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.

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Alias St. Nick

titleDebuted in 1935

10 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A mother mouse reads’Twas the Night Before Christmas’ to her children on Christmas Eve and one little tough mouse insists that there is no Santa Claus. A hungry (and devious) cat overhears them talking, disguises himself as Santa and is welcomed into their home. The tough mouse discovers that the cat is an imposter and leads the others in foiling the cat’s plans and chasing him out of their home.

Fun Fact: The tough guy mouse was named Little Cheeser and he was featured in other MGM shorts after this one.

My thoughts: MGM released 37 animated shorts under the Happy Harmonies name from 1934 to 1938. When I was a kid, I loved that there were Silly Symphonies, Happy Harmonies, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in the world of animated shorts and was really surprised to learn that they were all from different studios. I used to try coming up with new alliterative words for ‘happy songs’ just to see how many I could come up with, but all I can remember at this point is Delighted Ditties and that one doesn’t really work. Anyway, this short is a lot of fun. Little Cheeser (named for the gangster character in Little Caesar) is a pretty likeable character in spite of his smart aleck attitude. Although he mocks his siblings at the beginning (and again at the end), he stands by them when they are under attack and is the first to suspect the fake Santa. The cat’s voice is performed by Billy Bletcher, whose deep and gravelly voice made every character seem sinister. There are lots of great and creative uses of toys as weapons, including using a Jack-in-the-box as a tool to punch the cat across the room. At 10 minutes, it’s longer than most of the shorts of that time period, but it makes good use of its extra time.

doubter

Little Cheeser even stands like a skeptic.

kewpie

That kewpie doll better have some mace.

evil-santa

Yeah, when Santa is making that face, he’s the naughty one.

sandwich

MMmm…bacon, lettuce and mouse.

Individual Superlative: Full-On Toy Betrayal – The mice attack the false Santa Claus with the same toys that he brought them as gifts, which leads me to wonder if that’s why so many kids asked for toy guns and tanks back in the day.

Want to Watch it? Alias St. Nick is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

A Pinky & the Brain Christmas

titleDebuted in 1995

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Brain’s plan to take over the world at Christmas involves having Santa deliver a special ‘Noodle Noggin’ toy to every house, allowing him to hypnotize every person within earshot of the toy. He and Pinky go to the North Pole and pose as elves to manipulate the system and get their toys made and delivered. But on Christmas morning, just as Brain gets ready to speak through his transmitter, he reads Pinky’s letter to Santa (in which Pinky asks Santa to give all his gifts to his best friend, Brain) and has a change of heart, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Fun Fact: The characters’ voice actors, Rob Paulson and Maurice LaMarche, have said that they were in tears while recording the end of this episode.

My thoughts: Pinky and the Brain were recurring characters on the wonderful Animaniacs show, which started in 1993, and they were spun off into their own show in 1995. The show ran for four seasons and eventually spun off into a new series, which also included Elmyra from Tiny Toon Adventures. This episode really showcases what made this show (and Animaniacs before it) so wonderful. There is humor that works really well for kids and humor aimed specifically at the adults (such as the moment at the North Pole when Pinky tells Brain they’ve been invited to a Christmas party at Donner’s place and Brain tells Pinky he doesn’t want to join the Donner party). But there is also real warmth here, too. The characters have depth and complexity to them. Throughout the special, Pinky keeps bringing up his letter to Santa and Brain keeps ridiculing him for it. So when Brain reads the letter, you see that he really feels regret at how he’s treated his friend and when he delivers his new message, it’s so heartfelt. I think this one deserves more recognition and a place alongside the classics.

reindeer

Such tiny tiny reindeer.

elves

The elf outfit really suits Pinky.  NARF!

santa-reviewing-his-list

Would Santa use an exercise bike?  I think he’s more of a treadmill guy.

touched

Me too, Brain.  ALL the feels.

Individual Superlative: Ready for Prime Time – This episode was originally aired as a prime time special and not just as a regular episode of the show. It won a prime time Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.

Want to Watch it? A Pinky & the Brain Christmas is available on VHS and DVD.

The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack: Low Tidings

titleDebuted in 2009

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Flapjack wants to experience Low Tides Day but K’nuckles hates the holiday due to a bad experience with it when mermen sacked him for being bad when he was young. K’nuckles tries to find a hiding place so that the mermen won’t sack him again but all the spots are taken, so Flapjack aims to make him into a good person instead so he will have nothing to fear. Eventually, Poseidon asks the mermen to stop sacking people and decides that sacks will be only be used to deliver gifts.

Fun Fact: This was the first two part episode of the show.

My thoughts: There are some specials that are fairly easy to summarize in three sentence and wow, this sure isn’t one of them. The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack ran for three seasons on Cartoon Network and chiefly centered around a boy, the talking whale who raised him and the pirate they rescued together. The premise of their Low Tides holiday is that good kids can lower their boots into the water, where Poseidon will fill them with toys and bad kids are tied up in sacks by mermen. Although most of the special is regular animation, there are some stop motion scenes and a bizarre live action Poseidon who interacts with the animated characters. The special opens with a version of ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ with some funny rewritten lyrics. Overall, the special is really weird, like the show, but it has its funny moments. It’s probably better appreciated by those who already watch and enjoy the show, though, as there’s a lot to absorb otherwise.

little-knuckles

Little K’nuckles has a lot of teeth.

flapjack

Flapjack seems to be experiencing some holiday ennui.

mermen-with-bag

I didn’t know mermen were so grumpy.

poseidon-talking-to-townsfolk

“Observe my impressive blue muscular arm!”

Individual Superlative: Weirdest Narrator – The episode’s narrator character is the town comedian, a strange looking guy named Lolly Poopdeck.

Want to Watch it? Flapjack: Low Tidings is available on YouTube and usually airs on Cartoon Network during the holiday season.

Rugrats: The Santa Experience

titleDebuted in 1992

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: When Angelica discovers that the mall Santa is fake, she gets a box of toys to compensate and the unfair trades she makes with Lil and Phil get her worried that she will get coal for Christmas. All the families go to a mountain cabin for the holiday and Chuckie and Tommy set traps for Santa to find out if he’s actually good or bad. Chuckie’s dad tries to pose as Santa, and Angelica’s dad tries to hire a Santa impersonator, but those both go badly, then the real Santa shows up with presents for everyone (even Angelica).

Fun Fact: This is not only the first Christmas episode of Rugrats, but also the first time we actually get to see Angelica’s mother.

My thoughts: Rugrats ran for nine seasons on Nickelodeon and was one of the most successful cartoons on the network. This episode aired in its second season and is a really good representation of the show in general. Although the show is fairly formulaic, the characters are entertaining enough to make the show enjoyable to watch and the scripts had moments that played well to children watching, but also included some concepts that were aimed at the parents watching with them. There’s a lot going on in this episode that makes it good and most of it revolves around people caring for each other. Sure, Angelica is mostly centered on not getting coal for Christmas, but it shows that she knows what she did was wrong. When she gets her dream present from Santa, he tells her that sometimes wanting to be good can be important, but then we see that there IS a lump of coal in her dream house, reminding us that simply wanting to be good doesn’t cover everything. The earnestness with which the dads try to give their kids a perfect Christmas is sweet and we’re left with the conclusion that Christmas doesn’t need to be perfect. It generally is wonderful enough on its own.

babies-in-awe

The babies are understandably  in awe of Santa.

santa-and-angelica

But he seems pretty easy going here with Angelica.

mom

How do you even manage this hairstyle?

working-mom

Working moms are getting a bad rep here.

Individual Superlative: Most Honest Declaration – While all the parents are announcing what they plan to do in order to achieve the perfect Christmas, Grandpa declares that he will drink lots of eggnog and fall asleep. In my opinion, this is an important contribution to the holiday and I think I will join him. Eggnog solidarity, Grandpa!

Want to Watch it? Rugrats: The Santa Experience is available on VHS and DVD.

Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever

titleDebuted in 2002

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Zim poses as Santa in order to get money and then, as he learns more about Santa, to lure humans to their doom. But the Santa suit he creates begins to believe he’s actually Santa and fills Zim with warm emotions and jolly feelings toward children. Dib and Gaz show up in time to stop him by jettisoning the mutated spirit of Santa into space.

Fun Fact: This was the last episode to be completed before the series was cancelled, but it was actually the first Season 2 episode to air in the US.

My thoughts: Invader Zim was a short-lived series on Nickelodeon created by comic book writer Jhonen Vasquez (best known for his Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comic series). The basic plot (an alien sent to Earth to infiltrate and plot world domination) is simple, but offers a lot to work with and the show had a fair-sized cult following. It’s a little confusing if you’ve never seen any of the show before, but still enjoyable even without the full knowledge of the characters. The show is bookended by a mechanical snowman narrator, telling a group of children the story we’re watching as something that happened in the long ago past. It’s definitely on the darker side, in plot elements and character design, but there are plenty of funny moments and quite a lot of unpredictability, which is always welcome in the world of overdone holiday plots. Definitely worth watching, especially if you enjoy things a little on the weird side.

snowman-narrator

The robot snowman should do something about that unibrow.

jolly-jail

The ‘Jolly Jail’ turns incarceration into minty holiday fun!

soft-hearted-santa

Santa’s going all emotional on us.

easter-platypus

Next plan: The Easter Platypus!

Individual Superlative: Least Reassuring Santa Outcome – In the story’s ending narration, the talking snowman tells the children that Santa isn’t dead (which is normally good news) but that he’s out in space, gathering power to come back and destroy us all. You better watch out!

Want to Watch it? Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever is available on DVD.

Back at the Barnyard: It’s an Udderful Life

titleDebuted in 2009

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Otis throws a big holiday party on Christmas Eve and his high school friends Donner & Blitzen drop by with Santa during their delivery run. Otis accidentally gives Santa the wrong cup of eggnog and he comes down with ferret fever, incapacitating him for the night. Otis and the barnyard animals step in and deliver the last presents to prevent Christmas magic from disappearing forever.

Fun Fact: The title is a reference to It’s a Wonderful Life and Snotty Boy’s Christmas wish to receive a Red Ryder BB Taser references A Christmas Story.

My thoughts: This is the Christmas episode of Back at the Barnyard, which was a television spinoff of the 2006 animated movie, Barnyard, written and directed by Steve Oedekerk. The TV series ran for two seasons and this was the only Christmas episode. There’s a lot going on here and most of it seems to be trying to be in your face and edgy. There are some moments that made me laugh, but I’m not a big fan of this animation style or this type of humor, so most of it went a little wide of the mark for me. The idea that Christmas magic will disappear if Santa doesn’t get all the presents under the tree by midnight seems to reinforce the materialistic theme that so many specials work to defy. I feel like this is a show where you have to know something about the characters (and there are lots of them – they’re hard to keep straight) in order to really appreciate the special. So probably I’d say this is one for fans of the show, but not necessarily for anyone else.

narrator

The narrator is a bit of a hot mess.

snotty-kiss

Mistletoe can be the start of a beautiful relationship.  But not this one.

santa-has-the-fever

Santa in the grip of Ferret Fever.

hoobermans

The show is full of bizarre (but also pretty funny) plugs for Hoobermans bakery.

Individual Superlative: Don’t Eat Before Watching – There are several gross-out jokes in this show, including the narrator giving himself a root canal, filing his foot calluses and asking the audience to look at the boil on his neck.

Want to Watch it? Back to the Barnyard: It’s an Udderful Life is available on DVD.