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.

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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.

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.

Alias St. Nick

titleDebuted in 1935

10 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A mother mouse reads’Twas the Night Before Christmas’ to her children on Christmas Eve and one little tough mouse insists that there is no Santa Claus. A hungry (and devious) cat overhears them talking, disguises himself as Santa and is welcomed into their home. The tough mouse discovers that the cat is an imposter and leads the others in foiling the cat’s plans and chasing him out of their home.

Fun Fact: The tough guy mouse was named Little Cheeser and he was featured in other MGM shorts after this one.

My thoughts: MGM released 37 animated shorts under the Happy Harmonies name from 1934 to 1938. When I was a kid, I loved that there were Silly Symphonies, Happy Harmonies, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in the world of animated shorts and was really surprised to learn that they were all from different studios. I used to try coming up with new alliterative words for ‘happy songs’ just to see how many I could come up with, but all I can remember at this point is Delighted Ditties and that one doesn’t really work. Anyway, this short is a lot of fun. Little Cheeser (named for the gangster character in Little Caesar) is a pretty likeable character in spite of his smart aleck attitude. Although he mocks his siblings at the beginning (and again at the end), he stands by them when they are under attack and is the first to suspect the fake Santa. The cat’s voice is performed by Billy Bletcher, whose deep and gravelly voice made every character seem sinister. There are lots of great and creative uses of toys as weapons, including using a Jack-in-the-box as a tool to punch the cat across the room. At 10 minutes, it’s longer than most of the shorts of that time period, but it makes good use of its extra time.

doubter

Little Cheeser even stands like a skeptic.

kewpie

That kewpie doll better have some mace.

evil-santa

Yeah, when Santa is making that face, he’s the naughty one.

sandwich

MMmm…bacon, lettuce and mouse.

Individual Superlative: Full-On Toy Betrayal – The mice attack the false Santa Claus with the same toys that he brought them as gifts, which leads me to wonder if that’s why so many kids asked for toy guns and tanks back in the day.

Want to Watch it? Alias St. Nick is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

A Very Merry Cricket

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Harry the cat and Tucker the mouse are dismayed by the general sense of unhappiness and distraction that pervades New York City. They travel to Connecticut to bring back Chester Cricket, hoping his music can once again bring the city together. Chester has trouble being heard over the hustle and bustle of the holiday, but then a blackout puts him center stage, where his music creates the perfect holiday mood.

Fun Fact: Animator/director Chuck Jones can be found in the collection of people listening to Chester’s song near the end of the special.

My thoughts: A Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden, with wonderful illustrations from Garth Williams, was published in 1960 and won a Newbery Honor. Chuck Jones adapted the story as an animated special which aired in April 1973 and this sequel was aired later that same year. (Another sequel, Yankee Doodle Cricket, featuring the same characters bizarrely involved in the American Revolution came out two years later.) I loved this special when it came out and was moved by its gentle message of quieting down the loudness and slowing your hectic pace to listen to something as simple and beautiful as a cricket’s song. (Of course, I had been a fan of the book already, so I was predisposed to like the animated version.) Sadly, I think this one feels very dated now, although the message is even more important with the explosion of technology that has happened since the 1970’s. The ending, with its montage of Christmas carols and pictures of rapt New Yorkers feeling the holiday spirit, is still very touching. Most of the rest of the special is plot recap or sub-plot filler (such as the hungry cat and dog in Connecticut who try to have Harry and Tucker for dinner) while we wait for that moment, but I have to say it’s worth it. I’m happy to have this one in my collection.

santa

Mechanical Santa is full of fabricated joy!

singing

We’re getting the band back together, you guys!

predator-cat

Hey, that’s a main character!  Spit him out!

listening

Stopping for a musical interlude.

Individual Superlative: Haven’t I Seen You Before? – This special begins with a recap of A Cricket in Times Square and then pretty much retells the same story.

Want to Watch it? A Very Merry Cricket is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.