Nothing gets me more excited for a holiday than watching themed specials and episodes about it on TV, and Christmas is certainly no exception. Growing up, I loved watching reruns of animated Christmas specials throughout December, and I still do to this day. Since I’m in a festive mood, I want to spend the next few weeks talking about some of my beloved childhood specials, as well as what they say about Christmas, and, since I’m still a sucker for alliteration, I’m going to focus on the specials made by the Cartoon Cartoons.
For those that don’t know, Cartoon Cartoons is the brand Cartoon Network used to mark a number of the original shows it produced from 1996 to 2003, most of which have Christmas specials. If you’ve got a sec, have a cup of eggnog and join me while I talk about them. Who knows, maybe we’ll learn about the true meaning of Christmas together.
Since December 6th is Codename: Kids Next Door’s thirteenth anniversary, I think it’s only fair to start things off with it’s Christmas episode “Operation: N.A.U.G.H.T.Y.” For those unaware, the show is about a group of highly trained, numerically codenamed kid agents (Numbuhs 1 through 5) who battle against evil adult supervillains for kids worldwide. What makes this Christmas special so, well, special is that it’s a comic book parody, and what kid doesn’t love comics? Specifically, it parodies Marvel comics, so Marvel fans will especially enjoy this episode. The story is framed through a comic book, with an eager, Stan-lee inspired narrator recounting the tale to us “true believers” through comic panels and excited commentating.
In the intro, we see Santa’s elves happily at work in his workshop, before they’re paid a visit by a mysterious group of kids looking suspiciously like our main characters. The invaders, kind of brutally, put the elves to sleep using dart guns laced with knockout gas. Perimeter secured, the kids descend to the core of the workshop, detaining Santa and acquiring a certain object.
Amidst the special’s mindless comic book fun, there’s still a message of yuletide goodwill, explored mostly through Numbuhs 3 and 4. After the intro, the team flies home from a difficult mission. Filled with Christmas cheer, Kuki (Numbuh 3) holds the fruit of their labor: her present for Wally (Numbuh 4). Excited to give gifts to her friends, Kuki gets disappointed by the discovery none of her friends got her Christmas gifts, including Wally, nervously stuffing his face with French fries to awkwardly avoid the truth. Wally and Kuki have a bit of a thing for each other, making his thoughtlessness, especially hurtful to Kuki. Nevertheless, she takes solace in remembering that it’s better to give than receive.
Upon arrival, the kids are confronted by an agent of Santa’s, a feral elf with bones and claws made of solid “Peppermintium” (sound familiar?). Seeking Santa’s REINDEER, he demands Kuki’s present, and, when the kids don’t comply, summons his own team, Elfa Strike, to take it back in the name of Christmas. This prompts a really fun fight scene introducing each member of the superpowered Christmas team, each one a clear nod to a Marvel character: Wintergreen (Wolverine), Nutcracker (Nightcrawler), Snow Angel (Storm/Angel/Snowbird), Coniferous (Colossus). Why does Santa need a team of mutant elves working on his behalf? Well, what better way to spread Christmas cheer than beating it into people?
Here it’s obvious that even the plot structure of this episode pays tribute to typical superhero team-up stories: Villainous deception causes a misunderstanding among heroes, prompting them to fight each other, but, after their skirmish exposes the villain’s plans, the heroes unite to stop him. After their Christmas kerfuffle, it’s revealed that Kuki’s gift isn’t Santa’s REINDEER but a toy she got from the mall, leading to the discovery that the Kids Next Door were framed by their archenemies the Delightful Children From Down the Lane. Everyone sets off to Santa’s workshop, where the DCFDTL are still holding both Santa and his REINDEER captive.
We learn that Santa’s REINDEER is actually a hi-tech system that allows him to instantaneously transport gifts to kids worldwide (a Santa Cerebro), and the Delightful Children basically pull a Grinch and use it to steal Christmas. Eventually, they’re defeated (but not before another kerfuffle with another holiday hero team, the Faculty Four of Substitute Teacher’s day…look it up), and, after one more incident, which I’ll talk about in a moment, Christmas is saved.
It’s a straightforward story with a bit of a plot hiccup (how did anyone even know the REINDEER was stolen if Santa, the one holding on to it, was stuck downstairs with the DCFDTL, who apparently never left the workshop, the whole time?), but the comic book themes make it unique and a lot of fun. It’s clear that the makers behind this episode loved to read comics while growing up, and, as a fellow nerd, I can’t help but appreciate it. What’s more, it fulfils its duty as a Christmas special by expressing how goodwill and Christmas can be spread among us.
It reminds us that, though we can’t control how others act towards us, we can control how we act towards others. Take Numbuh 3. Full of Christmas spirit, she’s cheerful, selfless, and always happy to give gifts. While it’s sad that none of her friends felt quite the same way towards her this Christmas, she maintains that selfless spirit. She aggressively fights off a group of mutant super elves to protect her gift to Numbuh 4, which is more than what most people would do for people that mistreat them. It’s only after she gets corrupted by the REINDEER, just liberated from the DCFDTL, things turn for the worse. Believing she deserves something for all the good she’s done and the times she’s been neglected, Kuki turns green and envious with the desire to hoard all of the gifts for herself, threatening to destroy Christmas as an angel of avarice (how’s that for a climax to a Christmas special?).
Whether we accept it or not, our actions affect others, especially around Christmastime. Sure, we might not make drastic actions that threaten to destroy Christmas (at least not this year), but there are subtler actions or inactions we can make that can have just as big an impact, even without ill-intentions. Wally didn’t get a gift for Kuki because he dislikes her. As a testosterone-filled, roughhousing boy, he’s just awkward at showing affection, especially to the opposite gender. He’s probably not used to giving gifts. Nevertheless, his insensitivity affects Kuki badly. Fortunately, when things are at their bleakest, Wally redeems himself by finally giving Kuki a gift…his leftover French fries. No lie, that’s the lousiest gift ever, but that small act of affection is more than enough to snap Kuki out of her trance, overjoyed that Wally got something for her after all.
Christmas is a good reminder that, for the sake of those around us (as well as our own sanity), it’s more important to humbly show affection and appreciation towards others rather than indignantly demand the same from them. It’s a full-time responsibility that can have a worldwide effect, so stay frosty.
Santa is surprisingly intense in this. Instead of jolly, pleasant man with a bowl full of jelly, he’s burly, intimidating, and has a harsh sarcasm that can cut deeper than a sharpened candy cane.
That moment you realize, in that opening scene, KND was just a Nielsen rating away from showing an onscreen elf massacre with real guns.
I’m not the only one who thinks that bones of solid Peppermintium don’t sound practical in the least, right?
KND’s music is a great fit for a Christmas special. It has a great mix of playful whimsy, often accentuating its jokes, and thrilling adventure, making it feel all the more exciting. I think it’s part of the reason why this special holds up so well.