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"Robot Chicken" Christmas Specials DVD Review

Robot Chicken Christmas Specials DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Robot Chicken: Christmas Specials (2005-2013)
Series & DVD Details

Creators/Executive Producers: Seth Green, Matthew Senreich / Directors: Chris McKay, Zeb Wells, "Sandy Claws", Matthew Senreich / Writers: Doug Goldstein, Tom Root (head); Seth Green, Mike Fasolo, Matthew Senreich, Matthew Beans, Zeb Wells, Kevin Shinick, Breckin Meyer, Charles Horn, Pat McCallum, Harp Pekin, Ben Schwartz, Jordan Allen-Dutton, Eric Weiner, Brendan Hay, Daniel Libman, Matthew Libman, Mehar Sethi, Hugh Davidson

Voice Cast: Seth Green (Various), Seth MacFarlane (Santa Claus, Hermey the Elf, Jesus, Thor, others), Matthew Senreich (Various), Breckin Meyer (Various), Dan Milano (Various), Hugh Davidson (Various), Phylis Diller (Mrs. Claus), Chad Morgan (Mrs. Claus, Elle Driver), Dax Shepard (Blitzen), Christian Slater (Composite Santa Claus), Stephen Stanton (Reindeer), Emma Caulfield (Jadis the White Witch, Wife), Mike Fasolo (Peter Pevensie, Wise Man #1), Zachary Gordon (Charlie Brown, Linus van Pelt, Franklin), George Lowe (Unicorn, Husband), Katelin Peterson (Sally Brown, Frieda, Virgin Mary, Susie) Tom Root (Various), Seth Green , Robin Bain (Mother, Snowflake Girl, Little Girl), Leah Ann Cevoli (Christmas Daughter, Village Girl), Erika Christensen (Della Dillingham Young, Mother), Hugh Davidson (James Dillingham Young, Snowflake), Greg Grunberg (Odin), Clare Grant (Mrs. Claus, Mother), Sasha Barrese (Virgin Mary, others), George Lowe (Billy's Father), Macaulay Culkin (Kevin McCallister, others), Elizabeth Banks (Mrs. Claus, Shana "Scarlett" O'Hara), Jacob Crofford, Lucas Grabeel (Justin Bieber, others), Larry Hama (Himself), Skeet Ulrich (Duke, Kano, Dave), Michaela Watkins (Nerd's Mom, Carol, Sarah Cage), Henry Winkler (Nerd's Dad, Jason Bourne, Christmas Tree), Erinn Hayes (Christmas 2065 Narrator, Reporter), Drew Massey (Emmet Otter, Ebenezer Scrooge), Jason Ritter (Reindeer, Sergeant)

Running Time: 68 Minutes (51 minutes of extras) / Rating: TV-MA-L
First Three Specials: 1.33:1 Full Screen, Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Second Three Specials: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Episodes Originally Aired December 2005 - December 2013
DVD Release Date: November 18, 2014; Suggested Retail Price: $14.97
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase; Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)

Buy the Robot Chicken Christmas Specials DVD at Amazon.com

"Robot Chicken" might just be the best show to use to introduce someone to the world of Adult Swim. The stop-motion comedy, which will celebrate ten years on the air next February, is accessible enough. Most people know one of its creators, Seth Green,
from his thirty years in the business that have included acting in the Austin Powers series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", and The Italian Job, plus a lot of animation voiceover, most notably as Chris Griffin on "Family Guy."

Green and his "Robot Chicken" co-creator Matthew Senreich, each 40, are amused by riffing on pop culture of today and on the properties of their 1970s-1980s childhood. Using real toys and puppets designed to look like them, their show sends up comic book superheroes, yesteryear children's television, celebrities, and the like. Their parodies are often crude and brutal, which is really the Adult Swim way.

Those accustomed to chuckling at network fare like "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" might find "Robot Chicken" either a lot more hilarious or a lot more disgusting and stupid. "It's not for everyone" could be Adult Swim's motto. Even devoted fans have to find the network's array of choices a mixed bag. I'm not even sure where I stand on Adult Swim programming anymore. I used to think I liked it and I definitely do still enjoy some of it (in its first season, "Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule" was one of the funniest shows ever), but some of the crass comedy no longer does it for me. "Robot Chicken" is a show I've appreciated without quite liking. Like any sketch-based program, this is hit and miss, both the more I see, the more I grow convinced that the majority of it misses.

What I definitely do like is Christmas. So when a DVD called "Robot Chicken" Christmas Specials arrived, I was ready to give it a chance, knowing that it probably wouldn't wow me and may even annoy me with its signature cynicism and juvenile tone. But how bad could 68 minutes of holiday programming really be?

Mr. Tumnus startles The Nerd on a trip to snowy Narnia. Why would Santa not bring a gift to Thor? Blame Loki!

1. Robot Chicken's Christmas Special (11:06) (Originally aired December 22, 2005)
"Dragon Ball"'s Goku and son help Santa Claus and the reindeer save Christmas against The Little Drummer Boy, the Nutcracker, Composite Santa Claus, and a newly evil Mrs. Claus. "Unsolved Case Files" explores Santa Claus' murder in this parody of Rankin/Bass specials. Parodying Kill Bill, a Kill Bunny trailer finds a yellow jumpsuited post-crucifixion Jesus seeking revenge on the Easter Bunny.

2. Robot Chicken's Half-Assed Christmas Special (11:42) (Originally aired December 9, 2007)
Hermey the elf explores different careers to minimal success. An irate family man goes looking for Santa Claus after hearing his wife was kissing her. Mary has to give birth to Jesus in a stable of flatulent animals. A family's Christmas light display sets fire to a neighborhood. The Nerd journeys to Narnia. A Charlie Brown Christmas gets reimagined with the plot of Misery and Snoopy as Batman.

3. Robot Chicken's Full-Assed Christmas Special (11:29) (Originally aired December 6, 2009)
Santa Claus confronts a naughty boy 007-style. A town's atheist mayor threatens to ruin Christmas by removing a church bell. After being slighted on Christmas, Loki acts out in a Thor disguise. Snowflakes fall. The Gift of the Maji (sic). Santa and Comet try to help a boy stuck in a well.

Santa Claus and Superman hold a race to see who's faster. On Christmas morning, an excited Ebenezer Scrooge spreads the news that ghosts are real.

4. Robot Chicken's DP Christmas Special (11:30) (Originally aired December 12, 2010)
Santa crashes a Coca-Cola board meeting to object to their exploitation of him. A startled caveman family attacks Santa. Kevin McCallister's battle plan goes all wrong. Batman and Robin rough up kids making fun of them with the well-known "Jingle Bells" parody. A boy realizes the fictions of his father's story about Santa Claus Usual Suspects-style. Superman and Santa hold a race to see who's the fastest.

5. Robot Chicken's ATM Christmas Special (11:05) (Originally aired December 16, 2012)
Santa Claus gets injured in his hurried, delirious Christmas Eve dream. A sentient Christmas tree experiences life with a family and beyond. Justin Bieber lashes out at the holiday in song in his Christmas special.
Jason Bourne fights Santa. G.I. Joes give Stormshadow a present. A Mortal Kombat fighter spends Christmas with the widow and family of a victim. The Nerd goes after the (live-action) Grinch, who stole all the Christmas presents in his neighborhood.

6. Robot Chicken's Born Again Virgin Christmas Special (11:10) (Originally aired December 16, 2013)
Santa gets caught in a chimney in front of a kid. A fox joins Emmet Otter's jug band in what may be the show's only traditionally puppeted sketch. An orientation video informs elves about the dangers of Santa's Workshop. Ebenezer Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning to tell others that ghosts are real. A horse doesn't know the way to Grandmother's house. Santa has to use the bathroom on the job. A look at impersonal Christmas 2065 digital gift card exchanges is used to encourage creative gift-giving. Spelling bee contestants struggle to spell "Hanukkah." In 1914, American and German soldiers on the western front call a Christmas truce. The Easter Bunny scoffs at a TV report on Santa. This is the only episode of the bunch that hasn't already been released to DVD.

Kevin McCallister's home defense does not go according to battle plan in this "Home Alone" parody. In a "Misery"-inspired Peanuts sketch, a captive Linus has to write for Sally.

As the second through sixth episodes titles suggest, this is not a disc you'll be popping in to your player in between Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Muppet Family Christmas. Violence and profanity abound. There are a couple of vile takes on the birth of Christ. And all merry, heartwarming moments quickly give way to viciousness and snark. There isn't much room for sentimentality in modern comedy, but these shows are too determined to be holiday anti-specials, where Santa Claus is a maniacal, foul-mouthed jerk (always voiced by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane) and various people wind up dead. It's something different from the typical cheerful holiday television programming, but unless you've always wanted to see Santa Claus's genitals dangle in front of a child, you're probably be looking elsewhere for your seasonal joy.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The six episodes are presented as intended. The first three are in television's former standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The latter three are in the now-standard 1.78:1 widescreen (and enhanced for 16:9 displays). The nature of stop motion, as well as the lack of compression concerns for such a light platter, ensures a clean, sharp picture throughout that's as good as DVD gets.

The six episodes are also divided down the middle in terms of sound format. The first three are presented in plain Dolby 2.0 stereo, while the rest are treated to Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. There isn't a really noticeable difference between the two groups and all have satisfactory sound quality.

It is worth noting that the first special censors its profanity, while all the rest leave all language entirely uncensored.

A snowflake questions his uniqueness in this deleted scene. Tim Allen turns into the Easter Bunny in the deleted animatic "The Santa Clause 4."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

These kinds of holiday compilations usually give you next to nothing in the way of bonus features.

Not this one! This DVD includes all relevant extras that have been found on the previous DVD and Blu-ray season sets holding these specials.

Hiding somewhat in the episode menu are audio commentaries, which are provided for four of the six specials.

Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Mike Fasolo, Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root talk about their religious affiliations, their favorite gags, their creative disagreements over the Nerd in Narnia sketch, and their experiences with child voice actors over "Half-Assed Christmas Special." Green, Senreich, Root, Erika Christensen, and Zeb Wells comment on "Full-Assed Christmas Special", mostly laughing at their jokes.

"DP Christmas Special" features commentary by Green, Senreich, Sasha Barrese, Macaulay Culkin, Mike Fasolo, and Clare Grant. Culkin discusses reprising his most famous role vocally and drunk and they talk about how most voice actors agree to record without a script. Green, Senreich, Root, Rachel Bloom, Lucas Grabeel, and Michaela Watkins speak on "ATM Christmas Special", with Grabeel and Watkins leading the way.

On the video side, we start with two snow-themed deleted scenes (1:19) that are introduced by Green, Senreich, Goldstein and Wells.

Five deleted animatics (3:35) are also introduced by various makers. They include an Easter Bunny variation on The Santa Clause, a Christmas version of Memento, and concepts of John Carpenter's The Thing and The Grey applied to the North Pole.

The irony is characteristically thick in this Adult Swim promo for the DP Christmas Special. The Nerd and unicorn ornament from the latest Christmas special's opening credits serves as fitting main menu image.

Finally, we get two of what the case describes as "long-forgotten" promos (0:49) for the DP Christmas special.

The static menus loop score over static shots, including a Christmas tree ornament resembling the cover art on the main menu adapted from the sixth special's opening credits.

Inside the black Eco-Box keepcase, a small insert lists episode titles and special features on one side, and features a picture of composite Santa out in the snow. The disc sports a fittingly festive label in which the Robot Chicken silhouette becomes part of a green snowflake against a red backdrop.

A sentient Christmas tree enjoys too brief a time with a family he'll revisit in toilet paper form.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I like the idea of a Christmas episode compilation, but when all of the episodes are coming from a single series, one wonders if there's an audience that will like the show enough to buy this after not buying the various season sets that have them. If you like your Christmas specials dark and dirty instead of warm and fuzzy, I suppose you don't have many other options. But "Robot Chicken" isn't any more consistently entertaining at Christmas than it is the rest of the year. In fact, these specials feel even spottier than regular episodes. Nonetheless, if you or someone you know should want to own a "Robot Chicken" DVD without spending much more than $10, this may be the most loaded of the show's single-disc releases.

Buy Robot Chicken Christmas Specials on DVD at Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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Noughties Christmas: Elf Fred Claus Four Christmases Deck the Halls Unaccompanied Minors

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Reviewed November 19, 2014.



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