1990's, 90's, animated, animation, Bev Bighead, Bighead, Carlos Alazraqui, Christmas, Christmas cartoon, christmas elves, christmas party, christmas shopping, christmas special, christmas tree, Ed Bighead, elves, Filbert, fruitcake man, Heffer, holiday episode, holiday special, Joe Murray, mitch the elf, Mr. Bighead, Mr. Lawrence, nickelodeon, Nickelodeon Christmas, Nicktoon, nicktoons, O Town, racism, Rocko, rocko's modern christmas, Rocko's Modern Life, Spunky, Stephen Hillenburg, The Bigheads, Tom Kenny, turtle, wallaby, you can't squeeze cheer from a cheese log
Rocko’s Modern Life was one of my favorite Nicktoons growing up, though I had shockingly little memories of watching the holiday episode. I remembered the first minute, but not what happened afterwards, maybe because I was unable to finish watching it for whatever reason. When I got the complete series a few years back I was thrilled to finally watch it in its entirety and has since become one of my must-see annual Christmas episodes of any tv series. Sometimes I even watch it when it isn’t Christmas because it’s just too fun to have to wait for it.
For anyone who’s not familiar with Rocko’s Modern Life, it’s one of those cartoons that sounds really weird when trying to explain the premise yet works almost flawlessly in practice. Created during the first big wave of Nicktoons in the early 90’s Rocko’s Modern Life is a slice-of-life series about a down-to-earth wallaby, the titular Rocko, who moves from Australia to O-Town, U.S.A. and his miscellaneous adventures with his buddies as he adjusts to life in America. This being an early Nicktoon, it’s got wacky animation and a ton of adult humor that went over my head as a kid but I freaking loved it. It’s certainly not without some heart, either. Joe Murray, the creator, incorporated some of his own life experiences into certain episodes like “I Have No Son” and the famous “Wacky Delli” and you can tell it comes from a genuine emotional place. It’s a show shockingly very relatable now that I’m older. So how does it dish out its own brand of yuletide spirit? Let’s find out.
It’s the day of Christmas Eve, though you couldn’t tell by the weather. Despite Rocko’s (Carlos Alazraqui) wish for snow, it’s muddy and raining with no sign of letting up. Also the one snow cloud in the neighborhood that’s conveniently floating over Rocko’s house is constipated.
No, I’m serious. The cloud is constipated. It spends the majority of the episode trying to squeeze something out and at one point we see it drinking a can of prune juice.
The most it can manage is one snowflake, and he craps it out so hard it hits Rocko in the face and knocks him out cold, leading to the fantasy title sequence.
The one person who’s happy with having a wet and gloomy Christmas is Rocko’s grouchy toad neighbor Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler), though his wife Bev (also Adler) would rather he try to enjoy the holiday for a change. Both he and Rocko notice some new neighbors moving in across the street, ones that are really into the Christmas spirit if the loads of decorations that are being put up are any indication. While Ed grumbles some more, Rocko decides to have a little holiday get-together with his friends Heffer and Filbert (Tom Kenny and Mr. Lawrence, both of Spongebob fame). It gets out of hand when he calls to invite them and Heffer’s wolf family invite themselves (long story short, Heffer is a steer who was adopted by a pack of wolves) and Filbert’s girlfriend Dr. Hutchinson blabs about the party to some friends who tell their friends and so on. With Rocko learning that his tiny party is about to become a blown-out bash, he sends invitations to everyone in O-Town to make sure no one is left out and heads to the mall for supplies.
At the parking lot he buys a tree from Heffer and Filbert and enjoys the sights and sounds of the mall, including some 50’s style muzak, hordes of shoppers, and that beloved holiday mascot the children adore, Fruitcake Man!
Rocko searches the mall, unaware that he’s being followed by one of the new neighbors, a shy little elf. When goes into a store after him, the clerks, a group of crocodiles, start bullying him. Rocko comes to his rescue and brings him home. He learns that the house across the street is home to a group of elves who make toys. The lead elf thanks him for returning the youngest member of their group back and introduces the rest. They’re all named after tools (except for Mango, because he was feeling fruity that day), but do you recall the most famous elf of all?
Mitch, the greatest elf who ever lived until Will Ferrell came along, was the last elf with the ability to make it snow. Ironically, the other elves lost him in a blizzard years ago. Rocko invites them to his party and they’re excited to go.
Ed watches Rocko leave the house and is furious to learn who his new neighbors are. “There are elves in the neighborhood! If there’s one thing I hate more than Christmas, it’s ELVES!” he rants as Bev reasons they’re probably nice people. Rewatching this special with the climate we’re in now made me realize how much the coded racism here hits close to home. Replace the word “elves” with blacks, Latinos, Jews, gays or any other minority and you’ve got your average angry white person spewing hateful garbage. With his blind elf-phobia and anger over not receiving an invitation to Rocko’s party paving the way, Ed does what any good Republican would do and formulates a plan to ruin Christmas for everyone else. Huh, maybe the Nostalgia Critic was on to something when he called Mr. Bighead a Grinch testicle.
Ed sees Filbert passing by after delivering Rocko’s Christmas tree and plays on his extreme hypochondria by telling him the elves attending the party carry “festering foot fungi”. Filbert immediately starts breaking out in hives and calls Hutchinson to say he can’t go to the party. She agrees to skip it as well, and begins the long chain of telephone tag that convinces everyone else to not go. It even reaches the elves, though by the time they get the call the rumor has been twisted so much that they don’t even know it’s about them.
Little Elf is disappointed that they’re not going but he sneaks over to Rocko’s place anyway. The poor wallaby is wondering why nobody has shown up, and the phone lines are too busy for him to call his parents and wish them a Merry Christmas. Rocko reads his only guest “The Night Before Christmas” until he falls asleep. Little Elf wanders outside remembering all the good Rocko did for him. All that love and Christmas cheer manifests itself into a heart that the elf sends up to the cloud, which finally gets it to start snowing.
The next morning all of O-Town marvels at Rocko’s house, which is the only one in the neighborhood to be perfectly blanketed in snow. Mitch the Elf suddenly returns. He reveals that he wasn’t lost but went into self-exile after he thought nobody remembered the true Christmas spirit anymore. It was Little Elf and one other that did, though. Everyone realizes that he’s talking about Rocko and they feel guilty over ditching him. After all the apologies are said and done, Rocko invites them in for the slightly belated Christmas party. Ed is annoyed that he wasn’t invited until Little Elf shows up with his lost invitation. It would be a heartwarming moment if it weren’t for him and the other elves immediately delivering some much deserved karma by making Ed into a living party decoration.
Rocko’s Modern Christmas is an underrated Christmas special. It somehow manages to perfectly capture the hubub of last minute Christmas madness with just the right amount of cartoony fun and some moments of honest sweetness thrown in. The voice acting is great, featuring some of the best voices in the business. Something about Carlos Alazraqui’s delivery of “Noooooo, daddy!” as Mitch the elf gets a big laugh out of me every time, as does Charles Adler and Mr. Lawrence any time they scream. The animation is colorful and vibrant, and the use of public domain old-time sounding Christmas music fits perfectly. I give it my highest recommendation.