From the Archives: Mother’s Day Obscurity: Dennis the Menace – Mayday for Mother

Originally published on the archived Allison’s Written Words site, May 10, 2015.

Author’s note (2021): I originally published this recap on the original Allison’s Written Words blog, a few days before I moved over to WordPress. In the six years since I wrote this, I can definitely see my strengths as a writer have grown over time. Even in the last two years, I see remarkable progress with my craft. Once in a while, it is fun to dip back into my own archives and see how far I’ve come, show me what I do best, what I can improve upon, and give me something to be proud of.

Whether you’re just finding this site now, or have been along for any aspect of the journey, the last six years of my writing “career” have been the best I could ever have imagined. And this was the very start of what was to come.

Enjoy this recap of the 1981 DePatie-Freleng (before their merger with Marvel) produced Mother’s Day special Dennis The Menace: Mayday for Mother, along with some additional notes, and a few links.

Happy Mother’s Day!

When it comes to holiday specials, the more obscure they are, the more fun they are to watch and find out why.  While some holiday specials are deservedly obscure, usually due to the dated look or feel, or they’re just downright terrible (if I could be so brutally honest about that), some are obscure because they represent a holiday that is often dominated by more timeless specials.  When I think Christmas, I usually think of A Charlie Brown Christmas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, not the cavemen of the B.C. comic strip celebrating Christmas.  Which reminds me, I really need to get my hands on that one.

(It only took until 2019 to accomplish that, but it eventually happened. Same with the Thanksgiving special.)

Which brings me to Mother’s Day… which is today.


In search of something Mother’s Day-themed that isn’t a sitcom episode or – God forbid – my umpteenth viewing of Mommie Dearest (and this!), I decided to search for a Mother’s Day themed animated special.  Because nothing says “mom” like a cartoon you watch, usually not with her.

There are three animated specials.

Yes… three.


Source: toonarific.com 

Seriously, three.  That’s it, what you see here.  This.  While I could sit and watch a Bugs Bunny cartoon, which is fine, I can live with that… we’re talking about me.  I could have recapped any Easter special, and I chose Family Circus.  A special that probably hasn’t seen the light of day of primetime television (heck, it probably hasn’t seen the light of basic cable) in over twenty years.  So you can’t even imagine which of the three I picked from this… extensive list. 

If you really think I picked the Disney one, you seriously need to just walk away now.  Leave this post and go. 

And then there was one. 

When I was very young, I used to watch Dennis the Menace, both the black and white sitcom from the late 1950s, and the cartoon that aired in the mid 1980s (I’m not sure if I watched the 1993 animated version).  I liked both – Dennis Mitchell was everything your parents didn’t want you to emulate, and you couldn’t help but get caught up in his mischief and mayhem.  He was both the ultimate bad kid, and the shining example of what you shouldn’t do in order to please your parents…despite that dark desire to do everything he did. 

Dennis the Menace: Mayday for Mother is a 1981 Made-for-TV/Video special starring the mischievous tyke.  It was his first such parlay into television animation (and his first time on the airwaves since the live-action series ended in 1963), but not his last.  The special was produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (DFE) and Mirisch Films, the companies responsible for the Dr. Seuss specials in the 1970s, as well as The Pink Panther animated shorts and two other really clever shorts it was always packaged with – Inspector and The Ant and the Aardvark – both of which are as brilliant as the Pink Panther shorts.  Aside from the title, the actors, and production companies, there really isn’t much information on this special. 

The special has no actual connection to the animated series that followed it in 1986, aside from (naturally), the characters.  That series was produced by DiC (stop giggling) and The Program Exchange, and ran for two seasons (the first in syndication, the second on CBS).  I’ve heard of this Mother’s Day special, and I’m assuming only because I found it on some list somewhere (and not this one).  I’m not actually sure I’ve seen it before (but, as I said, I did watch the animated show, and it’s live action predecessor), but by the end of this recap, I will have seen this… and we’ll wait and see how I am after the fact.


Gather ye strength, Allison.  You shall need it.

Do it for the mothers… who like nostalgia!

There’s gotta be, oh… five that like nostalgia of this sort.  Right?  RIGHT?!

The special itself begins like any of the Dr. Suess specials of the 1970s, and considering that this was animated by the company responsible for those specials, it’s not all that shocking.  Even the music sounds like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss special.  I’m convinced The Cat in the Hat is going to make a cameo during this song, or someone is going to start singing “Oh the places you’ll go!” 

Anyway, the paper deliveryman is hurling newspapers out of his open car window while singing a song about mothers, with no regard to where the newspapers land.  One of the neighbors gets upset about this, saying that the newspaper is ruining her prized flowers.  Cheerful Paperman doesn’t mind her attitude much, and just wishes her a Happy Mother’s Day.  Off he goes. 

Meanwhile, young Dennis Mitchell (who should be sleeping, he’s five-and-a-half, after all!) hears the singing and sees the paperman throwing the newspaper to his dog, Ruff.  Dennis yells out to Ruff that the “bone” the paperman is throwing is too big.  The newspaper knocks Ruff down.  Dennis goes outside to get the paper out of Ruff’s mouth, but it rips. 

Dennis goes back into his house and puts the newspaper with the huge hole on the back of a kitchen chair, gets himself a chicken leg and Ruff some sausage links – because its normal to eat like this at 3 am – and proceeds to go into the living room and turns on the television.  Most kids get a bowl of cereal to watch in front of the television, but not Dennis Mitchell, no no, he prefers a cold chicken leg from last night’s dinner.  I’m not one to judge though.

An announcement on the television wishes all the mothers a Happy Mother’s Day, which causes Dennis to get up and turn off the television.  He’s excited about Mother’s Day, and wonders what he can get for his mother, and decides to go ask his dad.


And because this is the middle of the night, most rational people – that are not little Dennis Mitchell – are sleeping.  Which means his parents are doing just that.  He goes into his parent’s room to ask his dad a question, and wants to know what they will do about it.  Henry, his dad, says that mom “gets the day off,” and to give her flowers and a card.  Alice, his mom, says to take her to lunch in the country.  Dad tells Dennis that Mother’s Day is a “long way off” (I’m assuming he means hours wise), and tells him to scoot.  Dennis is insistent that the television man says it’s today.  Dad then realizes what day it is, and that he has a golf game in the morning.

Priorities, Henry.

Dennis decides to begin to prepare for Mother’s Day by cleaning up, getting dressed, cleaning up Ruff, and going to prepare a breakfast tray for his mother.  He takes one of his dad’s golf clubs and rides it like a horse into the kitchen.  He fills a sink with water “to water his horse.” 

He decides to call Margaret “because she knows everything,” and probably knows what to make for a Mother’s Day Breakfast.  Margaret answers the phone, and for some reason (well, she’s his neighbor and she sees the light on in his kitchen), knows it’s Dennis on the phone.  She chides him for waking her up so early, since she likes to sleep late on the weekends.  She then tells him she knows its him calling because the kitchen light is on.  He then asks her to spell “Mother” for him, so he can write it on the board.  He decides to make breakfast according to the word “Mother,” so…

M for Milk, Molasses, and Mustard
O for Orange
T for Toast, Tomatoes, and Tuna Fish (Ruff steals the toast when it pops up out of the toaster)
H for Hot Chocolate, Horse Radish, Hamburger, and Ham
E for Fresh Eggs
R for Radishes, Fresh Razzleberries, and Root Beer

 Dennis the takes stock of his proposed creation of a breakfast, and realizes it’s just too much stuff.  He then has a “good idea,” which for any of us who are familiar with the world of Dennis the Menace, is anything but a good idea.  And that’s where the blender comes into play…

And shame on me for thinking the blender was going to explode, because it doesn’t.  Dennis purees Mother’s Day “breakfast” and pours it into a bowl.  So yeah, we have milk, orange, tomatoes, tuna fish (no toast because Ruff ate it), hot chocolate, horse radish, hamburger, ham, eggs, and radishes, razzleberries, and root beer mixed in a blender.  This can only end well…right?

RIGHT?!

Happy Mother’s Day, hope you like foodborne illness!

He gives some of the blended creation to Ruff, and samples some himself, but realizes how terrible it tastes (naturally), and chalks it up to it being good for you, and you know, not because this is a combination of foods that should never be combined.  He writes a Happy Mother’s Day note, and then remembers that he needs peanut butter and ketchup for his “creation.”

Yeah, I’ve got a stomach of steel and can eat anything (within reason), but common sense says this is just not going to end well. 

So Dennis takes “breakfast” up to their bedroom, but knows it’s too early to wake his mother up, especially on Mother’s Day, so he leaves the tray at the bedroom door and decides to go for a walk.  In the middle of the night. 

I wish I was making this all up, but really, I’m not.


Anyway, Dennis takes Ruff and goes for a walk outside in the middle of the night.  Because he can.  He opens a broken board in the fence and goes into the Wilsons’ yard to pick flowers, and decides to say good morning to his neighbors.  Mr. Wilson makes a dramatic (but unseen, just heard) show of getting out of bed for the sake of answering his door.  And why he isn’t toting a baseball bat is beyond me.  Must be one of those “Safe Neighborhoods” where kids can just wander the streets at 3 am without worry or care. 

Mrs. Wilson comes to see what is going on, and Mr. Wilson refers to Dennis as “the short Cookie Monster.”  And that he caught him red-handed.  Mr. Wilson informs Dennis that Mrs. Wilson is not anyone’s mother, which upsets Dennis greatly.  She gives him a good-natured shooing, and Dennis departs the yard, right back through the broken fence. 

Back inside his house, Dennis is looking for water for the flowers he picked, so he puts them in the fishbowl.  In search of a vase, he opens a canister, but sneezes over the contents…which just happen to be pipe tobacco.  If there’s one thing I learned from all the Looney Toons shorts, its that smoking in animation’s past was perfectly acceptable, and the norm.

He dumps the fishbowl water into the canister, puts the fish into Ruff’s dog bowl, and then puts in raw hamburger to feed them.  And then Ruff drinks from the fishbowl…which results in him eating the fish. 

“We’re gonna call PETA on your ass.  The smiles are because we’re deceptive.”


Ruff goes crazy and tears through the house, with Dennis in pursuit.  Henry gets up to see what the commotion is, steps in the Breakfast Surprise, and skids into a wall…upside down.  This causes the Breakfast Surprise to land on his head, and his golf clubs to land on his lap.  Just another day in the Mitchell household, when Dennis is your son.

We know Dennis means well.  It’s the only way we can justify any of this.

At this point, his golf buddies are waiting for him outside, and he’s not ready.  You know, getting caught up in disaster and all.

And poor Ruff – his stomach is going crazy with live goldfish and raw hamburger floating around. I know I said something isn’t going to end well, and it may be this, rather than Breakfast Surprise.  He winds up spitting out the fish, which Dennis catches with his baseball glove, putting them into the fishbowl safely. 

Crisis averted.

Henry tells his golf buddies to go on without him, as its Mother’s Day.  Alice wants to know what he’s covered in (bowl on head and all). Dennis gives his mom the flowers, but Henry is upset that he used his humidor for a vase, and wants to know where the tobacco is, to which Dennis replies, “I guess you just stopped smoking for Mother’s Day, dad!”

Again, it was a simpler time, when smoking was allowed in cartoons.  Ah, the carefree 1980s!

The Mitchells then are forced to clean up after Dennis, and his mom says she doesn’t mind if he only just kept his room clean…which causes Dennis to begin his next reign of terror. The terror involves a vacuum cleaner that once plugged in, begins its own reign of terror and moves on its own.  So, instead of, oh, pulling the plug on it…Dennis decides to be a bullfighter with it, picking up a blanket.  Yes…because that’s what you’re supposed to do when the vacuum cleaner comes to “life.”  What happens next is a “fantasy sequence” featuring Dennis as a bullfighter, and the vacuum as the bull. 

TORO!

His parents hear the commotion from the running vacuum, whose bag is inflating quickly, and goes to check. Dennis tells his mom not to worry…just as he pops the vacuum bag with a toy sword.  Yep, you read that right.

Dennis then walks past his parents and says that he better get cleaned up…which means him and Ruff both occupying the same bath tub.  And of course, the suds and water come out the bathroom door, much to his father’s delight.  And when Ruff shakes himself off on Mr. Mitchell, he says he was just going to take a shower anyway.

Later, Mrs. Mitchell reminds husband that he needs to call his mother for Mother’s Day, which he is already doing.  But sweet, lovable Dennis, not content to be idle, makes use of jumping off a chair, clinging to, and later hiding behind curtains to distract his father.  How much aggravation could a kid cause in one day?

There’s seven minutes left in this cartoon, so I’m assuming plenty.

While Henry talks to his mother about how hard it is to manage Dennis, the little angel pulls on his father’s suspenders, opens drawers on the desk to climb up to the desk and pull a lampshade off a lamp, climb on his dad’s shoulders, and put the lampshade on his father’s head.  He then steals his glasses, tries them on for size, tries them on Ruff, and then escapes his father coming into the yard by jumping in the house through the window.  Dennis then grabs the phone and talks to his grandmother, before hanging up.  His father, who has gotten back into the house, is now angry.  Could you blame him?

When Alice reminds Dennis that her mother died a long time ago, Dennis comes up with the idea of “adopting” Mrs. Wilson as a mother, since she doesn’t have children of her own, and inviting the neighborhood kids over to help celebrate.  And while this sounds like the sweetest idea this child could EVER come up with (and considering all the disaster he has already caused is the equivalent of a week for most), this couldn’t possibly end well.

It’s not going to end well.

I really need to stop thinking like this, all negative and such.  Maybe this time will be different!

It turns out I’m wrong.  Dennis, along with Margaret and Joey, show up on the Wilsons’ front step, holding flowers and singing “Happy Mother’s Day” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”  And this was after Alice invites the Wilsons for lunch. 

She is teary-eyed and happy at the idea of being bestowed with honorary Mother’s Day flowers…until Mr. Wilson sees where they came from.

If there’s an organization for the humane treatment of prized flowers, they’d be screaming cruelty.

Ok, so it sorta ended well.  Only sorta.

The family leaves to go to lunch, but Ruff gives chase to the car, and hitches a ride in the back of a truck.

But perhaps there is redemption for the day in a nice, peaceful Mother’s Day luncheon?

Seriously, does anything ever go smoothly when Dennis Mitchell is involved?

The lunch starts off nice…until Ruff arrives in the Old Country Inn and causes a disaster.  But since the special is over, it could have been a worse situation.  And of course, Dennis asks the all-important question: “What will we do for Father’s Day?”

I can’t even begin to imagine. 

No, seriously, there’s no Father’s Day-themed Dennis the Menace animated special.

And that’s the special.

Mayday for Mother is actually quite the cute Mother’s Day special.  Considering the lack of Mother’s Day-themed animated specials (remember, this was one of three animated specials to ever feature Mother’s Day as a holiday).  It would be 1986 (and a change to a different animation company) before Dennis the Menace would grace our television screens again.  The animation is reminiscent of the Dr. Seuss specials of the 1970s, as is the theme music.  There was definitely some fine-tuning of the animation style between this special and the 1986 cartoon series.

While it is a typical Dennis the Menace disaster-laden premise (couldn’t happen any other way, I guess), it does remind us that a mother doesn’t have to be someone biological or have children of her own, as long as she is a mother figure.  And that’s the sweetest message of all.  In all, a good concept for a holiday that isn’t well-represented by animation.  No sanity lost here!

You say you want to watch the special?  Click “Play” below!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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