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.


The narrator is a bit of a hot mess.


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


Santa in the grip of Ferret Fever.


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.


Happy Days: Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas?


Debuted in 1974

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Fonzie tells the gang that he is going to Waukesha for a big family Christmas. But Richie finds out that Fonzie is actually spending the holiday alone. So the Cunninghams ask Fonzie to come over and repair their broken Santa Claus figure and then convince him to stay for Christmas Eve dinner festivities with them.

Fun Fact: George Lucas saw Ron Howard in the rejected pilot episode for Happy Days (which was originally aired as a segment of Love, American Style) and cast him in American Graffiti, which was very successful at the box office and helped the show get picked up as a series.

My thoughts: Like most people my age, I watched Happy Days pretty regularly when it first started. There was a big fascination with the 1950’s at the time and the show’s success owes a lot to that wave of nostalgia, which is pretty funny when you think about the fact that the show was only set about twenty years before the current time. (It would be like getting all nostalgic now over a show set in the 1990’s.) This episode opens at Arnold’s Diner and we see Fonzie talking to Al, who says he isn’t going to the Cunningham’s Christmas party because he thinks they only invited him because they felt sorry for him being alone. The rest of the episode is a flashback as Fonzie is telling him about his first Christmas with the Cunninghams, but we never go back to Fonzie and Al, which makes the show feel unfinished. The show itself doesn’t age well and now feels ham-handed and trite. Plot-wise, I like that the Cunninghams found a way to bring Fonzie into their Christmas without making him feel uncomfortable. Overall, though, this one can be easily missed.  And I have to mention the mistletoe scene at the beginning that was funny in the 1970’s but is just uncomfortably awful now.


I think you’ve had enough, Mr. C.


The saddest Christmas Eve dinner ever.


Joanie prays quietly, but Fonzie apparently has a direct line.


It’s a perfect family Christmas!

Individual Superlative: Chuck? Chuck Who? – This was the last appearance of the Cunningham’s oldest son, Chuck. In the nine seasons that followed, he was never seen or mentioned again.

Want to Watch it? Happy Days: Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas is available on DVD, YouTube and Hulu.

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.


This ‘Santa sighting’ picture proves that Santa is real. And sorry Bigfoot, you’re still not.


Everyone needs a Bumble to help with the star.  Even these guys.


“And a partridge on a Perry…”


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.

Nick and Noel


Debuted in 1993

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A singer and her dog move in next door to a widowed writer and his daughter, Sarah, and the adults don’t get along. Their pets (Noel the cat and Nick the dog) go on a quest to find a new mother for Sarah and run into some danger. The singer and writer fall in love while looking for their missing pets and they all have a happy holiday.

Fun Fact: The singer is voiced by Lorna Patterson, who played Randy, the singing stewardess in the movie Airplane.

My thoughts: I can’t find anything positive to say about this special, other than being happy that it was one of the shorter ones and not a full hour long story. The plot is completely ridiculous and the whole thing is narrated by a mouse named Barnaby, voiced by Paul Williams, who lives under the main character’s duplex and is completely superfluous to the story. You know from the moment you find out that Sarah wants a mother for Christmas that her father and the singer next door are going to fall in love, but of course we have to see them start off as enemies. I guess I should be thankful that we get to see them form a friendship first before they fall immediately in love, but we find out in Barnaby’s end narration that they rush out and get married on Christmas Eve…probably no more than a week after they first fall in love. The two songs in the special are terrible and the animation is sophomoric. When I found out the fact listed in the individual superlative below, it came as no surprise whatsoever.


Why does a mouse need a smoking jacket?


More importantly, why does he need safety goggles to play piano?


Sarah’s look captures it perfectly.


It’s not Christmas until you dress up the pets in matching outfits.

Individual Superlative: Now Playing at Your Local Toy Store! – Toys R Us purchased the 7:30 slot on Thanksgiving Day to air this special, peppered with commercials showing the VHS version, plush versions of the toys, storybook and tape set (available only at your local Toys R Us store, of course), prompting an investigation by the Center for Media Education, who limits the number of minutes devoted to commercials in children’s programming.

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

The Smurfs: ‘Tis the Season to Be Smurfy


Debuted in 1987

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Wild is spending his first Christmas with the Smurfs and Papa Smurf wants to help him understand the spirit of giving. Grandpa Smurf and Sassette are visiting the human village and want to help a poor toymaker whose wife is gravely ill and they return to get help from the other Smurfs in raising her spirits, but no one wants to help. Papa Smurf tells them this is what Christmas is about and they all go to help make Christmas special for her, resulting in a large improvement in her health.

Fun Fact: This was the second (and also last) Christmas episode of the original TV series.

My thoughts: It’s hard to take the Smurfs seriously in any kind of critical way and there’s an urge to just call it the smurfiest smurfing special that ever smurfed. But when you strip away the basic wackiness, you see that the plotline here is actually very complex, with subplots that work to give some greater depth to the overall story. One such subplot involves a thief who is preying on rich people in the human village, who is moved to change his ways after a talking-to from Brainy Smurf. The messages of doing things for others and spreading cheer to those less fortunate is a little heavy-handed, but it’s conveyed in a way that I think is really meaningful to its audience, so I’m willing to overlook that. I would definitely recommend this one for kids, as it’s cute and funny, with a good take-home message.

Papa and Wild

Papa likes Wild, but Brainy and Vanity Smurf are not on board.

Grampy and Sassy

Grandpa and Sassette would be so much better if they didn’t speak.

Gustav and Elise

She is suffering from some disease that can be cured by the sudden  appearance of Smurfs.

The thief reexamines his life

The thief does some soul-searching while examining his ill-gotten gains.

Individual Superlative: Smurfarootie-tootie – It seems like half of the lines of Smurf dialogue in this thing start with some type of exclamation and they are all ridiculous. But Sassette, for some reason, has the most bizarre, such as ‘Hopeless hound dogs!’

Want to Watch it? The Smurfs: Tis the Season to Be Smurfy is available on VHS and DVD.

Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends: A Lost Claus


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 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.

Popeye: Mister and Mistletoe

TitleDebuted in 1955

6 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences:  Popeye and his nephews are spending Christmas Eve with Olive Oyl and then Bluto shows up, dressed as Santa Claus. Bluto puts Popeye to work decorating while he cozies up to Olive, but his fake beard catches fire and gives him away. Popeye eats some spinach and kicks Bluto out, then dresses as Santa and comes back to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Fun Fact:  Only three of Popeye’s four nephews appeared in this short.  The missing nephew, in case you’re interested, is Peepeye.

My thoughts: This was the second Christmas-themed Popeye cartoon and runs pretty true to the typical Popeye cartoon formula. Popeye’s identical nephews always felt (to me, anyway) like they were trying to recreate Huey, Dewey and Louie from the Donald Duck cartoons, especially in the way they spoke, but I never felt that they had the same level of character development. (And who named these guys, seriously?) I like this short okay, but it’s not a big favorite. It’s festive and comical, but entirely predictable and has no real moment to elevate it above standard Popeye fare.

No means no, Bluto!

No means no, Bluto!

The quickest way to a girl's heart is to demolish parts of her house.

The quickest way to a girl’s heart is to demolish parts of her house.

I do NOT want to know how that train got inside Popeye.

I do NOT want to know how that train got inside Popeye.

Gee, Uncle Popeye, the boys will be thrilled to get this for Christmas.

Gee, Uncle Popeye, the boys will be thrilled to get this for Christmas.

Individual Superlative: Most Indestructible Beard – Bluto’s fake beard catches fire and burns away to nothing, leaving his actual beard (which is right below it) completely unharmed. No wonder he never shaves.

Want to Watch it? Mister and Mistletoe is available in its entirety on YouTube and on a couple of Popeye compilation DVDs.