The Greatest Toy Story Ever Told

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:22

    Norman Rockwell is great, but that R. Cobb cartoon may be my favorite portrait of Americana. It's not just touching. The cartoon is also brave. Surrounded by hippies who loathed Christmas, Cobb was still willing to use this important holiday to preach a simple truth. It still holds up today. Hey, kids of all colors, if you don't get something for Christmas, it's because somebody's been bad. It was your parents. They went and had children they didn't really love. They spent all the Christmas money on lottery tickets. They thought the government was going to be Santa Claus, which is the ultimate sin in neglecting parental duties.

    As we once again head into the most wonderful retail season of the year, remember this: Christmas is not about Jesus. Christmas is all about presents. The only people who make a big deal about Jesus at Christmastime are really bad Christians. Some of us live in Christ every single day. Christmas is the time to cash in on the joys of being a believer. It's about spending money and getting stuff. Who's boring you to tears with another rant about the commercialization of Christmas? It's always some unwashed Commie atheist.

    Fidel Castro knows about Christmas. He banned the thing back in 1969. Last December, the evil dictator decided that it was okay for the Cuban people to once again celebrate the holiday. All kinds of idiots?including the pope?actually praised this murderous dictator for a totally empty gesture. Castro allowed a religious holiday. He allowed people to formally pray and feast (which, in Cuba, probably means an extra lima bean). But any good Christian already prays all the time?especially in Cuba.

    Castro allowed Christmas, but he continued to ban Santa Claus. There was no gift-giving. There was no little kid getting all wound up for the holiday. Castro understands a simple truth. He understands that Santa Claus is more dangerous than Jesus.

    Think of Santa Claus in your prayers, exiled to the jungle and plotting his eventual return to power. It'll happen. Che Guevara is forgotten by decent people. Everybody knows Santa Claus. He will be triumphant, and Fidel Castro will simply end up as another in a long line of vanquished Christmas villains.

    We're not talking about pikers like King Herod. We're talking about a long line of evil people who stood between people and their money. Anyone who doubts the Christmas spirit of capitalism needs to watch It's A Wonderful Life one more time. Nobody ever remembers that film's true hero. It's not George Bailey. He's a decent man, but he spends the entire movie being tormented by God. The film's true hero is Sam Wainwright, the industrialist with the money to save both Bedford Falls and George Bailey. He's barely on the periphery of the plot, but Wainwright is the film's true force for Good.

    In contrast, the film offers the evil presence of pragmatic capitalist Mr. Potter. There really are evil capitalists, you know. Many of them support the Justice Dept.'s decision against Bill Gates. Mr. Potter is a prototype of these people, seeking to make people reliant on others instead of allowing them to prosper on their own.

    Christmas villains are always against people having the freedom to spend their money. Burgermeister Meisterburger?of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town?hates toys and forbids anyone to sell them. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is self-explanatory. There's no villain in A Charlie Brown Christmas, but we could all do without Linus as a raging Zionist.

    And, as we know in the wake of Columbine, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a goddamn time bomb. What's the only thing that reforms this freak into a useful member of society? The threat of children not getting their hard-earned toys. Damn, we'll miss Gene Autry this year.

    In his place, we have a new Christmas classic to entertain our kids. Typically, it comes from the Japanese. I'm referring, of course, to Pokémon: The First Movie?Mewtwo Strikes Back. I'm still trying to figure out how Mewtwo can be striking back when he's created for the first time in the first movie, but that's none of my business. In fact, I'm pretty ignorant about all the Pokémon mythology. I couldn't keep track of 11 grunge bands. Don't ask me to bother with 151 monsters.

    Here's what I do know: Pokémon beats out A Bug's Life as the best animated film of the 90s. This kiddie fare is easily twice as beautiful and entertaining as Princess Mononoke. And the release date is perfect. Christmas is around the corner, and any kid will be terrified of a villain who's come to liberate their toys. Toy Story 2 tries the same plot, but it lacks Pokémon's lovely heart of darkness.

    As you can imagine, I originally went to see Pokémon as part of a hipster mission. I had no idea that the thing would be so impressive. I also didn't know there was an opening cartoon. Pikachu's Vacation turns out to be worth a ticket by itself. This tale takes place on an island full of Pokémon, and it serves as a nice primer to Pokémon weirdness.

    First of all, these things make Teletubbies sound like James Earl Jones. Don't bother trying to decipher the dialogue. Just marvel at this strangely competitive race that encompasses both giant monsters and cuddly furballs. They're capable of causing immense pain, and they love extreme behavior. At one point, two Pokémon have a race. Pikachu fires a starter pistol, and the resulting explosion evokes fond memories of Nagasaki.

    Pikachu's Vacation is a lot trippier than that recent reissue of Yellow Submarine. When the thing ended, I just assumed 90 minutes had passed in a strange new way. Then the proper feature started, and nothing could have been further removed from the opening cartoon.

    Mewtwo Strikes Back starts like a Kubrick film, with the opening of a massive eye as a voice intones how life is the great miracle. The voice and eye belong to Mewtwo, who is awakening to discover that he is a clone created by a group of scientists. Life may be the great miracle, but a pissed-off Pokémon clone comes in at a close second. Mewtwo promptly destroys the laboratory and the scientists who birthed him.

    Then the person who funded the project emerges from the ashes, and offers to help Mewtwo channel his powers. He tries to control Mewtwo's behavior, so the clone blows up the guy and his mansion. Say what you will about the Japanese, but at least that WWII business never made them squeamish about explosions.

    Now it's time for Mewtwo to get to business. He's out to free all the Pokémon. See, the Pokémon are like little gladiators who get carried around by their human masters. If this were a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, he'd be playing Pikachu. The humans routinely pit their Pokémon against each other. Mewtwo equates this with slavery, without regard for whether Pokémon are actually meant for this kind of lifestyle.

    As with House on Haunted Hill, the top Pokémon players go to a mysterious tournament on the same island where Mewtwo was born. This leads to some amazing carnage, as Mewtwo clones the Pokémon and has the originals battle the imitations. I haven't seen anything like this since 007 took on 006 in GoldenEye. Even weirder, the major battle scene takes place while a gentle acoustic ballad plays on the soundtrack.

    It's all a big metaphor for world economics. At the end of the film, the Pokémon even revive a frozen human. It's markedly similar to how the Pokémon have revived this year's retail toy season. (Proving further that Christmas isn't about religion, this year's Star Wars toys aren't moving as expected.) In the end, however, the film comes down to a little kid endangering his life to protect his toys. What message could be more timeless?

    Unfortunately, Mewtwo isn't the sole enemy of Pokémon: The First Movie. It's hateful how many film critics have taken the time to seriously trash the film. It's bad enough that they can't appreciate how the film's storm sequence is more impressive than anything in Titanic. Even if the film was sincerely bad, it should still be measured by a child's enthusiasm. Instead, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution went so far as to give the film an F rating. It's pretty telling how the only other film that's ranked so low this year was Dudley Do-Right.

    That's another reason why Christmas villains are so timeless: they're always adults. Mewtwo is the only Pokémon who actually tries to live like a man, and that's better Orwell than TNT gave us with a revamped Animal Farm. Kids know not to trust adults when it comes to toys. There's always some humorless creep trying to explain why kids shouldn't be allowed to play with the things.

    Don't be thinking that this is some call to shower me with Pokémon this Christmas. I'm more interested in owning a Stinky Pete action figure. If you want to give me something that adults hate children for liking, then find me some Joe Camel merchandise. My best Christmas present ever may be the Joe Camel watch that my sister gave me in 1993. In some weird fit of Randism, my sister decided that everyone in the family would get presents paid for with the Camel bucks she had accumulated over the year. Now, that's thoughtful. The Christmas spirit inspired my sister to declare a scorched-earth policy on her own lungs.

    Not even my "John John Must Die" t-shirt provoked reactions like the Joe Camel watch. Honestly, it might as well have featured a swastika. Joe Camel had already been declared an enemy of children everywhere, even though the charges were totally false. Joe Camel was actually designed to appeal to childish adults. That's a huge difference, but you can't expect a childish government to make that distinction.

    I don't care for deliberately antagonizing people, but Joe Camel was an innocent advertising icon. People?including our government?projected their own worst characteristics upon him. After all, who spends more money telling kids how to behave in a dangerous manner, the government or the tobacco industry? Hell, the schools are teaching our kids that crazy homeless people just need a friend.

    I wore Joe Camel with pride. He was a capitalist Christmas memento that kept giving all year long. In fact, the thing actually lasted two years. That's not bad for promotional merchandise. According to eBay, there're still plenty of Joe Camel watches out there in perfect working condition. Somewhere, a manufacturer was inspired by the Christmas spirit of Sam Wainwright.