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.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree

TitleDebuted in 1952

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mickey Mouse cuts down a live tree in a forest, unaware that Chip & Dale are hiding in it. Pluto, however, has seen the chipmunks and tries (several times) to alert Mickey to their presence, with disastrous results. When Mickey finally sees the chipmunks, he is pleased to see them, much to Pluto’s frustration.

Fun Fact: A Little Golden Book adaptation was published in 1954, with Donald Duck in Mickey Mouse’s role.

My thoughts: Welcome to a new year! Christmas is 11 months away and, as I mentioned before, I will be posting on the 25th of each month leading up to Thanksgiving. I’ve decided to focus on animated shorts for this year and I’m starting with this one, which has been one of my favorites for nearly 30 years. I first remember it as a segment in the terrific Disney Channel Christmas special that used to air annually on the Disney Channel (back before it was a playground for tweens). It’s a very funny short, but there are some wonderful moments in it, too. When the chipmunks first emerge from the tree trunk to find their tree decorated and aglow with colored lights, they are adorably delighted. Check out the colors in the screencap below – isn’t it gorgeous? After this short, the Disney studio made one more Mickey Mouse cartoon (The Simple Things) and then it was 30 years before Mickey showed up onscreen again in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

Unsatisfied with making snowmen, Pluto crafts elaborate snow versions of himself (simply by pushing through a snow drift).

Unsatisfied with making snowmen, Pluto crafts elaborate snow versions of himself (simply by pushing through a snow drift).

Dale stops to admire the view.

Dale stops to admire the view.

Uh-oh.  Where's Smokey Bear when you need him?

Uh-oh. Where’s Smokey Bear when you need him?

Donald, Minnie and Goofy cameo as carolers. Adorable.

Donald, Minnie and Goofy cameo as carolers. Adorable.

Individual Superlative: Most Dangerous Disguise – Dale’s predicament when he disguises himself as a candle and Mickey lights him is such a favorite scene that it was recreated for a Disney Classics figure. (And here’s a funny coincidence – I just bought that figurine of this moment at a yard sale yesterday.)

Want to Watch it? Pluto’s Christmas Tree is available on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray.

House of Mouse: Pete’s Christmas Caper

TitleDebuted in 2003

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mickey and the gang are discussing their annual gift exchange and Pete volunteers to play Santa with a devious plot to steal all the gifts. When Mickey discovers all the presents are missing, Pete hides them behind a grate. Mickey tells Pete that they had decided to give all the gifts to him as a gesture of holiday friendship, but he discovers the grate was the opening for the furnace and all the presents were destroyed.

Fun Fact: The Nutcracker segment of this program had its roots in the stage show, Mickey’s Nutcracker, that played at Disneyland.

My thoughts: There’s really not a lot to this one, so it’s kind of hard to review. Like most House of Mouse episodes, there are lots of really fun gags and visual jokes that mean more if you’re a longtime Disney fan. But a few of them work even for the casual fan, such as Pete remarking that he needs some elves and having Grumpy tell him not to even think about it. The Nutcracker segment has a fun big band version of the familiar music and John Cleese as the narrator, providing some of the most entertaining parts. The Donald’s Dynamite short was one of a series in which Donald Duck’s regular activities are interrupted by the inclusion of explosives. Seems more classic Looney Tunes than Disney to me, so it felt a little out of place. A few bright spots, but otherwise pretty forgettable.

Nice try, Mortimer. But Minnie has better taste.

Nice try, Mortimer. But Minnie has better taste.

Perhaps the best visual gag in the whole special. Pete steals Yen Sid's magical hat and replaces it with a Santa hat.  That's as close as he ever comes to jolly.

Perhaps the best visual gag in the whole special. Pete steals Yen Sid’s magical hat and replaces it with a Santa hat. That’s as close as he ever comes to jolly.

So Mickey is the nutcracker and Donald is the Mouse King?  The duck is the mouse and the mouse is not the mouse.  Got it.

So Mickey is the nutcracker and Donald is the Mouse King? The duck is the mouse and the mouse is not the mouse. Got it.

This is my favorite moment in the whole show.  When Ludwiig Von Drake bites the head off of a gingerbread man, these guys from 1935's The Cookie Carnival short are quite upset.

This is my favorite moment in the whole show. When Ludwig Von Drake bites the head off of a gingerbread man, these guys from 1935’s The Cookie Carnival are quite upset.

Individual Superlative: Don’t I Know You? – The Nutcracker short shown in this special was originally shown on the Mickey Mouse Works show and can also be seen in Mickey’s Magical Christmas.

Want to Watch it? House of Mouse: Pete’s Christmas Caper doesn’t appear to be available on home video, but you can catch the full episode on YouTube.

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Tags: Disney, Nutcracker, mistletoe, fake Santa, Twas the night before Christmas