It may come as a shock to my fellow readers, but I like animation a lot.
So I tend to keep up to date on forthcoming animated projects, especially if it’s hand-drawn animation. One thing I was excited for that seemed to fall through the cracks for most of the 2010s was an independent animated film that finally premiered to great acclaim on Netflix in 2019: Klaus.
The story of Klaus begins with Sergio Pablos, a Disney animator during the 90s Renaissance who struck out on his own after working on Treasure Planet. He did some writing and character design work for assorted films and also created Despicable Me (which I’m not holding against him because one, he couldn’t possibly predict the juggernaut Minions-being-crammed-down-our-throats-24/7 franchise it’d become, and two, apparently his more creative ideas for the first movie were shot down by executives in order to fit the Illumination mold). Pablos still held a passion for traditional animation deep in his heart, however, and founded SPA Studios in his home country of Spain to try to keep the art form alive. Moreover, he wanted to help it evolve so it could stand toe-to-toe with today’s computer animated films while keeping its handcrafted feel.
Believe it or not, Pablos’ first project was one most distributors he approached considered a huge risk: a Christmas movie, specifically a re-imagining of Santa Claus’ origins. Sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, doesn’t it? Making a Christmas movie is no big gamble if you’re on something like Hallmark, they churn out eight of those a week; the mainstream market, on the other hand, is saturated with classic holiday films. Your Christmas feature would have to be something really special to stand out – and boy does Klaus stand out. I mean, no disrespect to computer animation, but after years of CG-animated films that start to blend into each other after a while, seeing fresh traditional cinematic animation is a palate cleanser for the eyes and the soul. Pablos also came through on taking hand-drawn animation to the next level. The studio developed software that renders detailed light and shadow on to the finished animation. How detailed, you may ask?
It’s like a reverse Paperman: instead of CGI that closely resembles 2D animation, it’s 2D animation that resembles highly-detailed CGI. So that on top of backgrounds that are Currier & Ives by way of Maurice Noble, and characters that are some of the most endearing in ages, that are part a story that puts on a fun yet heartfelt spin on a familiar plot that really puts you in the Christmas spirit…
While I remember the hype for the FOX Christmas special Olive The Other Reindeer back in 1999 –
…Excuse me, I was suddenly struck by the realization that I’m old.
Anyway, while I remember the promotions for it before it premiered, I’m ashamed to say I never got around to watching it until several years ago. Shame, really, because it’s been among my personal favorites since. Olive The Other Reindeer is loosely based on a children’s book by Vivian Walsh and award-winning artist J. Otto Seibold, the main conceit being “Hey, doesn’t that one line from the Rudolph song sound like they’re saying Olive The Other Reindeer instead of ‘all of the other reindeer’? Wouldn’t it be funny if someone named Olive got confused over it and tried to become a reindeer?” The book is fairly straightforward with little-to-no stakes, though it has some wonderfully stylized and colorful artwork. Naturally the leap from page to screen meant the story had to be significantly fleshed out, but who could possibly step up to the task?
Eh, how about the guy behind the biggest animated adult show of all time?
To this day I have no idea why Matt Groening took the job but I sure as hell am grateful for it. He, along with Futurama co-creator David X. Cohen, took what could have been another simple Christmas special and injected it with the sly modern wit and cheeky sense of humor they’re known for (the fact that Olive premiered on the same night Futurama did couldn’t have been a coincidence either). They spice up the proceedings with wonderful touches exclusive to this adaptation: the other characters with mondegreen names; the snappy dialogue; the background sight gags that you have to watch multiple times to catch; the running joke with the cordless drill; the self-depreciating jabs at Fox, and more. The smart writing in addition to the unique animation gives this outing a strong sense of identity without losing the heart and charm that’s inherent to the story. It also marks Olive as the only “family-friendly” thing Groening’s made to date; an interesting designation to have, but not a bad one at all.
Ah, back to stop-motion animation. After dealing with Frosty’s nonsense I’m unsure as to whether or not I missed it.
Like most iconic fictional characters, Santa’s been the subject of many origin stories. My personal favorite is The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn, which combines his saintly origins with interesting tidbits about his modern portrayal and a ton of fun historical fiction (he’s helped shape events like Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, and instead of elves he has a boatload of historical figures gain immortality to help him including Leonardo Da Vinci, Theodore Roosevelt and Attila The freaking Hun! It had me at hello!) Of course, Rankin-Bass had to do their own spin on the Santa mythos (not for the last time either as one of their final specials was based on L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus) and they did it by combining it with their tried-and-true method of basing it off a holiday standard.
When I first wrote this review, it opened with Cynicism saying “Bad news, Shelf. Since you shat on Rudolph last week, Patreon’s taking money AWAY from you. If you don’t say more nice things about this week’s special, we’re going to have to file for bankruptcy.” Just a fun little way of letting you know today’s post is going to be a bit less harsh than the previous one.
But then I checked my Patreon hours after the Rudolph review went up, and the numbers had shrunk substantially.
It actually happened.
A silly one-off joke I wrote to ease you, the reader, into the review, accidentally came true.
It’s like the universe itself is punishing me for daring to not like Rudolph.
Okay, the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated than that, but nobody actually quit being a patron based on my feelings towards Rudolph, for which I am relieved and grateful for. It’s already been sorted out and I certainly don’t hold this mishap against anyone because of events beyond their control.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. If you can’t already tell, today’s holiday outing is Frosty The Snowman.
Frosty, Frosty, Frosty…yeah, not a big fan of this one either.
“YOU HATE FROSTY TOO, YOU MONSTER?!”
“I didn’t say THAT!”
Frosty, like Rudolph, was another Rankin-Bass special I lost my taste for due to forced overexposure. It’s light on story and character, the animation is nothing to write home over, and we trade a bunch of subpar songs for one song dragged across the entire affair. But I’ll give it this over Rudolph:
It’s shorter. Slashed right down the middle of Rudolph’s runtime, Frosty’s only twenty-five minutes of schmaltzy bland holiday fare instead of nearly an hour.
The only jerk in the special is the clear-cut villain, who’s the most fun character in this thing.
The cheap stop-motion has been replaced by cheap traditional animation. Not much of an exchange, I’ll take any crumbs of hand-drawn goodness I can get these days.
If I may elaborate on the latter, the designs for the characters and backgrounds are kind of interesting. The man behind them is Paul Coker Jr., who also created comics for MAD Magazine, hence why the characters have a bit of a unique geometric aesthetic but are still kind of…weird-looking. Alfred E. Neuman wouldn’t feel out of place among this cast.
Hi! If this is your first time here, I highly recommend checking out my other movie/tv/holiday special reviewsbefore this one, just to get a more positive idea of what to expect from my writing. Usually, I’m not this…well, you clicked on this review, didn’t you?
I suppose I should begin this month with a little bit of Rankin-Bass’ history. It was founded in 1960 by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass under the name Videocraft International. They began by producing animated television series for children, alternating between stop-motion and traditional cel animation before combining both with a process they called “Animagic” (which sounds more like a fireworks show at Disney World than an actual animation technique if you ask me). All the animation for these shows and the holiday specials and films that they would later branch out into were outsourced to Japan. Throughout the studio’s existence, work rotated between five different Japanese animation houses: MOM Production, Toei Animation, TCJ (Television Corporation of Japan), Mushi Production, and Topcraft. Chances are if you’re into anime, then these names ring a few bells. These studios have produced hit after hit on the big and small screen, with some of them continuing to do so today, and many of Topcraft’s animators went on to bigger and better things at Studio Ghibli.
Most of Rankin-Bass’ Christmas specials, particularly the ones I’ll be looking at, follow a simple formula – take a well-known holiday song and build a story around it. It’s not a bad concept if a bit overutilized. Their first outing, and most beloved in the eyes of many, is Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, based on the tune of the same name written by Johnny Marks (who would also write the other songs in the special) and popularized by Gene Autry in 1949. The song itself was taken from a children’s book created a decade prior to promote the Montgomery Ward department store, and the special was sponsored by General Electric, who, by a stunning coincidence, were selling Christmas lights that holiday season which happened to resemble Rudolph’s nose.
In short, this special originated as a commercial, and always was one through and through.
In spite of its original intent, Rudolph has become a holiday staple and icon as big as Santa Claus himself. And if you are one of the millions of people on this planet who loves this special, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from doing so, and you are not wrong for enjoying it. After all, this is just one person expressing their opinion. If this person’s opinion differs from yours, that doesn’t invalidate how you feel nor should you feel as if you absolutely must agree with them –
“Hey…you’re making it sound like you’re about to say something bad about Rudolph!”
“Nobody dislikes Rudolph! Everyone in the entire world loves it! It’s a classic! The perfect Christmas special! You like Rudolph too, right? RIGHT?!”
We all have our good years and our bad years that we can recall. For me, 2013 was not a very good year. To make a long story short, everything from February onward culminated in a deep depression that lasted through most of the fall. What helped me out of it? Well, Team Starkid released what is to date their best show, Twisted, for starters. But that same Thanksgiving weekend Twisted premiered online, I rediscovered a piece of my childhood almost untouched by time. A movie that, despite its age and subject, wore down the walls of cynicism, made me forget the troubles of the outside world for 75 minutes, and had me smiling genuinely for the first time in months.
That movie is what I’ll be reviewing today.
Babes in Toyland began life as an operetta/pantomime by Victor Herbert in 1903, and you’ll never find a straight adaptation or production of the original libretto put on today. Why?
There’s gruesome murders, convoluted schemes, love octagons, too many characters to keep track of, needlessly dark subplots, and I’m not even touching the random fantasy elements thrown in. If you want some idea of what the story is supposed to be, then by all means read Jay Davis’ Babes in Toyland retrospective (coincidentally written in 2013). Despite this, the show was tremendously popular and led to many theatrical reimaginings of magical family-friendly stories like The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. In the former’s case, it was those stage adaptations that paved the way for the classic 1939 movie. But because Babes in Toyland was first and foremost a musical, a film adaptation had to wait until silent pictures became talkies. And when it did come to the big screen, it took a turn that few expected.
Enter Hal Roach, famed producer of comedy vehicles for stars of the 20s and 30s such as Will Rogers, Thelma Todd, the Little Rascals, and of course, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Once movie rights for Babes in Toyland were made available, Roach saw the comic potential for Laurel and Hardy and snagged ’em. His initial treatment didn’t impress Stan Laurel much, though. Few know that Laurel took his craft very seriously and was prone to rewriting scripts to milk as many laughs from it as possible. While this might sound like the workings of a control freak prima donna, he actually knew what he was doing. This Babes in Toyland, later re-titled March of the Wooden Soldiers to differentiate it from the others, is full of entertaining comic setpieces, lines, and characters, and has a tight plot that ties them all together. It is very much Stan Laurel’s movie more than it is Hal Roach’s.
And in hindsight, we have him to thank for the grand tradition of rewriting Babes in Toyland so it’s almost nothing like the operetta and no two versions are the same. That’s something I’m also grateful for.
But perhaps the greatest contribution Laurel might have made to March of the Wooden Soldiers is how naturally he and Hardy step into the role of main character. See, the leads in all the other takes on Babes in Toyland are love interests usually named Tom and Mary, and they are so mind-numbingly boring. If Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry hooked up with Kevin Costner and Robert Pattinson, their non-existent chemistry wouldn’t be half as dull as the parade of Toms and Marys doing nothing but pining for each other. They take time away from the characters who have real personalities and make those other Babes in Toyland far less interesting or fun to watch.
March of the Wooden Soldiers, on the other hand, does something radical when it comes to naming its leads – it takes the funny side cast we want to see more of and makes them the focus while putting the traditional romantic protagonists in the background. Normally handing over the spotlight to the comic relief characters is a bad idea (COUGHMINIONSCOUGH). But when those side characters-turned-leads are played by the most iconic comedic duo of all time, well, let’s just say we’re in good hands.
For a very brief couple of seconds on October 9th of this year some of you may have noticed that this review went up all of a sudden just to disappear as quickly. I’ve said before it was due to some issues trying to reschedule the review for another date in December and had to give away the surprise that I’d be looking at more holiday shorts. Well, here’s the actual review. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint as I review at another nostalgic staple from my childhood, Rugrats.
An animated show that takes place from the point of view of a baby doesn’t sound like a particularly risky idea, but back when it was among the first crop of original Nicktoons to be pitched to Nickelodeon, it was. Suffice it to say that the gamble paid off and up until Spongebob dethroned it Rugrats was Nickelodeon’s golden child. I was very young when Rugrats came out and it was the very first show I remember being obsessed with; dolls, toys, books, clothes, you name it and I had it. The movies actually hold up pretty well too (except Rugrats Go Wild, that can burn in the deepest recesses of Hades). I even went to the live show. The freaking cheesy as hell live show. I mean the premise of the entire series was actually relatable though the main characters were about 4-5 years younger than me; they had a great deal to learn about the world around them and often got lost in fantastic adventures using their imaginations while the yuppie parents went about being completely oblivious 80% of the time. That was my bread and butter when I was in my single digits.
The characters were also basic but likable and cute to boot; you got Tommy the intrepid leader always looking to explore everything, his best friend Chuckie the fraidycat who always had some sort of new phobia to conquer (and was my favorite by the way), the gross-loving twins Phil and Lil, and Tommy’s bratty cousin Angelica whom everyone loved to hate, myself included. More characters were added along the way like the badass Susie, Tommy’s infant brother Dil, and Chuckie’s stepsister Kimi, each one bringing something new and diverse to the show.
I’m not gonna say that it was the perfect animated show or the standard all kids shows should emulate though; I mean for one thing if this took place in the real world the babies would have been taken away by child services now because it surprises me just how wrapped up in their own problems the adults could be. Most of the time they neglect the kids long enough for them to get out of the playpen or stroller and wander around a strange area and nearly endanger themselves. That and the usual foray into poo-poo humor you’d expect when dealing with characters that are barely 2 years old. Some of the toilet jokes I remember would make Shrek gag in disgust. But hey, sometimes you gotta appeal to the lowest common denominator for kids. It doesn’t completely take away the fact that at its best it was a very cute show that played a major part in building Nickelodeon’s identity.
So how does their take on the most wonderful time of the year hold up? And why is it called The Santa Experience anyway? Let’s take a look.
All right, I have to start with a bit of a confession:
I freaking love Spongebob Squarepants.
Yes it’s been overplayed and overmarketed to death.
Yes the internet is overly saturated with memes spawned from it.
Yes Nickelodeon has dragged it out far longer than it should have like some other animated shows starring yellow characters I could mention to the point where the characters are zombie versions of their old selves.
None of that can ruin the classic first few years of its existence for me. When it was good, it was really freaking good; like Seasons 2-8 of The Simpsons good – bright, colorful and silly with wry and surreal humor that appeals to both kids and adults without pandering to one or the other. My friends and I still quote it in our conversations and it never fails to crack us up. I still regard it as one of the best cartoons to come out of the past two decades (it’s been on air for almost 20 years now, holy shit I feel old…)
So needless to say getting to finally talk about one of my favorite episodes, the Christmas one, has got me as excited as our titular character doing double overtime at the Krusty Krab. Let’s take a look at The Spongebob Christmas Special, aka “Christmas Who?”
I’d like to apologize for the early post. I accidentally scheduled it to go up before it was completed. On the bright side it gives me better segue into the review instead of jumping right into it.
So how does Futurama fare on its second Christmas outing? Let’s continue.
It’s Christmas Eve once again, and the head of Walter Cronkite appears on the news to warn the world of Santa’s impending jolly rampage. Prof. Farnsworth has Planet Express HQ barricaded to the extreme so no one can get in or out. Unfortunately he has one last mission for Leela, Bender and Fry – delivering children’s letters to Santa.
On their way to his fortress on Neptune, Fry and Leela read some of the letters. Each one is a plea Santa not to visit and inflict pain and terror as he does every year. Once again Fry wishes for the good old days when Xmas was about bringing the family together and not blowing them apart. After landing on Neptune and seeing the squalor the Neptunians, the aliens who used to act as his elves, are living in after Santa shuttered the toy factory, the three come up with a plan to stop his evil deeds forever.
The elves usher the sack of letters into the fortress with the gang inside. Santa, now voiced by John DiMaggio, is busy watching people around the world and marking them down as naughty regardless of what they do. I have to admit, as great a voice actor as DiMaggio is, it’s jarring to hear the voice of Santa switch from John Goodman to someone trying to sound like him. Was Goodman too expensive to have return? Was it just easier for DiMaggio to just do an impression? I like consistency in my voice acting, and this is a change I’m not completely fond of.
Anyway, just to get an idea of how Santa judges, he sees the robot mafia beating up a shopkeeper for protection money and judges them as naughty. He also judges the shopkeeper to be naughty, however, because he’s not paying them. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he’d come to the same conclusion even if he did, meaning Santa really needs to be taken down a notch.
Everyone pops out of the bag but Leela slams Santa with a head-exploding paradox before he can kill them: his job is to give presents to the nice and destroy the naughty, however most of those he punishes are in fact nice, meaning HE must be naughty and destroyed as well. Sure enough, this causes Santa’s head to explode. Before they can celebrate, however, a new head pops out of his body because he was built with paradox-absorbing backups or something like that. He gives chase and while holding back the Planet Express ship, the engines melt the ice beneath him. He sinks and gets frozen up to his head. Everyone is overjoyed that Santa’s reign of terror is over and Fry decides to take on the role of gift giver. Bender points out that only a robot would be able to deliver billions of gifts in one night and begrudgingly decides to become Santa himself. What follows is one of my favorite musical Futurama moments where everyone works last minute to prepare for Bender’s flight. It’s catchy, the lyrics are funny, and Katey Segal has some nice pipes.
Bender arrives at the first home to find that the family there is afraid for their lives. They believe his promise of gifts are nothing but a trick and unleash whatever firearms they have on him. Bender is met with generally the same attitude at every house he visits, even at Planet Express. This is the biggest problem I have with this episode. After hundreds of years of having Santa be viewed as a literal killing machine, did nobody think to spread the news that there’s a new kinder non-violent Santa out to spread holiday cheer? It’s not like the internet doesn’t exist in this universe; it does, though it’s a bit like Tron where you get zapped inside virtual reality to do things. All it takes is one message or video sent out to the public and boom, no more worrying about Santa. This massive oversight has even harsher consequences for Bender as the police catch him on a street corner nursing his wounded pride with some liquor and also mistake him for the actual violent Santa. They arrest him, and after a kangaroo courtroom scene, he is sentenced to death for his crimes against humanity.
Knowing the only way to clear Bender’s name is to show the real Santa, Leela and Fry fly back to Neptune to take his frozen body back to Earth. Unfortunately they find the planet under the effects of extreme global warming due to pollution from the toy factory and Santa is freed from his icy tomb. After escaping his holly jolly wrath, Fry and Leela flee to think up another way to save Bender. Both are unaware that Santa has stowed away on the ship.
Mayor Poopenmeyer prepares to execute Bender by pulling him apart with electromagnets (because it’s the only humane way that isn’t boring) but Hermes, Fry and Amy appear in Santa garb pulling an “I’m Spartacus!” in a last ditch effort to make everyone believe they have the wrong Santa Claus.
And Zoidberg shows up as Jesus, just in case someone watching the execution complains about not having enough Christ in Christmas.
The Mayor isn’t convinced though, and begins the process of tearing Bender slowly in two. It’s horrible, but at least it’s not boring. The real Santa barges in, shoots up the place and frees him. Bender thanks him while also pleading for his life, but Santa’s not here for revenge. Time is running short, and Santa needs all the help he can get in order to “save” Christmas, so he recruits Bender to join his slaying. As they wreak havoc throughout the world together, everyone at Planet Express huddles together for safety and Fry comes to a realization – this Xmas HAS brought them together, not with love but with fear, and that counts for something.
As the night ends, Santa gives Bender a small present as his way of saying thank you. Bender’s disappointed that it’s an empty box, but Santa explains: “It might appear empty, but the message is clear – play Santa again and I’ll kill you next year!” Then he kicks him out of the sleigh in midair.
Personally I prefer the first Futurama Xmas episode over this one, but “A Tale of Two Santas” isn’t without its merits. I like the song in this one more, the moments in the courtroom and leading up to Bender’s execution are funny, and the characters are very much in character with Bender only becoming Santa under protest but also with the hope that he’ll be showered with praise and rewards for doing so. They even have some fun with the fact that he’s possibly, with the exception of the Robot Devil and Richard Nixon’s head, the most evil character on the show, as shown in this moment where Santa is asking Bender to join him after breaking him out.
Fry: Don’t do it! He’s evil!
Santa: I know he is, but that’s beside the point.
Other than that, the voice acting inconsistency rubs me the wrong way, especially since they keep DiMaggio as Santa for the rest of the series, the plothole with them not telling anyone before sending Bender out to deliver presents bugs me, and while the moments of mean-spirited comedy were handled well in the previous episode, they’re not here. If it were me I would have had the last scene with Bender and Santa happen before Fry and the Planet Express crew huddle together and have Bender come crashing in and joining them, making the ending both darkly humorous and heartwarming. All this still doesn’t stop me from watching it at least a few parts from it though, if not the full episode.
There is one other Futurama holiday-themed episode made during the series’ second run, but I won’t be looking into it because fans like myself agree it’s one of the worst episodes of the show. They go for a Treehouse of Horror/Anthology of Interest approach with three different tales relating to the big three December holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah (or in this case Robonukkah for Bender) and Kwanzaa, but the comedy is awful, the songs are forced and forgettable, and it ends with every single one of the characters dying in horrible ways. If I had to choose between that and “A Tale of Two Santas”, I’d pick the latter in a heartbeat.
Futurama is one of my favorite television series. The brainchild of Matt Goening, creator of The Simpsons, it enjoyed a brief run on Fox before regaining popularity on Adult Swim reruns, which was how I was introduced to it. After some successful direct-to-video movies, it was revived on Fox for a few more seasons. It has a hard-earned place in the heart of nerd culture for its sense of humor, beloved characters, and crazy world of New-New York, 3000 AD. Early on in its second season, the first Christmas episode, “Xmas Story”, premiered in time for the holidays, and I’ll be looking at it today.
But first, a brief breakdown of the series up to that point: Our main character, Philip J. Fry, is a 30 year old pizza delivery boy from the year 1999. On New Year’s Eve, he was accidentally cryogenically frozen and awoken in the year 3000. He becomes a delivery boy for Planet Express, a delivery company run by his extremely great-nephew, Prof. Farnsworth and works alongside a cyclops alien captain named Leela and amoral beer-guzzling robot Bender as he tries to adjust to this strange new world.
The Planet Express crew – Fry (Billy West), Leela (Katey Segal), Bender (John DiMaggio) and Farnsworth (also West) as well as intern Amy Wong (Lauren Tom), bureaucrat Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr) and Dr. Zoidberg (West) – spend a day up at the Catskills enjoying the comedic stylings of Conan O’Brien’s head (celebrities and presidents from years gone by are preserved as living heads in jars). After Bender and Conan heckle each other, everyone goes skiing and plenty of slapstick ensues.
While relaxing at the lodge Fry remarks that it’s moments like this that puts you in the Christmas mood. The others are confused over this “Christmas” until Fry spells it as “Xmas”. It turns out in the future people just call it the abbreviated version of the holiday. Fry is a little sad that this will be his first Xmas without his family, but the gang tries to cheer him up by going to the woods and chopping down an old-fashioned tree. This only exacerbates Fry’s homesickness as he learns that pine trees have been extinct for centuries and palm trees are now the go-to Xmas tree substitute.
They fly back to Planet Express HQ and decorate, but Fry is too caught up in his memories of Xmas past to join in the fun. Hermes delivers cards from family members to everyone in the crew but Leela. Leela takes a moment for herself to look at some old pictures from her childhood. All of them are of her without family or friends. She returns in time for Fry to loudly demand some sympathy and she runs off crying. Fry wonders what that was about and Amy reminds him that Leela was an orphan, and the only known cyclops species in the universe. Fry may feel alone this Xmas, but Leela’s spent her whole life alone.
Bender catches a touching story on the news about homeless robots getting the alcohol they need to function from soup kitchens and decides to go to one himself – not to volunteer of course, but to help himself to free booze.
Fry, meanwhile, is feeling awful for being insensitive towards Leela and vows to find her the perfect Xmas present to cheer her up. It’s getting dark though, and the crew warns him that Santa will be out soon. In one last stark bit of contrast to our Christmas, they reveal Santa is a robot (voiced by John Goodman) originally built to judge who’s been naughty or nice and deliver presents, but his standards have been set to beyond Jesus-levels of niceness and he automatically judges everyone to be naughty. Rather than distribute coal, he punishes everyone in extremely violent ways. This doesn’t put Fry off, however, and he searches all of New-New York to find a good last-minute gift.
At the homeless shelter, Bender is able to pass himself off as a homeless robot and he guzzles as much alcohol as he can get his hands on. He softens for a moment on seeing a crippled orphan robot Tinny Tim approach bowl in hand like Oliver Twist but is denied after the kitchen runs out. He doesn’t give him his alcohol, but he does let him hang out with him for the rest of the episode which counts for something I guess.
Fry tracks down a pet store two minutes before closing and is torn between buying a $500 parrot or 500 lizards that cost a dollar each.
Never mind that Leela already has a pet that poops out free fuel and has the voice of Frank Welker.
Fry decides on the parrot but it quickly proves to be a nuisance and it escapes. Fry climbs on to a clock tower ledge to retrieve it and ends up clinging for his life Harold Lloyd-style. Leela appears to rescue him after the crew told her where he went. As they both walk home, they realize that though they’re both alone, they can be alone together. Everything is wrapped up nicely…
“I’LL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE VINE! I’LL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE VINE!!”
Santa appears and is ready to stuff their stockings until they burst for not considering each others’ or their coworkers’ feelings. Leela and Fry find themselves cornered say their goodbyes. Fry notices that they’re standing under mistletoe, making their farewell a bittersweet one…until they’re interrupted by Santa’s TOW missile heading for them. They’re saved at the last minute by the parrot conveniently flying in its path.
They run into Bender and Tinny Tim, who have been out robbing old ladies together under the guise of friendly carolers. Santa calls out Bender for being especially naughty. Bender tries to pin his long roster of crimes on Tinny Tim, and when Santa stops to add the act of framing an orphan to his list they all make a break for Planet Express. They manage to get inside but so do Santa and his reindeer before the chimney can be blocked.
Santa declares everyone to be naughty and worthy of his punishment – except for Zoidberg. He gets a pogo stick. With Santa’s belly shaking a bowlful of nitro glycerin and Rudolph’s glowing nose as the timer, it seems like everyone is doomed. Zoidberg uses his present to reach the Christmas lights and cut them, electrocuting Santa. They succeed in kicking him and the reindeer into the fireplace and covering it before Santa is blown sky high.
Everyone can relax now that the danger is over and Bender makes Xmas dinner out of a very familiar-looking dead bird. Now I’m not one for mean-spiritedness in comedy, but the following exchange is one of my favorite moments in all of Futurama. Bender serves some of the parrot to little Tinny Tim, but Leela’s pet Nibbler gobbles up the entire meal, including Tim’s portion. Fry stands up to make an important announcement:
Fry: Look, the food isn’t what’s important.
Tim: I’m so hungry.
Maybe it’s the delivery, maybe it’s how they play up Tim’s sad little orphan act as much as possible throughout that it transcends tragedy and enters comedy, but it cracks me up every time.
Fry concludes that even though he’s surrounded by aliens and robots and Jamaicans, he feels perfectly at home this Xmas. The evening concludes with everyone cheering and singing that classic song “Santa Claus is Gunning You Down”.
“Xmas Story” is one of my go-to episodes of Futurama, and a perennial holiday favorite. It does a fun job showing what an alternate sci-fi version of Christmas would be like, all played for laughs of course. I didn’t even touch on half the funny lines or scenes in this episode. They go all out on the jokes, even ripping on some beloved stories like A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Gift Of The Magi, but they don’t hold back on the heartwarming moments either. If you’re not familiar with Futurama, the world and the characters that inhabit it might be a lot to take in, but I hope this gives you more incentive to give the series a chance.
But this isn’t the only time Fry Bender and Leela go toe-to-toe with Santa. Join me in the next review to find out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.