Originally published December 15th, 2012
OK, it’s almost Christmas – that is, if the world doesn’t end on Friday – and that means, of course, Christmas specials. In fact, around this time of year, I like to go on a ‘Scrooge binge’ and watch every adaptation of A Christmas Carol. An arbitrary tradition, yes, because of course, many would say that story has been adapted too many times.
Then again, there are only so many Christmas stories. You can’t throw a stone in December without hitting a sappy morality tale about the importance of family or a variation of It’s A Wonderful Life, or of course, the old chestnut of ‘saving Christmas’.
As the tagline of The Social Network can attest, you can’t make millions of friends without making a few enemies. Certainly this is the case with Santa Claus, whose life has been threatened by the likes of Dr. Claw, Dr. Robotnik, Jack Skellington and various other baddies (okay, Jack wasn’t really a baddy, but still.) And what better way to celebrate the holidays than to look at a story in this vein, Nilus the Sandman: The Boy Who Dreamed Christmas?
I know very very little about the Nilus the Sandman series, but from what I can gather, it involves the eponymous sandman going into children’s dreams to help them learn a lesson before they wake up and stare at a spinning top. One thing worth noting about the series is that Nilus was voiced by the late singer Long John Baldry, who is most well known on the internet for voicing the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog rendition of the aforementioned Dr. Robotnik. I’ll keep the pingas jokes to a minimum, thank you very much.
So yeah, Christmas special.
‘Maybe if I close my eyes and wish really hard…’ What a beginning. The special’s not afraid to tell us right up front that it’s going to be generic. Thanks for the warning. *mouse hovers over to x* Oh wait, I’m supposed to recap this thing.
So yeah, despite the fact that the majority of this special will be animated, the beginning is in live action. And that means…yeesh…live child actor. The bane of my soul. He’s doing the typical Christmas stuff, wishing for presents, leaving out milk and cookies…why do you Yanks do that? I always left out sherry and mince pies for Santa when I was a kid. Much nicer they were.
When the boy is tucked into bed by his folk, we find out his name is ‘Peter’ and his parents are just as bland as he is. Is the dad wearing glasses and a sweater? Of course he is. The parents leave, and Peter suddenly does an air guitar. What did I tell you? Baaane of my existence. He goes onto his computer just to look at his Christmas list: baseball glove, something that looks like a deformed Robocop, a radio, a…torch with a wide pencil attached to it? Oh, I guess it’s a spaceship; presumably a toy one even though the upcoming ‘don’t be greedy’ moral may hold more water if he wanted a real one. His top wish though, is for a new bike. Well, at least he’s active, much more than can be said about kids today.
‘I hope Santa can remember all this.’ Well, given that he’s an omniscient supernatural force that knows every iota of your person more than God does, yeah, it’s likely he’ll overlook the bootleg Robocop.
Peter then does what few children do on Christmas Eve – fall asleep. Then down comes the Sandman, looking much more jovial than when Neil Gaiman writes him. With a smidgen of dust – you don’t want to know what’s in it – Nilus pulls a Pagemaster on Peter and turns him into a cartoon. And…apparently he’s done the same for Peter’s whole city as well. Imagine how that’d turn out.
“Honey, why have my pupils turned into dots? And where has my other finger gone?”
“It’s probably just one of those annoying ‘Christmas miracle’ things.”
Okay, it’s not the real world, it’s just Peter’s dreams, apparently. So Peter meets Nilus, and while I said I wouldn’t make Youtube Poop jokes, I know Nilus is voiced by the guy who did Robotnik so I can’t hear anything else. Anyway, Nilus takes Peter into a really big shoe…
…and decides to take him to see Santa Claus, for Santa is Nilus’ cousin. That’s…a pretty damn common joke in cartoons, isn’t it? I can’t think of any specific examples off the top of my head, but in cartoons, there’s always someone related to a famous figure, and it’s always their cousins. Never a brother or an uncle or anything like that. Not complaining or anything, just saying.
Then a song. ‘If you look inside your heart…’ Yeah, I think we can skip that.
Just listen to how that kid says ‘Wow.’ He couldn’t be any more monotonous.
After more ads, Nilus and Peter go into Santa’s workshop, only to find it dusty and deserted. Oh, great. I can’t help but think of the Family Guy special ‘Road to the North Pole’, despite the fact this special aired years before that special. This guy says it better than I could.
So Santa is sitting around on his ass crying, and says that while the kids will get their presents, it won’t be from him. Well, he has been delivering gifts for about a century, maybe it is time for his golden watch. Just then, a trap door opens, revealing a line of miserable-looking elves and a sinister-sounding voice. Peter’s reaction to this? ‘Is that the toyshop? Can we go see it?’ he says with a big goofy grin on his face. I know, I know, childhood naiveté, but even a kid could see something was not right.
Despite the fact the place looks like shit now, there is an intercom there, where Santa communicates with the ‘Toy Master’ to give him permission to enter. The Toy Master sounds like he’s alternating between impersonating Tim Curry and a stereotypical game show host, scary voices to be sure. Apparently, Santa was unable to keep up with the workload, so he built the Toy Master to help him, but the ‘Master became evil and took over. Now wait, surely if Santa knows everyone in the world and can travel said world in one night, then surely he can do plenty in three hundred and sixty-four days. And oh yes, hear that? It’s the sound of the moral being hammered into your head.
Nilus, Peter and Santa descend into the Toy Master’s workshop and meet the Hellooo, nightmare fuel. The Toy Master is a gigantic clown popping up from a tiny jack-in-the-box, cackling madly and snarling at Peter. Props to you, Boy Who Dreamed Christmas. The best Christmas specials have villains who scare the shit out of eight-year olds, and the Toy Master fits the bill. Especially since his appearance and his voice imply he’s obviously based on Pennywise the Dancing Clown. That’s right; a Christmas special with a Stephen King villain trying to take Santa’s place. Just think, instead of seeing Santa munch mince pies in your living room, you see the culmination of your nightmares, offering you a balloon. Toy Master also gets points for acknowledging Peter as a ‘nuisance’. Maybe this special’ll be good after all!
In specials like this, it’s usually the villain that gets the best song, and this is no exception. The Toy Master gives the trio a tour of his factory to a pretty damn catchy tune. Under the rule of the Toy Master, Santa’s workshop has been upgraded to create toys at a quicker pace and in greater qualities. Oh no! What an evil villain he is! Making sure the children get everything they asked for, and making sure Santa got with the times! And he gets ticked at Peter for getting too close to the machinery like any factory tour guide would do, what an asshole!
The tour continues with Toy Master showing off his high-tech computers, which Peter, of course, fiddles with. Then Toy Master yells at an elf for accidentally knocking a spanner into some gears before telling Peter and co to amscray. So here’s the problem…well, a problem with this special; what really makes the Toy Master evil? He’s doing pretty much what Santa’s been doing for decades, only he’s doing it faster and more efficiently. None of the toys he makes seem to be defective at all, and there’s a greater quantity then Santa would have made. He yells at everyone, sure, but what boss doesn’t do that? Santa already forced the elves to make toys with minimal pay, and made poor reindeer fly over the world with little rest. If Santa used all this high-tech machinery, and he has in other specials, no-one would bat an eyelid. The Toy Master apparently hates kids, sure, but again, what toy company doesn’t?
The Grinch broke into people’s houses and took their shit. That’s evil. Mr. Potter was a right dick to George and screwed him over, and would have made the town sleazy if George was never born. Once again, evil. Even Scrooge would have been indirectly responsible for the death of Tiny Tim had things gone differently. The Toy Master is improving productivity in a workplace and is ensuring children the world over will be happy. That’s…evil?
The thing is, even though he’s not much of a villain, the Toy Master is still the only good thing about this special. He’s animated wildly, has the best song and I wish we could have seen more of him.
Then Santa, Peter and Nilus leave the factory, with Nilus remarking, ‘What a distressing dream this is turning out to be.’ So, this isn’t the real Santa’s workshop, it’s just a dream? The Toy Master is just a figment of Peter’s imagination – there was a punch clown that looked like him in the beginning, after all – and isn’t actually taking over Christmas? Well, all Peter has to do is wake up and everything will be fine then.
‘This isn’t Christmas!’ cries Peter in regards to the Toy Master’s factory…soulless manufacturing isn’t Christmas? That’s debatable. Santa then sings another boring song, this one about how kids want more than they used to. I Walked Ten Miles in the Snow When I Was Your Age: The Song! Skip skip skip.
Peter then gives the brilliant suggestion that Santa should only deliver one or two gifts to each kid, as the kids ‘only remember that one special gift’. Wh-wh-whaaat? Here’s a quote from that forum post I linked to regarding a similar plot point in Family Guy: ONE GIFT? The reason why that is such an awful idea is that now people are going to focus on that one gift. Yeah, it better be a damn good gift. Otherwise, you’re fucked. It makes people way too relient on the one gift they are receiving instead of the person thats giving it to you. Your preaching actually makes your aesop more selfish. If Peter only got the bike and nothing else, and the bike was a piece of shit that fell apart when he rode it, what would he do? And kids ‘only’ remember one gift? So all the presents they get from their friends and their siblings don’t mean crap? The presents they weren’t expecting but were a pleasant surprise anyway are nothing?
So how does Peter put his plan into action? Why, by hacking into the Toy Master’s computer and deleting items off of other kids’ wish lists, of course! Yes, he deletes a model-making set off some random kid’s list. What if that kid would have enjoyed the model more than whatever he had on the top of his list. No, bye bye toy. So, hey kids, you know that puppy you wanted? You ain’t getting it, it was lower on your list then that doll you kinda liked the look of. Wave goodbye to that iPhone, it was third on your list. Enjoy your spinning ballerina thing.
And get this, whenever Peter deletes something, one of the conveyer belts in the Toy Master’s factory disappears, along with the toys on it. The Toy Master then catches wind of what Peter is doing, gives him his bike and sends him on his way, only for Peter to drive the bike into some gears, blowing up everything. So yeah, assuming Santa let the Toy Master do all the work this year, a year’s work has just gone down the drain. Blowing up the factory meant all the toys were destroyed, and since the Toy Master was just about to start delivery, Santa has no time to make more toys. Even if all the kids in the world wanted only one present, that’s still a lot of toys to make. In this special, the bad guy was the one who tried to give kids what they wanted, while the good guy pretty much robbed them. But hey, kids need to be taught a lesson in greediness!
Unfortunately, Peter survived the explosion and ends up in Santa’s workshop, where elves are happily making toys, hip hip hooray.
Peter wakes up in live-action form once more, and opens his presents. And, wait…he got more than two! What? One of his presents is a toy train, which earlier on Santa said was his favourite toy. So, all that really did happen? It wasn’t just a dream? All the kids are going to wake up to find one present and nothing else?
Well, there you go. A heartwarming holiday tale where the hero destroys a character’s attempts to improve the holidays and screws kids out of most of their presents. I feel all tingly inside.