After Rambo: First Blood Part II but before Rambo III, there was a daily Rambo cartoon, subtitled Force of Freedom. It was a bad choice. The Rambo films are hard R-rated action films with extreme violence. The cartoon was very much in the GI Joe mold. It took a character who was a tortured loner dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and gave him 2 teammates to go on globe-trotting adventures with.
Rambo in the films just wants to be left alone and to find some peace. There’s one thing he’s very good at – being the ultimate soldier – but he doesn’t want to do it. The cartoon had Rambo going on any old adventure he could come across and palling around with like-minded individuals. While it works for G.I. Joe, that show took it in a sci-fi spy vs. spy direction. Rambo’s cartoon has a tonal disconnect from the harsh material it’s based on. And then they did a Christmas episode.
The episode was written by Sheryl Scarborough, who wrote a lot of cartoons based on existing intellectual properties: Punky Brewster, Lazer Tag, Mr. T, New Kids on the Block. She’s kind of indicative of what the show was – not bad, but kind of just there to cash in on something that interested the kids in that moment.
The title is “When S.A.V.A.G.E. Stole Santa.” I did minimal research so I have no idea what S.A.V.A.G.E. stands for. I didn’t watch this show as a kid. But the organization is essentially Cobra. They’re interested in taking over the world, or at least starting wars. But they’re also really small. The leader is a buffed up dude who looks like Hunter S. Thompson, called General Warhawk. He probably named himself, I’m guessing. He has two henchman. Havok, who is strong? Maybe? And Gripper, a dude with both an eyepatch AND a metal claw hand. Dude could have offered one of those traits to Havok. They also have some generic soldiers as the plot dictates.
The episode begins with Havok and Gripper driving along through the Colorado mountains. At a certain point, General Warhawk taps on the glass. He’s just sitting in the back like a granny and tells Havok that he’s excited to do something evil. It’s a plate-setting scene that tells me nothing about these characters. But they have angry looks on their faces, so… bad guys.
Meanwhile, in a house somewhere, a bunch of kids are decorating for Christmas. There is zero adult supervision, so I guess they’re orphans. I’m pretty sure it isn’t explicitly stated but the kids are a real United Colors of Benetton, so it’s a reasonable guess. I also *think* the main kid’s name was Tommy. He says Christmas is stupid. That’s the starting point of one of the greatest character arcs ever commit to television!
His friend offers him some candy canes but I’ll be damned if they don’t look like a box of cigarettes.
Not only does Tommy not take one, he kicks the box across the room. What a dick!
Tommy further endears himself to us by wandering out into the woods in the middle of a huge snowstorm. He’s not just a jerk, he’s also very, very stupid.
Fortunately for him, Rambo and his pal Turbo are taking a helicopter ride through the snowstorm for no reason at all. Rambo spots Tommy and since he and Turbo are apparently not up to anything at all, aside from wasting gas and trying desperately to catch a cold, they head down to help him.
Instead of landing, Rambo elects to take the most dangerous course of action. He hangs onto the skid and reaches down to pull Tommy up. Hanging onto the skid without sleeves is good enough for Rambo, so it’s good enough for Tommy. Rambo actually doesn’t rip his sleeves off. Instead he puts Tommy on Turbo’s lap. There’s a fair amount of Tommy on adult laps in this episode, none of them Santa’s.
Rambo elects not to take Tommy home and Turbo disappears to god-knows-where for the rest of the episode. Instead, Rambo visits Santa. OK, it’s not really Santa, but it’s as close as they could go without actually putting him in, because I guess a second fictional character would just be a bridge too far for a show with Rambo and Gripper. This guy is named Chris (no relation to the writer of this recap) and he makes kids’ toys. He also dresses like Santa but that’s never really brought up. He explains to Tommy that Rambo once saved him – he used to manufacture bombs and he hated it but Rambo got him out of that life. No specifics. That’s up to your imagination power!
It just so happens that General Warhawk is in the same area to kidnap Chris and get him to make bombs. It’s purely coincidence that Rambo happens to be there, too. Warhawk has Gripper and Havok go off to get Chris. I can already tell he’d have better luck entrusting such a job to any two local hobos he can wrassle up with the promise of cheap hooch.
Havok and Gripper immediately start shooting up Chris’ shack. As far as a first step in kidnapping, it’s pretty terrible. They’re shooting actual bullets, so you gotta figure the chances of murdering your target are somewhat high.
Gripper jumps through the smashed window but Chris tosses a roller skate which he times perfectly because Gripper steps on it and flips over, crashing on his back onto the table. What a stunt! Oh, and Rambo was using a dinner plate to potentially block machine gun fire. He’s really lucky Chris threw that roller skate because there’s no way that would’ve worked as a suitable defense.
Then Havok kicks in the door and starts swinging a sword. Rambo blocks it with… the sack of kids’ presents. They’re immediately slashed to pieces.
As if the battle wasn’t awkward enough, Tommy decides to “help.” He runs up and just sort of hugs Havok’s butt. Surprising no one, this does nothing to hinder Havok. In fact, he simply picks up the kid and runs away with him. I think he completely forgot that he was trying to kidnap Chris, not a random kid.
Havok just abandons Gripper and Chris and that whole mess and takes off with Tommy on a snowmobile. As you can see, General Warhawk has not hired the best in the business.
Rambo hops on another snowmobile. So is that Gripper’s snowmobile? If so, how did they not hear them approaching? And no matter who left it there, don’t leave the keys in the ignition! Okay, gotta let that slide. Rambo is in pursuit, but Havok uses his sword to slow him down. He does this by basically just holding it straight up and it cuts off tree branches like hot butter. Too bad for you, Rambo is an amazing driver and expertly avoids the obstacles!
At a certain point, Rambo pulls alongside Havok. But instead of Rambo reaching for Tommy, Havok awkwardly reaches for Rambo. Is he going to kidnap Rambo, too? It’s all rendered moot when Havok instead just drives down a different path. This guy is into improvising plans. And by that, I mean he does not ever follow a rational train of thought.
Rambo jumps his snowmobile high into the sky and lands next to Havok and takes Tommy back. Havok gets away. Rambo doesn’t care because he caught some really sweet air.
Rambo and Tommy head back to Chris’ cabin and somewhere along the way, Rambo picks up a bow and arrow. Is this a continuity error or did Rambo go shopping?
Chris’ cabin is in shambles and Chris is gone. Oh yeah, that’s because you totally left Gripper on the table. Maybe next time radio Turbo to come help? Or tell Chris to go hide? What’s interesting to think about is that if the place is trashed, Chris must have put up quite a struggle. So Gripper, a professional soldier of fortune, had a realllllly tough time taking down a fat old man.
Rambo, with no clues at all, rushes to a sleigh with reindeer outside. The bullets, snowmobiles and fights have not scared them off. They’re just hanging out in front of the cabin, waiting to give someone a ride. Rambo hops in and doesn’t notice that Tommy follows along and sits directly behind him. I’m not too impressed with Rambo’s skills.
We cut to a lumber mill that General Warhawk took over. Or it was abandoned. But it still has power. Anyway, he’s tied up Chris on a conveyer belt with a log splitting saw at the end and tells Chris that he will help him make bombs. Chris glumly refuses.
Gripper and Havok have taken the time to get a biplane and a rocket launcher. I can believe they have a rocket launcher, but where did they find a biplane? I think Sheryl Scarborogh just really wanted to see a biplane chase a sleigh so it’s happening. Their mission seems to be to kill Rambo. Not sure how they found him, but they certainly have the upper hand!
Gripper shoots a rocket which manages to explode between the sleigh and the reindeer. The explosion is small enough that it only destroys the reigns, freeing the deer. Yup, that’s how rocket launchers work. They’re known for their precise damage.
Rambo and Tommy go flying down a mountain in the sleigh. Instead of jumping out, they ride it right off a cliff! They’re doomed, right?
Nope. Apparently nothing can hurt them. They fall several stories and crash into the snow with not so much as a bruise. Rambo is starting to look superhuman! And I guess he’s sort of supposed to on a cartoon. But when a little kid can keep up and do the same stuff, it’s a lot less impressive.
Rambo thinks fast and ties his knife to a rope. Anyone who listens to the Harmontown podcast will know that Kumail Nanjiani loves doing that move when they play Dungeons and Dragons. It’s all I could think of. Following this analogy, Rambo rolls a 20 because he throws the knife around the biplane like a grappling hook! That is a He-Man level throw.
Gripper and Havok conveniently look wayyyy to their right to see if Rambo died when he fell off a cliff. But Rambo cleverly climbs up the LEFT side of the plane. Ho ho, Rambo is amazing!
Gripper steps out onto the wing to fight hand to hand. He instantly loses his footing and is about to fall. Rambo reaches out to save him. The Rambo of the movies would’ve stabbed his knife into Gripper at this point. Gripper falls but lands in the lake full of logs and is a-okay. There is a certain height at which landing on snow or water doesn’t save you, right? Because if I’ve learned anything from cartoons, you’re fine falling from any height if you can just land on something, anything, with some give.
Havok decides to make Rambo fall by flipping the plane in circles and generally performing like he’s in an air show. And it works. Rambo, even with all his American muscles, can’t hold on. He plummets from the plane.
And when he hits the ground… he does not end up a crippled mess. He just slides down the hill! He looks like he’s having a great time.
Tommy sees Rambo sliding down the hill and jumps into him, which stops all his momentum. I think this is where the writers of Fast & Furious 6 got their lessons on physics.
Tommy hands Rambo a bow and arrow that he… had. He just has it and gives it to Rambo. So if they felt the need to establish that Rambo has his bow and arrow, that will come into play, right? No. He never uses it.
There’s an abandoned shack that Rambo just deposits Tommy in and tells him that he needs to actually stay there this time. Rambo has learned his lesson. Tommy must be very carefully told exactly what to do. He doesn’t leave Tommy with heat or a communication tool or anything, though. So he’s not quite at parental levels of responsibility yet. Baby steps.
Rambo must guess that Chris is being held at the lumber mill because he goes straight there even though there haven’t been any clues. Rambo then has some hilarious moves on the floating logs, jumping on them and rolling them to make Warhawk’s soldiers fall into the water. No gunshots or arrows are fired. If you told me Rambo was having fun, I’d totally believe you.
When Rambo gets to the edge of the lake beside the lumber mill, he finally encounters an actual threat. Two soldiers shoot bullets at him, so he crawls up a (completely exposed) log shute. The soldiers throw a grenade at Rambo, which he punches. Yeah, he just punches the hell out of that grenade.
It goes astray and blows up one of Warhawk’s trucks. This spooks the two soldiers and they shout, “Let’s get out of here!” What? Let’s get out of here? The grenade, it should be noted, did not go back towards them. They have automatic weapons. Rambo has a bow and arrow. But they get the willies and run for it. Warhawk needs to examine his hiring policies.
This is my favorite part. Rambo bursts in and immediately gets into a fist fight with Havok. In the scuffle, Rambo accidentally turns on the sawmill. Warhawk has apparently been just sitting around with Chris for hours, not using it. It’s Rambo’s fault that Chris is dragged towards his impending death.
So who saves Chris? Warhawk! He turns the saw off and takes Chris and leaves. Way to go, Rambo.
Chris and Havok leave with Chris and Havok leaves Rambo trapped under some logs on the conveyer belt. Rambo is pulled towards the saw blade and pulls out his trusty knife. For a moment I actually thought Rambo was going to cut the logs up.
Instead we get something that’s nearly as ridiculous. Rambo flicks his wrist and the knife arcs through the air, severing a dangling power cord that controls the saw blade. No power means the blades stop just in time.
Rambo steps outside and sees Warhawk and Havok driving away with Chris. This causes him to finally get angry. He grits his teeth and shakes with rage. Uh oh. Now we’re gonna get the Rambo we all know. And we see a montage of him tying his shoelaces, holstering his knife, and tying on a headband. What’s he do next?
He… takes off his shirt and goes sledding. Hoo boy. Yeah, he inexplicably sheds his shirt and jacket and pries off a hubcap which he surfs down the hills. If they wanted to play some Beach Boys surfing music right now, it would not be out of place.
Rambo sleds up onto the roof of the truck and pulls Havok out. It’s sort of like Raiders of the Lost Ark except Havok just ends up in a snow drift, pouting.
Rambo kicks Gripper in the face and easily knocks his gun out of his hand. General Warhawk is still hanging out in the back, like a grandma. When he sees there’s trouble, he doesn’t bother trying to shoot Rambo, he calls for a helicopter.
And he just grabs a rope and zips off to cause trouble another day. Rambo, for his part, just sort of leaves Gripper and Havok by the roadside, free to kill another day.
Rambo stops the trucks and saves Chris. They’re pals so they engage in a manly handshake.
Cut to Chris and Rambo dressed like Santa and Obviously-Not-Santa-But-Wearing-Santa’s-Clothes visiting the Probably-An-Orphanage. Yay, Rambo saved Christmas! But what about Tommy?
Rambo opens his gift sack to reveal he’s been hauling Tommy in there! Somehow still alive and stunned to be home, Tommy is welcomed back by his fellow orphans.
Then Tommy asks to hand out some of Chris’ presents. Rambo says that Christmas is for Tommy, too and gives him a truck. Tommy says he likes the day now and that “Christmas is contagious.” Then everyone laughs like he’s just told the best joke in the world. And by laughs, I mean the drawings shake like they’re having seizures while voice actors laugh. Tommy, for his part, looks as confused as the audience must be. The perfect ending to the perfect Christmas miracle.