It’s Better to Give

20180423-205349Debuted in 1963

5 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Jughaid is angry at Santa for never bringing him the bicycle he’s been asking for so Snuffy, thinking a kind gesture for Santa might help, suggests they build a television set as a gift for Santa. Meanwhile, Loweezy uses various pipes and parts to build a makeshift bike for Jughaid so he won’t be disappointed. On Christmas morning, Jughaid finds a real bike in his stocking and there’s also a real television for Snuffy, with a note from Santa, who is glad they learned the importance of giving.

Fun Fact: The original comic strip that these characters are based on is the longest currently running comic strip in the United States.

My thoughts: I remember Snuffy Smith from the comics section of the newspaper, which I really enjoyed reading when I was a kid. I don’t think I ever knew the history behind the strip, which started in 1919 with the character of Barney Google. In 1934, Barney travelled to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and met moonshiner Snuffy Smith. He was so popular that Barney kind of faded into the distance and Snuffy and his family took over as the main characters. King Features produced 50 animated shorts featuring these characters and the comic strip, incidentally, is still running today. The character voices are over-exaggerated ‘hillbilly’ talk that was played for humor back in the 60’s, but is mostly just annoying to listen to now. I think it’s particularly cute that Snuffy reacts to Jughaid’s (hey, it’s their spelling, not mine) anger by putting a positive spin on it and trying to teach him the joy of giving. Overall, I think this one is pretty forgettable unless you, like me, grew up with the comic and are just curious to see those characters in their animated forms.

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I kind of hope Santa brings Loweezy a good supportive bra.

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No matter how hard you hug it, Snuffy, that thing is not going to pick up HBO.

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She built a working bike from pipes and household items. Respect.

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When Loweezy (as Santa) has trouble getting back up the chimney, Snuffy just unzips it. Well, duh.

Individual Superlative: Most Self Confident Theme Song – The words to the theme song are ‘Great balls of fire, I’m bodacious!’ I supposed if you started every day out singing that to yourself, you’d have the confidence to master anything.

Want to Watch it? It’s Better to Give is available on YouTube.

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Sarah & Duck: Petal Light Picking

20180324-070932Debuted in 2013

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Sarah and Duck go shopping for Christmas lights, but can’t find anything that they like. When they get back home, they follow a glowing ladybug through a hole in the hedge, where they discover flowers with colorful shining petals and ornaments growing from the ground. They take some of them home and decorate their tree.

Fun Fact: This was the final episode of the show’s first season.

My thoughts: I was not surprised to learn that this show, which is geared toward preschoolers, has a following among adults. There’s something really warm and cozy about it. The show ran for three seasons between 2013 and 2017 on CBeebies, which is the BBC’s children’s programming network and won a BAFTA for preschool program in its second season. Each show episode consists of three animated shorts, during which 7 year old Sarah and her best friend, Duck, have an adventure or solve a problem. The show is narrated by Roger Allam (who originated the role of Inspector Javert in the London version of Les Miserables) and in addition to narrating the episode, he occasionally speaks to the characters and offers them helpful advice. There are a number of recurring characters with names like Umbrella (he’s afraid of rain), Scarf Lady and Bag (who is a talking knitting bag belonging to Scarf Lady). What I love about this short is how magical it feels, with the secret glade and its otherworldly glowing flowers. It’s all very colorful, beautiful and sweet, with a perfect ending, in which Sarah gazes at the decorated tree and just says the word, ‘Christmas’ with the most satisfied joy. Especially recommended for those who love kids with British accents.

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I feel your pain, Sarah.  I’ve seen cringe-worthy trees, too.

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It’s a good harvest of tree lights this year.

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Duck is useful for plucking baubles out of the river.

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Well worth all the trouble. Their decorations are lovely.

Individual Superlative: Most Quackable Theme Song – Go ahead and try not to quack along with Duck during the short (but really contagious) theme song. I dare you not to quack.

Want to Watch it? Sarah & Duck: Petal Light Picking is available on DVD and typically turns up during holiday programming.

The Forgotten Toys

Title

Debuted in 1995

25 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Teddy wakes up after Christmas and finds himself in a trash can, where he befriends a discarded doll named Annie. While trying to find new kids who will love them, they meet a dog named Chauncey who wants to help them. They are eventually found by an old man, who fixes them up and gives them direction to a school, where they are adopted by new children.

Fun Fact: The voices for Annie and Chauncey were different when the special aired in the US, but Bob Hoskins voiced Teddy in both versions.

My thoughts:  For a Christmas special, this one actually doesn’t have a lot to do with Christmas, taking place right afterwards and only casually referencing it after that. But the story served as a pilot episode for a series that ran for two seasons and followed these same characters, who were apparently immediately abandoned again by their new children in the season opener. (Dang, you know they have self-esteem issues by this point.) When we first saw this on Fox Family many years ago, Annie’s voice was higher and airier, so seeing the original with Joanna Lumley’s grittier voice was a little jarring. No one else could possibly be Teddy but Bob Hoskins, though. He’s perfectly cast as the grumpy but lovable little bear. There’s a sweet moment near the end when Teddy uses Annie’s name after calling her ‘Pigtails’ for the rest of the show and it’s made even more poignant because of his gruff character. I like this special, but the overall feeling it leaves you with is one of sadness, especially when you learn that the toys go on to be abandoned and searching for owners yet again down the road.

Holding breath

Holding your breath never works, Teddy.  It does make you cute, though.

Helping Chauncey

Annie helps Chauncey after he’s been hit by a passing car.

Robot Teddy

Teddy wants to be a high tech robot toy.

Fixed up

Everyone’s looking neat and pretty!

Individual Superlative: Is He or Isn’t He? – The old man who fixes the toys up has a long beard and a workshop in a junkyard. Because he not only fixes them up, but also helps the toys to find new owners, it may be that we are supposed to believe he’s Santa Claus. But it never says for sure.

Want to Watch it? The Forgotten Toys is available on DVD and YouTube.

The Fairly OddParents!: Christmas Every Day

Title

Debuted in 2001

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Timmy is excited about Christmas morning and wishes every day could be Christmas. Cosmo and Wanda grant his wish and it becomes a major problem, with most businesses staying closed and other holidays getting upset. When every kid wishes for December 26th, life returns to normal.

Fun Fact: The Fairly OddParents! ran for 16 years on Nickelodeon, making it the second longest animated series on the network.

My thoughts: The Fairly OddParents! got its start as part of the Oh Yeah! Cartoons show on Nickelodeon and was expanded into its own series and even a few live action movies. Timmy Turner is a boy with fairy godparents and he makes wishes that inevitably create problems that need to be resolved, leading to the conclusion that wishes are probably not as great as they are cracked up to be. In this episode, the problems are global and all the kids of the world have to come together to solve them. I really liked the plot’s resolution here and thought the episode was a lot of fun. The other holidays represented here are the Easter Bunny, Cupid and the April Fool, who is clearly a parody of Jerry Seinfeld, punctuating every statement with ‘What’s the deal with that?’ There is a lot of creativity at play in this show, with Cosmo and Wanda able to shape shift into different things to avoid detection. I thought this episode was a lot of fun.

Natural enemies

The miracle of Christmas can turn the bitterest enemies into friends.

Nog obsessed

Timmy’s Dad has eggnog addiction issues.

Other holidays

The baby new year could use a little cardio.

Children of the world

Italian kids have amazing moustache game.

Individual Superlative: The Economic Impact – Several different specials and characters have taken on the problematic issue of wishing for every day to be Christmas, but this is the first one I’ve seen that looks at it how it affects the global economy. Kids are growing up fast.

Want to Watch it? The Fairly Odd Parents: Christmas Every Day is available on DVD and YouTube.

Raggedy Ann & Andy: The Great Santa Claus Caper

Title

Debuted in 1978

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Alexander Graham Wolf plans to cover all the Christmas toys in a substance called Gloopstick, which preserves them forever but also prevents kids from playing with them. Comet brings Raggedy Ann and Andy (along with their dog, Raggedy Arthur) to the North Pole to help save Christmas. Raggedy Ann discovers that Gloopstick is destroyed by love and Mr. Wolf has a change of heart.

Fun Fact: This special introduced the character of Raggedy Arthur, who promptly went pretty much nowhere.

My thoughts: The original Raggedy Ann doll was patented in 1915 and she’s been in comic books, animated shorts, stage productions, television series and even a feature film. It’s obvious from the very beginning that this is a Chuck Jones special, as the main character is a dead ringer for Wile E. Coyote, although he is voiced by film and radio star Les Tremayne. The special’s plot never really makes a lot of cohesive sense. Comet’s rationale for choosing Raggedy Ann and Andy is that they’re easy to carry and won’t be bothered by the cold.  Not the best criteria for picking someone to save the day. Wolf’s plan is puzzling, especially when he reveals that he plans to charge the children for his toys, which doesn’t make much sense after he’s also made them useless. There’s an interesting moment when Santa says that giving toys to children is ‘probably a worthy cause.’ I’ve never seen Santa presented as so ambiguous about his job. This one is odd and pretty much forgettable.

Comet

This is unsafe flying.

Sassy Andy

Andy is laying down the sass.

Acme

I should have bought stock in Acme.  They made big animated money.

Wolf tree

The Gloopstick Wolf Christmas tree is never going to catch on.

Individual Superlative: Super Sap – Be sure to cut down on sweets while watching this, because the over saccharine sweetness here could put you in a diabetic coma. It’s bad enough that love can conquer Gloopstick, but when they urge all the kids watching at home to join in on the love, it’s way way over the top.

Want to Watch it? Raggedy Ann & Andy’s Great Santa Claus Caper is available on VHS and YouTube.

The Boondocks: A Huey Freeman Christmas

Title

Debuted in 2005

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Uberwitz gives Huey creative control over the Christmas pageant and Huey writes a new story called ‘The Adventures of Black Jesus.’ He fires all the kids for not being committed to the show and then brings on Quincy Jones to do the music. Although most of the parents boycott the show and Mr. Uberwitz loses his job for his decision, those who do see it give it a standing ovation.

Fun Fact: The Boondocks got its start as a comic strip that debuted on Hitlist.com and went on to be published in newspapers.

My thoughts: The Boondocks ran for four seasons on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim between the years of 2005 and 2014, telling the story of the Freeman family and their friends. The show is full of social commentary and satire, mostly relating to the experiences of an African American family living in a largely white neighborhood. There are some funny moments in this one and a good message about not compromising your artistic vision due to the prejudices and feelings of others, but overall, the show is dark and a little too angry and hostile for me. I know folks who love the show, though, and it was pretty well received by critics during its run, so I have to think that my issues are probably just mine. I was really expecting the play to crash and burn, so the fact that it turned out to be awesome was a welcome surprise. I was really rooting for things to turn out well for Huey, which is a testament to how well the character was represented, in my opinion.

Jazmine

Jazmine is preaching the gospel of Santa and she is feeling the spirit.

Santa vs Chair

Looks like Santa is the one who ‘better watch out.’

Riley's letter

I don’t imagine this is the usual sentiment for a letter to Santa.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones voices his own character.

Individual Superlative: Art Imitates Life – In the show’s postscript, it says that Mr. Uberwitz went on to become an African American studies professor at University of Maryland, which is where show creator Aaron McGruder went to school, where he majored in African American studies.

Want to Watch it? The Boondocks: A Huey Freeman Christmas is available on DVD and iTunes.

Pucca: Christmas Shorts

Title

Debuted in 2006

23 minutes 

Plot in 3 Sentences: In the first of three stories, a ninja named Black Powder shows up to get his revenge on Santa for becoming a giver instead of a thief. In the next story, Pucca and Garu try to discover why the Northern Lights have gone out. The third story features Tobe kidnapping Santa to take his place in hopes of capturing Garu.

Fun Fact: In the show, Pucca is supposed to be 11 and Garu is supposed to be 12.

My thoughts: Pucca started as a South Korean series of animated internet shorts, each only running a couple of minutes. They were produced from 2000 to 2005 and then expanded into longer shorts for a TV series that ran two seasons from 2006 to 2008. I stumbled on this episode because it was Christmas themed, but kind of fell in love with the show and watched all the episodes after that. The basic premise revolves around a village of ninjas, where the niece of the guys who own the local noodle restaurant is smitten with a silent ninja named Garu. The village is full of bizarre characters, including Santa Claus, who is integral to this episode’s shorts. The show is very funny and clever, with fun send-ups of anime and short parodies featuring these characters in other genres. This one has made a few appearances at our Christmas special parties over the year and is always well received.

Naked Santa

I don’t think I want to know how Santa can pull a long string of lights from his mouth.

Fake Santa with Zombie

Yes, the zombie asks Santa for brains.

Abyo with Walrus

Abyo gets his workout ninja kicking a walrus. Seems legit.

Closing Santa Wreath

Christmas is all about love, especially funny love.

Individual Superlative: Best Use of Santa’s Belly – Santa’s signature ninja move is called the Belly Bounce and he uses it to defeat Black Powder twice. That’s why he needs all those cookies!

Want to Watch it? The individual Pucca short cartoons are available on DVD and YouTube.