101 Dalmatians: A Christmas Cruella

TitleDebuted in 1997

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Cruella DeVil fires Anita on Christmas Eve and is then the victim of an accident, when a Christmas tree falls on her. When she wakes up, she is visited by three spirits who show her scenes from her past, present and future. Realizing she can be a better person, she gives Anita her job back and spends holidays with their family and all the puppies.

Fun Fact: This is the only episode of the TV series to be released on DVD.

My thoughts: I am a professed Disney fan, but my enthusiasm is geared more towards the movies and theme parks and less toward their television offerings. This is the only episode of the show that I have ever seen, but it doesn’t leave me wanting to watch more. The glimpse that we get into Cruella DeVil’s past here shows that she grew up with parents who were absent most of the time, leaving her in the care of nannies. We see that the one gift she always wanted and never got was a Dalmatian puppy, which is meant to give some meaning to her cruel nature where the puppies are concerned. Overall, though, it feels like a mighty big stretch. The problem with doing a Christmas Carol themed episode of a regular show is that, unless you’re drastically changing the show, the ‘Scrooge’ character has to go back to being bad after the episode is over. So the change for that one episode doesn’t mean much. There were a couple of funny moments in this one, though, including the fact that Cruella can’t find an open store to buy presents for everyone when she goes to spend Christmas with them, so she brings home office supplies from her office and hands them out instead. Overall, though, this one’s probably only for those who are already fans of the show.

Crazy Cruella

No person should have this many angles.

Angel

This is the ‘angel’ on the top of Cruella’s tree.  Seems about right.

Scary ghost

What the hell is going on here?

Unscary ghost

Least scary Ghost of Christmas Future ever.

Individual Superlative: When All Else Fails, End on a Pee Joke – At the end of the special, Cruella picks up a puppy to hug, only to be told she’s chosen Whizzer, who promptly pees on her. I have to think that Roger and Anita doomed him to this behavior by giving him the name Whizzer.

Want to Watch it? 101 Dalmatians: A Christmas Cruella is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation

titleDebuted in 2009

34 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Phineas and Ferb coordinate a massive ‘Thank you’ event for Santa Claus, decorating the entire city and building a special place for Santa to rest after his journey. But when Doofenshmirtz uses his recently received ‘Naughty-inator’ to turn the whole town naughty, all of Danville’s letters come back to them. Phineas and Ferb and all their friends manage to save the day, resulting in everyone getting their Christmas wish.

Fun Fact: This was the first episode of Phineas and Ferb not to be set in the summertime and the first to be aired on ABC Family.

My thoughts: Phineas and Ferb is one of those great shows that has massive cross-generational appeal and can be enjoyed by young kids, teenagers and even middle-age ladies like yours truly. The main contributing factor in this is the writing which is clever and funny without relying on cheap laughs or mean-spirited humor. While it helps to know the characters (and you certainly get more of the jokes), you can watch this special with no prior knowledge of the show and still thoroughly enjoy it. At the end of the special, we discover that Santa was the mastermind behind everything, including Doofenshmirtz’s ‘Naughty-inator’ and that just about everyone has gotten their Christmas wish as a result. There’s a really sweet moment when Buford does one nice thing (as part of his plan to be a brat all year and then redeem himself at the last moment) and we learn that his wish was just to be thought of as nice by his friends. In any other show, that may have played as mawkish, but it really works here, because we care about these characters and their relationships to each other. There are great songs in this episode that have become part of our Christmas playlists and hopefully will become holiday standards, just like ‘Silver and Gold’ and ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ once did. If you’ve never seen it, put this one on your must-watch list.

santa-sighting

This ‘Santa sighting’ picture proves that Santa is real. And sorry Bigfoot, you’re still not.

rudolph-nod

Everyone needs a Bumble to help with the star.  Even these guys.

partridge-on-a-perry

“And a partridge on a Perry…”

figgy-pudding

Why does he have the industrial size?

Individual Superlative: Best Foreshadowing – In ‘Gaming the System,’ an episode that aired in April of 2009, Major Monogram tells Perry that after monitoring Doofenshmirtz’s internet activity, he knows that he’s giving Perry a vase for Christmas. In this episode, he actually does and the look on Perry’s face is awesome.

Want to Watch it? Phineas & Ferb Christmas Vacation is available on DVD, iTunes, Amazon and you can usually find it on during the holiday season.

Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too

titleDebuted in 1991

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Pooh realizes that he forgot to include his wish in the letter to Santa, so he gets it back to update it. Suddenly, everyone is updating their requests (and making them bigger) and when Pooh goes to mail it, the wind takes it in the wrong direction. Feeling responsible, Pooh tries to play Santa and bring everyone what they want, but it doesn’t quite work out, until Christopher Robin shows up with everything on their lists.

Fun Fact: Paul Winchell, the original voice of Tigger (who returned to the role for this special) was one of the first people to build and patent a mechanical artificial heart.

My thoughts: The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh got its start in 1988 and it brought all new stories about everyone’s favorite silly old bear to a whole new generation of kids. I remember watching the show with my kids on Saturday mornings. These shows are new stories that don’t hold up as well when compared to the original stories from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. This Christmas special aired for the first time just a couple of months after the series ended in October 1991. It’s cute, with good messages about taking responsibility for your actions, avoiding greed and valuing your friends. But I have never thought of this special as a favorite and usually only dust it off once in a blue moon. I think it’s because I’m such a fan of the original stories and these just never really lived up to them.

secrets

“Christopher Robin, your fly is down.”

rabbit

You don’t usually get this level of rapture when you give a flyswatter as a gift.

bugs

So is that bug in Napoleon hat a general or something?

santa-pooh

Silly old bear.


Individual Superlative:  What’s Bugging You? – Rabbit spends much of the special battling the bugs who are attacking his plants and I think a little too much of the show is devoted to them.

Want to Watch it? Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too is available on VHS, YouTube and it still shows up during holiday programming sometimes. It’s also integrated into the A Very Merry Pooh Year DVD release.

Mickey’s Good Deed

TitleDebuted in 1932

8 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mickey is a street musician, trying to raise some money for food for himself and Pluto, when a millionaire offers to buy Pluto from him after seeing the effect Pluto has on his spoiled rotten son. Mickey refuses to sell, but reconsiders when he sees a sobbing woman with no money and several kids who will have nothing for Christmas. He takes the money he gets for selling Pluto and buys Christmas gifts for the poor family and is then happily reunited with Pluto after the millionaire throws him out.

Fun Fact: The bratty kid who torments Pluto for his own amusement is named Adelbert.

My thoughts: I first saw this short as part of the Disney Channel Christmas special that used to come on every year (back before the Disney Channel was tween-oriented). I absolutely loved it from the first viewing and was happy to learn that it’s very well regarded among animation historians as one of Mickey’s best appearances. There are a lot of standout moments in this and one that tugs at my heart every time is when Mickey’s cello slides out into the street, where it is run over by a sleigh full of happy people who wish Mickey a merry Christmas, completely unaware that they just ruined his only source of income. The big emotional punch, though, comes at the end, when Mickey is roasting a sausage over a fire with a snow-Pluto that he’s built to keep himself from being lonely. The real Pluto digs his way through the snow and pops out of the snow version and even brings a whole turkey (that the millionaire’s brat son tied to his tail). Mickey’s joy is so real that you can’t help but smile.

Street music

I would totally drop some money in the cup for these street musicians.

Adelbert

All the money in the world won’t buy you a well-behaved kid.

Starving fish

This fish is seriously in need of a meal.

Lonely

ALL the feels.

Individual Superlative: His Master’s Voice – That’s Walt Disney himself doing Mickey’s voice, which he did until 1946 when Jimmy MacDonald took over.

Want to Watch it? Mickey’s Good Deed is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa

TitleDebuted in 2010

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Lanny and Wayne are called in by Mrs. Santa for a special assignment. Following her instructions, they sneak into Santa’s secret workshop (narrowly avoiding waking him) and bring back the box she requested. It contains the missing piece for her Christmas gift to Santa, which is the first toy he ever made.

Fun Fact: In the final scene, you can get an early glimpse of Wayne’s brother, Noel, who would be a major character in the next Prep & Landing special.

My thoughts: I loved Disney’s original Prep & Landing animated special and was really excited when they announced an animated short to be premiered during the time slot for A Charlie Brown Christmas. (As it turned out, a presidential address bumped the premiere back a week.) I assumed that, with less than ten minutes, this short would be more comical than emotional. Nope. It definitely has its comic moments while Lanny & Wayne are on their mission, but the ending is so sweet and emotional, celebrating all that Christmas gift-giving is supposed to be. Michael Giacchino’s music is wonderful here and his beautiful theme from the first special shows up here, too. I’ve read that a new Prep & Landing special is in progress and I hope it will result in new animated shorts like this one.

For an elderly lady, Mrs. Santa is pretty comfortable around advanced technology.

For an elderly lady, Mrs. Santa is pretty comfortable around advanced technology.

I always wondered exactly what those ceramic light-up trees were for.  Now we know they're combination locks.

I always wondered exactly what those ceramic light-up trees were for. Now we know they’re combination locks.

Caught in a moment of fear that Santa is waking up to discover them. This is just a great picture of these guys.

Caught in a moment of fear that Santa is waking up to discover them. This is just a great picture of these guys.

Santa's very first toy.  I think the X-Box probably came right after this one.

Santa’s very first toy. I think the X-Box probably came right after this one.

Individual Superlative: Sassiest Mrs. Santa – Betty White was 88 when she recorded the voice for Mrs. Santa and I can’t help thinking, just from her voice, that Mrs. Santa is a force to be reckoned with.

Want to Watch it? Prep & Landing – Operation Secret Santa is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.