmon.

My thoughts: This special got its start after the real Virginia O’Hanlon passed away in 1971 and some of her friends got together to write the story of her famous letter. The story was optioned for this special and was so well received at the time that it won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Special. The animation was done by Bill Melendez, who also did the animation for the Peanuts specials. This is pretty obvious, though, seeing that the specials are very similar in style. What stands out about this one, though, are the ethnic stereotypes that abound, from the exaggeratedly oversized lips on the African American girl to the ‘faith and begorrah’ Irish cop to the Chinese boy whose ‘most honorable father’ runs a Chinese restaurant. And then there’s Pee Wee, who has a bizarre voice and only says, “me too.” And the freakishly proportioned bodies of the show’s women, who sport measurements that probably run around 48-12-48. Many moments of character animation take them out of their scene and show them against a marbled background, which is weird. The sentiment of this special is touching, as is the true story that it’s based on. But the warmth is wrapped up in a peculiar package that only could have come out in the early 70’s.

mr-church

Mr. Church is mighty suspicious of young Tommy.

ohanlons

One of many bizarre moments when characters laugh at something that’s not really funny. Here, Mother has just called them in to dinner. Hilarious.

teacher

Oh, those proportions!!  And why are their necks so LONG?

young-grasshopper

Most Honorable Father appears to have some junk in the trunk.

Individual Superlative: Most Cutthroat Joke – Absolutely the most ‘what just happened?’ moment in this special is when Mr. Church asks his secretary for a razor and she makes a slashing motion across her throat and says, “Oh, Mr. Church, you’re not going to…” before he interrupts her to assure her he just needs a shave. I just can’t wrap my contemporary mind around anyone thinking this was ever a funny joke that was okay for a children’s special.

Want to Watch it? Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus is available on YouTube.

Back at the Barnyard: It’s an Udderful Life

titleDebuted in 2009

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Otis throws a big holiday party on Christmas Eve and his high school friends Donner & Blitzen drop by with Santa during their delivery run. Otis accidentally gives Santa the wrong cup of eggnog and he comes down with ferret fever, incapacitating him for the night. Otis and the barnyard animals step in and deliver the last presents to prevent Christmas magic from disappearing forever.

Fun Fact: The title is a reference to It’s a Wonderful Life and Snotty Boy’s Christmas wish to receive a Red Ryder BB Taser references A Christmas Story.

My thoughts: This is the Christmas episode of Back at the Barnyard, which was a television spinoff of the 2006 animated movie, Barnyard, written and directed by Steve Oedekerk. The TV series ran for two seasons and this was the only Christmas episode. There’s a lot going on here and most of it seems to be trying to be in your face and edgy. There are some moments that made me laugh, but I’m not a big fan of this animation style or this type of humor, so most of it went a little wide of the mark for me. The idea that Christmas magic will disappear if Santa doesn’t get all the presents under the tree by midnight seems to reinforce the materialistic theme that so many specials work to defy. I feel like this is a show where you have to know something about the characters (and there are lots of them – they’re hard to keep straight) in order to really appreciate the special. So probably I’d say this is one for fans of the show, but not necessarily for anyone else.

narrator

The narrator is a bit of a hot mess.

snotty-kiss

Mistletoe can be the start of a beautiful relationship.  But not this one.

santa-has-the-fever

Santa in the grip of Ferret Fever.

hoobermans

The show is full of bizarre (but also pretty funny) plugs for Hoobermans bakery.

Individual Superlative: Don’t Eat Before Watching – There are several gross-out jokes in this show, including the narrator giving himself a root canal, filing his foot calluses and asking the audience to look at the boil on his neck.

Want to Watch it? Back to the Barnyard: It’s an Udderful Life is available on DVD.

The Christmas Toy

titleDebuted in 1986

49 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Rugby Tiger thinks Christmas means he will go back under the tree to be discovered all over again by Jamie, but he discovers that a new toy, Meteora (the Queen of Space) is going to be Jamie’s new Christmas toy. Some of the other playroom toys go to rescue him and Mew, the cat toy, is found by a human, which freezes him forever. Rugby realizes how much he cares for Mew, which unfreezes him and all the toys celebrate on Christmas morning with the new Christmas toys.

Fun Fact: This special inspired a short-lived TV series, called The Secret Life of Toys that ran for one season.

My thoughts: I recorded my copy of this during one of its early television broadcasts so my copy has the Kermit the Frog intro and closing that were deleted when Disney acquired the rights to the Muppet programming. I really liked having the Kermit bookends on these specials, because it kept that comfortable ‘Muppet’ feeling even when there were no other familiar characters. The basic premise of this special is very similar to the plot of Toy Story, with a loved toy being jealous of a newer space-themed character who isn’t aware that they’re actually a toy. There are some great characters here and my favorite is Mew the catnip mouse, who constantly has to reassure everyone that his bad smell is only catnip. Rugby singing ‘Together at Christmas’ to a frozen and lifeless Mew has me reaching for the Kleenex every time. It’s no wonder the song was re-worked for Muppet Family Christmas a year later. The story has a lot of warmth and humor, like most of the really good Muppet productions. I really enjoy this one.

rugby-and-apple

Apple is Rugby’s best friend.

meteora-closeup

Meteora’s space bra looks really uncomfortable (but it provides excellent support).

fashion-doll

A running gag involves the fashion doll always wearing the wrong clothes.

mew

“It’s CATNIP!”

Individual Superlative: Least Cuddly Toy – Meteora’s face is full of warrior fierceness and there is nothing soft or cuddly about her. But Jamie picks her up and hugs and kisses her, whispering that she loves her. I actually think this speaks volumes about how we feel about really special toys. Or that Jamie is just really not as judgmental as I am when it comes to cuddly toys.

Want to Watch it? The Christmas Toy is available on VHS and DVD.

Christmas in Tattertown

titleDebuted in 1988

26 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Debbie and two of her toys fall into a magic book and end up in Tattertown, a city that’s home to everything that’s ever been lost. Her doll, Muffet, rejoices at being free and heads to Deadster (the home of war toys) to plot her takeover of Tattertown. Debbie teaches everyone in Tattertown about Christmas and the story ends with Muffet in jail.

Fun Fact: This was the first animated special created specifically for Nickelodeon.

My thoughts: Imagine dropping acid in a room full of toys, probably while you also have a high fever and maybe schizophrenia, and you have a good idea of what watching this special is like. Christmas in Tattertown was actually the pilot episode of what was supposed to be new 30+ episode series on Nickelodeon, which was just hitting its stride as a network. Director and writer Ralph Bakshi was joined by an impressive group of animators and voice talent to create the series based on his comic strip, Junktown. There were a few different factors that killed the series and the most interesting one involves the American Family Association’s ridiculous assertion that Mighty Mouse’s sniffing of flowers was representative of cocaine use. It blew up into a big thing and since Bakshi was involved in the Mighty Mouse show, Nickelodeon’s support for Junktown wavered. So they aired the pilot as a standalone Christmas special. Knowing it was meant to be a pilot helps explain some things, since they thought they’d have other episodes to flesh out characters and build their world better. The animation is fantastic, clearly paying respect to the early days of animation, with wacky squash-and-stretch characters and silly visual gags. But the pace is too frenetic, the characters are too bizarre and there’s too much unexplained for me to enjoy.

miles

Miles, the jazzy saxophone narrator, is probably my favorite character.

debbie-and-dog

Debbie is giving her dog the fish eye.

muffet-as-santa

Muffet does not make a convincing Santa here.

tannenbaum

That’s Tannenbaum, the comic book store owner, who will also double as their Christmas tree. Huh?

Individual Superlative:  Most Confusing Internal Tag Struggle – I initially checked the box to tag this entry as for ‘Not for kids’ when I watched this, but the more I thought about it, there’s nothing really overtly adult about it. Then again, there are some questionable moments, but then again…let’s just say I went back and forth and eventually decided not to tag it. I think, with today’s kids, it’s probably all fair game.

Want to Watch it? Christmas in Tattertown is available on YouTube and still sometimes shows up during holiday programming.

The Christmas Orange

title-cleanDebuted in 2002

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Anton Stingley is upset because he was born on Christmas Day and only gets presents once a year instead of twice like other people. He prepares an extensive (92 page) wish list for Santa but then only gets an orange on Christmas morning, so he sues Santa for failing to comply with his request and the ensuing trial prompts Santa to quit. Anton tries unsuccessfully to get Santa to change his mind and then, feeling bad that he has ruined Christmas for everyone, he gives away all his own toys and his generosity inspires Santa to return to his post.

Fun Fact: The picture book that this special was based on was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, which is a Canadian literary prize.

My thoughts: This special is a little bit of a rollercoaster for me, because there are things I like about it and things I don’t like about it and it goes up and down several times throughout. The anti-greed message is good, if a little heavy-handed. There are a couple of scenes in the special that seem to come out of nowhere, especially when the elves show up at Anton’s house and seem to start setting up a workshop there, then abruptly stop when they realize they can’t work for Anton because he’s not an elf. There’s no explanation for it, so it seems like a big extraneous scene that was meant to be funny and just didn’t come off. I like the way that Santa is presented and his reaction to hearing that he’s been a disappointment to several people is actually a little heart-wrenching. Some of the jokes are pretty clever, including the prosecuting attorney’s assertion that if Santa were innocent, he wouldn’t need all those aliases. The animation feels a little on the minimal side, but the characterizations are solid. I enjoy watching this one every few years, but it isn’t a big favorite.

an-orange

Anton is clearly displeased.

studpustle

And his lawyer is equally incredulous.

defense

Santa’s legal representation seems like he may be in over his head.

facing-the-press

Even Santa can’t escape the scrutiny of the liberal media.

Individual Superlative:  Elves = Leprechauns? – For some reason, all of Santa’s elves here speak with an exaggerated Irish accent and since our unseen narrator does, too, I guess we should assume that our narrator is an elf. Or a leprechaun.  Or both?  I don’t know how this works.

Want to Watch it? The Christmas Orange was released on DVD, but it’s out of print so it’s a little hard to find.