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Showing posts with the label 00's

Toy/Book Review: The Elf on the Shelf (2005)

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To be clear, I honestly thought I was done writing about Christmas-themed toys. I've reviewed quite a few over the years, but something about the experience wasn't as fulfilling as it once was. It's hard to put my finger on the precise issue--

Oh, wait. Now I remember: no one cared about any of those posts.

At any rate, I've looked at a variety of holiday action figures, dolls, building sets, playsets, a Batmobile, and... whatever the hell this was... but there was one thing that always eluded me. And that, of course, was The Elf on the Shelf.


Obviously, "elude" is a strong choice of words. I've seen countless of these for sale over the years but it's rare to see them marked down significantly. There were times early in the blog's existence I considered paying the full $30 for a chance to mock these little demons publicly. But before I got around to that, I started seeing them parodied and viciously criticized, and... I don't know. It kind fe…

The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (2000)

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This isn't the first time we've reviewed an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel. There's also a Rankin/Bass stop-motion version that's visually impressive but otherwise fairly forgettable. This animated version from 2000 shares one of those qualities, and unfortunately it's not the visuals.

For better or worse, this is a very faithful adaptation of Baum's book. There are a handful of changes here and there, but these are generally trivial alterations. The largest change was the decision to expand the role of Wisk, a fairy appearing in the last few chapters of the original, into a major character serving as comic relief throughout.

But the backbone of the story is mostly unaltered, which probably wasn't the best idea. While I'm fond of the original book, it's mostly due to some interesting choices around the setting, tone, and premise. I like that Baum wrote Santa into a world of fantasy and magic, as opposed to religious. The book is a fairy ta…

Christmas in the Clouds (2001)

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Modern romantic comedies are hard to do well without either deconstructing the format or tossing in elements from contrasting genres. Christmas in the Clouds takes neither of these paths - at its core, it's just a romcom. It's fundamentally absurd, funny without being hilarious, and almost too sweet.

But I'll be damned if it wasn't charming. This one works.

It helps that it's set a long way from the typical locations these movies play out in. It's also featuring a very different cast: with only a couple exceptions, every character (and actor) is a Native American.

The movie's two leads are Ray and Tina. Ray manages a ski resort owned by his tribe. He's expecting an anonymous reviewer from an influential guidebook to stay over Christmas and write up the resort. When a woman (Tina) shows up traveling alone from New York, his staff assumes they've identified the guide. They give her the best room and bend over backward to make her stay comfortable.

Ti…

The Family Stone (2005)

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The Family Stone is a dramedy about... God, I can't believe I have to type these words again... a dysfunctional family celebrating the holidays together.

There are several things the movie does wrong, but one in particular is going to make it astonishingly hard to synopsize: it lacks a solid POV character. I think they were aiming for an ensemble cast, but the goal in those movies is to have multiple points of view - I'm not sure The Family Stone has any.

The closest actually might be Meredith, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. She's the new girlfriend of the titular family's oldest son, Everett Stone. The movie opens with her, and she gets a lot of screen time. But practically, she's closer to the comic relief than the lead. Parker plays Meredith to an over-the-top excess - she feels like she stumbled out of a farce without realizing everyone else is in a drama. And structurally, she's the false love interest, the wrong girl for Everett. He wants to marry Mered…

Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen (2006)

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Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen is a Christmas special you haven't heard of that features fantastic designs, gorgeously animated stop-motion, and an impressive cast. So why haven't you heard of it? Let me check my notes... Oh. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. I wrote, "Writing matters."

The premise is that a reindeer named Rusty is depressed and unable to find his place at the North Pole. See, he has this famous brother with a glowing red-nose, and... yeah. Hold on. I need to check my notes again - I think I remember... Here it is. I wrote, "This has been done way better in the same medium." Like Robbie, this special isn't able to say Rudolph's name outright, but it implies it and alludes to the classic to a degree I was genuinely disappointed when I failed to find a reference to this being sued.

Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't have the worst name I've ever seen on a holiday special starts with Rusty trying to …

The Christmas Dinosaur (2004)

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The Christmas Dinosaur was a made-for-TV special about a boy who receives a dinosaur as an early Christmas present. Information about the special is sparse and inconsistent - I'm not even 100% certain this premiered in 2004. It was produced by PorchLight Entertainment, whose only credit I recognize is A Martian Christmas, another forgettable special we reviewed way back in 2010.

This seems to have aired a few times on Cartoon Network before vanishing into obscurity. Like a great deal of what we review, we found it on a clearance shelf and grabbed it out of morbid curiosity.

The story doesn't get much more elaborate than the premise. Basically, a boy who's been fighting with his younger brother receives a dinosaur egg in the mail. He opens it before Christmas, and it hatches into a pterosaur, which the kids hide from their parents. Working together, they raise the animal, which grows up in a week or so. There are a bunch of side plots that go nowhere involving the kids'…

Karroll's Christmas (2004)

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This made-for-TV comedy focuses on Allan Karroll, a man who hates Christmas because... Wait! Come back!

I know, I know. Christmas comedies made for TV are almost universally terrible. But while this one isn’t a work of cinematic brilliance, it’s definitely exceptional among its type.

I was skeptical of the beginning too. It seems like so many of this genre, presenting a protagonist who has to learn a lesson because they don’t unconditionally love Christmas to an unreasonable degree. However, while Allan’s irritation with a work presentation going poorly and a confrontation with his nasty neighbor are exacerbated by the Christmas season, he’s just average prickly until dinner with his girlfriend Carrie. Then he becomes downright unlikeable, as he can’t let his irritation go and doesn’t even notice that said girlfriend is trying to be romantic (and secretly planning to propose to him).

They go home together, but his neighbor starts stealing his electricity (via Christmas lights) to run…

Blizzard (2003)

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Attempting to outline the plot of the 2003 Christmas/fantasy/comedy/drama is akin to unraveling a Geordian knot. And, no, that wasn't a typo - it was something far worse: a pun. This was directed by LeVar Burton, who also gets a brief cameo. It stars Christopher Plummer, Kevin Pollak, Whoopi Goldberg's voice, and a bunch of Canadian actors you've never heard of.

The movie opens with a sledding montage showing a pair of kids enjoying a winter day together. Eventually, they head home and say goodbye forever - one is moving away. The other is so devastated, she retreats to her room. A week later, and her parents are still unable to get her to cheer up. In an attempt to salvage Christmas, they call in the mother's globetrotting sister, Aunt Millie, who flies in and starts telling her depressed niece a story about another friendship, long ago...

It's around this point that it becomes apparent the characters we've been following for the last ten minutes (give or tak…

The Garfield Show: Caroling Capers (2009) and Home for the Holidays, Parts 1 and 2 (2010)

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I put this on mostly out of curiosity. I actually do have some nostalgic connection to the lasagna-loving cat (I was just the right age to be suckered into finding the character's antics amusing during his heyday), but I've long since come to terms with the fact that - with the exception of a few decent specials - no version of Garfield holds up all that well.

I wasn't expecting this to be any different, but it turns out I was mistaken. This computer-generated Garfield series was far, far worse.

The writing's bad, but honestly that barely even registers. You could put Aaron Sorkin on this, and it wouldn't improve. The real issue is the animation - I sincerely doubt words can convey just how abysmal this looks. Imagine an uncanny valley trying to mirror a comic strip instead of a photograph. They lifted the character designs directly from the page but didn't adjust for the added dimension. Mouths aren't shaped - as a result, they just kind of warp like rubb…

Santa, Baby! (2001)

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You know Rankin/Bass, it's the company behind all the classic stop-motion holiday specials. This has exactly one thing in common with those: it's loosely inspired by a holiday song.

And I do mean loosely. You might think that the song in which the singer offers to trade "Santa" implied sexual favors for material goods and marriage isn't exactly screaming to be made into a kid-friendly animated special, and you'd be right. But we can't lose that name recognition, so the song is awkwardly shoved in twice.

The plot follows a little girl named Dakota, whose father is a songwriter with writer's block. (He does not write "Santa Baby.") Also, Dakota is obsessed with animals, and the superintendent of the block (because that's a thing?) doesn't want animals in the buildings and keeps threatening to close down the local shelter.

Honestly, the shelter needs something because the assortment of animals there is utterly bizarre, including a dog …

Robbie the Reindeer: Legend of the Lost Tribe (2002)

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The 2002 sequel to Hooves of Fire is, at least in my opinion, an improvement over the original. The story is no longer tethered to that of an 80's sports movie, and the new elements feel much more inspired and original.

The story this time centers around a "lost tribe" of Vikings, who are essentially dwarves in this world. In a backstory relayed by Old Jingle, we learn the last of their kind were supposedly killed off in a civil war waged when all the Vikings got bored.

Robbie's the only one who's seen any of the Vikings, and no one really believes him. They're more concerned with their failing resort, anyway. Why are reindeer running a tourist resort? Because Santa gives the toys away, so he's got nothing to pay them, obviously.

Meanwhile, Blitzen, who's been in prison since the end of Hooves of Fire, is released and returns to the lodge. Initially, the others throw him out, but he convinces them to let him stay when he promises he can turn the busi…

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure (2003)

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Calling this made-for-TV movie "bad" doesn't really address the magnitude of just how awful it actually is. To even begin to do so, I'll try something a bit counter-intuitive: I'm going to compliment the filmmakers. Perhaps "compliment" is too strong a word - I'm going to acknowledge a possible explanation for the movie that's ultimately generous.

Having just watched through Vacation 2, I am honestly unable to dismiss the following possibility: the movie was intentionally made as bad as possible either as an attempt to mock the audience, screw over the studio, or both.
This is, of course, not the only possibility. Indeed, Occam's Razor would slice through this theory and leave us with a simpler one: that the filmmakers responsible for this mess are so bad at their jobs, they were unable to produce anything better. Those of you who haven't seen this movie are doubtlessly drawn to that explanation. But you don't yet understand just ho…

2000AD Holiday Specials

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This year, I bought a handful of 2000AD Christmas specials. This is a long-running comics magazine from Britain, and it's the origin of Judge Dredd.

It's an interesting format that's quite different from the way most Western comics are published today. Longer stories are serialized in small pieces, but short one-offs are featured as well. Because each issue features many short stories and chapters (and there are more than normal in these holiday annuals), you're bound to find something intriguing even if one or two of the pieces aren't to your taste.

Most of the stories seem to share a sense of heightened reality: dystopias, sci-fi blending with other genres, crime and punishment in very stylized worlds.

Each issue was 100-ish pages and featured over a dozen stories, of which only some were seasonal. Here are a few of the more Christmassy stories in the issues I read:


2007 Special

Sinister Dexter: Christmas Time

Sinister Dexter is a long-running series about a pair …

Music Review: Care Bears Christmas Eve (CD 2006)

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I knew this was going to be bad from the first track, but I didn't realize how bad. The music is generic overproduced "kid-friendly" stuff. It reminded me of the old commercials for Kidz Bop.

(Side note: I can't find the CD case right now, but all the cover art I see online says "instrumental" on it. It isn't instrumental music.)

There seem to be at least three singers: a male generic pop voice, a female generic pop voice, and a female voice doing a somewhat androgynous/generic "kids show" sound. The music production is terrible: the balance is off, the vocals sound overly digitally tweaked, yet still have prominent hissing "s" sounds.

The album includes a few generic versions of traditional carols. These are mostly notable because one is set so low in the male singer's range that his voice disappears under the artificial, 80s-keyboard-demo-grade percussion. It's also strange that all three are explicitly religious choices: …

Malcolm in the Middle: Christmas (2001), Christmas Trees (2003), Hal's Christmas Gift (2004)

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Malcolm in the Middle probably owes its existence to The Simpsons. While the characters and premise aren't the same, there's a notable similarity in the show's energy, humor, and tone. The characters on Malcolm in the Middle feel animated, in a similar way. That's not to say they're shallow - I don't think that's the case for either series - merely that their emotions are exaggerated to the same degree.

This isn't the first live-action show I've seen try and capture this kind of tone. The recipe for success seems to be pretty straightforward - good writing and a commitment to the premise. Shows that try to wink at the audience while building a surreal world usually come off hokey; ones that explore their world and characters honestly have a chance to create something great.

Malcolm in the Middle revolves around a family of four (eventually five) sons, their irresponsible father, and their very angry mother. The series started airing in 2000, when I…

Will and Grace Holiday Episodes (Part 2: 2003-5)

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Fanilow (2003)

The season six Christmas episode begins at Grace's company holiday party. (Since it's just her and Karen, does it really count as a company party?) Will doesn't show, claiming some sort of charitable appointment, but really he's in line for tickets for a special Barry Manilow Christmas concert.

Grace discovers him there and holds his spot while he goes to use a restroom. Then she spots her mother having dinner with Jack, after telling Grace she wasn't coming into town for their Hanukkah dinner. Grace deals...poorly with this, first making a scene about how she's glad her mother isn't taking up her time, and then breaking down over missing their traditions.

Meanwhile, Will is in line at Subway to use the restroom and a man flirts with him awkwardly. Will brushes him off, only to discover later that he's Manilow's road manager. He tries to strike the flirtation back up, and the guy basically blackmails him into a date.

This episode occa…