Davey and Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found

Title

Debuted in 1965

29 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Davey doesn’t have the Christmas spirit so he goes out to do holiday errands, hoping he will be inspired. While buying the Christmas tree, he makes friends with Kenny, the boy working at the tree lot. The kids put on a Christmas pageant and at the last minute, Davey offers his role as a king to Kenny and in doing so, finally feels the Christmas spirit.

Fun Fact: This episode marked the last time that Davey’s voice was provided by Dick Beals, who was his original voice actor.

My thoughts: Davey and Goliath was a children’s television show using clay animation characters to tell stories that taught moral lessons. The show was funded by the Lutheran Church of America and when I was growing up, it aired here on Sunday mornings (so you could watch it on any mornings that you didn’t go to church and still say you got your dose of religion).  The animation was done by Art Clokey, who also did the Gumby series. This Christmas special was produced during the years between Season 3 (which ended in 1964) and Season 4 (which started in 1971). While some of the earlier episodes were less overt in their religious tone, this one lays it on pretty thick. The one thing I was struck by in watching this was the scarcity of adults and the fact that it looked like kids did most of the working and organizing of events in the town. Maybe Davey was just overworked from all the chores he had to do, including all the preparation for the Christmas pageant, and that’s why he wasn’t feeling Christmas. It was cool to see this again since I remember this show from my childhood, but I found it kind of maudlin.

Depressed Davey

Emo Davey is emo.

Tobacco store

Dude, you’re selling tobacco to a kid?

Joe's Sound truck

The Joe’s Sound truck provides plot exposition at no extra cost.

Smitten Sally

Sally is fully under the spell of baby Jesus and will do his every bidding.

Individual Superlative: Lighten Up, Kid! – Seriously, Davey is a major downer through this whole thing, constantly telling everyone how he just doesn’t feel Christmas and always wearing a sad sack expression. I mean, I get that he ain’t feelin’ it, but maybe a little perspective and a little less self-pity would have helped.

Want to Watch it? Davey & Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found is available on VHS, 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 Charlie Brown Christmas

Title

Debuted in 1965

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Charlie Brown is struggling to find the meaning of Christmas and takes on the task of directing the school Christmas play in order to get involved in the holiday. When none of his friends seem to have the Christmas spirit either, Charlie gets frustrated. But Linus explains the meaning of the holiday (as written in the bible) and everyone comes together as friends to celebrate and sing a carol at the end.

Fun Fact: This special marked the first time that children were hired to voice child characters in an animated show. Those roles were usually filled by adults.

Bonus Fun Fact: This special also killed off the aluminum Christmas tree industry. Just two years after the special aired for the first time, throwing shade at aluminum trees, the previously popular trees were no longer being manufactured.

My thoughts: Gosh, it’s hard to capture a nutshell opinion about a special that’s been a part of Christmas for my entire life. And there’s probably not much I can tell you about this one that you don’t already know. It broke tons of new ground and everyone thought it was going to be a disaster, especially when they insisted on keeping the religious aspect in after many people tried to talk them out of it. Of course, Linus’s speech is an emotional high point in the show that still resonates with me even now as a non-religious person. The special is funny, it’s touching and Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy soundtrack is required Christmas listening at our house. In many ways, it set the standard for animated holiday specials and yet there are surprisingly few tags or common Christmas tropes to be seen here. It’s a superb classic.

Psychiatric Help

I doubt that she has a license to practice psychiatry.

Little Tree

And just like that, scrawny little trees everywhere got a second chance.

Meaning of Christams

A boy with a blanket can always be trusted.

Singing

I sing just like this.

Individual Superlative: Best Dance Moves – Come on, admit it. You have a favorite of the kids’ dance moves and are inclined to break into it every time you hear ‘Linus & Lucy’. For me, it’s the one with the head bop from side to side.

Want to Watch it? A Charlie Brown Christmas is available in just about every format available and it still comes on network TV every year.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

TitleDebuted in 1944

9 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A reindeer with a shiny red nose is mocked and treated badly by his peers. Then on a particularly foggy Christmas Eve, Santa sees him and asks him to help light the way for his toy delivery. He becomes a Christmas hero.

Fun Fact: Rudolph was originally created to be an advertising icon for Montgomery Ward department stores.

My thoughts: The Rankin-Bass version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has been a Christmas tradition pretty much as long as I’ve been alive. I imagine there are lots of people who have never seen this short, which marks the debut of Rudolph as an animated character. This version of the story is significantly less cluttered than the Rankin-Bass, with the only named characters being Rudolph, Santa and his team of reindeer, which is why you can tell the entire story in nine minutes. Also, Rudolph is not at all related to Santa’s reindeer and is completely unknown to them until Santa stops by to deliver his presents and spies his red nose. The story is narrated in rhyme by Paul Wing, who was one of the only people to receive an Academy Award for Assistant Director (before they retired the category). On the versions I’ve seen, all the dialogue sounds as though it was recorded inside a tin can. I’m not sure if the original sounded any better. It’s worth watching for the historical view of Rudolph, but doesn’t stand up that well over time.

Mom

Rudolph’s mom has got it going on!

Hear Ye

Reindeer are noted for their public speaking skills.

Proposal

Santa is getting all dramatic here.

Santa

Please keep your seatbelt fastened, Santa.

Individual Superlative: Most Ambiguous Age – No one seems to be really sure when this cartoon was actually released. Some documentation says 1944 and others say 1949. The song was first recorded (by Gene Autry) in 1949 and some say this short was re-released with the song in 1949, thereby causing the confusion, but it seems that no evidence exists to support either story.

Want to Watch it? Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is available on YouTube as well as several VHS and DVD compilations.

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.

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.

Howdy Doody’s Christmas

TitleDebuted in 1951

8 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Buffalo Bob, Howdy Doody and Clarabell the Clown are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. When Santa doesn’t show up at midnight, they take a rocket to the North Pole and discover that Ugly Sam has captured Santa, believing him to be a bandit. While Bob and Clarabell struggle with Sam, Howdy frees Santa so he can make his Christmas ride.

Fun Fact: Clarabell the Clown is played here by Bob Keeshan, who later went on to star in his own show as Captain Kangaroo.

My thoughts: The Howdy Doody Show ran from 1947 to 1960 and set a format for children’s programming that many future shows emulated. Buffalo Bob Smith originated the character of Howdy Doody on radio and there are several fascinating stories around the creation and evolution of his puppet incarnation. My favorite involves the puppet’s creator angrily stealing it from the show, forcing them to fabricate a story that Howdy Doody was helping the presidential candidates on the campaign trail. This Christmas episode hasn’t aged well, so it all comes across as feeling very amateurish, a little like a show being put on in someone’s backyard. Dayton Allen, as Ugly Sam, particularly hams up his performance and seems to have one eye on the camera most of the time. Allen went on to do a lot of voice work, providing the voices for Deputy Dawg and Lancelot Link (Secret Chimp), which were favorites of mine when I was a kid. There’s really not much to this one, but it’s cool to watch from a historical point of view, though, since it really did have a profound influence on the future of television.

Clarabell

Clarabell knows your darkest secrets.

Bob and howdy

Howdy Doody is blissfully ignorant.

Dogpile on Sam

I don’t think I want to know…

Gagged Santa

Dang, Santa! Cookies and milk aren’t enough and now you’re eating your own hat?

Individual Superlative: Genre Overload – The show has a Western theme, a circus theme, a science fiction theme and a Christmas theme. Maybe Howdy Doody needed to slow his roll a little.

Want to Watch it? Howdy Doody’s Christmas is available on YouTube