Wednesday, December 24, 2014

FORWARD: "Classic Mario Retrospective"

Once upon a time, there was a very small boy whose father got a Nintendo Entertainment System on Christmas during that era when the 80's were transitioning into the 90's. One of the games his father played the most on it was called Super Mario Bros. His next-door neighbors (a pair of teenage sisters) also came over and played the NES a lot. They even got a sequel to that game: Super Mario Bros. 3 and played the heck out of it.

During the Christmas of 1991, his grandfather got a Super NES (for reasons that aren't exactly clear even to this day) with its flagship Mario title: Super Mario World.

Despite his fascination with the games, the little boy was too afraid them for himself. He could allow himself to watch.

One day, when he was about five years of age, he watched his father play SMB1 when the man had to go into the next room to answer a phone call. He did not hit pause. Worried about the timer running down, the little kid took the NES controller and tried to complete the level for his father. The exact details of the incident are fuzzy, but that's how it happened.

That boy was me, DLAbaoaqu. He would go on to become a gamer and a huge Mario fan. I wish to make peace with the fanatic I was back in the early half of the 90's. What better way to do that than to cover the early part history of the Mario franchise and my own impressions of the games?


Again, I was a huge Mario fan (you could even go as far as to say "borderline fanboy") back in the day. 

That's one reason I want to do this. Another's because I haven't seen coverage of the franchise's history that sufficiently met my standards. Want something done? Do it yourself.

I wanted to go back to the games of that era and before and talk about them in as much detail I can muster. The behind-the-scenes stuff at Nintendo, my own experiences with the games, the good, the bad, the underrated, and the stuff that tends to fall by the wayside... but we're only going as far as Super Mario RPG.


Going back to the aforementioned fandom, RPG was probably the last really big game before the Nintendo 64 and Playstation 1 came along and gave gaming a monumental push into 3D. RPG (and to a lesser extent Tetris Attack) was probably the last console-based Mario game I'd play in years. I did get an N64 eventually, but had a lot of difficulty trying to adjust to the 3D gameplay. I wouldn't go back to console gaming until the Wii came out. During that time, the fervor of my childhood obsession with Mario kinda died down a bit.

I eventually played some of the latter Mario games as they came out on the Game Boy Advance, Wii, and Virtual Console. Paper Mario and Super Paper Mario were great, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was good as well, but Super Mario 64 hasn't aged well at all for my money.

So no, it's not so much that a jaded outlook on life makes me think that the N64 killed Mario (like some Sonic fanboys claim that leaving Sega hardware and a supporting cast killed Sonic).

Besides, given the amount of games that the franchise churns out, this is as good a stopping point if any. Mario Maker's going to come out next year and if I kept going, I'd be at it until I'm sixty-five (if I can live that long).

With those questions out of the way, let's go over some rules.

RULE #1: Games only

Mario memorabilia has come and gone over the years: coloring books, clothes, macaroni and cheese, cereal, soft drinks, shampoo, McDonald's toys, gummy snacks, pinball machines, the list goes on! There was even a Mario ceiling fan!

It's as if somebody at Nintendo saw Spaceballs and wanted to emulate Yogurt!

We are not going to focus on swag.

There have been four cartoons based on Mario as well: Ruby-Spears' Donkey Kong (where Mario is played by Peter "Optimus Prime" Cullen), the Super Mario Bros. Super Show (covering SMB1 and SMB2), The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 (makes me think of an SMB3 cartidge running around fighting monsters and looking for lost treasure), and Super Mario World (which DiC gave zero effort into making).

We will not focus on the cartoons and especially not this:

Can we get a RiffTrax on this?
Here we go!

Admit it: when you think "Mario", you think of the games over everything else.

RULE #2: No fan games/hacks

The games I am looking at had to have been made by Nintendo or by third parties (such as Hudson) that were authorized by them. Obscure stuff like SMB Special and Undake 30 Same Game will be featured on this list along with the classic NES trilogy.

Sorry, kids. No Fortran this trip...
...but these two will make the cut! 

RULE #3: Nothing after 1996 will be covered... except as reference!

Remember, the cut-off point will be Super Mario RPG. Super Mario 64, Luigi's Mansion, Super Mario Sunshine, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door and a host of others will not be discussed in detail (if any)... unless I find a connection between a game I'm covering and a latter one.

And that's about all I can think of to say. One final note, though: it will be a video series and I will be using my voice. If you can't stand the way I sound, you don't have to force yourself to watch it. I just didn't think text would be enough this time around. It will be captioned, just in case.

I hope you will enjoy it when it's ready and I'll see you down the pipe!

Any other questions will be answered if asked, as long as it is related to the subject.

I'm DLAbaoaqu. Full-on!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

SPECIAL REVIEW: Santa and the Three Bears (1970)

"...and the entrance to the hidden Rebel base is under this point."

I hope you're having a good Christmas season, everyone. Earlier this month, I wasn't. A sinus infection that cropped up on December 5 left me bedridden for five days straight and I was only just strong enough to go back to work on the following Thursday; unfortunately, I was shooting for Tuesday. In an attempt to find rest during this period, I spent a lot of time on my iPad watching old Christmas specials uploaded to YouTube. Some were your standard Rankin-Bass fare and a few were off the beaten path... like this one.

I actually came across this back in either 1998 or 1999 on FOX Family (it's ABC Family nowadays). Like The Mouse on the Mayflower, I recalled only scant details of it and tried to dig it up through a bit of surfing Google. It's called Santa and the Three Bears.


Santa had just finished his run for the year, but was too tuckered out to fly the sleigh back to the North Pole. He stops at a cabin in the woods to find three bowls of porridge on a table. The first is too hot, the second is cold, and the third is just right...

I'm just kidding. The story actually takes place at Yellowstone National Park. 

A mother bear Nana (played by Jean Vander Pyl, the original Wilma Flinstone) and her two cubs, Chinook and Nikomi, are getting ready to hibernate. However, the two youngsters aren't really big on going to sleep and go out and play in the first snowfall of the winter. They crash into the park ranger (played by Hal Smith, from the last review) by accident, who brings the duo along with him to chop down a Christmas tree. This prompts the cubs to start asking questions about Christmas and why they never heard of it (Yes, animals can talk with humans in this special. No questions are raised in the story like last time, though.). 

Nana calls the cubs to the cave. Chinook and Nikomi, still interested in this human holiday, try to ask their mother about it. However, she's extremely tuckered out and low on information. So the twins go off to find "Mr. Ranger".

The cubs reach the cabin to find the ranger's tree decked out in ornaments and the ranger sing a song about bells that jingle. They come inside, get wrapped up in their surroundings, and beg him to tell them more about Christmas. Thus the ranger tells them the origins of Christmas: Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph, Christ, and the peace that tends to occur around that time (despite it being common knowledge that Christ wasn't born on December 25, the New Testament never gives a specific date for it, as certain tinfoil hat types would like to stress). Many legends about Christmas arose over the years as well. The most famous of these was that of Santa Claus.

We know how that goes: North Pole, reindeer, elves, dude in a red suit who delivers toys around the world. The cubs love the story and hoof it back to their cave. After failing to get a Christmas tree of their own, they wake up Nana; she only agrees  to get one if the two stay in the cave for the rest of winter. Once they get said tree, do you think the cubs go into hibernation? NOPE! Their mother gets an earful of "Jingle Bells". She asks what the meaning of all was and the cubs relate what the ranger told them. Despite their enthusiasm, Chinook and Nikomi forgot to ask when Christmas Eve is. Nana takes it upon herself to talk to the ranger and leaves the cave.

"Yes! Santa got me that bear skin rug I wanted for Christmas!"
The ranger, having left the cabin to gather firewood, finds Nana passed out on the porch. He wakes her up and she asks about Christmas Eve and Santa Claus. She accuses him of lying to her children when he admits to Santa being a legend, fearing that the cubs would be severely disappointed. The ranger remembers that he still has a costume on hand from the time when he was a department store Santa and suggests visiting them while dressed up in it.

On Christmas Eve night, however, a monstrous blizzard hits Yellowstone. The ranger goes out, regardless. He gets tired and goes to sleep at a bus stop used by the park during the summer.

The cubs start to get tired from waiting from Santa. Nana, feeling that there was no other choice, tells Chinook and Nikomi that "Santa" is just the ranger in a costume; he doesn't really exist. The ranger did this so they could enjoy Christmas, but the storm prevented him from getting to the cave. Naturally, the cubs are devastated.

Later that night, though, a shadowy figure appears in the cave. The bears dismiss him as the ranger and go back to bed. When the ranger eventually does get to the cave, he finds a pair of full stockings already hanging on the cave wall! That can only mean...



The sad thing about Christmas specials is that every year, a bunch of new cartoons and live-action shows are produced and in such big amounts sometimes that the older stuff has a hard time finding time slots on TV. Oftentimes, these "hip, new" holiday shows tend to flop and get recalled in contempt (The Night B4 Christmas, anyone?). The miracle of the internet can help most of these neglected older specials find audiences.

Santa and the Three Bears is kind of the rebel of the bunch. In a typical Christmas special, they'll do one of the following:

  • Take over Santa's job that year (due to a kidnapping, injury, illness, etc.).
  • Save the North Pole from something evil.
  • Remake A Christmas Carol.

There is no "Santa's in trouble" plot here. If anything, it's a bit of a fish-out-of-water story about two bear cubs who discover a part of the year that many of their kind never see. Like the children they are, they become engrossed in the Yuletide bliss.

Hal Smith, though, steals the whole show! The ranger character comes off as a really warm person, almost as if he were an uncle or grandfather. In fact, he's the only human in the show. You would think he'd have a little time off during the holidays to see his family, but no. He's at Yellowstone year-round. I'd assume that he's a very lonely person, so it would be no wonder why he'd be so open about Christmas with Chinook and Nikomi.

We do have some funny moments on Nana's part, mostly derived from her sleepiness (in getting the cubs' Christmas tree, she pretty much collapses on it in exhaustion).

If there are any slow parts, it's probably from the songs. They pretty and fit the mood, but if you're groggy or under the weather, they're at just the right tone to put you to sleep. Some of the sound mixing seems a little off at the occasional point; one instance is where a groggy Nana collapses in the cave, asleep -- the cymbal crash used is very hushed.

At first glance, you'd think this show was made by Hanna-Barbara. Not quite, but not misguided too. It had two veteran HB voices and it was directed by Tony Benedict, a man who had worked on Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Adam Ant, and The Flintstones prior to this. This special was actually commissioned by a now-defunct Florida amusement park called Pirates World. Started in 1966, it went bankrupt nine years later with the rise of Walt Disney World.

One thing I didn't realize until I started doing a little research on this special, was that originally there were live-action segments involving the ranger; parts serving as bookends. There are prints of the special that omit these segments, but don't detract from the story proper. Some users claimed that the live-action segments substantially increased the runtime of the show... but from the print I found, those rumors seem to be as reputable as the alternate ending to King Kong vs. Godzilla.

The credit for the live-action version goes to one Barry Mahon. Mahon was porn director whose best-known work was the 1961 Cold War propaganda movie Rocket Attack USA. You may have seen it before.


Mahon also had a hand in another special from Pirates World from about two years later called Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Several sources have talked about it.

This is the Manos of Christmas specials.

As for Santa and the Three Bears, give it a watch... but stay clear of the DVD releases. Amazon users report skipping.

I'm DLAbaoaqu. Merry Christmas!

Santa and the Three Bears and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny are owned by... um... whoever picked up the rights after Pirates World folded.