|TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE BUMPY (abc, 1995)|
Why was it such a misfit?
In the fall of 1994 ABC started getting visually creative with their Saturday Morning lineup. They held the American rights to the ReBoot show, but just having the world's first 100% computer-animated program wasn't apparemtly enough, so they also brought us a show that was nearly entirely rendered in stop-motion: Bump in the Night, about the wild party monster living under a child's bed -- Mr. Bumpy!
Created by Ken Pontac back when he was just seven years old, Bumpy runs around the house at night when the kids aren't asleep, drumming up chaos and eating socks (this is why socks always go missing -- Bumpy eats 'em). His best friend is a blue blob from the toilet named Mister Squishington (I've heard that Squishy was originally brown, but ABC didn't like the idea of Bumpy's friend being a talking poop). Naturally toys also come to life at night, both good (Molly Coddle, a self-described "comfort doll" who couldn't hurt a fly) and bad (the easily agitated warbot Destructo).
There is one episode where Bumpy swallows his gum and, after hearing the urban legend that it stays in your belly for seven years, crawls inside himself to retrieve it, creating an anomaly of physics that will destroy the entire world in ten minutes if he isn't successful. There's another where Squishy cleans his face with a towel and his face comes off ON the towel, and a clan of bugs under the floorboards start worshipping it. Bump in the Night absolutely holds up; you can tell how much fun was had making it. Also, this is the only program in the history of television to make a reference to the mid-90's MTV drama Dead At 21.
There's a reason why you almost never see stop-motion used for a weekly television series -- out of all the methods of animation out there, it is the most time-consuming. I remember reading that it took Danger Productions one day to shoot FIVE SECONDS of Bump in the Night. That blew my mind. The only other show from the same time period that had animated clay figures was Mr. Bogus from syndication, and that one cheated by animating half the show in 2-D. But here was Bump in the Night doing the impossible and giving us the results of a very slow process for 30 minutes a week. I asked myself, "How on Earth is it possible to get this show done?"
Not easily, I would imagine, but they took shortcuts whenever they could find them. Each episode of Bump in the Night had a closing segment called Karaoke Cafe where one of the characters would sing. It was usually a full song around three minutes in length, and whenever a song was used on Bump in the Night, they would illustrate it using clip footage from other episodes. Karaoke Cafe primarily existed to shave a few minutes of animation time off the schedule. They had other tricks at their disposal as well. In every short you'll usually see the same close-ups of characters' heads, with the camera zoomed in so far that you can barely see their lips move, because it could be matched to anything.
That helped them get 13 episodes in the can by September. But then, the following season, ABC ordered 13 more shows PLUS a Christmas special, to be completed in a shorter amount of time. What to do?
I don't have any of the producers with me and there is little behind-the-scenes information out there. But Season Two of Bump in the Night is one of the most obviously time-crunched things I've ever seen. All the Karaoke Cafes from Season One were reused. The characters DID sing new songs, but they were placed into actual shorts (and, again, accompanied by clips from other episodes). And they would sing a LOT. In some cases we would get a repeat short from Season One followed by a new "sequel" short. Half of this season is a clip show.
All the work was going into their Christmas special. Unlike most Misfits, it premiered on Saturday Morning, same place as the show, and was a whopping ninety minutes long with ads. To date we've only covered ONE other Christmas special that went on for that long (the preceding one). I have no idea why this had to be so big and given the evidence, I doubt it was the show's own choice. But here it is, Twas The Night Before Bumpy, the episode that killed Bump in the Night (well, actually, the Disney takeover killed Bump in the Night, but this couldn't have helped).
It's the night before Christmas, and Mr. Bumpy's annual Holiday Pageant is going through its practice run at the Karaoke Cafe. Bumpy knows he stands no chance of getting anything but coal from Santa, so he tells Molly has a backup plan: he's rigged the entire living room with booby traps and as soon as Santa arrives down the chimney, the traps will be triggered and Bumpy will steal his bag! Unfortunately, Squishington goes wandering around that room minutes later looking for Bumpy, and ends up springing everything. It took Bumpy five hours and even if there is time to reset the traps before Christmas, he doesn't feel like it anymore.
Thus, he introduces his back-backup plan: he'll just physically walk up to the North Pole and grab the bag in person. The logistics of this journey aren't the show's main concern, and you'd know that if you watched the other episodes. Bumpy once figured out how to travel through time by sneezing -- and shrugged off this development with "This is a cartoon, of course I can travel through time." There was a short where Squishy was dehydrated and Bumpy had to find some water fast...Squishy suggested the kitchen faucet, to which Bumpy replied "No, that's too easy" and spent the rest of the episode coming up with the perfect rain dance. Bumpy basically says "I KNOW, I just don't CARE."
While Bumpy is in the Cafe he decides to tickle the ol' ivories while singing his own version of "Twelve Days of Christmas." There are several songs in this special, and they're all traditional holiday carols with the lyrics changed -- why come up with original tunes when you don't have to? And of course, whenever they sing, they can get away with reusing old footage, so they keep the songs going as long as they can.
Squishy decides to take the journey with Bumpy so he can get his own present early, which he's convinced must be feet. Who asks for feet? Squishy does, because he doesn't have any and today he's feeling very self-conscious about it. What he wants to do more than anything this Christmas is tap-dance.
But with Bumpy gone, Molly protests, WHO is going to direct this year's Christmas Pageant? Bumpy gives Molly a look, quickly dresses her up in a top hat and sash, and hands her a crudely-written "Pagent Directin Diqloma." Then he splits.
Molly's got much more than she can handle now, including intermittent visits from the Closet Monster. CM is regarded as the biggest threat in the kid's room and everybody acts terrified of him, but it's unclear if he really IS dangerous. The show didn't reveal what the Closet Monster looked like until well into Season One -- for most of that season, you only saw his arm. Maybe they were still figuring out what he looked like, but he turned out to be made of the clothes in the closet. Kids think they're safe because they only see clothes in their closet. Little do they know the clothes ARE the monster!
Bumpy and Squishington set out on their journey. Bumpy has the map upside-down, so they wind up going "north" into South America and get lost in the jungle. When strange noises start happening around them, they begin freaking out, only to discover....
Juaquin Gusanito Sin Manos, a Spanish-accented worm voiced by Cheech Marin. He has dreams of conquering all of South America, but there's one thing between him and total domination....the fact that he doesn't have any arms. But he claims to know the way to the North Pole, so Bumpy promises Juaquin (while his fingers are crossed) that he'll give him a set of mechanical arms once he gets his hands on Santa's bag. "Eeeey, it's a deal, ya know?" says Juaquin, and begins digging Bumpy and Squishy a tunnel across the Earth.
Back at the Karaoke Cafe, Molly is deep in despair. She is too gentle a soul to get the Christmas Pageant organized. Her best efforts involve begging in a meek voice, "Uh, you guys might wanna start practicing, or something, or not." The other dolls start snarking that Molly is the worst pageant leader ever. She does have a dark side that comes out on occasion, but only if you push her too far. This was too far.
Her expression changes, she grabs a megaphone and yells, "ALL RIGHT, I WANT EVERYONE SINGLE FILE, WE'RE GONNA SING AND WE'RE GONNA DO IT NOW, AND IT BETTER BE GOOD OR EEEEELSE!!"
Up to the stage crawls Phil Silverfish, introduced in an earlier episode. Pretty much everyone who's appeared on the show to date is in this room right now, partly because it's a special episode and partly because rigging up new models is hard, expensive work. After Phil's episode, whenever the script called for a bug it was usually a silverfish that looked like Phil yet with a different voice.
Phil kind of sounds like a Borscht Belt comedian, so naturally he sings the Dreidel Song. And to the show's credit, THIS time there aren't many recycled scenes illustrating it. Some effort is put into this one; Phil even gets to sing atop a giant spinning dreidel that lights up.
"Eeeey, we here, amigos!" Juaquin drops Bumpy and Squishy off in what he believes to be the North Pole, but is actually Stonehenge. They're still lost, and now without a guide (because Bumpy wound up tipping one of the stone slabs onto the worm). But they're not alone for long....a hummingbird in horn-rimmed glasses comes zooming into the frame, begging for food. Hummingbirds flap their arms at a ridiculous rate, and must drink nectar constantly to keep their energy up. This particular hummingbird has a wider palate, and will take anything as dinner if she can find it.
She tells Bumpy she wishes she didn't have to live this way, but it's the only way to fly....unless she could get her hands on a jetpack. "Hey, I bet there's a jetpack somewhere in Santa's bag!" suggests Bumpy. "If you take us to the North Pole, I bet I could get you one." Unlike the worm, she doesn't take the offer, so Bumpy has to think of something else...like dressing Squishy up like a Big Mac and using him as a lure to ride the hungry hummingbird through the skies.
That works for a while, but eventually the hummingbird is able to reach Squishy's ear, which disrupts everything. Bumpy and Squishy plummet through the clouds, into the snow.
The good news is, they're nearly there. The bad news is, they have to sing about it, for around three minutes' worth of reheated clips.
Bumpy can hardly believe his eyes. It's really Santa's workshop...or rather, as he discovers, Santa's Heavily Guarded Military Fortress, full of barking elf generals and hulking snowmen who wield candy cane bazookas. It won't be easy.
They have their own alterted holiday jingle, which they bellow out to the tune of Comfort and Joy: "WE'RE PROVIDING SECURITY FOR TOYS, GUARDING THEM TOYS....WE'RE PROVIDING SECURITY FOR TOOOOYS."
It isn't difficult to build a convincing disguise when everything around you is snow. It's harder to act casual. Right when Bumpy's about to enter the clearly labeled tunnel that leads straight to the bag, a platoon of snowmen comes charging out followed by an Elf General. "WHY ARE YOU JUST STANDIN' THERE? YOU LOST OR SOMETHIN'?"
Bumpy thinks fast.
"Well, if you're gonna be nosy about it, uh,
ehhh....that guy over there pushed me!"
In response, Bumpy leaps off of Squishy and his cover is blown. They both dash into the tunnel while the elf fires a candy-shooting gun in their general direction.
Bumpy has the bright (well, not that bright) idea that he and Squishy should split up, because they can't chase both of them. Poor Squishy gets to be chased and snowballed at while Bumpy gets the bag.
It's not that simple, though. The room the bag is in is patterned after the famous temple from Raiders, complete with pressure-sensitive floor tiles (Bumpy steps on them all) and a round replica of Santa that rolls after Bumpy as he tries to get away with his loot. While all this madness is going on, the show cross-cuts it with what's going on at the Cafe (the three dolls singing a pleasant carol), just for contrast's sake.
Through sheer luck Bumpy crashes through the roof and lands right next to Santa's sleigh, and the keys are still in the ignition (for deer? Bump in the Night logic at work again). As Bumpy takes off, Squishy runs up from behind and grabs the edge of the sleigh. They're not out of the woods yet -- Santa's Workshop comes complete with anti-aircraft weaponry! The elves start firing ground-to-air missiles at the sleigh, which Bumpy deftly dodges while a knockoff of "Highway to the Danger Zone" plays in the background.
What neither Bumpy nor Squishy notice through all this chaos is that the bag has a rip in it and the presents are falling out. And as the presents are falling down, they're magically going inside the homes of the kids they belong to, so even though Bumpy's committed every Santa-related transgression in the book by now, he wound up doing Santa's job for him, so everything worked out. (We never actually see Santa in this special.)
When Bumpy flies over South America, he winds up delivering Juaquin's bionic arms. "Allreet! Now I can finally pursue my two favorite pasttimes....conquering, and quilting!"
And when Bumpy flies over Stonehenge, he winds up delivering the hungry bird's jetpack. "I'M OFF FOR LUNCH!" she yells -- and winds up crashing into a pillar.
Finally Bumpy reaches home and crash-lands into the Karaoke Cafe, where the remaining dozen presents in the bag spill out and land around the Christmas tree. Once Bumpy peels his face from the floor, he looks in shock as the last of his loot disappears.
Destructo opens his present and we get a shot of him staring intently at the object while muttering "No, it can't be! How did Santa ever know? ....So he does know if I've been bad, or good...." It's a Destructette figure, and she's single!
There's one present left, and Bumpy desperately grabs it, but Squishy doesn't have a present yet either and begins sobbing. There is a heart somewhere beneath that green warty exterior, and eventually Bumpy can't bear the sight of his best friend so upset. He cracks and hands over the remaining present.
It looks like this present was for Squishy anyway; it's a noisemaker that creates tap-dancing noises! Squishington happily shakes it all around the Cafe, clicking as loud as he can.
After all that trouble, Bumpy doesn't actually get a present. But he's cool with it, because he learned it's better to give than receive, a lesson that should stick until the next episode.
If anyone isn't happy, it's Molly, who's suffering deep regret over letting her Angry Side out, committing conduct unbecoming of a Comfort Doll. "If I only could get a hug, I would never direct the Christmas Pageant again!"
"NEVER DIRECT IT AGAIN? Let's hug her!!" Everybody comforts Molly at once.
Well, that takes care of everything except....CLOSET MONSTER!! Bumpy is suddenly trapped in CM's vice grip with one minute left to go. Is this the final episode??
Well....it is, technically, but there's a happier ending than that. Closet Monster didn't show up to eat Bumpy, but to give him the present he never got from his trip. It's a "collector's edition" grimy dirty sock! "I'LL TREASURE IT FOREVER, FOR ALL ETERNITY!" Bumpy gushes....before eating it without skipping a beat. "Of course, some things just ain't meant to last," he comments as the final iris blacks out the screen.
Why didn't it fit in?
Does Mary Lou Retton like it?
It's a clear winner! .......If you have no idea what this is about, go back a few pages.