The Most Amazingly Bizarre Cartoon Christmas Specials of Pikachu, Pac-Man & He-Man
I’ve said it before, but I’m a guy who straight up loves a good Christmas special, especially when it comes to the cartoons from my childhood. I mean, I’m the type of person who owns the Rankin/Bass specials on DVD so that I can watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town whenever the mood strikes instead of waiting to catch ‘em during their annual airing.
But even more than the good ones, I’ve got a lot of affection for the absolutely insane Christmas toons. In the weird No Man’s Land between the classics like the Charlie Brown special and How The Grinch Stole Christmas! and the studied strangeness of stuff like Moral Orel‘s “The Best Christmas Ever,” there’s an entire array of cartoons that take the idea of the Christmas special and run in the most bizarre direction they can. And today, as the countdown ticks ever closer to Santa’s yearly trip around the world, I’ve got three of my favorites!
Originally released on video in 1999, Pikachu’s Winter Vacation was a series of four ten-minute winter and Christmas-themed short films, and while the idea of Christmas celebrations in a world built entirely around sending ten-year-olds out into the woods to fight animals that breathe fire and project unknown psychic horrors into your mind has the most potential for going right off the rails, it’s actually pretty notable for not being nearly as crazy as you might expect.
Then again, it does show us just what the Pokemon get up to when their human trainers aren’t around…
…and it might’ve been better if we’d never known.
The DVD release has all four shorts on it, and as much as I have fond memories of getting the VHS version when I was in high school, I’ve got to say that the first half is pretty forgettable. The only real high point comes when the Pokemon accidentally jack up Ash, Misty and Brock’s Christmas tree, leaving Pikachu to save Christmas from being ruined by plugging the lights directly into his own face.
Also, all the Pokemon wear party hats, and if there wasn’t a Tumblr out there devoted to that already, I’m sure there will be by the time you finish reading this sentence.
In the second half though, things pick up, starting with a short where the Pokemon engage in the beloved (in Canada) winter sport of Curling, using themselves as the rocks and their own various appendages as brooms:
Believe it or not, this is exactly what I was hoping we’d get more of, but I’m willing to concede that since I doubt there are a whole lot of people laying awake at night wondering how Pokemon trainers get honey in a world where bees are three feet tall and have drills for hands, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one at all who was clamoring to find out how curling works.
The best one, though — and the short that lets the whole thing qualify as a Christmas special rather than just being wintry — is “Stantler’s Little Helpers,” wherein the Pokemon help Santa Claus. And the fact that Santa Claus exists in the universe of Pokemon just asks way more questions than I think they were willing to answer.
For instance, we know from the short that Santa Claus is a Pokemon trainer, because he’s got a Stantler — the Pokemon equivalent of reindeer — pulling his sleigh, but does that mean that Santa actually went out when he was a kid to learn the magic of love and friendship by forcing monsters to do his bidding in battles against other children? I mean, admittedly, this is not exactly out of the question given Santa’s history, but it does seem a little weird, especially since I’m pretty sure Stantlers can’t learn how to Fly. And that’s not even getting into the fact that there’s one Pokemon, Delibird, who looks exactly like Santa and attacks by giving its opponent presents that it pulls out of its tail (which is like a sack), and that Santa actually owns one.
Sadly, while I was hoping to see a swarm of festive Geodudes building toys in a workshop, Santa only appeared as a set of boots and the occasional beard — just like the trainers, who were essentially treated like Nanny in Muppet Babies — and all my questions were left unanswered.
Especially my question about just what the hell’s supposed to be going on here:
And you know what? I don’t think I really want to know.
You know, on one level, it makes sense that someone would try to create an animated adaptation of Pac-Man, what with the fact that it was wildly popular with instant name recognition, but on the other hand, since it was a game in which the entire plot was “circle tries to eat smaller circles and is menaced by ghosts,” trying to build a show around it seems like an absolutely terrible idea. And yet, from 1982 to 1983, the fine folk sat Hanna-Barbera did exactly that.
For those of you who don’t remember — or who have blocked it out, a pretty likely scenario — the show focused on Pac-Man (whose first name I’ve always suspected was “Irving”), his wife (Pepper) and their son (Junior), and even went to sfar as to give them pets, a dog named Chomp Chomp and a cat named Sourpuss, and… well, pretty much showed them eating smaller circles while being menaced by ghosts.
As you might expect, it was a goldmine of insanity, including a villain named Mezmaron who bossed around the “ghost monsters” and an episode where Pac-Man fought an evil vampire named “Pacula.” Seriously.
But nothing quite compares to the show’s half-hour Christmas special, in which Santa’s reindeer — startled by the six sets of floating eyeballs that result from Pac-Man eating the ghosts — crash headlong into a snowbank and are stranded in Pacland on Christmas Eve. He’s rescued by the Pac-Man family, but they’ve never heard of Christmas and he’s never heard of Pac-Land, for the simple reason that, as a world inhabited by the spirits of the unquiet dead who seek to devour the living, Pac-Land exists otuside of the sight of God.
Okay, so I made that part up, but c’mon: It’s as good a reason as any.
Santa ends up explaining Christmas to the curious Pacs, and seriously, you’d think a guy who was an actual saint would throw in at least a passing mention of Jesus, but instead he just refers to it as a wonderful time “of giving and receiving.” Though to be fair, he stops just short of telling them that it’s a time when all good people buy each other the fine products manufactured by Namco.
While he kicks back having his feet soaked in true baller fashion, there’s a minor conflict involving the Ghosts attempting to steal Santa’s lost bag of presents and thus ruining Christmas, but Pac-Man’s able to convince them to give up their misdeeds in the spirit of the season that they are only just now finding out about. They agree, and he’s off on his merry way, leaving the Pac-Man family to celebrate Christmas as “that time the weird giant hairy-faced alien came and allowed us to placate the hungry disembodied souls that plague our meager circle-eating existence.”
And to me, that’s the true meaning of the holiday.
I’ve seen a lot of Christmas specials in my time, but this is unquestionably the craziest. I mean, He-Man is weird even by the standards of early ’80s cartoons, and considering the competition for that title involves alien robots that turn into semi trucks and a former used car salesman who wants to take over the world using a combination of snake-themed heavy metal and fast food restaurants armed with missiles, that’s saying something.
Taking up an entire hour, this one kicks off with pretty much everyone in Eternia getting together to have a birthday party for He-Man and She-Ra, which mostly translates to them standing around, shrugging at the viewer as if to say “Yeah, we don’t really know what we’re in for here either.”
Prince Adam is late for his own birthday party because he and Man-at-Arms are getting ready to launch a spy satellite into space so that they can keep an eye on Skeletor. And while Skeletor attempts to stop the launch with a round of extremely homoerotic bondage…
… their rocket makes it into orbit.
Of course, unbeknownst to Adam, Orko was aboard the rocket, which mysteriously winks out of existence as soon as it hits outer space. Personally, I fail to see how this presents a problem, but for some reason He-Man and She-Ra aren’t happy to see Orko gone, and they decide to try to get him back.
As it happens, Orko has gone through a dimensional barrier (?) and crash-landed on Earth (?!), where he meets two kids named Alicia and Miguel, who decide to hang out in his crashed spaceship. And I’m pretty sure that sends the wrong message for the kids of 1987: If a tiny floating man in a pink dress with a scarf around his face and a witch hat on invites you to his spaceship do not go. He is not really from space.
The kids tell Orko all about Christmas — and unlike Santa, they leave in all the Jesus parts, although they tell that part of the story off-screen — and meanwhile, the Eternians have discovered where the ship ended up and determined that in order to get Orko back, they need some crystals that She-Ra can only get by hanging out with a French mermaid and fighting some Transformers:
She-Ra’s alicorn, Swift Wind, even goes so far as to say “They’re changing forms! What evil robots!” in what I can only assume was some cross-brand sniping between Mattell and Hasbro. There’s also a Tyrannosaurus and a glass cage that She-Ra has to karate-kick her way out of, but eventually she gets the crystal back to Man-At-Arms so he can build his teleportation beam and get Orko back.
Still with me? Good, because this is where things start to get crazy:
For reasons that are completely beyond me, Orko decides it’d be a good idea to bring the kids along with him when he teleports back to Eternia, and since they’re stuck there for a few days before they can recharge the crystal, the kids start telling everyone about Christmas. The Good News spreads fast and makes Horde Prime (Skeletor and Hordak’s boss) nervous, so he decides to take the sensible course of action and have the children kidnapped and murdered by monsters, using a helicopter best described as “extremely phallic.”
Hordak and Skeletor start fighting over who gets to be the one to do the actual child-murdering, which leads to Skeletor crashing on a mountain with the kids and a puppy they got from the “Man-chines.” And then one of the kids dies of exposure.
Well, no, not really, but they are very cold. So cold, in fact, that Skeletor takes pity on them and shoots them with a laser beam that gives them parkas. Okay, two things about this:
1. Every single dude in Eternia is wandering around in furry underwear, leather chest-harnesses and nothing else, and Skeletor had a magic spell that could create winter coats this entire time?
2. This is the start of the Christmas Spirit getting to Skeletor, and it is awesome.
From here on out, it’s basically Skeletor’s show, as he marches the kids down the mountain and has the most amazing conversation ever with them. And for those of you who, like me, were never big fans of the show when you were kids, keep in mind that Skeletor has the exact same voice as the Monarch from The Venture Bros.:
SKELETOR: Tell me more about this Christmas.
KID: Well, it’s a wonderful time of year. Everyone has lots of fun!
SKELETOR: You mean they get in fights?
KID: No! No, they have fun!
SKELETOR: Fights are fun. I like fights!
KID: And they give each other presents!
SKELETOR: And when you open them they explode, right?
Skeletor, everybody: He is a dude that likes fights.
By the time they make it to the bottom of the mountain, Skeletor is wholly overwhelmed by peace on earth and goodwill towards men…
…and thus he ends up turning on Horde Prime, blowing up his spaceship and allowing the kids to be taken back to Earth.
Then he spends the rest of the episode sitting around with people he doesn’t like, complaining about how he hates Christmas and he can’t wait until it’s over so he can go back to being evil. In other words, it’s like every single holiday gathering my family has ever had, and for that, this thing is awesome.