Happy New Year! 5 Characters I liked from things I watched in 2018

A quick pick of some good characters .

Advertisements

Alright, so today’s a more informal post for the first time in a while. I’ve been banging out a lot of reviews, so with the year coming to a close and 2019 starting, it seemed like a fun idea to look back on 5 characters I really liked from things I watched this year. That could be movies or shows, East or West- but animated, as always. (Before anyone asks: Killua is an all-time favorite. There’s also a character piece I did. Check it out if you haven’t!) There was plenty to choose from, as it’s been an action-packed year of viewing, so here we go!


Vanellope von Schweetz (Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet):

Honestly, I could (and probably will) give the sweet little racer from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph films the full “What’s in a Character” treatment at some point, especially with 2 full movies’ worth of excellent character development, but Vanellope re-entered the scope of my mind with the sequel. A superbly fun character (voiced by Sarah Silverman, of all people) with a terrific dynamic that she has with Ralph, the regent of Sugar Rush is a surprisingly complex character, bundled into an adorable bundle of messy hair, a signature green hoodie, and boundless energy.

Yukko Aioi (Nichijou):

Nichijou, while a 2011 release in real-time, came into my life in a big way in 2018. While the many charming, quirky characters on the cast might all warrant some kind of mention, Yukko’s brand of terrible luck, persistent attempts at humor and futile battle against schoolwork all while never giving up is something to behold. Silly as Nichijou can be, it has smart moments of some pretty deep and touching stuff, and while Yukko isn’t a genius, she is someone who can be a great friend- and it’s through her actions that the robot girl Nano Shinonome is able to find comfort in the transition to being a schoolgirl, and her surprisingly up and down relationship with Mio Naganohara is a great joy of humor to watch unfold.

Anti (SSSS.Gridman):

Beyond the anime public’s adoring gaze upon Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo, the breakout character of this cast was none other than this man- a one-time kaiju whose initial casting drew a strong resemblance to Viral from Gurren Lagann. As time went on though, Anti’s varying hardships, coupled with his persistence in his goals (which originally was a single-minded, and I do mean single-minded obsession to destroy Gridman) found him both a strangely sympathetic character and a likable one who also delivered some major hype in a show you’d expect to have plenty of it. By the end of Gridman, Viral has undergone a complete character arc and transformation- and that, perhaps more than anything else in the show, is why he’s on this list.

Jack-Jack Parr (The Incredibles, Incredibles 2):

The youngest member of the Parr family had his big-screen coming out party this past year, where he transformed from a bit part in the original Incredibles film to a more active role, with a great deal of comedy and humor. From his backyard brawl with a raccoon to his unlikely heroics at the climax of Incredibles 2, Jack-Jack was about as humanly entertaining as you can make a baby character without him becoming annoying. No small feat there.

Kōhei Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

Father to the adorable Tsumugi in this sweet little slice of life anime, Kōhei struck me as interesting precisely because of his balancing act between being a good father (in the stead of his recently deceased wife) and his career as a teacher, which was handled with a lot of tact and care. While this show released back in 2016, it’s still worth going back to take a look (and here was my review of it.) This man’s selfless care, despite all the challenges he faces regularly, is a treat to watch, and a character archetype that seems far too scarce at time. Good dads (and parents) are never out of style!


So there’s my pick-5 for the past year. I hope everyone had a great 2018, and here’s a happy New Year as we get into 2019! I’m looking forward to another fantastic year here on AniB Productions, and to the excitement of my readers as they continue to grow. Feel free to leave a comment!

Movie Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

The wrecker’s second outing proves to be a different, yet enjoyable sequel.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! A big thank you to those who read the many days of the Advent Calendar that got out, and the warmest wishes to everyone that they have enjoyed the holidays as they continue into the new year. It’s been a terrific 2018 here at AniB Productions, and while I may slip in another piece or two before the calendar flips to 2019, it has been a pleasure to keep this blog going for you, the readers. And now…for a review of a film I’ve wanted to tackle for a month, but finally got to sit down and see in theaters at last- Wreck-It Ralph 2, or more formally, Ralph Breaks the Internet.

The Lowdown:

Film: Ralph Breaks the Internet (Wreck-It Ralph 2)

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 2018

AniB’s thoughts: There’s a lot to unpack from Disney’s first official animated sequel since The Rescuers Down Under, and also a followup to what is one of my personal favorites in the original Wreck-It Ralph, which was a film full of personality and character. (Here’s my review for that here.) While sequels are usually not up to the standards of the original film that inspired them, Ralph’s second outing proves to be a good one, featuring a deep dive into character dynamics and relationships, splashed against the background of perhaps the best take a film has done yet on the beast of an idea known as the Internet.

Set 6 real-world years after the events of the first film, Ralph Breaks the Internet starts off by showing the routine of two best friends had established at the arcade- but also some lingering want for something more from Vanellope, who while happy with her friendship with Ralph, had started to grow bored of the same thing every day. Ralph on the other hand, fully enjoyed his life as it was- and we wouldn’t have a film if this pattern held, which it doesn’t, as Sugar Rush, the racing game prominently featured in Wreck-It Ralph, has the steering wheel of its arcade console broken through a certain event- and coupled with Mr. Litwak’s (the arcade owner) purchase of a Wi-Fi router, the hunt is on for the surprisingly rare part to save Vanellope’s game- along with a world bigger than the duo ever imagined.

Unlike past horror shows like like The Emoiji Movie, this film actually manages to tackle the Internet’s vastness with a good deal of savviness and creativity. Product placement is fairly unavoidable- but in this case, feels authentic, much like the game characters from the first film, and plenty of clever references abound (my favorite might be a certain area where an AOL logo pops up. You’ll know when you see it.) And Ralph might just be the perfect universe to actually approach this subject material- especially as it continues the series trend of keeping the narrative character and story-driven, while using the internet to frame it in clever and inventive ways.

(SPOILER SECTION:)

 

Vanellope’s character arc represents someone who had grown far beyond her initial encounter with Ralph in the original film. Finally allowed to realize her original dream of being a real racer and having the best friend in the whole world for 6 years, she had grown past the point of mere contentment, although she was starting to dream bigger. Forget about the Internet for a moment- the opening part of the film in the arcade foreshadows it, from Ralph’s failure to pick up on Vanellope’s longing for more in her life, to her attitude towards Sugar Rush– which while still her domain, had long since grown past the point of challenging her, enough so that even in the middle of a race she dozed off. By preserving the real-world time that elapsed between the two films, there was an emphasis that the world had changed- though Litwak’s Arcade, not so much. It was a surprising and bold move to actually have Vanellope stay in Slaughter Race at the end of the film, partially because I never thought they’d actually do it- and in turn, it’s a genuinely emotional and bittersweet moment that still has me reflective on how this actually happens in life too. Super impressive writing right there.

Ralph on the other hand, was content because he’d ultimately achieved his version of happiness by the end of the first film. That said, while his bond with Vanellope remained the glue and backbone of this film, his aversion to any sort of change with Vanellope and general jealousy of her own developing dreams was a lesson personified about obsession. Yes, the King Kong inspired final act was a bit heavy handed, but the character dynamics rang true in that scenario, and I think it touched me deeply on some profound level about how life changes- and relationships evolve. This is a message that will go over much more strongly with the older crowd now and into the future. It was also fairly ambitious to not go for a traditional antagonist- instead using the surprisingly complex web of relationships (pun maybe intended) and the initial steering wheel issue to kickstart the plot as a much more abstract series of problems.

There was a bit of a natural arc with the dynamic duo- Vanellope went from being “the glitch” without a place under King Candy’s iron fist in Wreck-It Ralph, to living her dream as a “real racer”- but now she needed literally and figuratively, a bigger racetrack than what Sugar Rush could provide- and in the ultimate twist, wound up leaving the game that once imprisoned her for good. She’s had an interesting, often heartwarming and also bittersweet roller-coaster of a relationship with Ralph over two films, and in the end, it’s hard not to acknowledge the duo’s chemistry as one of Disney’s best, simply because of the way their dynamics continued to evolve over both films.

(End SPOILERS.)

Was this film better than the original? Hard to say, as they represent very different plots on a number of levels, but in this critic’s opinion, they are both worthy of praise in their own rights, and this is a sequel worth seeing if you haven’t already.


Animation Quality: Modern 3-D animated film. As always, these films have been gorgeous this decade, and Ralph is no different, continuing to show the savviness to detail that its predecessor established. Everything pops, the character models work well for what they are doing (Vanellope is somehow even cuter than the first film, I think), and everything comes together so well to help tell the story they want to tell. That’s impressive. 5/5 points.

 

Characters: I pretty much expounded on the main 2 characters in my spoilers, but to reiterate: Wreck-It Ralph is the big, hulking bad guy of 80’s arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. and best friends with Vanellope von Schweetz, the star racer of Sugar Rush, where the duo established a relationship in the first film that carried over into this film. The two are co-leads in this film- and as Vanellope is a fully established character from the start in this movie, it actually allows a much deeper exploration of her character on some interesting levels.

Aside from the main duo, new character mostly step up to fill other roles in this film. Yes, Felix and Calhoun still make appearances early in the film and at the end, but aren’t the major supporting characters in this go round. Neither are the Sugar Rush racers, who find themselves under the care of the couple after their game’s hardware malfunction (and I can sense a mini-film featuring what happened there to be hilarious.) Instead, there’s colorful Internet denizens who step into key roles, such as J.P. Spamley- a seedy personification of clickbait ads on the web, or Yesss- the head algorithm of “BuzzTube” who determines trending content. There’s also Shank- a beautiful, tough woman racer voiced by Gal Gadot in the online game “Slaughter Race,” which appears to parody both online MMO’s and franchises like Grand Theft Auto. It all comes together in a way that works- and yes, the Disney Princess cameos you’ve all probably heard about or seen are terrific. Just a lot of fun from this cast, but this is ultimately held together by Ralph and Vanellope- and it delivers an emotional punch on that level. 4.5/5 points.

 

Story: A simple premise launches Ralph 2’s plot- a broken arcade cabinet wheel, which proves to be rare and expensive to find, to the dismay of both Mr. Litwak and the denizens of Sugar Rush. Vanellope in particular takes it hard, sensing a loss of what made her her, despite recent complaints that the game had gotten painfully boring for her- and so, the journey to the Internet launches a grand quest.

Premise-wise, this was always going to be convoluted on some level, but it works within the framework of the story, which is character-driven. The narrative takes drastic shifts in stride, although the final act is a slightly mixed bag (though the emotional, character driven bits are still absolutely on point there.) It had a decently tough act to follow Wreck-It Ralph’s narrative- and it did reasonably well. 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: This movie was surprisingly complex in terms of exploring interpersonal relationships, along with the positive and negative impacts of the web. Sure, I wonder how well this film will age considering the subject material, but the character stuff is meaty and lasting, and honestly this will resonate strongly with mostly an older audience, which is great. The younger audience will still find plenty to like as usual, but the endgame plot may be a little complex (and for the very young ones, terrifying)- but overall, good stuff. 4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: For my money, an entertaining family friendly film with some fun musical stuff in there, some very funny bits (and very few cringy ones, at that), and a narrative that felt more complex that the first film. It’s a treat. 5/5 points.

 

Overall: 22.5/25 (89%): A worthy followup act to Wreck-It Ralph, this film takes the best part of the first film- Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship- and pushes it to another level against some really difficult subject material, and does it well. It’s definitely worth a look!


Like what you see? Big fan of the first or second film? Leave a comment!

Day 21: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

Hello everyone! I didn’t forget about the Advent Calendar countdown; rather, it was important to attend to some academic priorities as they wrapped up, and so I still intend to finish up the countdown, albeit slightly condensed. (Speaking of which, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup isn’t a bad pick for lunch this time of year.)

As Christmas draws ever closer, we enter yet another leg of the Rudolph sequel saga- and this time, it’s a full-blown movie with a big time crossover. So is it more of a Rudolph followup again or a Frosty continuation? Let’s find out.

The Lowdown:

Movie: Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

Studio/year released: Rankin-Bass, 1979

AniB’s thoughts: The red-nosed reindeer’s saga continued on after Rudolph’s Shiny New Year with this ambitious feature-length crossover film with fellow Christmas star Frosty the Snowman. Yes, this film finally crossed the pair in Rankin-Bass lore, and technically counted as the trilogy piece for both characters, considering Frosty also recieved a sequel in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (which I haven’t covered on this countdown, but it explains in this film why he has a wife and kids.)

This film actually does a fair bit of tweaking and expansion on Rudolph’s origin, while continuing to keep and change equally odd bits of continuity throughout its runtime. While Rudolph’s red nose is simply explained as an odd anomaly in the original special, this film lets us know it was a divine blessing from the aurora borealis. No, I’m not making this up- Lady Boreal is a character in this film, and before she just merely became the northern lights, she carried on her power via Rudolph’s shiny honker. Of course, this begs the question why the aurora borealis needed to be in this film or pass on her powers, and of course, Rankin-Bass brought us another villain equal to this task: Winterbolt.

This wizened old mage of icy heart and evil constitutions was the archenemy of Lady Boreal (as the story expositions), and once the ruler of the North Pole until he was sealed away for centuries. During that point, Santa came into the area, set up shop, and now for plot-specific reasons, this guy wakes up, intent on reclaiming his throne. While conniving, he’s true to the framework of Rankin’s usual Christmas baddies: prone to monologues, quite a bit of bumbling and scheming with precious little in the way of permanent results, and with a fatal weakness. (Not that I assume many of you will seek out this movie with fervor, but this might be the film’s biggest spoiler, no joke.)

The other bizarre major plot point is that somehow all this winds up involving a circus down on its luck at some generic beachside, but man, they must be hiding money somewhere to purchase all the high rent animals and performers they have. Seriously, this circus by the sea has everything you can think of when it comes to circuses, which might suggest they need a better promoter or something…which comes in the form of Rudolph and Frosty. And how might you ask did they wind up here? Milton the ice cream man, of course!….who’s he? Well, this affable fellow has a romance plot going on with the star acrobat of the circus in question, and just so happened to show up at the North Pole when this film takes place, running into Rudolph and Frosty, to talk about his problems. Winterbolt then does some mind manipulation magic and things proceed from there.

Again, in the realm of Rudolph specials (or even Frosty), expecting the unexpected seems to be the rule of thumb. Big Ben, the whale from Rudolph’s Shiny New Year makes a cameo; the “We’re a Couple of Misfits” makes its first reprise since the original Rudolph special, and Winterbolt has some interesting…ideas, such as creating a rival team of flying cobras in contrast to Santa’s reindeer. A weird, quirky film for sure- but still kitschy and charming when it’s all said and done. It’s probably become more obscure in the public eye as time has gone on, but it ties in nicely to the animated history of thes character as established by the studio in question.


Animation Quality: Stop-motion puppetry; Rankin-Bass’s so-called “Animagic” process. If nothing else, the smoothness of how things were executed in this method were much cleaner than in earlier specials featuring it, and this was the most ambitious undertaking at the time using the process, given the length of this film. 4/5 points.

Characterization: Most of the characters are self-explanatory at this point, such as Rudolph and Frosty, and in my thoughts I talked a bit about the film’s villain, Winterbolt, but there’s at least two more characters worth mentioning:

Scratcher is an anemic-looking reindeer with buckteeth, noted for being a reject from Santa’s team due to his habit of “stealing presents and candy canes.” While he serves as a secondary antagonist in this film, he mysteriously disappears after he pulls some dirty work, and it’s never quite explained at all what happened to him- a curious plot hole, for sure.

Lily Lorraine is the eccentric, energetic ringmaster of the circus by the sea. She’s noted for her cowgirl getup, complete with a ten-gallon hat and a pair of six-shooters, and naturally, she’s overjoyed to meet Rudolph and Frosty at a critical time in her buisness ventures. Her rival in the buisness is Sam Spangles- a generic underhanded carny who will use any means necessary to take the circus out from underneath her.

Also of note: Santa reappears here, but curiously enough, this is the Santa from the Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town continuity (Day 5 of this countdown), which means certain references, such as magical feed corn and the seemingly odd change from elves to “little Kringles” helping him out makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen that particular special. It’s worth noting though, because otherwise it seems very strange. 3/5 points.

Story: I already delved into this narrative a bit, but it’s certainly strange and unusual, for sure. I wouldn’t call this a good story, but it’s strangely entertaining in its own right despite being weird and unexpected in a lot of ways. 2.25/5 points.

Themes: Like most Rankin specials, this is more pure entertainment than it is any sort of rich moral tapestry, or complex thematic paragon. The main villain has flying, laughin’ snakes, among other things. Perhaps that should tell you how seriously you ought to take this. 1.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: On the flip side, it’s fairly easy entertainment to swallow, family friendly, charming in its own way and brings back a lot of songs from other specials. General story holes that seem odd though, make you question how anyone over the age of 12 wouldn’t notice them. 4.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 15.25/25 (61%): Ambitious for its time, with some famed characters and a patently silly plot, this film is a bit of an anomaly, and a curious one at that. Still, it’s worth mentioning within the world of Rankin-Bass’s Christmas-themed productions, even if its cherished leads let it have far more staying power than it otherwise would have had.


Like what you see? Eager to see the rest of the countdown as it finished up? Leave a comment!

Day 16: Jack Frost

The mischievous winter sprite got his own stop-motion special.

Day 16! Although a day late, this piece is still here as promised, and along with it comes yet another winter legend.  In perhaps the least surprising news for anyone who’s been following the Advent Calendar countdown, Rankin-Bass made several other specials outside of the ones you might know…and this was one of them, about that old wintry trickster himself, Jack Frost.

The Lowdown:

Special: Jack Frost

Studio/years released: Rankin-Bass, 1979

AniB’s thoughts: Yet again, the company remembered for its Christmas specials released one that was decidedly more “winter themed” in December of 1979 with this production, which actually is narrated by Punxsutawney Phil, known as “Pardon-Me-Pete” through this special. In a sense, this special has to do with Groundhog Day and general winter as opposed to the actual holiday season, but it still had its debut during Advent of its release year- go figure.

Interestingly, this was not Jack’s first role in a Rankin-Bass picture. The frosty pixie made his debut in 1976’s Frosty Winter Wonderland, where he serves as the main antagonist, a a decidedly grumpy on at that (feeling underappreciated), while playing up the impish nature of the character. Frost’s debut as a puppet though, would be in Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, a feature length film released roughly a half year before his solo outing here. In that movie, Jack makes a late cameo to resuscitate a melted Frosty and family, clearly reconciled over previous differences from the other special.

While there have been several different spins on the character of Jack Frost over the years, this special mostly forgoes his role as the impish trickster of winter, instead opting for a love story of sorts- and Jack’s recasting as a hero when he falls head over heels for a human girl. And in the grandest of Rankin-Bass traditions, there’s a big supernatural entity guiding Jack along in Father Winter. After Jack rescues the girl, Elisa and dreams of marriage enter his head, Winter grants him a chance to become human and have the girl of this dreams- provided he met very specific conditions, such as obtaining a house, gold, a horse and of course, marriage itself. In this way, Jack takes on a fully human form- “Jack Snip,” and starts a tailor’s shop in the small locale of choice, aptly named “January Junction.”

Of course, none of these specials would be complete without an eccentric and completely silly villain, and the role here is filled by Kubla Kraus- an evil Cossack king who lives on the self-explained Miserable Mountain alone with his ventriloquist dummy and his army of mechanical soldiers (called “Keh-Nights. No, I’m not making this up.) Between Jack’s goal of wooing Elisa and Kubla’s involvement in making life thoroughly unpleasant for January Junction, the two come into conflict inevitably over the girl…though things turn out both as you might expect and not expect all at the same time.

Now I will give a lot of credit in this special because as far as building any sort of mythical lore for Jack Frost, Rankin and Bass had a lot of creative license on this film, in part because Frost didn’t have a hugely defined role in the general cultural ethos of the holiday. He wasn’t Santa Claus, or even Rudolph, whom I discussed already a bit at length about in some other pieces, or even Frosty who had his own number of sequels as well. It’s a little easier to swallow some of the usual absurdity because of Jack Frost’s supernatural origins, and it really feels in some ways like a fairy tail type of backstory for the titular lead. For an enjoyable, different experience, this one still airs seasonally on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), so if you’ve got the channel still, you’re likely to be able to see it if you’re just scrolling around for a watch.


Animation Quality: Rankin-Bass returns yet again with the “Animagic” stop-motion style. One thing is evident; the animators in Tokyo who did the actual work with the puppets had improved over the years, and everything seems a bit smoother and cleaner, especially when compared to an earlier special like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (which was back in 1964!) Here, the same sort of charm is preserved, as this style of stop-motion helped preserve the unique character of all the company’s specials that used it. 4.25/5 points.

Characters: Jack Frost is the lead and pretty self-explanatory. He’s both carefree and energetic, both as a sprite and a human, but he also shows a good heart to go with it.

Aside from Jack, there’s a bunch of other supporting characters, chiefly narrator “Pardon-Me Pete,” the famous groundhog who enjoys his winter slumbers thoroughly, Elisa as the love interest (she’s a pleasant girl but there’s not a lot more to say about her), Sir Ravenal Rightfellow- a heroic knight who is Jack’s main competition for the girl’s heart and hand in marriage (but not an antagonist), and Kubla Kraus as previously mentioned- a thoroughly evil king who enjoys his solitude and greed along with being a terrible ruler. Jack is also joined by two other sprites in his human endeavors- Snip and Holly, who assist Father Winter normally, and this comprises most of it. Simple cast, simple but effective lead, self explanatory protagonist. Perfectly adequate. 3.25/5 points.

Story: This is both a legendary story (about Jack Frost) and a love story as well considering the contents. Not terribly complicated, but decently entertaining. 3/5 points.

Themes: This special is really meant more for enjoyment than any strong moral tale, although I suppose opposing an evil king is a righteous thing to do. Doesn’t quite have the Christmas pull either with the more general “winter theming.” 2/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A variety of original songs, family friendly entertainment and a lasting shelf-life that has kept it in the seasonal rotation of a network are all some nice points in its favor. 5/5 points.

 Overall: 17.5/25 (70%): While Rankin and Bass certainly made a lot of these holiday specials, this was solid, creative work on a character they had a bit more license to do what they wanted with. No, it doesn’t get as crazy as something like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, but that’s just as well; this one might be worth a look not only during December but for a quick watch at any point in the winter.


Like what you see? Enjoying the many specials and shows covered here? Leave a comment!

Day 15: A Brief Interlude

Hi all,

My laptop needed to go in for service, which really dashed something I wanted to write about today (and you will all get!) With that in mind, we’re in that final 12 day stretch before Christmas and I wanted to hear from you, the readers, on how this Advent Calendar countdown is going, and any sort of content you may really want to see as the big day draws nearer. With any luck, my technical difficulties will be resolved shortly, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to the comments here, both on how it’s gone and where people might want it to go. Don’t worry- I still have plenty of ideas on my own end, and at worst, any other ideas that don’t get used now will still be considered and probably used in a future piece, countdown or not.

Thank you again for all the support; the floor is yours.

-AniB

Day 14: A Huey Freeman Christmas (The Boondocks)

Day 14! We’re officially over halfway to Christmas Day, believe it or not. Today’s piece delves into one boy’s interpretation of that most holy of days in perhaps one of the more truly creative specials out there’s- that’s right, it’s time for Huey Freeman to bring The Boondocks’ special to life.

The Lowdown:

Show: The Boondocks

Episode: “A Huey Freeman Christmas”

Studio/year released: Adult Swim, 2005

AniB’s thoughts:

The Boondocks is a show I’ve been meaning to talk about and review on here for a while, but the opportunity never quite presented itself. While a more formal review will still come along at some point, this biting, irreverent, yet very funny show did have a famous Christmas special of its own- and that of course is the topic of the piece at hand- the time Huey Freeman, the main protagonist pictured on the right in this post’s picture- was tabbed to produce his school’s Christmas play.

Featuring the usual Boondocks style of humor and pacing, this special was actually just another episode in season 1. As far as the premise goes, Huey manages to get fully creative control over his class’s play after being initially reluctant when offered by his teacher, and despite having grand sweeping visions of how to produce and perform it, there’s two things that stick in the craw of the powers that be, namely a) the phasing out of students for professional actors in a school play and b) Huey’s creative choice to have a black baby Jesus. The former is something the boy manages to achieve, albeit with some later regret, a full scale PTA protest and boycott, and a lot of string pulling (seriously, just how does he manage to get a bunch of A-listers for such a play?), while the latter proves to be such a radically different vision from what society normally views that it actually compromises the wide public release and attention our protagonist attempts to get for the production at one point. Along the way, both Huey and those involved raise questions about what the season really means, often obfuscated by consumerism, greed and the delicate pull between people and giving what they can, vs pouring everything into something because of the belief you have it (like Huey and his play). In the end, the boy moves on, with a somewhat narssistic attitude about not “looking to the past”- a great irony considering the holy and centuries old origin of what Christmas is.

The B-plot involves a rather humorous, albeit violent handling of Riley Freeman’s anger at Santa Claus for never delivering new rims from years ago, culminating in an assault of a mall Santa and the young man threatening him. This plot blends into  neighbor girl Jazmine’s belief in Santa Claus, culminating in Huey’s younger, ruder and more naive brother returning again to attack the stand in Santa- Uncle Ruckus (a recurring character in the show who in true Ruckus fashion, is working yet another odd job.) Again, while dark comedy, this part of the episode also shines light on the effects of consumerism, the mythos of Santa Claus vs the commercial reality people have put in front of them…and of course an excellent excuse for more of the irreverent humor The Boondocks is known for.

As always, this episode is the best of this series in a nutshell- a biting sociopolitical commentary that manages to be both thought provoking and quite humorous. It’s a mature kind of humor, but the kind that might just give you a big laugh at this time of year, provided you’re old enough. There’s a bluntness and crudeness to it that also won’t fit everyone, but it feels real, in a word- perhaps not the characters, but some explorations of how people treat traditions and differences culturally, around this holiday season. Heck, it even takes its own stab at the belief of a child in Santa Claus’s existence, which is an oddly pure belief based on something generally beyond logic and reason called faith. There is an evocatively interesting heart beating beneath it all, and as Huey’s play opens to marvelous, albeit limited audiences and reviews, there’s this moment of both a vision realized and a reality that won, all at once. It’s really something in its own unique way.

As for me, this was both a thought provoking watch in addition to a funny one. It was very fresh and original to what you might expect from this kind of episode, but it worked marvelously well, with all its unexpected twists and turns, complemented by the bluntest of humor and the truly unusual spins on common seasonal themes. Fans of the series probably remember this fondly, but for those out there looking for something that’s both smart and a fair bit stronger in terms of content than the usual Christmas special suspects, try this one out. It’s the chocolate liquer shot in the middle of the milk chocolate candy bowl for the season; see if you want to take the drink or

______________________________________

Like what you see? Big fan of The Boondocks or this episode? Leave a comment!

Day 13: Mickey’s Christmas Carol

A timeless tale told with classic Mickey Mouse.

Day 13! Unfortunately for me today, I’m experiencing some technical difficulties that threw a wrench into whatever plans I had for you- the readers, tonight. In lieu of that, let’s briefly discuss an appropriately themed Mickey Mouse featurette.

The Lowdown:

Series: Mickey Mouse films

Episode/Short film: Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Productions, 1983

AniB’s thoughts:

As I sit here, forced to use another computer with my own laptop suddenly shelved, I was reminded forcefully of A Christmas Carol, the timeless Charles Dickens novel and his incorrigible old miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge. Of course, this being an animation blog, there was some famous adaptations of this tale, but I’m partial to this particular telling of the story, which has some interesting facts to go with it.

This short film was the first Mickey Mouse theatrical release in 30 years at the time- as the iconic mouse had not starred in a film since 1953. Despite that, it much more prominently featured Scrooge McDuck in the role of you guessed it- Scrooge, playing the parsimonious money-lender in the most natural of fits. Curiously, this was the first time Alan Young voiced Scrooge, a role he’d become more famous for in 1989’s DuckTales and one that he’d hold to his death. Conversely, this was the last time Clarence Nash voiced Donald Duck- and as the last original voice actor from the early era of classic Mickey shorts, it was a bit of the changing of the guard, in hindsight.

So what of the content itself? This film emulates Dickens’ classic tale using classic Disney characters in the casting roles, with Mickey himself as the hard-working and underpaid Bob Crachit, Scrooge’s right hand man. Through the film, Scrooge’s miserly habits are played up, and he is confronted by the famous ghosts in the story- first his late partner Bob Marley (who Goofy plays), who sends a warning to the duck to change his ways, and in turn he is followed by the three other ghosts of  past, present and future. The past one is none other than Jiminy Cricket- a good choice given his role as “moral compass and guidance” in Pinocchio; the ghost of Christmas present is Willie the Giant- who appeared way back in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free; and the ghost of Christmas future is an obvious choice given the context. (Spoilers: it’s Pete.)

I think the biggest shortcoming here is that while it’s billed as a Mickey Mouse film, he’s really much more of a supporting character in this while the story focuses on Scrooge- much like the actual Christmas Carol. That said, it’s a whimsical take on a classic novel, and a good adaptation from an often overlooked era in Disney’s history- the early 80’s. I had this short on VHS growing up- so there’s some nostalgia there for me personally, but it’s truly a pleasant watch for this time of year, and features both some old-school animation and talented voice acting, which makes it stand out a bit more now than it may have at the time.


Like what you see? Have you seen this short? Leave a comment!