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.

Peace on Earth

TitleDebuted in 1939

9 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: On Christmas Eve, two young squirrels overhear the lyrics, ‘Peace on Earth, goodwill to men’ and ask their grandfather what men are. He tells them the story of humans and how they fought wars against each other until there were only two left and they killed each other. The animals come out into the now deserted city and build a new world based on peace and harmony.

Fun Fact: This cartoon short was remade in 1955 and the updated version included more modern weapons, such as flamethrowers and nuclear bombs.

My thoughts: When I saw this cartoon for the first time, it was during the Reagan era, when the threat of nuclear escalation seemed frighteningly real, so it made a huge impact on me. It’s cited as being one of the first animated shorts to tackle the subject of war in such a serious way. It throws in the little squirrels to get some cuteness points and there’s a moment when Grandpa sits on some knitting needles where it seems to be trying to go for some comic relief, but the tone feels heavy to me throughout. Some of the wartime images are unforgettable, especially when you think about the fact that some of the animators were drawing from recent memory of their own war experiences. Despite the bleak imagery, the message of the importance of peace and the pointlessness of war is a good one. Definitely worth seeing at least once.

Grandpa seems shocked that the little squirrels have fallen asleep on him.

Grandpa seems shocked that the little squirrels have fallen asleep on him.

One of the final soldiers advances on the other. This is a pretty intense image.

One of the final soldiers advances on the other. This is a pretty intense image.

I love the irony that the owl declares 'thou shalt not kill' to be a good rule...while surrounded by rodents, the traditional mainstay of his diet.

I love the irony that the owl declares ‘thou shalt not kill’ to be a good rule…while surrounded by rodents, the traditional mainstay of his diet.

The animals build their new city from what we left behind. So where are the McDonalds wrappers?

The animals build their new city from what we left behind. So where are the McDonalds wrappers?

Individual Superlative: Nobel or Not Nobel? – Several sources reported that this short was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize the year that it was released, but there seems to be no documented proof. It was nominated for an Academy Award, though.

Want to Watch it? Peace on Earth is available as a bonus on the DVD of A Christmas Carol and you can watch it on YouTube or the Internet Archive.