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014: SoraRabbit Does a Christmas Special - Penguin Edition

Posted By SoraRabbit77 1352 days ago on Entertainment - You all get a surprise bonus post before the end of the year! I have several Christmas-themed posts I'd like to do, but I figured I would space those out. (I kind of set a break neck pace for the end of the year anyway and I've run out of time.) I did want to do one this year, so the first one that came to mind was my favorite holiday special of all time, 1991's A Wish For Wings That Work.

Poor little bird and his gimpy little wing-arms. (Credit: Amblin Television)

The concept is quite simple. Opus is a penguin who wishes he could fly like other birds. Opus is voiced by Micheal Bell, who I think is perfect casting. His voice comes through gentle and earnest, which fits the character of Opus well. Opus was a character from an 80s comic strip named Bloom County. I love love love Bloom County. It's the first comic strip I have memories of ever reading. I didn't get a lot of the jokes back then, but I liked the characters. (Especially Opus and Bill the Cat.) And the jokes that didn't sail over my head made me laugh. In my childhood, between Bloom County and Mister Popper's Penguins (an excellent tale), I developed a lifetime love of penguins. I was very sad when Bloom County ended, and even more sad when my local newspaper decided to not carry the follow up strip Outland. But in 1991 I was given one of wishes-- a continuation of Opus's story in the form of a Christmas Special.

Title Screen (Credit: Amblin Television)

When I was younger I liked holiday specials. Charlie Brown, Garfield, the Muppets, Frosty, Rudolph... there were a lot of them to choose from. None of them really resonated with me, they were just things to watch around that time of year. But then A Wish For Wings That Work aired. Sadly I didn't think to tape it, so after the first viewing it was lost to me, only existing in my memory for many years. (Luckily much later I found it on DVD.) Unfortunately it didn't catch on, so it did not become an annual Christmas special like some of the others. (The ratings were not the best, sadly.)A Wish For Wings that Work was based on a children's book of the same name written by the creator of Opus and Bloom County, Berkeley Breathed. (Fun fact that I only learned recently, his last name is pronounced the same as "method".) I wanted to also read the book in preparation of this post, but I didn't think of it soon enough to order it and it was sold out at the book store. Luckily I was able to find it narrated on Youtube. The video was not the best, but the story was quite enjoyable. Well-crafted and sweet.

Aww, little Opus. (Credit: Berkeley Breathed.)

Let me take a step back at this point and go through a little history. In college Breathed did a comic strip called The Academia Waltz. A couple of the characters that recur in Bloom County originated here. He started Bloom County in syndication in 1980 and it ran until 1989. In the course of Bloom County many recurring characters were introduced, including Opus the Penguin and Bill the Cat. Bill started as a knock off bargain bin Garfield to make a point on commercialism and merchandising. Eventually Bill became a full character in his own right. After ending Bloom County, Breathed came out with a Sunday-only strip called Outland. Opus moved on to a more fantastical world with all new characters. Over time, Bill and some of the old characters found their way into Outland. I mention all this because the general consensus is that this cartoon takes place not in Bloom County, but in Outland, which would make sense because that's the comic that was out at the time of the special. Note that the history of Bloom County and Opus does not end here, thankfully. Breathed brought Opus and all his friends back in 2015, to great fanfare. None of what came after is really pertinent to this post, however, so I'll save more discussion for a potential later post. (Breathed's work does warrant further discussion some day.)

Dear Santa... (Credit: Amblin Television)

Okay, now that I've set the stage, let's talk about what happens in the special. It starts out with Opus writing a letter to Santa Claus, imploring the big guy to give him new wings. He wants wings that flutter but his only sputter. Opus takes us on a flashback to earlier when he ran across the town, attempting to fly.

Bill is adorable. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Bill the Cat, who lives in a trash can in the alley, follows him around. Unfortunately, poor Opus can't get off the ground.

So sad. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Opus throws a cute little tantrum and partially blames Bill for distracting him. We get a little back story on Bill. According to this cartoon, Opus rescued Bill from the University science lab, where they had replaced his brain with tater tots.

That tracks. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Opus doesn't want a sidekick, but Bill follows him around anyway, like cats do. The ducks tease Opus for not being able to fly, which annoys him.

Ducks are jerks. (Credit: Amblin Television)

We meet Truffles, a pig who thinks he's a rhinoceros. (I like this character. He was from Outland, but I don't recall him being a "rhino" in that.)

He makes a convincing rhino. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Opus goes to his support group, Earthbound Birds Anonymous. The group is run by Ronald Ann, who was a character late in Bloom County's run. (She was, incidentally, the one who led Opus to Outland when everyone left Bloom County.)

Now THIS is a support group. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Also in the group is a bitter kiwi and a chicken who thinks she's a Boeing 747.

Lots of birds have emotional problems. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Ronald Ann is adorable, but not very good at offering guidance, so Opus leaves. At the door he meets a cross-dressing cockroach with fake boobs. (And I can guarantee this is the only Christmas special where that sentence can be used.) Opus decides to go full Wile E Coyote and buys some Acne brand balloons.

This should work. (Credit: Amblin Television)

It actually seems like it's working, but Bill gets his impressively long tongue stuck in the contraption and causes him to crash. Opus loses his cool, yelling at Bill and telling the cat to get lost.

Talking sense into Bill is useless. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Bill stalks away sadly, and Opus gets the bright idea to write a letter to Santa. (Which brings us back to the start.) Since it's Christmas Eve, Opus decides to fax the letter instead of mailing it. (I think it's a funny gag, but a little dated nowadays.) Opus goes to sleep and Santa starts his journey with triumphant music playing. Santa looks weirdly human compared to the cartoony appearance of the other characters. (Maybe because he's magical?) Santa falls out of his sleigh due to a mechanical failure.

Oop. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Opus has a black and white dream where he appears in a movie clip attempting to fly a plane. I love this part. The passengers think he's Chinese or Mongolian and freak out. I'm not sure what movie it's from. He realizes he can't fly (of course) and crashes.

I still think a starboard Aelertooter should be a thing. (Credit: Amblin Television)

When Opus wakes up, we get a couple of recurring Bloom County jokes. He slept on his nose wrong so it's crooked. When he straightens it out, his butt falls off.

It's replaceable. Like a tire. Nyuck nyuck. (Credit: Amblin Television)

The bully ducks come to fetch Opus and they all rush to the lake, where they find Santa stranded on his sleigh in the water. There's also a joke where Opus's eyes pop out like a classic cartoon character and it hurts him. (This was an old Bloom County gag too.)

Really, did anyone think this wouldn't hurt? (Credit: Amblin Television)

Opus sets to work rescuing him, skillfully swimming them back to shore.

Swim little penguin, swim! (Credit: Amblin Television)

Santa gives Opus his hat and tells him that obviously his wings work just fine. He didn’t see a bird with wings that sputter.

Awww. (Credit: Amblin Television)

The ducks are jealous and Bill is so shocked his entire body collapses.

More proof cats are a liquid. (Credit: Amblin Television)

Santa flies off at light speed, which kinda seems like a dick move— flying off when you’re comforting someone who’s sad about not being able to fly. Despite Santa’s encouraging words, Opus is still sad. The next morning he awakens to a front yard full of ducks, all wearing his signature red bow tie. I have no idea where they got them all. The tie store must be open really early.

So dapper. (Credit: Amblin Television)

The (formerly bully) ducks kidnap him and help him to finally fly. They also reveal that it was Bill's idea to call Opus in to save Santa. Opus makes his peace with Bill the Cat and has a great time flying around. The end.

Opus gets to fly. (Credit: Amblin Television)

So there you have it... my favorite Christmas special. If you've never seen it, I recommend giving it a try. (There are several uploads on YouTube.) There's a couple of awkward jokes that don't land, but overall I think Opus and his friends translate very well into animation. They downplayed Bill's grossness for sure, but they did slip in a hairball at one point. The cartoon leans more heavily into the silliness and weirdness of Breathed's comic work than the book did. The show also adds quite a bit, including Bill the Cat, the ancillary characters, and the support group. These additions felt natural however, not like padding. The story has a great moral. Our strengths may not be in line with our dreams, but we all have value. Embrace what makes you unique and there will be others who can see how special you are. Nice things to keep in mind. I really enjoyed revisiting this special. I plan to get into the tradition of watching it every year from here on out. It's just a cute, feel good show and it makes me happy. Maybe some day we'll get more Opus and Bill in animated form, but until then we still have the comics, which are going strong.

Happy little bird. (Credit: Amblin Television)

I hope you're all having a great holiday season. I'd like to thank you all for reading my blog so far. In the last four months I managed to get out 14 posts. This has been a great start, and I hope to bring you many more things over the next year and beyond. I appreciate each and every one of you. See you next year!

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