Suzy Snowflake

TitleDebuted in 1953

2 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Suzy Snowflake comes to town with a winter snowfall. She helps you to make snowmen and take sleigh rides. There really isn’t a third sentence, so I’ll just use this space to say, “Yay, Suzy!”

Fun Fact: The stop motion animation in this short was done by Wah Chang, who also sculpted the maquette of Pinocchio for Walt Disney and the tricorder and communicator props used on Star Trek.

My thoughts: This short is essentially a music video for a song performed by the Norman Luboff Choir with Norma Zimmer voicing Suzy. (My grandfather was an avid Lawrence Welk fan, so I remember Norma Zimmer as the ‘Champagne Lady’ from his show.) Rosemary Clooney’s popular version of the song was released as a 78 RPM single. We had her version of it on a Christmas record in my house growing up and I would skip over it when playing the record (which wasn’t as easy as pushing a button on your iPod) because I really hated the song. I like this version a little better, but that may be attributed to the visuals, which are charming in their simplicity. This stop motion animated version is a holiday staple in Chicago, where it was an annual tradition on the Garfield Goose and Friends and Bozo’s Circus shows on WGN.  I hadn’t seen this one before and thought it was cute, but not anything really special to those of us who didn’t grow up with it.

Businessman

Mr. Fancy Top Hat Man is about to get buried in snow.

Silhouette

I love the effect of the silhouette and the lighting here.

Window

That’s a mighty fluffy dress.

Snowman

Sorry, Snowman, Suzy just wants to be friends.

Individual Superlative: Gimme Some Snow! – Growing up in the south, we rarely got snow so it’s always been a welcome thing, especially during the holidays. This short makes me really want a big snow this year.

Want to Watch it? Suzy Snowflake is available on YouTube and on a remastered DVD celebrating the animated classics of WGN’s holiday programming.

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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.

Moose & Zee – Candy Cane Song

titleDebuted in 2007

2 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Moose’s only wish for Christmas is to receive a candy cane. On Christmas morning, he is excited to see a wrapped gift from Zee that looks like a candy cane, but when he opens it, he finds a pair of socks instead. He is happy and grateful for the socks and then Zee points out the window to his real gift, a huge candy cane sitting outside.

Fun Fact: In addition to voicing Moose, Paul Christie also provided the voice for Nickelodeon’s Stick Stickly (a family favorite) and Louie the Lizard from Budweiser’s Superbowl commercials.

My thoughts: Last month we had one of the longest shorts in my list (at ten minutes long) and this month we swing to the other side of the spectrum with one of the shortest. But this adorable animated short packs a lot of fun and warmth into its two minute running time. Moose A. Moose and Zee D. Bird were featured in over 100 educational shorts which were originally aired on the Noggin network (which became Nick Jr in 2009).  These shorts were often aired between episodes of other shows as interstitials and featured read-aloud stories, puzzles, color and word games and even art appreciation. This was one of the show’s music video segments, which featured songs about special subjects, such as holidays or seasons. Moose’s candy cane song is cute and catchy, with an earnest optimism that is ridiculously likeable. When he opens his present from Zee and finds something other than his desired candy cane, he is so gracious and says that the best gift is having Zee for a friend. And then when he finds that Zee really did get him a candy cane, it’s a wonderful treat for all of us. The series ended in 2012 but many of the original episodes can be found online (and if you’re looking up this one, but sure to check out the Halloween episode, which is just as great).

picture

He uses a quill pen!  Moose A. Moose has unexpected depth.

happy-faces

These kids are strung out on sugar highs.  Don’t do candy canes, kids.

candy-cane-world

Candy Cane World is certainly very festive and I imagine it smells nice.

present

Zee doesn’t seem quite ready to be up yet.

Individual Superlative: Easiest Gift Request – What kind of world is Moose living in where candy canes are not available everywhere in abundance during the holiday season?  I inevitably have to throw away dozens of them in January ever year so he must live on some remote sugarless island somewhere. We need to find this island and get some candy canes out there STAT!

Want to Watch it? Moose & Zee – Candy Cane Song is available on YouTube.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

titleDebuted in 1974

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon is teased by her friends for still believing in Santa Claus and she writes a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, asking if Santa is real. Her parents and friends share their thoughts on the situation and she worries that the editor will not answer her. The editor is unsure how to respond but after sharing a nice dinner with the family of a local paperboy, he writes a heartfelt letter affirming Santa’s existence.

Fun Fact: The voice of Virginia O’Hanlon was provided by Courtney Lemmon, daughter of classic film star Jack Lemmon.

My thoughts: This special got its start after the real Virginia O’Hanlon passed away in 1971 and some of her friends got together to write the story of her famous letter. The story was optioned for this special and was so well received at the time that it won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Special. The animation was done by Bill Melendez, who also did the animation for the Peanuts specials. This is pretty obvious, though, seeing that the specials are very similar in style. What stands out about this one, though, are the ethnic stereotypes that abound, from the exaggeratedly oversized lips on the African American girl to the ‘faith and begorrah’ Irish cop to the Chinese boy whose ‘most honorable father’ runs a Chinese restaurant. And then there’s Pee Wee, who has a bizarre voice and only says, “me too.” And the freakishly proportioned bodies of the show’s women, who sport measurements that probably run around 48-12-48. Many moments of character animation take them out of their scene and show them against a marbled background, which is weird. The sentiment of this special is touching, as is the true story that it’s based on. But the warmth is wrapped up in a peculiar package that only could have come out in the early 70’s.

mr-church

Mr. Church is mighty suspicious of young Tommy.

ohanlons

One of many bizarre moments when characters laugh at something that’s not really funny. Here, Mother has just called them in to dinner. Hilarious.

teacher

Oh, those proportions!!  And why are their necks so LONG?

young-grasshopper

Most Honorable Father appears to have some junk in the trunk.

Individual Superlative: Most Cutthroat Joke – Absolutely the most ‘what just happened?’ moment in this special is when Mr. Church asks his secretary for a razor and she makes a slashing motion across her throat and says, “Oh, Mr. Church, you’re not going to…” before he interrupts her to assure her he just needs a shave. I just can’t wrap my contemporary mind around anyone thinking this was ever a funny joke that was okay for a children’s special.

Want to Watch it? Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus is available on YouTube.

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.

Christmas in Tattertown

titleDebuted in 1988

26 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Debbie and two of her toys fall into a magic book and end up in Tattertown, a city that’s home to everything that’s ever been lost. Her doll, Muffet, rejoices at being free and heads to Deadster (the home of war toys) to plot her takeover of Tattertown. Debbie teaches everyone in Tattertown about Christmas and the story ends with Muffet in jail.

Fun Fact: This was the first animated special created specifically for Nickelodeon.

My thoughts: Imagine dropping acid in a room full of toys, probably while you also have a high fever and maybe schizophrenia, and you have a good idea of what watching this special is like. Christmas in Tattertown was actually the pilot episode of what was supposed to be new 30+ episode series on Nickelodeon, which was just hitting its stride as a network. Director and writer Ralph Bakshi was joined by an impressive group of animators and voice talent to create the series based on his comic strip, Junktown. There were a few different factors that killed the series and the most interesting one involves the American Family Association’s ridiculous assertion that Mighty Mouse’s sniffing of flowers was representative of cocaine use. It blew up into a big thing and since Bakshi was involved in the Mighty Mouse show, Nickelodeon’s support for Junktown wavered. So they aired the pilot as a standalone Christmas special. Knowing it was meant to be a pilot helps explain some things, since they thought they’d have other episodes to flesh out characters and build their world better. The animation is fantastic, clearly paying respect to the early days of animation, with wacky squash-and-stretch characters and silly visual gags. But the pace is too frenetic, the characters are too bizarre and there’s too much unexplained for me to enjoy.

miles

Miles, the jazzy saxophone narrator, is probably my favorite character.

debbie-and-dog

Debbie is giving her dog the fish eye.

muffet-as-santa

Muffet does not make a convincing Santa here.

tannenbaum

That’s Tannenbaum, the comic book store owner, who will also double as their Christmas tree. Huh?

Individual Superlative:  Most Confusing Internal Tag Struggle – I initially checked the box to tag this entry as for ‘Not for kids’ when I watched this, but the more I thought about it, there’s nothing really overtly adult about it. Then again, there are some questionable moments, but then again…let’s just say I went back and forth and eventually decided not to tag it. I think, with today’s kids, it’s probably all fair game.

Want to Watch it? Christmas in Tattertown is available on YouTube and still sometimes shows up during holiday programming.

The Christmas Orange

title-cleanDebuted in 2002

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Anton Stingley is upset because he was born on Christmas Day and only gets presents once a year instead of twice like other people. He prepares an extensive (92 page) wish list for Santa but then only gets an orange on Christmas morning, so he sues Santa for failing to comply with his request and the ensuing trial prompts Santa to quit. Anton tries unsuccessfully to get Santa to change his mind and then, feeling bad that he has ruined Christmas for everyone, he gives away all his own toys and his generosity inspires Santa to return to his post.

Fun Fact: The picture book that this special was based on was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, which is a Canadian literary prize.

My thoughts: This special is a little bit of a rollercoaster for me, because there are things I like about it and things I don’t like about it and it goes up and down several times throughout. The anti-greed message is good, if a little heavy-handed. There are a couple of scenes in the special that seem to come out of nowhere, especially when the elves show up at Anton’s house and seem to start setting up a workshop there, then abruptly stop when they realize they can’t work for Anton because he’s not an elf. There’s no explanation for it, so it seems like a big extraneous scene that was meant to be funny and just didn’t come off. I like the way that Santa is presented and his reaction to hearing that he’s been a disappointment to several people is actually a little heart-wrenching. Some of the jokes are pretty clever, including the prosecuting attorney’s assertion that if Santa were innocent, he wouldn’t need all those aliases. The animation feels a little on the minimal side, but the characterizations are solid. I enjoy watching this one every few years, but it isn’t a big favorite.

an-orange

Anton is clearly displeased.

studpustle

And his lawyer is equally incredulous.

defense

Santa’s legal representation seems like he may be in over his head.

facing-the-press

Even Santa can’t escape the scrutiny of the liberal media.

Individual Superlative:  Elves = Leprechauns? – For some reason, all of Santa’s elves here speak with an exaggerated Irish accent and since our unseen narrator does, too, I guess we should assume that our narrator is an elf. Or a leprechaun.  Or both?  I don’t know how this works.

Want to Watch it? The Christmas Orange was released on DVD, but it’s out of print so it’s a little hard to find.