Futurama Season 11 Parodies The Ring And Five Nights At Freddy's

The latest episode of "Futurama," titled "The Prince and the Product," is the show's seventh anthology episode, and it's the weirdest one to date.

The "Futurama" anthology episodes began back in the series' second season with "Anthology of Interest I" (May 21, 2000), and featured stories that were too outlandish, even for the already-bizarre show. The conceit behind the anthology format, at least at first, was merely to sensationalize the drama in a 1950s style, complete with an over-the-top announcer (Maurice LaMarche) yelling things like "You've seen it! Now you can't unsee it!" As the show progressed, however — and the showrunners wanted to get even wilder — the conceit fell away, and anthology shows would be presented just for fun.

The episode "Reincarnation" (September 8, 2011), for instance, merely featured a trio of segments in different animation formats. One was a black-and-white Ub Iwerks-style cartoon, another appeared to have been animated on an Atari 2600, and the third was inspired by 1980s anime. "Naturama" (August 29, 2012) imagined the characters as different animals, while "Saturday Morning Fun Pit" (July 17, 2013) featured them in the style of various '80s Saturday morning kids shows like "Strawberry Shortcake."

"The Prince and the Product" begins like a typical episode of "Futurama" but then cuts away for toy commercials. The show then briefly depicts its characters ... as the toys in the ad.

The second commercial/segment sees Fry, Dr. Zoidberg, the Professor (all Billy West), and the rest of the show's characters as car toys called Round Wheels. Just to add to the surreality, the Round Wheels re-enact the plot of the vast "Ring" horror franchise. Finally, the "The Ring"/Hot Wheels crossover we've all been waiting for. 

Also, there may be a reference to "Five Nights at Freddy's" in there. Because why not?

Finally! Hot Wheels meets The Ring

The "Round Wheels" segment features the show's characters as, well, cars. They look not unlike several of Mattel's Hot Wheels products that are made to resemble the heads of famous pop culture figures. The Planet Express ship is a multi-car playset, and the roads are bright orange connectable tracks. They can't drive unless they roll down a hill to gain momentum. Anyone who has played with Hot Wheels (or who has a young child) will likely be very familiar with these conceits.

The story of the episode, however, has nothing to do with Hot Wheels. While Car Fry, Car Bender (John DiMaggio), Car Leela (Katey Sagal), and the other cars are watching car news on TV, the car newscasters announce that a mysterious video is circling the internet. Viewing the video will invite a mysterious and evil telephone call asking about your car's extended warranty. The call also brainwashes the listener, hypnotizing them and leading them to drive to a mysterious garage in the middle of the city. It seems that the garage is actually a chop shop, a term that has a very different meaning in a world of living cars.

Horror fans the world over will handily recognize the imagery and the conceits borrowed from "The Ring," a horror franchise that started its life as a Koji Suzuki novel in 1991 and has spawned 14 feature films in both Japan and the United States. Gore Verbinski's 2002 U.S. film version of "The Ring" was about a haunted VHS videocassette that contained a surreal, terrifying short film. After someone watched it, they received a phone call informing them, via creepy whisper, that they had seven days to live.

There is no connection between "The Ring" and car toys.

Spoiler (pun) warning

Warning: this slide will discuss the twist ending of the "Round Wheels" segment of "The Price and the Product." The ending may contain, at least tangentially, a reference to the hit video game series "Five Nights at Freddy's." 

The twist at the end of the segment is that it was Dr. Zoidberg all along. He was the one luring his compatriots into the chop shop, cutting them up, and using their parts to build up his own chassis. The final scenes see Zoidberg showing off his new Franken-car body. Each piece of his body, however, can still speak in the voice of its original owner. Leela is now a spoiler, the Professor is a talking gas tank, Bender is a talking muffler, etc.

Those familiar with the video game "Five Nights at Freddy's" – soon to be a major motion picture — may experience a pang of recognition. "Freddy's" is about a Chuck E. Cheese's-style kiddie restaurant wherein the animatronic animal performers spring to life and stalk the player. The animatronics, it is eventually revealed, are alive because an evil guy has been shunting the souls of dead children into them. Freddy Fazbear is chock full of kid souls, with each one crying out in torment.

The "Round Wheels" segment may not be referencing "Freddy's" explicitly — there is no mention of a Chuck E. Cheese's-style restaurant, nor any notable visual video game references — but the similarities are striking.

Clearly, "The Prince and the Product" provides a curious Venn diagram, having been made for people who are really into Hot Wheels, "Futurama," J-horror, and Chuck E. Cheese's. If you rest in the center of that matrix, this episode is for you.