CHRISTMAS COMES TO PACLAND
Original Air Date: December 16, 1982
Through some undisclosed dimensional gateway, Santa Claus crash lands in Pac-Land. It’s up to the entire Pac-gang to find his toy sack, fix his sleigh, and drug his reindeer before the Ghost Gang can ruin Christmas!
Immediately following his introduction to the world as a Japanese arcade game character in 1980, Pac-Man could do no wrong.
The original game and a Christmas album completely unrelated to the the cartoon
It didn’t matter that his character and design were attributable solely to the graphical limitations of the day – during the early 80s, Namco’s insatiable circle was the basis for more video game sequels and spin-offs than Mario, with toys, a breakfast cereal, a chart-topping album and – you guessed it – an animated Christmas special.
For a time, Pac-Man’s show was so popular that Tengen based their NES cover art on its design
Hanna-Barbera added Pac-Man to its stable of awful cartoon series in 1982, and according to legend the number of advertisers dying to hock their wares during the premiere necessitated commercial breaks that were twice as long. A single Christmas episode aired during primetime that winter and continues to be shown on Cartoon Network’s Boomerang network every year, even though the show ceased production in 1984.
Hope you weren’t looking for Christmas Comes to Pac-Land to stray from the Hanna-Barbera formula of weakly animated, asinine storytelling with a lethal dose of catchphrase-spewing stupidity. Even the Christmas Spirit has its limits.
In case you don’t know, what separates PacLand from our world is its spherical (well, rounded) appearance and an inability to celebrate Christmas. So Pac-Man, Pepper Pac, and Baby-Pac open the special by minding their own business outside in the snow.
Pac-Man and the fam, rapt in heathen Holiday delights
But there’s definitely something in the air… Not only do we see no sign of the series’ villain, Mezmaron, but even the Ghosts Gang doesn’t seem all that concerned with Power Pellets, the accumulation of which had been one of the series’ primary themes.
In a simpler time, characters fought with their faces
It’s the time of year for B-grade motivation, and if you’re unfamiliar with the only thing Pac-Man can really do, that would be…chomping. Yes, biting each other. But whereas Pac-Man and his wife “Pepper” bite back only in self-defense (and with the necessary aid of Power Pellets), ghosts Clyde, Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Sue seem hellbent merely on sinking their teeth into something.
Power Pellets are in such short abundance, they’re stored in unlocked roadside boxes and grow on trees.
Once the Pac-Family swallows the pill-like Pellets, they’re momentarily endowed with super powers and can fend off their supernatural attackers.
And the Bitees become the Bitten.
Purple is the new blue
Nevermind that nothing really happens after getting chomped…
One of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen
No sustenance is gained, and the figures eventually go back to normal. Pac-Man just falls down and looks dizzy, but the ghosts lost their clothing and must brave the chilly Pac-night to get home for a wardrobe change…
Unfortunately, though, their wayward amphibious eyes just so happen to startle Santa’s reindeer this time!
Santa has fallen to earth (er, PacLand) all because of a literally translated plot device!
A warm Christmas image
Santa’s in bad shape, so Mr. Man and the family haul the fat man and his reindeer back to their house for a little TLC.
The precursor to the interrogation scene in Basic Instinct
Santa informs Pac-Man that if he can’t find his sack of ancient toys, Christmas is fucked beyond all repair.
Even while inside what is basically a video game, Santa is committed to bringing children toys from 1945
There’s no way Pac-Man’s going to disappoint every boy and girl out there on this cultural occasion. And he’d never even seen a human until a few minutes ago, so that’s pretty damned heroic! Or just fantastic writing.
After a brief interlude that sees the ghosts changing into new outfits and going all self-referential…
I know I’m supposed to be taking the piss out of this thing, but this brief aside to the original Pac-Man design was years ahead of its time
…Pac-Man ventures out into the Pac-Wilderness with his trusty pup, Chomp-Chomp (are you noticing a theme yet?!), to find Claus’ misplaced sack.
Pac-Man’s never heard of Christmas, but Nature clearly has
Unfortunately, it’s the ghosts who find it first.
The ghosts develop a rare third interest
In another act of valiant scripting, Pac-Man concocts a plot to dig a tunnel under the snow and grab the bag out from under the preoccupied ghosts.
The reality is that this is one of two actions Hanna-Barbera could animate in less than an hour
And of course, when you’re scripting action based solely in the economic interest of drawing the bare minimum of movement, it doesn’t work:
Chomp-Chomp hides with the bag that’s carrying an entire planet’s worth of gifts, while Pac-Man runs away from the bite-mad ghosts.
I was going to make fun of this until I realized it’s actually extremely authentic to the game
Sadly, he trips and falls, allowing the Ghosts to catch up to him!
The stuff of 1980’s nightmares
Pac is surely a dead man…or perhaps this is a Saturday Morning Cartoon-based special not brazen enough to depict a violent group-gnashing? Yeah, it’s the latter.
One life left
Turns out being attacked by the Ghosts Gang – the lone threat to Pac during the entire series – results in nothing more than a light daze. Nevertheless, Pac-man has failed. But in the Hanna-Barbera style of moving things along, this somehow resolves the conflict completely and he succeeds anyway.
A little cocoa soothes even the most savage plot hole
With the toy sack secured and the sleigh fixed, it looks like Christmas is fully on the mend. Suddenly, however, we’re then informed that Santa’s reindeer are too sick to fly. Somehow these majestic beasts, who hail from the North Pole and travel the entire world – a good portion of which is experiencing some form of winter – in a single night, have caught cold after crashing in snowy Pac-Land.
Christ, is this thing being animated LIVE?!
Pac-Man leaps into his mid-sized sedan and tugs Santa to a place sure to reinvigorate the reindeer.
Incidentally, Pac-Man’s car sounds exactly like The Jetson‘s
But – wouldn’t you know it – the ghosts are still on the prowl. On the prowl for what? To get Pac-Man, I guess! Sure, they already seemed to have gotten what they wanted, having bitten the guy just moments ago, but this is the motiveless give-and-take standard synonymous with thinly veiled 80’s cartoon shows meant to sell more than commercials.
Kill me later, please?
Now here’s a weird one. The barely articulate “Packy” (as his wife refers to him, with no thought to how offensive that term is to Pakistani people) manages to convince the ghosts to give him and Santa a pass on their pending shenanigans in the interest of preserving the timeliness of a Holiday they’ve never heard of.
Pac-Diplomacy in action
Thus our action starved heroes move along to an orchard where the entire cartoon series’ central object of struggle literally grows on trees?
A foot-high fence ensures that no flying ghosts gain entry
The reindeer feast on the anabolic Deus ex Machina…
No need to test its effects on earth mammals – EAT!
…until the radioactive glow of Holiday performance enhancement lets Santa know that the Power Pellets have indeed kicked in.
“Dude, you look so Pac-ed up right now!”
Mission accomplished, Kringle gets the hell out of dodge at Mach 10, and the gang returns home.
“Goodbye! Side effects may include erectile dysfunction, bone deterioration and loss of the will to live!”
But somebody’s left a surprise that neither the events of the “plot” nor Santa’s trans-dimensional break-out can account for…that must mean Christmas!
A Christmas Tree with all the trimminz
And even after the ghosts have a second change of heart and barge into Pac’s house looking for a fight, we find that Santa didn’t forget about them either.
No, seriously. You shouldn’t have.
Zilch. Two intertwined dimensions was probably one too many. There’s no way the Pac-Man writers were going to leave autopilot long enough to shoehorn Christ into this story.
Plenty. The big guy’s a central character, so why the middling score? If his innate power to shower the world in gifts during a single night can’t get him out of Pac-Land – Fine. If he doesn’t want to lift a finger to help ward off a roving gang of savage ghosts – I can accept that, too. But something about seeing Santa’s calves is all kinds of wrong, thus it’s docked two cookies
Dude, you’re scaring the children…even more than usual!
At the expense of the series’ (debatably) established premise, Christmas Comes to PacLand enjoys a heaping dollop of obligatory Christmas feelin’…which is exponentially stupider than usual and that’s saying a lot. I can only recommend the thing to lifelong gamers like myself, who somehow get a kick out of seeing the medium done a profound disservice.
PRODUCT INFORMATION (Support the site!)
Neither Pac-Man, the cartoon series, nor Christmas Comes to Pac-Land are available on DVD. There are plenty of episodes available on YouTube, some even in an official capacity, but I wouldn’t recommend them. Pac-Man’s magic lies solely within the games he sprang from, and I wanted to link folks to numerous means of getting a fix because I absolutely love the original game, and hey, I write about video games for a living. This will always be my idea of A Pac-Man Christmas:
Pac-Man Collection for the GameBoy Advance contains only the finest Pac-Man games still worth playing, at a super-low price. The GBA game still works on the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite, although NOT the Nintendo DSi. Pac-Man Championship Edition is the most worthy update to the original Pac-Man EVER! Fast, fun, and optimized for High-Def, widescreen televisions. And the table top arcade unit we all remember from many a pizza parlor growing up? Super-expensive, but awesome nonetheless. I know I’ve always wanted one, and up until now I had no idea Namco was legitimately selling new ones to the public.