Catastrophic Cartoon Review: The Turkey Caper

Catastrophic Cartoon Review: The Turkey Caper

Why hello there, and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Unless you’re Canadian. In which case, “Happy One-Month AFTER Thanksgiving” for you guys. And, since it’s only an American holiday, I suppose the rest of y’all really don’t have anything special going on, so “Mediocre Thursday in November” to you. Today, we’re breaking out of our normal od-based paradigm (well, kind of) to continue a new tradition we’ve started on the site. As you might recall, last year we reviewed an animated Thanksgiving special, (one that weirdly refuses to show up in the archives, and made me panic for several minutes that I never actually uploaded it.) since we realized we were ALWAYS going to be posting on Thanksgiving, due to our release schedule forcing us to align with the holiday. With the multitude of dishes being cooked for Thanksgiving, and the connotations of tradition and family that the holiday brings, we thought it was a fun way to give me a LITTLE time out of the kitchen this week, without depriving you of my ever-scintillating wit. Last year we tackled a Garfield Thanksgiving, and this year, we’re going to do one that I KNOW was a constant appearance at my household, but that I honestly expect few of you to have heard of: The Chucklewood Critters/ Rusty and Buttons’s The Turkey Caper.


The What of the Who The Hell?

Yeah, that’s a fair response. Short answer: two guys from Hanna Barbera left the studio in the 80’s to make a series based off their own creations, Rusty the Fox Pup and Buttons the Bear Cub. And I assure you, it’s as earnestly cheesy as it sounds.


Our main characters are introduced cartwheeling/somersaulting for the simple joy of it, levels of saccharine.

For 15 years, these characters ONLY EXISTED in a series of holiday specials, starting with a Christmas special in 83, then a Halloween special, then Thanksgiving, then Easter, and then…whatever the heck “The Adventure Machine” is supposed to celebrate (‘the abstract concept of summer’, my notes tell me, which means even THESE guys knew that Arbor Day isn’t a real holiday.)  Pioneering a technique that would later be stolen by EA for their various sports franchises, the company stayed afloat by just turning out one slightly different variation on the same theme every year (with a 5 year break from 1986 to 1991, for some reason.) They eventually got their own TV show, which ran for 2 seasons, and then everyone involved swore to never speak of it again.

However, since I was partly raised by my grandparents, who had cared for my older cousins, I have a weird association with various properties from the 3-5 years from before my birth, where some of the series and characters remain in my mind, since my grandparents, being pre-eminently frugal people, bought toys and VHS tapes for the FIRST set of grandchildren, and I then got their cultural hand-me-downs. Which is why I have solid and fixed memories of a


It’s also how I immediately recognized Mon’star when they brought Silverhawks to Toonami.

The Show Must Go On

It may surprise you to learn (if you’re an idiot) that two animators/writers from Hanna Barbera working on their own didn’t really have much of a budget. I bring this up solely because the auditory choices present in this film may be the worst I’ve ever encountered in ANY film in my lifetime, and that includes the bad ADR of Birdemic’s first fucking line of dialogue.


Yep, that’s definitely the shape your mouth makes when saying “Hi!”

 And I don’t mean the audio itself is bad, though there are some instances of that: I mean that, at a technical level, the audio is poorly DONE. Sounds aren’t balanced correctly, they don’t flow naturally, just all sorts of little things. Sometimes, it feels like the choice is intentional but misguided, but other times, it feels like they just didn’t have the money/time to make it better.

I warn you about this because the FIRST bit in the special is about a bear being lazy, and the audio on his snoring is aggressively high, at least twice as loud as the sawing going on. A sentence with enough worrying details that I suppose a plot synopsis is in order.

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This looks like a terrible Martial Arts Tournament, or a really dumb prank.

There are two ongoing plots to the piece; the first one, involving the main characters’ parents, is pretty straightforward: As it’s nearing the end of November, the Bears are getting ready to hibernate. As such, the two fathers have built a bunch of food storage chests to help the family last the winter in the cave. Unfortunately, the father bear is more affected by the late season than the rest of his family, and just keeps falling asleep as they build the chests, forage for food, etc. “Dumb dad keeps taking naps” is the recurring joke here.

Simple enough arc for the parents, which is good because the kids’ arc is an emotional rollercoaster, with a lot of seemingly unnecessary twists and turns. The kids want to help their dads, but they’re shooed away because saws and nails don’t tend to mix well with…I’m going to go out on a limb and call these kids about 7-9.


Though, on the other hand, their eyes do hold an ancient pain, a knowledge of secrets man was meant to have forgotten long ago.

Dismissed from work, they decide to go play, where they’re barely outside before we get the world’s lowest effort fake-out scare: the kids mistake their own mothers for something to worry about for about 2-3 seconds, before instantly realizing their mistake. They announce they’re going off to “Wild Turkey Valley”, which suggests that either this is the “Chinatown” of the forest, or these kids are about to get SMASHED on mediocre whiskey. Upon arriving, we’re greeted with, amazingly, a LOWER-EFFORT fake-out scare. At least, I THINK that’s what’s going on. They arrive there for the music to suddenly become mildly darker and more urgent, as we hear the sound of…gobbling. “Wild Turkeys” one of kids whispers, seemingly surprised to have found them in WILD TURKEY VALLEY. Then they pop their heads over the brush to see that these particular turkeys are their friends, Morty and Priscilla!

in the ghetto.JPG

Which are kind of Jew-y names for Turkeys in a world with “Rusty”, “Buttons”, and “Abner”

The turkeys are working on chores, but are persuaded to come check out an old cabin with our characters. At the cabin, they find a book about people in funny hats meeting people who wear feathers on their heads, and wonder what the whole thing is about. They resolve to ask “Jonesy”, the human park ranger, what it could be about.

I should note that so far, we’ve only covered about 4-5 minutes of the special. A LOT happens in this, to relatively little effect.  The core points: the kids go talk to Jonesy, (though the turkeys don’t, because “our mom doesn’t like us to leave Wild Turkey Valley”, which makes my references to Chinatowns and “Jewy” names a little less okay, so thanks for that, cartoon.) who explains how the first Thanksgiving happened, supposedly because 2 pilgrim children were frightened by Indians and, in their running around in panic, got lost in the woods, only to be saved by the Indians. To make this more interesting for the audience, rather than just have Jonesy describing things, they have the kids fall asleep and dream the story happened to them. Which is a fine choice, but kind of a dick move in-universe. “Jonesy, explain this holiday to me!” “Well, you see kids, back when the Pilgrims-“ “ZZZZZZZ”

out like a light.JPG

“Your stories are boring, grandpa!”
”Then why do you keep asking for them?!”

This section has just…so many inaccuracies, which I guess is because the kids are dreaming it, and kids are dumb. There’s a bit about the kids not knowing how to harvest a turnip they find, despite knowing WHAT it is immediately. (Which, as a pedantic food dick, is weird, because Europe has had Turnips for MILENNIA at the time of the Pilgrims. That would be like depicting a Native American not knowing what a DEER was.) Also, they do the “Ye Olde Englishe” thing, where the people try to talk “Old Timey”, and their choices in it, as a pedantic LANGUAGE dick, are really weird. (They actually get MOST of it correct,  but then out of nowhere one of the kids says “we know’st the way”…And the ‘est’ verb ending is for second-person tenses. “You know’st.” That would be like a modern English speaker saying “I’ll runs over and asks them.”)

 Also, and this is a little thing, but they drew what are either bananas or plantains on the Thanksgiving table.

going bananas.JPG

Also, and maybe I’m reading into this too much, but why are the Indian people? Like, you HAVE feathered friends, why didn’t you imagine them as Turkeys?

Which is a little ahistorical, as plantains weren’t regularly brought to the north-eastern colonies for another couple decades.  Which I’d be fine with, if it wasn’t also just a weird choice: Who eats EITHER of those things at Thanksgiving?

Anyhow, the kids think this whole Thanksgiving thing sounds cool, so they want to try it out. Yes, apparently despite living beside and speaking with mankind, these sapient woodland creatures have never HAD Thanksgiving before. Which is…kind of weird, but at least it’s a new angle to pursue, other than the go-to “Kid doesn’t like Thanksgiving and is unaware of the history of it” They decide to go invite their turkey friends, and now we get to the real crux of the episode, at around the half-way point: it turns out some nefarious group of hunters is…rounding up all the turkeys in cages, to haul them off without explanation. Man, my Jew joke from earlier has taken a DARK twist.


I take back my question about the Indians not being turkeys. It’s hard enough to mine comedy out of echoes of Dachau, I don’t need the Trail of Tears muddying things up too.

The cubs help the turkeys escape, only for the turkeys to act like…well, turkeys, and just bolt screaming through the hunters’ camp to get away, rather than quietly sneak out. The hunters grab nets to catch them, and a silly chase scene commences. The kids end up hiding all 3 dozen turkeys in the bears’ food storage bins. Without telling their parents. And immediately run off to tell the ranger. (Side note: This means they took the hunted minority, and hid them in the closest thing they had to a root cellar. This CANNOT be a coincidence.)

This leads to the father bear coming home, taking a nap, and then deciding to get a snack, revealing all the turkeys, who panic and go running. Which…what? The turkeys later say they panicked because he was a bear…but your KIDS hang out with a bear! Every animal in this forest can talk! Both with themselves and with humans! You’ve gone out of your way to not depict ANYONE in this eating meat! The bears only refer to berries and nuts, the Thanksgiving table had BANANAS instead of a ham or Turkey.

Eventually, it’s all sorted out, and the park ranger shows up at the cave…WITH THE HUNTERS! He’s sold out the turkeys for the safety of the rest of the park! Haha, no. Turns out, they’re not hunters at all. Which you might have guessed from their reaction to “oh no, the turkeys are getting away” being to grab oversized dog-catching nets, rather than, you know, GUNS.


Though, in many ways, “oversized nets” were the guns of a lot of children’s cartoons

They’re actually from a Conservation society.  This year’s harvest in local berries and other food plants is under normal, so there’s just not enough food in Wild Turkey Valley to sustain the population, so they’re going to move the turkeys to another valley for a year or two, to let the berries grow back. Which ties back into the theme of the Thanksgiving story: just because someone seems scary, doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to help you. Personally, I liked that lesson better from To Kill A Mockingbird, but to each their own. Though I guess subbing the side moral being about proper wildlife management rather than racism in criminal justice makes for a more kid-friendly movie.

 So that’s the special. It’s…really weird, from a pacing and technical standpoint. Sometimes scenes just END and we cut to a completely different tone, it takes us 5 minutes to even stumble toward a thematic goal, and 11 minutes for the main conflict to show up, but they have the time for a 3 minute song number between the Pilgrims and Indians, showing their peaceful and happy coexistence…which is…an option. It’s really obviously made for younger kids, with a lot of focus on movements and sounds, and made with relatively little capital, as a lot of the animation is pretty simple/cheap. But I have fond memories of it. You can check it out on Youtube, and have a chuckle yourself.  “Mediocre Thursday in November” to you all!