Showing posts from December 6, 2015

Winter on Watership Down, Parts 1 and 2 (2000)

We live in a strange world. It turns out there was a Watership Down animated series that ran for thirty-nine episodes between 1999 and 2001, including a two-part Christmas episode.

First, some background. The novel, Watership Down, is a seminal work of epic fantasy starring rabbits in the British countryside. If you're unfamiliar with the story, you may think the premise sounds humorous, but it's a tale of prophecy, war, death, and legend. The book functions as a meditation on mythology, exploring how the rabbits' society is built on the tales it tells. Without it, it's unlikely we ever would have gotten Redwall, Mouse Guard, or numerous other fantasy stories about animals at war.

Watership Down was adapted into an animated movie in 1978. This one goes on a list with Secret of NIMH and The Last Unicorn of animated features that traumatized kids in the 70's and 80's. The Watership Down movie didn't pull many punches: rabbits literally tore each other's …

101 Dalmatians: The Series: “A Christmas Cruella” (1997)

Whoa. I have seen episodes of this show, but that was many many moons ago. So I was cringing a little and expecting this to be awful. Unexpectedly, it was fairly delightful.

Plot-wise, it’s a pretty standard Christmas Carol riff, but the writing and voice acting made it work really well.

After a brief intro with a cute joke about puppies being able to smell what presents are through the wrapping paper, we dive straight into Dickens, with Cruella (briefly in a fabulously ridiculous Christmas-tree dress) as Scrooge. She hits all the classic notes: why should people have the day off, cruelty to carolers, charity workers and the homeless, and she fires Anita. The show adds a few excellent nonstandard moments, however (for example she also exults in Christmas as a glorious celebration of capitalism, and she turns snowmen into snow devils by hitting them with her car).

Cadpig (one of the main puppies in the show) appears as the Ghost of Christmas Past and takes Cruella through several of…

101 Dalmatians (Animated - 1961; Live Action - 1996)

When you think of classic Christmas movies, Disney's animated 101 Dalmatians doesn't jump to mind, which is actually a little odd. Setting aside the first couple of scenes, the entire movie takes place immediately before Christmas, the majority of the film is about the titular dogs wading through a blizzard, and the finale occurs on Christmas day. Oh, and it's about getting a family back together.

It is, in fact, a Christmas movie through and through.
It just doesn't act or feel like one. Most of that discrepancy can be tied to fact the movie isn't interested in Christmas. Until that last sequence, the holiday is only name-checked once, and then in an ambiguous manner. Likewise, we don't see any decorations during the dogs' quest.
The 1996 live-action remake is a little more complicated. It's difficult to say for certain, but the timing of the movie seems to be slightly offset. The scene before the dogs are kidnapped has "The Christmas Song" …

The Little Match Girl (2006)

This Disney short was originally supposed to be part of a 2006 version of Fantasia that Disney abandoned. This segment was produced anyway, and we saw it as part of the Disney Short Film Collection.

It's a surpisingly faithful adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's short story of the same name, even incorporating the original visions of the Match Girl as she freezes to death in the cold. Good times, all around.

The original story makes it clear that the events transpire on New Year's Eve, though the girl hallucinates a Christmas tree. This short seems to have shifted the story to Christmas itself, as evidenced by her watching a family climb into a sleigh with a handful of wrapped gifts.

The story is relatively bare bones: a poor girl fails to sell matches. Ignored by the world around her, she retreats into an alley, where she lights her matches and sees beautiful visions in the fire. The last light to go out is her own, when her grandmother's spirit whisks her away t…

Toy Review: Northpole Magic Snowball

This is the Northpole Magic Snowball, produced by Hallmark and intended to tie to their TV movie of the same name. I think they missed an opportunity when they failed to market it as a Snow Tribble.

I picked this up at Wallgreens last year. I was actually more interested in getting something else from this line, but I had a coupon that would knock five bucks or so off the price if I spent above a certain amount on Northpole branded crap. If memory serves, this was going for $5, anyway, so it basically negated the price.

By the way, what's pictured above is all the packaging this came with. The tag insists it's for decorative use only, but there are no other warnings about throwing it at others. It does mention that nonreplaceable batteries are included.

That's right - you're not just getting a wad of white fluff: this has a feature. Throw it against a hard surface such as a wall, floor, or human face, and it starts blinking green and blue. Why green and blue instead o…

Call Me Claus (2001)

Call Me Claus is a made-for-TV movie about an aging Santa Claus recruiting a home-shopping network executive to take his place. The concept, as these things go, could have been worse. The execution really couldn't have been.

The executive is played by Whoopie Goldberg, and Nigel Hawthorne plays the old Santa. This was Hawthorne's last role: he passed away a few weeks after this premiered. It's really hard not to make a joke right now.
The movie opens in 1965. A young girl asks a mall Santa to bring her father, who's serving in the military, home for Christmas. He waffles, but lets the kid try on his hat. The hat glows, but no one notices. When the girl returns home, a pair of army officers are waiting to give her mother some bad news. This entire sequence was shot with all the emotional resonance of an online tax tutorial. Maybe less, now that I think about it.
The story jumps ahead to the present day. Well, it jumps to 2001, which used to be the present day. The girl…

Book Review: Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories

Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories
L. M. Montgomery, edited by Rea Wilmshurst
Collection 1995, Stories originally published 1899 - 1910

Premise: A collection of holiday tales by L. M. Montgomery.

They can't all be winners. This volume occupies a weird space between light holiday collection and academic archive only of interest to scholars. There isn’t any scholarly commentary, but I can't imagine anyone reading this entire book who isn't either writing this review or looking for common themes in pieces from the time period for a research project.

Because oh, are there common themes.

The strongest pieces in the collection are the two excerpts from the Anne books: a chapter from Anne of Green Gables and one from Anne of Windy Poplars. Both of these have charm, whimsy and warmth in equal portion.

The introduction explains that the other stories were among many written by Montgomery in these years for various magazines - mostly what we would now call work-for-hire, …

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: It's a Wonderful Smash (2014)

Remember a few years ago, when Marvel animation was at its peak? In a relatively short period of time, we got Spectacular Spider-Man, Wolverine and the X-Men, and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, all great shows.

Then something went wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Overall, the Disney acquisition of Marvel was a plus. It gave them more money to produce movies and live-action TV series, and the comics actually seem to have benefited. But the quality of their animated programs plummeted. Guess that's the price we have to pay.

This, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Avengers Assemble all appear to be in continuity with each other. And, from what I've seen so far, all of these shows suck.

To be fair, I've only seen two episodes of Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and one was the pilot. But the premise was misguided to begin with, and nothing I've seen suggests they're able to salvage the show.

This episode is, of course, the Christmas one. It opens on Christmas Eve, when the Hulks…

Holiday Comics: Gwenpool Special #1, My Little Pony Holiday Special 2015

Have you visited your friendly local comic shop this week? You might want to make the trip, some super-fun holiday specials just came out!

Gwenpool Special #1
Writers: Charles Soule, Margaret Stohl, Gerry Dugan, Christopher Hastings
Art: Langdon Foss, Juan Gedeon, Danilo S. Beyruth, Gurihiru

I know, I know, Gwenpool? Just go with it and trust me on this one. This hefty issue tells four interlocking stories featuring some of the recent stars of the Marvel U.

The overarching tale follows She-Hulk, as she throws the biggest party of the year to defeat some evil magic. Meanwhile, Ms. Marvel takes out her frustrations with the ubiquity of Christmas on an evil Santa. Hawkeye and Hawkeye team up with Deadpool to catch a holiday pickpocket as a favor to one of Clint’s friends. Gwenpool goes up against a giant sword-snake-thing and enjoys her visit to the main Marvel Universe.

Drunk monkeys! YouTube sword tutorials! Holiday gifts! It’s repeatedly hilarious and occasionally sweet. You may have …

Sabrina, the Teenage Witch Christmas Episodes (the rest of them)

Okay, we already watched the Christmas episode in season three. Here's the rest of them.

A Girl and Her Cat (1996)
First we have to backtrack to episodes in seasons one and two.

In this episode Salem throws a hissy fit (pun intended), stays out to make the family worried, and ends up catnapped by a little boy who wants a pet. There's a painfully obnoxious montage in this one as well, as Sabrina and her aunts (Hilda and Zelda) search for Salem. The highlights are references to Salem's backstory (he was originally human, but turned into a cat for trying to take over the world), and a scene where Sabrina steals Salem back by dressing as Santa and teleporting into the kid's closet, knowing no one will believe him. Also, Coolio has a cameo as a poster brought briefly to life.

Oh, if you've never seen this show, you might not know that Salem is played at times by a truly ugly puppet cat and at times by a real cat. It's very strange.

Sabrina Claus (1997)

I think weird c…

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Christmas Amnesia (1998)

I watched this show back when it aired, and I remember enjoying it. So, it's true, you can never go home again.

This incredibly long-feeling half hour had a unnecessarily complicated plot. I'm going to sum up.

Sabrina, being a teenager, isn't feeling the whole happy-family Christmas vibeHer aunts decide to double down on cheesy Christmas activitiesCue montage that starts funny and goes on too longSabrina is invited to a Christmas Eve party in the magical realmShe goes, only to find out that it's an anti-Christmas party about mocking the holiday (The fact that she doesn't seem to know anyone there doesn't make much sense either.)She stops them from spying on and mocking people celebrating on Earth and storms outOnly to discover that she has inadvertently deleted the holiday entirelyShe tries to convince people to remember ChristmasCue montage that doesn't start funny, only goes on too longShe finally visits Santa/Father Christmas, only to discover that he…

Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)

Lindsay unearthed three Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas specials we'd never reviewed (or heard of, for that matter), all of which were available on a single DVD. Naturally, we ordered the damn thing.

Not surprisingly, there's a reason we've never heard of it.
Pinocchio's Christmas is a bizarrely warped mashup of several early scenes from the Adventures of Pinocchio and the usual Rankin/Bass Christmas tropes.
The story starts out with Pinocchio learning about Christmas from Geppetto, who sells his boots to buy his son a math book. Pinocchio promptly sells the math book, planning to use the money partly on himself and partly to buy his dad a Christmas present. But first he comes across the Fox and the Cat, who convince him the coins will grow into a tree of gold if he buries them. Naturally, he falls for this, and they steal the money.
With the exception of the Christmas elements, this section is actually pretty accurate to the original, at least according to Wikipedi…

The Librarians and Santa's Midnight Run (2014)

As a rule of thumb, when there's an episode we're recommending that's embedded in the middle of a series, we advise watching it in context to get the needed background. This is different. We watched the first three episodes of The Librarians, and we think you're better off skipping to the Christmas episode.

It's not that the earlier episodes were bad; it's more that they are generic as hell. They feel like an uninspired fusion of Doctor Who, Leverage, Warehouse 13, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the X-Files... hell, basically every genre show of the past two decades shoved into a blender. The result comes off as mediocre in every possible way.

Then along comes the Christmas episode, guest starring Bruce Campbell as Santa Claus, and the quality spikes.

Story-wise, it's pretty generic Christmas fantasy stuff. The episode opens with Santa abducted by the Serpent Brotherhood (I promise, you're better off not having seen their first episode), a secret society pl…

The Borders of Christmastown: Some Thoughts on what are and are not Christmas Movies

There are plenty of lists out there trying to pick the best and worst Christmas movies of all time (most of those lists are full of crap, but that's not relevant). Lindsay and I spend a lot of time going through those lists looking for anything we've missed, and this often leads to an existential quandary.

What the hell is a Christmas movie?

Sometimes, it's easy. Elf, for example, is a movie set at, about, and concerned with the holidays. I've never heard anyone claim otherwise. Pull out the holiday elements, and you're literally left with nothing.

At least, all of that's true under my definition of Christmas. If you're preoccupied with the idea that Jesus is the reason for the Black Friday rush, then you likely have very different thoughts on whether Elf has anything at all to do with Christmas. Also, you need a goddamn history lesson.

But for the rest of the world, it's a Christmas movie. Almost as much so as Miracle on 34th Street, which is arguably…

A Princess for Christmas (2011)

Watching movies for Mainlining Christmas is an enlightening process. We have become professionals. We are resistant to all but the worst writing, acting, directing and design. Today, I’m pleased to share some of our tips for keeping your mental health while watching holiday dreck. The defense mechanisms we’ll be practicing in this session are “Plausible Alternate Plot”, “Identifying Fakeconomics” and “Advanced Foreshaming”.

A Princess for Christmas is a Hallmark Original movie that never believes in subtlety when you could be describing your emotions out loud, and is a great training ground for all of these techniques.

Early on, the movie is full of easy targets for Identifying Fakeconomics. Main character Jules works in a small antique store in Buffalo, New York. She is the primary caretaker of her deceased sister’s two kids, Milo and Maddie. Even with survivor’s benefits of some type, there is no way she could maintain that large, well-appointed house and a full-time nanny on one …

The Swan Princess Christmas (2012)

The Swan Princess Christmas is the third of four direct-to-video sequels to The Swan Princess, a movie which failed to make ten million dollars during its entire theatrical run and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 44%. This is the first and only installment of the franchise I've ever seen, so I can't attest whether the abysmal writing, direction, and animation were par for the course, or if this fails to live up to the series's pitiful legacy. Assuming Wikipedia is right, this was the first in the series to be computer animated.

For the majority of this movie's run time, the plot is essentially incomprehensible. The two leads, Derek and Odette, are getting ready to spend their first Christmas together. They have three talking animal sidekicks who almost never interact with them: a puffin, a turtle, and frog trying to get women to kiss him. And there's a cat who's working with the ghost of the villain from the first movie.

To get a Christmas tree, Derek goes snow…

Jingle All the Way 2 (2014)

When I heard there was a sequel to Jingle All the Way starring Larry the Cable Guy, I kind of hoped it would be a literal sequel, with him taking over Schwarzenegger's part. No such luck: the movie's sort of a spiritual sequel, borrowing elements from the premise and using them to tell a new crappy story.

Before I go on, I want to state that I found the experience of watching this extremely unpleasant. That being said, I'm forced to concede that this was actually a better movie than the original. Granted, that is an incredibly low bar to clear, but I was somewhat still surprised.

Not pleasantly surprised though: I dislike Larry the Cable Guy's shtick and was rooting against this movie. I'd have rather a scenario where I could simply say it was an abysmal pile of idiotic crap, as opposed to a nuanced pile of mediocre crap. But we can't get everything we want for Christmas.

Larry the Cable Guy plays a divorced father named, "Larry". I'm just going …

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Cobra Claws are Coming to Town (1985)

I'm going to have a hard time synopsizing this one.

Alright, this thing opens right before Christmas when three of the G.I. Joes and a pet parrot singing Jingle Bells (this is a plot point) are driving a bunch of donated presents back to their base to give them to kids. When suddenly... they're attacked! A single Cobra plane starts shooting at them, forcing them to pull over and take cover. While they're stopped, a Cobra agent sneaks behind their vehicle and unloads a bag of fake gifts.

The plane takes off, and the G.I. Joes just kind of shrug and decide it's probably not worth worrying about. They return to base and unload the gifts, including those Cobra snuck in. That includes a Trojan rocking horse, because... of course it does.

The Joes sit down for dinner, and we learn that one of them is sad, because his parents always made such a huge deal about Christmas they never got around to decorating the tree or buying him gifts.

Let's just move on.

The Trojan rocki…

Craft Kit: Creatology Christmas Color and Bake

Here's a not-so-secret fact about me: I'm a sucker for cheap craft kits. We picked up these kits at Michael's, and I think they were even a bit cheaper than the $1.00 each they're marked at.

Each kit comes with a metal suncatcher frame and four tubes of tiny plastic crystals. The directions are on the back of the cardboard piece.

It didn't take long to fill the candy cane, but the snowflake took more time because of all the little fiddly bits.

It was slightly annoying because I got most of the way through the snowflake when I realized that one of the little arms didn't sit flat, and I was worried about plastic oozing out under the edge when it baked. So I gently bent that arm a tiny bit, but then had to start over. 

I only used less than half the provided crystals. It's very difficult to tell, especially with the small sections, how much is enough, vs. too much. The instructions only say to 'Pile in the center and level at metal edges'. Of course, w…

Pippi Longstocking: Pippi’s Christmas (1998)

I love Pippi Longstocking, although my love has not led me to actually read the source material or seek out other media about the character. My love is mostly confined to the 1988 movie being a major part of my childhood. If my childhood had instead contained the 1998 animated series, I might not have the same affection for the character.

Not that this was actively bad. It was just boring, and these days boring is the death knell for Christmas media for us.

The opening credits, despite being a bit too long, led us to hope for some sort of adventure or excitement. No dice. The entire plot was about two thieves (recurring characters) trying to steal money so they can have food and a place to stay on Christmas. They have no money, and they try various schemes, first to try to make enough to get dinner and go to a hotel, and later they just try to get arrested so they’ll have someplace warm to sleep.

They get caught, or almost get caught, Pippi makes an odd excuse for them, all charact…

Seinfeld Christmas Episodes: 1991-1997

It's hard to overstate how big Seinfeld was in the 90's. It was the top sitcom for four years and the top TV show for two. The subject matter was surprisingly adult for its time slot, and among geeks, it offered a rare opportunity to see our interests cross over with mainstream entertainment.

While Jerry himself was Jewish, the series had several Christmas episodes, often exploring the holiday without even a hint of sentimentality or nostalgia. That alone makes these stand out from the norm.

I felt like the show held up well on a new viewing. While the jokes of course weren't as fresh as when I first heard them, most of them remain funny. The exceptions were Jerry's monologues, which came off more dated. But those weren't more than a few minutes of any episode, anyway.

If you're too young to have seen these, it might be worth checking out a few episodes. I didn't feel like any of the Christmas episodes were required holiday viewing (though a case could def…