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.

Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy

titleDebuted in 1995

64 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Bumpy wants to get Santa’s bag to take all the presents for himself so he cons Squishington into helping him with the promise of his dream gift – a pair of feet. They meet others on the way and battle Santa’s snowman army, but Bumpy gets the bag and rushes back home, unknowingly dropping presents on the way. He gets home just in time to close the Christmas pageant with a song and then, having learned something about the joy of giving, he gives the last remaining gift to Squishington, who finally lives his dream to tap dance.

Fun Fact: The phrase ‘things that go bump in the night’ comes from a traditional Scottish prayer from the 19th century.

My thoughts: I mentioned to my awesome future son-in-law that I was dreading watching this one and he bravely offered to keep me company, stating that he (much like my son) has a strange enjoyment for really bad shows. Well, most bad shows. Once again, it seems that all the worst specials are compelled to go long and Bumpy’s 64 minutes feel like a couple of hours stranded in rush hour traffic with an overheating engine and a full volume radio you can’t adjust. Between the gross-out scenes, the ethnic stereotypes (the British hummingbird sounds like a Monty Python character and might as well have just said, “Blimey!” and “Crumpets!” over and over) and bizarre moments such as a ‘grassy knoll’ joke, I don’t think this special has any real concept of who its target audience is. The talented Jim Cummings gives Bumpy a voice that sounds like the love child of Bobcat Goldthwait and Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil and it was grating on my nerves after 5 minutes. (It was hardcore chomping on them after another hour.) A subplot involving Molly Coddle (the comfort doll) having to show some confidence so she could direct the pageant was tiresome and pointless, seeming to serve as just a vehicle to get more re-worded songs into the thing and stretch it out longer. Can’t recommend this one for anyone.

pageant-performers

All the toys and the insect (who sings the song in this special’s Hanukkah nod) look miffed. They must have realized what special they’re in.

snow-soldiers

Frosty goes to Boot Camp?

sniffing-armpits

Nothing says holidays like oozy blobs smelling their own armpits.

worm

Is this worm channeling Steve Buscemi or John Waters?

Individual Superlative: Most Non-Original Original Songs – Every song in this is a traditional Christmas song with new words that often just summarize the plot and they’re all really repetitive. And they mostly play over re-played footage (sometimes multiple times – I seriously lost count of how many times they showed the same map) from this special and other episodes of the show.

Want to Watch it? Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy is available on VHS, 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.

Olive, the Other Reindeer

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Olive, a dog who doesn’t behave like a normal dog, hears Santa saying he will have to cancel Christmas unless ‘all of the other reindeer’ can save the day and she mishears it as ‘Olive, the other reindeer.’ Believing that she can save Christmas and that her owner Tim doesn’t want her anymore (due to another mishearing), Olive heads to the North Pole, accompanied by Martini, a penguin con man. Although a villainous postman tries to stop her, Olive manages to help save Christmas and is reunited with Tim.

Fun Fact: Schnitzel, the reindeer who almost gets into a bar fight with Olive and ends up singing a song, is voiced by Michael Stipe of REM.

My thoughts: This special was based on the 1997 book (of the same name) by Vivian Walsh, with illustrations from J. Otto Siebold. The book is lot simpler, with Olive joining Santa for his ride and helping out here and there along the way. The special adds in a lot of other characters and the bad guy postman who wants to stop Christmas because of all the extra work he has to do during the holidays and because he is always on the naughty list. Drew Barrymore voices Olive with a good balance of naïveté and pluck, making her a very likeable character. The animation uses paperlike character art combined with 3D environments and traditional animation and is heavily based on Mr. Siebold’s original book illustrations. There are a lot of funny moments in the special, including Olive asking about Rudolph and being told he’s an urban legend or a package addressed to her from ‘Deus Ex Machina’ that helps advance the plot. It does feel that a lot of extra stuff has been jammed into a simple story (to flesh it out into a full hour time slot) but since most of it works, I can’t complain. This one is definitely worth watching if you’ve never seen it.

dangling-olive

I get the idea Olive isn’t quite pulling her weight here.

mailman

The postman always schemes twice.

the-pope

I’m pretty sure this is the only special I have with an animated Pope.

christmas-in-tokyo

Christmas magic makes best friends of bitter enemies.

Individual Superlative: Best Mondegreen Cameos – On her journey, Olive runs into Richard Stands (from the Pledge of Allegiance) and Round John Virgin (from Silent Night). Pretty clever.

Want to Watch it? Olive, The Other Reindeer is available on VHS and DVD and sometimes shows up in holiday programming.

Regular Show: The Christmas Special

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mordecai and Rigby find Santa, who’s been shot and fallen into a garage. He shows them a Christmas present box full of dark magic and tells them how a rogue elf, Quillgen, is trying to get the box to destroy Christmas forever. Together with their other friends, they overcome obstacles and defeat Quillgen, destroying the box and saving Christmas.

Fun Fact: Many of the characters in this show first appeared in creator J.G. Quintel student films while he was at Cal Arts.

My thoughts: Regular Show, if you’ve never seen it, is another entry in the ever growing list of animated shows with weird elements. These types of shows are hit and miss with me overall. You have to have good characters, interesting plots or genuinely funny moments for me to stay on board. The Christmas episodes are the only ones I’ve seen of Regular Show and I have liked them quite a bit so I imagine I really should give the show’s normal episodes a try. This one has a really intriguing and complex plotline that feels like it’s straight out of a big action movie and the characters have real connections and emotions that I think would mean even more to me if I watched more episodes. Santa is voiced by Ed Asner who brings a gritty age-old wisdom to this badass version of the character. And the final showdown is set to the tune of ‘Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24’ originally performed by Savatage and re-released by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Even if you have never seen the show and don’t know anything about these quirky characters, there’s a lot here to recommend.

party

Benson gets bonus points for his festive holiday sweater.

santa-with-rigby-mordecai

I’m pretty sure this is the first pony-tailed Santa that I’ve seen.

test-family

This is what happens to people when they open the dark magic box.

whole-crowd

The gang is in peril and only Benson’s pinball skill can save the day!

Individual Superlative: Frodo’s Favorite – This episode has several references to Lord of the Rings, including the need to destroy the present in a cave of lava and Muscle Man’s attempt to smash it with a hammer.

Want to Watch it? Regular Show: The Christmas Special is available on YouTube and has been in the network holiday rotation since its premiere.

Gullah Gullah Island: A Gullah Gullah Christmas

title

Debuted in 1997

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Shaina dreams that she goes to the North Pole and meets Santa. When the reindeer all get sick, Binyah Binyah Pollywog stands in for them and pulls Santa’s sleigh. The family enjoys Christmas together.

Fun Fact: During its original broadcast, Gullah Gullah Island was Nickelodeon’s highest-rated preschool show.

My thoughts: It’s easy to dismiss Gullah Gullah Island as yet another saccharine representation of a picture-perfect family with parents who balance wisdom and kindness, cherubic well-mannered children and even a wonderful extended family to smooth over the rough spots if anyone has a slip. But there’s something immensely likeable about this show and I found myself entertained by the fun they all seemed to be having and the genuine care they all showed for each other. The mother and father here are Ron and Natalie Daise, who are married in real life and the kids are played by their own children, who are all actually talented. But the show wasn’t a vanity project (as you may imagine from the cast) but rather a celebration of the Gullah culture of the sea islands around South Carolina and Georgia. The character of Binyah Binyah Polliwog is the most tiresome part of the show for me (but probably also a favorite of kids, so I’ll cut him some slack) and he features largely in this Christmas special. There are some cute touches, such as the garden that grows Christmas ornaments, and there are lots of fun musical numbers, but overall, it’s not one I watch every year.

binyah

Is Binyah Binyah throwing gang signs here?  I have concerns.

santa

Santa’s beard game is on point.

mrs-claus

But Mrs. Santa seems to be channeling the Bride of Frankenstein.

elfis

And Elfis is channeling…no, I don’t want to know.

Individual Superlative: Elfis Has Left the Building – One of the elves that Shaina meets in her dream North Pole is ‘Elfis’ who dresses and talks like Elvis Presley. I’m sure 90’s kids really loved that joke.

Want to Watch it? Gullah Gullah Island: A Gullah Gullah Christmas is available on VHS and DVD.

Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends: A Lost Claus

Title

Debuted in 2005

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: It’s Bloo’s first Christmas at Foster’s and he’s upset when he learns that he is only going to get one present. Meanwhile, Mac is starting to lose his faith in Santa and while trying to prove his existence, he causes trouble for Eduardo, Wilt and Coco. Bloo’s idea to coax Mr. Herriman to give everyone more presents backfires when Mr. Herriman cancels Christmas, but Santa shows up to save the day.

Fun Fact: This is currently the only episode of the show that is not available in any digital store.

My thoughts: As with many contemporary cartoon shows, the Christmas episode was the first episode I ever saw of this series. That can sometimes be an issue, but this is a good example of a show that you don’t need to know well in order to enjoy. You get the gist of the story right away and the characters are fun and entertaining. Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends was created by Craig McCracken, who also gave us The Powerpuff Girls and it has the same balance of humor and heart. (This may be why Mac gets a copy of The Art of The Powerpuff Girls for Christmas.) There’s a lot of room for creativity in a show about imaginary friends, but McCracken has a good sense for when to rein it in so that it’s not non-stop crazy. This one is funny and sweet, with lots of great memorable moments.

Eduardo

Eduardo is my favorite.

Madame Foster

Madame Foster has a tough time stringing popcorn garland.

Santa Battle

There are multiple imaginary Santas at Foster’s and sometimes they have to duke it out.

Bob Marley

Bloo haunts Mr. Herriman as the ghost of Bob Marley.

Individual Superlative: In Charlie’s Footsteps – There are lots of homages to A Charlie Brown Christmas here, including the jazzy piano soundtrack and even a glimpse of Snoopy’s prize-winning decorated dog house.

Want to Watch it? Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends: A Lost Claus is available on DVD.