Davey and Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found

Title

Debuted in 1965

29 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Davey doesn’t have the Christmas spirit so he goes out to do holiday errands, hoping he will be inspired. While buying the Christmas tree, he makes friends with Kenny, the boy working at the tree lot. The kids put on a Christmas pageant and at the last minute, Davey offers his role as a king to Kenny and in doing so, finally feels the Christmas spirit.

Fun Fact: This episode marked the last time that Davey’s voice was provided by Dick Beals, who was his original voice actor.

My thoughts: Davey and Goliath was a children’s television show using clay animation characters to tell stories that taught moral lessons. The show was funded by the Lutheran Church of America and when I was growing up, it aired here on Sunday mornings (so you could watch it on any mornings that you didn’t go to church and still say you got your dose of religion).  The animation was done by Art Clokey, who also did the Gumby series. This Christmas special was produced during the years between Season 3 (which ended in 1964) and Season 4 (which started in 1971). While some of the earlier episodes were less overt in their religious tone, this one lays it on pretty thick. The one thing I was struck by in watching this was the scarcity of adults and the fact that it looked like kids did most of the working and organizing of events in the town. Maybe Davey was just overworked from all the chores he had to do, including all the preparation for the Christmas pageant, and that’s why he wasn’t feeling Christmas. It was cool to see this again since I remember this show from my childhood, but I found it kind of maudlin.

Depressed Davey

Emo Davey is emo.

Tobacco store

Dude, you’re selling tobacco to a kid?

Joe's Sound truck

The Joe’s Sound truck provides plot exposition at no extra cost.

Smitten Sally

Sally is fully under the spell of baby Jesus and will do his every bidding.

Individual Superlative: Lighten Up, Kid! – Seriously, Davey is a major downer through this whole thing, constantly telling everyone how he just doesn’t feel Christmas and always wearing a sad sack expression. I mean, I get that he ain’t feelin’ it, but maybe a little perspective and a little less self-pity would have helped.

Want to Watch it? Davey & Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

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Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire

Title

Debuted in 1999

29 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Robbie shows up to train for Santa’s sleigh team as a navigator, but Blitzen tries to prevent his success because he hated Robbie’s father. Blitzen convinces Robbie that he’s unfit so he leaves and tries his hand at toy making with the elves, who suggest he hire a trainer. He just barely loses the Steeplechase at the Reindeer Games, but then it’s discovered that Blitzen was using performance enhancing drugs, so Santa chooses Robbie.

Fun Fact: It’s played for comedy that Blitzen never lets anyone say the name of Robbie’s famous red-nosed father, but it’s actually because of copyright law.

My thoughts: There have been three Robbie the Reindeer specials, all produced for Comic Relief and originally aired on BBC One. Although not an official Aardman Animations production, it did share some of the animators and has the same style and look of the other Aardman films. The version I watched was the original BBC version, with the original voices, but there is an American-ized version out there as well, with American actors in the cast. As a big fan of Ardal O’Hanlon, who voices Robbie, I recommend this version. There are lots of funny moments and a couple of cute subplots, including Robbie’s budding romance with Donner and his friendship with Old Jingle, who comes out of retirement to train him. I thought this one was a lot of fun and now I’m looking forward to watching the story continue in the other two films.

Working out

Even reindeer have to stay fit.

Robbie and Donner

Donner has heard all she cares to hear about how gorgeous Vixen is.

Elf

Not exactly the way I always pictured Santa’s elves.

Whale

Robbie’s first attempt at toy making.  I always thought whales could use an arm or two. Or three.

Individual Superlative: Beards Aplenty – Santa is not the only one in his family to have a full beard. So does Mrs. Santa and their infant child. Honestly, it made me laugh every time they showed it.

Want to Watch it? Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire is available on DVD and YouTube.

Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration

 

TitleDebuted in 1987

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Two dinosaurs, Rex and Herb, serve as hosts and introduce short Christmas musical vignettes. In between the musical numbers, they make jokes, eat snacks and share a little history about some of the carols included. At the end, all the different characters from the songs join them in the final song.

Fun Fact: This special won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.

My thoughts: Patric Miller, who did the music for this special, shared his story of this special’s history and how it was originally going to be more geared toward young children. Gradually, it changed and the animators wanted to make it more hip and appropriate for an older audience. The inclusion of the California Raisins sets this special pretty firmly in its time period and I think that their segment, which is a version of ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,’ is the weakest segment of the show. My favorite segment is ‘Joy to the World’ which uses clay painting and a bluesy sound to celebrate joy in the context of the birth of Jesus and the love that families and friends have for each other. The animation is beautiful and the song is great. The banter between the hosts (who are reminiscent of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) is a little forced and the recurring joke about the real lyrics of ‘Here We Come A’Wassailing’ doesn’t hold up to repeated viewings, but overall I really enjoy watching this one.

Hosts

You can instantly tell which is the serious one and which is the goofball.

Bell

And this guy is never going to get anything right.

Walruses

Walruses are always funny.

Raisins

These guys overextended their 15 minutes.

Individual Superlative: And Your Name Is? – Depending on where you look it up, this special is either called Will Vinton’s Claymation ChristmasA Claymation Christmas Celebration or just A Claymation Christmas. Either way, though, it’s Claymation. That much, we can be sure of.

Want to Watch it? Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration is available on DVD and YouTube.

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.

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.

Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy

titleDebuted in 1995

64 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Bumpy wants to get Santa’s bag to take all the presents for himself so he cons Squishington into helping him with the promise of his dream gift – a pair of feet. They meet others on the way and battle Santa’s snowman army, but Bumpy gets the bag and rushes back home, unknowingly dropping presents on the way. He gets home just in time to close the Christmas pageant with a song and then, having learned something about the joy of giving, he gives the last remaining gift to Squishington, who finally lives his dream to tap dance.

Fun Fact: The phrase ‘things that go bump in the night’ comes from a traditional Scottish prayer from the 19th century.

My thoughts: I mentioned to my awesome future son-in-law that I was dreading watching this one and he bravely offered to keep me company, stating that he (much like my son) has a strange enjoyment for really bad shows. Well, most bad shows. Once again, it seems that all the worst specials are compelled to go long and Bumpy’s 64 minutes feel like a couple of hours stranded in rush hour traffic with an overheating engine and a full volume radio you can’t adjust. Between the gross-out scenes, the ethnic stereotypes (the British hummingbird sounds like a Monty Python character and might as well have just said, “Blimey!” and “Crumpets!” over and over) and bizarre moments such as a ‘grassy knoll’ joke, I don’t think this special has any real concept of who its target audience is. The talented Jim Cummings gives Bumpy a voice that sounds like the love child of Bobcat Goldthwait and Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil and it was grating on my nerves after 5 minutes. (It was hardcore chomping on them after another hour.) A subplot involving Molly Coddle (the comfort doll) having to show some confidence so she could direct the pageant was tiresome and pointless, seeming to serve as just a vehicle to get more re-worded songs into the thing and stretch it out longer. Can’t recommend this one for anyone.

pageant-performers

All the toys and the insect (who sings the song in this special’s Hanukkah nod) look miffed. They must have realized what special they’re in.

snow-soldiers

Frosty goes to Boot Camp?

sniffing-armpits

Nothing says holidays like oozy blobs smelling their own armpits.

worm

Is this worm channeling Steve Buscemi or John Waters?

Individual Superlative: Most Non-Original Original Songs – Every song in this is a traditional Christmas song with new words that often just summarize the plot and they’re all really repetitive. And they mostly play over re-played footage (sometimes multiple times – I seriously lost count of how many times they showed the same map) from this special and other episodes of the show.

Want to Watch it? Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Nestor is thrown out of the barnyard because of his long ears and his mother gives her life to save him during a snowstorm. He meets a cherub who guides him to his destiny, which is to carry Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. His ears allow him to hear guiding voices and bring the expectant couple safely to their destination, making him a hero among the animals.

Fun Fact: The special is based on a 1975 Gene Autry song, which Roger Miller covers as the title song for this show.

My thoughts: There’s no question that this seems like a mawkish and sentimental attempt by Rankin/Bass to recreate their earlier success with 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The stories share a lot of similar themes, although there was a little more social conscience at work here, as the show takes a much stronger stand against the bullying that Nestor receives from the other animals. A song called ‘Don’t Laugh and Make Somebody Cry’ was part of the original broadcast but is usually missing when it’s shown during the ABC Family holiday schedule. Long time Rankin/Bass fans will recognize some familiar faces in the cast, as models from The Year Without a Santa Claus, The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year were all re-used here. Yes, it’s a really sad story and I don’t watch it every year, but it’s one that I consider to be a classic that’s worth watching (if you have a box of Kleenex nearby).

camels

Further proof that camels are jerks.

sad-nestor

Nestor is showing us what all the viewers look like.

tilly

Tilly is adorbs.

mary-and-joseph

Mary’s eyes are so light blue that it makes her look blind.

Individual Superlative: Make that the Jumbo Kleenex – I watched the premiere of this special with two boys that I was babysitting and the three of us were reduced to a blubbering mass of tears and sniffles after Nestor’s mother died. “Ears, Nestor.” SOB.

Want to Watch it? Nestor, the Long Eared Christmas Donkey is available on VHS and DVD and it still shows up annually in the regular holiday programming.