The Boy Who Dreamed Christmas

Title

Debuted in 1991

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Peter falls asleep thinking of how he needs everything on his Christmas list. Nilus the Sandman takes him to the North Pole, where he learns that the evil Toy Master has taken over production, because Santa could no longer keep up with the increasing demand for toys. Peter defeats the Toy Master by giving up the toys on his list and is pleased to receive one simple gift from Santa instead.

Fun Fact: Elton John took his stage surname from Long John Baldry, who provided the voice for Nilus the Sandman.

My thoughts: I remember catching this one when it aired for the first time on The Disney Channel. When it starts up, the first thing on screen is a credit for Long John Baldry as Nilus the Sandman and I assumed that he was a known character somewhere. But this special was his first appearance, which was followed by two more specials and then a television series that lasted two seasons. I was unsurprised to learn that the series featured Nilus entering the dreams of children to teach them lessons and I imagine they were every bit as heavy handed as the lesson in this one. The animation in this special is bookmarked by mediocre live action that transitions to animation when Peter falls asleep. The Toy Master is a really creepy looking clown, who towers over Peter and Santa like a nightmare monster and as his musical number, he gets a rap song about how efficient his toy production has become. (See Superlative below.) Santa’s song about how kids got super greedy is very pretty, even as it’s banging you over the head with its morality. Overall, this one felt like a launching vehicle for Nilus as a character and not much more.

Nilus

He has literally just burst through the cloud to say, “That’s me!” and wink to the audience. Ham it up, Sandman.

Sad Santa

There’s no crying in Christmas!

Toymaster

Yikes, right?

Peter

I think he’s just happy to have survived the Toy Master.

Individual Superlative: Least Evil Bad Guy – I will readily admit that the Toy Master is creepy looking as all hell. But I am not sure what he’s doing that’s so terrible. It seems to me that he’s automated the workshop and is still planning to deliver all the toys to the kids. Is it just that he’s put Santa out of work? I’m missing something.

Want to Watch it?The Boy Who Dreamed Christmas is available on DVD and YouTube.

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The Great Santa Claus Switch

Title

Debuted in 1970

51 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Evil Cosmo Scam kidnaps Santa as part of his plan to take over Christmas. When he starts replacing Santa’s elves with his own henchmen, a new elf named Fred discovers the plot. With Fred’s help, Santa is able to escape just in time to save Christmas.

Fun Fact: Ed Sullivan gave this time slot to Jim Henson in appreciation for all the Muppet appearances on his show.

My thoughts: I am a big Muppet fan from way back, but I had never heard of this special before this year. Apparently, Jim Henson had the idea for this story bouncing around for quite some time before getting the chance to bring it to the small screen on The Ed Sullivan Show. Art Carney plays the dual role of Santa Claus and Cosmo Scam and sadly, doesn’t seem to be giving 100% to either role, which is probably the reason this special didn’t have much staying power. The Muppets are always enhanced by the addition of an over the top human counterpoint and Carney’s somewhat phoned-in performance here doesn’t give them the opportunity to shine. But there are a lot of really funny moments and some good songs from songwriter Joe Raposo. It’s definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a Muppet fan, but it doesn’t hold up well compared to the movies and shows that came after it.

The Bad Guy

Anyone who names a child Cosmo Scam should know he’s headed for a life of crime.

Workshop Elves

Santa’s elves always sing while they work.

Santa's Kidnappers

Santa, quit staring at the tree and look behind you!

Monster Elves

The elves have been replaced by frackles!  And no one seems to notice.

Individual Superlative: A Muppet By Any Other Name – One of Cosmo’s frackle henchmen is named Snarl. Six years later, he showed up as a regular character on The Muppet Show as a performance artist named Gonzo. You can check him out in the picture above.

Want to Watch it? The Great Santa Claus Switch is available on YouTube.

A Christmas Story

TitleDebuted in 1972

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Goober the dog and Gumdrop the mouse realize that Timmy’s letter to Santa never got mailed so they go out to deliver it themselves. They run into several obstacles and have trouble finding Santa, but then they involve all the local animals. Eventually, they return home and fall asleep and when they wake up, Santa has been there and clearly found Timmy’s letter.

Fun Fact: Three of the songs from this special were reused in A Flintstone Christmas, five years later. And one of them was used a third time in Yogi’s First Christmas in 1980.

My thoughts: I hadn’t seen this one in years and I have to say I really enjoyed seeing it again. It’s a simple story, but they pack a lot of fun and heart into it and prove that you really don’t need more than 23 minutes to tell a good story, even when you include songs. The songs here are festive and fun, especially the one that Goober and Gumdrop sing about how to tell which Santa is the real one in a city full of corner Santas. In typical 70’s Hanna-Barbera style, a lot of animation is re-used over and over during the musical bits and there are lots of jokes that I recognize from lots of other animated specials and shows. Of course, it gets a little sappy toward the end, when Timmy asks his parents what they asked Santa for and his mom tells him they asked for peace on Earth. Clearly, Santa keeps deciding not to give this particular gift every year, because we’re still asking for it (although definitely not doing our part to make it happen). But this one is a warm throwback to a simpler time when peace didn’t seem like such a crazy thing to ask for.

Christmas Eve

Mom is hiding all the Christmas cookies in her puffy sleeves.

Goober and Gumdrop

Goober and Gumdrop should get a kickback from the Post Office.

Santa parade

Too many Santas!

Look for Santa!

Funniest bit in the whole show – this bulldog yells at the cats “Look for Santa!”

Individual Superlative: Hanna-Barbera’s Greatest Hits – With a script by Ken Spears and Joe Ruby (from Scooby-Doo) and classic voice acting from the actors who voiced Yogi Bear, Judy Jetson, Gargamel, Dr. Benton Quest and Mr. Slate (from The Flintstones), this represents some of the best of the studio’s talent pool.

Want to Watch it? A Christmas Story is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Bob’s Burgers: Nice-Capades

 

TitleDebuted in 2015

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The Belcher kids kick a man out of a massage chair at the mall and then realize he’s the mall Santa. He threatens to report them to the real Santa so they come up with the idea to stage an ice show at the mall that will showcase how good they’ve all been this year. But Louise succumbs to her conscience and admits that she’s lying about the good she’s done, telling Santa that Gene and Tina are both good and Santa acknowledges that there’s good in her, too.

Fun Fact: Due to a scheduling issue, this episode aired a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving instead of during the actual Christmas season.

My thoughts: Sometimes I watch a Christmas episode of a show I’ve never seen and end up watching the show regularly. Bob’s Burgers is one of those shows and now I’m a big fan. They’ve had several Christmas episodes and I think this is one of the best ones. It’s probably not a coincidence that it’s an episode centered around Louise, who is my favorite main character. Her complex personality is truly showcased here and she manages to be devious but also genuine, child-like but also mature and cynical but also hopeful. Several of the supporting cast members lend a hand with this bizarre ice show, including the Fischoeder brothers, hilarious as usual, and Teddy, who is my favorite non-Belcher character. I love that the mall Santa’s approval means so much to Louise and that it’s the support of her friends and family that actually means the most to him. Of course, that doesn’t mean she gets what she was asking for, but that’s probably because she was asking for a shark. This is a fun episode of a really great show.

Talking to Santa

Somehow, I get the idea Louise is probably just making it worse.

Gene Portion

Gene tells the story of giving up the last taco on Taco Tuesday at school.

World Peace Teddy

I find Teddy very believable as World Peace.

Xmas morning

Louise gets a goldfish instead of a shark. It’s a starter sea creature.

Individual Superlative: Ayyyy, Santa! – Santa is voiced here by Henry Winkler, who rose to fame playing the Fonz on Happy Days. Nothing makes you feel older than when the sex symbols of your youth are cast as Santa.

Want to Watch it? Bob’s Burgers: Nice-Capades is available on iTunes and YouTube and will probably show up in reruns during the holiday season.

Buster & Chauncey’s Silent Night

TitleDebuted in 1998

45 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The small Austrian town of Oberndorf is preparing for a visit from the Queen and two musical mice named Buster and Chauncey are determined to make their fortune during her visit. Meanwhile, a pair of thieves is in town to steal the church’s fortune and they plan to pin the crime on an orphan taking shelter in the church. The church’s organist hears a melody that Chauncey plays on his violin and sets the pastor’s poem to music, creating the song, ‘Silent Night,’ which they perform for the queen, who volunteers to help the orphan find her family.

Fun Fact: Providing the voice for Chauncey is comedy great Phil Hartman, in his final role.

My thoughts: In a genre that is already rife with convoluted plot lines, this one still stands out. There is so much going on in this mess that it was a real struggle to condense it into three sentences that still made sense. (Well, some semblance of sense, anyway.) It actually plays out like a typical musical and the songs are the best part, written by Tony winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The big opening number actually raised my expectations for this show, but I’m sorry to say that the rest of the special didn’t live up to it. At its core, this is the story of the creation of the carol, ‘Silent Night,’ with a lot of claptrap padding the story out. There have been several specials about this particular carol and they all have a different version of the story, mostly based on a legend about the church’s organ being broken. I can’t imagine any version being more long-winded and needlessly complex than this one.

Buster & Chauncey

Dang, these are some well-dressed mice.

Christina

Just in case they don’t feel sorry for the orphan, let’s cast her as an angel in the Christmas play.

Bad guys

Those are definitely villainous eyebrows. I never fell for their ruse.

The queen

What is the queen hiding in her hair?

Individual Superlative: Most Omniscient Queen – When they introduce the song ‘Silent Night,’ singing it for the first time, the Queen jumps in and takes the second verse, as if she knew the words all along. Maybe she was just a really good improviser.

Want to Watch it?Buster & Chauncey’s Silent Night is available on VHS and DVD.

Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration

 

TitleDebuted in 1987

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Two dinosaurs, Rex and Herb, serve as hosts and introduce short Christmas musical vignettes. In between the musical numbers, they make jokes, eat snacks and share a little history about some of the carols included. At the end, all the different characters from the songs join them in the final song.

Fun Fact: This special won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.

My thoughts: Patric Miller, who did the music for this special, shared his story of this special’s history and how it was originally going to be more geared toward young children. Gradually, it changed and the animators wanted to make it more hip and appropriate for an older audience. The inclusion of the California Raisins sets this special pretty firmly in its time period and I think that their segment, which is a version of ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,’ is the weakest segment of the show. My favorite segment is ‘Joy to the World’ which uses clay painting and a bluesy sound to celebrate joy in the context of the birth of Jesus and the love that families and friends have for each other. The animation is beautiful and the song is great. The banter between the hosts (who are reminiscent of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert) is a little forced and the recurring joke about the real lyrics of ‘Here We Come A’Wassailing’ doesn’t hold up to repeated viewings, but overall I really enjoy watching this one.

Hosts

You can instantly tell which is the serious one and which is the goofball.

Bell

And this guy is never going to get anything right.

Walruses

Walruses are always funny.

Raisins

These guys overextended their 15 minutes.

Individual Superlative: And Your Name Is? – Depending on where you look it up, this special is either called Will Vinton’s Claymation ChristmasA Claymation Christmas Celebration or just A Claymation Christmas. Either way, though, it’s Claymation. That much, we can be sure of.

Want to Watch it? Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration is available on DVD and YouTube.

Santa’s Workshop

TitleDebuted in 1932

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: It’s Christmas Eve and the elves are busy prepping the reindeer and finalizing all the toys. Santa makes a final review of the naughty and nice list and inspects the toys before packing them up for his trip. A toy airplane knocks several shelves worth of toys onto the floor, where they have an impromptu parade into Santa’s bag and he bids everyone farewell, then flies away on his sleigh.

Fun Fact: This was the fourth Silly Symphony animated short to be released in full color.

My thoughts: Disney’s contract distribution deal with United Artists significantly boosted the quality of the studio’s animated shorts and this is one where you can really see the difference. The backgrounds are loaded with details and there’s so much going on in every frame. I think I saw this one for the first time as part of the Disney Channel Christmas special, when it was kind of meshed together with The Night Before Christmas (which picks up right where this one leaves off) and I loved it. I’ve always had a particular love of those cartoons that showed manufacturers or artists at work, with lots of funny gags on how things are made. This one is full of all kinds of silly concepts, such as checkerboard paint (for making checkerboards) and scaring the dolls with spiders to make their hair stand on end so it can be permed. The scene in which an African-American doll says ‘mammy’ instead of ‘mama’ is almost always removed when this short is aired. Santa is depicted as delightfully jolly and fun-loving, succumbing to the urge to play with his own toys a bit. And the elf who promises to add a cake of soap to Billy Brown’s stocking is voiced by Walt Disney himself. This one’s a nice dash of Christmas cheer.

Head elf

The elf who monitors good behavior doesn’t stand for shenanigans.

Santa and list

Could Santa be any jollier?

Tail drill

Yikes!  Did you get permission from the horses for this?

OK

Santa just approved this doll’s behind. No wonder he’s jolly.

Individual Superlative: Equal Opportunity Offender – In addition to the African-American stereotype doll, there are also Asian and Jewish stereotype toys in the toy parade at the end.  Just to make sure they didn’t leave anyone out in the ‘Wow, is this going to be controversial in a few decades’ category.

Want to Watch it? Santa’s Workshop is available on DVD and YouTube.