It’s Better to Give

20180423-205349Debuted in 1963

5 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Jughaid is angry at Santa for never bringing him the bicycle he’s been asking for so Snuffy, thinking a kind gesture for Santa might help, suggests they build a television set as a gift for Santa. Meanwhile, Loweezy uses various pipes and parts to build a makeshift bike for Jughaid so he won’t be disappointed. On Christmas morning, Jughaid finds a real bike in his stocking and there’s also a real television for Snuffy, with a note from Santa, who is glad they learned the importance of giving.

Fun Fact: The original comic strip that these characters are based on is the longest currently running comic strip in the United States.

My thoughts: I remember Snuffy Smith from the comics section of the newspaper, which I really enjoyed reading when I was a kid. I don’t think I ever knew the history behind the strip, which started in 1919 with the character of Barney Google. In 1934, Barney travelled to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and met moonshiner Snuffy Smith. He was so popular that Barney kind of faded into the distance and Snuffy and his family took over as the main characters. King Features produced 50 animated shorts featuring these characters and the comic strip, incidentally, is still running today. The character voices are over-exaggerated ‘hillbilly’ talk that was played for humor back in the 60’s, but is mostly just annoying to listen to now. I think it’s particularly cute that Snuffy reacts to Jughaid’s (hey, it’s their spelling, not mine) anger by putting a positive spin on it and trying to teach him the joy of giving. Overall, I think this one is pretty forgettable unless you, like me, grew up with the comic and are just curious to see those characters in their animated forms.

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I kind of hope Santa brings Loweezy a good supportive bra.

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No matter how hard you hug it, Snuffy, that thing is not going to pick up HBO.

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She built a working bike from pipes and household items. Respect.

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When Loweezy (as Santa) has trouble getting back up the chimney, Snuffy just unzips it. Well, duh.

Individual Superlative: Most Self Confident Theme Song – The words to the theme song are ‘Great balls of fire, I’m bodacious!’ I supposed if you started every day out singing that to yourself, you’d have the confidence to master anything.

Want to Watch it? It’s Better to Give is available on YouTube.

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Shaun the Sheep: We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas

Title

Debuted in 2010

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: When the flock is awakened by Santa on Christmas Eve, they follow him and discover it’s only the farmer in disguise. Peeking through the window, they see that he is lonely and sad, remembering the joys of Christmas past. The animals work together to bring some holiday spirit back into his life and they all have a wonderful Christmas.

Fun Fact: A Shaun the Sheep theme park opened in 2016 at Skåne Djurpark in Sweden.

My thoughts: The character of Shaun the sheep first appeared in the Wallace & Gromit short, A Close Shave in 1995. He proved to be an immensely popular character who was given his own animated series (which spun off another series, called Timmy Time, but that’s for another review). The show, which consisted of two seven minute shorts each episode, ran for 5 seasons, producing 150 shorts. This was the final short of the second season and I really loved it.  It’s very funny, but also really warm and sweet, with a nice message about giving to others and spending time with those you love. There are almost no spoken words in the entire short, but you never fail to get the full meaning of what every character is thinking.  It’s such a cute touch that Santa Claus shows up to give gifts to all the animals, after they have spent such so much time making Christmas special for the farmer. This one’s definitely worth a watch.

Childhood Christmas

The farmer as a boy, still with those awesome thick glasses.

Knitting the striped sweater

Shaun’s mother is clearly an accomplished knitter.

Paper snowflakes

When your name is Mower Mouth and you’re a goat, you get chosen to make snowflakes.

Decorating the house

This is what we look like decorating for Christmas, too.

 
Individual Superlative: Best Reaction to a Delicious Christmas Dinner – One of the short’s funniest moments is when the chicken is peeking into the window and catches sights of the roast chicken the family is having for dinner. The look on her face, right before she faints dead away, is fantastic.

Want to Watch it? Shaun the Sheep: We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas is available on DVD and YouTube.

The Boondocks: A Huey Freeman Christmas

Title

Debuted in 2005

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Uberwitz gives Huey creative control over the Christmas pageant and Huey writes a new story called ‘The Adventures of Black Jesus.’ He fires all the kids for not being committed to the show and then brings on Quincy Jones to do the music. Although most of the parents boycott the show and Mr. Uberwitz loses his job for his decision, those who do see it give it a standing ovation.

Fun Fact: The Boondocks got its start as a comic strip that debuted on Hitlist.com and went on to be published in newspapers.

My thoughts: The Boondocks ran for four seasons on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim between the years of 2005 and 2014, telling the story of the Freeman family and their friends. The show is full of social commentary and satire, mostly relating to the experiences of an African American family living in a largely white neighborhood. There are some funny moments in this one and a good message about not compromising your artistic vision due to the prejudices and feelings of others, but overall, the show is dark and a little too angry and hostile for me. I know folks who love the show, though, and it was pretty well received by critics during its run, so I have to think that my issues are probably just mine. I was really expecting the play to crash and burn, so the fact that it turned out to be awesome was a welcome surprise. I was really rooting for things to turn out well for Huey, which is a testament to how well the character was represented, in my opinion.

Jazmine

Jazmine is preaching the gospel of Santa and she is feeling the spirit.

Santa vs Chair

Looks like Santa is the one who ‘better watch out.’

Riley's letter

I don’t imagine this is the usual sentiment for a letter to Santa.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones voices his own character.

Individual Superlative: Art Imitates Life – In the show’s postscript, it says that Mr. Uberwitz went on to become an African American studies professor at University of Maryland, which is where show creator Aaron McGruder went to school, where he majored in African American studies.

Want to Watch it? The Boondocks: A Huey Freeman Christmas is available on DVD and iTunes.

Pucca: Christmas Shorts

Title

Debuted in 2006

23 minutes 

Plot in 3 Sentences: In the first of three stories, a ninja named Black Powder shows up to get his revenge on Santa for becoming a giver instead of a thief. In the next story, Pucca and Garu try to discover why the Northern Lights have gone out. The third story features Tobe kidnapping Santa to take his place in hopes of capturing Garu.

Fun Fact: In the show, Pucca is supposed to be 11 and Garu is supposed to be 12.

My thoughts: Pucca started as a South Korean series of animated internet shorts, each only running a couple of minutes. They were produced from 2000 to 2005 and then expanded into longer shorts for a TV series that ran two seasons from 2006 to 2008. I stumbled on this episode because it was Christmas themed, but kind of fell in love with the show and watched all the episodes after that. The basic premise revolves around a village of ninjas, where the niece of the guys who own the local noodle restaurant is smitten with a silent ninja named Garu. The village is full of bizarre characters, including Santa Claus, who is integral to this episode’s shorts. The show is very funny and clever, with fun send-ups of anime and short parodies featuring these characters in other genres. This one has made a few appearances at our Christmas special parties over the year and is always well received.

Naked Santa

I don’t think I want to know how Santa can pull a long string of lights from his mouth.

Fake Santa with Zombie

Yes, the zombie asks Santa for brains.

Abyo with Walrus

Abyo gets his workout ninja kicking a walrus. Seems legit.

Closing Santa Wreath

Christmas is all about love, especially funny love.

Individual Superlative: Best Use of Santa’s Belly – Santa’s signature ninja move is called the Belly Bounce and he uses it to defeat Black Powder twice. That’s why he needs all those cookies!

Want to Watch it? The individual Pucca short cartoons are available on DVD and YouTube.

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.

 

Adam Ruins Everything: Adam Ruins Christmas

Title

Debuted in 2016

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Adam’s sister, Rhea, is stressed about their parents’ upcoming Christmas visit. As they prepare the house, Adam takes several opportunities to debunk some holiday myths and traditions and Rhea gets upset that he’s not being more helpful. He shows her a video from their childhood in which she tells him there’s no Santa and that it’s best to know the truth, which makes her realize she’s the one who made him so curious about the truth and they share a nice holiday with their parents.

Fun Fact: At the end of the special, we find out that the unseen narrator is Adam Savage (Mythbusters) which is a nice button on the rest of the show.

My thoughts: Adam Ruins Everything is a show that came from the College Humor website and it’s hosted by Adam Conover, who starred in the website segments as well. On each episode, Adam gives details, history and interesting facts about a different subject, disproving some general misconceptions and providing an entertaining and educational overview of the subject. It’s a lot like Penn & Teller’s Bullshit series only presented more as a sitcom with different characters. This is a really enjoyable episode, with a lot of interesting information, much of which was new to me. Comedian Rhea Butcher plays Adam’s sister and she provides a nice counterpoint to his character. The live action shifts to animation (reminiscent of A Charlie Brown Christmas) to tell some of the stories and I think it’s awesome as an homage and a comedic device, particularly when the story they’re telling is more adult in nature. As with any show of this nature, you may learn something that pushes you out of your comfort zone, but the good news is that how much you let that affect your holiday is pretty much up to you.

Saturnalia

What kind of cups does Starbucks have for Saturnalia?

Economics

The whole economy of gift giving section will make you rethink the gifts you’ve already bought.

Wonderful Life

Every time a bell rings, an angel puts an It’s a Wonderful Life parody in their special.

Krampus

Krampus, just put the baby down and walk away.

Individual Superlative: Favorite Message – Okay, at its core, this is a comedy show, but the underlying message that is repeated a few times throughout is that everyone should celebrate the holiday in a way that is meaningful for them and I think that’s a tremendously important takeaway.

Want to Watch it? Adam Ruins Everything: Adam Ruins Christmas is available on YouTube and will probably be shown again during this holiday season.

Rocket Power: A Rocket X-mas

Title

Debuted in 2003

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Otto and Reggie take up dog walking to earn enough money to buy their father a surfboard he has admired in a shop window. They have to work harder than they thought to raise the money and in the process, they upset their dad, who just wanted to spend time with them during the holidays. He’s thrilled to get the surfboard, but even happier that they can all spend time together, creating some new holiday traditions.

Fun Fact: This is one of the few episodes that references Otto and Reggie’s mother, who passed away when they were younger.

My thoughts: Rocket Power ran for four seasons on Nickelodeon and was aimed at older kids who were into extreme sports like skateboarding and surfing. It mostly centers around the Rocket family and the kids’ friends and neighbors. This is the only episode I’ve ever seen of the show and it only took a few minutes before I was tired of all the ‘cool lingo’ the kids use. My thought is if you have to try that hard to show your audience that you’re cool, you’re really not all that cool. Once again, though, I’m not their target audience, so maybe it goes over well with them. There were some interesting subplots going on in the episode, including a family friend who moonlights as a mall Santa, training to be Santa for the Mayor’s holiday party. Throughout the special, Ray (the kids’ dad) tries to keep their old family traditions alive, although the kids feel that they’ve outgrown them. Of course, they learn about the importance of family during the holidays and I love that they come up with some new traditions that they can all enjoy together. It’s a really nice way to end the episode.

Tito

Santa’s getting interrogated.

Muttboarding

The kids invent a new sport called Muttboarding. Do not attempt with Yorkies.

Watching TV

I hope their neighbors don’t mind them peeking through their windows in order to get a sense of their lost childhood.

Broken dad

Oh great, you broke Dad.

Individual Superlative: A Special Within a Special – One of the things that Ray wants to do with the kids is watch their favorite Christmas special, even though the kids think they’re too old for it. But is anyone ever the right age for something called Pinkie Pixie’s Christmas Flapadoozy?

Want to Watch it? Rocket Power: A Rocket X-mas is available on iTunes and DVD.