Synopsis: What do ice-skating reindeer, pipe-smoking santas and a parade of aquatic champions have in common? You’ll see them all in the RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza, now available as Download to Stream, DVD and Blu-ray! The stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000® have a sackfull of delightful and demented shorts to riff live onstage. Some of the forgotten gems of Christmases past prove to be the perfect targets for the rapid-fire riffs of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. And if that wasn’t enough, they’re even joined by comedy legend “Weird Al” Yankovic for a musical short about the wonders of pork! It’s funnier than Ernest Saves Christmas and far less creepy than The Polar Express!
Join Mike, Kevin, Bill and Al for a festive night of hilarious holiday comedy that is destined to become traditional Christmas viewing.
eyelights: the riffs. the variety of material on offer.
eyesores: the short featuring “Weird Al” Yankovic.
“I didn’t know that David Lynch made a Christmas film!”
On December 16, 2009, the RiffTrax crew descended on the California Centre for the Performing Arts in Escondido, CA. for a 90-minute set of Christmas-related short films before a live audience. Their one-night-only stage show was also broadcast in over 450 cinemas across the United States, with a repeat presentation the following day.
Thankfully, they have since made it available for home video enthusiasts. Being that this was never broadcast outside the US of A, for some of us this is the only way that we can experience this virtual cornucopia of holiday sarcasm, irony, silliness and pop culture references with one of the world’s most entertaining peanut gallery.
As with most of their live performances, this is a low-key affair: After being announced by a disembodied female voice, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett took to the stage and waved to the crowd, after which they wished everyone Merry Christmas and proceeded with a series of other holiday greetings to ensure that no one was forgotten.
Then, firmly ensconced in their seats, with mics in hand and notes at the ready, our tried and true trio got right into their set.
The first short of the night was a lovely black and white affair called ‘Christmas Toy Shop‘. Produced in 1945, it takes us to a traditional ’40s Christmas eve, with the parents setting up the Christmas tree and presents, while the kids dream of Santa – who promptly recounts to them a visit to his toy shop. In carton form, with animated toys, …etc. I love that the kids share the same dream, and that they ended it by both falling asleep in it – in their own dream. Was Santa boring them to the point that youthful excitement couldn’t overcome? Well, that’s how i choose to interpret it. Maybe they were just sleepy in their own dream too. 8.0
The RiffTrax crew then took a break to briefly introduce the winner of a contest of some sort. Although lately their contests mostly consist of giving fans a chance to have one of their own riffs included in a live performance, I know that they used to be a bit more elaborate. For this one, the lucky guy was brought in from Minneapolis and had his own box up next to the stage. Plus Kevin promised not to take up too much bed space at the hotel. Sweet!
The next short was another doozy called ‘A Visit to Santa‘. It’s the story of Dick and Ann, who send Santa Claus a letter asking if they can visit him. The guy playing Santa is some dumpy simpleton who never acted a day in his life. Anyway, they show Santa going to many parades (obviously, the Santas are played by different people here!) and then they visit his toy shop – all to a lame-sounding narrator’s terrible rhymes. 7.75
‘Christmas Rhapsody‘ is one of those pathetic attempts at sentimentality. First there’s an introduction to the wonders of a forest by our narrator – who so happens to be a small fir tree. He feels inadequate in comparison to all these large trees who, he feels, all have purpose in human society. Then a family comes out and cuts him down! Now he’s all happy to have a purpose, once and for all. But little does he know that he’ll be curbed soon thereafter. 7.5
Ever since I bought this blu-ray late last year (yes, I waited until this holiday season to watch it!), I’d been looking forward to this moment, when guest riffer “Weird Al” Yankovic joined the others to take the piss out of ‘Three Magic Words‘, a musical about pork, featuring a trio called The Jesters. No joke. I thought he would kill it. Sadly I was so disappointed. I don’t know… for some reason I couldn’t catch most of the dialogues and riffs. 6.0
Before moving on to ‘The Night Before Christmas‘, Mike and Bill had a small gift for Kevin: a toy commercial for a peculiar battery-powered dog called Gaylord. He was bemused by the notion that it made them think of him. Then they proceeded to the black and white short, which was a mix of live action and animation, recounting a visit to an average family home by a truly disinterested Santa Claus. Perhaps they forgot to leave him some cookies? 7.5
It was then Bill’s turn to be treated to a gift by his two compadres, with a commercial for a toy called Jimmy Jet. Amusingly, he tried to express some enthusiasm for it, but it didn’t really work. Then came ‘A Christmas Dream‘, wherein, after opening her presents and going to sleep, Santa makes a girl dream that her stuffed toy is alive. It’s a grating, bow-tied, lisping stop-motion horror! As Bill commented, it “Puts the stop in stop-motion”. 7.75
Then Bill introduced a short that he said was a holiday tradition in his family. ‘Sports: Parade of Aquatic Champions‘ has actually NOTHING to do with Christmas, being basically a small film about swimming competitions. And lame-@$$$ swimming competitions at that. But it was nonetheless quite amusing, particularly given the notion that it could possibly a family tradition (obviously it wasn’t, but the idea is funny). 7.5
The came Kevin and Bill’s gift to Mike, a commercial for a series of toy robots called the Ding a Lings. Ouch… kids had it so hard back then. Then they closed the festivities with the 1944 Max Fleishcer cartoon, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer‘: Watch the deers play insipid games on a frozen lake. See Santa crash his sleigh. See Santa creep around at the deers’ houses. See Santa grind against his sleigh. Genius! What a way to go! 8.25
The performance ended with as little bombast as it began with: Mike, Kevin and Bill thanked the crowd and walked off. Still, even though it was a no-frills affair, I found this performance superior to many of the others I’ve seen – at least here there was an attempt at making the event special. And the fact that this was a series of shorts meant more interaction with the audience, which gave the proceedings more of a warm, variety show vibe.
I whole-heartedly recommend ‘A Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza’ to fans of riffing and corny Christmas fare; there’s plenty to sink one’s teeth into with this performance by the RiffTrax crew (the disc itself, however, has no special features aside for a short picture gallery – as is tradition with these RiffTrax productions). I have no doubt that it will be a staple of my holiday diet for years to come.
Nota bene: All of the afore-mentioned shorts have also all been riffed in the studio by the RiffTrax crew and are available on their website. Of course, it’s one thing to watch them live, but it’s an altogether different experience in the studio.
Date of viewing: November 27, 2014