“Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa” (2002)

Christmas is a time for peace, togetherness, and upholding traditions. Tradition is especially important when it comes to holiday season entertainment–despite Hollywood putting out at least one new Christmas movie every year, most of us prefer to watch It’s a Wonderful Life for the 150th time, or continue the endless debate over whether Alastair Sim or Reginald Owen played the best Ebenezer Scrooge (answer: of course it was Alastair Sim, don’t be silly). We don’t want to get to know new characters when we could be wrapping ourselves in well-worn but still cozy blankets instead.

New Christmas specials sometimes turn out to be cute little gems, like 1999’s Olive, the Other Reindeer. Some, like the previously reviewed Christmas in Tattertown, are quirky failures. Then there is Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa, which aired once in 2002, and was never seen again. Disappearing into obscurity immediately after the credits rolled, it was recently rediscovered thanks to YouTube.

The best that can be said about Rapsittie Street Kids is that it’s original. You will almost certainly have never seen anything like it before, nor will you ever see anything like it again. In fact, it’s so original that you’ll think you dreamt it, because surely nothing this grossly incompetent could have possibly been deemed acceptable for primetime network viewing, let alone be promoted as the first in a series of original holiday specials.

The problems with Rapsittie Street Kids (of which there are legion) start at the very beginning, with the opening credits. They are in Comic Sans. It works well with the animation, which is bottom of the barrel CGI, and I don’t mean 2002 level CGI, I mean, at best, 1990, and only what you could produce on the most basic home computer. Houses look like featureless gray and brown boxes, with snow on their roofs that was clearly made using the “spray paint” brush on MS Paint. The residents of Rapsittie Street, all of whom have the same boxy shape, don’t walk so much as glide. They all share the same dead, unblinking eyes, and mouths that form the perfect O shape of a sex doll whenever they express surprise. One character, in what presumably was intended as an homage to Kenny from South Park, has what’s supposed to be a scarf covering the entire lower half of his face, but instead looks like a garden hose piled up on his shoulders. In what passes for a running gag, he has a sub sandwich seemingly fused to his hand. He’s never seen actually eating the sandwich, though, because that level of technology and design know-how was clearly beyond their budget.

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The titular Kids are designed (if such a word as “designed” can be used to describe how this plague upon the eyes occurred) to look like teenagers, with one female character wearing a tight, belly exposing t-shirt, and voiced by adult actors making the most rudimentary attempt at sounding like children. Yet, they behave very much like they’re in grade school, constantly picking on each other, and debating about whether or not Santa Claus is real. This starts out as merely weird, then becomes downright unnerving once the musical numbers start.

Oh, did I mention this is a musical? Indeed, it’s like watching someone fill out a checklist on how to make the most insufferable Christmas special possible.

The main Kid is Ricky, an aspiring rapper (though this seems to have been forgotten barely ten minutes into the show). Though the word “poor” isn’t specifically used to describe him, all the signs are there, mostly in the  empty house he lives in with his grandmother, who speaks in an indecipherable babble that makes her sound like a malfunctioning android. Ricky is mercilessly tormented by his classmates, which he bears with quiet dignity and grace, because, like in all bad holiday specials, the poor exist as beatific examples to wealthy people on how to appreciate what they have. Ricky serves so well as a beacon of pure goodness and light, with no other notable personality characteristics, that, despite being the primary protagonist, he disappears for long stretches of time, while the other characters figure out the lesson they’re supposed to learn from him.

 

Ricky has a crush on Nicole, the bratty rich girl in his class. Despite Nicole not having a single redeeming quality, he believes her worthy of his most prized possession, a teddy bear given to him by his dead mother. Nicole, who believes that a gift is worthless if it wasn’t bought at the mall, sneers at the shabby teddy bear and throws it in the trash. Despite this humiliation, the saintly Ricky promptly goes home and writes a letter to Santa Claus asking that Nicole, as well as all the other horrible kids in his class, get everything they want for Christmas. For himself he asks for just one tangible item: something called a “videobox.”

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Because Ricky exists only to suffer, he loses the letter on the way to the mailbox. Nicole, who claims to not believe in Santa, finds the letter, and eagerly prepares to add it to her arsenal of inflicting misery on Ricky. That is, until she reads it, and discovers the origin of the teddy bear. Finally exhibiting the faintest glimmer of humanity, she is stricken with guilt, and sets about retrieving the bear from the trash. Now, this plot would barely fill half an episode of a Saturday morning cartoon, but it’s somehow stretched into a punishing near 45 minutes. It’s heavily padded by scenes of the kids bullying each other, an interminable sequence where Nicole and two of her classmates are chased around by a pack of junkyard dogs, and musical numbers.

Other than a brief scene where Ricky “raps,” there are only two musical numbers in Rapsittie Street Kids, though that’s still two too many. One is just a standard “kid questions the existence of Santa Claus” song that fades from memory while it’s still being sung, but the other is truly what pushes this show around the “is this really happening?” bend. A critical error is made (although there are many) by focusing much of the program not on Ricky, but on Nicole, by far the most repugnant character, and one whose redemptive arc comes off as phony and shallow at best, and manipulative and cynical at worst. Despite callously rejecting Ricky’s gift and mocking her best friend for still believing in Santa Claus, Nicole evidently thinks very highly of herself, unironically singing a song called “The Best Kid in the World.”

It’s important to reiterate: despite being written to be a preteen at the oldest, Nicole, wearing a crop top, looks like a teenager, and speaks with the voice of an adult woman (the voice of Paige O’Hara, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, to be exact). Despite that, she twirls around her bedroom, singing “Look at me, and you’ll see, just how good I can be…” and imploring Santa to reward her for her behavior. It’s fucking creepy, reminding the viewer of Afterschool Specials and made for TV movies about bulimia and incest, and it goes on forever.

After her dubious embracing of the spirit of giving, Nicole finds Ricky’s teddy bear and attempts to return it to him. He insists that she keep it, however, because it hasn’t been established enough already that Ricky is a doormat, and content to allow Nicole to continue grinding her dainty feet into his back. On Christmas morning, Nicole discovers that she has received the gift Ricky asked for–the mysterious “videobox” (which is literally just a box with the word “videobox” written on it). Having received more than enough gifts already, Nicole decides to give her videobox to Ricky. “I am the perfect little girl,” Nicole announces, after telling her parents what she’s going to do, which is exactly the reason one should do nice things for those who have less–for praise and validation that you’re a good person.

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Good deed fulfilled, Nicole and Ricky join some of their classmates for an impromptu Christmas party. And finally, thankfully, it’s over.

While watching Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa, I kept thinking about The Cracker Brothers. Like the earlier show, I had never heard of Rapsittie Street Kids until just a few weeks ago. Both shows, despite looking like they weren’t even finished, let alone competently made, managed to grab a primetime slot. Information on both shows is scarce, and yet they mysteriously had known, talented performers attached to them in some capacity–in Rapsittie Street Kids‘ case, well established voice actors, including Paige O’Hara, Jodi Benson, Grey DeLisle, and even Mark Hamill. Now, to be fair, Hamill sounds like he contributed his dialogue while sitting in line at a bank drive-through while waiting to cash the check he received for it, but the fact that he even agreed to do it in the first place is boggling. If this was the final cut, how was this initially pushed to Hamill and the others so they’d sign up for it, crayon drawings on a diner placemat?

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The most mindblowing moment in Rapsittie Street Kids happens during the end credits, when a minor character announces that she and the other kids will return in an Easter special. Imagine the sheer balls, the breathtaking chutzpah, to create something that looks so cheap as to be grotesque as Rapsittie Street Kids, then be so sure it’ll be a hit that you announce a sequel during the end credits. That’s impressive. One almost wants to see if the tiniest crumb of improvement could have been found in an Easter special. Alas, this is the only lump of coal we’d get from Rapsittie Street, or its kids.

Original airdate: November 25, 2002

Watch it here

 

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One comment

  1. The “studio” behind Rapsittie, Wolf Tracer, made another special, called Dinosaur Island. It’s a significant improvement. It still looks awful, but things happen in a reasonably coherent progression. No songs, either.

    Like

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