“Rubik, the Amazing Cube: Rubik’s First Christmas” (1983)

Following up on last week’s review of Deck the Halls With Wacky Walls, let’s talk about another cartoon based on a worthless piece of plastic: 1983’s Rubik, the Amazing Cube. Rubik’s Cube, a three dimensional puzzle with a deceptively easy concept that few people could manage, was one of the biggest toys of the 80s, with a multi-generational appeal that still exists today. Like Wacky Wall Walkers, most Rubik’s Cubes ended up either at the bottom of a toy box or collecting dust on a shelf after a few frustrating weeks of trying to get it to work.

Unlike Wacky Wall Walkers, however, a whole cartoon series managed to be mined from Rubik’s Cube. Granted, it barely lasted a season, but let’s give dubious credit where dubious credit is due. The hero of the show is a magic cube named Rubik, who, when his (its?) colors are matched up, becomes sentient, growing a head and legs. You’d think that would be terrifying to his child owner, but it’s okay, because Rubik is a benevolent creature, existing only to do good deeds for humanity, usually while chortling with delight at his own antics.

The two most interesting things that can be said about Rubik, the Amazing Cube, is that Rubik’s childlike voice was provided by Ron “Horshack” Palillo, and it was the first Saturday morning cartoon to prominently feature Latino characters. Those would be Rubik’s owner, Reynaldo, and his siblings, Carlos and Lisa, and their being Latino had virtually no impact on the plot of the show, save for some well-intentioned but incredibly clumsy “cultural references” by the all-Caucasian writing team. On the other hand, it also resulted in this amazing line from the Wikipedia page for the show: “In keeping with the Hispanic flavor of the show, the theme song was done by Puerto Rican boy band Menudo.”

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The Christmas episode, “Rubik’s First Christmas,” lays on the “Hispanic flavor” thicker than guacamole, when it opens with the kids singing “Feliz Navidad” as they’re on their way to Mexico to visit their abuelita, who lives in a house that looks like a strip mall Chi Chi’s, and where neighborhood children play with a piñata in the back yard. Abuelita seems to be in charge of Christmas for her entire town, but her plans are put into jeopardy when thieves steal a truck piled high with toys.

She and the kids, with Rubik in tow, hop on some conveniently placed burros (!!!!) and go after them. For some undoubtedly arbitrary reason, the kids can’t tell Abuelita about Rubik (though Reynaldo leaves him, face and all, hanging out of his pants pocket for everyone to see) until the very last minute, to which she conveniently responds that she knew about him all along. Rubik uses his magic to capture the thieves, who took the truck so they could fill it with treasure found in some nearby ruins (or, in their broad, Speedy Gonzales-like accents, “thee ru-eens“). When Rubik traps them by making their feet grow to enormous proportions, one of them exclaims “Eets thee curse of thee pyrameeds!”

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Naturally, the truck and the toys are saved just in time for the holiday. Rubik turns the truck into a sleigh, and, at the kids’ command, makes snow fall from the sky. That’s right, in a fit of white savior pique (the white saviors being the writers of the show) on a par with Band Aid, Rubik destroys the desert climate so that Mexican children can experience what a “real Christmas” is like. He then momentarily grows a Santa beard and winks at the camera. Feliz navidad, everyone!

Well, at least the episode isn’t dedicated to Rubik learning the meaning of Christmas, which in this case, given how loaded up both Abuelita’s truck and the kids’ parents’ car is, seems to be “presents, lots of presents.” It follows the pattern of every other episode, in that the kids get into a jam, and Rubik gets them out of it with his magical powers, with someone saying “ay caramba,” in keeping with the Hispanic flavor of the show.

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There are three stages a person goes through when they watch a show like Rubik, the Amazing Cube, or anything else in which clueless honkies try to appeal to different races–frowning, wincing, and cringing. The Christmas episode in particular seems to consist mostly of a bunch of stereotypical touchstones of Mexican culture–piñatas, burros, banditos looking to pilfer Aztec treasure–that are familiar and comfortable for white viewers. It’s surprising that there isn’t a scene of Rubik wearing a sombrero and tearing into a nice big burrito (with a hard inflection on “rito” so you know it’s authentic).

On a technical level, it’s typical sub-par Saturday morning fare. Save for their hairstyles and heights, Reynaldo and his siblings are interchangeable, and the desert landscape (because there are no cities in Mexico, you see) makes it convenient to keep recycling the same backgrounds over and over. Rubik himself looks like the end result of someone putting a Rubik’s Cube, a Smurf, and a Troll doll into a telepod, not quite as horrifying as a Brundlefly, but still oddly unsettling. If I possessed drawing abilities, I’d bring back Rubik as a graphic novel character, doing battle with his malevolent relative, the puzzle box from Hellraiser. Where’s my $700,000?

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