TV Special Showdown: Nickelodeon’s Thanksgiving Fest

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Jive Turkey!

My favorite holiday is and always has been Thanksgiving. No gifts that you have to buy, no annoying carols clogging up the radio stations, all you have to do is eat and veg out in front of the TV. My kind of holiday. (If you didn’t have to put up with the family, Thanksgiving would be perfect.)

But as cool as Thanksgiving is, the holiday has never had any iconic TV specials. Thanksgiving has never had any instantly memorable specials that could be its’ equivalent to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. (Yeah, there was A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but I don’t count that; that special was never all that spectacular, it just recycled a lot of the same beats from A Charlie Brown Christmas, not to mention depicting some of the most negligent parents in fiction. Seriously, who leaves their kids alone in the house to fend for themselves on Thanksgiving day? That’s cold, bro!)

Which is not to say that there haven’t been any notable Thanksgiving specials. One such title is the topic of the today’s TV Special Showdown, Nickelodeon’s Thanksgiving Fest, which first hit the airwaves on the World’s First Kids’ Network in 1989.

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The special had a unique style and presentation to it; it was a lot like watching Nick’s animated promos at the time in a half-hour format. In fact,  one of the directors of the special was Joey Ahlbum, the man responsible for many of Nick’s animated spots and bumpers, such as the famous “doo-wop dinos” spot. Ahlbum also did some spots for Nick At Nite and would later produce the short “Zoonatics” for Cartoon Network.

Rather than showcasing a single show-length story, Nick’s Thanksgiving Fest offered 2 short subjects, “Thanksgiving Nightmare” and “Thanksgiving Dream”, each with a linking theme of Thanksgiving (obviously!) but otherwise unrelated, with wraparound segments produced by Ahlbum himself. Little disclaimer: there aren’t going to be a ton of screen caps and images from the special in this blog post, because I couldn’t find that many; I could only find a total of 8 images from this special, and most of them were of the wraparounds, which I won’t be going into great detail over, since they were just short blackout gags and I just don’t feel like it. That said, let’s dig in.

First, we get some shtick…

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…And then it’s on with the first short.

THANKSGIVING NIGHTMARE

The special’s first offering is a slapstick-y short which owes at least some inspiration to Tom & Jerry. A noticeably rotund family of four (Mom, Dad and teen/tween-aged Daughter and Son) are happily grubbing back on their Thanksgiving dinner, when the scent of the food attracts 2 unwanted guests: a cockroach who dresses like a thug (backwards baseball cap, wife-beater and high-top sneakers) and a mouse who bears more than a passing resemblance to the early Mickey.

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“Ah, the Magic of Lawsuits!”

Chubby daughter Sissy drops a single bone from the table where it lands on the floor. Big Daddy Harold suggests that the Family Fat take a constitutional to work off the excess baggage (the kids whine about this idea at first, but agree to it after Dad promises to take them to Dairy King afterwards.)

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In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the joke is: THEEEEEEY’RE FAT!!”

The 2 crispy critters proceed to duke it out over the bone, only to have their tussle halted by the family’s unnamed cat, who scares them off, causing the bone to land in Kitty’s mouth just as Mega-Mom Martha comes back for something. Of course, she assumes that the cat is the guilty party and that he was waiting for the family to get their wobbly thighs outta there so he could pick at their dinner. Large Marge threatens the “no-good flea factory” that if so much as a pea is missing when she returns, the cat will be “an outside alley cat forever!” That’s a pretty bold prediction, lady. A lot could happen after that: the cat could be adopted by another household, or he could be abducted by aliens…

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…Or he could join a gang of alley cats who live in a car in a junkyard. Just sayin’, there are a lot of possibilities.

Anyway, the family splits and the cat plants himself in front of the TV.

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“ANOTHER Deadliest Catch marathon? Geez.”

Meanwhile, each respective household pest heads to their sections of the crawl spaces and rallies their fellow vermin (seriously, do these people not realize how infested their house is??) and each deliver Braveheart style speeches about how now that the “pink giants” are gone, now is their time to crush their enemies and get their respective grub on.

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“They can take our Gouda, but they’ll never take…our Roquefort!!”

In short order, an all-out turf war ensues at the dinner table. The cat struggles to get rid of these creeps and restore order (not to mention keep a roof over his head), finally dispatching them all with a vacuum cleaner, scooping nearly all of them up. Just then, the Blobbersons return (one mouse who was keeping lookout, informs his fellows that “Them big pink things is back!”). The street cockroach and the Mickey lookalike, who have been hiding out and dodging the cat this whole time, spring their fellow vermin, by cutting the vacuum cleaner bag and they all cheese it. (This shows a lack of forethought on the cat’s part: he could just eaten the little creeps and it would have over right away.) Anyone who’s seen a Tom & Jerry cartoon in their lives can guess what happens next: plump mom Martha sees the mess and missing food, assumes the cat is responsible and promptly tosses him out on his ear, punctuated by wacky sound effects. Undaunted, the cat brushes himself off, dines on a turkey leg he managed to steal and moves on. Iris out.

Okay, I gotta say it: while I didn’t mind this short overall, the ending kind of bugged me. Granted, it was clear that the family and the cat didn’t have a glowing relationship to start with (the cat blows a raspberry at Martha the mom as soon as she leaves) but it still mildly irks me that he was trying to do the right thing (insert your own Spike Lee reference here) and still ended up with the fuzzy end of the lollipop. It’s just another example of the general mistreatment of cartoon cats that I’ve never been a fan of. Sure, some cats are sadistic, detestable jerks…

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But many of them aren’t. I’d go on, but I don’t wish to be labeled a CJW (Cartoon Justice Warrior). In summation, the main thing I took from this segment is…

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Keep plenty of spray and repellent in your house at all times!

Then, we get some more shtick…

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…And then it’s on to the next short.

THANKSGIVING DREAM

Whereas the first segment “Thanksgiving Nightmare” was played strictly for laughs, this second short is more on the cute and whimsical side, with a dose of tugging at the heartstrings.

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“No bombs, no anvils, no dynamite, what a rotten cartoon!”

Set during the Great Depression, a pair of prepubescent young siblings (blond, freckle-faced Sam and his brown-haired pig-tailed sister Emily) are feeling the crunch of the times.

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Sad, ain’t it?

Their mother (Sam and Emily’s father? They never say where he is, or even who he is) is unemployed and the family has to ration what little food they have, to the point where not only do they all have barely enough for dinner that night, but all they have is a single can of beans for tomorrow’s dinner, which happens to be Thanksgiving day. Wow, is this an animated special of an episode of Queen for a Day?

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Emily and Sam go to bed. In their dream (they share dreams? So they have a hive mind? Are they psychic?), they find themselves pixie-sized and in a bizarro surreal version of their kitchen, where food products, ingredients, containers, spices and plates are suddenly anthropomorphic and serve and set themselves into a magnificent feast. It’s like Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, sans the nudity.

Sam uses too much yeast while he and his sister help prepare the food, and accidentally creates a giant yeast monster who looks like a monstrous version of one of those flapping, flailing inflatable tube men you see in front of used car lots.

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The…whatever it is…threatens to destroy everything…somehow, but Emily and Sam save the day by filling its’ nostrils full of pepper and causing it to to deflate itself like a balloon.

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“I don’t know what these dudes are trippin’ on, but I gotta have some!”

The ensuing gusts of wind blow Emily and Sam away, and they wake up to find it was all just a dream…OR WAS IT?? The 2 kids’ noses are greeted by a wonderful smell, and head down to the kitchen to find their mom there smiling at the most impressive Thanksgiving spread they’ve ever seen. They dig in. Mom says that she doesn’t know where all this food came from, but it’s a true miracle, even it there’s a little too much pepper, after which she sneezes, but doesn’t stop eating. A carrot on Sam’s plate sprouts a face and winks at him (why it’s so happy it’s about be devoured I have no idea) and the kids share a laugh. Joy-Joy.

Nickelodeon’s Thanksgiving Fest wasn’t an A-list special, and if it aired today, it still wouldn’t be an A-list special, but it was a historically significant one. It was one of the earlier attempts by Nick to have original animated fare made specifically for their channel, a forbear to the original 3 Nicktoons, which would raise the bar and change the face of the channel forever.

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Nick: “We gonna be legends!”

TV Special Showdown: Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family

Today’s TV Special Showdown is about Bewitched.

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Well, kinda sorta.

Today TV Special Showdown looks at a Hanna-Barbera and Screen Gems collaborative produced installment of the ABC Superstar Movie from December of 1972, which aired after Bewitched had ended its’ 8-season run on ABC, entitled Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family.

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M’kay. Already we’ve got a redundancy. It should be Tabitha, Adam and the Clown Family. We’re off to a rollicking start: right at the title, we get served by the Grammar Police.

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Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family featured animated versions of Tabitha and Adam Stevens from Bewitched (because as we learned from Jason’s Retro Bin on Fonzie & Friends, TV stars are more fun when they’re turned into cartoons) now teenagers. Our friend Hobbyfan from Saturday Morning Archives takes a stab at explaining their growth spurt:

“My theory is built around Marvel Comics’ concept of time for some, if not all, of their characters. Bear in mind that Tabitha & Adam were not yet 10 years old when Bewitched ended a few months prior to Clown Family. Let’s assume that from the point where Tabitha debuted, the series covered about one day in her life per episode, and the same would apply to Adam a couple of years later.”

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“Magic. Got it.”

Like their live-action counterparts, Tabitha and Adam are witches, able to perform magic by twitching their noses.

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“Oh, yeah! We gots the skills that pay the bills! If witches actually paid bills, and couldn’t just conjure money out of thin air or turn bill collectors into newts, that is.”

Like its’ title suggests, this special not only had cartoon versions of Tabitha and Adam Stevens, but it also features a clan of clowns.

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No, not that clan of clowns, though that would’ve been a heck of a crossover.

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“Thanks. I just smurfed in my pants!”

As our special unfolds, T&A are on their way to spend a three week vacation with some relatives.

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Specifically their aunt Georgia, Darren’s mortal sister (voiced by Janet “Judy Jetson” Waldo; if you were gonna make an H-B production in the 1970’s you were gonna give Janet Waldo a spot in it), her husband Glenn (who bears a noticeable resemblance to John Butler, the dad from H-B’s Valley of the Dinosaurs, which would come later, white hair and all) and their 4 kids Mike (who could easily be the doppelganger of Freddy Jones from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, he even had the same voice provided by SatAM legend Frank Welker), Sue, Ernie and Julie who are all performers at the Magurk and McGuffin Circus…

philip_j__fry

“I get it!”

…collectively known as the Clown Family. That’s not just a stage name, BTW, the family’s surname is actually Clown. Middle school must’ve been a blast.

-Funny, I’ve watched all 8 seasons of Bewitched growing up, and I don’t recall them ever mentioning that Darren had family who were circus performers. If I had relatives who lived in a striped tent, it would come up once in a while.

Speaking of, at the start of the special it’s vaguely implied that T&A’s aunt Georgia knows that the kids are witches, but just keeps it on the down-low. The Clown kids, however, have no clue that their cousins are magic; they have no idea where that ice cream cone which just poofed on Adam’s face came from.

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Really? They’ve honestly never told their favorite cousins that they’re witches? Come on. These guys live among 500-pound fat ladies, fire-breathers and sword-swallowers, the presence of witches shouldn’t really be a thing for them. Keeping your special powers secret from your enemies makes sense, keeping them secret from your family and loved ones just makes you a jerk.

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As if a family actually named Clown wherein the 2 older siblings are Flying Wallenda style acrobats and the younger siblings are bona fide clowns wasn’t premise enough, the Clown kids are also a rock band. (They also had a pet baby elephant who was totally NOT Dumbo named Trumpet who, not surprsingly, played the trumpet.) Keep in mind this was the era of The Archies and Josie and the Pussycats. Even Charlie Chan’s kids had a rock band in cartoon form. If you were a cartoon franchise in the 70’s, you had to also be a rock band.

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I think that 70’s toons were issued bubblegum rock instruments, like those little sample packs of detergent that we suburbanites get through the mail.

So we were treated to frothy musical numbers whenever someone, usually Tabitha or Adam, would announce…

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“HERE COME THE CLOWNS!”

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“And here comes my lunch!”

 

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Very Mod.

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Incidentally, the character of Ernie Clown was obviously based on Danny Partridge; he was constantly wanking on the business side of fame and on the lookout for extra money making opportunities, which reminds me of my favorite Danny Bonaduce quote:

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“Being a child star is great. Being a former child star, that sucks.”

Since this special is 51 minutes without commercials, there’s also a plot. It seems that a rival circus owner has hired a Bela Lugosi lookalike named Count Crumley (aka Obvious Bad Guy) and his thick-witted gnome of a lackey Ronk to sabotage the circus so it’ll go out of business. As it happens, Ronk is a warlock, just not a very good one obviously, or he wouldn’t be a sawed-off sidekick. Crumley makes Ronk cast various spells on the circus performers, such as turning the usually docile circus lion into a vicious, foul-tempered brute and putting the whammy on Ernie to make him a lousy drummer so the Clowns will blow their big audition. On noes!

Tabitha and Adam of course detect witchy activity and catch wind of what’s going on and inform their clowny cousins that there’s black magic afoot. Each time one of the Clown kids ask T&A how they know about all this witchery stuff, Tabitha issues some lame excuse like “We watch a lot of scary movies” or “I read it in a book at the library”.

Why don’t you just [bleep]ing tell them you’re witches?! Ronk has already been outed as a warlock by this point, so they know that witches and witchcraft exist, would it really send the Earth spinning off of its’ axis if your cousins know you’re craft users?? Geez, if you can’t trust circus folk, who can you trust?

Anyways, T&A and the Clown Kids track down Crumley and Ronk Scooby-Doo style, T&A perform some nose-twitching tricks and force Ronk to undo all of his spells. T&A then take Ronk aside and have a little private coven pow-wow, informing him that just because he’s a warlock it doesn’t mean that he has to serve evil jerks. This leads to Ronk pulling a face turn and telling his former boss Crumley to Take This Job and Shove It (TM), saying that he’ll be sticking around with the good guys and hopes to get a job working at the circus as a stage magician, after a little makeover…

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“ABRACADABRA, BEEYOTCHES!”

So the good guys win, the Magurk and McGuffin Circus gets to stay open, the Clowns score a big-time record contract, Tabitha and Adam get to continue their vacation and the day is saved. Yippe-Ki-Yi-Yay.

Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family was billed as a special, but I personally think that it was a pilot for a new series which didn’t get greenlit. Perhaps folks felt that the mixture of teenage witches and circus performers who were simultaneously rock stars was two great tastes that tasted weird together. Hard to believe, but Tabitha and Adam and the Clown Family might have been too original.

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“Let’s wrap things up with another song from the Clowns!”

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“Let’s NOT and say we did!”

TV Special Showdown: Generation X

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X-Tremely Bloated and Wrong

Think the current 20th Century Fox X-Men movieverse is the most messed up, convoluted clusterf*ck representation of the popular comic book franchise?

 

Yes, believe it or not (see what I did there?), before there was the First Class Trilogy or even the 2000 X-Men trilogy, there was an X-Men film which somehow managed to be an even bigger train-wreck than any of those films combined. It’s the subject of today’s TV Special Showdown: a made-for-TV movie based on Marvel’s Generation X.

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X Marks the Shlock

For those who don’t know, Generation X was a made-for-TV film directed by Jack Sholder, which aired on FOX on February 20, 1996. It was based on the Marvel Comics comic-book series of the same name, a spin-off of the X-Men franchise, in which X-Men characters Banshee and newly reformed Emma Frost (the artist formerly known as the White Queen) starting a new Xavier School for Gifted Children in upstate Massachusetts. The TV special was produced by New World Entertainment and Marvel Entertainment, and it imitated the comic it was based on the same way that a castrato imitates a man. X-Kuteer Droll Call:

The first thing you’ll notice about this TV movie is that half the cast of the comic were nowhere to be found, and the other half were barely recognizable. Gone from the get-go were the characters of

Chamber (Jonothan Starsmore) is a crazy powerful psionic whose immense psionic energy powers have already blasted a huge gaping hole from his jaw to his upper chest, with free-floating energy oozing around inside it.

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Say, would you mind facing the other way?

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“Are you kiddin’? Do you know how much special FX that would cost?!?”

 

So bang goes his application. Next was Husk (Paige Guthrie, younger sister of Sam Guthrie, X-Force‘s Cannonball), whose mutant power was the ability to rip away her skin, revealing a new form underneath (either animal or mineral) each time.

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Take it off. Take it all off.

Nerdy-Accountant

“DUDE! We can’t do anything like that! It’s not in the budget! We can barely afford the muffin cart!”

I’m sensing a pattern here. Also absent was Penance, a Yugoslavian mutant (originally, anyway, but more on that later) whose entire body was diamond hard and razor sharp.

Penance

And I honestly didn’t give 2 candy-coated squats that she wasn’t used, since I always thought Penance was lame anyway. Moving on…

The final character not to make the cut was Synch (Everett Thomas) who possessed a bio-genetic aura which allowed him to synchronize with and duplicate the powers of other mutants as long as he was in their proximity.

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Purty colors!

I guess this character isn’t within the budget either, right?

Nerdy-Accountant

“Nah, we’re just lazy. We could audition another character, but I’ve got me a hankering for Firehouse Subs!”

-Now let’s move on to the characters “lucky” enough to make it into the film.

First up, fan favorite Jubilee, who actually was featured in the Generation X comics and was already a popular character on the X-Men cartoon series which was enjoying success on Fox Kids at the time.

THIS is the movie’s version of Jubilee.

White Jubilee

Wow. Just…wow.

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Looks just like her, huh? They sure captured the character there.

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“That is the whitest Jubilee I’ve ever seen!”

Word. FOX freakin’ whitewashed Jubilee. A fan favorite character, and one of the few Asian characters in popular fiction who isn’t a stereotypical computer nerd or a martial artist, and they give the part to a white girl with neon yellow lipstick that makes her look like she just French kissed a lemon!

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“WHIIIITEWAAAAAASHIIIIINGGGGG!!!!”

I can understand altering the character’s back story so as not to include Wolverine, but changing Jubilee’s race was unforgivable. Jubilee is Chinese-American, not Caucasian. If you’re trying to honor the character and/or please fans of the comic, casting a white actress in the role is not going to do that. Not only is Jubilee the wrong race (as these executive geniuses probably didn’t know, the character’s code name is merely a portmanteau of her actual name, Jubilation Lee, and her mutant power is a nod to Chinese fireworks, so being Chinese-American is part of the freaking character, ya morons! You DON’T change that!), but the rendering of her power is also totally wrong. Cheap yellow sparks that look like they were done in Mario Paint.

Stupid Yellow Fireworks

Hey movie producers, you may not have been aware of this, but Jubes’ fireworks are MULTICOLORED. They’re not all just yellow.

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“But different colored filters cost money!”

The First Class trilogy at least got Jubilee’s look down,

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Of course, the one scene in X-Men: Apocalypse where she uses her powers ended up on the cutting room floor.

OK, rant over. Back to discussing this joke of a movie.

We also got M (Monet St. Croix), who was about as necessary to this film as an 11th finger.

M

In the comics, M’s powers were basically being superstrong, a genius, psionically powerful, invulnerable and able to fly, but all of these abilities were merely offshoots of her true power*, which I’ll get to in a minute…

Here, we get this chick, who basically fell into the ‘high school bitch’ stereotype and did literally nothing other than the occasional display of super-strength.

TV M

“Hi, I’m Monet. I have several amazing powers, but you’re not going to see any of them in this movie because the producers blew the budget on a Happy Meal!”

*Incidentally, comics writer Scott Lobdell, M’s creator, didn’t originally plan for there to be an actual Monet at all, but rather the character known as ‘M/Monet’ was in reality prepubescent twin girls, Nicole and Claudette St. Croix, ‘Monet”s younger sisters, assuming the form of the originally made-up Monet.

M Twins

…This explained many facets of the character: the reason for her childlike mannerisms and habits, such as enjoying climbing trees and having the handwriting of a 1st grader despite being a genius, was because ‘she’ was in fact a pair of little girls, and the characters period bouts of catatonia were due to one of the twins, Claudette, possessing a bit of autism. But Marvel later retconned all that away, and I think that sucks, as that was much more interesting than the whole “the twins were just posing as Monet while the ‘real’ Monet was revealed to be Penance trapped in that form by their brother, the evil empathic vampire known as Mplate” BS they changed it into later.

-Where were we? Oh yeah, this crappy movie…

We also got Skin (Angelo Espinoza), a kid from the LA ‘hood who possessed several extra layers of skin which we could stretch and contort (Angelo couldn’t stretch his bones like Reed Richards, so the extra skin was always there), but unfortunately this made him look like a Chinese Shar Pei.

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Gross!

You know, in retrospect, this might have been why the comic lasted such a short time: it wasn’t very marketable since so many of the characters were grotesques.

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“That’s right. I went there.”

Of course, this movie didn’t have the budget for anything like that, so instead we get…This guy.

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Some wimpy dude with a Geri curl, who’s basically a sawed off Mr. Fantastic and only uses his powers like twice in the whole movie. Yawn.

The final member of the comics’ hit parade was Mondo, who in the comics was a fat, easy going Samoan who could assume the physical properties of whatever organic object he touched…

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…But here was a cocky, loudmouthed douche-nozzle played by an African-American actor, Bumper Robinson (presumably because no suitable Samoan actor could be found, though that doesn’t explain why they gave Mondo Skin’s personality)…

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And whose sole scene using his powers was so limp that he literally had to inform everyone that he did it (“Hey I picked up a rock and absorbed it”), otherwise we would have missed it entirely.

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As an added bonus, we got 2 other X-Teens who didn’t even exist before, but were stand-ins for Chamber and Husk, whose powers were too expensive to portray on screen. On the boys’ side we had Kurt “Refrax” Pastorius, some dude with a Billy Idol hairdo who possessed controllable eye beams and X-Ray vision.

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“Oy!”

To be fair, Refrax’s power was kind of cool: X-Ray vision and heat vision…

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Vyvyan Basterd

…Even if he looked like Vyvyan from The Young Ones with his hair dyed blond.

For the girls, we had Arlee “Buff” Hicks, who possessed super-accelerated musculature, giving her amazing strength and an incredible physique, as well as body issues up the wazoo.

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Despite possessing an awesome physical form (which we only got to see once, and then it was an obvious body double), Buff is super-insecure about her muscled-up bod, so she hides it by wearing sweats most of time so nobody can see it.

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Not to mention how since M here was so Nerfed that the only power we saw her do in this movie was super-strength, so M and Buff were more or less interchangeable power-wise. Given how extraneous M actually was to the “story”, they could’ve written Monet out and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference.

Trivia Time: Generation X was the first FOX X-Men movie to use the Hatley School for the exterior shots of the X-Mansion.

Xavier's_School_for_Gifted_Youngsters_(Earth-10005)_01_Hatley School

So this flick did one thing right.

I know I haven’t said much about the plot of this movie, that’s because there isn’t much to say about the plot, other than it was gobbledeygook. Instead of Mplate or Bastian or any actual villains from the comics, we got Matt Frewer as some psycho named Russel Trech…

Russel Trech

A sociopathic, psychopathic borderline pedophile whose mugging, spasms and contortions would later be emulating by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever.

 

 

There was some nonsense regarding virtual reality and jumping in and out of people’s minds and invading their wet dreams…

VR Troopers

WE ARE VR!

And I hope you like this shot…

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…Since it’s at the very end of the movie and the ONLY time we see any trace of the team’s costumes. And Buff is covered up again. Surprise, surprise.

Generation X wasn’t just a bad TV movie, it was also a bad pilot for what was planned to be a bad TV series, but alas, the movie earned dismal ratings and the proposed series never happened.

You Don't Say

And we’re all the better for it. This team of super zeroes was so lackluster, I’d have rather gotten a TV movie starring these guys.

 

 

 

 

TV Special Showdown: NBC’s Laugh Busters

On this TV Special Showdown, we’ll be looking back at a product of a bygone era. Saturday morning cartoons on the broadcast networks are rare enough these days, but today, we’ll be revisiting something even harder to find these days: the Saturday morning preview special.

Today we'll be tracking down the elusive Saturday morning network preview special. A creature which, due to corporate network greed and an ever expanding cable TV juggernaut, has been hunted to near extinction.

Today we’ll be tracking down the elusive Saturday morning network preview special. A creature which, due to corporate network greed and an ever expanding cable TV juggernaut, has been hunted to near extinction.

This will (hopefully) be the first of several SatAM preview specials that we’ll be covering here. It’s Friday night. You’re all hopped upon Pop Rocks and you’re both bummed that school has started up again but at the same time, you’re stoked because the usual broadcast network prime time drivel is being preempted so that the network can give you a small taste of the animated kid-vid brain rot that you’ll be indulging in the following morning. Then one night, specifically on September 8, 1984 at 8:30 PM, you discover this:

Laugh-Busters

Before we dig in, I feel a little background information is needed in order for all the Millenial types who weren’t alive during this period to understand what the Idiot Box was like during this time. You see, back then, there were only 3 networks (this was B.C., Before Cable, and even before FOX), and each of them had their own unique approach to the Saturday Morning Preview Special:

ABC typically put the most into their specials, usually framing them as a glitzy variety show with tons of musical numbers and special guest stars (“Wow. Kristy and Jimmy MacNichol again!!“) or setting them at Kings Dominion.

CBS was often the most laid back about theirs, not advertising them and keeping the production values and effects to a minimum. “Tune in and watch…you know, if you feel like it.”

NBC’s specials, more often than not, told a story. Nothing along the lines of Wuthering Heights, mind you, some thinly and clumsily put-together plot involving one of more of the “stars” that were working on the network at the time. Their guest star roster usually never went beyond whoever was on the NBC lot who they could convince to stick around for an extra day of shooting, and the specials would usually be built around a then-hot TV show or movie genre. Laugh Busters was no exception: its’ title was (no prizes for guessing) a takeoff on Ghostbusters, which was a huge hit the summer of that same year, but the that’s where the similarities between Columbia Pictures blockbuster and this special end, so if you were expecting to see Mr. T, Simon the Chipmunk and Hefty Smurf laser blasting specters with proton packs, you’re in for a disappointment. Now, on to the “story”:

Laugh Busters starts with the making of the actual special itself (whoa, meta!), featuring all of NBC new cartoon characters as well as the Smurfs, Spider-Man, Mr. T, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and the cast of Going Bananas, a Hanna-Barbera produced live-action show about an orangutan named Roxana Banana who gets superpowers after being zapped by a UFO (we are not making this up).

Director-DW-and-Assistant

Incidentally, we wanted to cover Going Bananas in the Retro Bin, but we weren’t able to find enough information on it. there are no clips or footage to be found anywhere, and the show doesn’t even have an entry on Wikipedia. Just process that for a second: Going Bananas was so bad that the internet rejected it. Anyways, the director in charge of the special, D.W. (not Arthur’s sister!) is suddenly confronted by an evil wizard played by the same actor, named Gargelmore.

Oh, that's funny. The villain's name is Gargelmore. It's like Gargamel, but not. NBC's writing staff mustve stayed up all night dreaming up that name.

Oh, that’s funny. The villain’s name is Gargelmore. It’s like Gargamel, but not. NBC’s writing staff mustve stayed up all night dreaming up that name.

“Actually we wanted Gargamel himself to be the villain of this special, but when we asked Paul Winchell if he’d mind doing an extra voice acting job for us for free, he told us to go jump in the lake. Go figure.”

Garglemore’s Evil Plan (TM) is to destroy NBC and put an end to laughter once and for all, because it seems he’s allergic to laughter (write this down, because its a plot point). And I though my allergy to dust mites was embarrassing.

  • STEP 1: Ruin an NBC SatAM preview special.
  • STEP 2: Eliminate all laughter from the world.
  • STEP 3: Profit???

If Garglemore really didn’t want to laugh, he could’ve just sat through a Small Wonder marathon.

To put his scheme into motion, Gargelmore enlists the aid of the Gritz Brothers, Hank and Hubie. Since we know none of you saw Going Bananas, the Gritz Brothers were the Bulk & Skull-esque baddies from that show. They were 2 sloppily dressed con artists sharing a single brain, and Hank had most of it.

Incidentally, Hank Gritz was played by the late James

Incidentally, Hank Gritz was played by the late James “1987 Shredder/Uncle Phil” Avery.

Idly, one wonders exactly why the Gritz Brothers agreed to assist Gargelmore. What did Hank & Hubie stand to gain from eliminating laughter from the world? Did Gargelmore promise them free hot dogs for life? A shiny new Volkswagen Beetle? Backstage passes to any Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concert? The mind boggles.

To further show us all how eeeeeeeeeeeeevil he is, Gargelmore kidnaps the Smurfs, one of NBC’s biggest draws (not just on Saturday morning, but on the network as a whole; seriously it was them, Mr. T, Gary Coleman and Johnny Carson, that was it). The kidnapping happens off-screen of course. You know how much action scenes cost?

How did Garglemore do it? Magic or budget restraints, potato, po-tah-to.

How did Garglemore do it? Magic or budget restraints, potato, po-tah-to.

The Gritzes are instructed to keep the rest of NBC’s “stars” from getting to the special, which is being taped in Beautiful Downtown Burbank. Hank and Hubie spend the rest of the special devising Wile E. Coyote style traps for the other characters.

Thankfully, actor Thom Bray (aka Murray “Boz” Bozinski from NBC’s then hit action show Riptide, aka the only actor from Riptide who was willing to show up to do this thing) and his sidekick the Roboz (as we understand it, the robot only showed up due to a clause in his contract that stated that he had to go everywhere Boz goes) arrive on the scene to set things right. They end up helping to track down the missing stars and cartoon characters starting with Spider-Man, then starring in Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.

Thom-Bray

Animated Spidey gushes to himself (courtesy of episode footage from Amazing Friends with new dialogue inserted over it) about how thrilled he is to be on NBC’s Saturday morning lineup as he web-slings from his home in New York City all the way to Burbank, California (no, really, that’s what he does) to the tune of Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Heart of Rock and Roll” What??

“I just swung in from New York, and boy, are my arms tired!” Seriously, I need like a gallon of water and a ton of Icy Hot, stat!”

However, the Gritz Brothers are waiting for him, and trap the Wall Crawler on a giant piece of ACME Fly Paper. (No we’re not kidding.) When Spider-Man goes splat, he magically changes from a cartoon to live-action. This is going to happen a lot in this special; apparently it takes place in the same weird toon-to-live-action space warp that was present in Hanna-Barbera’s All-Star Comedy Ice Review.

Spiderman

Boz and Roboz somehow detect this (that must have been one heck of a GPS Boz installed in him) and calls some honky-tonk bar in the middle of One Horse, USA where then Diff’rent Strokes child actor Danny Cooksey (who’d go on to be the voice of Montana Max, Milo Kamalani and Jack Spicer and play Bobby Budnick on Nickelodeon’s Salute Your Shorts) is performing “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” (we don’t know why either). Also in attendance are the cast of another NBC SatAM show, Kidd Video and Alfonso Ribero, still riding high off of the popularity of his memorable Pepsi cola commercial in which he co-starred with the too-famous-to-appear-in-this-special Michael Jackson. This was prior to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, by the way, so we won’t be making any Carlton jokes here.

Carlton Dance Gif

OK, maybe one.

Danny answers Boz’s distress call and agrees to help, though being just a kid, he needs a ride. Boz enlists KITT from Knight Rider to lend a hand. They couldn’t get the Hoff to appear in this special ’cause he’d want money, but William Daniels does voice KITT here, though he goes uncredited. Evidently Mr. Daniels is OK with voicing a talking car in an action show, but voicing a talking car in a SatAM preview special might damage his credibility as an actor. KITT and Danny rescue Spider-Man (who’s still a live-action guy in a costume, by the way) and the Gritzes turn their attention to their next targets, Kidd Video. Kidd Video was a short-lived Saturday morning live-action/animation hybrid about a faux teen rock band who get sucked into a cartoon world, that’s all you need to know about it, aside from the fact that the band’s fairy friend Glitter was voiced by a young Cathy Cavadini, who’d go on to provide the voice of Blossom on The Powerpuff Girls.

The Gritzes literally send a rolling rock (rock & roll, get it?) hurtling towards the band, knocking the Kiddmobile from Animation Land to the real world (what the heck was that rock made of, anyway?). With their van wrecked, the only logical thing for the band to do is what else? Perform a musical number! Specifically, the show’s theme, “Video to Radio”. Somehow Roxana Banana, the orangutan from Going Bananas is listening to this performance on the radio, despite there being no transmitters or microphones around where Kidd Video are stranded, and the GB gang ride to the band’s rescue in their RV. Did we mention the main characters on Going Bananas lived in an RV?

Here’s where things start to get weird. (Yeah, this is where it starts to get weird.) The Gritz Bros. board a train carrying Dave Seville and the singing chipmunks (actually a clip from one of that season’s Alvin and the Chipmunks episodes with original dialogue inserted to fit the “plot” of the story. At least NBC was able to get Ross Bagdasarian Jr. to read the lines). Hank & Hubie steal the Chipmunks’ tickets, somehow (we don’t get to see them do it) so they’ll get kicked off the train. Sure enough, when the train’s conductor (who’s played by a live actor), wants to see Alvin and company’s tickets, they can’t produce them, and so the animated Alvin, Simon and Theodore magically transform into over sized costumed mascots when they’re thrown off of the train. There’s that weird dimensional warp again! Thankfully, they aren’t marooned for very long. Boz flies over in the Riptide helicopter (named the “Sreaming Mimi”) to rescue the Chipmunks before they have to resort to eating each other.

Yeesh! What sort of vitamins has Dave been feeding those guys?!

Yeesh! What sort of vitamins has Dave been feeding those guys?!

Next up, the animated Mr. T and his band of gymnasts from their cartoon series arrive a meet only to discover

Yes, a trap by the Gritz Brothers, who are attempting to steal their van. Curiously, Mr T. only appears in animated form in this special. Why couldn’t NBC get the real Mr. T to show up here? Mr. T was on everything on NBC at that time! Did he have something better to do? Was somebody making a sequel to D.C. Cab?

Of course, you don’t dare cross Mr. T, and naturally once he catches on to what they’re trying to do he gives chase. Though, again since Mr. T is only in cartoon form here and the producers couldn’t afford rotoscope, we’re treated to an amazing scene featuring the animated T chasing down the live-action Gritz Brothers, relying on Mr. T’s incredible jump-cutting powers.

When Mr. T finally corners the Gritzes and forces them to hand over the keys, we see somebody's arm come into shot. I can imagine how that went down: some NBC exec went over to the Gold's Gym across the street, found some buff dude lifting weights and said to him

When Mr. T finally corners the Gritzes and forces them to hand over the keys, we see somebody’s arm come into shot. I can imagine how that went down: some NBC exec went over to the Gold’s Gym across the street, found some buff dude lifting weights and said to him “We’d like to borrow your arm for this TV special we’re shooting.”

Next up is Pink Panther and Sons.

Hey! Do you remember the wild and wacky misadventures of the Pink Panther's 2 young sons and their friends? Neither do we.

Hey! Do you remember the wild and wacky misadventures of the Pink Panther’s 2 young sons and their friends? Neither do we.

To stop them, the Gritz Brothers paint a tunnel onto a huge boulder as Pinky and Panky’s cartoon selves ride towards them on a bicycle. Anyone who’s ever seen a Road Runner cartoon in their lives knows what happens next: The weird space dimension thing kicks in again, changing Pinky to a live-action guy in a costume, Panky mysteriously disappears and Pinky rides harmlessly through the fake tunnel as if it were real. When the Gritzes try to give chase, they smack headlong into the boulder. Cue the Waw-waws.

If Chuck Jones didn't get a royalty check for this gag, he should have.

If Chuck Jones didn’t get a royalty check for this gag, he should have.

The next to last show to be targeted is Snorks. This time Hank and Hubie learn that the Snorks entire undersea civilization runs on steam (don’t ask how they found this out; Wikipedia wouldn’t come into existence for another couple of decades), so they take control of one of NASA’s inter-continental ballistic missiles (sure, why not?) with a remote control and crash it into the sea sealing off an underwater volcano. We then switch to animation, where the Snorks remove the missle from the volcano, foiling yet another Gritz plan.

“I’m only going to say this once: stop dumping crap into my oceans, or you’ll be sorry! This ain’t ‘Robot Chicken’. I’m the flippin’ King of the Sea! I’ll kick your ass!”

Finally, the special saves the network’s biggest hit, Smurfs, for last. Papa Smurf, the only Smurf who wasn’t captured by Gargelmore, arrives on the scene, as Generic Smurf assures his fellows, “Papa Smurf is gonna save us!” Papa confronts Gargelmore in his lair and notices the guy’s trying hard not to laugh. (He’s allergic to laughter, remember?) Papa Smurf tosses a magic formula he’s concocted at Gargelmore, causing him to evaporate into thin air. So that’s how this conflict is finally resolved: in the bluntest terms, Papa Smurf kills Gargelmore. Yes, this is something that happened.

“Hey, that’s how I roll. You mess with my boys and you face the wrath of Big Papa! That’s how we do things in the Smurf Village! Represent!”


With the “threat” gone, the entire cast, save for Thom Bray and the guy in the Pinky costume (they must’ve just figured enough was enough) get together on a stage and boogie down to a sound-alike of Ray Parker Jr,’s Top 20 hit “Ghostbusters”.

“Who am I gonna call? My attorney! Hello, lawsuit!”

OK, Laugh Busters was a little bit hokey (OK, a LOT hokey) and the budget for this special could be used to fill a thimble, but still there’s a certain campy charm to it, like most Saturday morning preview specials. If nothing else, it’s a fun romp to riff on, MST3K style. If you can manage to find it on VHS somewhere (sadly, little to none of these specials exist on DVD), give it a watch. One thing’s for sure, in the fall of 1984, NBC’s pride (not to mention their age) was showing.

TV Special Showdown: Lollipop Dragon

Wow, 2 TV Special Showdowns in 1 month? It’s a Christmas miracle!

Remember those 2 whimsical, wonderful TV specials from the late 1980’s about a kindly dragon who makes lollipops in a magical candy land?

Me neither.

But lets devote a TV Special Showdown to it anyway. Today we’ll be taking a gander at Lollipop Dragon.

Lollipop Dragon is here to kick ass and lick lollipops. And he’s just run out of lollipops.

The Scaly Lolly One has actually graced 2 specials: The Great Christmas Race (1985) and The Magic Lollipop Adventure (1986). If you’ve never seen these specials, then you’re not alone, as they’ve basically dropped under the radar after their initial debuts, but if you have seen them, then you’ll never forget them. Ever. It’s not that the Lollipop Dragon specials were really that bad per se, it’s just that they were among the trippiest darn things ever captured on celluloid. Many of those who remember these specials (all 2 of you) tend to remember these specials as 1 giant TV movie, with The Magic Lollipop Adventure taking up the first half of the “story”and The Great Christmas Race bringing up the rear, even though chronologically Christmas Race was made first. as many syndicated packages and VHS releases showed them together as a singular story. As such, this is how we’ll be going over these mini-masterpieces.
Lollipop Dragon

“Mmm. I love the smell of lollipops in the morning. They smell like…lollipops!”

Tum Tum

I’m getting cavities just looking at this.

Lollipop Dragon lives in the land of Tum-Tum (sounds like a stomach medicine), some outer-dimensional fantasy land which resembles a cross between the board game Candy Land, Pepperland from Yellow Submarine and a Peter Max painting. It is here that our favorite green Sucker-sucker lives, frolics and works in some sort of factory which seems to be made of cotton candy making and distributing lollipops (Tum-Tum’s primary import and aphrodisiac), assisted by a trio of child dragons (are they his children? Siblings? Cousins? They just gloss over that), each with a special power: there’s a pink dragon named Blue-Eyes who can fire blue energy beams from her eyes (nifty, but a dragon possessing laser vision seems kind of redundant somehow), a blue dragon named Glider with power to fly (this reeks of Meaghana of the Bratzillas; don’t most dragons fly? being a dragon boasting the power of flight is a bit like a human boasting the power of pointing their finger) and a yellow dragon named Cuddles, whose power is…well, we’ll get to that in due time. They’re also aided by one Harry Troll (get it?), a cool troll musician who looks like a brown ball of hair in a farmer’s hat and six arms, so he can play the keyboard and make rude posts on internet message boards at the same time.
Tum Tum Royal Family
The dragons apparently do the pop thang in the service of the kingdom’s benevolent royal family: the young kiddie Royals Princess Gwendolyn and her brother Prince Hubert (interestingly, I seem to remember Hubert being chubby and was surprised to discover while doing research for this special that he wasn’t; I guess I just assumed he was fat due to the prodigious amounts of junk food cluttering the landscape) and their parents who are imaginatively named King and Queen (yes, you heard right: there’s a Queen. Not only is the queen of the family not just straight-up dead–so you know this isn’t a Disney special–but she’s not evil; taking notes, Hasbro? make Celestia and Frostine queens like they should be already!). Queenie is a tall, regal beauty, while the King is short and squat (it must be love if he’s cool with mating with someone taller than he is) and apparently he has the same dialogue coach as Mayor McCheese.

The giant magic lollipop is used once a year to purify the water in Tum-Tum. The citizens can then use this purified water to make delicious lollipops. But oh noes! There is EEEEVIL abound.

Baron_Bad_Blood_large

Even in a land where the populace eats tons and tons of candy, this guy is no looker.

It seems that some villainous green-skinned dude named Baron Bad Blood (really? Was the name Major Mean-Guy already taken?) wants to steal the giant magic lollipop for his own nefarious purposes.  It seems that Mr. Green-Spleen’s evil plan is to take over Tum-Tum so he can make his own brand of liver-flavored lollipops. Yes, I kid you not: he wants to make liver-flavored lollipops.

Thats Stupid 1

 

When Shredder and Krang are laughing at how dumb-ass your villain plan is, you’re not very good at this. Move over Sogmaster, with your plans to ruin breakfast, there’s someone gunning for your title of Lamest Bad Guy Plan ever.

Anyway, the Baron and his henchman, some talking bright red ball of lint named Cosmo (there are Technicolor lollipop making talking dragons, a six-armed hippie troll and a royal family in this special, so why not?) swipes the magic lollipop, and Lollipop Dragon and pals (specifically the baby dragons, Harry and the Prince and Princess;

King and Queen

“Sure”, say the King and Queen, “take our underage kids on a dangerous quest to face an evil despot where they could be seriously injured or killed. Have a ball!”) give chase, facing down the Baron in his barren wasteland (these idyllic storybook lands always seem to border some kingdom of darkness, don’t they?) where they get briefly captured, get free again, sing some songs about thinking happy thoughts, the Power of Friendship, the Magic of Dreams or the Heart of the Cards or something similar, and the kid dragons help out by using their special abilities. It is here where we finally get to see Cuddles’ power: when the Baron’s henchman Cosmo attacks, Cuddles puts the whammy on him, causing him to fall in love with the Baron, with hearts sprouting out all around him and him saying, “Aw, I just ADORE ya, boss! Gimme a kissee!”

So THAT’S Cuddles’ power?? Wow. Just wow. No wonder the Xavier Academy won’t return his calls.

Anyways, the gang retrieves the magic lollipop and escape. The Baron gives chase and tries to zap them with a bolt of dark magic, but he instead hits one of the mirrors in his mirror maze (just go with it) and gets turned into a tree. Yes, a tree.

“I actually had a pithy comment right on time for this turn of events, but that’s not what you fanboys want to hear from me, so I’ll just say what you’ve been waiting for: I AM GROOT. Happy??”

So Lollipop and pals return home safely, Hubert and Gwendolyn are reunited with their parents, the magic lollipop is returned to its’ rightful place and the day is saved. Lollipop tops everything off by singing a psychedelic song about love, luck and lollipops, accompanied by Harry on keyboard, Gwen on guitar and Hubert on drums.

Princess Gwendolyn

“We were Pop Sugar before it was cool!”

“What a bunch of tree-huggin’ hippie crap!”
 
For the “second half” of Lollipop Dragon’s outing, it’s suddenly wintertime in Tum-Tum (wink, wink) and there’s a big sled race under way, the winner of which will get their fondest desire granted. So the Baron is back and enters the race himself so he can finally fulfill his wish of mass marketing his liver flavored lollipops. Uh…didn’t the Baron get turned into a tree in the first story? Not gonna offer any explanation of how he came back? Nobody? Just sweeping this under the rug, huh? Okay…
You can guess the rest: Lollipop and friends enter the race so the Baron won’t win, Baron cheats, Baron fails, the good guys win, then Lollipop suddenly remembers that this is supposed to be a Christmas special and sings us another hippie song, this time about how special Christmas is. Here’s the opening number of the Xmas special:

“Lads, I think we’re still on acid!”

So that’s Lollipop Dragon. And if you’re not down with that, he’s got 2 words for ya:
SUCK IT!!
(Lollipops, that is.)