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Showing posts with the label Adventure

The Gift of Winter (1974)

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The Gift of Winter is a 1974 Canadian television Christmas special with very low production values that inexplicably stars Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd.

Presented as an origin story for snow, the story concerns a group of characters setting out to lodge a complaint against Winter (presented here as sort of a cross between a pagan deity, an ice giant, and a bureaucrat) due to the relentless, bleak season. The characters - and I'll get to them in a moment - are hoping Winter will cancel his season altogether and replace it with more spring or summer.

Well, most of the characters. Two of them are planning to assassinate Winter using dynamite.

"Characters" is almost too strong a word. These are almost better described as caricatures of 70's archetypes. They have names like Goodly, Nicely, Rotten, Malicious... you get the idea. Their personalities are tied to their designs, which are best described as stylized doodles made by a four-year-old. That's not intended as a…

The Christmas Visit / The New Year Voyage (1959)

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I'm not entirely sure how to label this short animated Russian holiday special from 1959. The New Year Voyage is a more accurate translation of the Russian title, but it was released in the US under the names "The Christmas Visit" and "A Christmas Tree." The version we saw was dubbed into English and explicitly set at Christmas, though the original took place on New Year's. This isn't at all surprising - it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in the Soviet Union when this was produced. Despite that, the special is filled with trappings and elements that would feel at home in American Christmas specials from the same period.

The story follows a Russian boy whose father is stationed in Antarctica. It's Christmas Eve (New Year's Eve), and the child is distraught his father is going to wake to Christmas morning (New Year's Day) without a Christmas Tree (New Year's Tree).

The kid grabs his decorated tree and heads outside in the hopes of find…

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'…

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)

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We already reviewed The Christmas Chronicles on the podcast, but I wanted to collect some more spoilery thoughts I had on the plot and overall structure. Which means, if you haven't see the movie yet, you should hold off on reading this until you do. The Christmas Chronicles is a good holiday fantasy you're better off experiencing without knowing where it's going.

The movie opens by introducing its two main human characters, Kate and Teddy, through a montage of home movies. We also get a brief look at their parents, only one of which survives past the opening. In a refreshing change of pace, the parent still breathing is their mother (it's disturbing this is as rare a choice as it is).

Teddy and Kate's dad was a firefighter, and he died between Christmases, making this the family's first season without him. Their mom is a nurse, so she's stuck working long hours. And of course it doesn't help that her kids are at each other's throats. She just want…

The Avengers: Too Many Christmas Trees (1965)

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Not to be confused with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers was a British spy series from the 60s which cycled through a number of iterations and styles. We've looked at a later episode, "Take-Over," that sort of fit our loose definition for Christmas in July (absurdly loose: Take-Over was set in February, and the holiday elements only appeared briefly).

"Too Many Christmas Trees," on the other hand, was far more entrenched in holiday fare. It was also a more iconic example of the series, featuring Emma Peel, by far the best known of John Steed's partners.

In this one, they're pitted against a team of psychics attempting to steal national secrets from Steed's mind by eroding his sanity through a series of yuletide nightmares.

This should already be obvious, but I loved the hell out of this episode.

All of this is set at an English mansion where Peel was invited for a Christmas party. She invites John after the idea to bring him just pops int…

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

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Lindsay and I already discussed our reactions to The Nutcracker and the Four Realms in the Mainlining Christmas Podcast, but I wanted to cover a few aspects we omitted. Apologies in advance for anything redundant.

Speaking of redundancy... we talked briefly about comparisons between Four Realms and the 1979 stop-motion special, The Nutcracker Fantasy, but it's worth noting the similarities are more than superficial. Both movies lean in heavily to Wonderland parallels, they incorporate ballet in a similar fashion, they make heavy use of clockwork imagery, and even use some of the same color pallets. I'm not sure if this is a case of them drawing from like sources or if Four Realms was partially inspired by Fantasy, but it's certainly notable.

The story of Nutcracker and the Four Realms differs from any source material I'm familiar with. Clara, the film's protagonist, is mourning the death of her mother, Marie, along with her family. This is something of a Pandora&#…

Rick and Morty: Anatomy Park (2013)

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I'm a late convert to this show, which is more than a little odd considering my all-time favorite live-action series, Community, was made by one of Rick and Morty's showrunners. Despite that, I was reluctant to get involved with this show, mainly due to its grotesque visual style. But I eventually gave it a try, and...

Yeah. Based on the first few episodes, it's pretty fantastic.

Lindsay and I were surprised to discover the third episode, "Anatomy Park," was holiday themed. Based on the title, I'd assumed it was some sort of Jurassic Park/Innerspace mash-up. Which... it actually still is. But it's also set at Christmas.

The holiday elements are more central to the B-plot, which centers around an awkward holiday gathering. Jerry's parents are visiting for the holidays, so he's obsessed with having his family interact in person, without any digital distractions. Only they arrive with an added guest, Jacob, who's in a polyamorous relationship wi…

The Real Ghostbusters: X-Mas Marks the Spot (1986)

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The Real Ghostbusters has been largely forgotten, which is kind of a shame. The series started in 1986 and serves as something of a missing link between the comical, kid-friendly cartoons of the 80's and the more adult story-driven adventure shows of the 90's. This certainly isn't Batman: The Animated Series, but it's not Scooby-Doo, either. There were some creepy villains and monsters in this show, along with some cool concepts. The story editor was J. Michael Straczynski, who also wrote a vast number of episodes, including this one.

"X-Mas Marks the Spot" was the last episode of the first season. It's set on Christmas Eve, or more accurately on two Christmas Eves. After bungling a job in upstate New York, the Ghostbusters wander through a time portal and find themselves in Victorian London. Not realizing what they're doing, they help Ebeneezer Scrooge with a haunting and wind up capturing the three Christmas ghosts.

Still unaware where they are, th…

Comic Review: NorthStars Volume 1: Welcome to Snowville

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NorthStars Volume 1: Welcome to Snowville
Jim Shelley, Haigen Shelley, Anna Liisa Jones, 2016

Premise: Santa’s daughter and the princess of the yetis go on an afternoon adventure to save Christmas.

This sweet comic book from Action Lab Comics is a digital-first release this year, planned to be a gift-ready hardcover next year.

The story isn’t anything more than it appears to be, but it’s a cute, well-done tale. The art is clean and bright and the writing is clever. Some of the little details and tweaks on holiday lore were things I’d never seen before and quite liked.

Holly Claus meets Frostina under parental pressure, but they hit it off immediately. During a quick tour of Santa’s workshop, they run into a goblin who reports (in crayon-drawing speech bubbles representing a language barrier) that Krampus is interfering with the goblins who prepare the Christmas coal.

The girls travel under Snowville to investigate, facing harvest-themed straw men and a snow dragon on the way. The adven…

The Magic Snowflake (2013)

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Depending on where you see this film listed, it might also be called "Santa's Apprentice: The Magic Snowflake," since it's a sequel to that film, a fact we didn't realize until after watching this. At the time, we assumed that was why we didn't understand what the hell was going on, but after seeing part one, I'm really no closer to understanding.

Maybe if I track down the animated series they're based on, it'll all make more sense. Eh. Probably not.

Like part one, the plot of this thing is an incoherent mess. Actually, compared to this incoherent mess, the plot of part one looks rational and considered. This opens by introducing a new character, a Intuit boy who delivers mail to the North Pole. He meets up with Beatrice, who I guess is living at the North Pole while the hours tick away towards her prophesied marriage to Nicholas.

The whole thing is really kind of creepy.

At any rate, it's against the rules for kids to be at the North Pole fo…

Lizzie McGuire: Here Comes Aaron Carter (2001)

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This is the second episode of Lizzie McGuire we've subjected ourselves to, though it predates XTreme XMas by a year. The one I'm reviewing today was only the show's seventh episode, airing in March of 2001.

The premise of the episode, as the title implies, revolves around the teen singer coming to Lizzie's town to record a music video. Although the episode is set in the spring, the music video was for the holidays, hence the Christmas in July connection. Well, okay, technically Christmas in March, but we're using a loose interpretation here.

Lizzie and her two friends want desperately to meet Carter, each for different reasons. Because the shoot is secret, they need to include her younger brother, who knows its location for some reason. They sneak out early, leaving her parents a note - ironic, as her dad was going to surprise her with passes a client gave him.

They show up at the film set and Lizzie tries using her school press pass to get in, only to have it tak…

Bush Christmas (1947)

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Bush Christmas is an 1947 kid's adventure set in Australia. The movie's filmed on location, which is the most positive thing I have to say about the production.

I understand where the movie's set, but I'm a little unclear on when. This opens with school wrapping for Christmas break, and the children immediately grab their horses for the ride home. I really can't say for certain that there weren't areas in rural Australia where kids used horses to commute to and from school in 1947, but it seems a little antiquated. My assumption is that this was supposed to be set in the past. Maybe early 1930's? The clothes look fairly modern, and there were a few cars, so it couldn't have been much earlier than that.

Instead of going directly home like good children, a few of them go for a ride. On the way, they run into a pair of horse thieves. The kids, mistaking them for something else, accidentally mention their father owns a valuable mare. The robbers send them o…

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

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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 (Animated - 1961; Live Action - 1996)

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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 Librarians and Santa's Midnight Run (2014)

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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…

Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales: Holiday Chills and Thrills (2012)

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This DVD compilation includes Christmas or winter themed episodes from across the dozen or so incarnations of Scooby Doo over the years. Unfortunately, the majority are less Christmas than winter, and we already reviewed one episode, A Scooby-Doo Christmas, a few years ago. We're going to review the other two Christmas centered episodes, Haunted Holidays and The Nutcracker Scoob, on their own. That leaves ten of dubious holiday connection.

We almost didn't write these up at all, but a few included some holiday allusions or references, plus the snowy visuals were certainly evocative of Christmas. Ultimately, we decided to cover them together, along with some discussion of how each ties to the holidays, if at all.

First, though, let's talk about this "13 Spooky Tales" line. They released several of these DVD sets with different themes about the same time, each collecting ostensibly similar episodes throughout the years. In this case, even the math to get to 13 epi…

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)

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Yet another solid Doctor Who Christmas special, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe tells the story of the Doctor's interactions with a family at Christmas. Or, more accurately, at two Christmases.

The episode opens with a quick Star Wars homage, revealing a massive warship orbiting Earth. Right as it's about to open fire, something seemingly goes wrong and an explosion cuts it in half. What's gone wrong, of course, is the Doctor, who's still on board and fleeing the blast. He survives by catching a space suit while being blown through space and putting it on as he plummets towards Earth.

This sequence is the low-point of the episode. It was a cool idea, but something was off in the pacing leading to the explosion: we really needed a few more seconds to accept this as a potential threat before the punchline. Likewise, the Doctor's leap through space was a little too cartoonish, even compared to the comic-book shenanigans that typically permeate this series.

Whe…

Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead (2005)

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Unless I'm forgetting something, this is the only episode of the revamped Doctor Who series set at Christmas that wasn't produced as a "Christmas special." It's only the third Christopher Eccleston episode, and marks the first time him and Rose went into the past.

The past they wind up in is 1869. It's Christmas Eve and - despite trying for Naples - the TARDIS takes them to Cardiff. As is always the case, there's more going on than a celebration. An undertaker in the city can't seem to keep the dead to stay still: they've picked up a habit of rising up and making trouble. One, an old woman, kills a grieving family member, climbs out of her coffin, and proceeds with her plans for the evening: catching a live reading of A Christmas Carol performed by the author, who is quickly pulled into the story.

Also of note is the undertaker's psychic assistant, a woman about Rose's age who's developed a connection with the beings responsible. The …