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.

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Uncle Grandpa: Christmas Special

Title

Debuted in 2014

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: When Santa breaks his leg, Uncle Grandpa steps in to deliver the toys. He causes lots of trouble and then gets captured by Sally Smith, a naughty kid. His guardian lobster shows him what life would have been like without him and he manages to save Christmas and have a nice holiday with his friends.

Fun Fact: Cartoon Network developed a video game called ‘Sneakin’ Santa’ to promote this holiday episode of the show.

My thoughts: Well, there are no two ways about it. This show is nutso. In addition to the main character, there is also a talking fanny pack, a slice of pizza named Pizza Steve, a grumpy dinosaur and a photographic cutout of a tiger who can fly. Creator Peter Browngardt was influenced by Gary Larson, Robert Crumb, Tex Avery and Don Martin and it’s not too hard to see their fingerprints here, although the show is extremely original. Normally, each show features two 12 minute segments, but this show uses both segments to tell its story and appears to be the first double episode in the series. We find out early in the show that Uncle Grandpa and Santa are brothers and that Uncle Grandpa is still angry at Santa for ruining his talent show performance when they were young.  There are some good underlying messages about friendship and family hidden amongst the bizarre moments here and if you enjoy your specials a little on the wacky side, this one should be right up your alley.

Santa and elves

Elves make really good footrests.

Other holiday mascots

Sally Smith keeps a prison for holidays.  Not pictured: The Veterans Day Velociraptor.  (No, that wasn’t a joke.)

Skeleton

Does Mr. Gus wind up as a skeleton in a museum without Uncle Grandpa?

Rooftop

Photorealistic Flying Tiger is absolutely my favorite character in anything.

Individual Superlative: Born to Be Crazy – Contributors to this series include the folks who gave us both Chowder and Ren & Stimpy so there’s no way this show wasn’t going to be insane.

Want to Watch it? Uncle Grandpa: Christmas Special is available on Hulu and will likely show up in holiday programming.

 

The Elf and the Magic Key

Title

Debuted in 1993

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Santa is kidnapped and the kidnappers want to exchange him for all the toys in the workshop. Toby the elf goes to see Mrs. Buzzard, who finds Santa in her crystal ball and gives Toby a magic key. Toby finds Santa being held by two guys who turn out to be Mrs. Buzzard’s two lost sons and Toby uses the magic key to reunite them all.

Fun Fact: The special was written by Lee Wilson, who plays Trixie the elf.

My thoughts: This special is a sequel to The Elf Who Saved Christmas, which debuted a year earlier. I originally watched these with my kids when they were little and other than Mrs. Buzzard (as played by Jo Ann Worley) coming off as a little scary to my son, they didn’t leave much of an impression. Both the script and the acting are over the top, as though you’re listening to someone patiently and slowly speaking to a person who doesn’t speak their language well. The two comic relief elves (Hoot and Smitty) bumble their way through some slapstick bits that just don’t manage to be funny, even to their intended audience. The only redeeming quality about this one is Santa’s big speech to the Buzzard Brothers. When they claim to have a right to be rotten because they were abandoned as kids, Santa explains that no one, no matter how tough their life has been, has the right to be mean to others. This is a really good message that more people need to hear. Unfortunately, not many people will sit through this saccharine packet of a special to hear it.

Big Mailbox

This mailbox does not comply with Post Office standards.

Bumbling Elves

Hoot and Smitty doing some antics.

Mrs. Buzzard

Okay, I can see why Mrs. Buzzard was scary.

Santa and Toby All Tied Up

These ropes don’t look all that secure.

Individual Superlative: Give Toby a Raise! – In both these special and its predecessor, Toby (who seems to be a pretty low level elf) takes matters into her own hands and saves Christmas. Dang, I hope she gets a good Christmas bonus!

Want to Watch it? The Elf and the Magic Key is available on DVD and YouTube.

 

The Great Santa Claus Switch

Title

Debuted in 1970

51 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Evil Cosmo Scam kidnaps Santa as part of his plan to take over Christmas. When he starts replacing Santa’s elves with his own henchmen, a new elf named Fred discovers the plot. With Fred’s help, Santa is able to escape just in time to save Christmas.

Fun Fact: Ed Sullivan gave this time slot to Jim Henson in appreciation for all the Muppet appearances on his show.

My thoughts: I am a big Muppet fan from way back, but I had never heard of this special before this year. Apparently, Jim Henson had the idea for this story bouncing around for quite some time before getting the chance to bring it to the small screen on The Ed Sullivan Show. Art Carney plays the dual role of Santa Claus and Cosmo Scam and sadly, doesn’t seem to be giving 100% to either role, which is probably the reason this special didn’t have much staying power. The Muppets are always enhanced by the addition of an over the top human counterpoint and Carney’s somewhat phoned-in performance here doesn’t give them the opportunity to shine. But there are a lot of really funny moments and some good songs from songwriter Joe Raposo. It’s definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a Muppet fan, but it doesn’t hold up well compared to the movies and shows that came after it.

The Bad Guy

Anyone who names a child Cosmo Scam should know he’s headed for a life of crime.

Workshop Elves

Santa’s elves always sing while they work.

Santa's Kidnappers

Santa, quit staring at the tree and look behind you!

Monster Elves

The elves have been replaced by frackles!  And no one seems to notice.

Individual Superlative: A Muppet By Any Other Name – One of Cosmo’s frackle henchmen is named Snarl. Six years later, he showed up as a regular character on The Muppet Show as a performance artist named Gonzo. You can check him out in the picture above.

Want to Watch it? The Great Santa Claus Switch is available on YouTube.

Higglytown Heroes: Twinkle’s Wish

TitleDebuted in 2004

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Twinkle wishes that she could be one of Santa’s elves and help at Santa’s workshop. At the North Pole, an elf named Pix has a mishap on his first day of work and winds up at Twinkle’s house. He takes her to the North Pole and she is delighted to help Santa, but realizes that her true wish is to celebrate Christmas at home with her friends and family.

Fun Fact: Twinkle’s voice is performed by Liliana Mumy, the daughter of child actor Billy Mumy.

My thoughts: It’s easy to dismiss Higglytown Heroes as a silly kids’ show, but if you watch an episode or two, you’ll see that it actually has a lot going for it. The characters are nesting doll toys who all pop open, which would be a pretty cool way to carry stuff with you without having to tote around a purse or backpack. But the show’s basic premise is identifying the ordinary people who solve problems and provide services every day, making them heroes to the people around them. Sure, you have your firefighters and your policemen, but they also recognize farmers, librarians and physical therapists. If you check the IMDB, you’ll see that these characters are often voiced by celebrities, which is pretty cool. The celebrities in this episode are John Astin as Santa and his son, Sean Astin as Pix. Of course, Santa and his elves are heroes and it’s cool that Twinkle (who is apparently amazing at gift wrap) gets to help with their efforts. It’s a nice message to have her realize her dream and see that it’s just as great as she imagined, but not worth moving away from her family to pursue.

Mantel

Considering that this chimney looks closed in at the top, Santa may have some difficulty here.

Reindeer Bath

The reindeer all bathe together?  Shocking!

Santa

Santa wears holly in his lapel. Good fashion choice.

WrapMaster

Twinkle wraps presents so fast that they just look like a blur. Mad skills.

Individual Superlative: Awesome Theme Song – The theme song for Higglytown Heroes was written and recorded by They Might Be Giants, my favorite band. This song has a nagging way of getting stuck in my head for days. So yeah, I’m probably still singing it to myself.

Want to Watch it? Higglytown Heroes: Twinkle’s Wish is available on DVD.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

TitleDebuted in 1944

9 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A reindeer with a shiny red nose is mocked and treated badly by his peers. Then on a particularly foggy Christmas Eve, Santa sees him and asks him to help light the way for his toy delivery. He becomes a Christmas hero.

Fun Fact: Rudolph was originally created to be an advertising icon for Montgomery Ward department stores.

My thoughts: The Rankin-Bass version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has been a Christmas tradition pretty much as long as I’ve been alive. I imagine there are lots of people who have never seen this short, which marks the debut of Rudolph as an animated character. This version of the story is significantly less cluttered than the Rankin-Bass, with the only named characters being Rudolph, Santa and his team of reindeer, which is why you can tell the entire story in nine minutes. Also, Rudolph is not at all related to Santa’s reindeer and is completely unknown to them until Santa stops by to deliver his presents and spies his red nose. The story is narrated in rhyme by Paul Wing, who was one of the only people to receive an Academy Award for Assistant Director (before they retired the category). On the versions I’ve seen, all the dialogue sounds as though it was recorded inside a tin can. I’m not sure if the original sounded any better. It’s worth watching for the historical view of Rudolph, but doesn’t stand up that well over time.

Mom

Rudolph’s mom has got it going on!

Hear Ye

Reindeer are noted for their public speaking skills.

Proposal

Santa is getting all dramatic here.

Santa

Please keep your seatbelt fastened, Santa.

Individual Superlative: Most Ambiguous Age – No one seems to be really sure when this cartoon was actually released. Some documentation says 1944 and others say 1949. The song was first recorded (by Gene Autry) in 1949 and some say this short was re-released with the song in 1949, thereby causing the confusion, but it seems that no evidence exists to support either story.

Want to Watch it? Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is available on YouTube as well as several VHS and DVD compilations.

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.