Christmas time is here, but I’m not here to talk about Snoopy. I’m here to talk about another anthropomorphic animal.
Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge in Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
Not sure if it was 1984 or 1985, but NBC was playing a one-hour special with the main attraction Mickey’s Christmas Carol. But before we got to the feature, we had to watch three holiday-themed cartoons:
Pluto’s Christmas Tree…
The Art of Skiing (or Sheeiing)…
and Donald’s Snow Fight…
And then, with that famous Mickey face now wearing a top hat and scarf, the main feature could begin. (Yes, I should probably post the video of the cartoon, but I’m sure you can find it out there on your own. I’m building suspense. OK, I’m a scrooge. Bah! Humbug!)
For my 8-year-old self, this was probably my first exposure to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’m sure I thought this was the coolest since all the characters were now your favorite Disney characters. And Donald was nephew to Uncle Scrooge! Now that’s typecasting. Nevertheless, in 30 minutes, the Disney gang got to the heart of the story of Scrooge’s redemption.
To make sure our family could watch this again (and again), we taped it off the air using one of those new-fangled VCRs. I had become quite the remote control operator by this point, thanks to me taping episodes of the Transformers without the commercials. I am especially proud of the fact I paused and unpaused at one point (when Scrooge closes the curtains of his bed) so perfectly, you could barely tell there was a break.
At the time, I didn’t know that this was the first Mickey Mouse short since “The Little Things” in 1953(!), or that this was Wayne Allwine’s first appearance voicing Mickey. Sadly, it would be the last work of Clarence Nash playing Donald. And if you read the credits, you might spot a now-familiar name in the list of animators: John Lasseter, now the chief creative officer of the animation studios. Who knew that kid would go places?
All these years later, I finally procured a DVD of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, so now I can pass on the tradition of watching this with my children. And yes, I still choke up in spots. No, that’s not a tear going down my cheek right now. As an added bonus, the disc includes one of the three cartoons (the Pluto one). I do have the Donald toon on another disc, so now I just have to get the Goofy cartoon, and I can sorta kinda recreate the TV special.
Merry Christmas, one and all, and God bless us, everyone!
We are living in a golden age of sorts. The world has shrunk, everything is connected, comments sections are a cesspool. Glorious times, these are.
But it wasn’t always this way. Way back in the 1980s, living in ruralish northeastern Florida, news may have traveled fast, but only through the television airwaves or through slower methods in magazines. I wouldn’t experience the Internet until the mid-1990s. Add to the fact I didn’t actively seek out any and all information about a particular subject, and I was not very information-savvy.
Example A: The Transformers.
Back when those robots in disguise burst onto the scene in 1984, I don’t remember which medium I had encountered them first — comics, cartoon, or toys — but I know that I concentrated on the last two in the beginning. I probably knew of the comics but didn’t pay much attention to them.
Once the Transformers got cooking, I did pick up a few issues of the Marvel comic. I noticed right away the continuities between the cartoon and the comic book were vastly different.
As the cartoon faded away, the comic soldiered on, which was around the time Simon Furman took over writing duties. While this was going on, I had no clue that across the pond, the Brits were treated to their own Transformers comic in addition to the American stories, many of them written by Furman.
Recently, IDW Publishing has been re-printing these Marvel and Marvel UK stories in trade paperback form, giving me the chance to read many of these stories for the first time, especially the UK tales. Reading these stories with grown-up eyes, some are still great, some are worse than cosmic rust.
Along the same lines, IDW has created a new continuity for the Transformers universe, which are, in some respects, a heck of a lot better in terms of story and art than what came before. And yet, if it weren’t for those old issues, we wouldn’t have gotten the new issues.
Then there’s those Michael Bay Transformers movies. I saw the first movie in the theater, and I felt goosebumps as Optimus Prime drove down that alley to meet Shia LaBeouf. But upon a second viewing, the movie grated at me (maybe because it wasn’t that great a movie). All it took was one viewing for the second movie for me to be disgusted. My wife fell asleep about halfway through it. She was the lucky one. The third one was ever-so-slightly better than the second, but that’s saying a lot. I haven’t seen the fourth movie yet.
Nostalgia is a strange beast.
Which leads me to something completely different: Walt Disney World.
The Happiest Place on Earth is a strange vortex of nostalgia. On the one hand, it seeks to create new memories for kids and relive those memories for adults, but then it has to stay current with just about every experience.
Because it seems everything in my life is connected to each other, let’s use as an example Star Tours, the Star Wars thrill ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or MGM Studios, for those of a certain age). I probably went on that ride for the first time in the mid-1990s (high school-age) and thought it was absolutely brilliant. But as the years went on, I started noticing things. The biggest nit to pick: it seemed like the soundtrack was about a half-second behind the film projection. Drove me NUTS.
When I heard the folks at Disney were refurbishing the ride a few years back, I was sad, yet hopeful. Sure, there was a part of me that loved the old version, but I was eager to see what they’d do in the new version.
In June, I finally got the chance to ride Star Tours 2.0, and I loved it. It’s still Star Tours, but now you’ve got the added fun of not having the same ride twice, although with my luck I probably will.
You could apply that to the Haunted Mansion. The original ride at the Magic Kingdom was hauntingly wonderful, but the enhancements are just as mind-blowing.
At the same time, a smile gets plastered on my face when I ride the WEDWay PeopleMover. As far as I know, it’s pretty much the same ride as it was back in the 1970s. I do wish I could see the original Journey into Imagination ride at Epcot again, and sometimes I miss Walter Cronkite narrating Spaceship Earth.
Maybe it’s the kid in me (or everyone, for that matter) longing for those olden days while living through these chaotic adult years. Maybe that’s why I turn to stuff from my childhood like the Transformers and Star Wars and Disney. But, I also long to see what new things these respective companies have got up their sleeves. I also get a kick out of finding new stories in various media to devour.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch Transformers: The Movie. The one with Orson Welles and Eric Idle.
And now, another chapter in the Continuing Saga of Childhood Nostalgia…
It is the fall of 1984. The Star Wars saga concluded the year before, but its fire was slowly going out of the universe. What’s an impressionable 8-year-old to do? There were some Saturday morning cartoons, but my mind escapes me as to what was on at the time (for some reason, I’m thinking of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, but that may have come out a year or two earlier).
And then, something from Cybertron beamed its transmissions (and its accompanying wares) to Earth.
The NBC affiliate in Jacksonville (which became the ABC affiliate, which is now the CW affiliate) started airing The Transformers. I was immediately sold on the premise of the Heroic Autobots battling the Evil Decepticons, AND THEY TURNED FROM ROBOTS TO VEHICLES AND BACK! To make matters worse, they made TOYS BASED ON THE CARTOON? (or maybe it was the other way around) I’m sure I bugged my parents and grandparents to get me two or seventy-three of the toys.
The first toys I did acquire were Soundwave with Buzzsaw, as well as Twin Twist (he’s an Autobot that transformed when you pushed the car back and let it go). They each came with small folded catalogs showing you all the other toys available, including the leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron. Through the luck of the Matrix of Leadership (and my parents’ and grandparents’ endless searching), they were welcomed into my home.
Besides the cartoon’s stories, I found myself drawn to the voice actors, trying to match the name listed in the credits with the character. Eventually, I put two and seven together to find many of these actors were in other Marvel/Sunbow productions. Who could forget the bravery of Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime, the over-the-top evil of Frank Welker’s Megatron, the screeching of Chris Latta’s Starscream? Then, to learn one guy did three or four different characters? Mind. Blown. My ear also picked out sound effects that sounded familiar to what was heard in Star Wars. That, of course, made the show doubly cool.
In August 1986, my dad drove me to the local mall to catch a showing of Transformers: The Movie. I had been seeing previews on TV constantly and couldn’t wait to see these guys on the big screen. We walked into the theater just as the DEG lion logo twirled onto the screen.
I was gobsmacked as Unicron ripped a planet to shreds. I got goosebumps when the hair metal band Lion (boy, did they go far) rocked out the theme song. But, I’m sure I felt a little queasy when the Decepticons dispatched the crew of an Autobot shuttle like it was nothing. Seeing smoke spew out of Prowl’s mouth freaked me out. I liked Prowl! How were they able to die so easily when they got through the cartoon without much injury? Of course, this was the toy company’s way of making way for the new line, but still. To that 10-year-old me, they were real.
Then the unthinkable happened. The epic clash between Prime and Megatron. One would stand. One would fall. For a moment, it looked like Prime was victorious. But that wasn’t meant to be. Optimus died.
Looking back, that event hit me hard, though I probably tried not to show it. I’m sure lots of kids my age who saw that were affected. Here was this amazing robot who led the good guys into battle, and he lost.
Thankfully, toward the end of the third season, Hasbro had a change of heart. They brought back Optimus Prime. His toy version was as a Powermaster where you put this tiny robot engine onto his chest, and you can transform Prime into this bigger robot.
Unfortunately, as the toys went off in strange directions (the Pretenders: hide a robot inside a giant human-looking shell; yeah, that didn’t seem right), I lost interest.
The comic book that started it all (which actually came out May 8) hadn’t quite entered my universe just yet. The first issues I got were part of a three-pack: issues 26-28, which came out in 1987 or so. These issues dealt with the aftermath of Optimus Prime’s death (great! I get to experience it twice!). I discovered the Marvel version of the Transformers was a tad different than the cartoon continuity. For one thing, the cartoon had jumped to 2005 in the movie, but the comic stayed in the present. I didn’t pick up a lot of this series when it was around.
Just like Star Wars, it seemed like the Transformers were going to fade into the dustbins of history. At least it did in the U.S. for a while. Then came the Energon, Universe, and Armada lines, which I didn’t follow that much. I watched and enjoyed the Transformers Animated series. I watched the first of Michael Bay’s rendition of the franchise in theaters, and I did feel goosebumpy when we see Prime driving down the alleyway. It was an OK movie. The second one, I will never speak of again. The third one, meh.
Rhino brought back the original series on DVD, so of course I had to buy them. Watching them with older eyes, yeah, some of the stories are stupid, the animation gets kind of wonky at times, but it still holds up.
Star Wars may have been a defining moment in my life, but the Transformers really got the ball rolling. If I wasn’t a fan of science fiction-type tales, this sealed the deal. Right around this time, Voltron appeared on TV screens, and I ate that up. I became fascinated with other Japanese animated shows and movies. I thought, maybe I’ll be a voiceover actor when I grow up (that didn’t pan out). It also showed me that you can give a robot a backstory and a personality, and it will work just as well as a human. Sometimes.
A couple of years back, I unearthed my toy collection from storage and displayed them for a few weeks. I was amazed I remembered how to transform them all, and that they stayed mostly intact while sitting in a garage for many years. They looked like they had been through a war lasting millions of years.
Thanks to the fine folks at IDW, I have enjoyed the Bots’ comic book adventures once more, including All Hail Megatron, More Than Meets the Eye, Robots in Disguise, and Regeneration One, as well as reprints of the Marvel and Marvel UK stories. Whenever I had a chance to watch, I’ve enjoyed the recent iteration, Transformers Prime. I even bought the Masterpiece edition of Optimus Prime. Now THAT thing is a pain in the Matrix to transform. Looks cool, though.
Megatron’s pointing his fusion cannon at me, telling me to wrap up, so I better do that. Happy 30th, Transformers. May you continue for another 30 or 30 million.