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.

A Very Merry Cricket

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Plot in 3 Sentences: Harry the cat and Tucker the mouse are dismayed by the general sense of unhappiness and distraction that pervades New York City. They travel to Connecticut to bring back Chester Cricket, hoping his music can once again bring the city together. Chester has trouble being heard over the hustle and bustle of the holiday, but then a blackout puts him center stage, where his music creates the perfect holiday mood.

Fun Fact: Animator/director Chuck Jones can be found in the collection of people listening to Chester’s song near the end of the special.

My thoughts: A Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden, with wonderful illustrations from Garth Williams, was published in 1960 and won a Newbery Honor. Chuck Jones adapted the story as an animated special which aired in April 1973 and this sequel was aired later that same year. (Another sequel, Yankee Doodle Cricket, featuring the same characters bizarrely involved in the American Revolution came out two years later.) I loved this special when it came out and was moved by its gentle message of quieting down the loudness and slowing your hectic pace to listen to something as simple and beautiful as a cricket’s song. (Of course, I had been a fan of the book already, so I was predisposed to like the animated version.) Sadly, I think this one feels very dated now, although the message is even more important with the explosion of technology that has happened since the 1970’s. The ending, with its montage of Christmas carols and pictures of rapt New Yorkers feeling the holiday spirit, is still very touching. Most of the rest of the special is plot recap or sub-plot filler (such as the hungry cat and dog in Connecticut who try to have Harry and Tucker for dinner) while we wait for that moment, but I have to say it’s worth it. I’m happy to have this one in my collection.

santa

Mechanical Santa is full of fabricated joy!

singing

We’re getting the band back together, you guys!

predator-cat

Hey, that’s a main character!  Spit him out!

listening

Stopping for a musical interlude.

Individual Superlative: Haven’t I Seen You Before? – This special begins with a recap of A Cricket in Times Square and then pretty much retells the same story.

Want to Watch it? A Very Merry Cricket is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack: Low Tidings

titleDebuted in 2009

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Flapjack wants to experience Low Tides Day but K’nuckles hates the holiday due to a bad experience with it when mermen sacked him for being bad when he was young. K’nuckles tries to find a hiding place so that the mermen won’t sack him again but all the spots are taken, so Flapjack aims to make him into a good person instead so he will have nothing to fear. Eventually, Poseidon asks the mermen to stop sacking people and decides that sacks will be only be used to deliver gifts.

Fun Fact: This was the first two part episode of the show.

My thoughts: There are some specials that are fairly easy to summarize in three sentence and wow, this sure isn’t one of them. The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack ran for three seasons on Cartoon Network and chiefly centered around a boy, the talking whale who raised him and the pirate they rescued together. The premise of their Low Tides holiday is that good kids can lower their boots into the water, where Poseidon will fill them with toys and bad kids are tied up in sacks by mermen. Although most of the special is regular animation, there are some stop motion scenes and a bizarre live action Poseidon who interacts with the animated characters. The special opens with a version of ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ with some funny rewritten lyrics. Overall, the special is really weird, like the show, but it has its funny moments. It’s probably better appreciated by those who already watch and enjoy the show, though, as there’s a lot to absorb otherwise.

little-knuckles

Little K’nuckles has a lot of teeth.

flapjack

Flapjack seems to be experiencing some holiday ennui.

mermen-with-bag

I didn’t know mermen were so grumpy.

poseidon-talking-to-townsfolk

“Observe my impressive blue muscular arm!”

Individual Superlative: Weirdest Narrator – The episode’s narrator character is the town comedian, a strange looking guy named Lolly Poopdeck.

Want to Watch it? Flapjack: Low Tidings is available on YouTube and usually airs on Cartoon Network during the holiday season.

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.

The Christmas Toy

titleDebuted in 1986

49 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Rugby Tiger thinks Christmas means he will go back under the tree to be discovered all over again by Jamie, but he discovers that a new toy, Meteora (the Queen of Space) is going to be Jamie’s new Christmas toy. Some of the other playroom toys go to rescue him and Mew, the cat toy, is found by a human, which freezes him forever. Rugby realizes how much he cares for Mew, which unfreezes him and all the toys celebrate on Christmas morning with the new Christmas toys.

Fun Fact: This special inspired a short-lived TV series, called The Secret Life of Toys that ran for one season.

My thoughts: I recorded my copy of this during one of its early television broadcasts so my copy has the Kermit the Frog intro and closing that were deleted when Disney acquired the rights to the Muppet programming. I really liked having the Kermit bookends on these specials, because it kept that comfortable ‘Muppet’ feeling even when there were no other familiar characters. The basic premise of this special is very similar to the plot of Toy Story, with a loved toy being jealous of a newer space-themed character who isn’t aware that they’re actually a toy. There are some great characters here and my favorite is Mew the catnip mouse, who constantly has to reassure everyone that his bad smell is only catnip. Rugby singing ‘Together at Christmas’ to a frozen and lifeless Mew has me reaching for the Kleenex every time. It’s no wonder the song was re-worked for Muppet Family Christmas a year later. The story has a lot of warmth and humor, like most of the really good Muppet productions. I really enjoy this one.

rugby-and-apple

Apple is Rugby’s best friend.

meteora-closeup

Meteora’s space bra looks really uncomfortable (but it provides excellent support).

fashion-doll

A running gag involves the fashion doll always wearing the wrong clothes.

mew

“It’s CATNIP!”

Individual Superlative: Least Cuddly Toy – Meteora’s face is full of warrior fierceness and there is nothing soft or cuddly about her. But Jamie picks her up and hugs and kisses her, whispering that she loves her. I actually think this speaks volumes about how we feel about really special toys. Or that Jamie is just really not as judgmental as I am when it comes to cuddly toys.

Want to Watch it? The Christmas Toy is available on VHS and DVD.

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

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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.