Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of any photographic material used unless otherwise noted. This blog is intended for purposes of film criticism, commentary, and humor. If you wish to start this journey from the beginning, start with the prologue here.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, pardner!
I am the Wild West Samurai, and in my pursuit of pleasing my extraterrestrial captor to get out of this scrape with my balls intact, I just realized. It’s December, and I haven’t reviewed a holiday film. Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, the Feast of Winter Veil, etc.
But what to review?
Sure! Why not? Taking review suggestions from homicidal television sets. What could possibly go wr- ?
WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!
Okay, look, asshole. I’m already beholden to reviewing films for one psychopath. I don’t need two in my life. What if my captor comes back and sees you poaching on his film critic?
And you’re doing all this… why?
Ughhh… Who’s there?
Fine. So… what am I fucking reviewing?
That… title sounds awful. Can’t I review something else?
…… Fine! Bring it, you bunny ears antenna-having bitch! How bad could it be?
That… was the opening… scene.
Hey, Shoes, you got any room up on that wire?
So, yes, that… fat, four-eyed monstrosity in the blue jacket is our main character, Orlando. And yes, he talks like Kriss-Kross and the rapping dog from the animated Titanic movie had a baby together for his entire runtime in this damn special. Orlando is voiced by Tommy Davidson- wait… no… no… no, it can’t be!
No, please! I don’t want to know! Ignorance is bliss!
No! Come on, Samurai.
Pull yourself together! You can do this. You can do this.
So, the film opens with Orlando trying to show off his boombox in the garage to his friends, only to find the boombox is missing. Turns out, Orlando’s little sister Jarvis nixed the boombox and goes sledding down the street with it lashed to her sled while her brother and his friends chase her. Jarvis is voiced by Dawnn Lewis, whom I have fond memories of for playing Blabberwort the Troll in The 10th Kingdom.
God, this special is like a Bolton flaying my childhood.
Anyway, we meet Orlando’s friends Dead Boy and Harlan during this chase, both of them mugging for the camera- yeugghhhh!
Do I need to have an ambulance on speed-dial for these heart attack-inducing designs?! Jarvis escapes them all by shooting a grappling hook from her sled to tie her brother to a lamppost and then using rocket boosters to blast into the stratosphere faster than the Starship Enterprise while a cop gets it all on his radar gun.
The next scene has Orlando fixing a car. No continuation of the chase to get his boombox back. Hell, neither the stolen boombox nor the fact the sled can fly faster than lightspeed ever get brought up again. This special has as many plot threads left hanging as hairs in an old man’s nasal cavities. So, what is the purpose of this scene? Orlando is fixing the car for his church’s reverend to earn money to get his dad a Christmas present. Now, this is a pretty simple premise, and should be heartwarming…
Then the characters start talking.
Orlando’s friends Dead Boy and Harlan are voiced by T.K. Carter and Phil LaMarr, respectively. Needless to say, both actors go on to more distinguished careers in the future. T.K. Carter would go on to such roles as Gary McCullough in the critically acclaimed HBO miniseries The Corner. Phil LaMarr would become known to mass audiences as a guy named Marvin who gets shot in the face by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, as well as for having a very prolific career as a voice actor in countless animated productions much better than this one. Judging from Harlan’s references to “the Motherland,” I guess he’s a Pan-Africanist of some sort? It’s never really made clear. Dead Boy apparently has a more cynical take on Pan-Africanism and “the Motherland.”
First of all, Botswana doesn’t need any goddamn Slurpees, Dead Boy. It has cowboy metalheads who wear black leather in the scorching heat, carry Bowie knives, and drink from hollow cow horns. That is metal as fuck.
Secondly, Bruce W. Smith, how the hell do you go from character designs that look like borderline blackface to those slick but still gorgeous designs in The Proud Family? The animation in this special is terrible, both in terms of the crudely rendered animation itself and the caricatured style. It’s like a cheaply made 1990s version of those eleven Looney Tunes short films that Warner Bros. dumped in a cave somewhere, never to see the light of day again so that the Four Nations could live together in peace and harmony…
This may seem like an unfair comparison, since those older cartoons had no black artists working on them, whereas this special actually does have some black talent put into it. Hell, George Duke and Stanley Clarke – as in, the exact same Stanley Clarke whose music I praised in my Boyz N The Hood review – did the music for this special. Then again, black talent only counts for so much when the directors (David Feiss, Swinton O. Scott III) and especially the writers/creators (David Steven Cohen, Roger S.H. Schulman) are about as colorfully diverse as polar bears snorting coke in an Arctic blizzard.
Anyway, Jarvis flies back into the garage, knocking the car jack loose. The car falls and almost kills Orlando. Unfortunately, he rolls out of the way before he gets crushed.
… I think Jarvis just became my favorite character in this special. She builds sleds that can fire grappling hooks, fly, and have rocket propulsion. To top it all off, she came that close to killing off the single most annoying character in this special.
We meet Orlando’s mom and dad, voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Reginald VelJohnson, respectively- wait, what?! Sister Mary Clarence and Carl Winslow are in this?!
I can forgive Phil LaMarr, Bruce W. Smith, T.K. Carter, and Tommy Davidson. Their careers were just getting started. But Whoopi, you were in The Color Purple, Sister Act, and Ghost before this! Reginald, you were in Family Matters going on four years and two – count ’em, TWO – Die Hard movies! What, did the mob or a loan shark hire someone to muscle you into this to repay a debt or something?
So, Orlando’s dad can be summed up by his catchphrase: “My feet hurt.” Orlando asks his dad to tell him what he wants for Christmas, and his dad replies by telling his son that presents are more meaningful if they’re heartfelt and surprising rather than planned and predictable. Admittedly, the way this is visualized going in one ear and out the other is creative.
But why is it that all the adults have these bored-looking expressions, even over important things? Practically the full range of facial expressions is left to the kids. Except for the reverend (Ron Taylor) when he comes to pay Orlando for fixing his car and looks like he wants to eat Orlando.
The reverend also asks Orlando to sing in the church choir. Orlando’s as receptive to that request as a cat is to water. See, he has aspirations to be a pop singer (get in line, kid). We then get a daydream sequence where Orlando is singing onstage with Boyz II Men, who are voiced by – not even kidding – the actual members of the R&B group Boyz II Men. And for some reason, they’re drawn in a way that makes them look like zombies.
Later, while Orlando is discussing what to get his dad with Harlan and Dead Boy, we meet a couple of lovebirds named Marvin (Tone Lōc) and Charlene (T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh), both so lovestruck they cross the street while cars pass right by them and somehow don’t hit them. Because a jaywalking couple in love is kind of like Moses parting the Red Sea, apparently. The elements just bow to the Power of Love.
Charlene shows off a gold necklace with her name on it that Marvin bought for her. How did he buy it? With money from a random brown paper bag he picked up that apparently belongs to a local gangster named Irwin. Orlando, Dead Boy, and Harlan unanimously agree Marvin should return the money, because anyone who’s seen Friday knows that messing with a gangster’s money is about as beneficial to one’s health as dropping a toaster in a bathtub. We even get the story of how Dead Boy got his name. Apparently, he got shot in a driveby and died but somehow came back to life in the hospital.
… Well, fuck, that’s dark, for an animated Christmas special. Imagine if previous specials went that route.
Jarvis shows up, having overheard the whole exchange, and basically blackmails Orlando by threatening to tell Irwin that Marvin took his money unless Orlando gives her his prized possession: A sweat-drenched towel thrown to him by Patrick Ewing (voicing himself) during a basketball game.
Orlando refuses until Irwin’s car pulls up to Harlan’s workplace. He caves when Jarvis almost spills the beans. In the next scene, Charlene dumps Marvin when she finds out he bought her necklace with gang money. She gives him a pretty eviscerating dressing-down in public before returning her Christmas gift to Marvin, calling him a “bottom-feeding, mouth-breathing, tick-scratching, gold-brick-and-dirty-money-spending, lying-to-the-woman-he-thinks-is-his-girlfriend – I need an animal.” Her friend suggests finishing up that zinger by calling Marvin a platypus, and Charlene takes the suggestion. Damn, Charlene, and I was just starting to like you.
Charlene and Marvin both return their Christmas gifts to each other, with Marvin giving probably the best reason for returning a gift ever: “Chicks.”
Orlando has a series of flashbacks while wondering what his dad would want for Christmas. For a man whose introductory sentence was “My feet hurt,” it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how this plays out. We see a flashback of the dad complaining about his feet hurting at his son’s school bus, at his son’s baseball game, and even at his son’s freaking baptism- Jesus, someone get this man Dr. Scholl’s!
For all my bitching about this special, these last couple scenes haven’t been half bad. Orlando and his friends have taken a less prominent position in the spotlight- wait, nope. Orlando spots a shelf of shoes on sale for $50 and says, “Harlan! Marvin! Dead Boy! Check-a-check it out!” The better scenes were too good to last, I suppose.
Orlando decides to get his dad a new pair of shoes, until he spots some flashy high-tops on their own shelf, also coincidentally $50. Bullshit. Those damn things would be at least $200. $300 if endorsed by an NBA player. Orlando actually has a devil and angel – er, devil and Santa – pop up on his shoulder to give advice, voiced by Ed Lover and Dr. Dre. We know the voice actors’ names because Dead Boy can apparently see them and calls them out by name.
So, after conflicting advice about whether to buy a pair of shoes for his loving father whose feet hurt or to buy a new pair of cool-looking high-tops that will get scuffed in less than a day, what does our hero do? Is this or is this not an attempt at a Christmas special trying to hammer in a moral?
He buys the high-tops.
Harlan, who had implored Orlando to think of his father, doesn’t even protest while Orlando takes the high-tops to be rung out. Spineless bastard. Hell, you can see the smug grin on Orlando’s face when he throws the shoes he was going to buy his dad offscreen before grabbing the high-tops. That’s not a lack of willpower in the face of temptation. That’s a deliberate fucking choice.
After commercial break, we drop into the middle of Orlando griping about the reverend talking him into singing for the choir- oh, for fuck’s sake, even Harlan points out how trivial that is compared to Irwin potentially killing them all because Marvin stole his money! But the griping doesn’t stop there. Oh, no! Orlando keeps on bitching! “This is wiggidy-wiggidy-whack. Without no plan, I’m no man!”
I know this character is a kid, but he is SO annoying! He never drops the insanely stereotypical slang for one goddamn minute, he’s thus far shown to be a selfish asshole with no redeeming qualities, and he’s the main character we’re supposed to empathize with?! In a cast full of Scrappies, Orlando sticks out like a bear on Avatar.
But the biggest problem with these characters?
They’re not characters. They’re caricatures. Speaking purely from personalities, who are these people? Harlan is a soft-spoken Pan-Africanist… maybe? Orlando is a selfish dick with a heart of gold… maybe? Dead Boy is… a revenant? Marvin is… Marvin?
You see? We don’t know who these characters are.
These are characters. And while they are drawn with some stereotypical mannerisms, those mannerisms aren’t distracting and they’re not drawn like they stepped out of a minstrel show into the ’90s for an update.
Anyway, Orlando practically shouts to the skies for someone to help him and the incompetent workers at Shoddy Construction – so clever, much wow – drop a couple steel beams and some mannequins several stories down that just so happen to land on the street in just the right choreography to form a cross and the Navity scene right before the kids’ eyes. Now, there’s the kind of signs people talk about like seeing Jesus’ face on a potato chip… and then there’s this blinking neon sign of divine intervention.
How do these dumbasses react to God clearly hocking up a fat one and spitting in the face of physics and gravity?
Orlando and his friends get cornered in an alley by Irwin (also voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) and his two henchmen. Irwin demands the kids spill the beans on what happened to his money.
Jesus. What is it with gangsters in these movies killing people over the equivalent of the cost of a Sega Saturn? Marvin lets Irwin know he’s not afraid of him, and Irwin leaves after an old man named Sockless Moe out selling socks… gets him to leave… somehow? Shit, Irwin even buys a single pair of socks with a fifty-dollar bill.
… Irwin, you’re willing to murder four teenagers over $322, but you’ll gladly waste $50 on a pair of raggedy socks?
After Irwin leaves, the old man tells the kids about his days in the Negro Baseball League back in 1938. Apparently, everyone on the team was named Moe, among them a player with a peg leg and a blind pitcher with his seeing-eye dog.
When Sockless Moe gets to the part of his story where he throws a playoffs game, Dead Boy questions the old man’s story by asking how he could’ve been in the playoffs during Christmastime. Orlando butts in, telling Dead Boy to let Moe finish his story- NO! Fuck you, Orlando! That is a perfectly legitimate question! How the hell was Sockless Moe in a playoffs game at Christmastime? What, he gets a pass to spin bullshit because he’s old? That’s how we got a bloviating cheeto elected Presid-
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!
So, the old man gives Orlando a pair of socks free of charge as a Christmas gift. Orlando comes up with the idea to give the socks to his dad for Christmas. His reasoning? “A-check-a-check it out! K: You wear socks on your feet. L: My father has feet. M: I’m the man with the plan…”
The next morning, everyone’s opening presents. Jarvis gets to touch Ewing’s sweat towel, which glows from inside its Tupperware container like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Orlando makes it perfectly clear to Jarvis she can only have the towel for one night and that it stays in the Tupperware. When it comes time for Orlando to give his dad the socks, his plan quite literally unravels.
Orlando’s mom decides to cover for him by saying the socks were just a prank and that Orlando’s real Christmas present would appear later at church. Orlando shakes his head at her in horror, knowing what she’s implying. She just nods her head right back, knowing she’s got him in a bind. Check. Mate.
Later that night, when everyone’s gone to church, Irwin shows up to intimidate Marvin into giving his money back. Marvin takes out the bag of money as the church’s collection plate is being passed around, and does hands down the ballsiest thing anyone’s done in this special.
So, Irwin reluctantly wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and leaves. A child-murdering son of a bitch he may be, but a godless child-murdering son of a bitch he is not.
Marvin and Charlene get back together due to Marvin’s selflessness. We then find Orlando singing “O Holy Night” in the church choir, and this causes everyone in the church to stop talking and take notice. Why? He sings alright, but it’s nothing that phenomenal to be worth jaws dropping. His dad even stands up to proudly proclaim, “Now, that’s a Christmas gift! Did ya hear? That’s my boy!”
… Your boy is a selfish twat.
No, seriously. He still has the high-tops he purchased earlier and still has not suffered any consequences for cheaping out on getting his dad something to help his feet for Christmas. He doesn’t learn a valuable lesson about… anything. He’s a selfish individual who never has to confront that part of himself the entire special, and I’m supposed to like him because he can stop being annoying for five seconds to sing a Christmas carol? Jar-Jar Binks barely talked in Attack of the Clones and everyone still hated that monstrosity. What makes Orlando different?
God, let’s get this over with. Coincidentally, the Christmas tour bus for Boyz II Men pulls up outside the church, and the members head inside to sing “Silent Night.” The special ends with this shot of a cop writing the bus a ticket while the makeshift Nativity scene towers overhead.
That was… painful.
You happy now, Machiavellian Television?
Well… if you twisted my arm, I suppose there are a couple characters that brightened this turd up, like Jarvis or Marvin. They didn’t make me want to eat my fingernails. When the animation doesn’t remind me of Al Jolson and actually bothers trying to make this special visually appealing, it’s… tolerable.
But those moments are so few and far between, all we’re really left with is a cast of walking, talking stereotypes. I’m not saying characters using slang is bad, but no one dedicates themselves this much to saying things like “wiggidy-wiggidy-wiggidy-wiggidy whack.” Even the voice-acting sounds phoned in, like Whoopi Goldberg and Reginald VelJohnson and everyone else got a call after breakfast, recited lines from the script that same day without any emotional inflections, and collected their paychecks before supper. I know all these talented people have gone on to do much better work, and Whoopi and Reginald had done better work.
So, there are two dominant issues with this special. The animation is largely terrible, and the writing is teeth-grindingly bad, at best, and offensively stereotypical, at worst. And people fucking wonder why Matt Damon telling Effie Brown diversity is more important in front of a camera than behind it due to the importance of merit was a condescending thing to say. Like writers and directors and producers and cinematographers and animators can’t be non-white and good at the same time. This special was directed and written by four white men, and it sucks balls.
I’m not saying that. Obviously, there are some amazing stories about people of color written by white dudes. Michael Roemer and Robert M. Young wrote Nothing But a Man, one of my favorite films of all time, and they’re both white. But the difference between those and the writers for this turd is that Roemer and Young actually traveled the South in 1964 and talked with real people. They put in some damn effort. Why? They wanted to portray the daily lives of black folks living under Jim Crow in a way that felt genuine.
Nothing about this entire special screams authenticity.
It was cheaply made, cheaply written, and I can see why Fox has never released a DVD of it that you can find anywhere. The thing about being a white creator crafting stories about people who aren’t white is this: All that “merit” and all those cookies your college professor gave you for writing screenplays mean absolutely jack if you think you can just skate by on the bare minimum when it comes to real people’s experiences. It’s like if you’re an elephant screenwriter in Zootopia making a movie about fish. No matter how good you are, you have to put in more hard work, not less or the same amount, to make the story feel sincere.
So… have I adequately suffered?
Is your sense of schadenfreude sated?
RATING: Set that shit on fire – 0 out of 5.
Coming up on December 29th, 2016:
The Wild West Samurai reviews the 1998 film Smoke Signals.