Earlier this summer, with a marketing budget more than three times the cost that went into actually making it, The Angry Birds Movie, a kids’ movie based on a phone app (that arguably peaked in popularity five years ago), was released. A modest hit, it generated the usual fretting that cynical cash grabs made for children usually do–why can’t there be more original stories for family movies? Why must modern children’s entertainment always be about product tie-ins?
Counterpoint: in 1983, NBC aired a holiday cartoon based on a cereal box toy.
Reiterating that there is no rhyme or reason, no discernible trigger point to how something becomes a “fad,” among the most popular toys in the early 80s were Wacky Wall Walkers. A small, octopus-like rubber creature covered in a sticky residue, Wacky Wall Walkers did exactly one thing: they adhered to other objects. Ostensibly, though only a few kids seemed to possess the ability to throw it in just the right way, a Wacky Wall Walker, as per the name, was supposed to stick to a wall, then “walk” down it. Mostly it would just hang there for a moment, take one wobbly step, then fall to the ground, where it would pick up every bit of dirt, cat hair, and crumbs hidden in the living room carpet.
Supposedly you could wash them with dish soap and water and they’d be good as new, but that never worked. As a comedian I once heard years ago said, you could get the same result from a chunk of cheese, and yet, we lost our fucking minds over these things. Cheap and easy to get, they were the great equalizer on the playground, especially since almost no one could figure out how to get them to work right.
Naturally, as has always happened since television and movies existed, no matter what deluded Baby Boomers and Gen Xers like to think, someone had to come up with a way to capitalize on the craze, and in this case it was Deck the Halls With Wacky Walls, a prime time Christmas special that, shockingly, neither became a beloved holiday classic, nor was parlayed into a regular Saturday morning cartoon. Like virtually all rote, lazy holiday specials, the plot can be summed up with “[CHARACTER] discovers the meaning of Christmas,” which is, inevitably, “being nice.”
Not that anyone was wondering, but apparently Wacky Wall Walkers are aliens from the faraway planet Kling-Kling. Kling-Kling’s king, also named Kling-Kling (what an ego on that guy!), after spotting a star atop a Christmas tree, sends a research team to Earth to discover what Christmas means. The team consists of Wacky (the ostensible leader), Big Blue (the mopey realist), Springette (the girl), Crazy Legs (who’s always hungry), Stick’um (who’s…extra sticky, I guess?), and Baby Boo, who only speaks gibberish (voiced by–surprise–Frank Welker). Everything is helpfully explained in the opening song, except why it takes the team 2,000 years to reach Earth, and yet nobody has aged a day once they get there. I guess it’s Wacky Wall Walker biology at work.
Wacky and the gang set about their mission at a shopping mall. For whatever reason, everyone they encounter, including a mall Santa and a cafeteria worker, seems miserable, but none so much as Darryl, a spoiled little turd who, even at age 12, still throws a tantrum when his father refuses to buy him a $1,000 electric car for Christmas. After threatening to have the Air Force shoot down their rocket if they don’t comply, Darryl puts the Walkers to work as slave labor, pocketing the money they earn doing odd jobs around the neighborhood so he can buy the electric car himself. This leads to a cheerful song about teamwork, as the Walkers cut down tree tops and put up Christmas decorations so some shitty kid can buy his stupid car.
Of course, it’s not the Walkers who need to learn the meaning of Christmas, but Darryl, and he does, eventually, during the last three minutes of the show, after a visit to the town orphanage (helpfully labeled ORPHANAGE). Because the poor serve no other purpose but to act as saintly reminders to the rich about how good they have it, Darryl is inspired to not only donate the money the Walkers earned to the orphanage, but to also give away some of the massive collection of toys under his Christmas tree. Mission completed, the Walkers return in their rocket to planet Kling-Kling, eager to spread the word about a holiday to a distant alien world that for thousands of years seemed to function just fine without knowing about Christmas trees, Santa Claus, or material gestures as the preferred method of showing kindness.
Like the previously reviewed He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special and Christmas Comes to Pac-Land, the message in Deck the Halls With Wacky Walls is a bit muddled at best. “Go ahead and be a putz the other 364 days out of the year, if you must, but put on a good game face for Christmas” is not exactly what a kid should be getting out of these shows, as if the spirit of kindness and compassion is something you take off at the end of the holiday season, like a novelty Santa hat. There’s also, of course, the hypocrisy of a TV show based on a toy pushing an anti-consumerism agenda, but an entirely separate blog could be created about the mixed messages children’s programming sends.
As one would expect from a cartoon that was probably thrown together in about a month, it’s cheap looking, with ugly backgrounds that look like they were hastily drawn in as an afterthought. Neither Wacky or his pals really look like the toy they’re supposed to represent–if the show had been named Squiddy and the Squid Gang Save Christmas, no one would have been the wiser, and it would have come off as less of a cheesy gimmick. Deck the Halls With Wacky Walls has been all but forgotten, but you can still buy original era Wacky Wall Walkers on eBay–if you’re willing to pony up $25.00. How there hasn’t been a resurgence of them, perhaps tied to an app, I have no idea.
Unrelated, anybody know how to design an app?