Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to Day Ten of our Twelve Days of Shitmas Celebration for 2023. We're in the home stretch now, with only two more articles to come and four more days until Christmas. We'd like to say Shitmas flew by this year, light as a breeze, footloose and fancy free, but the reality is it's a tough slog writing twelve reviews in just a few weeks' time, especially when there's interns to feed, bills to pay and the many social obligations of the season to attend to. It makes a fella want to curl up into a ball and cry into his eggnog...yet here we are. It's a sickness, I think, an unhealthy compulsion to absorb and regurgitate so much holiday detritus all at once. Still, we persist and we persevere.

Our previous special was a toxic, lazy vanity project full of singing, dancing, bitterness and hate. It left a bad taste in our mouths and a troubling rumble in our bowels, much like we'd eaten an old plum pudding laced with Paris Green. Today we continue this troubling downward trend with the very worst animated 1980's toy tie-in we've ever seen, which is...really saying something, actually. It's stems from a promise we made at Shitmas a year ago, and like it or not, we keep our promises.

An expansive exhalation of hearty halitosis.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas special every day beginning December 3rd and culminating with what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. Last night I was musing over the artistic urge and the function of the artist in society. Art may well be a mirror of the times in which it's created, revealing uncomfortable truths about our social systems and our nature as sentient beings, and in its making we may hope to move the heart or instruct the mind. Ultimately, however we make our art for our own edification because there's something pushing and poking and whispering inside our souls urging us to do so. Of course, it's always a welcome thing to be recognized for one's talents and achievements, but it's not a requirement for the process of continued creation. I've been called many things in my life. An artist is one, but I've also been called a genius and visionary. Maybe not in those exact words, mind you, but my wife says I'm a smart ass and my psychiatrist says I hallucinate, and those are pretty much the same things. Even as a child those around me knew I was exceptional and would often note that I had a certain indefinable glow, particularly on days when I'd raid my mother's cosmetics drawer and use her bronzer. It certainly hasn't been all praise and admiration though. I've had my detractors as well. Some have called me a wack job and a nutter, but those are unkind people, and I don't know how they knew anyway, because I only do those things when I'm by myself. Oh, well. Haters gonna hate, masturs gonna bate, and as long as there's breath in my body, I'm gonna keep on making the best art I can by bringing you the best Shitmas specials I can find.


Now, I know you all know what a goddamn Rubik's Cube is. Perhaps some of you have one at home, gathering dust on a shelf or packed up in a box in your closet, its plastic surface fading and yellowing with age. Maybe you ocasionally pick it up and play with it, idly giving it a few turns before returning it to its lonely place, only to leave it there again for months or years because who has time for that shit? Or maybe you're one of those smug bastards who've actually solved it, or worse, one of those competition-level freaks who can pick it up and unscramble it in just a few seconds, inflaming with rage all the other freaks in your life for whom it takes a minute or more. Regardless of which category you fall into, I think it's unlikely there's anyone reading this who hasn't at least seen a Rubik's cube and knows what it does. After all, it's only the single best-selling puzzle game in the world, right? But did you know it wasn't designed to be a puzzle at all?

The original cube was invented by a Hungarian architect and sculptor named Erno Rubik in 1974, designed as a structural engineering exercise to demonstrate the mechanism that allows the various parts to move independently without falling apart. He didn't even realize it could be used as a puzzle until he scrambled it and tried to restore it to its original configuration. He patented it in 1975 as a "Magic Cube" and first sold them in Hungary in 1977. The founders of Ideal Toys spotted one at an international toy fair in 1979, licensed and renamed it, and the first Rubik's Cubes hit American toy store shelves in May of 1980. By the following year it had become the hottest toy craze of the year, and indeed of all time. Over 200 million of them were sold between 1980 and 1983, after which the fad finally cooled. Unlike most other fad products, however, Rubik's Cubes never left the market and continued to sell consistently for the next twenty years. In the early 2000's a revival of interest brought another bump in sales, and since the initial 1980's boom an additional 300 million units have been sold.

If you've been with us for Shitmas over the past five years, you'll know that the 1980's were a sort of golden age for TV shows and Christmas special based on hot products of the moment, from toys to dolls to video games and even animatronic mouse-themed pizza parlors.

In previous years we've done specials based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Glow Friends, He-Man & the Masters of the Universe and the worst of what we'd covered up to that point, Wacky Wallwalkers. In the review of that last special we made reference to a product tie-in program we'd recently discovered that we claimed to be even worse, teasing that we'd do an article about it the following year. Well, it's the following year, people, and Rubik the Amazing Cube (1983-84) is it. The program ran for twelve episodes as part of an hour-long block with the already-established Pac-Man (1982-84) cartoon which had run successfully for a full year before being paired with it.

There's a Christmas special for this one, too, which I'm sure I'll get to eventually.

Rubik the Amazing Cube is laudable for being centered around Hispanic characters at a time when there was little representation for Hispanics in popular entertainment, but it's not laudable in any other way I've been able to detect. For the purposes of the program, Rubik is a magic cube that fell off the back of an evil magician's caravan and was found by the Rodriguez siblings, Carlos, Lisa and Reynaldo. The little fellow has a face and a voice and magic powers that only work when his colors are in the "solved" position, so there's almost always some point in the action where he gets scrambled by falling on the ground or by being mishandled by the family dog, and the kids then have to put him right before he can fix whatever contrived problem they're facing that particular day.

The Christmas episode is an aimless, rambling, low-effort affair that just sort of meanders from scene to scene without any cohesive narrative. Things happen, then other things happen, then there's some poorly thought-out peril, then Rubik gets scrambled, they fix him, he does his magic, and then it's done. I know most people don't go into a movie or a TV show thinking, "Gee, I hope this has a solid narrative structure," but damn, you sure do miss it when it's not there.

Needless to say, the program was not a success, and while Pac-Man continues to have a following even today, Rubik the Amazing Cube is largely forgotten and has never been rerun...which you may have noticed is just the sort of thing we like to dig up and watch around these parts. Apologies for the fuzzy screenshots. The only copy available to me is an off-air recording from the special's sole broadcast in 1983.

We open on a desolate desert road where the Rodriguez family's red station wagon speeds along, kicking up dust in the arid heat. We hear the voices of the children singing "Feliz Navidad" to amuse themselves on their long journey to their Granny's rural Mexican village. There's Mom and Dad, who'll completely disappear from the narrative as soon as they reach their destination, our three child protagonists, their dog and, of course, Rubik, who despite his mandate to keep his sentience a secret, decides it would kind of break up the tedium if he loudly announced, "Rubik have a fun idea!" and used his powers to make Lisa's doll dance.

That's the most spacious station wagon interior I've ever seen.

Rubik is voiced by Ron Palillo, best known for his role as Arnold Horshack on the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79). Palillo was instructed to speak at half speed so the tape could be sped up to achieve the tone the producers were looking for, making his voice unrecognizable. Both Dad's and Reynaldo's voices, however are instantly recognizable to anyone who grew up watching cartoons in the 1970's and 80's.  They're both provided by Michael Bell, whose voice work appeared in such beloved series as GI Joe (1983-86), The Transformers (1984-1987) and most notably as Zan, the male half of the Wonder Twins on Super Friends (1973-85), a character I've somehow managed to reference twice during Shitmas this year.

So, the doll does a few pinwheels and jumps around a bit, finally jumping in the back where the dog and the presents are located. The doll taunts the poor creature, who barks and snaps at it until Rubik decides the meager fun is over and zaps it back into inanimacy. Needless to say, the dog is not amused.

"The fuck am I doing here? Somebody call the SPCA!"

At some sort of supply depot outside the adobe village where Granny lives, we see a couple of swarthy workers loading up a truck with toys and presents. One of them provides the helpful exposition that Granny has purchased all of this to distribute to the children of the town for the holiday. Apparently, she's a wealthy businesswoman and benefactress to the entire community. As the Swarthy Workers head off to the warehouse to pick up their final load of gifts, a couple of nefarious teenage thug wannabe's poke their heads around the corner of one of the buildings.

Fonzie and MAGA Boy.

Fonzie tells MAGA Boy they're finally going to have some real fun, as he eyes up the truck and declares "No one will miss that old heap!" The two of them look around to make sure no one is watching, sneak over to the fully loaded truck, hop in the cab and drive off with it. The two workers show up just in time to see them receding in into the distance.

I hope that's tied down because the roads are shit.

The family arrives at Granny's expansive hacienda, but before they can knock at the door the woman herself comes tearing up along the perilous mountain road at breakneck speed in a souped-up red jeep, wearing a Speed Racer helmet and laughing that she tried to beat them there, but she must be getting slow in her old age. It's apparent that Granny is fully loaded herself, not just in terms of money but also with a zest for life and a not inconsiderable sense of reckless, risk-taking abandon. She's got a hard-on for danger and daredevil eyes, and I'm sure we'll be seeing her engage in some surprising feats of improbable derring-do before the special ends.

I'm not sure I'd trust her with children, though.

They aren't there long before Granny's shortwave radio crackles to life and the two Swarthy Workers report the theft of the truck with the Christmas toys. Granny is clearly someone you don't want to fuck with, and she immediately decides she's going after the thieves herself. Without even consulting their parents she grabs the kids, shoves them in the jeep and peels off to hunt down the thieves.

Meanwhile Fonzie is driving the truck along another, nearly identical perilous mountain road to the one leading to Granny's house because it's economical to reuse backgrounds for multiple scenes. MAGA Boy notices the distinct lack of guard rails and the steep drop-off at the edge of the roadway and starts to get cold feet, but Fonzie tells him not to be such a little crybaby. Just as soon as he says it, however hey round a curve a bit too quickly and spot a patch of rocks blocking the road. Fonzie hits the brakes too late, and as they skid into the pile the truck jack-knifes, sending the back end off the edge of the cliff. Thankfully the only tree in a five-mile radius is sticking out from the cliff face at that very spot and the back of the truck lands squarely on it, perfectly oriented to support its weight.

What are the odds?

MAGA Boy starts shouting for help, hoping there might be a couple of buff desert snakes around who can use their bodies as ropes and pull them up. Sadly, the buff snakes are all at the gym further buffing up, and the ne'er-do-wells are left precariously perched and in imminent jeopardy.

Granny and the kids meanwhile are following a map to the road at the side of the mountain. Granny says, "Have you found the road Reynaldo?" and Reynaldo says he has and points to the map. A sudden breeze blows it from his hands, and it flutters away, which is made out to be a big deal, like they can't possibly find the thieves without it, but I have some questions. If there's only one way the thieves could have gone and they've already figured out where that is, then why do they even need a map? If they need a map because there are multiple roads the thieves could potentially have taken, then how do they know which one to choose? And since we're asking questions, why is Tarzan always so well-coiffed and perfectly clean shaven? 

I've lost sleep over this for decades.

It seems all of this tedious rigamarole is because they had some screen time to fill and needed something for Rubik to do, since we haven't heard from him in a while and he's the alleged star of the show. Once again, despite secrecy being of the essence, he announces loudly that he'll take care of everything, and flies off after the map. He uses his power beam thingy to reach out like a hand, but a change in the wind pulls the paper away from it, and it eventually lands in a farmyard next to a tractor and a chicken coop. One of the Chickens picks it up and runs off with it, despite the magic cube's pleas that "Rubik needs map!"

"Shit's mine now, beyatch!"

The chicken runs into the coop and Rubik has to figure out which one of the thirty or so birds has the map, so he starts lifting them up in groups to have a peep beneath their feathery asses. When the chicken with the map sees this, she runs back outside with it, but Rubik spots her and uses the multi-purpose beam to encase her in a big egg. As he picks up the map and flies off with it the befuddled bird cracks the egg open and goes back to scratching in the dirt for grubs and mealworms...and since this was superfluous nonsense, we can all go back to our lives now and pretend none of it ever happened.

"Who's the beyatch now, beyatch?"

Back up on the mountain another pair of swarthy guys have just randomly showed up, travelling by foot in the middle of fucking nowhere. They've noticed the truck hanging off the side of the mountain, have somehow attached a rope to the bumper and are pulling it up the nearly vertical surface and back onto the road.

"Is a strong rope, Amigo...and we are strong men!"

We never learn these guys' names, so I'm just going to call them Grubby and Greasy. They've just been moseying around out in the Mexican wilderness hoping to find an abandoned vehicle so they can drive off and loot an Aztec archaeological site nearby, and by an astonishing stroke of luck they've walked up this particular road on this particular mountain at this particular time. When Grubby and Greasy finish pulling the truck up, they see Fonzie and MAGA Boy pop out of it. G & G tell them to fuck right off, and they take the truck for themselves.

"Are we the beyatches now? I'm so confused."

As the second set of thieves we've met in less than ten minutes drives off, Fonzie and MAGA Boy just now notice that Granny's toys for the village children are in the back of the truck, and they're suddenly overcome with remorse. They vow to go back to town and confess, and to tell Granny and perhaps the proper authorities about these two new thieves...and I have more questions. How the hell did they not see the enormous fucking pile of toys and gifts in the back of that truck when there was a huge, fully decorated Christmas tree sticking right the hell out of the top of it? Why did they steal the truck in the first place if it wasn't for the presents? Why were the new thieves poking around the side of a random mountain? Is there any vestige of logic or reason in this special at all? Why am I wasting my life like this?

So, Grubby and Greasy are driving along another desolate road towards a thicket of trees, and Grubby says "We'll drop off the toys at the old Aztec ruins, then we'll go to the pyramid and get the gold!" Greasy asks "What about the curse?" but Grubby is a practical man, notwithstanding his penchant for aimless wandering on the sides of mountains looking for old trucks to purloin. He doesn't believe in no stinking curse when there's gold and jewels to be had. They reach the ruins and instead of just dumping all the toys, gifts and decorations so they can go grab the loot, they carefully unload them all and begin gingerly and meticulously and placing them neatly inside one of the buildings.

That's mighty decent of them.

Now we're back with Granny and the kids, and Granny definitively confirms that there's only one road the truck thieves could have taken, confirming that everything that happened with the map was time-filling nonsense. She also says they still have a couple of miles before they reach that road, and no sooner do the words leave her denture-embedded gob the jeep overheats and breaks down. Granny, though, is a mechanic in addition to her other talents, and she immediately diagnoses the problem as a broken fan belt. Fortunately, she always carries a spare, unfortunately the spare is also broken.

Lisa offers that if all else fails they always have Rubik, if only they can get him to do something without Granny noticing, so they all pretend to push the jeep towards a nearby town as Rubik levitates it on an invisible platform. Granny, meanwhile, sits in the driver's seat thinking she's steering and telling them what a great job they're doing.

She somehow doesn't notice they're three feet off the ground.

They reach the town and Granny is explaining to some other mustache-clad dude (every adult male we've seen so far has had one) the story so far when Fonzie and MAGA Boy come running up to confess and assure them they wouldn't have stolen the truck if they'd known about the toys. When Granny asks where the truck is now Fonzie says "We gave it to a couple of guys," like it was just some random swap. Just then the truck itself appears in the distance, coming from the opposite direction from which Fonzie and MAGA Boy came, meaning Grubby and Greasy drove miles out of their way just to drop the toys off in one Aztec site, only to drive more miles out of their way to a completely different Aztec site where the pyramid with the treasure is located. I didn't think it possible, but this thing is making less and less sense at it progresses.

Now, because Granny is an impetuous, irresponsible asshole with no regard for the safety of her grandchildren or even of herself, she decides she's going to stand in the middle of the road and somehow force the truck to stop by using her body as a barrier. The kids, at least, realize that this is a stupid fucking idea, but Granny is determined, and they have no choice but to have Rubik use his powers to knock her out of the way...but, you know, discreetly, so as no one would notice it was him. So, he makes a discreet little tornado that sweeps her up and deposits her by the side of the road next to a couple of baffled burros. In the confusion, Rubik gets knocked into the back of the truck, and as he's jostled back and forth on the bumpy road, he becomes scrambled and can no longer properly communicate or use his magic.

Chocolate milk break!

When we get back after the adverts, Granny sees the likely looking burros, just chewing sagebrush and minding their P's and Q's, so she and the kids mount up and head off after the truck, thus becoming the third set of thieves we've met during the course of our program.

Rubik is still bouncing around in the back of the truck, crying pitifully and making gibberish noises, as the truck thieves head further and further away up the mountain. Thankfully Granny has just remembered that there's a super-convenient short-cut up the mountain that's super conveniently right there next to them and super conveniently only accessible by burro. So up they all schlep to cut Grubby and Greasy off at the junction....and since her genius plan of standing in the middle of the road worked out so well for her the first time, she decides to stand in the middle of the road again, but this time on her borrowed burro, perhaps hoping the poor beast might take the brunt of any potential impact. She only gets about halfway out before the truck comes by, but it's enough to make it swerve and toss poor Rubik onto the road, where he proceeds to roll off the edge and down about twenty feet into a super conveniently placed eagle's nest.

What are the odds now?

Instead of immediately going after the truck, Granny announces that instead of immediately going after the truck they're going to grab a rope off one of the burros and lower Reynaldo down to grab the cube, so either she's a complete sociopath who enjoys putting her grandchildren in mortal danger or she knows all about Rubik's powers and realizes they probably can't recover the truck without him.

Possibly a little of both.

There's a bit of bother with the mama eagle returning and trying to tear Reynaldo's not-quite-descended testicles out with her talons, but otherwise everything goes according to plan, and because Reynaldo is a loner-nerd-savant with nothing better to do than twiddle with his cube all day, he's gotten Rubik completely unscrambled by the time Lisa, Carlos and Granny pull him up to the edge of the cliff. Lisa laments that the truck is long gone now, probably too far away for them ever to catch up to it, but Granny has one more trick up her sleeve.

Yep. She's a pilot, too.

So, Granny borrows a plane from some guy she knows in town who just happens to have one lying around in his back yard and they fly off to do a recon and find the truck. Just through sheer grit and determination, and because the special needs to wrap up in the next five minutes so another crappy product tie-in cartoon can run, the gang spots the truck heading for the Aztec pyramid and starts swooping down to alert their quarry that their goose has been cooked. Grubby and Greasy realize they've been spotted so they turn and make a run for it. Granny swoops down across the road in front of them, kicking up a cloud of dust, and the truck slips off the side of the road, teetering at the edge of yet another cliff. Granny, whose own actions have once again put other people in mortal danger, turns to the kids and says, "There's only one thing we can do...use your cube!"

Yep. Granny knew about the cube all along. Maybe it was just female intuition...or maybe it was because the kids kept using the goddamn thing right the fuck in front of her and Rubik never shuts the fuck up.

I guess we'll never know.

Rubik shoots his beam at the truck and picks it up just as it's going down the side of the ravine and gently places it back on the road, which freaks out Grubby and Greasy so much they jump out of the cab and bolt away shouting "It's the curse of the pyramid!" Rubik isn't done with them yet, however. He zaps them again, and as they try to run their feet grow to enormous proportions until they're pinned to the ground by the sheer weight of them...and you know what they say about men with big feet.

Big feet, big bromhidrosis.

Granny says as soon as they get back to town, she'll call the police and have the thieves picked up, but first they need to land the plane and get the truck. Okay, one more time...I have more questions. Are these guys' feet going to be like that forever? Because unless Rubik is around to zap their feet back to normal size, nobody's going to be able to move them off that mountain and they're going to have to be left up there to slowly starve to death. Also, where exactly on the side of this mountain were they able to land the plane? And are they just planning on leaving it up there for her buddy to have to go up and retrieve? Will Granny drive the truck and have one of the kids fly it back? Do any of them have a pilot's license? Can't we all just turn off our TVs and go home now?

With each and every question left unanswered, we cut away to Granny and the kids staring mournfully at the empty truck. Lisa is despondent, tearfully convinced the toys are gone forever, but Granny has one more trick up her sleeve beyond the one more trick she had up her sleeve before when it seemed she only had one more trick up her sleeve.

Which is very impressive since her sleeves are so short.

She motions Rubik over to them and he uses Lisa's teardrop as a sort of remote viewing monitor to show them the toys stacked up at the old ruins...then teleports them there, truck and all so they can load them up and take them home. It's so late in the day at this point that Granny says they probably won't get back to town until morning, so Rubik picks the truck up in his tractor beam and pulls it into the sky, with Granny and the kids holding onto ropes attached to him just like Santa drives the reindeer pulling his sleigh. As the soar across the sky, secure in the knowledge that Christmas is saved, Carlos decides they go one better towards making everyone's Christmas dreams come true. He tells Rubik to make it snow, so the little bugger does his thing and heedlessly destroys the entire local ecosystem. Lisa, not understanding the delicate balance that is nature, declares it "The best Christmas present ever" as all of the desert flora and fauna beneath them freezes and dies.

Good going, asshole.

Well this was miserable. From the clumsy dialog to the shitty animation to the cheesy voice acting to the bland characters, there was not a single moment of entertainment or joy to be found anywhere in the entire program. There's a fundamental problem, anyway with stories revolving around beings with the kind of broad, undefined powers that Rubik has, which is that whatever peril or problem you present them with they can just wiggle their noses and make it all better. Without more serious limitations than "if he's scrambled, he can't do his magic" there are no real stakes to almost any situation you might come up with, so in a sense it doesn't even matter whether there's a logical progression of events or just a random bunch of shit thrown at the characters, because you always know how easily it can all be resolved. Maybe that's why the writers so obviously didn't even try. Also, who the hell thought it was a good idea to anthropomorphise a goddamn Rubik's Cube in the first place? I never thought I'd say it, but this thing makes me wish I'd watched that Chuck E. Cheese special instead.


Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 23rd!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2023.

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