AVAHS – The Polar Express


Plot: A boy who is losing his faith in Santa finds a strange train, the Polar Express, arriving on his doorstep in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. It’s a round trip to the North Pole to meet Santa, and he decides to get on the train to see if Santa truly exists.

Breakdown: Ah, The Polar Express. A movie that seemed like an instant classic from the day it was released. Today, it airs throughout the month of December, year after year, quickly becoming a staple for Christmas traditions in households across the globe.

I have personally seen this movie several times since its release in 2004, and I have enjoyed watching it over the years.

That being said, rewatching under a more critical eye….this movie has numerous problems. Let’s just get one of the major landmarks out of the way; this movie uses motion capture for almost all of its human animation, something I can’t really find myself getting behind.

Remember the big backlash against rotoscoping? The animation technique where animators trace over live-action footage to animate a scene? Several classic Disney features have rotoscoping, and a whole slue of people find the animation form to be lazy and, to an extreme, not real art or animation.

In a word; cheating.

But despite the fact that it does indeed seem like a cheap way to animate, you still do need the artistic skill and know-how to make it work as an animation. You can tell anyone off the street to trace a few frames of a live-action scene to make an animation and it would probably look like crap. Plus, Disney and numerous other companies usually had the talent and understanding to know that pretty animation and creep-ily realistic human faces only go so far. You need to couple that with strong characters, a good story and emotional connections.

Despite the fact that I find motion capture to be much worse in the means of cheating and WAY creepier with the faces, the same credo still stands; the animation itself and purty visuals only goes so far. You need strong characters, good stories and emotional connections to make a good animated feature.

So how does The Polar Express fare here?

Well, I guess the first red flag would be that three of the four main characters don’t have actual names. They’re simply referenced as Hero boy, Hero Girl and Know-It-All-Kid. Couple that with the fact that no one outside of the final main character, Billy, gets any sort of backstory and has little personality really makes it seem like, yeah, these characters really are just meant to have your face plastered on them so you can take the ride on the Polar Express and meet Santa. That’s the worst approach, but it’s not the best, either.

Hero Boy is probably the worst offender because, hell, at least Hero Girl and Know-It-All have personalities. Outside of constantly being a Santa Skeptic, Hero Boy has no personality.

You’d think after jumping on board a clearly magic train to the North Pole that he would shoo away those skeptic thoughts. But no, it takes him forever to start re-believing. There’s a scene directly after he gets on board the Polar Express where the train passes by a department store. While everyone clamors at all the Christmas stuff, the one thing that Hero Boy focuses on is a robotic Santa in the front window that he shakes his head at. Like, dude, of course a department store display has a fake Santa. Why are you ignoring that you witnessed that from a MAGIC TRAIN?

It is realistic for a kid his age to start questioning Santa’s existence. I can imagine this kid is about 8 to 10. Despite the fact that I never believed in Santa, I imagine many people who weren’t cold turkey bitchslapped with the Santa secret can sympathize with those years of suspicion. But that really is all there is to him.

Hero Girl fares a little better. Her personality is also not much to write home about, but at least it’s not as boring or one-note as Hero Boy. She’s very nice and involved and has a concrete belief and mysticism in Santa. However, each kid needs a big lesson to learn so it’s like they tried to crowbar in a character flaw for her to have to make this work; a flaw that she logically shouldn’t have.

Throughout the movie, she has no problems with confidence. She’s the one who confronts Billy, she’s the one who tries to cheer him up and makes him appreciate the magic of Christmas and Santa, she doesn’t put up with crap etc. So they decided her main issue would be that she can’t make decisions, especially in times of emergencies. She has no confidence in her decisions and freezes up when someone asks her if she’s sure about something, which, in my eyes, greatly contrasts against everything we know about her, the little we have anyway.

Know-It-All kid should’ve been shoved from the damn train. He does nothing but force facts down people’s throats when no one asks him about it. He contributes nothing. And his voice? Done by Eddie Deezen….Oh I’m sorry, need a refresher? He’s the same guy who voices Mandark from Dexter’s Lab.

Yup. It’s him. And he is doing absolutely nothing to differentiate his voice from his Mandark voice, making it both super distracting because you feel like Mandark is on the Polar Express and super annoying because it’s friggin’ Mandark’s voice. Also, awful in hindsight – Eddie Deezen’s a creep. So, yay….

Finally, you have Billy, who is the most interesting character of the movie because he has a name. Billy, in many respects, is very similar to Hero Boy. He’s skeptical of Santa’s existence….But he has a very legit reasoning behind it, especially since he seems to be a few years younger than Hero Boy. You see, Billy comes from a poor family, meaning his Christmases have been pretty bare present-wise. Because of this, Billy believes that either Santa doesn’t exist or he straight up forgets about him.

I thought that this movie might actually have the balls to address a very real criticism of the Santa myth; why do poor kids consistently get looked over? Rich kids, who probably get everything they want year-round, get everything they want and more on Christmas from Santa, but poor kids don’t really get much. You’d think Santa would be more intent on getting good presents to poor kids on Christmas since they have to scrape by through the rest of the year.

Sorry, Billy. Santa couldn’t get you a bike this year. Little Thurston needed a new cherry red Jaguar to go with his afternoon smoking jacket and it took up too much room in his sleigh. Ho ho ho!

Billy also has a bit more personality. He’s reserved and quite shy. In his first scene, he separates himself from the other kids, mostly in shame that his family’s poor, and partially because he knows they’ll be discussing cool gifts and stuff in the main car.

It really makes you wonder why Billy’s not the main character. By all means, he should be. He takes care of everything the main character is and more.

As for the story, it’s fine in its simplicity, and it’s a really cool concept that some kids (chosen by some criteria that I can’t really understand) get to visit Santa once in their lives. However, there are a bunch of big problems with it.

One of the biggest being that this is littered in padding. In fact, you could probably take most of the train ride out of the movie and it’d still be the same movie story-wise. There’s just so much of doing nothing substantial. Like the hot chocolate song and dance number or the fact that there’s a whole scene dedicated to watching a train ticket fly through the air through several points only to get back to the train on its own, or watching a cotter pin fly through the air a bunch of times only to get back to its spot, or stopping the train for hundreds of thousands maybe a million caribou that are crossing the tracks only to literally be parted like the Red Sea with the howls of a man having his beard pulled (It happens) or the weird and sudden Steven Tyler elf concert at the North Pole (It…also happens.)

I can’t even really say this movie is more about the journey than the destination, despite its name. When your destination is the North Pole and visiting Santa, there is definitely a buildup for the destination.

If it’s more the destination than the journey….then that’s also a huge problem because the title of the movie is The Polar Express not The Quick Train Ride to Get to the North Pole to Meet Santa and Have Christmas Adventures.

Not to mention that the destination….is disappointing. Now, you probably saw this coming, but despite my gripes I do actually enjoy watching the train ride part of the movie. It may star nameless blank slates doing nothing, but it’s still a fun ride during Christmas. As for the North Pole…I was always horribly disappointed in that.

The North Pole feels more like a….well, I guess it’s kinda redundant to say this, but it’s like a factory. The entire place just seems like, more or less, a well-decorated industrial complex. When you spend your whole movie screaming ‘LOOK AT OUR AWESOME VISUALS! THE DETAILS! SEE THAT TEXTURE?! LOOK AT THOSE EFFECTS! Ignore the people. WHOA, RIGHT!?’ in our faces, you expect the North Pole, our main destination and the North friggin’ Pole, to be awe-inspiring not….decent.

Oh well, maybe the people are charming…..Nope. The elves are some of the creepiest sons of bitches I’ve ever seen, even if the acrobatic ones are kinda cool, and it really seems like it was intended to be that way. Santa isn’t a holly jolly bowl of jello, he’s a wise stoic fairly stone-faced intimidating man who is almost always filmed at an upward angle, which might be to make him seem more intimidating or accentuate the supposed self-insert point of this movie.

He’s definitely not mean, and he is a bit warm and friendly, but it’s a strange air about him. He hardly ever smiles. I have no problem with different takes on Santa, but I don’t care for this one much.

But what of the individual character hurdles? If anything significant, the train ride was about accentuating the various character flaws that each of them have. They have golden train tickets to further highlight the lessons that they must learn. The conductor uses his hole punch to make two letters in the ticket when they get on the train and he finishes the word IE lesson when they depart the North Pole.

Surely, if anything at all, there’s substance in these character lessons.


Let’s start with Billy, who, as I stated, has the most interesting arc. Poor Billy; overlooked by Santa his whole childhood to the point where Billy questions his existence. Billy doesn’t get much of a part for the first third of the movie. He just separates himself from the other kids and stays quiet.

His first big scene is also our second song number of the movie ‘When Christmas Comes to Town’. It’s a duet with Hero Girl, and I only recently noticed that this song seems a bit….cruel? Billy’s singing about how he never gets visited by Santa on Christmas and how he just wishes he can have a good Christmas like everyone else. Meanwhile, Hero Girl is singing about all the good things about Christmas, including presents underneath the tree, that Billy contests with never having experienced most of it.

In other words;

Billy (Coincidentally also known as ‘Lonely Boy’): ‘I never get presents or hear Santa’s sleigh or put up decorations with my friends.’

Hero Girl: ‘Boy, I sure love getting presents and hearing Santa’s sleigh and putting up decorations with friends!’

And that somehow cheers him up. ???

I also wanna pause for a second to point something out; most of the passengers on the Polar Express are privileged American kids, mostly white. Is there any reason at all why there aren’t kids from all over the globe? Who selects the kids every year to go on the train? There are only like 20-30 kids on board. Again, you’d think the less fortunate kids would be the top of the list to see Santa, but nope.

Billy’s next big scene is when he sees the first present on Santa’s conveyor belt is, coincidentally, his. So he latches onto that thing like it’s a lifetime pass to Disney World and refuses to let go. He’s super excited about his gift, especially since he believes it’s one he’s wanted his whole life. Don’t really know what it is, but if the sound is any indication he’s always wanted twenty boxes of cereal.

However, he is saddened when he sees a tag on it saying that it’s not to be opened until Christmas.

Later, Santa approaches him and makes a joke out of forgetting him. It’s played off like a legit joke, even Billy laughs, but dude, the hell? Santa points out that Billy’s made some friends and that friendship is the greatest gift of all. End character arc.

Yup, they decided to not address why Billy was shafted his entire life gift-wise, and considering, based off of his moniker of ‘Lonely Boy’ that he’s never had many or any friends before….what the hell? Did Santa set it up so that Billy would make friends on this trip or is whatever’s in that box worth 7-ish years of suck? Billy never even asks him about it, he’s just happy he finally gets a gift and gets to see Santa.

Plus, Hero Boy and Hero Girl don’t even live in his state, so it might be pretty hard to maintain this friendship, especially if this story is taking place before the internet.

To close out his story, they show Billy arriving at home showing that Santa got to his house and delivered his present.

His ticket word(s) are ‘Depend on, rely on and count on.’ I don’t really get Billy’s lesson here. Is it that he’s to be relied on? Or that he should rely on others more? Nothing in his character arc has really indicated anything about reliability. Did you mean to give that ticket to Joe from Digimon? I’m guessing it’s the latter because the conductor asks Billy if he’ll rely on them to take him home. I don’t get it.

Next there’s Hero Girl. We get our first sniff of her ‘Are you sure?’ problem when Hero Boy asks if she’ll be alright delivering hot chocolate (they’ve got it) to Billy in the other car. Her first highlight of this problem is when she’s tasked to drive the train. Because intelligence. The conductor and engineer aren’t around, and they’re told to stop the train because of something in the tracks. She believes she knows which lever to pull to stop it, but freezes up when Hero Boy asks if she’s sure.

And that’s it. I also have to say, after Hero Boy’s little episode trying frantically to wake himself up from what he believed to be a dream after meeting the Hobo….Hero Girl’s completely fake lockup was just poorly done. The animation puts no emotion or drama into it and neither does the girl’s voice acting. It really kinda seems like she’s faking it, especially after peeking through her fingers, to make Hero Boy make the final decision.

Her character ‘arc’ comes to a peak when suddenly, out of nowhere, she responds to ‘Are you sure?’ with ‘Absolutely!’……Really, there’s nothing to connect the second part and the final one. She goes from freezing and covering her eyes in response to the question to confidently proclaiming that she’s sure. I mean….maybe because it involves her belief in Santa? Hero Boy asks her if she’s sure of where she’s going as she follows the sound of sleigh bells that Hero Boy can’t hear, and that’s when she makes that response.

I just don’t know. It’s like they flipped a switch in her to make her more confident in her decisions.

When Santa approaches her later, he commends her for her strong decision making skills and Christmas spirit. Her ticket word is revealed to be ‘Lead’.

Finally there’s Hero Boy. The opener basically explains his entire personality and character in just a handful of shots. Though, it does make him come off as kinda obsessive over the Santa thing. I mean, he seriously collects newspaper clippings and magazine cutouts which contain evidence of Santa not existing.

After that, on the train, he has a scene with a mysterious Hobo that rides on the Polar Express all the time. He’s supposedly a ghost, but I honestly don’t understand who he’s a ghost of. Did the Polar Express hit a hobo at one time and now he haunts the train?

The Hobo scene, despite my liking it because the Hobo seems like the second most interesting character in the movie, is also merely to emphasize the character dilemma of Hero Boy and explore it a tiny bit more, not really to further the story. You could say the Hobo is an illusion of Hero Boy, but he’s been shown on the train prior to this, and Hero Boy was nowhere around.

Later, the Hobo torments him through a Scrooge marionette (Hi shameless plug for Zemeckis’ next motion capture movie, A Christmas Carol) claiming him to be a doubter. Hero Boy runs off through a creepy car filled with broken toys that are meant to be recycled by Santa and that’s it.

Probably the most impacting of his scenes is his arc’s finale where he finds that he’s unable to hear Santa’s sleigh bells, even when he’s very close to a whole bunch of them. Though, I find this kind of odd. I assume non-believers and skeptics can’t hear the bells, but…he’s at the North Pole. He just took a magical train ride to said pole. He just took a ride on a giant sack of presents. He’s surrounded by elves. He’s seeing the sleigh bells being put on flying reindeer attached to a sleigh. Does he really need to be face to face with the jolly red giant to finally have full belief?

Despite that, this is the first time you kinda start feeling emotion-like things for the kid. It’s been established that he wants to believe in Santa, and the fact that he’s missing out on what is considered one of the most magical parts of Santa and Christmas because of his inner debate is kinda sad.

A single silver bell comes loose from the reindeer and flies to where Hero Boy is. When he picks it up and shakes it to his ear, all he hears is Hobo whispering ‘doubter’ over and over. I should also state that Hero Boy, despite not having a decent look at him because of crazed Santa groupie elves blocking his view, has seen Santa at this point. Apparently seeing isn’t believing.

In desperation, Hero Boy finally says to himself over and over that he believes. Ya know, the whole faith thing kinda loses it value if you’ve seen and experienced what you’re believing in. I’m sure more people would ‘believe’ in aliens, bigfoot and unicorns if they were right in our faces and we had plenty of time to research and experience their existence.

Of course, as he says this, he tries again, and lo and behold he can hear the bell now. Not only that, but Santa approaches them to go down the line of kids to talk to them. Only the kids we’ve been introduced to, of course, because to hell with the rest. They’re basically part of the background. Santa selects Hero Boy to receive the first gift of Christmas, and he asks to keep the silver bell. Santa agrees and states that the silver bell is a symbol of the spirit of Christmas, but of course, say it with me, the true spirit of Christmas is in his heart.

His ticket word is—Do I even need to say it? Just guess. It starts with a B.

Later on, Hero Boy loses the bell because he stupidly put it in a pocket that had a huge hole in it, and he knew it had a huge hole in it. But of course the bell returns to him the next morning as a present under the tree. Closing narration from Tom I-play-most-of-the-characters-in-this-movie Hanks reveals that everyone Hero Boy knew eventually lost the ability to hear the bell, but not him – even in old age – and not anyone else who was a true believer.

In regards to the—Oh yeah, I forgot about Know-It-All Kid. He has a nothing role of popping up between scenes to be annoying and spout out facts. He follows the really main three through Santa’s factory to see his gift and complains about it being underwear. He continues to be a twat until an elf calls him out, and Santa tells him he needs more humility. Then, boom, he’s nice and admits when he’s made a mistake. It’s like car crash character development in here.

His ticket word is ‘Learn’ which is kinda dumb because in order to be a know-it-all you kinda have to learn a bit. ‘Humility’ probably would’ve been a better word.

Bottom Line: There’s just something about this movie that feels….fake. It feels like it’s trying too hard to be this epic impacting Christmas movie for all ages, but there’s something here that just doesn’t feel genuine. Even the characters look like moving plastic dolls instead of actual characters. I’m not saying I don’t feel Christmassy when watching this movie, and it does hit the regular beats that Christmas movies typically have, maybe more, but it just feels like most of it is set dressing for a rather hollow story.

Maybe it would’ve been better as a short?

If not forcing itself to be a classic from the getgo, this movie is clearly meant to be an experience or a roller coaster ride instead of dwelling on silly things like characters and story.

Visually, this movie is just gorgeous most of the time……as long as you ignore the people, and Robert Zemeckis did a fantastic job directing. The angles and reliance on fast-paced action scenes definitely do seem like this was meant to be a Christmas ride. I’m completely fine with this as it is a very fun movie, but you lose quite a bit of the fun of the ride when not watching the movie in IMAX theaters or at least in 3D. So many shots are quite obviously pandering to the 3D that it makes us homely 2D watchers feel a bit left out.

They also make a kinda…weird decision once. There’s a scene in the elf control room where there’s a ton of screens showing children around the world (or just the US/English speaking first world countries). That’s the creepy we kinda have to take with Santa, but the weird part is….all of the kids….are live-action.

Yep, no motion capture for them. They are pure live-action. And it’s not like a glance at them either; they stay on screen for several minutes and we even hear dialogue from one. It’s just so weird. For a movie trying its hardest to make all the CGI look realistic, they didn’t even bother making any of those shots CGI. Either they were too lazy to do so, wanted the audience to more closely connect with the movie or they wanted to see if we could tell the difference, which we obviously can by a freakin’ mile.

To be honest, I don’t even understand that scene. Time’s been frozen at five to midnight for over an hour (roughly?) so how are the kids on these monitors moving?

And you know, for a movie that is aiming for realism, why do they pay such great attention to the individual hairs on the boys’ heads but the damn loop-braided pigtails on Hero Girl never move an inch?

I’m getting off-topic and this review’s running a bit long. The point is, I do really like The Polar Express. It’s a fun Christmas ride that does have a bit of heart beneath the creepy plastic faces and dead eyes. I watch the movie every year, and I can’t see myself stopping that tradition any time soon.

However, I can’t deny that it completely fails to do even basic parts of movie making and writing correctly. If this is just meant to be a self-insert Christmas ride without deep character or story elements to help that feeling along, then fine. I understand that. You’ve made a great roller coaster for Christmas. But it also means that you’re sacrificing quality as a movie. I can’t see myself watching this movie outside of the month of December; something I can do for many great Christmas movies and specials. There’s nowhere near enough substance to even make me think about it.

It’s very flawed, but very fun. And, in the end, movies are supposed to be entertaining. Fun. So, since it’s Christmas, I’m not going to fault the movie as much as I should. Hop on board the Polar Express on the biggest screen you can manage, and you can still catch it in theaters, IMAX and otherwise around Christmastime, so there’s that. No matter if you can hear the bells or not, the ride there is worth it.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!

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AVAHS – Rugrats: Chanukah


Plot: It’s Chanukah and the babies are trying to figure out exactly what it is. While Boris prepares for a Chanukah play, he feels overshadowed by a longstanding frenemy, Shlomo, who enjoyed plenty of success in his career while Boris was busy with his family. The babies assume that Shlomo is a ‘meanie of Chanukah’ after mis-hearing Boris talk about Shlomo ruining the meaning of Chanukah. They believe the only way to save Boris from the meanie is to put him down for a nap. All the while, the babies learn about the story or Chanukah and the miracle behind it.

Breakdown: One of my favorite things about Rugrats was that it would sometimes take somewhat more mature topics than the norm and give us a baby’s perspective on it, not only allowing younger audiences to gain a better grasp on the topic but also making said topic quite funny.

This is one of the shining examples in Rugrats as we go through the story of Chanukah, both directly and from a baby’s point of view, and we get the babies’ plot in the episode which takes the topic and makes it very funny.

The fact that the babies are trying to ‘save’ Grandpa Boris from ‘the meanie of Chanukah’ is funny enough, but the ways in which they try to do it are even funnier. The adults are given a bit of a stronger role here, allowing us to also see the situation from an adult’s perspective, which is just the babies goofing around like babies. It’s actually funnier now that I am an adult. The instant shift from the babies going towards Shlomo like they’re facing a huge threat to Shlomo seeing a bunch of babies dancing around in a pillowcase, babbling and waving around a book is a great example of this contrast.

I also like how Shlomo wasn’t made out to be a complete jerk. His story is actually a suddenly depressing shift in the episode. He and Boris have been at odds for years because Boris always thought he was upstaging him with his business success.

However, in a twist, Shlomo says Boris has always been upstaging him with his family. Boris believes Shlomo never had a family because he was too busy with his work, but he reveals that his now deceased wife simply never got pregnant. It can be assumed that she was unable to bear children. Shlomo wanted a family, but he could never have one. All he had was his business, and now he has no one to share his Jewish traditions and the celebration of Chanukah with.

You really feel for the guy after only a few lines, and that’s pretty damn good. I also appreciate that he got a happy ending here, and hopefully Shlomo celebrated many other Chanukahs with the Pickles’ family after this.

You simply don’t get many Chanukah specials. I mean, a character might state that they’re Jewish and celebrate Chanukah in a Christmas episode. It may even be a subplot to a Christmas episode. But rarely do you ever see a full-on Chanukah special, especially for a kids’ show.

While I am not Jewish, I feel like this special really does Chanukah justice. It’s a full celebration of not just the holiday but the traditions and history behind it, and it doesn’t skimp on the quality of the writing at all.

This is such a good special that I try to watch it every year around the holidays. It’s become a classic to me, and really the only criticisms I have are with the tiny subplots of Angelica wanting to watch A Very Cynthia Christmas and Stu trying to build a huge decked out menorah for Boris’ play. They’re just predictable and not very funny side-plots, but they don’t really ruin the flow of the episode or anything.

HAPPY (albeit late) CHANUKAH!

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!

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AVAHS – X-Men Evolution: On Angel’s Wings


Plot: Around Christmastime, a mysterious ‘angel’ goes around the city saving people.

Breakdown: X-Men: Evolution was one of the first comic-book-based animated series that I got into. I had watched a handful before, but never really got too into it until Evolution. It’s not fantastic, but it’s a great show.

This Christmas special is….nothing special. It’s a very cut and dry mutant introduction. Mutant trying to do good or fit in, ends up being vilified for something that was an accident or wasn’t his fault, Magneto tries to recruit him, fails, so he joins the good guys. This is bookended by Christmas stuff and stuff that it kinda weird or annoying like Jean being jealous of Rogue trying to get closer to Scott as she leaves for Christmas break or the fact that Angel only dons a mask after already saving two people that we know of.

There….really isn’t much to say about it. It’s a fine episode, but it’s not much of a Christmas special and not a very interesting action episode.

There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just pretty bland. I like Angel fine and Scott and Rogue are fine leads here. It’s fine. And that’s about it.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!

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AVAHS – Niko and The Way to the Stars/The Flight Before Christmas


Plot: A young reindeer named Niko has always been told by his mother that he was the son of one of Santa’s flying reindeer in the flying forces. Because of this, Niko has always held the belief that he would fly, but has always been unsuccessful. He’s a bit obsessed with his flight training, and one day ends up accidentally leading a pack of fierce wolves to his herd’s location while practicing in an area he was told to stay out of.

In order to finally fly and avoid the rejection of his herd, Niko and his father figure, a flying squirrel named Julius, travel to the mysterious location of the flying forces and Santa, Santa’s Fell, to find his father. However, the wolves are hot on his trail and intend to eat him as well as the flying forces and Santa himself.

Breakdown: This was a pretty nice surprise. I honestly didn’t think much of this movie from face value, but it’s a pretty nice Christmas movie. It’s not hilarious or particularly heart-warming, but it is fun, has a pretty solid story and doesn’t try too hard to be anything more than it is.

Niko is a pretty generic character who reminds me a lot of Tarzan. Outcast because he’s trying to be something he’s not, but he’s doing this because of his mysterious past, ends up screwing up everything and putting his family in danger because of it, so he tries his hardest to achieve his dreams and find a place to belong.

I find it a little weird that his backstory is actually that his mom, Oona, had a one-night stand with one of Santa’s flying forces and just never saw him again. I mean, they don’t say it, but she met him once, never met him again and had Niko.

Julius actually has the most interesting backstory that I’m surprised they didn’t balk on. Early in the movie, Julius makes a squirrel out of snow and pretends it’s his Aunt Sally to help Niko lie and get out of trouble. Later in the movie, he makes three snow squirrels and explains to Wilma, a weasel, that these snow squirrels are actually representations of a family he actually had. He had a wife, an aunt and young son. One day, he went off to look for food and when he returned his family was gone. After seeing wolf tracks in the snow he realized that his family had all been eaten by wolves. He took in Niko as a kind of surrogate son since Niko also had no father, which serves as one of the bigger conflicts in the movie.

Wilma was a great character. She was a lot of fun, and I loved her song at Santa’s Fell. That was legitimately funny. I am kinda weirded out that she’s made out to be Julius’ love interest, though. Why don’t animated movies find inter-species mating to be weird?

I also appreciate that they didn’t make out Santa’s flying forces to be a bunch of jerk-offs. While they’re not the smartest nor the humblest reindeer alive, they’re not that bad and they’re perfectly nice to Niko throughout. Would’ve been nice for Niko’s father to have fleshed out a bit more. He really doesn’t stand out anymore than the others.

I found that Niko’s relationship to his mother and his love interest, Saga, weren’t fleshed out enough either. Saga’s whole role is, in a Faline fashion, to be the love interest and nothing else. She’s at the beginning and end of the movie to be simply that.

Finally, the antagonists of the wolves, in particular Black Wolf (guess what color he is) are…..fine. They’re really just terribly generic and their plan makes no sense. I mean, finding the herd of reindeer makes sense because they’re their main source of food. However, planning a terribly dangerous mission to Santa’s Fell to eat Santa’s reindeer and Santa as well as every little girl and boy that they will visit on Christmas? Plus, Black Wolf’s eyes, which are yellow, literally glow throughout the entire movie.

The fact is, he’s more focused on killing Niko, also for no real reason. He has no idea who he is or where he’s heading, he just wants to kill him for existing.

Along with the wolves is a pink poodle named Essie, who also really serves no other purpose than to be a love interest for one of the wolves, Specs, who is basically an example to prove that not all of the wolves are all bad….even though the rest of them are shown to be bad. I actually kinda liked their relationship…it’s much more fleshed out and interesting than Niko and Saga or Oona and Prancer.

This is actually a Finnish movie with an English dub, and you can tell with the various accents that pop up. It’s like they were trying to hide their accents half the time, but were inconsistent with it. Most of the voice acting is decent enough, but my god the VA for Niko is just awful. He can’t emote at all, nor can he raise his voice. Every time he yells it’s like there’s someone in the studio reminding him to use his ‘inside voice’.

The animation is….good. It’s kinda like a mix between Dreamworks and Sony. Trying to be realistic with the backgrounds and snow but wanting a more cartoony look for the characters. I think it works well enough, though I still can’t decide if the snow effects were that good.

All in all, a surprisingly good movie. It’s not forcing some ‘true meaning of Christmas’ down our throats nor does it follow too many clichés. While not doing anything grand or fantastic, it’s still a fun ride.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!

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AVAHS – Angry Beavers: Gift Hoarse


Plot: It’s Arbor Day! (Christmas for beavers) And Norbert and Daggett get their holiday gifts from their mom and dad. Norbert gets a massive and expansive train set, while Daggett ends up stuck with a tiny pine tree air freshener. Daggett is disappointed with his puny gift, especially in comparison with Norbert’s cool train, but after growing tired of pretending that his gift is great, he ends up trying to ruin Norbert’s gift in a fit of jealousy.

Breakdown: This one’s a bit of an oddity because I remember this episode playing fairly frequently when Angry Beavers was in syndication. While many holiday specials are usually bumped when it’s not the holiday season, this one stuck because it’s not really a special. Like most cartoons of the time, it was split up into two 14 minute halves. The first half is the Chri—Arbor Day special and the other half is a non-holiday related episode unlike the full half-hour holiday specials that cartoons typically did.

I remember it so well, I don’t even need to rewatch the episode to do the recap. It’s a pretty cut and dry scenario anyway. For Arbor Day, Norbert and Daggett’s parents send them each a gift. Norbert gets a huge (Like, it covers the house and he can ride on it) and really awesome train set. Daggett gets a little pine tree car air freshener. Daggett feels, justifiably, shafted with his gift and is jealous of Norbert’s awesome gift.

Norbert kindly offers to not only let Daggett play with his train set, but he offers to trade his train for the air freshener to make Daggett happy. However, Daggett refuses because that’s the gift his parents wanted him to have.

To Daggett’s credit, he does try to make the best of what he has and actually tries to play with the dumb tree and it’s….pretty damn sad. I remember feeling really bad for Daggett during this part of the episode, even if he does ruin it by getting ‘Daggetty’ later. I mean, I get that the spirit of Chr–….Arbor Day is family and giving not getting, but how much would it suck if you had to watch your parents give an INSANELY NICE gift to your sibling and you end up with a dinky little ‘could’ve bought it at a gas station’ gift?

Daggett eventually grows tired of trying to pretend his pine tree is a good toy and tries over and over to sabotage Norbert’s train. After several failures, he actually ends up (accidentally….on purpose?) destroying Norbert’s train.

In compensation for ruining the toy for both of them, Daggett offers his gift to Norbert, which he accepts. However, the delivery man returns saying he only delivered half the gift earlier since the main gift was so large. He hands Norbert a remote control to a gigantic more-than-life-sized eight-wheeled monster truck, much to Daggett’s disdain.

Bottom Line: As you can see, this isn’t really much of a holiday special. They don’t really celebrate Arbor Day so much as get gifts for the holiday. They decorate the house in Christmas-y lights but that’s about it. I don’t understand why Norb and Dag didn’t exchange gifts themselves. There’s also not much of a moral, which is also very odd for a holiday special. I guess ‘don’t let jealousy get the better of you’ and ‘be thankful for what you have’ are the lessons, but there’s no substance behind the ‘giving is better than getting’ lesson or even appreciating family or anything. Granted, Angry Beavers never was the show for that stuff really.

This episode is definitely entertaining and funny, even today. It holds up very well. I didn’t laugh out loud or anything, but it still holds plenty of comedic value. Plus, there is a decent reason for Daggett to indeed be Daggetty in this episode. Not very mature or nice, but you can sympathize with him a bit.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!

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AVAHS – All Grown Up: The Finster Who Stole Christmas


Plot: Chuckie is tired of having bad Christmases every year, so he decides to get a great Christmas tree to hopefully set things in motion for a great holiday. He finds a tree on the curb and assumes it’s out for the garbage so he takes it home to surprise his dad. However, he soon finds out that it wasn’t put out as garbage, and everyone starts hating the town’s Christmas tree thief. Ridden with guilt, Chuckie tries to make everything right in hopes that everyone can have a nice Christmas this year.

Breakdown: Hey, everyone! Welcome to A Very Animated Holiday Special! Where I’ll be reviewing any and all things holiday related until January-ish! We’ll be starting off this batch of reviews with the All Grown Up Christmas special, The Finster Who Stole Christmas.

I cannot express how much I loved Rugrats as a child. I also cannot express how excited I was to watch the All Growed Up special on Nick for Rugrats’ tenth anniversary. I even made a countdown “clock” out of paper plates for it.

I can, however, express my disappointment at All Grown Up.

Now, I won’t say AGU was a bad show per se. I have spoken poorly of it in the past, and I believe my old criticisms still stand, but I now just see AGU as a mediocre animated sitcom for tweens.

I really don’t think it would’ve lasted long at all without the Rugrats connection. While the Rugrats are still the Rugrats, they’ve lost what made them funny and charming as babies. They’re now tweenagers who deal with tween problems and have forgotten all of what happened to them as babies, which is a depressing fact about the show to say the least.

I can’t remember it ever being particularly funny, and it wasn’t very long after it was made that Rugrats ended and AGU ended, subsequently snuffing out the long-standing series for good.

But not without giving us their first Christmas special in season three. Rugrats gave us a few holiday specials that I will be addressing later, but this is the only AGU special. I remember watching it, but for the life of me I don’t remember what it’s about. So….what’s it about?


Everyone’s preparing for Christmas, and Chuckie’s depressed because every Christmas at his house turns out to be a nightmare. His father is great when it comes to celebrating every other holiday of the season, but when it comes to Christmas the man’s just a wreck.

They always get terrible Christmas trees, and every other tradition either doesn’t happen or ends up getting ruined. After reviewing their Christmases on DVD with Chuckie, Tommy suggests that the first place to start to making a better Christmas would be getting a nice tree since every year it seems like they get a terrible tree, and having a nice tree might put everything else into motion.

While Chuckie is excited for the great-looking Christmas trees he sees while tree shopping the next day, Chas is, for some reason, intent on getting the crappiest tree imaginable. Look, I know that Christmas is more about family and togetherness than the tree or the decorations or the presents, but why the hell wouldn’t you at least muse over getting a decent tree? You don’t have to spend $100 on some gigantic Christmas redwood, but Chas specifically seeks out bare, brittle trees that Charlie Brown would be ashamed of. He picks one out of a pile labeled ‘kindling’ that is breaking apart before our eyes.

Chuckie is obviously angry over getting yet another crappy tree, and when he sees that someone has left their beautiful Christmas tree next to the garbage, he assumes that the owners are throwing it out and takes it away. I do have to commend Chuckie for walking all that way with the tree on his back. Unwrapped even. I don’t know exactly how big that tree is, but my family gets a six-footer-ish every year and that takes two of us to walk out of the tree farm and to the truck. It can be a nightmare if we get one that’s too big.

Chuckie gets it back to the house to surprise Chas and….wow. I assume Chas is like at least 5’5, so that tree must be like seven or eight feet tall if the proportions are any indication. Damn, Chuckie, have you been working out or are you secretly the Hulk?

Chas is kinda disappointed because the tree doesn’t match what they usually get, but changes his tune when he sees how excited Chuckie is.

Later, as Chuckie hangs out in the Java Lava with his friends, he bravely tries one of Betty’s (Phil and Lil’s mom) weird holiday drinks since he’s now in a good mood with a nice Christmas tree. However, his mood is quickly soured when Phil talks about the news that a nearby family had their Christmas tree stolen from right outside their house, especially when he hears how disgusted everyone is that someone would do such a thing.

Tommy convinces Chuckie that his dad will understand his honest mistake and that he can just return the tree, but sitcom drama emerges as Chas now seems to love the tree sincerely and has bought over 16 huge boxes of ornaments to decorate the tree. Yeesh, I completely plaster my tree from top to bottom and I only have two totes full and a few things from a cardboard box. 16 boxes? How will all that even fit on that tree?

Not only is he excited about the tree, but Chuckie’s overall plan has worked. Chas is now psyched about any and all things Christmas. He’s making his own decorations, baking gingerbread towns – he is just ecstatic.

Chuckie now, obviously, decides to keep the truth about the tree from Chas, and meanwhile Kimi and Kira are stuck in Japan after visiting her uncle due to airline BS.

Chuckie decides he’ll just buy a new tree for the family he stole from, but only manages to get a fairly crappy tree for most of his savings. However, as Tommy and Chuckie are bringing it to the house, Chuckie accidentally drops it and it gets run over.

I’m starting to feel like this episode is taking place a couple days before Christmas. Who buys a tree and decorates so close to Christmas? I mean, I’m usually not the type to decorate before Thanksgiving or even the day after like a lot of people, but why wait until the very last minute?

Meanwhile, back at the Java Lava, everyone is still talking about the damn tree thief. Is the town really that boring? Yeah, it sucks, but Betty is installing a security camera in the store because of it, and now Susie and the others are talking about God smiting the thief for stealing the symbol of Christmas. Considering the religious meaning behind Christmas is celebrating Jesus’ birthday, is that like a dad getting really mad at someone for stealing his son’s birthday cake?

Chuckie freaks out again and heads home where Chas is still jonesin’ for a hit of Christmas as he rehearses with carolers, wears reindeer antlers on his head and subsequently decorated the entire house from top to bottom in preparation for a Christmas party that he must’ve organized in a few hours and will take place in less than a day. Dude, I adore Christmas and I would love to be at your house right now, but how are you doing this?!

As Chuckie goes to bed, he has a nightmare about the tree-less family being poor and sad without their Christmas tree. They also surprisingly say it’s ‘the Lord’s day’. Rugrats always did seem to get a pass on religious stuff for some reason.

Meanwhile in Tommy and Dil’s ‘subplot’ of writing a Hanukkah song since there are so many Christmas songs and so few Hanukkah songs, it’s two days until Christmas and they still have no Hanukkah song prepared….Uh, boys…..you might have wanted to make a Hanukkah song….for Hanukkah…..which was probably a week or two prior to this point in time……Just sayin’.

Chuckie starts flipping out on everything Christmas, culminating in him trying to steal a candy cane and telling off a mall Santa who was just sitting there with a kid…..Wow. What’s even weirder is that Lil finds his crazy behavior attractive…..

He admits his ‘crime’ to the others, but they all understand and Lil even says God will forgive him for it. Chuckie is having none of it, however, and continues to wallow in the belief that he will be smote for what he did.

At the party, he’s still miserable, and gets even more miserable when Chas gets the news that, due to a bunch of airline crap, Kimi and Kira are stuck in Mexico and won’t be home for Christmas. Chuckie believes this is all because of what he did, so Tommy gives the quite stupid suggestion of stealing the Christmas tree from his house to give back to the family it belonged to.

So, that night, without even bothering to take some of the decorations off, Tommy, Dil, Phil, Lil and Chuckie break into Chuckie’s house and steal the tree.

Also, I never noticed, maybe she changed voice actors between Rugrats and AGU, but Kira’s VA can’t act well. She definitely can’t act angry. Maybe it’s just the direction.

The return is successful and Chas finds the tree stolen the next morning only to have Chuckie suddenly crack after Chas finds pine needles in his hair. Kira and Kimi suddenly burst through the door, and I guess, despite not remembering his mother, Chuckie calls Kira by her first name instead of calling her ‘mom’. *shrug*

The family’s all back together and Chaz and Chuckie both realize what Chas was saying all along; Christmas begins and ends with family. They don’t need a fancy tree to enjoy Christmas, they just need each other. Kira decides to use a souvenir bonsai tree as their Christmas tree, agreeing that anything is better than the crappy ones that Chas picks.

That night, Susie sings ‘The First Noel’ at church, and Tommy and Dil are allowed to sing also with their Hanukkah song about latkes, and it’s actually not bad. Kinda catchy. I don’t understand how they got a spot in the service to sing when Susie was so excited to get a solo in the choir, but whatever.

Bottom Line: And thus ends a fittingly bland and mediocre Christmas special for a bland and mediocre show. I will admit some lines were pretty good, but it just takes a very cliché sitcom plot (do something bad, lie about it, can’t reveal truth because someone’s so gosh darn happy about the lie, try in vain to fix it, admit everything, everything’s forgiven, luv u ❤ the end.) and adds a Christmas theme to it. Even before Chuckie steals the tree, you can tell how the entire episode will go once the whole ‘sucky tree, must get good tree for good Christmas’ thing is established.

We don’t get to see the family that Chuckie stole from, and he never admits what he did to them, he just dumps the tree at their doorstep and runs away.

The ending feels a bit rushed and cobbled together. There’s no real climax, it just kinda resolves and ends. Chuckie acts like an ass for much of the episode, and he acts like a neurotic mess for the rest of it, which, while being a ‘Chuckie’ thing to do, is made annoying in this episode.

Tommy and Dil’s latke song is about the most memorable and interesting thing about this episode. I would’ve preferred if there was a real reason behind Chas wanting incredibly sucky trees every year. Even for $15 or $10 those trees are just horrible. You might as well just invest in a fake one, especially considering that Chas’s main angle here is not only the tradition of terrible trees but also saving money. Even a really cheap fake one would be eons better than the garbage he picks out, and it would last for years.

I really thought I remembered something like he picked out bad trees because he and his first wife got a crappy tree on their first Christmas, but nope. No real heartwarming moments, no big reveal, nothing steep to latch us onto this story. Even the thing with Kimi and Kira getting home isn’t a big deal. Chuckie and Chas don’t act like they terribly miss them, and neither do Kimi and Kira. They barely bring them up. When it’s shown that they won’t be home for Christmas it’s more like a big ‘Well, that’s just great!’ moment instead of any emotional impact.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with this Christmas special, but there’s also nothing really good about it either.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone.

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