Friday, December 21, 2012

It's a Christmas Special! Part 2

31: A CHRISTMAS STORY - Haven't seen this one in years. What I did see of it really didn't seem pleasent and didn't give me any sense of Christmas magic at all. Bottom line: it's waaaay overrated.

32: THE SMALL ONE - A really good short about a boy and his small donkey, set in ancient Israel. With that sort of set-up, you could probably guess how it ends and why it's a Christmas special.

33: MIRACLE ON 34th STREET - A very good movie about Santa Claus' visit to 34th street and how he gets proven to be the real Santa Claus. And I mean the original, not that Mara Wilson remake!

34: SOUTH PARK: A WOODLAND CRITTER CHRISTMAS - The South Park Christmas episode with the style that's most like a classic Christmas special. It's really unusual, weird, dark, inappropriate, and even a little offensive, but what else can you expect from South Park? It's still great, especially how all the twists and turns of the story are handled and how they all make sense in the end.

35: HE-MAN AND SHE-RA CHRISTMAS SPECIAL - One of those specials that is hilarious in how bad it is. It's so cheap and hokey, with most of the entertainment coming from Christmas Skeletor!

36: A GARFIELD CHRISTMAS SPECIAL - An average Christmas special about Garfield, Odie, and Jon spending Christmas with Jon's family. It's okay to watch, but only really memorable for the family antics. Especially from the grandma, voiced by Pat Carrol, who's just so outrageous and cool.

37: THE NATIVITY STORY - An excellent film portrayal of the very first Christmas and all the events that led to it. The story of Mary and Joseph is given a great amount of depth and heart, King Herod is repugnant and frightening, and the Three Wise Men are dignified but surprisingly hilarious too.

38: JOYEUX NOEL - Another outstanding Christmas movie based on the true story of how the US, Brittish, and German armies of World War 1 called a ceasefire on Christmas and celebrated with each other, as human beings rather than enemies. It's a touching event that depresses you with the nature of war but is also uplifting in it's proof that miracles can happen. Though what I still remember most about this film is that crazy young Scottish soldier pronouncing "cake" like "geek!" Yeesh!

39: THE SNOWMAN - A silent short animated film that looks like moving illustrations. It's really quick and doesn't have a real plot aside from a snowman coming to life, taking a sick boy on a fun little romp that cheers him up, and then melts. And yet it's still very well done and very memorable, particularly for it's mysterious sounding theme song. But really....WTF is up with that ending???

40: DIE HARD - So you insist that "Die Hard" ISN'T a Christmas movie? F**k you, it's "Die Hard!"

41: SCROOGED - A comedic modernized telling of "A Christmas Carol" starring Bill Murray. It's set in the modern real world where "A Christmas Carol" is a story and Bill plays a stingy, hard hearted TV producer who cares more about fame and fortune than his fellow man. The ghosts of Christmas visit him and he changes his ways from bad to good, with lots of hilarious moments along the way.

42: A PINKY AND THE BRAIN CHRISTMAS - If there was any justice in the world, this would replay at Christmastime every year. It's one of "Pinky And The Brain"'s absolute best stories. It has loads of good humor, a very nearly successful Christmas toy based plan by Brain to take over the world, and a surprising, incredibly moving climax that has caught many by surprise and touched hearts.

43: ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS - Movies starring Jim Varney as Ernest are Guilty Pleasures
in general, but this one's actually close to being pretty good. This mostly has to do with Douglas Seale's performance as Santa Claus. He is very believable in the role. "The Santa Claus!"

44: BABES IN TOYLAND - There are actually a lot of versions of this one movie concept. As of now, the ones I've seen were the animated one, and the live action TV one with a young Drew Barrymore and Keaneu Reeves, and Pat Morita as an Asian Santa Claus. They were both pretty damn bad, the latter even moreso due to it's terrible production value, poor acting, and ungodly bad writing. I mean, it's hilarious just how horrendously bad the writing is! But to be fair, that's enjoyable. WELL YES!

45: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS - We do own this one, but we keep it in our Halloween stuff instead of our Christmas stuff. Try as Burton might've to make a holiday special of his own, this movie is simply too dark, creepy looking and grotesque to associate with Christmastime.

46: A YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA - A classic Rankin/Bass where Mickey Rooney again voices Santa. But let's be honest...does anybody actually remember anything about this one other than Snow Miser and Heat Miser? Those characters and their song is what everyone takes away from it.

47: A MEISER BROTHERS CHRISTMAS - A sequel to the above-mentioned special made years later. This one is CG animated and stars the Miser Brothers that everyone remembers. In fact, I think it only got made just for that one sequence where they sing their song verses as one song. But it's okay and faithful to the spirit of Rankin/Bass. But what was up with that Jay Leno-esque villain?

48: FROSTY'S WINTER WONDERLAND - The real sequel to the Rankin/Bass Frosty special, made by Rankin/Bass themselves. And it's pretty bad. Not only does it shit all over everything that made Frosty and the magic that brought him to life special, but it doesn't have a good story either. Bleh!

49: RUDOLPH'S SHINY NEW YEAR - The sequel to the Rankin/Bass Rudolph special, made by Rankin/Bass. This one is also pretty bad. It's a New Year's special rather than a Christmas one, throws in all this time/nursery rhyme/fairy tale nonsense, and a pretty weak designated villain. Bleh!

50: RUDOLPH AND FROSTY'S CHRISTMAS IN JULY - The finale to all Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials. It stars Rudolph and Frosty together and throws in references to past specials as it ties the mythos together. It's actually really entertaining, but could've been better had the time been cut down. Then we wouldn't have so many needless songs! The best thing in the film is King Winterbolt. He's an enjoyable hammy villain on the level of the Evil Vizier from "Care Bears Nutcracker Suite". What also stands out is just how much bad dialogue this special is riddled with! Like Rein-SNAKES!

51: I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS - An enjoyable but average Christmas comedy film starring Johnathan Taylor Thomas in the lead role of an asshole who gets stranded out in the middle of nowhere while wearing a Santa suit and he has to do everything he can to get back home for Christmas. IIR, Jessica Biel and Adam LaVorgna's characters were the most amusing part.

52: HOLIDAY IN HANDCUFFS - An average Christmas TV movie starring Melissa Joan Hart as
a heartlorn, sociopathic girl with serious issues who kidnaps a random guy, brings him home to her family, and presents him as her boyfriend. Yeah, it kind of a Stockholm syndrome story but it does manage to be touching and funny at enough places to make it pleasing to watch whenever it's on.

53: ANNABELLE'S WISH - A nineties' animated kids' film about a talking calf named Annabelle who helps a mute farm boy, eventually giving up her ability to talk in her titular wish so that he can talk, and she ends up becoming one of Santa's reindeer. It was okay. The only other details about this one I remember are the very moving song at the end, Jim Varney voicing a grumpy old man, and the main villainess making dealings with an unseen attorney who was quite obviously Lex Luthor.

54: THE STINGIEST MAN IN TOWN - Oh dear. This one was just godawful. It is among the worst versions of "A Christmas Carol" I have ever seen, if not the worst. In fact, the story of Scrooge is tacked on and rushed in this. I'm convinced that someone just wanted to make a cheaply animated Christmas special and just used the story as an excuse plot to get it going. I mean, during the Ghost of Christmas Present's sequence alone we get a pointless song sung by Christmas toys, a song by Mrs Cratchitt about how there is a Santa Claus (with the implication that the Ghost of Christmas Present IS Santa Claus!), a song about the birth of Jesus on the first Christmas, AND a song that makes Scrooge look like a pedophile for Tiny Tim! And then it does the unforgivable thing of absolutely rushing through the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come's visit in literally 2 minutes, which culminates in Scrooge hammily screaming "OH NO! IT'S ME! IT'S EBENEZER SCROOGE!" upon seeing his gravestone. This was just about the lowest a Christmas special could get! UGH!

55: SONIC CHRISTMAS BLAST - A Saturday morning cartoon Christmas program starring Sonic the Hedgehog. It's really weird. It's based in the universe of "The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" and yet there are humans living there, and they introduce concepts like Robotropolis, Swat-bots, and Princess Sally into it! And the plot is so dumb. Robotnik kidnaps Santa Claus, builds a robot Santa just so it can announce to the world that "Robotnik Claus" is taking his place, and he changes Christmas in Mobius to be all about everyone giving presents to him! And yes, that includes everyone coming down the chimneys of his headquarters. But Sonic ends up stopping this by discovering the secret of ultimate velocity through a ring he just happened to be given by Princess Sally as a gift, and then Santa Claus retires, appointing Sonic as his replacement "Sonic Claus"! Sonic Claus! That is seriously how it ends. Wow, we might as well have kept Robotnik Claus if Santa was going to give up anyway! So yeah, it's really goofy and yet perfectly enjoyable to watch,

56: WINNIE THE POOH AND CHRISTMAS TOO - The "New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh" Christmas special that should have been on "Seasons Of Giving!"

57: THE SANTA CLAUS BROTHERS - A CG animated movie about Santa's three sons who all look like him and are out looking for the true meaning of Christmas in order to see who becomes his heir. Yeah, it was pretty lousy. I can't remember much about it aside from the bits and pieces I saw.

58: THE NUTCRACKER PRINCE - An animated movie based on the story of "The Nutcracker."
I haven't seen it in ages. I recall it being okay, pretty good even. But for some reason, this is a movie that Roger Ebert railed against because our heroes needlessly kill the Mouse King...except they actually don't. The wounded, crazed Mouse King dies by falling off into oblivion at a point later on from the one Ebert described. Yeah, I seriously think he was drunk when he wrote that review.

59: TIMOTHY TWEEDLE: THE FIRST CHRISTMAS ELF - An animated kids movie that tells a very different origin of Santa Claus and his elves. It stars Johnathan Taylor Thomas (again) as the titular character and Howie Mandel as the narrator, the reindeer Comet. According to this story, a runty woodland elf named Timothy Tweedle is the one who got elves to start making toys for St. Nicholas, got him into the toy delivery business with reindeer and a slay, and also invented candy canes too. This one was okay. I think it could've been a bit shorter, the story and characters could have been stronger, and those crooks should've been a one-time thing rather than the main villains. The best thing it had going for it was the music. The opening song, the Fabulous Flo's villain song, and especially "AT My Journey's End" are all very good songs. Those alone are worth checking out.

60: BLUE TOES THE ELF - An animated special about the elf who invented Christmas stockings. "Santa called him small one, mischief was his claim to fame." wasn't. At all.

61: JINGLE BELL ROCK - WTF did I just watch? But hey, it has another elf named Buddy in it!

62: THE STORY OF SANTA CLAUS - An animated kids movie that tells yet another origin of Santa. And hey, this Santa is voiced by Ed Asner! But his singing voice is by Jim Cummings! And Tim Curry voices the designated antagonist! This should be a great holiday treat, right? Eh...not quite.

63: THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS - Yet another origin of Santa. Does any kid really want to hear that, anyway? Don't they just accept Santa and everything about him? This one, however, is based on a book by Frank Baum. There were actually two TV versions, one done in Rankin/Bass style and one in 2D animation. Why do the Agwas look like gorillas in the former?

64: SANTA CLAUS THE MOVIE - Oh man, this one started out with so much potential to be a very mythic take on the origin of Santa Claus, and how he got to becoming what he is today over the centuries. But then it shifts gears and becomes a horrible movie with unbelievably cheap and date green-screen effect sequences, Dudley Moore as an annoying traitorous elf, and John Lithgow as a one-dimensional, over-the-top, totally illogical villain who screams "FOR FREEE?" Major letdown!

65: THE CHRISTMAS SHOES - The song sucks, so why the hell would the movie of it NOT suck?

66: MICKEY'S TWICE UPON A CHRISTMAS - Woah. Talk about a HUGE step down from "Once Upon A Christmas". This one is done in really, really bad looking 3D animation and none of the stories in it are half as well done and memorable as the ones from the first. The magic of Disney and Christmas that was abundant in the original is absent here. It is insanely forgettable, so I say skip it!

67: MICKEY'S MAGICAL CHRISTMAS: SNOWED IN AT THE HOUSE OF MOUSE - As with the Halloween-themed DTV "Mickey's House Of Villains", the title is misleading. You'd think this would be about a snowstorm keeping all the Disney characters from leaving the House Of Mouse to go back home for Christmas, so they'd all have to cope somehow. But no, the "snowed in" part has nothing to do with the plot. Everyone's all hunky dory about being snowed in at the House Of Mouse and so they watch cartoons 'til the morning light! It's only Donald who isn't into the Christmas spirit for no good reason, so his friends keep trying to cheer him up. And that's it. What a rip-off! The brief character cameos and interactions aren't well done. At one point, Jafar says he's glad to see everyone is having a Merry Christmas. Um, since when did Jafar care about whether or not everyone else was having a Merry Christmas? And the cartoons aren't all well done either. I mean, they show the entirety of "Mickey's Christmas Carol" in this! A whole 'nother Christmas special altogether is thrown in here! But there are two major good points in this DTV. One is the Nutcracker cartoon, which is hilarious, features Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Ludwig Von Drake playing great roles, and is narrated by an increasingly stressed out John Cleese. The other one is the lovely song at the end, "The Best Christmas Of All", sung by a whole chorus of Disney characters. But that's not quite enough to save this one from being a disappointment. It's better than the above, but still pretty weak.

68: LOONEY TUNES: BAH HUMDUCK! - A really bad "Christmas Carol" parody starring Daffy Duck. It's not funny, it's not developed, it's not memorable, and it does not at all appeal to today's kids!

69: GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER - A terrible animated Christmas special based on a terrible, unmerry, annoying as heck Christmas song! Whose bright idea was it to make a special off of that? And what in the song indicated Cousin Mel was a bad guy? Or even NOT a guy? Just WHY?

70: THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL - This one is....really terrible. How do I even talk about it? Of course I haven't actually seen the whole thing! I only saw it through the Nostalgia Critic's review of it! And if this is the thing that caused the review that caused Santa Christ, then it HAS to be bad!

UPDATE: FRED CLAUS - Saw this on TV the last few years, and to be honest I'm really confused as to what all the critics hated about this movie. I thought it was great for the most part. The origin story they give to Nicholas Claus and his brother Fredrick at the start of the film is just fascinating, the rest of the film is comedic and surprisingly touching and dramatic in just the right moments, the North Pole is as fun and magical seeming as the version from "The Santa Clause". the actors are do splendidly (particularly Vince Vaughn as Fred, Paul Giamatti as Santa Claus, John Michael Higgins as Fred's elf friend, and Kevin Spacey as the nefarious antagonist), and it sends a great message that I think needs to be heard more often - that the very nature of the "naughty and nice list" and how it rewards good children while punishing naughty ones is actually heavily flawed and showcasing conditional love at Christmastime, which is not the example Santa ought to be setting for the kids
of the world. Christmas should be a time of love, kindness, and giving for all people regardless of the mistakes they might have made throughout the year, rather than one big end-of-year reward for good behavior. And the story between the two brothers ends up being super emotional - it gets me in the feels every single time. Screw the critics, I recommend this one. It's a terrific Christmas experience.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's a Christmas Special! Part 1

This entry comes in two parts: one that reviews Christmas specials that I own, and one that gives shorter reviews for ones that I do not own but have seen.

1: SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN - The first classic Rankin/Bass Christmas special I'll talk about, since it has the longest running time out of the ones we own. This one was...okay. An average special that's worth watching once every December but is not the most entertaining one you'll ever see. In fact, it's got a number of problems. From the moment that whimsical postman narrator comes onto the scene, promises to tell the story of Santa Claus, sings the start of the titular song, and we go into the opening credits as instrumental versions of the songs play, it's obvious that Rankin/Bass were trying to replicate "Rudolph." Not only does that feel forced, but the remainder of the special does not hold up as well as "Rudolph". It's almost too cheesy at points, the story is pretty meh, the main characters are flat, the Kringle elves have annoying voices, the Penguin sidekick is pointless, there's a needless amount of songs that could easy be cut (especially that creepy "Sit On My Lap" song and Jessica's song), the lyrics to the titular song are absolutely shoe-horned in very awkwardly (The story has little to do with the song, BTW. You could name it after any other Santa-related song and it wouldn't make a difference), and those goddamn dumbass kids listening to the story won't stop pointing out the obvious whenever a Santa/Christmas trademark is originated! We freaking get it: shut up, kids! However, there are stuff to like about this one as well. The ho-hum plot does do a good job incorporating almost every bit of the Santa Claus mythos in, Mickey Rooney makes a great young Kris Kringle, June Forray is great as ever in the role of Mama Kringle, and the most enjoyable characters are the antagonists and ex-antagonist. Paul Frees as Burgermeister Meisterburger and his henchman Grimsley steals the show whenever the characters are on-screen, and Keenan Wynn's Winter Warlock/Old Man Winter is very entertaining as well. That damn "Put One Foot In Front Of The Other" song is very much an Earworm, too. And the special ends with a surprisingly deep, adult message about how Santa Claus sets a great example of giving to others and spreading happiness that we as humans ought to follow, so that the Christmas spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to man can be kept alive. So yes, despite the flaws, it's still worth checking out.

2: RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER - Another Rankin/Bass special, this one is a total classic. It runs for just the right amount of time for it to be engaging, and it is very memorable as well. C'mon, who doesn't remember everything by heart? Sam the singing snowman, the bombastic Santa Claus, "Hermey doesn't want to make toys!"/"I want to be a dentist!", the elf song, Comet and the reindeer games, the island of misfit toys, the bumble, and all that? It's all corny but heartfelt and a lot of fun to watch. The characters are likable and enjoyable. Ruldoph himself, his parents, Sam, Santa, Clarice, Hermey, and especially Yukon Cornelius the prospector, whose hammy voice acting and tendency to get all the best moments and lines makes him the most entertaining part of the film. The antagonist, the bumble snow monster, is actually pretty damn frightening despite his cheapness and eventual turnaround in the end. And the story is just great. It actually follows the plot of the song's lyrics closely while still telling an original story that doesn't feel out of place. In fact, it actually does good with removing any unfortunate implications that all of the other reindeer only loved and accepted Rudolph when his object of ridicule became useful by having everyone realize they were wrong how they treated Rudolph and the other misfits before Santa asks Rudolph to guide his slay. That way, the message becomes more poignant and the payoff even better. All in all, this is a great Christmas special that is highly recommended to be watched every year during the holiday season.

3: FROSTY THE SNOWMAN - An actually 2D animated cartoon Rankin/Bass special. It's shorter than the others I listed before, running for a half-hour (30 minutes: the length of a cartoon show episode), and yet this one might slightly beat out Rudolph as my favorite. This is mainly due to the amount of heart, humor, and content they were able to fit in 30 minutes, and the strong performances of the lead characters. Jackie Vernon is just insanely likable and hilariously dopey as the titular snowman, the child actress who voices Karen is great and likable in the role, and Professor Hinkle the evil magician is a show stealing antagonist. His voice, delivery, and antics entertain me every time I re-watch this program. Jimmy Durante as the narrator is perfect as well, in both speaking and singing his lines. And it's all very funny. After the opening scene, there are two acts in the special, and only the first one follows the song completely. The second one changes the story to be about taking Frosty to the North Pole and shoehorning Christmas and Santa Claus into the plot. But that's okay, since "Frosty The Snowman" is in fact a winter-based song, NOT a Christmas song at all! The special needed something to make it a Christmas special, and thus justify the song being played at Christmas time! It's overall an enjoyable half-hour and a very solid special that holds up to this day.

4: FROSTY RETURNS - A non-Rankin/Bass Christmas special about wait, it's a winter special about Frosty, keeping in line with the original song. And this one, unfortunately, is not nearly as good. It runs for the same amount of time but is very mediocre. The plot is almost politically environmental, the "summer wheeze" is a designated evil if I ever saw one, the main girl Holly is no Karen, her friend Charles does next to nothing, the art style isn't too pleasing to look at (at one point the animators just didn't care and drew a kid's nose all wrong!), and the rules of Frosty are just so different in this one that it's jarring. We see Frosty's hat come off him at points and he does not become lifeless! The heck? But to it's credit, there are some entertaining aspects to it. John Winters as the bizarre narrator, John Goodman as a very different but still fun and likable version of Frosty, and Brian Doyle Murray as the ambitious old businessman Mr Twitchell. The standout is the "Let There Be Snow" song, which is very nice and catchy sounding.'s meh, but not really bad like the R/B "Frosty's Winter Wonderland" or that awful CG one with Bill Fagerbakke as Frosty.

5: HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS - Who doesn't know this one? A classic rendition of Dr. Seuss' holiday-themed short story, animated by Chuck Jones and narrated by Borris Karloff, who also does the voice of the Grinch. The story tells of an evil, small-hearted creature who changes his ways upon realizing the true nature of Christmas, the holiday he hated and sought to ruin. It teaches the great message of how even if you were to take away all the gifts and food, "Christmas doesn't come from a store. It, in fact, means a little bit more". Really, how can you not like this half-hour special? It perfectly captures Seuss's story, it's characters, it's message, and all the whimsy and charm that the author was famous for. It has great music with two songs, "The Who's Song" and "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch", it's padded out in all the right places (the scenes with the songs, the Grinch's detailed description of the Who's "noise", the Grinch and Max's trip down the mountain, back up the mountain, and the Grinch's rush to save his present-filled slay), and is so memorable and endearing the whole way through. It's also responsible for the Grinch, who was uncolored in the book, being his iconic shade of green, which he is traditionally seen as now. It elevated the Grinch and his story in pop culture, and now I dare one to read the book without hearing Boris Karloff's voice in their heads! It's a truly delightful Christmas classic that should be watched every year.

6: SCROOGE/A CHRISTMAS CAROL - The film version of the classic Charles Dicken's Christmas story starring Alistair Sim in the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge. The alternate title for the film is simply "Scrooge." I could go on and on about what an excellent, timeless tale "A Christmas Carol"
is, but I'll stick with just discussing the versions. This one is probably the best adaptation of them all.
It has a great layout, a great script, and a great cast. Of particular notice is Scrooge, Jacob Marley, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Alaister Sim is in every way the definitive Scrooge. He's got the look, he's got the acting talent, and most of all, he's got the voice. When the book describes Scrooge speaking in his "grating voice", this is the voice I imagine. Marley is also perfect, speaking in a creepy, sad and dead-sounding drone but giving a ghastly, emotional wail when he has to. And it might have the creepiest version of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come ever. Rather than just a guy in a hood and cloak, it's a guy shrouded in a black sheet with nothing but his pale hand coming out, creating the chilling image of a hand of fate pointing out from the darkness. Now it has at least three major flaws. The movie exclusive past that involves young Scrooge's dealings with Mr. Jorkins drags on a bit, the fate of Scrooge's ex-lover is pointlessly changed from what it was originally in the book, and Scrooge's character development is mishandled by having him declare "I'm too old to change!" TWICE before the last ghost finally converts him, which kind of cheapens the whole point of his redemption. But other than those missteps, this is a masterpiece of an adaptation. Go watch it!

7: A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A TV movie version of the same story, this one starring George C. Scott as Scrooge. This is also one of the greatest adaptations, owing much of that to the lead actor's performance. George C. Scott is remarkably good in the role of Scrooge, having a perfect look, voice, and delivery, and hits all the right notes when he has to, whether they be subtle or in-your-face. His personal touches of sneers and mocking laughter to some Scrooge's classic lines (like "Humbug!") really adds something to the characterization. Other performances are great as well. David Warner makes a particularly memorable Bob Cratchitt, Frank Finlay plays a more emotive but still decent Marley, Angela Pleasence is...well, pleasent as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Edward Woodward is probably the best Ghost of Christmas Present ever. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come looks pretty generic here, but the effects and sounds used for him makes the ghost and his part genuinely frightening to watch, more so than in any other version. Downsides to this version would be that again Scrooge's development is undermined by having this version be a total asshole for all of the past and present visits who even justifies himself every time he's faced with one of his faults. And the child playing Tiny Tim in this one is absolutely wretched. He looks like a robotic zombie and acts like one too! But what this version gets right, it gets really right. Go watch it!

8: MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL - A 30 minute cartoon version of the story done by Disney in the mid-eighties. It's short and yet manages to distill the core elements of the story and tell the basic tale well enough to make it's point within that time frame! That's pretty damn incredible! The casting of the characters is great. Scrooge Mcduck is naturally playing Ebeneezer Scrooge, and it's Alan Young's debut as the character. Wayne Allwine also made his debut as Mickey here, playing the role of Bob Cratchitt. Other standouts are Donald Duck as Scrooge's nephew, Rat and Mole as the two charity workers, Goofy as the hilariously un-scary Marley's ghost, Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Willy the Giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and a surprisingly scary Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future. It's very fun to watch and a great telling of a classic holiday tale.

9: THE MUPPETS CHRISTMAS CAROL - Another film version, one that mixes real actors with...well, Muppets. And it works. It works very, very well. We have Michael Caine in the role of Scrooge, Kermit T Frog as Bob Cratchitt, Miss Piggy as Mrs Cratchitt, Gonzo and Rizzo as our comedic narrators, Stalter and Waldorf as the Marley Brother ghosts, Fozzy Bear as Feziwig, an angelic little girl as the Ghost of Christmas Past, a giant Balthazar-voiced muppet as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Cristmas Yet To Come is so obviously the Skeksis Emperor from "The Dark Crystal". This, in my opinion, is both the perfect introduction to this story for kids, and one of the best versions of the story out there. So much about it just works. All the memorable songs (standouts being "Scrooge", "One More Sleep Til Christmas", "Marley and Marley", "It Feels Like Christmas" "Thankful Heart", and the weakly acted yet absolutely haunting "When Love Is Gone"), the way Scrooge is introduced as a total villain only to end up as the protagonist, the points of the story the film adapts and the way it adapts them, and surprisingly enough, Gonzo and Rizzo really hold it together. Their fourth wall breaking and side commentary of the situations that unfold is just so ridiculously entertaining, and they even know their limits when they temporarily bow out of the movie when the last ghost shows up. The real star, though, is Michael Caine as Scrooge. The character is written 100% faithful to his book portrayal and Caine plays the part dead seriously, which is hard to do in a movie filled with Muppets. But Caine treated the Muppets as equal co-workers of an acting guild and there you go: a wonderful performance up there with Sim and Scott. Look past the Muppets musical style and you'll see it's a masterful version of this great story for all to enjoy.

10: DISNEY'S A CHRISTMAS CAROL - The last film version we own, and also the weakest. It's a CG animated version of the story made by Robert Zemmeckis for Disney, and while it's not bad, it has lots of glaring problems. While the CG animation is stunning to look at and produces some terrific visuals that are only possible with animation, it still relies on the 3D gimmick a bit too much, and the 3D in this movie isn't even as good as "The Polar Express!" Some of the designs are just weird, particularly Scrooge's super lanky look and Bob Cratchitt's hobbit design. Jim Carrey does the voice of Scrooge, and he does good but is so obviously an impersonation of Alistair Sim's voice. Some of the other performances don't do it for me, either. Gary Oldman underacts as Crachitt while Colin Firth overacts as Nephew Fred. There are moments that are needlessly dark and scary, particularly when the Ghost of Christmas Present turns into a rotting, still-laughing skeleton. (Though the grown-up Ignorance and Want in the same scene is pretty clever, as is the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come's shadow gimmick) And there is an unforgivable Big Lipped Alligator moment that's just there for the 3D, where the last ghost chases Scrooge down with a hearse and Scrooge even shrinks into a small, squeaky voiced version of himself momentarily. He literally gets chased down by death, and yet when he sees his stuff getting sold to Old Joe immediately afterwards, he still doesn't have a clue! The only good part of that segment is "You're fired! FIRED!" Cap it with a rip-off of "Mickey's Christmas Carol" in which Scrooge falls into a fiery, hellish grave while screaming "I'LL CHANGE!" and you really get the sense that Scrooge was "scared straight" by all this rather than actually finding his redemption and repenting of his own accord, which goes against the point of the story. But what's good in this one is still really good. The most important points of the story are faithfully adapted, Gary Oldman plays a very frightening version of Marley, and Jim Carey is great as both Scrooge and all four spirits, particularly the Ghost of Christmas Past, which is probably the best and most faithful to the book version of the character to date. It's no masterpiece, but it's worth seeing at least once.

11: A DISNEY CHRISTMAS GIFT - This was the Christmas special from the eighties that Disney threw together when "Mickey's Christmas Carol" got postponed until the following year. We own it
on VHS and the only reason we keep it is because it's such a rare, hard to find special. 'Cause's bad. Really bad. Hilariously, unbelievably bad! When you watch it, it becomes so apparent that this was a rushed project with no effort put into it at all. It's started by a Christmas montage of Disneyland as a chorus sings about Christmas morning and ended with a montage of cheap looking Disney Christmas wind-up toys while the same song plays. And the content is even worse. It has the shorts "Once Upon A Wintertime", "Mickey's Christmas Tree", "Donald's Gift Wrapping", and "The Night Before Christmas", and also features clips from "Bambi", "Peter Pan", "The Sword In The Stone", and "Cinderella." Notice something off about this? Only TWO of those have to do with Christmas at all! The other stuff is tacked on with terrible justifications as to why they're in a Christmas program. The winter short being about winter (but not Christmas), the Donald short being about gift wrapping (but not specifically for Christmas), the "Bambi" and "The Sword In The Stone" clips taking place at Winter (the narration chorus claims it's Christmas!) while the "Peter Pan" and "Cinderella" clips have nothing to do with Christmas aside from a mention of it in the former. (Hilariously, "Cinderella" is justified as relating to Christmas wishes and they even give the Fairy Godmother a "Merry Christmas, Cinderella!" line. And the "Peter Pan" clip is opened up with the line "What would Christmas be without Peter Pan?" Ummm...a lot of things?) Yeah, this may very well be the worst excuse for a Christmas special ever. But that's what makes viewing it funny.

12: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS - Ah, yet another half hour Christmas classic. Being the first animated program to be based on "Peanuts" by Charles Schultz, this one is...well, nobody was quite sure what to think of it back when it premiered, but it's become a staple of Christmas time all these years later, so it has to have something good about it, right? Well...yeah. As Doug Walker put it, it's almost like watching a Christmas pageant by kids...about kids trying to put on a Christmas pageant. It's cheap, corny, tacky, and not very professional, but you can feel the hard work and amount of heart that was put into it. The animation is cheap, the plot is paper-thin and almost non-existent at first, there are amusing moments with barely any laugh-out-loud funny jokes, and the voice acting is, for the most part, awful. Only the kid voicing Charlie Brown himself does a perfectly passable job 'cause his natural speaking voice is very wishy-washy sounding and he can emote well when he has to. Lucy's voice is good too, but has lots of moments where she just phones in her lines without emoting. The other voices are bad, especially the lisping Linus and completely unemotive Sally.    And yet, it still comes off as a good, worthwhile watch. It just has a lot of charm to it. It's like the Christmas tree featured in it: shabby but not bad, and deserving of love. It's music is excellent too!

13: THE NUTCRACKER ANIMATED - And you thought "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was a "WTF did I just watch?" Christmas program? This one is worse. 'Cause it's NOT a well known Christmas special. In fact, it's very obscure. Obscure as in...I don't know what the hell it is or where I even got the VHS with it on it! It seems to be a very old, cheaply animated half-hour anime OVA that's been dubbed over with a gag dub script. However, I don't know who made this anime and it doesn't show up on the resume of any of the VA's confirmed by the end credits! HELP! But for all it's strangeness, it's pretty entertaining. The script is filled with jokes, weird lines, and even weirder characterizations. Our cute little protagonist Clara is portrayed as a smartass with a strange psychotic streak to her. Her brother Fritz is a total idiot, and the Nutcracker (nicknamed Nutty, but has the "more dignified" real name of Prince Bongo) is a cheesy voiced un-hero who can't seem to do anything right, which Clara lampshades. Uncle Drusselmier and the Mouse King are the only characters played semi-straight, but even they receive some ridiculous lines. Oh, and Richard Newman is the hilariously deadpan snarky narrator who would much rather be telling the story of "Treasure Island" than this one. The lines and delivery of the Narrator and Clara are the things that crack me up every time I watch this. It's really average, but not meant to be taken seriously at all. So I enjoy it...whatever it is.

14: CARE BEARS NUTCRACKER SUITE - A movie made from the three-part series finale of "The Care Bears Family", my favorite "Care Bears" series. This one is...well, it's goofy but good for what it is for it's target audience of children. And surprisingly enough, it's still enjoyable for me to watch too. That is the power of "The Care Bears Family", people! Yeah, there are problems. Aside from the story not being too well written (it's Care Bears, what did you expect?), there's the ever annoying Hugs and Tugs in their quest for the perfect Christmas ornament, the dumb notion that Christmas would be ruined without toys, animation/plot errors (like why the heck can Braveheart and Lotsaheart use the Care Bear stare? They're not Care Bears!), the obvious unreveal that the Nutcracker is the prince of Toyland, and the really pointless framing device that ends up ineffectively ripping off the twist at the end of "The Care Bears Movie". But the rest is good, or at least so bad it's good. On the latter side we have the Sugarplum fairy, who's an obvious knock-off of Tinkerbell, the Rat King, who's another knock-off of Mr. Beastly from the show, and the Evil Vizier, a No-Heart knock-off with none of the intimidating creepy factor and a design that resembles Jafar. He is so incompetent in his evildoing and he hams it up with all the lines he shouts out and follows with over-the-top maniacal laughs that he ends up very entertaining to watch in his scenes. Good stuff includes the likes of Tenderheart, Funshine, Grumpy, and Braveheart are as enjoyable as ever, the Nutcracker is very likable, the story with him and Anna is pretty touching, the Harlequin is a nice side character, Toyland is interesting to look at, the humor is good at points, and there are actually some surprisingly dark moments here:the flashback to how the Vizier and his rat army conquered Toyland, torched its' villages, and took prisoners is particularly shocking, as is the line in the voiceover during it saying "some say he (the prince) was killed in a fight with the Vizier!" There's also the moment where Anna's adventurous younger brother breaks down into tears when he realizes he could be locked in the Vizier's dungeon for the rest of his life, and when the Vizier systematically turns our heroes into creepy looking wooden statues that's bound to give kids nightmares. So for a kiddie flick, it's alright.

15: MICKEY'S ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS - A DTV Disney Christmas film starring Mickey Mouse, Donald, Goofy, and all their pals in three holiday themed stories. It's quickly become a holiday classic for us. The framing device is three gifts and Christmas cards being opened under a Christmas tree, and a certain theme is explored through a story. These segments are narrated excellently by Kelsey Grammer. The stories themselves are really good. Donald's story adapts the "wishing it was Christmas every day" story, and Donald's three nephews are the ones who make this wish. It's very amusing as it unfolds, gets pretty sad at the climax when the nephews' attempt to "liven up" one of the Christmases goes horribly, and gets touching at the end, where the family has a true Christmas celebration together which breaks the wishing star's spell. Scrooge McDuck and Chip n' Dale are in this one too. Goofy's story tells a "yes, there is a Santa Claus" story between Goofy and his son Max, and after it's wacky start, this is actually the most depressing one in the film! From the moment Pete tells Max there's no such thing as Santa up until Max has to impersonate "Santy" in order to cheer up his dad, it's a sad tale of dashed hopes, but a good story about faith that pays off in the end. Mickey's story adapts "the Gift of the Magi" using Mickey and Minnie, though the focus is mostly on Mickey. This one was pure heartwarming at many points, including the well known ending. And the whole movie ends with the cast of all three stories joining together for caroling, and the credits has really nice version of "Deck the Halls." This full-length animated feature is pure great Disney magic and Christmas magic in perfect unison, and one I enjoy watching every year.

16: WINNIE THE POOH: SEASONS OF GIVING - A DTV Disney holiday special starring Pooh and friends, released at the same time as the aforementioned Mickey one. It's an enjoyable watch too, but not as strong. And that's really for one reason: this special is made from two episodes of my favorite animated series "The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh" at the beginning and end, and the Pooh Thanksgiving special in the middle between them...but no actual Pooh Christmas special! We have the special starting with a song/montage of Pooh clips relating to the seasons, then the episode "GroundPiglet Day". The end of that episode has Tigger exclaiming how the date being November 13 means that it's "porcupine day!", but this special has Jim Cummings dub over Paul Winchell to have Tigger say "It's almost Thanksgivin'!", which leads us into another musical montage that opens up the Thanksgiving special. After that we get the last montage, and then we get original animation of the Poohs set at Christmas. But this is just used as a framing device to show "Find Her, Keep Her", one of the show's very best episodes but one that has nothing to do with Christmas. The payoff for this is that Kessie comes back to complete the Christmas Tree...a few minutes after Rabbit had just got done recounting the story of the last time he saw Kessie! This is beyond contrived, and another reason I think it would've been better to insert a showing of "Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too" between the showing of this episode and the final scene at the Christmas tree. That way we'd not only have the actual Christmas special in here (one that actually has Rabbit saying the line "It's the season of giving!") but we'd also have more time so that Kessie's return would come as a genuine surprise. But no, Disney blew it on this one. The DVD also includes bonus episodes "The Magic Earmuffs" and "The Wishing Bear", which are winter-themed episodes. But despite all this, I still have fun watching it every year. I find it amusing that Rabbit, one of my favorite characters, ends up being the unofficial star of the film due to his role in all three segments. And really, I'm glad that "Find Her, Keep Her" is somewhere on DVD, the episode is that good!

17: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: THE ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS: - A DTV Christmas Special based around "Beauty And The Beast", one of THE best Disney movies. So it's a cheapquel, or midquel, to that. It's bound to go wrong, right? Well,'s one of the better ones. There are faults I can find and they are glaring. The biggest is the portrayal of the lead characters and their relationship. Belle and Beast start off as they were in the late middle of the first movie, which is where the story is meant to take place: a captor and captive who are trying to open up to each other and be friends now. But after Beast is sent into a wangsty Christmas-based depression, things go downhill fast. Belle makes a storybook for Beast as a gift with the intent of "reaching his heart" and "changing him" so they can be happy together. Uh, since when was that a motivation for Belle? Then the Beast acts like a raging emo asshole towards Belle and yet she still tries to bring Christmas to the castle in the name of "making him happy." And to top it off, Beast crosses the unforgivable line by locking Belle up in the dungeon with the intent of keeping her there forever. When he changes his mind and says "sorry", Belle immediately forgives him and takes him back. Thus all the implications of Stockholm Syndrome and abusive relationships that were avoided in the original film are here. Just...terrible. Other faults include the irritating decorator angel character, the forced revelation that the castle was first enchanted on Christmas, all those "false endings" towards the end, and the very idea that this adventure could happen during the events of the original film and on one Christmas Eve no pretty far-fetched. I mean, shouldn't Maurice and Lefou have frozen to death by then? But despite these faults, the rest of the movie is solid and entertaining. The animation is actually really good, the songs are catchy, the supporting cast is as interesting and likable as ever, the plot is engaging enough, and the villain, an evil, depraved homosexual pipe organ named Maestro Forte, is fantastic. It's Tim Curry doing his voice so you know he's going to end up stealing every scene he's featured in. His Villain Song (which even has him screaming the word "HELL!") is fun, and the climactic part where he attempts to bring down the whole castle is absolutely thrilling. This movie also gives us "As Long As There's Christmas", a great Christmas song. So for all the flaws it's got, I still really enjoy this one and watch it just about every year as well. And I'm not even ashamed to admit it either.

18: KINGDOM HEARTS: CHAIN OF MEMORIES - A VHS we have recorded from cutscenes and some gameplay of "Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain Of Memories". I know it's cheating to call this one a Christmas special, but we played the original "Chain Of Memories" on our 2004 Christmas vacation, thus coming to associate the game with Christmas. Therefore, it's a Christmas special to us! I won't cover this one much, actually. I'll only say that the story is of better quality than the one presented in "Birth By Sleep" and the bad KH games, but not on the same level or scope as the first game and "II." It's a great game and a very enticing story...well, at least in Sora's mode, which is what this VHS covers. And as jarring as the performance by Hayley Joel Osment is to listen to when we're watching this, there are show-stealing performances like Derek Stephen Prince's Vexen and Eddie Carrol's last time as Jiminy Cricket to make up for that and keep us entertained. Overall, it's solid.

19: FINAL FANTASY VII: ADVENT CHILDREN - Wait, this one's not a Christmas special either? Just a "Final Fantasy VII" based action movie? Well if "Die Hard" can be considered a Christmas movie, so can this! And while not actually set at Christmas, I think the movie has a good deal of Christmas spirit in it and represents what Christmas is all about. It's got "advent" in the title, the scenery is often gray and wintery, Cloud is now in the business of delivering gifts, a big part of the plot revolves around helping sick children, and there are religious scenes: one is an evil baptism performed by the bad guy, and the other is a good baptism that even takes place at a church and is the final scene in the movie! Hell, Aerith is even portrayed as a Christ-like Messiah figure in this. And another major reason as to why it's a Christmas special for us is that we so strongly associate the "Final Fantasy VII" game itself with the three months of Autumn, so it's nice to have a follow-up for the month of December. And it really does work well as something to watch during holiday season.

20: THE SANTA CLAUSE - This one is a holiday classic for our entire family! The story of a grouchy, cynical, overworked man who becomes the new Santa Claus is great and told perfectly in the film, the performance of Tim Allen as he transforms from stingy Scott Calvin into jolly old St. Nick is pretty damn remarkable, it has a great Christmas atmosphere, the comedy is solid, the magical world at the North Pole is wonderful, and we have a great cast of characters, favorites of which include psychiatrist Neil Miller and Bernard the Head Elf. And it has alot of heart. It just captures the magic of Christmas perfectly and knows how to be great family entertainment for all.

21: THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 - The sequel that came out years later. And it is almost as good as the original...almost. The story of Santa having to find a woman to get married to isn't as interesting as the story of the first film, but it's still very engaging, especially on the part of the woman. Some of the adult jokes and more mature edge is lost in this one and the same sense of wonder just cannot be recaptured by the redesigned North Pole since we see it a lot in this movie due to the B-plot that centers around Santa's toy clone going crazy and almost ruining Christmas. But the same Christmas magic from the first is still here, as are the memorable and likable characters. We get some new ones here: Carol Newman the Mrs. Claus to be, ambitious second-in-command elf Curtis, Charlie's new little sister Lucy, the crazy and eventually despotic toy Santa Clone, and even the council of legendary figures at one point. There are lots of great lines and moments in this one too. The best scene in the whole movie involves Scott Calvin going with Carol Newman to a boring Christmas party and just turning the whole thing around through use of his magic. And Tim Allen gives another great performance...twice! It's all in all a worthy successor to the original, even if it's not quite as good.

22: THE SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE - The third and weakest installment in the Santa Clause trilogy. It's strengths are Martin Short's show-stealing Jack Frost, whose presence
also makes this the only "Santa Clause" movie with a main villain (the antagonists in the first movie weren't bad guys and the bad guy of the second was part of an incidental B-plot: Jack Frost actually drives the conflict here!), the amusing performances of Santa's in-laws, and the entire last act that puts Scott Calvin in a "It's A Wonderful Life" scenario where he interacts with a world in which he never became Santa Claus and Jack Frost is Santa instead, and the spirit of Christmas has been lost because of it. That really should've carried the whole movie, but it doesn't. Most of the movie focuses on hi-jinx at the as of now boring North Pole, the dopey in-laws being led to believe they're in Canada, Santa and Mrs Claus having a baby (which totally defeats the purpose of Charlie wanting to "go into the family business" at the end of the original), unfunny jokes and pointless moments of padding, and the hamfisted antics of Curtis. There's not enough Christmas magic or adult edge to this movie either: it's too kiddie! What's worst is that Tim Allen's heart doesn't seem to be in it this time, so his Santa comes off as very stale, especially when compared to Jack Frost. Ironically, it's when the two of them are sharing scenes together that Allen seemed to perform his best. The film is still watchable but not great. It's overall an average movie that finishes off a good holiday film trilogy.

23: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - I...begin? I think this might be not only one of the best Christmas films ever made, but one of the best films ever made period. It's not even a Christmas themed movie, really. But the final and most important act of the movie takes place on Christmas
Eve and the film's story embodies so much of the Christmas spirit that it's become so commonly regarded as a legendary holiday classic. The last act is so famous in pop culture that I think a lot of people might forget about why this movie works. It works because it builds to that well known point and does it so well. The film begins with prayers for a man named George Bailey, who's in some sort of serious trouble, and then spends most of it's running time having chief angel Joseph show the angel Clarence the key moments of George Bailey's life story. From his childhood to his young adulthood to his marriage and the Great Depression all the way up to World War II, until finally we reach Christmas Eve, where the big crisis that sends George into a emotional, psychotic, suicidal breakdown occurs. But that's not the payoff to everything we've seen 'til that point. The payoff is when Clarence comes down to save George and does show by showing him a world in which he was never born at all. That's when everything George did throughout the film comes into play, and he (and we) realizes just what an effect his life has had on others and on the fate of his town. The resolution that follows is one of the most emotional, heartwarming, feel-good moments in cinema history. It's just an incredible movie that goes from being light-hearted, dark, positive, cynical, frightening, depressing, and ultimately joyous, leaving anyone who has a heart with warm and fuzzy feelings. The characters and actors' performances of them are very strong. Jimmy Suart is perfect as good-hearted everyman George Bailey, Donna Reed is charming and attractive as his lover/wife Mary, Lionel Barrymore is unbelievably creepy and detestable as the evil Mr. Potter, Gloria Grahme leaves an impression as the slutty but sweet-hearted Violet Bick, and my favorite character is Henry Traver's Clarence. He's the embodiment of what I think an angel is - strange and ethereal, but very simple-minded, very likable, and very funny. He provides good comic relief during the dark, tense moments (even when it's unintentional!) and everything about him and his chemistry with George is just fun. So...need I say more? I'm pretty convinced this film was blessed by Heaven, it is that good. It defines humanity, goodwill, self worth, love, friendship, appreciation for what you have, and heart.

24: ELF - A Christmas comedy starring Will Ferell. And that's really all that needs to be said about it actually, since Will Ferell's performance as Buddy the Elf is what makes this movie such a holiday classic! It's a quirky, overenthusiastic, batshit insane performance that makes the character incredibly entertaining but also keeps a childish naivete and wide eyed idealistic innocence that makes him lovable. This same character was later gender-flipped and recycled as Amy Adam's Giselle in Disney's "Enchanted", another lovable and funny performance that owes itself to this one. But he's not the only great thing about this movie. In fact, there are several great touches that make the film memorable. The way the North Pole is styled after cheesy old Rankin Bass specials, Ed Asner playing an excellent Santa Claus, the hilarious antics that Buddy gets up to in New York City, Zooey Deschanel as hot mall employee Jovie, and just the story of the human raised as an elf getting re-adopted into his family, bonding with his new brother, and changing the heart of his bitter, selfish father, and ultimately saving Christmas, is just alot of fun to watch and very well handled in this film. Roger Ebert covered my feelings: this is a surprisingly funny, heartfelt, great holiday flick!

25: HOME ALONE - A family comedy without the family...and it takes place a Christmastime. An excellent movie by John Hughes and one that was never matched by any of it's four sequels, though
I enjoyed the odd numbered ones more than the horrible even numbered ones. Like "It's A Wonderful Life", this is another one where the last act became so famous that most people forget why it worked in the first place. The "wet bandits" Harry and Marv were built up as a real menace throughout the whole film, even when they started engaging in comedic idiocy. So it becomes a genuine thrill when Kevin turns the tables on them and sends them stumbling into his traps in order to defend his house and his safety. It works so well due to all the build-up. Also, it's not the only great thing in this movie. The Christmas atmosphere is great, the family message is great, the mother's insane determination to get back home to her kid is great, Kevin's growth and maturing, the old man Marley subplot and it's touching resolution, and that "ya filthy animal!" gag. The musical score really helps sell it all. This funny and heartwarming movie should give anyone an appreciation for family around the holidays.

26: JINGLE ALL THE WAY - Another holiday comedy, this one starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Compared to the others I listed, it's pretty average. It centers around a deadbeat family man who has let down his son so many times that he wants to make it up to him by getting him a Turbo Man action doll for Christmas. The problem is...Turbo Man is the hottest selling toy of the season, and the father procrastinated in buying it! So begins a holiday hi-jinx filled adventure in Christmas shopping!
Arnold in the lead role ensures that it's entertaining to watch, the late Phil Hartman is great as the slimy, antagonistic, womanizing neighbor Ted, and there are a lot of great jokes and gags to be found during Arnold's mad hunt for Turbo Man. But there are a lot of problems too. The whole set-up often feels needlessly cynical and unpleasant in it's satire of the Christmas shopping rush. People have been trampled to death by these sorts of mad, frenzied shoppers, so seeing it played for laughs isn't all that funny. There's even a rather mean spirited sequence in which the movie plays "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" as shoppers are hurting each other in order to grab a certain numbered ball. (Though it's followed by a hilarious moment in which Arnold seems to scream out "PIKACHU! PIKACHU!") Also, Sinbad's over-the-top performance as Myron the mailman regularly goes from being funny and hilariously insane to unfunny and genuinely frighteningly insane, Jake Lloyd is a terrible child actor as always in the role of Arnold's son, there's a weird as heck sequence at a workshop of Santa impersonating criminals, and the potentially funniest joke in the film gets ruined by forced humor. So the movie's just okay...until the final act, in which all logic and realism is just thrown out, the movie gives up and starts to really have fun, and we get a tremendous payoff to the whole movie's plot. Arnold gets thrown into the Christmas Eve parade, happening to get picked to be dressed as Turbo Man, who conveniently has to give out a Turbo Man doll to one lucky little boy. Naturally, Arnold picks his son. And then Myron shows up dressed as Turbo Man's archenemy, he chases Arnold's son to get the toy, and Arnold gets a jetpack, and...yeah, it keeps escalating in a hysterical, glorious, cartoonish manner. And the very end is surprisingly really touching. For all it's negativity, the movie does end up showing Christmas spirit at the very end, which redeems it for me.

28: HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (Ron Howard's) - Full length live action adaptation of the Dr Seuss story, starring Jim Carrey in the titular role. It's NOT a remake of the classic cartoon version, but it borrows a lot from it since it created so many Grinchy trademarks. This one could qualify as a Guilty Pleasure since a live action movie is not really a good format to adapt a short story. A 30-minute cartoon short is perfect for that, whereas not. But I do sincerely think that this movie was handled as well as a live action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' work could be. It's got faults here and there: the style is too weird and unpleasant at times, Anthony Hopkins is no Boris Karloff when it comes to narration, the Whos look even creepier than the Grinch, Jim Carrey pushes how loud and obnoxious he can make his character be very often, the entire first act is really slow and plotless, culminating in the Grinch's "origin", which totally contradicts the story's actual narrative. There's also no character to sympathize with other than Cindy Lou for most of the movie. The Whos in this version are too wrapped up in the materialistic, commercial side of Christmas, while the Grinch is completely evil and vile. And there are a few unforgivable moments of "adult humor" that really had no purpose being here (The baby Grinch flashback, Grinch landing on Martha's boobs, and Grinch making the mayor kiss Max's butt are the prime offenders). BUT I think what's good and enjoyable about this film trumps what's bad. I love the idea of Whoville inside a snowflake (a callback to "Horton Hears A Who"), I love the way the sets look like Seuss' screwloose, whimsical world fully realized, I love the kid who plays the ascended role of Cindy Lou Who, I love the Grinch's make-up, I love his home and lifestyle (here not just reclusive, but eccentric as well), I love the Who characters made for this movie, and I even love Jim Carrey as the Grinch. He's mean, he's rude, he's nefarious, and he's as over-the-top crazy and spastic as you'd expect of Jim Carrey, but he also manages to be quite pitiful and even sympathetic in the role. He really gives his own spin on the part which, along with the fantastic make-up, brings the Grinch to life. I'm okay with the alterations made to the story, like the Grinch and his role in Whoville's life being more defined, Cindy Lou being a main character, and even the Grinch indirectly teaching the Whos the true meaning of Christmas before they indirectly teach it to the Grinch. And past the first act, I actually do like that they give a conceivable reason as to why the Grinch would decide that THIS Christmas had to be the one he'd steal, when he'd "put up with it" before. I enjoy seeing the way the third act, which as a whole is the actual story from the book, plays out in live action. And I really love how they did the Grinch's redemption. Through powerful music, acting, and cinematography, it manages to be sincerely, genuinely touching and even subtle before Grinch starts hammily having a heart attack and crying in a bombastic, obviously fake way. And they actually make the Grinch accepting what's happened to him kind of gradual rather than instant. The moment Cindy Lou shows up to say "no one should be alone on Christmas" is the moment you can see in his face the Grinch's change. Oh, and "Where Are You, Christmas?" Good God, do I love that song! It's beautiful, written and sung well, and captures the message of the story perfectly. I'll admit that I'm also kind of biased to this one since we saw it so much during our early teen years. It really grew on me and it's become a holiday classic for us. Not even it's worst faults can spoil...The Grinch!

28: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA - Just saw this one recently this year. It's the anime movie from the anime series of Haruhi Suzumiya. And it more than makes up for that show's dismal second season, which I pretend never happened save for the Tanabata episode. It's an anime film adaptation of the fourth Haruhi Suzumiya novel. The story takes place at Christmas time and calls to mind holiday tales such as "It's A Wonderful Life", "A Christmas Carol", and even "The Grinch." Like all of those, it's about the self discovery and redemption of one person who learns the true meaning of something-or-other, that his life as it is has value, and how he'll define who he is from now on. That person being Kyon, the cynical, frequently disgruntled protagonist and snarky narrator of the series. And the twist to this tale is that it involves aliens, time travelers, and espers. Going from December 17 to December 21, it's a story in which Kyon finds himself in a world where Haruhi is gone from school, as is Itsuki Koizumi, nobody remembers her or anything she got up to, the SOS Brigade doesn't exist, Mikuru and Yuki are regular girls who don't know Kyon, Ryoko Asakura is back alive and seemingly normal, and everything seems mundane now, including the fact that cats can't talk! It's the kind of life Kyon had griped that he wished he could return to...and now Kyon can't stand it. Coming to terms with the fact that he misses Haruhi and found the excitement she brought to his life fun, Kyon sets out to undo whatever was done to change the world, and restore his life to what it was. The mood set by this movie is incredible, and easily matches or even surpasses the "Melancholy" story. The holiday setting really helps to give it it's edge and appeal. The story is a very dark and mysterious one with twists and turns around every corner. You cannot help but get invested in what's going on. Every character featured have their moments to shine and develop. One particular character even instigates a VERY shocking and terrifying scene towards the end (you'll know it when you see it!) While this has been regarded as a "Yuki Nagato story" because that character does have a very, very, very crucial part in this, it's still Kyon and Haruhi who steal the show here. This story solidly defines them both as characters, celebrating the strengths and the faults that make them so very endearing, engaging, and great. And it's also where the series peaked, since it sort of feels like the climax of all the stories that the novels and anime were telling 'til this point. It's such a unique and deep story that makes for an utterly awesome movie, albeit one that's geared primarily towards fans. But even to non-fans who are familiar with anime might want to see it. And once you have, you may not look at your world, or the name "John Smith", the same way.

29: THE POLAR EXPRESS - A CG animated movie by Roland Zemmeckis, starring Tom Hanks, and based on a short children's story. Hard to adapt to a full-length film, but "Where The Wild Things Are" did it well a few years later! And this is actually a really good family movie. While sometimes it feels forced, as if it's trying to be a holiday classic, it does have just the right amount of heart and magic in it that it succeeds. The atmosphere is incredible, the music is just lovely (I personally love that "When Christmas Comes To Town" song, and the "Believe" song on the end credits), the story is a simple story with a deep message, and I just enjoy watching the scenario play out. I love the Polar Express train itself and the frantic conductor who runs it is hilarious and awesome. I like the arcs that the kid characters go through: the main boy learns the value of having faith and believing in what he can't see, the girl learns how to be a leader who doesn't freeze under the pressure of uncertainty, the poor boy learns about love and giving, and even the snotty know-it-all kid voiced by Eddie Deezin learns to...not be such a know-it-all! Like in "A Christmas Carol", the lead actor plays four roles. Tom Hanks is the narrator/boy grown up, the conductor, the crazy ghost hobo, and Santa Claus, and he's excellent as them all. And this movie puts the 3D gimmick to perfect use, especially during the train ride when it goes down a roller coaster of tracks. What more can be said? I recommend climbing on board the Polar Express. It's definitely a magical experience and a fun ride.

30: THE FLIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS - Originally titled "Niko And The Way To The Stars", this CG animated foreign film is a bizarre one that actually tells an epic story set around Christmas time and involving Santa's reindeer and surprisingly enough, it works. The plot sees a young reindeer named Niko and his best friend/father figure Julius (voice of Norm MacDonald) in search of Niko's deadbeat biological dad, who's one of Santa's Flying Forces. They end up getting helped by a white weasel named Wilma (voice of Emma Roberts), but pursued by a pack of carnivorous wolves led by the evil Black Wolf. And there is a lot of strangely heavy and intense subject matter that comes up here. Niko was born out of essentially a reindeer one-night stand, his dad is never around, Julius tragically lost his own wife and kids so he sees Niko as his family and is worried that he'll ultimately leave him for his bio dad, and Black Wolf has the incredibly dark plan of eating Santa's reindeer and Santa himself in hopes of absorbing their magic and using it to fly around the world on Christmas, eating all the children he pleases. JEEZ! Oh, and there's a whole thing about Nico wanting to fly too and, spoilers, he learns to fly. But yeah, this was actually impressively good. To quote Platypus Comix: you know what makes this so good? This perfectly captures what Santa feels like to a little child. To kids he's this far-off, awe-inspiring superbeing, and the epic feel of "The Flight Before Christmas" evokes that childlike sensation to viewers of any age. If you see it, buy it! You can always swap out the cover.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scariest Fictional Canon Moments

To celebrate Halloween, I give you my picks for the scariest moments in fictional canons:

Disney Animated: The Headless Horseman from "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad."

Winnie The Pooh: The Heffalumps And Woozles Sequence ("The Blustery Day")

The Lord Of The Rings: Shelob's Lair

Star Wars: Darth Vader's Introduction

Kingdom Hearts: The Unknown (KH), Sora forgets Kairi (CoM), Maleficent's Revival (KH2)

Harry Potter: The climaxes of every year!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The death of Aslan (1), the White Witch ritual (2), Dark Island (3), the Giants (4), Tash (7).

Pokemon: Lavendar Town (games and manga), Ash and co. are trapped in Sabrina's dollhouse neighborhood (anime)

Peanuts: The cheteau catches on fire (Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown)

Avatar: Aang meets Koh the Face Stealer (Book 1), The Dai Li brainwash Jet (Book 2), Bloodbending is revealed (Book 3), Amon confronts Korra face-to-face (Korra)

Batman: "Dreams in Darkness" (TAS), "Strange Minds" (The Batman), Joker's first threat (TDK)

Dragon Ball: Cell absorbs people, and later uses their energy to scare Piccolo

The Legend of Zelda: The ghosts of the Forest Temple ("Ocarina of Time"), The music box house at Ikana Canyon ("Majora's Mask"), Zant snaps ("Twilight Princess")

Super Mario: The living piano at Big Boo's Haunt ("Super Mario 64")

Spider-Man: Spidey mutates into the Man-Spider (TAS), Green Goblin's trap in "The Uncertainty Principle" ("Spectacular Spider-Man"), Doc Ock's arms come alive (the movies)

Yu-Gi-Oh!: Death T's horror zone, Mai vs Yami Marik

Banjo Tooie: Three words: Zombie King Jingaling

Digimon: Piedmon turns the kids and digimon into keychains (1), Oikawa copies Ken's Dark Spore (2), Scary Jeri's reveal (3), Lucemon's message (4), Kurata's face appears on Belphemon (5)

Sonic The Hedgehog: Drowning!

Superman: Toyman kindaps Bruno Manheim (TAS)

Gargoyles: Fox transforms into a werewolf in front of Xanatos in "Eye Of The Beholder"

Spongebob Squarepants: Doodlebob attacks Spongebob at his house at the climax of "Frankendoodle"

Final Fantasy: Kefka kills Leo (VI), the Trail of Blood (VII), Adel grabs Rinoa (VIII), Necron (IX), Sin reveals itself outside of Zanarkand (X)

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Mind Rape in "Don't Be" (Directors Cut), and Third Impact

Arthur: Arthur's cake induced fairy tail dream in "Just Desserts"

Care Bears: Nicholas and the Spirit confront the Care Bears. "Wheeeere arrre they?" (The Movie)

Dr. Seuss: The nightmarish sequence inside Grinch's wagon ("It's Grinch Night")

Henson Muppets: The Demon ("Don't Eat The Pictures"), Jareth has Sarah drugged ("Labyrinth")

Darkwing Duck: Darkwing begs not to go to Hell in "Dead Duck"

Rescue Rangers: The elephants try to crush the Rangers in "An Elephant Never Suspsects"

Duck Tales: "Figured it out, did you?" ("Nothing To Fear")

Tale Spin: Baloo's Nightmare ("From Here To Machinery")

Yu Yu Hakusho: Rando shrinks and tortures Kuwabara (1), Elder Toguro (2), Sensui's Multiple Personalities are revealed (3)

Teen Titans: Slade nearly kills Robin at the climax of "Haunted"

Death Note: Kira makes Raye kill the FBI and then kills Raye (1), The second Kira's broadcast (2)

Hey Arnold: "The Headless Cabby" and "Curly Snaps"

The Powerpuff Girls: "The whole world went to Heck!" ("Speed Demon")

Looney Tunes: The alien carrot Bugs Bunny (Bugs even says so!)

The Slayers: Phibrizzo breaks the casts' souls one by one ("NEXT")

El Hazard: Fighting the Shadow Tribe

South Park: The resolution of "Scott Tenorman Must Die" and it's follow-up in "201"

One Piece: Crocodile impales Luffy on his hook

Haruhi Suzumiya: Ryoko Asakura tries to kill Kyon. Twice.

Sailor Moon: Wiseman's skull flashes through his hood after he strikes down Dimande

Cowboy Bebop: "Pierrot le Fou"

Code Geass: C.C. is kidnapped by Mao in "Cheering Mao"

Naruto: Gaara freaks out and screams "IT'S MY BLOOD!!!"

Full Metal Alchemist: Nina Tucker is turned into a Chimera by her own father

Shaman King: Dr. Faust dissects Manta

Monster: Tenma meets Johan, the monster

Elfen Lied: Lucy breaks out and goes on a bloody massacre

Black Lagoon: Hansel and Gretel kill people while singing a creepy song

Hellsing: Alucard tortures and kills Luke Valentine

Higurashi: Keiichi's meeting with Rena in Episode 4

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Gentlemen in "Hush"

The Twilight Zone: The climax of "Midnight Sun"

Dark Chronicle: Meeting and fighting Emperor Griffin

Epic Mickey: The Crazy Clock

Star Fox 64: The reveal of Andross

Reboot: The end of "My Two Bobs"

Code Lyoko: XANA almost destroys the world. A lot.

Gravity Falls: Bill Cipher unleashes Weirdmageddon

Invader ZIM: ZIM goes after Dib for his organs in "Dark Harvest" 

Ben 10: Zombozo in "The Last Laugh", Ghostfreak shows his face in "Ghostfreaked Out"

Fillmore!: A culprit rants using his dummy during the climactic chase of "Foes Don't Forgive"

Ed, Edd, and Eddy: Eddy's brother comes out to play in "The Big Picture Show"

Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends: Mac at Barry Bling's mansion ("Affair Weathered Friends")

Scooby Doo: Professor Pericles kills Ed Machine ("All Fear The Freak")

Monday, October 29, 2012

Highest Points EVAR!

This entry lists what are, in my opinion, the highest points of any fictional canon or franchise:

Disney Animated Canon: The Disney Renaissance - From 1989 to 1999, this was post-Walt Disney at their Disneyist. All movies produced during these times had a mass amount of heart and quality put into them, even the one that wasn't all that good ("Pocahontas". Yes, I liked "Hercules." Is that wrong?) Disney has had their hits and misses over the years, but they haven't ever had a decade of consistent hits like this again. Perhaps they never will...

Winnie The Pooh: "Pooh's Grand Adventure" - People say "The Tigger Movie" was the height of Pooh's career. I disagree. This overlooked animated gem was a DTV that focused not just on Tigger, but on the rest of the great "Pooh" cast of characters (minus Kanga and Roo, but oh well. I didn't miss them.) Particularly Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Rabbit, who all must confront their greatest flaws and learn lessons about their greatest strengths on the journey, and Christopher Robin, whom they're trying to find. Owl and Eeyore get smaller but still very notable parts as well. Though still whimsical and fun at man points, this is probably the closest a Pooh film will ever get to feeling "dark" and almost "epic", even going full on deconstructive narrative with the lore of Pooh and friends, dealing with themes of loss of innocence and growing up, giving mild character studies that go into the cast's psychology, and even includes a point where Pooh's friends believe Pooh has died! And through brilliant storytelling, it ends up with a payoff that in any other story might feel like a cheat, but here it This movie spins off from the end of "The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh", (with the talk of "doing nothing") and uses a plot device that would later be re-used in "Winnie The Pooh" (Christopher Robin goes to school and leaves a note that Owl misinterprets). But the way this one closes out really feels like the grand closure to Disney's Pooh, even if it's not the end of the franchise. Oh, and "Wherever You Are" is pure emotional awesomeness in a song. It's just all around great.

The Lord Of The Rings: "The Return Of The King" - I'm speaking of the motion picture trilogy here, not the book(s), which was one big high point of Tolkien's career in of itself. It doesn't work as well as a polished and paced movie like "Fellowship" does, but it's better than "Two Towers." But more than those two, this one is epic. This one is a spectacle: an experience. This is what we've been building towards this whole time. This one goes on for so long and, aside from the Ending Fatigue, the payoff is more than worth it. Just...look at all the awards this movie has won. And clearly it deserves them. When you watch, it absorbs you in. It's an epic, thrilling, emotional, and thoroughly compelling ride.

Star Wars: "A New Hope" - I've already said in my "First Installment Wins" entry that I consider this to be better than it's follow up "The Empire Strikes Back", even though that one is technically the superior film. This one started the entire phenomenon, and it's simple beginnings is something that nothing in the rest of the franchise can ever match or live up to for me. With the finest story and characters, it's the "Star Wars" that many love best.

Kingdom Hearts: Hollow Bastion (KH1) - Like "Star Wars", the first game in general can never be matched by anything else the franchise gives us, even when three later installments were also very enjoyable. The highest point in the game, and thus in the whole series, would be the first visit to Hollow Bastion, the lair of the games' group of Disney Villains, where the story reaches it's climax and we get several great moments and payoffs to the saga that had been developing through the whole game. Twists, turns, and truths are thrown at us, we get an awesome party member, we get our long awaited duel with the treacherous Riku, face down the main villain herself in order to stop her terrible plans, meet the mastermind behind the Heartless and the whole plot, and set the princesses of heart free at last. And there's also a moment where Sora stabs himself with a keyblade and becomes a Heartless but then gets restored, which ends up being a blessing and a curse to the storyline afterwards. All in all, this defined "climactic" and can not be topped in any other game.

Harry Potter: "The Order Of The Phoenix" AND "The Deathly Hallows Part 2" - Yes, I'm putting both the dead middle and the grand finale of the saga here, and it won't be the only time. OotP (Year 5) in it's entirety was the deepest, darkest, most mature and epic book in the series to that point, with the most shit going down in it, and an extraordinary climax. It was not topped until the latter half of the final book, which was adapted into the last movie in the franchise, "Deathly Hallows Part 2." There we got the incredible battle of Hogwarts, the death of Severus Snape, many revelations and emotional moments, the surprising sacrifice of Harry himself, one last talk with (the deceased) Dumbledore, and then the final battle of good and evil in the series: the Hogwarts army against the Death Eaters, and the big Harry vs Voldemort confrontation. There was never a dull moment here.

Pokemon: Generations 1 and 2 - I covered why Generation 1 was the best ever in "First Installment Wins", but Generation 2 has to be mentioned here as well since it was when the phenomenon reached it's pinnacle. It featured the west region of the same continent, and the last bunch of consistently creative pokemon. "Gold, Silver, and Crystal" were technically even better games than the last ones, the manga gave us an excellent story arc that completed the original saga, and the card game, while losing steam, was still good and eventually ended in a commemorative set. The one weak spot here was the anime, which Jumped the Shark beyond return in Johto. But even that gave us some gems, such as the occasional memorable episodes, Takeshi Shudo's best "Pokemon" movie of the bunch ("Spell of the Unown"), and also his conclusion to the Mewtwo saga of "Indigo League" in the form of the TV special "Mewtwo Returns." The franchise has not reached the heights of these two generations ever since. It's finally come closest with the current Generation 5, but it's not quite as good because the card game still sucks, and the anime and manga seem to have curiously switched places: the anime is currently the best it's been since Geneartion 1 while the manga has stepped down from it's quality in Generation 4! The hell? All the same, it's still the best the franchise has been since Generation 2, and ought to be the end IMHO.

Avatar: Book 2: Earth, AND "Sozin's Comet" - The other time where I put the middle and grand finale that I was talking about. The second season was easily the overall best season of the whole show. It gave us the archvillain Princess Azula, a Zuko and Iroh B-plot, introduction of new characters, further development of old ones...and Toph, of course. It got even better once the 'learning Earthbending' arc of the first half was done and we moved on to the Ba Sing Se arc of the second half. It very quickly became the most gripping, fascinating, and well done part of the whole show, particularly by the finale where all plot threads of the season came together, Azula dominated the entire story, and Zuko made a decision that shocked the entire world. This was only topped by the series finale in the following season, the four-part "Sozin's Comet." Aside from the occasional padding, a Deus Ex Machina towards the finale's climax, and the overdramatic asking of a question that goes unanswered, everything in this finale was nothing short of nigh perfection. The story and tone was truly epic and it all delivered, particularly the long awaited Zuko vs Azula and Aang vs Fire Lord Ozai battles. It was a spectacular, unforgettable end to a spectacular, unforgettable cartoon.

Batman: The Dennis O'Neil Era - As a franchise, Batman has had several ups and downs over the years. But as far as the comics go, Batman was at it's best during the Dennis O'Neil years. From the moment he became the main editor of the comics to the finale of "No Man's Land", this era was filled with great stories, characterization, villains, and writing that knew how to "get" Batman.

Dragon Ball: The Cell Saga - Akira Toriyama is a master of making shit up as he goes along and actually weaving that together well in order to make the story work. From the moment Demon King Piccolo was brought in, Toriyama was on a roll and in a phase where he continuously topped himself. The Freeza Saga was a grand story that was the pinnacle of Goku's series-long character arc and would have been the high point if not for two things: the setting and the length. Namek got really boring after awhile, and that combined with the length that seemed to "drag on", gave several people Arc Fatigue. Toriyama planned to end the series after this arc, but Executive Meddling (yet again!) made him keep going. So he turned these lemons into delicious lemonade by making the Cell Saga, which turned out to be the best story of the series. From the moment Trunks arrived on the scene to free the readers' from taking any more of Freeza's bullshit and then told Goku a startling truth, the story just kept on escalating from there. It got more and more epic, eventually introducing Cell, the series' finest villain who really raised the stakes. I could go on about how well done this saga was and all it did right, but I won't. All I'll say is that you know that this is when the series reached it's peak when the final saga that followed it, the Buu saga, felt like a serious step down in several ways, especially in how it's story progresses and concludes. Cell and his saga, however, were...perfect!

The Legend Of Zelda: "Ocarina of Time" - You all should know this game's reputation. I don't think
I should even touch this one any further. It can't be topped. Ever. And it was some time after this one that the screwy timeline of the series' installments was introduced, which is why the franchise Jumped the Shark. Funny that.

Super Mario: "Super Mario 64" - Mario's first outing in 3D. While he'd have many successful 3D games afterwards, unlike Sonic, this is still where his video game career peaked. Yeah, I know "Super Mario Galaxy" is better rated and a technically better game, but...let's face it: it's "Super Mario 64" IN SPACE! So even if we were to call it the franchise's high point, it still owes everything to this!

Spider-Man: The Lee-Ditko & Lee-Romita Eras - From the origin of Spidey to the death of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man's comic book runs were never as fun and engaging, only coming close during Roger Stern's time as main writer. These are eras that the Raimi trilogy and the short lived "The Spectacular Spider-Man" show were trying to emulate, and it shows.

Spongebob Squarepants: Season 3 and The Movie - This cartoon just got better and better until the third season and the theatrical film that followed it. And then it Jumped The Shark save for the Lost Season episodes. Clearly, these heights were never reached again.

Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Duelist Kingdom arc - This series really came into it's own at the Death T arc and continued it's greatness in the Monster World arc. But this arc that followed them topped  them both. It made great use of the series' most popular game (the "Duel Monsters" card game) by having a very unique card tournament at a unique location with unique rules and a host of quirky characters, with the overarching plot revolving around Yugi and his other self locked in a battle against the creator of the game himself, the eccentric and twisted Maximillion Pegasus. Everything just "clicked" in this storyline. It felt grander than any story that had been told before. It gave us really great moments of character development and heroism for Yugi and Joey, really started Yami Yugi's development into a better person, featured Seto Kaiba returning as a badass anti-hero, gave us the strong willed, sexy Mai Kujaku, and had great villains in Pegasus and Bandit Keith. We even got surprise return appearances from the evil Bakura as well! The arc was paced perfectly through eight volumes, with the final one being rightfully dedicated to the final duel between Yugi and Pegasus, and the incredible conclusion that followed it. Seeing as after this we got the stretched out Battle City arc, which also ran the card game into the ground, and the rather rushed Memory World arc (And also this being the only consistently good arc of the anime), it's clear that this was the series' height.

Digimon: 1998-2001 - From "Digimon Adventure" to "Digimon Tamers". The franchise lost a whole lot of it's magic afterwards. Levels stopped mattering, too many needless new Digimon were created, and the series' were lacking in quality. It only came close to reaching good heights again when "Xros Wars" became a merchandising success, but even then it wasn't the same.

Sonic The Hedgehog: Sonic CD (games), Issues 25-50 (comics) - For the games, "Sonic CD" is easily the best. It followed the original trilogy of games and embodied everything that was way cool and fun about Sonic at the time. For the Archie comics' series, it was at it's best during the original "Robotnik saga", particularly it's latter half after Issue 25, which was coincidentally enough, a story based on "Sonic CD". The next 25 issues and all specials and mini series that tied into them were when the comics were strongest, with a nice blend of wacky humor and increasingly serious plot, culminating in the epic "End Game". From both these points, Sonic could only run downward.

Gargoyles: Season 2 Part 1- After an already classic first season, Greg Weisman and his staff topped themselves with the first half of the second season, which expanded more plot lines, introduced and developed more characters, built the show's world more, and just told great stories. Everything from the season premiere to the "Avalon" arc was glorious and when the series was going strongest. The "world tour" and everything that followed was interesting, but a bit fatiguing and just not quite as good. And then the series ended with a non-existent third season. "Gargoyles" is a great show overall, but it never got better than it was here, 'cause it most shows the essence of it.

Final Fantasy: "Final Fantasy VII" - DUH. Need I even elaborate on this one? It's the same deal as "Zelda 64". It just can't be topped. Ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever!

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Episodes 7-15 - From the tech support themed episode 7 to the romantic episode 15, this was when this anime was most balanced. It wasn't slow, oddly paced build-up like the first 6 episodes, nor was it a Mind Screw like the following 11 episodes. It was just the right level of humor, characterization, plot building, psychology, and ass-kicking action. The only other point in the show to reach such quality would be the excellent episode 24 (I don't care what JesuOtaku says, it was very well done!) In the whole anime, these episodes had the most to offer.

Care Bears: The Movie AND "The Care Bear Family" - Yes, I put the best movie and the best show that the franchise has had right here. To me, there's really no mistaking it.

Yu Yu Hakusho: The Chapter Black Saga - While my favorite saga is The Spirit Detective Saga,
I think the series was at it's highest point in the climactic Chapter Black saga. It was this series' equivalent to the Cell Saga of DBZ, and it was also totally epic. It had the best story, the best fights, the best moral and psychological conflicts, and the best main villain in Shinobu Sensui. It's downside would be how the saga, and the series, quite literally went to Hell after Yusuke's dramatic second death and the tunnel to Demon World opened, but even after that, there were some great moments
to be found, and the anime managed to give it a satisfying conclusion and sense of closure to all characters uniquely involved in the story. Put the series finale after this arc, and it's simply perfect.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract - In both the comics and the animated TV series, the Terra story arc was the pinnacle of the series. Both versions had their strengths and weaknesses, but both were really great experiences that the other Titans stories could never quite live up to.

Death Note: "The Last Name" - Specifically, the storyline events that were adapted into the second live action movie, "The Last Name." Everything from L introducing himself to Light to L's death. The quality of the series took a hard left turn afterwards, with inferior L replacements, incomprehensibly convoluted gambits, a dumb and unpleasant storyline, characters getting total shafts (Souichiro Yagami especially!), and padded out arcs that dragged on and on. Only the series' resolution was satisfying. This is the big reason I'm thankful that "The Last Name" adapted the highest point and then ended the story in a manner similar to how it ended in the series anyway, only with L doing the job he should've done to start with, and Souichiro living in the end. 'Cause clearly, little good came from stretching the series past this point.

Looney Tunes: The Chuck Jones era - Does this one even need to be talked about?

The Slayers: "NEXT" - I'm hardly alone in thinking of "NEXT" as the best season of the Slayers anime. This one had the most memorable and entertaining episodes, the best storylines, the strongest characterization, introduced Xellos Metallium, and featured Martina too. The finale featured a climactic showdown against Hellmaster Phibrizzo beneath Sairag City, which was not only where the anime peaked, but where the light novels it was adapted from peaked as well. The Slayers were never better after this in any book, anime, or manga they've ever been featured in since.

One Piece: The Alabasta arc - The climax and conclusion to the Baroques Works Saga. "One Piece" would have been better off having only one last saga and ending after this one, because there was no way this could ever be out-epicced. We had the best Straw Hat crew line-up (Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, and Vivi), an extraordinary and big desert location, a story with a truly epic scope, a nation at civil war with itself, the most sincere drama and peril, and the last stand of Baroques Works, particularly it's leader Crocodile, who plays an excellent main villain, the best the series ever had. This is where "One Piece" ends for me. The Viz US release of the manga graphic novels started adding subtitles and stopped calling it simply "One Piece" the volume after this arc was over. And the anime ended the arc with the theme song, making it a perfect cap off. This arc was the pinnacle of the grand series that "One Piece" used to be.

Haruhi Suzumiya: From "Melancholy" to "Disappearance" - In both the Light Novels (1 through 4), but even moreso in the anime (pretending that the second season doesn't exist, of course.)  The series kind of lost itself afterwards, focusing a bit too much on Yuki, Mikuru, and Itsuki at the expense of Haruhi freaking Suzumiya, and squandering the potential for ideas and stories that it had by not moving quick enough. After the recent two-parter that concluded the "Nega SOS Brigade" storyline, the series is as good as done with. The early days were clearly the best it ever got.

Sailor Moon: The First Series finale - Or heck, the entire first series! But the two-part finale deserves special mention because it's conclusion to the Dark Kingdom storyline trumps the original manga's conclusion by far. It had all five Sailor Soldiers going to the enemy's stronghold in the Arctic, then one by one Sailor Moon's four friends are killed off. For real. In gruesome, very final ways that involve self sacrifice. Sailor Moon actually gets sent into a Heroic BSOD before pressing forward. Then she has to deal with Queen Beryl herself, as well as her brainwashed lover Endymion. Then Endymion dies after he's come to his senses. And THEN Queen Metaria gives her consciousness to Beryl, so both main villains merge into one Final Boss. The final showdown between Princess Serena and Queen Beryltaria is absolute awesomeness and the whole thing concludes in a satisfactory way, with the villain vanquished and the dying princess' last wish serving as a magic reset button. This emotional roller coaster ride just could not be topped for the rest of the anime or franchise.

Naruto: The Chunin Exams/Kohona Invasion arc - A mediocre series to begin with, this is really the only time it was truly epic and badass. Great characters, great fights, great plot that kept on building and building to an action-packed climax, and it had Gaara as the villain!

Bleach: The Soul Society Saga - Does this even need an explanation? The first arc was good and all, but this is what it was building to. And this is the only good storyline that hack Tite Kubo ever wrote. It's biggest failing would be...well, think of how much better off we would be had they only finished Aizen off at the end of this story.

Code Geass: The Middle of R1 - From the battle at Narita to Suzaku getting knighted. The two-part season finale might count as well, but it happened in the wake of that dreadful Euphinator incident. This middle portion was where the story and characters were best handled and balanced.

Gurren Lagann: The Middle - The beginning was too camp. The end was too serious. And the series finale was downright terrible. The middle was just right.

G Gundam: The Gundam Fight Tournament - And I mean the actual tournament. This part of the series had the delicious villain team-up of Master Asia and Wong Yun Fat, the introduction and participation of Allenby, great moments of fight action and character development, and one hell of a payoff that resulted in the emotional deaths of Kyoji Kasshu, his clone, and Master Asia. Everything about this was engaging and FUN!

Inu-Yasha: The first season - When the story got started, the characters got introduced, and all basic ideas of the series were developed. Setting all this up was the fun part. It was the refusal to let them go anywhere that caused the series to decay afterwards.

Eureka 7: The last season - This was it, no question. The final story arc, the epic scope, the big action, the most emotional moments, Dewey Novak at his finest as the villain, and the most screentime and development for Dominic and Anemone in the whole series! This was a flawed anime overall, but this last part of the show was nothing short of amazing and beautiful!

Rurroni Kenshin: The Kyoto arc - The middle of the series and it's longest arc. The one with Makoto Shishio as the main villain. Everyone knows this.

Zatch Bell: The Milordo Z arc - This arc was this series' equivalent to the Kyoto arc, or the Odaibah arc of "Digimon Adventure". When fans claim that the Faudo arc was the best, I have to disagree. This was the best story arc in the series. It had the best plot centering around the revival of 1000 year old demons that were turned to stone in the previous Mamodo Battle and what's giving them their life and power. It had a true party of heroes uniting together under a common cause for the first time. It introduced the excellent character of Dr. Riddles, and the story behind him and his mamodo Kido. It had a great pace, a solid structure, an interesting setting, memorable moments of action and genuine emotion, THE best villains in the whole series, and the anti-hero team of Sherry Belmont and Brago reaching the conclusion of their character arc. This story arc truly felt epic, more than any other story the series told before or after. It was great stuff and frankly, after it, I was fatigued of the series by the time the Faudo arc came around. Yeah, it was that good.

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga - This was easily the peak of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's storytelling, before they became hacks who totally ruined the X-Men comic series and franchise.

Buffy AND Angel: Seasons 2 and 3 - People can debate which show is better all they like, but
I think they follow the same pattern. The first season's good, the second and third seasons are excellent, the fourth season is where the show jumps the shark, and the fifth season is where the show ends and you're glad it does. So it's pretty clear what the high points of the Buffyverse were. And what's this about a sixth and seventh season of "Buffy?" The fifth season finale was the hundredth and final episode, remember? Such following seasons never happened!

Code Lyoko: Season 2 - The first season was solid entertainment, but the second season is where the worldbuilding, storytelling, and character development really took off. The only disappointment is that the payoffs to the elements that this season brought in either never happened or happened in the following two seasons instead of this one. But this was still "Code Lyoko"'s height all the same.

Reboot: Seasons 2 and 3 - The first season was an enjoyable episodic kids' show. Nothing more or less. The second season actually brought in really solid plots and stronger characterization. After AndrAIa joined the cast, the season started winding up and delivering wham moment after wham moment until the shocking cliffhanger of a finale that led us into the third season, where the show had become darker, edgier, more engaging and badass, and just downright gripping to watch. They tried to follow this season up with a TV movie trilogy, but that went nowhere since the third installment got scrapped. The greatness of Season 2 and Season 3 was not ever recaptured.

Phineas and Ferb: "Across The 2nd Dimension" - It's the big damn movie for this show, it had high quality animation compared to the actual show, had our titular character actually meeting Dr.Heinz Doofenshmirtz, finding out about their pet platypus' secret life as Agent P, and going on a huge adventure in a dystopian alternate reality ruled by a truly evil adventure that ends up having them fight to save their reality as well! It was exciting, wacky, and touching at all the right points. This sort of movie really makes me hope this show gets canned after it's next season so that it doesn't go the way of Spongebob!

W.I.T.C.H: The first 6 issues - The six issues that the series creators actually wrote for. Back when all the characters were interesting, the set-up was very engaging, and the story was well written beyond standard Shoujo fare. But then Disney had them removed, so the series we got wasn't the series we were supposed to get!

Scooby Doo: "Mystery Inc." Season 1 Part 2 and onwards - After a very solid opening episode, the "Mystery Inc." series started to show itself to be an incredible waste of potential. I mean aside from the occasional bright spots and flashes of it's promised greatness, the 9 episodes that followed the first one were pretty awful. But then in the second half of the first season, after enough clues were gathered to officially start an ongoing mystery, Professor Pericles had flown the coop, and that dumbass Shaggy/Velma/Scooby love triangle plot was aborted, things became to pick up and get good. And I mean REALLY good. The show was now abundant in quality that hasn't let up, from the shocking first season finale and on into the second season. I definitely think the series is now the high point of the "Scooby Doo" franchise. I am eagerly anticipating it's finale next year.