Finishing up a round of Christmas special episode reviews with a few from Filmation.
Fat Albert Christmas Special (1977)
From when Bill Cosby was a suspected and not confirmed arsehole of the highest order. Great artwork from the start, although it’s typical Filmation limited animation beyond that. Fat Albert and the gang are setting up for a nativity scene, with his friends as the wise men and angel and donkey when they get a knock at the door, with Mr. Tyrone, a Scrooge-like figure, wanting to throw them out of the clubhouse so he can knock it down. Lou Scheimer is pretty skilled at pulling off a voice not too far from Cosby’s for some alternate members of Fat Albert’s crew.
On the doorstep, a young boy tells a sob story about his dad having had a job fall through and his mom being ready to give birth. Albert invites them into the clubhouse, but the clock is ticking to get them help. Albert consorts with the enemy by dressing up as Santa to help promote a sale at Tyrone’s shop to put off the demolition. Friendly vagrant Mudfoot Brown turns up and puts Tyrone straight in a shockingly blunt segment (Tyrone: “Life hasn’t been worth much since she’s been gone.” Mudfoot: “No… YOU haven’t been worth much since she’s been!”).
Then you’ve got the young boy running away because he feels like an unnecessary pain to his parents, which is skewed thinking because it’s only going to add further stress. The gang get him back and get a doctor to deliver the baby. Tyrone calls off the demolition and gets the mother and father and new baby to the hospital and promises to help out the dad with a job and the family with a place to stay to redeem himself.
Not top quality, but they pack a lot in to keep it busy… maybe too busy. Some shocking similarities with the reformed antagonist in this and the ALF Special Christmas.
He-Man and She-Ra – A Christmas Special (1985)
Almost everyone from the He-Man and She-Ra casts are at the royal palace to attend the birthday party of Adam and Adora, when Queen Marlena reveals to King Randor that their birthday coincides with Christmas Day. They really must not talk much if that’s not come up before. At the same time, Orko gets stuck in a rocket and ends up on Earth, then accidentally kidnaps a young brother and sister, bringing them back to Eternia with them. Horde Prime, the big boss of the Evil Horde, gets a sniff of this and fears that if there’s too much goodwill and brotherhood in his universe then it might threaten his rule, so he calls in both Hordak AND Skeletor, who never get along (I’d like to say it’s because they use to date as a gag, but Hordak actually left Skeletor behind to get captured when he originally kidnapped Adora), and sics the pair on the kids. The plot then becomes keeping the kids safe and getting them home.
There’s a lot more going on, and a lot of it is really contrived, with stuff like She-Ra heading back to Etheria to get a special crystal to power the device that will get the children back to their world. Along the way, they’re obstructed and captured by the Monstroids, who initially are threatening because of their size and hive mentality, but quickly are revealed as dopey Transformers rip-offs (“They’re changing into other forms!”, cries Swift Wind. “What evil robots!” – they’re probably selling a lot more Transformers than She-Ra figures by this point, Swifty). At least they’ve got something about them, unlike the heroic Manchines, who are pastel-coloured droids with names like Cutter and Zipper (guess what their abilities are, and also know that one has scissors for hands and the other has wheels instead of arms and legs).
We also get a truly awful song at one point that the kids sing, with Bow as the musician for it and Kowl and Orko performing a terrible “dance” routine for it. Nepotism strikes here, because I would imagine the composer was Erika Scheimer, a nice lady and not a terrible actress, but very much the Steph to her dad Lou’s Vince when it comes to forcing some of her music in.
Hordak actually gets the children first, but a run-in with the Monstroids scuppers that, then Skeletor gets them. He starts marching them and Relay, a Manchine puppy (no idea how that works), to Horde Prime. Across snow, the girl protests, then passes out, so he gives her and big brother warm coats and insists on carrying the dog too eventually. He of course goes through a little bit of a heel-face turn, which is OK because they’d been keeping him strong as the villain if ever he made a guest appearance on She-Ra, but he had been softened up and made more comical towards the end of the He-Man show. Like with the next episode I’ll look at, Hordak as the main villain of She-Ra had been made sympathetic on some occasions, but the writing had turned him bad before the end of the episode.
Eventually, with He-Man and She-Ra struggling against Horde Prime, it’s Skeletor who saves the day, overcome with the Christmas spirit. He sends a bolt of energy into Prime’s ship, weakening it so that the Power Twins can send him flying back to Horde World. We know Skeletor will be back to his bad old self soon, but it’s a nice twist for a “special” episode.
Is it a high quality production? No, it’s quite lame in places, but they do roll the barrel out by making it quite visually interesting with lots of cameos and guest appearances, plus going big with the level of threat and severity, but I’m not going to be like some peers on the internet have been and talk about how arduous it is to sit through. It was lots of fun to watch the first time, fun to watch years later in my teens, and less special over time, but it is just a show for kids or the adults that were kids at the time. Worse uses of an hour.
One more before we put the whisky and the mince pie out on the mantelpiece.
Tex’s Terrible Night (1987)
Brave move (no pun intended) by sending the main character off for the rest of the episode at the beginning, so the episode can focus on the good side of the villain. They also have an individualised score that’s a mix of the epic space-Western music and Deck the Halls for the occasion. Scuzz gets news back to Tex Hex that Bravestarr and Thirty/Thirty are heading to Iron Mountain to spend Christmas Day with Shaman, allowing the villains a chance to raid Fort Kerium, but Shaman in a ghostly form gets to Tex first and replaces the supernatural characters of A Christmas Carol to show him his past, present and future, optimistic that he can change him and prevent the attack.
In the past, he’s shown as a friendly, loyal, upbeat prospector with Angus McBride, the man he ended up betraying and crippling, and reference to a woman he was going to marry at one time, Ursula. They actually laid the seed for this by showing him silently leaving her in another excellent episode, Eye of the Beholder, which I’m sure I’ll get to in the future. Much like Scrooge, Tex is shown to have turned his back on love for the idol of money, greed, as well as having his own words turned against him.
Some scenes are lifted from the movie Bravestarr: The Legend to show Tex turning against McBride and siding with Scuzz while loading up his shift with Kerium I wish they’d shown WHY he changed from a good to bad person. Was it something inherent in him, was it a plan he had before, or was he corrupted in a sinister way by kerium fever? Would be good to know.
Turns out that Tex went on to be responsible for attacking a stagecoach, and was only cognisant of having attacked the drivers, but Ursula was also a passenger, and she helped nurse and eventually married one of the injured drivers, enjoying a loving relationship with him in the present (they make sure to add some grey streaks to her hair and his to show some aging). Knowing she’s heading to Fort Kerium, he doesn’t know whether to halt the attack or not. Shaman then points to a future, again like Scrooge’s, where as a result of his action there is now a grave marked Tex Hex, which leads to a chilling end of act two where he lets out an agonising wail and meets with the Grim Reaper-like figure before waking from “a dream”. I sometimes think that Charlie Adler, who played him, was a bit too OTT, but here he gets the tone right.
Into the third act, Stampede leads the attack with a reticent Tex flagging behind. Here, they use that flashback from Eye of the Beholder to show the last meeting he had with Ursula. Tex makes his decision, sabotaging the attack so that the city walls are closed before Sandstorm, Thunderstick and the rest can get there. Bravestarr returns after Ursula and Joshua have got there and are safe, with Tex woefully wishing her a merry Christmas from a decision.
Bravestarr was such a good show, and this is proof why. You feel really sad for the villain, who is a bad guy and has done some terrible things, and want him to be redeemed. Where it works properly is that they bring you close to him being redeemed, but he never truly is. I don’t think an audience should always get what they want, but it’s absolutely right that they get to realise what they want, and that’s what happens here.
The Bottom Line: An upwards curve on the quality over time graph, with the shame being that the best-written show that Filmation ever produced was their last one. Makes you think if that would’ve continued if they’d got the contract for the space-age He-Man show, but we’ll never know.