Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Gremlins (1984) (Movie Review)


     It’s the holiday season, no other time of year is more joyful or magical then this. So, what better way to close out Christmas then with a classic Horror movie from the 1980’s. Now the notion of a horror themed Christmas film has been done sense the early 1970’s, but the 1984 movie “Gremlins” is a special case in which it’s actually regarded as a Yuletide classic that’s celebrated year after year. Heck, putting aside Christmas, there are some who would still make the argument that “Gremlins” as a classic movie in general. While I personally can’t call this one of my favorite movies the same way many others easily could, I do still have a lot of fondness reserved for this film, and there is something special about it that’s tricky to describe. It’s such a unique film that’s very adult with most of its context, but it’s aimed toward kids. It’s branded as a horror film, but it’s watched around the Christmas season. It’s a crazy, hyper-active, monster run-amuck movie, but celebrated like any Hollywood masterpiece. Even when I was a little kid, I had no idea how to feel while watching this film, as it terrified me just as much as it made me laugh, and it was consistently entertaining to watch. There’s simply no other film like it, so it’s time to dust it off my movie shelf, give it another watch, and see what makes it so special after all these years.

      Our story begins with an inventor who’s looking for a special Christmas gift for his son Billy. He stumbles upon a beaten-up old antic shop where he discovers a most unusual, yet unavoidably lovable little furry creature named Gizmo, who’s instantly picked to be the special gift. Billy takes an immediate liking to his new pet, and a close friendship ensues between them. However, they’re three particular rules Billy needs to adhere to, and naturally he blunders every single one of them. Rule #1 … bright lights will hurt it, and the sun light is lethal. Rule #2 … don’t let him get wet or he’ll multiply into a bunch of nasty critters. Rule #3 … never feed them after midnight or those furry little critters will transform into savage monsters called Gremlins. After failing to follow three simple guide lines, Billy along with his little friend Gizmo do all in their power to stop the Gremlins from terrorizing their small town, and hopefully in the process … save Christmas from going to the monsters.

      It’s a very standard monster movie plot, but it’s lased with so many cornels of originality that it stands apart from other typical B horror movies. Most of this film’s success comes from all the right talents coming together to work on this project. Steven Spielberg at the height of his carrier produced this film, and while he didn’t direct, his finger prints are all over the film. There’s countless references to his movies ranging from “Indiana Jones” to “E.T.”, and he even has a walk by cameo. The screenplay was written by then new-comer Chris Columbus, who would later bring to life another Christmas classic “Home Alone”, and most famously direct the first two “Harry Potter” movies.
The director of the movie is Joe Dante, who was heavily influenced by “The Loony Toons” to give this movie the feel, and tone of a live action cartoon. Needless to say, it really helps give the film its own distinct identity. Other films in his carrier include “The ‘burbs” and “Innerspace”, yet “Gremlins” remains his magnum opus. Of course, Joe Dante would also direct other crazy kid films in the same vein as “Gremlins”, like “Small Soldiers”, and he even got his own shot at the Loony Toons with the 2004 movie “Loony Toons: Back in Action”. There’s even a scene in “Gremlins” where famous Loony Toon animator Chuk Jones makes an appearance commenting Billy on his sketch drawing, and all while a Loony Toon short plays on a TV in the background. Another very important talent to address is my personal favorite movie music composer … the late Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the music in “Gremlins”. His score for “Gremlins” is spot on, gives the film a lot of energy and again helps give the movie an identity. It’s such a bouncy and catchy score that you’ll be humming it to yourself for days after watching this.    

      Of course, the best thing about this movie by far are the Gremlins themselves, who are easily some of my all time favorite movie monsters. Unlike other films that involve creatures attacking people, the Gremlins have no clear evil motives, nor do they eat anyone, these guys just want to have a party and let loose, while all at the cost of the humans who all get trampled under their amusement. You could say the Gremlins represent an immoral side of ourselves that just wants to bust loose and have fun, regardless of how dangerous the fun might be to others. They almost behave like adolescent children, because at one moment they could be doing something terrible, but then they also watch “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, and they sing along with the songs and just enjoy themselves to the fullest. It doesn’t excuse their actions, but we still like them on some level, and it’s such a treat to see monsters convey so much personality. I also like how there’s that one Gremlin with a furry Mohawk that can be singled out as the leader, and lovingly nicknamed Stripe. He is the wickedest of the Gremlins and blessed with the vocal talents of the great Frank Welker, who’s one of the best animal/creature voice actors to ever live. He’s also famous for voicing various cartoon bad guys from shows like “Inspector Gadget” and “Transformers”.       

      Let’s talk about the effects, because these are easily some of the greatest monster effects and a true testament to the art of practical animatronics. There’s no CGI at all, everything is puppets and robotics performing in front of the camera, and even though I’m aware of that, they always felt real to me. The expressions and mannerism from both the Gremlins and Gizmo are so genuine that I never even think about that figurative “man behind the curtain”, or in this case men behind the puppets. Now I’ve talked a lot about the Gremlins, but our hero creature Gizmo shouldn’t be ignored, as he’s at the heart of the film. Back when I was a kid, I always wanted to reach into the TV screen, and take him for a pet myself. Actually, now that I think about it … I still want Gizmo as a pet. His relationship with the hero boy Billy also works well because they keep it subtle. It’s an admittedly cliched “boy and his pet scenario”, but the movie lets the relation play out in a humble way without forcing any overly toughing scenes on the audience. Zach Galligan is also very committed to the role, and kudos to him for keeping a straight face while talking all cutesy to a puppet like Gizmo.         

   Aside from all the memorable creatures that steal the show, this movie actually has a strong ensemble of human characters. There’s a goofy neighbor played by Dick Miller, and he’s always a welcome presence. Actually, he’s a regular actor in many of Joe Dante’s films including “The Twilight Zone: The Movie” and “Small Soldiers”. 
My favorite of the human characters is actually Billie’s father, an inspired inventor whose machines always go wrong. His contraptions bring a lot of comedy to the film, but the character himself is actually very charming, and an all-around lovable father. It could have been so easy to make him a one-note joke with failing inventions, but he really adds a warm presence to the film. Another memorable human character is this wicked old crone named Mrs. Deagle, who has a grudge against Billy, and his little dog too. She makes for a terrific villain character who’s just there to get a satisfying payoff when she encounters the monsters … and boy howdy is it satisfying. It’s one of the most brutal, yet hilarious payoffs a villain of this sort could possibly receive, and it’s a rare case in which we really cheer for the monsters. The only human character I never liked and felt could have been removed completely from the film was the girl friend played by Phoebe Cates, who could give Charlie Brown a run for his money about feel depressed around the holiday season. Of course, she has a very dark back story that explains everything, including why she “doesn’t believe in Santa”, but it never added anything to the film for me, nor did it get me invested in her character. Her back story by the way is so offbeat that it actually bothered me more than anything the creepy monsters did in the film.

    This brings me to my next subject of the film, which is its horror movie elements. While “Gremlins” is mostly a family comedy, it’s equally a horror film, and has some stand out creepy highlights that shocked my senses when I was a little kid. The best scene of all is the buildup to when the Gremlins take their new monster forms. There kept off screen for several minutes, yet there’s an eerie atmosphere, and sustained tension just building to when we finally see them. I love the details like the shadows casted on the walls, and the jump scares involving things popping out from either the foreground or the background. 
Each jump scare slowly reveals more of what the monsters look like, which in of itself is terrific filmmaking, and a great way of taking an old horror cliché and making it work. The scene in which the high-school doctor looks around his classroom for an escaped Germline is honestly more subtle and disturbing then most slasher movies, and the payoff is very effective. When Billy enters the classroom, he finds the doctors dead body on the floor with a lethal injection pumped into him, which is disturbing enough, but it also raises another alarming question … “just what the heck was this high school doctor doing with a lethal injection is his classroom?” Another scary highlight is the kitchen attack, in which Billy’s mother has to fight off multiple Gremlins at once, and it’s every bit as disturbing as it is awesome. She chops one up in a blender, stabs one with a kitchen knife, and blows up another in a microwave ... in short, it’s the greatest horror movie moment in which a generic mother can fight-off her attackers. It should be noted that this film along with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” are what lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating system. 

        Now for all the monster violence and scary scenes, the film consistently maintains the look and feel of a Christmas movie. It’s such a unique contrast, but the film really is shot and colored like any classic holiday film, and it just adds a different flavor to the experience. The opening title sequence alone captures the magic of any Christmas film, and boasts a catchy theme song that sounds just like something you’d hear on the radio this time of year. Gizmo is literally introduced to us as a Christmas gift that gets unwrapped. There’s moments with people just walking down the side walk while Christmas carolers are singing in front of homes, and there’s countless other little details and even memorable Christmas visuals. 
There’s the moment with Gizmo wearing a Santa hat, we have the Gremlins dressed like Christmas carolers, also the dog wrapped in colorful Christmas lights, there’s the one evil Gremlin popping out of the Christmas tree, and there’s even an effectively creepy usage of classic holiday tunes. My sister for example was never able to listing to the song “Do you Hear What I Hear” after watching this film. One of my favorite moments takes place after the Gremlins attacked the town, and features our surviving hero’s walking around the destruction, all while an eerie instrumental rendition of “Silent Night” plays in the background, and it really adds to the atmosphere. Perhaps the most shocking holiday image of all is seeing Santa Clause himself attacked by the Gremlins, while the cops are too dumbfounded to help. I really can’t think of any other horror movie that sparkles in that warm Christmas glow, while still being a creepy and violent monster flick.  

    Another charm this movie has going for it are all the movie references, trivia and homages on display. Seriously, if you’re a movie buff of any kind, you’ll love all the gags and details referencing other works. For example, the birth of the evil Gremlins is intercut with the characters watching “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, in which the film’s most famous line “There here already, your next!” reflects what’s about to transpire in the film. There’s a scene with the father at a Sci-Fi convention, and we can see the vehicle from “The Time Machine” in the background, which hilariously disappears between shots … as if it actually went to the future. Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet” also makes a cameo, which is great, I love it when that robot makes appearances in other works. There’s a theater that’s apparently playing two movies titled “A Boys Life” and “Watch the Skies” which were actually the working titles for Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. We even have the towns radio DJ marketing himself like “Indiana Jones”. Of course, it wouldn't be complete without references to other Christmas movies like "It's a Wonderful Life". Aside from the movie references, there’s other little jokes cleverly weaved throughout the film, including an “AMC Gremlin” that’s parked outside a gas station.

    The movie builds to an exciting finale, in which all the monsters are blown up in a theater, and Billy is lured into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the lead Gremlin Stripe in a shopping mall. This is where the film gets scary again, as the action gets really intense, and Stripes death is downright horrific as it features his body melting away into a nasty corps … its great stuff! One thing that always annoyed me is that after all Billy experienced, he still has to give Gizmo back to its original owner, ending the film on a bitter sweet note. One little detail that always stood out to me is that the music heard during this good-bye scene sounds just like the theme music from “Free Willy”. Now obviously “Free Willy” wouldn’t come out until years after “Gremlins”, but seriously, listen to the music in this scene again and tell me it’s doesn’t sound like that same “Free Willy” theme music.

     Before I wrap things up with my final verdict of the film, lets quickly look at the one and only sequel in 1990 titled “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”. This is one of those cases in which I can’t make any persuasive argument that this sequel is better than the first, but I certainly enjoy it more. I actually find this to be a very underappreciated sequel that might just be better than audiences give it credit for. You’d think that after the large fan base of the first “Gremlins”, the sequel would at least get some recognition. Well, then again, it’s not as subtle as the original, and is extremely over the top. It might just be the wildest sequel I’ve ever seen, full of forth wall jokes, movie references, and self-parodies ... kind of like the first film, but on steroids. Personally, that’s what I like about this film, as it’s just non-stop entertainment, and even builds on the original. Instead of watching Gremlins invade a city, this sequel confines them in a giant corporate building of sorts, which is a great way to change things up. We also get a variety of different Gremlins and designs on display which again keeps things feeling fresh and new. If you can get passed its mind-numbing overtones, you might just be able to have a really fun time with this film.  

    In the end, both “Gremlins” and its sequel were two of my favorite movies as a kid, and while they haven’t aged with like other childhood favorites have, they are still a tone of fun to watch, and still very unique. I’ll say this, if you’re in the mood for an offbeat horror movie to watch for Christmas, things don’t get any better than “Gremlins”. It’s still the definitive scary holiday film for kids and families to watch around the holiday season. I can’t make a persuasive argument that everyone will get into the films over the top behavior and strange tone, but it is still a small classic. I loved it as a kid, and it’s an important reminder of how to take a clichéd concept like monsters invading a small town, then given new life through a smart screen play, and suddenly it feels wildly original.

Thanks for reading my review of the 1984 Horror Christmas classic “Gremlins” ... and I wish you all both pleasant dreams and happy holidays!    


My Top 10 Favorite Animated Christmas Episodes

     For every TV series I grew up with or still watch today, I always look forward to the annual Christmas episodes. It’s a special time when an all too familiar TV program can get a Bright Colorful makeover and swim with the best of what one of my favorite holidays has to offer. Originally, I was going to countdown my top 10 favorite Christmas episodes from any TV program, but then I realized that there’s more than enough live action Christmas Sit-com episodes to fill its own top 10 list. So, to make sure that I highlight as many great Christmas episodes as I can, I’m going to keep it simple and just stick to episodes from animated programs. Also, I’m not including TV specials like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” because they weren’t actually episodes from a TV show, they were just specials featuring the popular characters. With all that said, here are my personal top 10 favorite Christmas episodes from animated TV shows.

#10 “Xmas Marks the Spot” from “The Real Ghostbusters” 
(Season 1 - Ep.13) 

    You’d think that the Ghostbusters would be the least likely to have a Christmas themed episode, let alone a good one, but the set up for their yuletide outing is quite clever. On their way home for Christmas Eve, the Ghostbusters find themselves unexpectedly tossed into the past where they aid a man who’s being haunted by three spirits. Once their task in complete they return to their present time only to find that no-one is celebrating Christmas anymore. Turns out that the man they aided in the past was none other than Ebenezer Scrooge himself, the ghosts were the Christmas spirits of past, present and future, and with their absence, everyone in the world is acting just like Scrooge. So, through a series of time-travel and journeying into a spiritual astral plane to rescue the Christmas spirits, it becomes a wild adventure with our hero’s aiming to restore the holiday. It’s a very creative merging of both Ghostbusters and the dickens classic. There’s even a touching arc revolving around the Ghostbuster Venkman as he never appreciated the holiday until it was gone. I think a lot of people can take something from the concept of not appreciating something precious until it’s not there anymore.       

#9 “Have Yourself a Morlock Little Christmas” from “X-Men: The Animated Series” 
(Season 4 – Ep.12) 

     When you combine superheroes with Christmas, you still expect some flashy action, just with a Christmas décor. However, this special Christmas X-Men episode takes a very mature approach by putting the action on hold, shelving the villains and gives us a touching story about giving to those less fortune. That may sound odd for the X-Men to pull off, but it’s executed very well, and they have a good set-up. While shopping for gifts, our hero’s notice a group of homeless mutants called the Morlocks stealing medical supplies. Turns out that a small mutant boy is at deaths door and our hero’s need to find a cure, which means canceling all their holiday plans to save the child. Thanks to the quick heroics of Wolverine, the boy is saved, and Jubilee gives all her gifts to the homeless, making it their best Christmas they’ve ever had. It’s simple, strait forward, and quiet refreshing for once to just see comic book characters act less “super-hero” and more “charitable-hero”.    

#8 “Xmas Story” from “Futurama” 
(Season 2 - Ep.8) 

     While I prefer Christmas specials or episodes that focus on the charity and beauty of the season, I do occasionally enjoy Christmas with some dark comedy thrown in. In this regard, “Futurama” gets it just right in their very first Christmas episode titled “Xmas Story”. In this shows odd-ball setting of the future, Christmas is a time when families and friends are brought together, not through peace or love, but because there’s a crazy, laser gun shooting robot Santa who’s determined that everyone’s holiday is a real “BLAST”. However, the boy from the past named Fry is feeling nostalgia for the original spirit of Christmas and is determined to go out and get his girlfriend Leela a present … even if that means battling an evil robot Santa in the prosses. It’s a hilarious concept with no shortage of funny quirks, like how a mistletoe is no match for robot Santa’s toe-missile. The animation on “Futurama” is already bright, colorful, and detailed, so it’s all the more appealing for a Christmas episode. John Goodman is fantastic as the evil Santa robot, and it’s pretty surreal hearing him as the voice of a villain, as opposed to all the nicer cartoon characters he usually voices. Also, despite all the over blown comedy and action, this episode still retains some spirit of the holiday and features some touching character moments. The scenes between Fry and Leela are quite charming and I love Leela’s statement that despite how they both feel alone in the universe, on Christmas they can at least be lonely … together. Funny, colorful, and unlike any other holiday episode, “Futurama’s” “Xmas Story” has become a small classic, and a surprisingly appealing off set to what we usually get for Christmas.   

#7 “Holiday Knights” from “The New Batman Adventures” 
(Season 4 – Ep.1) 

    This is actually the first of two Batman themed Christmas episodes, and while that may seem a little repetitive, I couldn’t imagine leaving either of them off my list. “Holiday Knights” takes a very different approach for a Christmas themed episode as it’s an anthology revolving around various events throughout the month of December in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne has to escape the clutches of both Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn who are taking advantage of his money to go on a Christmas shopping spree. Two police officers disguised as a mall Santa and an attractive elf find themselves aiding Bat Girl in taking out Clayface. Then it all comes to a close with a New Years eve celebration in which the Joker threatens to bomb time square. Each event has their own holiday appeal, the animation is great and it’s just another really cool merging of Christmas with super hero action.   

#6 “Holidays of Future Passed” from "The Simpsons
(Season 23 - Ep.9) 

     Oh boy, “The Simpsons” have had no shortage of memorable Christmas themed episodes, especially their very first episode “Simpsons Roasting Over an Open Fire”, but my personal favorite without a doubt is “Holidays of Future Passed”. Most fans say the show died after season six, but I’d like to argue that there’s at least a handful of worthwhile episodes to come out in the new millennium. Case in point, I honestly think this episode from the twenty-third season has an absolutely perfect blending of classic Simpsons hummer and some genuinely touching moments. This episode is set years in the future and focuses on the struggles of the now grown-up Simpsons kids and the hardships their going through with their own children. Lisa doesn’t know how to connect to her doubter, Bart is a divorced dad trying to rekindle with his kids, Maggie is a pop superstar who’s going into labor (we hilariously still never hear her speak), and in a very cool twist, Homer Simpson himself has changed from a dead-beat dad to an awesome and loving grandfather. There’s lots of terrific jokes revolving around the future setting, and there’s great satire on how the youth of this new generation are becoming empty shells that just plug into the internet. The real strength of this episode are all the touching interactions between the characters as they question weather or not they made the right decisions in their lives, and how maybe it’s not too late to change for the better. The scene with grown-up Lisa and Bart sharing a drink while in their childhood tree house is one of my favorite moments that really hit this Christmas special home. Finally, I love how this episode is book-ended with the family Christmas photos, which is another charm that I just find touching. There’s plenty of good Simpsons Christmas episodes out there, but for me it’s “Holidays of Future Passed” that has the most staying power.   

#5 The Various Animaniacs Christmas Episodes 

      Now I’ve been very selective with previous Christmas episodes from shows like “The Simpsons” and “Futurama”, but for Animaniacs I just couldn’t bring myself to highlights one Christmas episode over another. Granted not every Animaniacs Christmas short hits a bull’s eye, but the ones that are good are worth grouping together. Naturally the Animaniacs have their own stab at “A Christmas Carol” titled “A Christmas Plotz”, which revolves around the grouchy WB studio manager who’s visited by the ghostly characters from the novel, but all lovingly played by our favorite Warner characters. They also have their own version of “The Night Before Christmas” titled “Twas the Day Before Christmas”, which brings all the shows characters together for a funny little retelling of the classic poem. A favorite of mine is “Little Drummer Warners”, which is a strait forward musical telling of the nativity story, with the Warners bringing the gift of music. My absolute favorite by far is their “Noel” short, which is a loving and very creative parody of the famous Noel song. With upbeat music, colorful animation, and no shortage of funny highlights, the various Animaniacs Christmas episodes always have something special to add to the holiday season. 

#4 “On Angles Wings” from “X-Men: Evolution” 
(Season 2 – Ep.07) 

    The X-Men again make it on my countdown, but this time it’s from a different animated series, and personally this is the one I have more nostalgia for. It’s Christmas time in New York, and a new mutant with angle wings is getting the attention of the public. Some see him as a freak, while others view him as a guardian angel watching over the city. It’s not long before his activities get the attention of our hero’s and their arch enemy Magneto, who has his own interest in the young guardian. For an X-Men episode, this one contains all the good stuff ranging from touching character moments, to exciting battles with one of the shows best villains. However, it also works especially well as a Christmas episode. I love the way this was shot and paced, as it features some really nice quiet moments that allow both the visuals and music to create some rich atmosphere. We get some nice scenes of snow-covered New York locations at Christmas time, including Central Park, Washington Square and Rockefeller Center, and I just love looking at all the decorative details. I also admire this episode for focusing on the more spiritual side of Christmas, which is something that we don’t usually see in cartoons aimed at children. Cyclops ponders the possibility of a real guardian angel, Beast quotes a passage of the Bible (from Hebrews 13-2) and the climactic battle takes place inside a church. I don’t know if I can recommend this episode to anyone not familiar with the source material, but it’s definitely special to me, and one of my all time favorite Christmas themed superhero outings. 

#3 “A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” from “Pinky and the Brain” 
(Season 1 - Ep.8) 

     Now here’s a special case in which a single Christmas episode from a TV show was so good that it’s become a small classic in its own right. Perhaps I should say that it’s become a tradition for fans to re-watch this every year. I personally didn’t appreciate “Pinky and the Brain” as a kid, even when they were on TV it was something that I just watched passively. Looking back as an adult, these guys are more charming then I realized, and yes … to call this a great Christmas themed episode is an understatement. It’s Christmas eve and the Brain has devised a brilliant new plan to take over the world, and it all involves mass-produced hypnotizing dolls hidden away in Santa’s toy bag. It features all the funny shenanigans and colorful animation you’d expect from Pinky and the Brain, as well as some really clever lines. One of my favorite jokes revolves around the reindeer Donner who’s throwing a Christmas party, to which the Brain responds by saying that it’s probably not wise to attend “the Donner Party”. Of course, the most famous part of the episode is the ending, which was so powerful it’s reportedly made grown men cry. While I can’t say I actually cried during this finally, I will say that I got more chocked up then I’d ever expect watching a “Pinky and the Brain” cartoon. If you never grew up with Pinky and the Brain, I’d still recommend looking up this episode, as it really is something worth seeing for the Christmas season.       

#2 “Christmas with the Joker” from “Batman: The Animated Series” 
(Season 1 – Ep.02) 

    It’s Christmas eve, The Joker has escaped from prison, he’s openly attacking the city and our hero has to stop him. Not sense “Die Hard” has a Christmas special been this explosive and action packed. Now passed super-hero Christmas episodes on my list have had some kind of special moral or substance attached, but this episode really has nothing at the center … yet, it’s still kind of perfect. It’s got great holiday visuals spread throughout, the music puts you in the Christmas mood and it’s just a plain awesome set-up to see Batman battle the Joker in a colorful holiday environment. The action is thrilling, as is expected with Batman, but there’s a really cool variety on display ranging from a derailed train, to a cannon blasting the city, to fights with giant tin soldiers. The song “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” really sparked in popularity among kids of my generation thanks to this episode. There’s just something about the strait forward simplicity of this episode that makes it work so well, and it’s become a small tradition for me to watch it every holiday season. It may not have much of a message at the center, but it’s consistently entertaining, it has the Christmas décor upped to eleven and with Batman and the joker at the center of it all, it’s just enough to stand as one of my personal favorite animated Christmas episodes.

Before I reveal my #1 favorite, here are some Honorable Mentions … 

Pluto's Christmas Tree” from “The Mickey Mouse Cartoons
Reinforcement” from “Spectacular Spider-Man

A Jolly J-Team Xmas” from “Jackie Chan Adventures

Comfort and Joy” from “Justice League

A Very Possible Christmas” from “Kim Possible

#1 “Frozen Out” from “Static Shock” 
(Season 2 – Ep.05) 

     Once again we have another super hero Christmas episode, but this one has its own distinct strengths that for my money surpass any of the previously mentioned. The holidays have come, but Dakoda’s young hero Static Shock isn’t feeling the magic as he’s stuck in the rush of attending countless public events, while also trying to attend various parties for his friends of different faiths. Things take a sudden dark turn with the appearance of a new super-powered girl calling herself Permafrost, who’s threatening the city with relentless cryokinetic abilities. It’s eventually revealed that Permafrost is a homeless girl who suffers from mental problems stemming from her mother's death and stepfather's neglect. The built-up trauma makes her unable to control her powers, especially when people ignore her when she asks for money or food. Static eventually finds Permafrost and, rather than fighting her, offers her aid, and through this event our hero learns the true meaning of the holidays. I distinctly remember being a little kid, waking up Saturday morning, watched this episode when it first premiered and I just felt very moved by what I was watching. 

The message is similar to one of my previously mentioned “X-Men” episodes, but this time it’s taken one step further than merely giving to those in need. This episode is also about “acknowledgment”, and making sure that those less fortune don’t become faceless figures to just be branded as “homeless”. I find that a really powerful message, as well as admirable to convey in a kid’s super-hero program. It’s also handled with a mature presentation that doesn’t come off as preachy. There’s also some dramatic content that’s quite intense for a program of this sort (a sick mother dying on Christmas eve being one of them), but it feels earned and allows for some genuinely powerful moments. While many of the episodes mentioned on my list are just personal favorites I like to talk about, this episode is something I highly recommend watching this Christmas, even if you’re not familiar with the series. It’s a Christmas episode that took risks, maintains the upbeat spirit of the show, and has the courage to cover some genuinely deep topics that few other animated programs of this sort look into.