Enjoying “Happy Tree Friends” makes you question your moral worth as a human being.
Watching something as brutal as brains being liquefied by a blender pushed through the eye sockets really ought to be disgusting. In any action movie, the scene would make you turn away. But when the brains in question belong to an adorable pastel cartoon critter with a voice like a Teletubby and a sappiness that makes Bambi and Thumper look jaded, the mutilation is hilarious – in a sick sort of way, of course.
The Happy Tree Friends, whose grotesque deaths reliably provide viewers with both laughter and a tinge of ethical doubt, began their brief lives as short Flash animations on happytreefriends.com. Now, the animated animals show up on TV, in merchandise and on DVDs such as the newly released “Winter Break.”
The DVD features Cuddles, Giggles, Lumpy and the rest of the unbearably cute Happy Tree Friends suffering gory, completely unreasonable deaths in a number of winter settings. Vicious reindeer, impaling icicles and skis that act as spears join with more mundane mishaps to spread plenty of animated blood and brains along with Christmas cheer.
The “Winter Break” cable TV special featured on the DVD contains a half-dozen episodes of “HTF” as well as some shorter “Kringles” that each rely on a single bloody gag. Though the special contains some weak episodes, the decay of a cheery elementary-school Christmas pageant into a chaotic struggle for survival in “A Class Act” is a comedic gem for anyone sufficiently lacking in empathy.
The continuous DVD presentation of “Winter Break,” however, takes away a key part of the “Happy Tree Friends” experience – the conscious choice to watch another episode. “Happy Tree Friends” is best experienced in a dorm room, late at night, compulsively downloading episode after episode and questioning exactly which circle of hell you’re going to for finding all
the cruelty so entertaining. Sitting back and just letting the blood flow is too easy.
The special features on the DVD are of rather mixed quality. The “Ski Patrol” bonus episode, where the idiotic moose Lumpy tries to save lives on the slopes and fails with spectacularly violent results, rises to the level of classic “HTF” episodes such as “Eye Candy.” But the feature simply portrays the animals cutely mumbling their way through Christmas carols; none of them even die.
One might wonder why the first holiday “Happy Tree Friends” DVD doesn’t focus on more theme-appropriate festivals, like Guy Fawkes Day or Devil’s Night. But mere snow and ice allow plenty of viciously funny variations on the theme of cute cartoons meeting awful ends, making “Winter Break” a worthy choice for the morally depraved.
Show: 3 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 3 out of 5 stars
Special Features: 3 out of 5 stars