Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town (1977)

Shockingly, this stop-motion Rankin-Bass special is not the same as the 1971 Here Comes Peter Cottontail. However, it is essentially identical to the 1970 special, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The plots and setups are basically the same - they've just changed the character names and lowered the quality to make them distinct.

In this version of the Easter Bunny's origin, he's a baby rabbit located and adopted by a town of orphaned kids called "Kidville," because contrary to what the special's narrator would have us believe, there is clearly no God. He's discovered in the woods on Easter, so the kids call him, "Sunny," after the Easter Sun, which is not a thing. I'm pretty sure they're thinking of the Winter Solstice, which is (for all intents and purposes) Christmas.

Within a year, the bunny has enslaved the children of Kidville (at least that was my reading). For some reason, he convinces them they need to introduce capitalism and trade with their neighbors across the Big Rock Mountain.

He sets out with a basket of eggs on Easter, only to run into "Gadzooks," the crappiest carbon copy of the Winter Warlock imaginable. Gadzooks, a mentally deficient bear living on the mountain, steals the eggs, so he doesn't get to deliver them in year one. Unfortunately, he has four or five more years to get it right.

The town on the other side of Big Rock Mountain is cleverly named "Town" (not joking), which is a goddamn carbon copy of the town Burgermeister Meisterburger ran back in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Here, the town actually has a kind but cowardly child king who's controlled by his cruel aunt, Lilly, who's effectively outlawed all children except her nephew and every kind of food that isn't a bean.

Oh, there's also a hobo named Hallelujah (still not joking about these names) who helps Sunny and summons an army of hobos to build a railroad in what has to be the single most convoluted excuse to wedge a song into a special I've ever seen. That would be a sanitized version of "Big Rock Candy Mountain," incidentally, and it's maybe the fourth or fifth most annoying musical number in this overlong piece of junk.

Except for the lame attempt at a title song, the songs have nothing to do with Easter and are completely random. It sounds as though the songwriters just pulled whatever junk they'd cut from other things out of the trash and then wrote a plot around it.

Like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," this features a number of brief sequences ostensibly explaining elements of the holiday. *Spoiler alert* You've already figured most of them out by reading the premise above.

Unlike "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," this features absolutely no whimsy, artistry, or interesting characters. But, again, I expect you got that from the premise.

They deal with Gadzooks by giving him a new suit, much like they gave Winter Warlock a toy train. As for Lily, they give her a flower, unlike Meisterburger, who died alone and unloved. Okay, so there was one other change.

Rankin-Bass produced a lot of great stop-motion entertainment over the years, but this wasn't one of them. I'm not sure this is the absolute worst of the bunch, but it's definitely in the bottom tier of uninspired cash grabs. There's really nothing here worth wasting your time with - rewatch "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" instead, even if it is Easter. Seriously - verisimilitude isn't worth sitting through this.

A special "thanks" to Sam for suggesting this. And by "thanks", we pretty much mean "screw you." This was terrible.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special (2017)

The second most surprising thing about Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special is that's it's got a surprising amount of Christmas in it (the most surprising, obviously, is that it's actually worth watching, but I'll get to that in a moment).

This is a holiday special produced as a collaboration between Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Lonely Island. Blending together elements of old-fashioned Christmas specials, musical parodies, telethons, sketch comedy specials, and some 90's nostalgia, it sort of feels like a series of SNL music videos expanded into a short movie with a frame story.

The plot is pretty thin, but Santa Claus plays a crucial rule (hence this write-up). The elves made too many toys, so Saint Nick enlists Bolton's help, hoping that a Bolton Valentine's Day special will result in 75,000 more pregnancies and by extension 75,000 new babies born before Christmas. The special's opening number, "Ten Months 'Til Christmas," leads into this and does a nice job bridging the gap between Valentine's Day and the Christmas-special elements intrinsic to the format.

Ultimately, it's a bizarre premise. But of course it's aware of that, so a large number of jokes wind up being self-referential. The success of things like this always comes down to the comedy: if the jokes work, the special works; otherwise, it falls flat.

I really thought this one worked. Bolton does a good job deadpanning his lines and committing to the requisite parody musical numbers. My favorite two were the aforementioned "Ten Months 'Til Christmas" and a new version of Bolton and Lonely Island's 2011 song, Jack Sparrow.

For the supporting cast, they didn't skimp on the talent: an astonishing number of famous comedians show up for a skit, song, or a couple jokes. Not every gag or sketch was perfect, but I found the majority funny.

The special plays out like a parody movie from the 80's or 90's. That means there actually is a plot (at least nominally), but the story beats deliver laughs instead of drama or emotion. It's definitely a throwback to an era before homage became the dominant form of comedy, but it works well here. I'm as big a fan of homage as anyone you're likely to find, but it was refreshing to see an unapologetic spoof as a change of pace. We don't usually get things like this unless they're short or bad anymore - this is almost feature-length, and it's hilarious.

And obviously I'm always happy to see Santa given something to do outside of December. In addition to his scene early on, he mans one of the phone lines at the telethon, where a bunch of celebrities are keeping track of the number of kids conceived during the special. He also plays a pretty crucial role in the resolution, but I'm going to keep quiet on that for fear of spoiling it.

This is pure, undiluted comedy - if that doesn't sound interesting to you, you probably won't want to bother putting this on (unless, of course, you're a huge Bolton fan). But if you're looking for some laughs, this is definitely worth checking out.