Tag Archives: Christmas

The Powerpuff Girls: Twas a Blight Upon Christmas

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Usually during the month of December, I give myself a short break from reviews. Many of the old Christmas specials aired on television range from good and charming to downright goofy, but people can still be just a little bit touchy about them. Even the worst, most nonsensical stories seem to get a pass.

Well, screw that! Let’s tear apart one of my old childhood favorites!

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The Powerpuff Girls: T’was the Fight Before Christmas aired in December 2003 on Cartoon Network. The original show ran from 1998 to 2005, and began to dip down in quality towards the end, something that is often referred to as “seasonal rot.” Long-running shows tend to have the hardest time maintaining quality, as production members come and go and the creativity well dries up. Different priorities begin to clash, and meanwhile studios demand more episodes, more relevance to drive the interest in merchandise.

As you might guess, this Christmas special is but one example of the writers scrambling for ideas and a quick cash grab.

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The plot is this: Princess Morbucks (a somewhat unique Powerpuff Girls villain due to lack of superpowers and age proximity to the heroes) doesn’t like Christmas. Due to her father’s downright obscene wealth, she apparently didn’t question why Santa Claus never brought her any presents up to this point. She even somehow rationalized the massive stacks of coal piled outside her door every year as being “from Daddy’s coal mines.”

After this angry epiphany, brought on by the Powerpuff Girls’ pointless shaming at school earlier that day, Princess ventures all the way to the North Pole to switch out the naughty and nice lists, tricking Santa into giving her what she’s always wanted: superpowers.

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Now I liked this special when I was a kid, but that was mostly because it has nice Christmas colors and decorations everywhere, and characters that I liked were in it. I’ll admit that I never understood, even in the regular tv show, why Princess specifically wanted to be a Powerpuff Girl. I’m sure she wants to be the best of the best at everything, but then she could just take those powers and go off to do her own thing. Why did she want to be a part of a group of girls she didn’t like, share interests, or any common values with?

Probably because she’s a kid. Evil and bratty though she may be, Princess lacks in logic. She just wants to be popular, even with the people she holds contempt for. Fair enough.

But setting that aside, nothing about the setup of this special makes any sense whatsoever. Not in the context of a “Santa is real” story, and certainly not in the context of the in-story universe itself.

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First of all, Princess attempts her sabotage plan on Christmas Eve itself, and before her scheme was even conceived, she already received a delivery of coal. That implies that Santa was already out doing deliveries at that time, so by the time she gets to his workshop, the lists should either be with him in his sleigh or scrapped to make room for next year’s lists.

For one throw away joke, Princess should be too late.

Secondly, supposing that Princess wasn’t attempting this so late in the game, is Santa really that stupid? Hasn’t he been looking at these lists for months, prepping toys for specific children? This wouldn’t bother me so much if, as some other weird joke on the writers’ parts, the naughty list wasn’t literally a sticky note with one name on it. The nice list is huge, so even if Princess was a master at forging handwriting, Santa is an idiot for thinking that his naughty list magically grew 100,000,000 times bigger in the…what, 10 minute bathroom break he probably took to leave alone in the first place?

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“But that’s the joke!” you say. “He didn’t check his list twice!”

…Um, that’s more than “not checking it twice,” guys. Think about it: Santa and all of his elves must have Dory-level short-term memory loss for not one of them to notice the list sizes changing at the last minute. It’s not like it’s that hard to remember the one person you’ve marked off as naughty, year after year, but wouldn’t he have a giant bag of coal marked “Princess,” for his weird, sadistic hobby of trying to burry bad children alive? Wouldn’t he see the names on the presents and wonder why his now unusually-tiny nice list wasn’t matching up?

He has only one other “naughty” list, the permanent plaque for those truly irredeemable kids, but the writers clearly only included that as a little in-joke for themselves. We can see that they have what appear to be their relatives’ names carved into there.

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And as a fan of the show, I do wonder why the fem-devil villain character, Him, isn’t evil enough to get on any of these naughty lists. Considering that he’s brainwashed the entire city of Townsville with hate and took over the future, enslaving and zombifying everyone, Santa seems to have some seriously screwed-up priorities.

As you can see, while the concept for the story isn’t that bad, the execution is very poorly thought-out. It is a cartoon, sure, which means that it can get away with a lot, but not all cartoons operate on, say, Wile E. Coyote physics. Charlie Brown is a cartoon character, but he would still probably die if a piano fell on his head.

Even for a silly, made-for-kids show, the plot is flimsy beyond the suspension of disbelief.

But it’s not just the story that sours this special for me. I always found Bubbles pretty annoying at the worst of times, second only to Blossom and her know-it-all arrogance, so let’s combine one girl’s worst traits with another girl’s worst traits for even more annoyance! Bubbles is not only baby-ish and high-pitched; now, she goes around being smug to her sisters about how good she is and how thoroughly she prepared for Santa.

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Although, to be fair, yes, Buttercup is an idiot for waiting until the day of Christmas Eve to send out her wish list. I know she’s not the designated “smart one” of the group, but unless she plans to copy Johnny Bravo and hand-deliver it to Santa herself, she should mentally and emotionally prepare herself to get some toys that…*gasp* aren’t on her wish list!

…Yeah, that’s another thing. I know that these are all kids and kids are pretty selfish, especially around a time of year that supplies them with tons of presents seemingly out of nowhere, but I can only excuse so much at that in a character I’m supposed to enjoy watching. Especially when it comes from already-annoying characters.

And then Bubbles, pretty clearly motivated by the existential horror of potentially not being as good as she thinks she is, checks her family’s and every other family in the neighborhood’s stockings and trees to make sure that she wasn’t the only one shafted. It’s apparently excused, though, because she only used x-ray vision. It’s not like she broke into each house individually and started rooting through stockings and such…

Except she might as well have done that.

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Okay, so maybe she and her sisters do occasionally express concern for the other kids out there who will wake up shocked and disappointed, but up until Princess shows up to taunt them with her newly-acquired powers, the Powerpuff Girls seem mostly like they just want to go ask Santa what gives with their stockings. And just because Bubbles’ motive changes doesn’t mean that it makes her actions alright. It’s okay to snoop through other people’s things if they might have got something you didn’t?

But besides Princess. Bubbles is the character that gets the most attention, so supposedly she’s the one in the right here…so huzzah…

The last thing I’ll bring up is that Santa, even excusing all of his other clear negligence and stupidity, is kind of a jerk. I’m sure the writers thought it’d be funny to do a parody of the traditional jolly old Saint Nick, but this guy is just unpleasant to watch. For one thing, he’s got an ugly design, even in a show full of bug-eyed little girls.

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He clashes with the rest of the special’s overly-happy aesthetic, like the boys and teenagers skipping around with dopey smiles and the narrator calling train sets “choo-choos” to force a rhyme to work. He calls all the children of the world names when he’s annoyed at them, he shouts menacingly at Princess and the Powerpuff Girls to answer a question he asked them, and he stomps around almost like a giant monster that they should be defeating. Santa also keeps saying “Check it!” in this weird, faux-cool-kid voice, and things like “I don’t need no stinking list!” (which pretty obviously, he does). That is extremely stupid and out of place, and definitely makes him seem like he’s in the wrong line of work.

You know who did a beleaguered Santa well? Rankin Bass.

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This incarnation stayed in character, but understandably got a bit burned out with his job.

The Powerpuff Girls: T’was the Fight Before Christmas may still charm some, and it’s relatively harmless, so I can’t tell you not to watch it. I still catch it on tv from time to time, despite the fact that, under any kind of scrutiny, it falls apart like a bad gingerbread house. It’s silly and colorful, and as I said, the visuals are just right for the holiday it’s representing. The scene where the girls race Princess to Santa’s workshop is pretty entertaining, and hearing them rib each other for being occasionally outwitted and pummeled by her is funny in that mean-spirited Simpsons kind of way.

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Lastly, in line with that whole permanent naughty plaque thing I mentioned above, I find it hilarious that the special shows a scene of Mojo Jojo preparing for Christmas, like he actually expects Santa to leave him presents. That’s right, kiddies: a spoiled child is the absolute worst, but being an evil genius who repeatedly tries to destroy and take over the city, that’s A-Okay!

It’s laughably stupid, in that sense.

What I’m trying to say is that the special is not completely irredeemable, especially if your kids are fans of either of the shows (Powerpuff Girls 2016 can go die, roasted on an open fire). But it won’t hold up for any adults who didn’t grow up with it. Some pretty colors and a throw away reference to A Christmas Story can’t save something this flawed.

Plenty of people still seem to enjoy it, but it’s a lot lazier than they give it credit for.

 

3.5/10

*All images belong to Cartoon Network. 

 

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The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t

Here we go. Thanksgiving special review #2.

 

Do these guys really need an introduction? No, but I will give a brief one anyway.

If Mel Blanc was the man of a thousand voices, Hanna-Barbera is the company of a thousand characters. And while not all of them are interesting, per say, neither are any two too alike.

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The Flintstones. Tom and Jerry. The Jetsons. Yogi Bear. Dexter’s Laboratory. Scooby Doo. These cartoons and more defined several generations. Their legacies are fondly remembered today, and a few of them have even continued to evolve, producing new films and tv shows.

The company that brought them to life (those post MGM, I mean) started up in 1957, with the titular William Hanna and Joseph Barbera at the helm, and together, they would soon become famous for their iconic animation styles, sound effects, and the near-hilarious repetition of said animation and sound effects.

 

Some shows used it more than others (mostly the older ones), but it was there. And even when I wanted to shout “lazy and cheap!” for the whole world to hear, I found myself strangely endeared to the rhythmically bobbing heads, familiar backgrounds passing by every few seconds, repeated and sometimes flipped animation cycles, and background music and effects that will haunt your subconscious for years.

Enter The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t, a more fictionalized account of the First Thanksgiving and how close it was to going south, apparently. And no, I don’t mean “going south” as in stealing and bloodshed between warring peoples. More as in “our dinner party will have to be rescheduled! Oh, the horror!”

In short, it’s your mother’s worse nightmare.

Okay, so what’s the story here?

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In “modern-day” America, a squirrel family is about to sit down to dinner. The dad squirrel begins telling his son (voiced by June Foray, who you may recognize as the voice of another famous cartoon squirrel) about the First Thanksgiving, in a similar vein to Legend of the Titanic:

(skip to around 2:47, unless you’re interested in the full review)

That’s right, kids. The history books got it wrong. You should always trust talking animals when it comes to learning about the past. But hey, at least this story’s “version” of history isn’t as insulting…depending on who you ask…

Moving on.

Long story short: the Native Americans saved the settlers’ naive butts and decided to pay them back with a big feast, sharing all of the food they managed to grow after that rocky first year. Not too far off, I guess; nevermind that nobody has a historically correct accent or any kind of language barrier.

Oh, and by the way, this special goes a little bit into Disney’s Pocahontas territory.

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The squirrel kid’s ancestor, Jeremy Squirrel, became friends with two boys from both sides. On the day of the feast, Johnny Cook and Little Bear get so caught up in play-hunting and proving their manly worth to one another, that they run off into the deep woods and get lost. Thus, while they try to navigate their way back (a la silly, forced hijinks) and keep from being killed by the one douchey animal in the woods, Jeremy leads the search party to bring them home.

Spoilers (not really): they make it back fine, and the feast commences the day after, I guess. Jeremy sits as the guest of honor, gives the sappiest prayer you’ve ever heard in your life, and the special ends on more comedy lite.

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Despite my sarcasm, it’s a charming little special. The quality of it feels novel somehow; it’s not really funny, and it egregiously repeats its animation within the same musical number (let alone the same scene). There are about three musical numbers that are all cute and inoffensive.

In fact, that’s the perfect word I’d use to describe it. Inoffensive. It feels like it’s been sanded; so even when drama strikes, it’s not very engaging. Like an after school special meant to make you aware or appreciative of something, and all it really does is bore or unintentionally amuse you.

The characters are all distinctly one-note, so you don’t really feel or worry for them. The most I felt was irritation at their continuous stupidity (terrorizing innocent animals, running off, being ignorant of the dangers they repeatedly almost fall prey to). None of the adults leave any impact, and the squirrel is an annoying goody-two-shoes, who would have been likable if he had more of a character.

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But, to be fair, the special isn’t very long, so the character development of these totally new characters was always destined to suffer. What’s good is that the plot/conflict is fine, and it fits the story and run time very well. Snug, but not about to burst in an explosion of buttons.

The goof ups and inaccuracies are downright hilarious, as are the cut corners, but most of the morals are good and sound, if preachy. Overall, it’s average, but also, as I said, novel. Not something you see everyday – not that you would want to – but just right for the holiday season. Corny and wooden; certainly not the best of the Hanna-Barbera brood, but I’d still recommend it over Charlie Brown’s lackluster escapade any day.

Inoffensive. Well-meaning, warm and friendly, but out-of-touch. The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t is the kindly old grandmother of Thanksgiving specials. And in that sense, it is lovable and nostalgic, in more than just the classic Hanna-Barbera animation and gimmicks. Though be warned; it may be lost on (or easily ridiculed by) new viewers.

It fits Thanksgiving just right, although I’d be surprised to see who could screw up such an easy message.

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To bring my ramblings here to a close, I pose this question to you:

Why is Thanksgiving as a holiday so easily glanced over?

Why are there fewer specials and movies to choose from? Fewer decoration choices?

My theory is this: food can only be left out on the shelves for so many months, and Thanksgiving has a simple message, with only so many ways you can retell it and make it new.

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Think of how many times you’ve seen A Christmas Carol retold. It can get old and tedious, but the bones of the story is timeless and constantly relevant. It’s about loving life, but more so about giving.

That is the key.

Not to say that giving is a bad thing, just that it is easily exploited. Thanksgiving, generally speaking, tends to be focused more inwardly. It’s about contentment; trying to appreciate what we have, which many of us constantly fail to do while slow internet and spotty connections still plague our poor little first world country.

Christmas is about giving more and more, and having more and more. Thanksgiving is about having enough (plus any leftovers). Marketers don’t hate it, or even have anything in particular against it, but it doesn’t boost the economy quite like Christmas, or encourage the endless cycle of want quite like Christmas.

They can’t do much with Thanksgiving, so they turn their focus elsewhere. It truly is the middle child, because Halloween, while it doesn’t necessitate gifts, can at least sell candy, props, and costumes. Halloween mostly takes care of itself.

Ironically, despite not having to be a religious thing (you can pray to anyone you please, or just be happy with yourself), Thanksgiving gets pushed aside by Christmas, a holiday that once bore a cross rather of a Santa hat and beard. What we long ago dubbed as “Jesus’s Birthday,” now just about anyone can celebrate if they want, all because of marketing. The change has resulted in a very mixed bag, with some things lost and others gained.

Thanksgiving is a less “in your face” Christmas, and because of that, fewer people care about it.

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I find it sad for a number of reasons, but at the same time, I’m kind of glad that advertisers leave the holiday mostly alone (except for this greedy bs here). Less commercialism is kind of nice once in a while, for certain, special things.

I think Thanksgiving should qualify as a special thing. A time for love and memories; the things that are truly important.

Food for thought…for food…

So enjoy your holiday this year, however you see fit. Enjoy it with good food and good people, if you can. And if you can, give to those who are in need. Thanksgiving is about having a whole other kind of wealth; one that is meant to be shared with all families (small, large, or the whole of the human race), feeding everyone’s spirits for the better. That’s how I see it.

With that said, enjoy this wholesome contrast:

 

Happy Turkey Day.

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners. None of the images or sounds belong to me.

When Marketing Attacks, or How to Sell Shamelessly

I have a rocky relationship with marketing.

I love and hate being a consumer, playing with new, high-tech toys that allow me to express myself, yet also draw me further inward, away from the natural world and other human beings face to face. I love and hate the way materialism and youth are valued, idolized, over contentness, making use with what you have, and loving the things that make you different from everyone else. How we seek instant gratification, rather than hard work and just rewards. I love and hate so thoroughly trying to understand people, getting inside their heads, only to then exploit their weaknesses, insecurities, and wants, telling them that your product is the holy grail; the answer to all of their problems.

I hate the power money has over everyone and everything, but I accept it and try to look at the bright side.

It’s not black and white, but let’s be real here: however fun it can be at times, we live in a culture of want. It’s just the way it is.

Sometimes the best way to live with it is to look away and think of other things. Like which new smart phone I’ll get when my contract expires soon. But other times, you come across trends that you can’t ignore. You try and you try to pass over it, or laugh it off, but it just won’t work.

BTW, support Allie's blog. She is hilarious.
BTW, support Allie’s blog. She is hilarious.

 

So what’s worse: being phony upfront, or lying to your face? And how about when you can tell that it’s a lie?

Christmas showing up early in stores annoys me. Not because I have something against the holiday or anyone who wants to keep the spirit of the season in their hearts all or part year round, but because it’s so obviously a marketing gimmick. A lie.

“Spend money now!” the retailers shout out with glee. “You can never start too early!”

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Ever heard of the saying, “Money can’t buy happiness”? Or that Christmas is (at least meant to be) about peace, joy, giving, and goodwill towards men? Lining stores with decorations isn’t meant for the benefit, or happiness, of people. It’s hoping to trick them out of a couple of extra bucks, using something they love or are obligated to celebrate. And how about those people who don’t celebrate, now forced to endure the holiday months before it even gets here?

This is as blatant as “sneaky tactics” get.

The music and decorations displays speak to your brain, trying to set you in a mood. Thankfully, if only through shear repetition and irritation, some folks are catching on and tuning out.

I guess there isn’t much wrong with that in our capitalist society, but Christmas stuff out as early as August this year? For shame, you Sam’s Clubs of the world!

I know our economy is still in the crapper, but why couldn’t we stick to marketing Christmas beginning on Halloween night? That was…tolerable, at least.

Poor Thanksgiving. It’s a nice holiday, but only really valuable to those who sell turkey, gravy, and potatoes. And food goes bad, so it can’t sit on shelves for months and months.

On a similar note, I’m getting irritated with how many movies these days, sagas or not, are being turned into multiple-parters. To me, that’s just as blatantly a money grab; almost identical in its deceptive charms.

With Harry Potter, the idea made some sense; book seven, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is jammed-packed. Could we argue that it wasn’t necessary? Sure, but we could also argue that the book turned two movies split the content up nicely. Deathly Hallows Part 1 was running and exposition, setting the stage and displaying the passage of time as they meander about looking for clues, while Deathly Hallows Part 2 was the action-packed climax. The tactic may not have been completely innocent, yes, but it served a purpose to a good, acceptably long series. And there are some arguments for artistic merit in this splitting process, after all.

But now, I can’t help but think that if Harry Potter was just coming out today, every book would get at least two parts. Because there is so much to tell!

Twilight: Breaking Dawn? Marshmallow fluff. The Hobbit? Fluff-apolooza. And now, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay? FLUFF! FLUFF AND NONSENSE, I SAY!

And it’s a safe bet that Not Hunger Games (a.k.a Divergent) will be getting this treatment in the future.

Here’s the thing: no one really uses the 2-3 parting of movies to add more content that might have been cut out from the original source material (The Hobbit doesn’t count because the appendices of LOTR and The Silmarillion have little to do with the original hobbit story, and were each written many years afterward). Did The Deathly Hallows films bring up Peeves, or Hermione’s little S.P.E.W. project? No. They kept in all that was needed to carry the plot. We saw other ghosts in the films who affected things, and learned enough about Hermione’s character to know that she is smart, resourceful, and compassionate.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1, on the other hand, was full of padding; dragging out every single minute with repetitious scenes and drama that, like the next and final segment, was rendered completely pointless by the end. Perhaps more faithful to the book, but equally, if not more so, lacking in substance.

Whether you’re adding in things that don’t need to be there, or stretching out concepts to fit a movie with a ridiculous run time, you’re padding it. Too much of that, and it’ll fall over and be stuck. Or stretch it to its breaking point.

Marketing serves a purpose and has benefits for makers, marketers, and audiences. This is true. But this process isn’t being done to bring people (book fans and general audience members alike) quantity and quality content. It’s not even really to keep a series from ending for just a wee bit longer. I see it as being blatantly, unashamedly about the money, whether it’s warranted or makes sense in the slightest.

And while that isn’t a shocking notion, and shouldn’t really bother me at this point, it does.

They are encouraging you to shop for Christmas over 100 days early. For things you won’t display for at least another month or two (if you’re sane). They want you to pay an extra 15 dollars to see the next part of the movie, rather than making one whole with an extended edition that comes out on DVD, and buy the food, merch, and hype that goes along with it.

At best, that’s annoying, and at worst, it’s insidious.

Movie-makers, if I could ask one thing of you this Christmas, it’s this: please worry about how to market your films last, and just focus on making/adapting good stories. Trust me, you’ll still make a ton of money. And marketing gurus, I wish for you to stop with the splitting of movies into parts to drag out the franchise. Endings are inevitable, and sometimes it’s better to kill off your series while you’re riding high.

Money doesn’t have to be everything.

*As usual, the video and images don’t belong to me. “Clean all the things!” is from Hyperbole and A Half, a damn good blog.