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Scrooge Month Day 17: Daffy Duck in BAH HUMDUCK! A LOONEY TUNES CHRISTMAS (2006)

Bah Humduck 2006Director: Charles Visser

Writer: Ray DeLaurentis, based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Cast: Joe Alaskey, Bob Bergen, Billy West, June Foray, Maurice LaMarche, Jim Cummings, Tara Strong

Notes: This is actually the second time the Looney Tunes characters have tackled Dickens, the first being in the 1979 short, Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol. I would have included that in this little experiment, because at only eight minutes it would have been the easiest article ever, but it doesn’t appear to be available on DVD at the moment. Warner Bros should get on that. Anyway, in this version we see Daffy Duck (voice of Joe Alaskey) cast as the owner of the Lucky Duck Superstore in the Scrooge role. Although the Looney Tunes characters basically play themselves, they fill in the assorted Christmas Carol roles appropriately. Porky Pig (Bob Bergen) is Daffy’s assistant manager and the stand-in for Bob Cratchit. Bugs Bunny (Billy West) kind of takes nephew Fred’s place, although the role is somewhat expanded. Sylvester “the Investor” (Alaskey)  is our Jacob Marley substitute, Porky’s daughter Priscilla (Tara Strong) fills in for Tiny Tim, and the ghosts are filled up by a tag-team of Granny (the legendary June Foray) and Tweety (Begen) for the past, Yosemite Sam (Maurice LaMarche) for the present, and the Tasmanian Devil (Jim Cummings) for Christmas Future.

Thoughts: The Looney Tunes characters, traditionally, have not proven to be quite as versatile as the Disney crew. While Mickey and Company can star in more traditional versions of Dickens, The Prince and the Pauper, The Three Musketeers and the like, it’s much harder for the Looney Tunes to do so. They shouldn’t be embarrassed by this – it’s because they’re just plain funnier, and therefore it’s harder to wedge them into a drama. That said, Ray LeLaurentis managed to match them to the Dickensian roles in this film pretty neatly.

Daffy, as the head of a superstore, hates Christmas and families, mostly because he never had either of his own. Early on we see him being terrible to assorted Looney Tunes characters in assorted ways, most cleanly when he dismisses Assistant Manager Porky’s wish to spend Christmas with his family. Daffy may not be the most Scrooge-like of the Looney Tunes characters, being more of a grump than a skinflint, but he’s their biggest star that could fit the role. As such, the film doesn’t paint him as a spendthrift the way Scrooge usually is, but just somebody with a nasty disposition who decides to target Christmas with his ire.

“Sylvester the Investor” is a former CEO and idol of Daffy’s, not specifically his old partner, and he’s the character that really made the continuity geek that lives in my brain full-time struggle. There are two ways the Looney Tunes are usually portrayed: either as “themselves,” living an ostensibly normal life while going through wacky adventures; or as actors in crazy cartoons playing crazy roles. This movie seems to exist in some sort of weird in-between place. Daffy is himself, Porky, Elmer Fudd, Marvin the Martian and many of the others are his employees. But Sylvester and the ghosts come across more like the “actor” versions of the characters. There is, of course, the possibility that I’m simply expending way too much energy trying to rationalize the structure of a Looney Tunes movie.

After Marley’s visit, Daffy continues to torment his employees, even announcing that the store will be open from 5 a.m. to midnight on Christmas Day, making this 2006 movie seem sadly prophetic. He and Bugs wind up trapped in the store overnight, though, giving us the biggest Looney Tunes star at vital points of the tale. Granny and Tweety pop in as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and take Daffy back to the Lucky Duck Orphanage where he grew up. Lucky Duck, as it seems, didn’t live up to its name for Daffy. We’re shown a Christmas where he is literally the only child at the orphanage who does not get adopted. The scene is so pathetic that even the ghosts cry for him, until they snap out of it and Tweety lays a verbal smack-down on him and Granny tells him his own lousy childhood doesn’t give him the right to ruin everybody else’s Christmas.

Yosemite Sam, who played Scrooge in Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol, here dons the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present. He whips Daffy around to show him how sad his various employees are, ending it with Porky telling adorable little Priscilla he can’t be with her on Christmas. When she asks him why Daffy’s so mean, Porky tells her it’s probably because he doesn’t have a family to spend it with. She wishes on a star that Porky could spend Christmas with her instead of going to work, and Sam smacks Daffy upside the head. Seriously, Daff, when Yosemite Sam is calling you out for being a jerk, you know you’ve gone too far.

Daffy finds Bugs decorating the store for Christmas and begs him to hide him from the final ghost, giving Bugs the chance to reenact a classic sequence of brutally bad hiding places from one of his old cartoons. None of it will protect him from the Tasmanian Devil as Christmas Future, though. Although Priscilla isn’t sick like Tiny Tim, Daffy sees a future where he’s dead and the store is closed thanks to his stupid effort to leave it to himself in his will. Now all of the employees are out of work just in time for Christmas. Just to drive the nail in, Priscilla promises to visit Daffy’s grave every Christmas. Taz weeps openly and Daffy asks for a second chance.

Well c’mon, it wouldn’t be much of a story if he didn’t get one, would it?

Back home, Daffy finds a frozen Fudd who informs him it’s still Christmas, and Daffy declares there’s work to do. When the employees return to the store in the morning, Daffy starts handing out gifts: a rocket for Marvin so he can go home for the holidays, a chef for the perpetually starving Wile E. Coyote, and raises and vacations all around. His 20-second interaction with Speedy Gonzales makes the whole film worthwhile.

As Daffy looks around he almost relapses, realizing how much the raises and vacations are going to cost him, but Priscilla’s grateful words to “Uncle Daffy” cut him off. She also gets the last word – not “God bless us, everyone,” but swiping her Dad’s usual proclamation of “That’s all, folks!”

The cartoon – at a brisk 45 minutes – doesn’t spend a lot of time on the details of Dickens. Instead, it uses the classic framework to tell a story with more original characters and a lot of old-school Looney Tunes slapstick. These are timeless characters that still make me laugh when they’re done right, and for the most part, this special pulls it off. I’ve actually enjoyed the new Looney Tunes Show the Cartoon Network airs, but this slightly more traditional version of the characters is always going to be where my heart lies.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

Scrooge Month Day 10: Fred Flintstone in A FLINTSTONES CHRISTMAS CAROL (1994)

Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994)Director: Joanna Romersa

Writer: Glenn Leopold, based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Cast: Henry Corden, Jean Vander Pyl, Frank Welker, B.J. Ward, Russi Taylor, Don Messick, John Stephenson, Marsha Clark, Will Ryan, Brian Cummings, John Rhys-Davies, Joan Gerber, Maurice LaMarche, Rene Levant

Notes: This TV movie has become a staple of the Cartoon Network family of TV channels in recent years. Like Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, this film also uses the conceit of the familiar characters putting on a theatrical production of the classic novel by “Charles Brickens”(voiced by John Rhys-Davies). The Flintstones do much more with that concept than Magoo did, though. There are a few Flintstones-centric subplots that run through the story – Fred (Henry Corden) is so caught up with playing Scrooge that he’s ignoring his friends and family at Christmas and allowing his ego to overwhelm him. Wilma (Jean Vander Pyl) is the stage manager of the play, which leaves her hands full to begin with, but things get even worse as different members of the cast come down the with 24-hour “Bedrock Bug” and are unable to perform. Adaptations of A Christmas Carol featuring classic characters seem to be cursed – like Clarence Nash saying goodbye to Donald Duck in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, this was the final time Vander Pyl, Wilma’s original voice, played the character before her passing. Besides Fred as Ebonezer Scrooge (get it?), the Christmas Carol cast includes Barney Rubble (Frank Welker) as Bob Cragit, Betty (B.J. Ward) as Mrs. Cragit, Bamm-Bamm (Don Messick) as Tiny Tim, and Fred’s boss Mr. Slate (John Stephenson) as Jacob Marbley. Wilma gets called upon to play several parts as the actors drop out, including Belle and Christmas Past. The other Ghosts and the rest of the significant roles are filled by obscure or new Flintstones characters.

Thoughts: This film came out at a weird time in Flintstones history. It was the same year as the weak live-action Flintstones movie, and a year after two made-for-TV Flintstones movies which featured Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm as adults getting married, then having babies (twins). For them to step back to the classic era of the cartoon the next year was an interesting choice, but seeing as how they’ve done very little (by which I mean nothing) with the older versions of the characters in the two decades since, I imagine this film was their quiet concession that the characters work best frozen in the eternal forms they enjoyed in the classic TV series.

This is all to say: it’s a pretty good movie.

The Christmas Carol segments are relatively faithful to the book. The characters are true to themselves and they each fill the expected, suitable niche in the story. After watching nine different Christmas Carols though – eight of which are more or less straight-up retellings of the novel – it’s a nice change of pace to see this rendition. With the wraparound story, we don’t actually start the retelling of A Christmas Carol until a full 16 minutes into this 69-minute film. Once we actually get there, it’s nice to see some real “acting,” such as it is. Fred as Scrooge, for example. While it’s true he’s often a loud, obnoxious blowhard in the classic cartoons, he’s almost never pictured as being particularly stingy or cruel. In fact, the character’s biggest fault is that he goes to outrageous extremes in an attempt to provide a life far beyond his reach for his wife and daughter, hardly the actions of a traditional Scrooge. To compensate for the fact that Fred-as-Scrooge isn’t as obvious a comparison as, say, Scrooge McDuck, the movie takes its time to show you how being the star of the play has inflated his ego. Now they’re playing off an established character trait to turn his friends and family against him, making him a better fit for the part. The Fred-centric subplot runs throughout the film, whenever a scene of the “play” ends. He comes offstage bragging about the applause he’s gotten, frustrating Barney and Wilma to no end. It gets even worse when intermission hits and he realizes he left the presents he bought for Wilma and Pebbles at the store, then races out of the theatre to try to fetch them. He winds up having to break into the store, only to get busted by the police. Lucky for him, it’s his buddy Philo Quartz (Rene Lavert), who’s playing Christmas Future and needs to get him back to the theatre in time.

During Christmas Past, the actresses playing both the Ghost and Belle get sick and have to drop out, leaving Wilma to play the roles. Although we get the usual scenes of Scrooge in school, partying with Fezziwig (Barney again) and ultimately losing Belle, there’s an added subtext here. Wilma is legitimately pissed, and Fred – still focusing on his starring turn – can’t understand why.

Christmas Present is the only scene where the Bedrock Bug doesn’t cause havoc. Brian Cummings voices “Ernie,” the ghost who shows him the party at nephew Ned’s and the tender scene at the Cragit home. I know I made the same crack about the Flintstones celebrating Christmas in a time before Christ last year, but this time it’s really glaring. Barney delivers the old line about Tiny Tim hoping people remember “who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.” It’s a beautiful line, of course, one of Dickens’s best, and a vital reminder of the true reason for the Christmas season. But still, Barney, how can people remember a man who hasn’t been born yet?

Ah well. Sacrifices must be made in the name of great cinema.

Christmas Yet to Come is traditionally hooded and silent, and shows Scrooge the traditional scenes. The big curve ball here doesn’t come until the play is actually over, when Fred goes to congratulate Philo on his performance only to find that Philo got struck down with the Bedrock Bug, and Christmas Future was played by none other than his old pal Dino, putting in the greatest canine performance since Rin-Tin-Tin.

In the end, Pebbles (voiced by Russi Taylor) steals Bamm-Bamm’s “God bless us, everyone” line when he gets stage fright. The play over, though, everybody quickly turns on Fred. Fred apologizes to Wilma and the others for real, and they eventually, begrudgingly forgive him. This is the only spot where the movie falls flat. Although we see Scrooge going through his traditional redemption cycle, there’s never anything that indicates any sort of redemption for Fred. It’s as if Scrooge’s life lessons somehow apply to Fred as well, and work their magic on him. Even if we’re to assume that’s the case, why is the lesson only hitting him now, on the night of the performance, instead of the weeks of rehearsal leading up to the production? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Speaking of the production, let’s hear it for the Bedrock Community Players, can we? Their stage values are absolutely phenomenal. Somehow they have a full-size reproduction of the city on their stage, along with living dinosaurs and real snow, to say nothing of how they somehow make Fred and the Ghosts turn transparent in full view of the audience. I don’t mind tell you, friends, I’ve done my share of community theatre, and there have been times when we have it rough enough just trying to get the fog machine to work. If we could make our actors intangible, people would be abandoning New Orleans to see our performances in droves.

This is not, by any stretch, one of the all-time great productions of A Christmas Carol, but if you’re a fan of the Flintstones – which I am – it’s a fun little departure from the norm and worth watching each Christmas season.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!