Suzy Snowflake

TitleDebuted in 1953

2 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Suzy Snowflake comes to town with a winter snowfall. She helps you to make snowmen and take sleigh rides. There really isn’t a third sentence, so I’ll just use this space to say, “Yay, Suzy!”

Fun Fact: The stop motion animation in this short was done by Wah Chang, who also sculpted the maquette of Pinocchio for Walt Disney and the tricorder and communicator props used on Star Trek.

My thoughts: This short is essentially a music video for a song performed by the Norman Luboff Choir with Norma Zimmer voicing Suzy. (My grandfather was an avid Lawrence Welk fan, so I remember Norma Zimmer as the ‘Champagne Lady’ from his show.) Rosemary Clooney’s popular version of the song was released as a 78 RPM single. We had her version of it on a Christmas record in my house growing up and I would skip over it when playing the record (which wasn’t as easy as pushing a button on your iPod) because I really hated the song. I like this version a little better, but that may be attributed to the visuals, which are charming in their simplicity. This stop motion animated version is a holiday staple in Chicago, where it was an annual tradition on the Garfield Goose and Friends and Bozo’s Circus shows on WGN.  I hadn’t seen this one before and thought it was cute, but not anything really special to those of us who didn’t grow up with it.

Businessman

Mr. Fancy Top Hat Man is about to get buried in snow.

Silhouette

I love the effect of the silhouette and the lighting here.

Window

That’s a mighty fluffy dress.

Snowman

Sorry, Snowman, Suzy just wants to be friends.

Individual Superlative: Gimme Some Snow! – Growing up in the south, we rarely got snow so it’s always been a welcome thing, especially during the holidays. This short makes me really want a big snow this year.

Want to Watch it? Suzy Snowflake is available on YouTube and on a remastered DVD celebrating the animated classics of WGN’s holiday programming.

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The Captain’s Christmas

TitleDebuted in 1938

8 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The Captain is trying to play Santa for his boys, but John Silver and his henchmen take over, with John standing in for Santa. When John accidentally smashes all the toys and ruins the holiday, his inner child chides his carelessness and suggests a way he can fix things. John and the sailors ride into town and sing carols, hoping to earn some money but the villagers only throw toys and other items, which John takes back to the boys, saving their Christmas.

Fun Fact: The characters in this short got their start in The Katzenjammer Kids comic, which began in 1912 and is still in syndication, making it the longest running comic strip ever. It was also the first comic to use speech balloons.

My thoughts: The creators of The Katzenjammer Kids comic strip had a falling out during the early years of the comic and went their separate ways, with artist Harold Knerr continuing the original strip and writer Rudolph Dirks launching a separate strip using the same characters, called The Captain and the Kids. Weird, right? MGM’s push to translate these characters to a recurring series of animated shorts was not particularly successful and the series was scrapped after just 15 shorts were produced. John Silver’s crazed rampage through the Captain’s house, yelling and shooting at everything, is really startling when viewed through a contemporary filter. I like the song that John and his crew sing in town (‘Hang up the Holly in the Window’) and all the crazy antics they get up to while singing it. I think the addition of John’s conscience as his former self (still hilariously sporting a peg leg as a child) adds a little bit of depth to his character. In fact, John and his crew are the most interesting part of this short, while the captain and his family are barely noticeable. It’s not a particularly great short, but definitely worth watching.

Shooting spree

Nice smoking gun, Santa.

Singing

Sailors love to sing.

Bathtub

And they really get into a good role play, too.

Sad boys

You shouldn’t cry over spilt milk, but broken toys is acceptable.

Individual Superlative: Most Confusing Alternate Title – According to information I found online, this short was also released under the title, Short Cut, which doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

Want to Watch it? The Captain’s Christmas is available on YouTube.

Tom & Jerry: Ho Ho Horrors

TitleDebuted in 2006

8 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: On Christmas Eve, Tom falls asleep under the Christmas tree and dreams about tormenting Jerry. Jerry suspects Tom is up to no good and catapults himself into Tom’s dream, where he teams up with his dream self to turn the tables on Tom. On Christmas morning, Mrs. Two Shoes discovers that the two have wrecked the house during their sleep and she throws them out into the snow.

Fun Fact: The term ‘Tom and Jerry’ comes from 19th century London, where it referred to young people engaging in ‘riotous behavior.’

My thoughts: This animated short comes from the first season of the Tom and Jerry Tales show that ran for two seasons on the CW network. The main characters, Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse, originally appeared in theatrical shorts starting in 1940 and they continued in several different television incarnations over the years. As per usual, the newer cartoons don’t have the same feel as the originals, but this one comes closer than most. I like the ‘plausible impossible’ notion of Jerry injecting himself into Tom’s dream, especially when the two versions of him seem so happy to be together. I suppose I would give myself a really big hug if I ever surprised myself and showed up unexpectedly.  (That’s a really weird sentence.) The ending is surprising and a little on the harsh side, especially when Tom seems ready to call a holiday truce and Jerry responds by smacking him in the head with the Christmas wreath, leading to the start of another battle. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s far superior to the disaster they released the following year, Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale.   

Two Jerrys

Dream Jerry is kind enough to keep his nightcap on, so we know who is who.

Rolling out

That’s a proper villain face right there.

Weird face

Ew…what kind of face is this, though?

To all a good night

And to all, a good night.

Individual Superlative: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby – Mrs. Two Shoes is a nice step up from the stereotypical ‘mammy’ character that used to be the human character in the Tom & Jerry shorts. In this one, you can see family photos on the mantel, so apparently also a much fuller life than the original, too (who was always presumed to be a housemaid).

Want to Watch it? Ho Ho Horrors is available on DVD and YouTube and it sometimes shows up during holiday programming.

Howdy Doody’s Christmas

TitleDebuted in 1951

8 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Buffalo Bob, Howdy Doody and Clarabell the Clown are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. When Santa doesn’t show up at midnight, they take a rocket to the North Pole and discover that Ugly Sam has captured Santa, believing him to be a bandit. While Bob and Clarabell struggle with Sam, Howdy frees Santa so he can make his Christmas ride.

Fun Fact: Clarabell the Clown is played here by Bob Keeshan, who later went on to star in his own show as Captain Kangaroo.

My thoughts: The Howdy Doody Show ran from 1947 to 1960 and set a format for children’s programming that many future shows emulated. Buffalo Bob Smith originated the character of Howdy Doody on radio and there are several fascinating stories around the creation and evolution of his puppet incarnation. My favorite involves the puppet’s creator angrily stealing it from the show, forcing them to fabricate a story that Howdy Doody was helping the presidential candidates on the campaign trail. This Christmas episode hasn’t aged well, so it all comes across as feeling very amateurish, a little like a show being put on in someone’s backyard. Dayton Allen, as Ugly Sam, particularly hams up his performance and seems to have one eye on the camera most of the time. Allen went on to do a lot of voice work, providing the voices for Deputy Dawg and Lancelot Link (Secret Chimp), which were favorites of mine when I was a kid. There’s really not much to this one, but it’s cool to watch from a historical point of view, though, since it really did have a profound influence on the future of television.

Clarabell

Clarabell knows your darkest secrets.

Bob and howdy

Howdy Doody is blissfully ignorant.

Dogpile on Sam

I don’t think I want to know…

Gagged Santa

Dang, Santa! Cookies and milk aren’t enough and now you’re eating your own hat?

Individual Superlative: Genre Overload – The show has a Western theme, a circus theme, a science fiction theme and a Christmas theme. Maybe Howdy Doody needed to slow his roll a little.

Want to Watch it? Howdy Doody’s Christmas is available on YouTube

Christmas Cracker

TitleDebuted in 1963

9 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: In the first of the three animated shorts, two children dance to the music of Jingle Bells. The second features a collection of vintage toys racing and playing. The third shows a man trying to find the perfect star for his Christmas tree.

Fun Fact: This short was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, but lost to Pink Phink, the very first Pink Panther cartoon.

My thoughts: There are several interesting facets to this short. There are no spoken words in the whole thing and all three segments feature different types of animation. The boy and girl are animated paper cut-outs and their movements seem to be creating the melody of the song. It’s very simplistic, but cute and fun, with only the two characters dancing as the snow falls around them. The vintage toy segment is a little odder and more conceptual, done with stop motion animation. I love the collection of toys, which seem like real antiques compared to today’s modern toys and devices. These two shorts together take up a little less than half of the running time and the rest is devoted to the third story, which uses traditional animation. There are some comic moments as the guy tries several unusual items to top his tree and a nice message at the end when he tries to steal an actual star from the sky (which only zooms back up into space) and realizes that the paper star he initially tried actually works pretty well. I hadn’t seen this one before and liked it quite a bit.

Jingle Bells Dance

Are they kids pretending to be bells or bells pretending to be kids?

Toy parade

That gator stands no chance against the robot overlords.

Xmas Tree with Frog

Well, at least it’s green.

Rocket

There are a few flaws with this rocket design.

Individual Superlative: Surely You Jest – The jester who appears in the title sequence shows up between each of the shorts to tie them all together and is either comical or creepy, depending on your opinion of jesters in general.

Want to Watch it? Christmas Cracker is available on YouTube.

Santa’s Workshop

TitleDebuted in 1932

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: It’s Christmas Eve and the elves are busy prepping the reindeer and finalizing all the toys. Santa makes a final review of the naughty and nice list and inspects the toys before packing them up for his trip. A toy airplane knocks several shelves worth of toys onto the floor, where they have an impromptu parade into Santa’s bag and he bids everyone farewell, then flies away on his sleigh.

Fun Fact: This was the fourth Silly Symphony animated short to be released in full color.

My thoughts: Disney’s contract distribution deal with United Artists significantly boosted the quality of the studio’s animated shorts and this is one where you can really see the difference. The backgrounds are loaded with details and there’s so much going on in every frame. I think I saw this one for the first time as part of the Disney Channel Christmas special, when it was kind of meshed together with The Night Before Christmas (which picks up right where this one leaves off) and I loved it. I’ve always had a particular love of those cartoons that showed manufacturers or artists at work, with lots of funny gags on how things are made. This one is full of all kinds of silly concepts, such as checkerboard paint (for making checkerboards) and scaring the dolls with spiders to make their hair stand on end so it can be permed. The scene in which an African-American doll says ‘mammy’ instead of ‘mama’ is almost always removed when this short is aired. Santa is depicted as delightfully jolly and fun-loving, succumbing to the urge to play with his own toys a bit. And the elf who promises to add a cake of soap to Billy Brown’s stocking is voiced by Walt Disney himself. This one’s a nice dash of Christmas cheer.

Head elf

The elf who monitors good behavior doesn’t stand for shenanigans.

Santa and list

Could Santa be any jollier?

Tail drill

Yikes!  Did you get permission from the horses for this?

OK

Santa just approved this doll’s behind. No wonder he’s jolly.

Individual Superlative: Equal Opportunity Offender – In addition to the African-American stereotype doll, there are also Asian and Jewish stereotype toys in the toy parade at the end.  Just to make sure they didn’t leave anyone out in the ‘Wow, is this going to be controversial in a few decades’ category.

Want to Watch it? Santa’s Workshop is available on DVD and YouTube.

Moose & Zee – Candy Cane Song

titleDebuted in 2007

2 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Moose’s only wish for Christmas is to receive a candy cane. On Christmas morning, he is excited to see a wrapped gift from Zee that looks like a candy cane, but when he opens it, he finds a pair of socks instead. He is happy and grateful for the socks and then Zee points out the window to his real gift, a huge candy cane sitting outside.

Fun Fact: In addition to voicing Moose, Paul Christie also provided the voice for Nickelodeon’s Stick Stickly (a family favorite) and Louie the Lizard from Budweiser’s Superbowl commercials.

My thoughts: Last month we had one of the longest shorts in my list (at ten minutes long) and this month we swing to the other side of the spectrum with one of the shortest. But this adorable animated short packs a lot of fun and warmth into its two minute running time. Moose A. Moose and Zee D. Bird were featured in over 100 educational shorts which were originally aired on the Noggin network (which became Nick Jr in 2009).  These shorts were often aired between episodes of other shows as interstitials and featured read-aloud stories, puzzles, color and word games and even art appreciation. This was one of the show’s music video segments, which featured songs about special subjects, such as holidays or seasons. Moose’s candy cane song is cute and catchy, with an earnest optimism that is ridiculously likeable. When he opens his present from Zee and finds something other than his desired candy cane, he is so gracious and says that the best gift is having Zee for a friend. And then when he finds that Zee really did get him a candy cane, it’s a wonderful treat for all of us. The series ended in 2012 but many of the original episodes can be found online (and if you’re looking up this one, but sure to check out the Halloween episode, which is just as great).

picture

He uses a quill pen!  Moose A. Moose has unexpected depth.

happy-faces

These kids are strung out on sugar highs.  Don’t do candy canes, kids.

candy-cane-world

Candy Cane World is certainly very festive and I imagine it smells nice.

present

Zee doesn’t seem quite ready to be up yet.

Individual Superlative: Easiest Gift Request – What kind of world is Moose living in where candy canes are not available everywhere in abundance during the holiday season?  I inevitably have to throw away dozens of them in January ever year so he must live on some remote sugarless island somewhere. We need to find this island and get some candy canes out there STAT!

Want to Watch it? Moose & Zee – Candy Cane Song is available on YouTube.