Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Cartoon and Toy Review:
I said we'd be doing a lot of cartoons this year, but I haven't quite put that money where that mouth is, have I? I swear I didn't lose track of a mouth again. Here's a cartoon RIGHT NOW!!!
RADICAL, DUDE!!! "LASERS AND ROCK AND ROLL!?" HELL YEAH!!! There sure were a lot of spooky-themed cartoons when I was a kid. Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters, the other Ghostbusters, Count Duckula, Toonsylvania, Gravedale High, Little Shop, Tales from the Cryptkeeper...so many, I can't even remember all of them and I sure as heck didn't see all of them. I'm pretty sure "Little Dracula" came and went on some network we just never had in our cable package, though that doesn't explain how I missed the existence of the advertising and merchandise, especially since I'm told the TV commercials were almost inescapable.
I'm going to quickly review the very first episode of the series, character-by-character, and then we're going to look at something special!
The premiere episode of the series is "The Curse of the Ghastly Minimum Wage," which is also an elegantly compact description of our entire society at the moment. The episode begins abruptly with a pretty grisly looking old man working at a construction site, and he's soon joined by a bizarre, warty yellow monster that you could easily take for some sort of squat gremlin or mutant toad at first glance, but there's more to both of these weirdos than you might think!
That creepy old man is named only The Man With No Eyes, and we need to borrow an image from another episode real quick, because he never takes his sunglasses off in this first one. When he does...
Wow. They really show a guy with empty, puckered eye sockets in this cartoon. You may have already noticed that he has wire coming out of his skull and a mechanical arm, which can transform into whatever tools or weapons he needs. It raises a lot of questions that he's gifted with such impressive cybernetic technology, but still makes do with no eyeballs.
As for No-Eyes' weird little sidekick, his name happens to be MAGGOT, and he really is in fact a giant, sapient, anthropomorphic fly larva. There's no explanation as to why or how he exists, but Little Dracula makes sure to remind us what he is with quips like "bug brain!" and even "unhatched fly!" While he may not "literally" resemble a maggot, there's certainly an undeniable maggotiness to this pale, lumpy goblin, and at least the suction cups he has for hands communicate a certain bugginess, don't they?
Maggot isn't nearly as nefarious as his boss, that kind of underling who's just sort of along for the ride, does whatever he's told and endures abuse from his peers with only the odd sarcastic remark or two in retaliation.
No-eyes and Maggot make some vague banter about constructing something or other, only for the episode to cut straight to a field of cuddly, frolicking teddy bears who start to get a little too excited for comfort.
"Little D," the show's terrible go-to nickname for its title character, is soon joined by his own sidekick and best friend Werebunny, who looks like virtually everything other than any kind of lagomorph. He's more like some kind of hairy, needly-toothed troll with a single eye. What's great about Werebunny is that despite the way he looks, he has a cute, comical voice and innocent demeanor you might expect from any actual cartoon bunny rabbit. He even eats carrots!
Werebunny nearly kills his friend when he opens up the window curtains in broad daylight, curious about all the noise the humans seem to be making. Little Dracula gets curious too, and gets out of bed to see if he can investigate what's going on.
This brings us to one of the best things in the whole show, as Little D and Werebunny seek help from IGOR. The name implies a lowly laboratory assistant, but this Igor is the resident mad scientist himself, assisted in turn by a British zombie named Deadwood, a fuzzball spider I don't know the name of and a disembodied hand named Handy, whose eyeball ring seems to function as an actual eye.
We come in on Igor rooting through Deadwood's head, because he apparently lost his pal's brain. He sure seems excited to be digging around inside the dead man, too, and we'll get back to that. All Little Dracula wants for now is some sort of hat that he says Igor designed for him, and somehow allows him to go outside in the sunlight.
The hat looks pretty silly on him, too. Somehow, just wearing it over his eyes also disguises his vampiric nature to the townspeople, but I guess Werebunny doesn't need a disguise of his own besides a t-shirt.
Little Dracula arrives just in time to see that The Man With No Eyes and Maggot are opening up a brand new fast food restaurant, and having never encountered them before, he finds nothing about this to be suspect - not even when the restaurant happens to have a vampire theme of its own.
When the two villains mention that they're hiring, the kid is inexplicably delighted by the idea of working as a frycook, and despite the villains also having no idea who he is, he and Werebunny just happen to be hired almost on the spot.
We also cut momentarily to a character, or characters, who only seem to exist to deliver some of their own comedic banter once per episode, all of which revolves around the fact that they have two heads and two personalities or the fact that they are a carrion-eating vulture. I like that they also have a human body for no explained reason. I also like that their name is TWIN BEAKS. Not bad horror references in this series! Not just the mainstream stuff kids would recognize!
Having done all this without his family's approval, Little D tries to hide his new job from the other, bigger D's, only for Dracula Senior to find his work uniform and ground him. Not because of the job, no, he has no idea what the uniform is for; he grounds him entirely on the basis of the uniform being so ugly, he feels it shames the entire Dracula family. That's probably the funniest thing in the entire episode.
Since he'd be in even bigger trouble for sneaking out and wearing the hideous outfit to flip burgers for humans, Little D goes back to Igor for help, and finds him stretching Deadwood on a rack to ostensibly "break a world record." This is actually the kind of thing these two get up to throughout the series; when he's not experimenting and inventing, Igor is chopping up, torturing and maiming a walking corpse who is not only nonchalant about the whole thing, but often exchanges almost flirtatious banter with his mutilator. They've got a WEIRD relationship. Go back up and look again at that scan from the kid's books and see how weird it really gets, which does indeed also carry over into this show.
For now, Igor simply agrees to have Deadwood sleep in Little Dracula's room, fooling his parents while their son continues his beloved fast food service work. What a warped, twisted monster.
It is unfortunately during their very next shift that the vampire and lagomorph uncover something pretty fishy about their employer. Namely, that the burger meat isn't meat at all, but almost entirely processed from pure garlic - which in this series can outright kill a vampire.
Despite it only being his second day on the job, Little Dracula is taken aside by his cybernetic manager and told that he's a loyal enough worker to be trusted with their true plans. By feeding nothing but garlic to the town populace, they hope to make everyone's blood deadly toxic to their hated enemy, Dracula.
So...wait a minute. They called it "juice" earlier, didn't they!? Well, that's just because we were seeing it on-screen, and actually showing even a drop of blood was generally a strict no-no in 80's and 90's children's television. So they won't call it blood when we can see it, but they're cool to talk about it in the context of vampires, and I guess we aren't skirting around anything at all here. Our main character's father really is just an ordinary man-eating Nosferatu and the narrative is still going to casually root for him without skipping a beat. Maggot and No-Eyes are literally the heroes. They are attempting to save an entire town from the walking corpse that preys upon random, innocent people.
Or...are they? Are we still going to find out these are "nice" vampires? Maybe Dracula only bites animals? Maybe he only bites criminals?
Little D gets angry enough to let his true identity slip, and No-Eyes calls Maggot in to help take the child hostage. I love the fly portrait that says "MOM" on the wall. That doesn't even look like a monster fly or anything. Was maggot once a perfectly ordinary, actual maggot? Is he ever going to metamorphose???
Once the dead kid and the rabbit are tied up - with garlic-based sausage links - our two villains exclaim that it's time to "summon their master," apparently a villain even higher up than themselves, but "summoning their master" strangely constitutes ripping up the floor, planting a single clove of garlic in the dirt, and watering it - a ritual which causes some sort of advanced tunneling module to rise up from the ground, and what emerges from the alien canister is..........
As usual, there is no explanation or backstory ever given for this character, except that he is somebody presumed at one time to have been killed by Dracula, or at least, he says he "seeks vengeance on he who tried to destroy me," and now intends to rid the entire world of vampires.
So........a good guy then?
None of this explains why he or at least his head consists of actual garlic, but it's impressive just how seriously they manage to treat this talking food person. He's got a sort of Darth Vader presence, and breathes garlic stench from his gas mask that renders vampires weak just to be anywhere near him.
When Little D escapes (with the help of a rat), a chase scene ensues that was honestly difficult to follow, as is a lot of the directing in this cartoon, but somehow or other ends with an explosion that supposedly destroys Garlic Man again (until the next episode, obviously) along with the burger place.
The episode ends with Little Dracula confessing to Adult Dracula about having tried to join the "disgraceful" world of humans, and before they make up and fly into the night together, his father drops a bombshell I'm sharing with you verbatim:
"Don't you realize that if humans are not kept in constant check, they will cause all the destruction, pain and torment on the entire earth. And if that happened, what would be left for vampires to do?"
Oh. Okay. They're not nice protagonist vampires. They're just regular baby-eating vampires. I can't honestly say that I expected this cartoon to go to places like "humans are a disease and Little Dracula is the cure" but...okay.
So, uh, doesn't that mean these guys are the heroes? They have them practically giving a nazi salute here as they greet their "DaRk mAsTeR." They cackle nefariously. They outright refer to themselves as disgusting, maniacal villains. And yet, their one and only known goal is to rid the world of beings who subsist on the blood of unwilling human victims. This is, to my knowledge, never lampshaded or generally acknowledged at all, but the three most grotesque, bizarre monsters in the show are objectively on the side of humanity here, and while I feel like I'm "supposed" to be on the side of "humans STINK! GO VAMPIRES!"...I gotta be real here. Dracula and his family are nothing but wealthy aristocrats who look down upon the poor peasant masses as mere cattle. Technically nothing about them is redeemable. They aren't even a moral grey area. They're JUST your classic, remorselessly predatory vampires and the only ones pulling their weight around to save us from their terror are a large bug, a blind man and a vegetable. Speaking of that bug, though...
The Little Dracula action figure line managed to pack every important character into its first and only wave, and they're beautifully vibrant looking figures. This is making me kind of want all of them, but obviously, only one is a true MUST.
...And here he is! Sorry I skipped the unboxing, but I'm not a youtube channel and an unboxing in still photos loses all the magic of the crinkling and tearing noises you really watch them for.
While most of the figures appear to be pretty spot-on likenesses, Maggot's feels a little tiny bit off. I think it's that his face looks a bit more human in the cartoon show, a bit flatter around the mouth, while the figure looks more like it has a big, beaky overbite. This does at least give him slightly more of a "cartoon bug" feel, but, I think I'd have preferred him just a smidge closer to the cartoon.
Maggot's mouth can open up on a pretty strong hinge, which wasn't a necessary feature at all - it's not like he's even known for biting things or does a lot of on-screen eating - but it's a nice little feature to havethrown in, compensating a little for the fact that his head can't be turned at all. His only articulation is where his four limbs meet his body, but those are also ball-jointed, so they've at least got a decent range.
The hero is supposed to wear big sucker-shaped shoes, and they're painted as such on the packaging art, but the real figure's feet are left the same unpainted yellow as the rest of him except for their laces, making it look like his sucker-feet are stiched. I appreciate the addition of flies though.
Maggot's only accessories are a set of gardening tools, including a bag of "steer manure." It actually kind of sucks to be Garlic Man, doesn't it? Existing only once you've been doused in shit?
I do like how the tools are sculpted so they can be gripped by Maggot's suction cups, which also do a decent enough job of clinging him to smooth surfaces for a little while. The suction doesn't seem to hold out for very long, but I guess we can just say his arms get tired after a while.
All in all, I'm glad to own a rendition of one of the only maggots ever to be a cartoon character, perhaps technically the only one if you don't count the stop motion depiction in the movie Corpse Bride. I feel like I should actually be significantly MORE excited that this character exists at all, let alone that an action figure was even made, but I guess I still had to be informed that he was a maggot to know that he was a maggot, so, he does still have to lose a point or two for that...even if he is, technically, one of the three saviors of mankind.
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