Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 21, 2014)
A few years before he struck pay dirt with 1986’s ALF, Paul Fusco created other TV programs that involved puppets. For one with a Christmas theme, we head to 1983’s Santa’s Magic Toy Bag.
Set at the North Pole, we visit Santa’s workshop and meet the elves who make the toys. Apprentice elf Sherman messes up everything he touches so he bounces from job to job.
Naturally, this makes Sherman feel like a failure. Ready to quit, Santa gives him encouragement and places him in charge of an important task: the elf will guard Santa’s magic toy bag. We follow Sherman’s adventures along the way.
While I’ve not seen ALF since it aired in the 1980s, I know that I liked it. Part of that came from the ever-delightful Max Wright as ALF’s long-suffering guardian, but I remember that the lead character himself could be a hoot. Perhaps I recall incorrectly, but I thought the show had some spark to it and offered clever amusement.
Honestly, those fond decades-old memories of ALF became the only reason I decided to give Bag a whirl. I figured that if Fusco could provide a mildly edgy tone to a show about an alien puppet, he might do the same with a Christmas special.
Alas, Bag lacks any of the barbed wit found in ALF. Instead, it comes across like a Muppets special stripped of any humor, cleverness or spark.
Even at 28 minutes, it can become a chore to watch Bag. The story and characters feel cribbed from elsewhere, with a primary, obvious inspiration from 1964’s classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; the two share very similar themes, and Sherman comes across like a boring amalgamation of Rudolph and Hermey the elf.
Even if I ignore the show’s relentlessly derivative nature, it’d be a dud. Sherman seems like a dull lead character, and no one else gets any personality either. They limp through the boring story without anything much to sustain our attention.
In addition to the banal tale and lifeless dialogue, Bag comes with terrible songs. One of them blatantly rips off “Frosty the Snowman” – and it’s the best of the bunch! The rest sound like someone knocked them out in 10 minutes; they lack memorable melodies, fun lyrics or anything else that’d make them winning.
That sentiment applies to every aspect of Santa’s Magic Bag. Maybe viewers who saw it as children will look at it with fondness for nostalgic reasons, but I can’t find any other reason to watch it. Bag lacks even the ambition to be genuinely bad; at least if it took some changes, it might be a noble failure. Instead, it simply bores with its utter absence of personality or creativity.