George and Junior’s Christmas Spectacular

Title

Debuted in 1995

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: George and Junior arrive at the North Pole to deliver a letter to Santa, but it’s Christmas Eve and Santa has already left for the night. This means there’s a present Santa didn’t know he was supposed to bring, so the elves give it to George and Junior to deliver. The house has a guard dog, so they have a lot of trouble delivering it, but when the present turns out to be FOR the guard dog, everything turns out okay.

Fun Fact: There were only four cartoon shorts in the original George and Junior series. A fifth was written for them but was produced using two random dogs instead of George and Junior (yet, for some reason, it’s still considered a George and Junior short).

My thoughts: The original MGM George and Junior series was inspired by George and Lennie from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The short-lived series was rebooted for the Cartoon Network What a Cartoon! Show in 1995, but it must not have been a big hit, because only two shorts were created. Actually, watching this one, I’m not at all surprised it didn’t score a hit. The humor fails on just about every level and if they were trying to recapture their old fans on the nostalgia ticket, they missed the boat on that by ratcheting the original Tex Avery gags up way too far. Everything here is oddly proportioned and verging on grotesque and the punching, farting and smashing all seems like overkill. The only thing I enjoyed about this was the score, which was a mixture of The Nutcracker and traditional Christmas carols. It seemed like a fair amount of thought went into matching the music to what was happening onscreen, but that’s about all there is to recommend it.

Head elf Steve

In case you didn’t know that was Head Elf Steve, they’ve provided a label.

I done a bad thing George

“I done a bad thing, George.” (Yes, I happen to agree with you.)

The boys and Santa

Santa could use some serious dental work. And some sun.

Bear heads

Super trippy bear heads.

Individual Superlative: Most Surreal Reality – There’s a moment when George and Junior are so scared that their cartoonish heads suddenly become very realistic looking bear heads. It’s freaky, even though (or maybe especially because) it only lasts for a couple of seconds.

Want to Watch it? George and Junior’s Christmas Spectacular is available on YouTube.

Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. – It’s a Wonderful Smash

Title

Debuted in 2014

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: After a battle with some bad guys leaves parts of the city in shambles, A-Bomb wishes that the Hulks could be more appreciated for the good that they do. We next see them living the lives of their dreams, rich and famous in a luxurious penthouse, but that turns out to be a false reality the Collector is using to keep them prisoner. The agents of S.M.A.S.H. team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to break free, defeat the Collector and retrieve the Orb of Truth.

Fun Fact: This episode was produced to be part of Season 1, but aired during Season 2.

My thoughts: Let’s face it – I am not the target demographic for this show. I have enjoyed the recent Marvel movies (especially Guardians of the Galaxy) but have never been a big fan of the comic book hero genre overall. So I had my husband watch this one with me to get a second opinion, but we were pretty much on the same page. About halfway through the show, I asked what any of this had to do with Christmas and then remembered that the original battle takes place in a city decorated for the holidays. At the end, they explain Christmas to the Guardians of the Galaxy and have a warm and fuzzy moment when they talk about the sense of family that you have in a super hero group. In retrospect, it seemed like just I watched 15 minutes of weird things punching and shooting each other, with a few minutes of plot and a non-stop parade of new characters coming and going. I’ll give it a few comic points for having A-Bomb hallucinate having Eliza Dushku for a girlfriend when she does the voice of She-Hulk on the show. But this one is strictly for those who are already fans.

Destroyed city

The Christmas tree in the background makes the destruction look festive!

Guitar Playing

A-Bomb plays guitar in a band in his fantasy world.

Hulk and SheHulk

“Why Hulk wearing dumb sweater?”

Not Groot

No, you are NOT Groot.

Individual Superlative: I AM GROSS – Groot was awesome in the movie, but in this thing, he is absolutely terrifying. His tree face here looks like a nightmare of evil. I mean, look at him! I want the movie version back!

Want to Watch it? Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H: It’s a Wonderful SMASH is available on YouTube.

A Very Pink Christmas

Title CleanDebuted in 2011

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The Pink Panther and Big Nose both want the last luxury sports car in the lot. They open competing Christmas tree lots each hoping to make enough money to buy the car first. But a poor boy who just wants to afford a small tree for his family puts things into perspective for them.

Fun Fact: This is not to be confused with A Pink Christmas, which was the first Pink Panther special, released in 1978. (This one is apparently pinker.)

My thoughts: The Pink Panther seems like a tough sell here in the 21st century. When many modern kids’ shows over-explain and dumb down their plotlines, the idea of an animated program in which no one speaks is intriguing. But it works today just as well as it worked back when I was a kid watching the Pink Panther on Saturday morning cartoon shows.  (At least, it did for me.) The animation defines the characters and moves the plot and the music helps convey the emotions and set the mood for the action.  There’s a clear message about commercialism here that is very simply conveyed. I like that the little boy is shown to be cheerful and dedicated, in spite of the fact that he and his family are practically homeless. It’s a welcome change from the more traditional tearful and pitiful child bundled up against the cold, which makes it even more meaningful, I think, when he learns that the little tree he’s been saving for has been sold and he breaks down crying. The show has its comedic moments as well and there’s a fun scene when Pink’s tree lot shows off its lights that dance in time with music, which sets this special very firmly in its contemporary world (where that kind of thing shows up all the time in viral videos). This isn’t one that I watch every year, but it is kind of cute.

Seeing the car

This car is so amazing that it makes your eyebrows fly off your face!

Adorable orphan

It helps that the little boy is pretty gosh darn adorable.

Coaster

Does this Christmas tree lot require an admission ticket?

Car for Christmas

And even after all his scheming and dirty dealing, Big Nose gets a toy version of the car from Santa Panther. Awwww.

Individual Superlative: What Is Your Name? – The Pink Panther’s nemesis in this special is never addressed by name, but is listed as Big Nose in the IMDB. However, in the past, he has also been known as White Guy and Little Man. (Can’t we just call him Steve or something?)

Want to Watch it?  A Very Pink Christmas is available on YouTube.

Men in Black: The Black Christmas Syndrome

Title

Debuted in 1998

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: J is trying to find the perfect gift for K when news comes in that Santa has been kidnapped. They discover that his kidnapper, Drekk, is working for the Zadoranians, who are a child-like alien species that just wants Santa for themselves. With help from MIB, the Zadoranians get a Christmas, Drekk is foiled and all ends well.

Fun Fact: Although the show ran for four seasons, this was the only holiday themed episode.

My thoughts: The animated series premiered shortly after the release of the first Men in Black movie and it reminds me of the Chris Farley character on Saturday Night Live who would interview people by asking them if they remembered moments from their careers. This one seems to be non-stop references to the movie, some of which work within the context of what’s going on in the plot and some of which feel very contrived. I also find it a little confusing that the animated versions of all of these characters are only vaguely reminiscent of the movie versions. At one point, J finds out that the elves are aliens and asks about Santa Claus and K tells him there are “things higher than MiB, slick.” It’s a cute moment that was just about the only memorable one for me. Overall, it’s pretty predictable and dull, without very much to make me recommend it.  (And they lose points for making Frank the Pug kind of gross.)

Disgruntled elf

Mickey is one of those sassy street smart elves that Santa probably detests.

Frank the Pug

Sure, Frank looks festive, but he also looks like he has mange.

The twins

Remember these guys? Good, the show’s producers were hoping you would.

Alien reindeer

Having the reindeer piloted by little Arquillians is the first explanation of reindeer flight that actually makes sense.

Individual Superlative: Sub-par Subtitle – This episode is called the Black Christmas Syndrome and I have no idea why. As far as I could tell, there was no reference to any syndrome or anything resembling a syndrome.  Maybe they just liked the word.

Want to Watch it? Men in Black: The Black Christmas Syndrome is available on YouTube.

Are You Being Served?: Christmas Crackers

Title

Debuted in 1975

27 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The staff of Grace Brothers arrives at the store early to discuss ideas for boosting sales but Mr. Rumbold shows up with the news that Mr. Grace has rented fun costumes for all of them to wear. Their Christmas lunch is disappointing, with a tiny turkey, combustible Christmas pudding and not much else. But the decorations are lovely and everyone gets into the holiday spirit to close with a festive song.

Fun Fact: This episode marked the first appearance of Doremy Vernon as the Canteen Manager (who stayed for most of the series) and the last appearance of Mr. Mash.

My thoughts: Like many comedies of this era, Are You Being Served? is silly, formulaic and predictable. Mr. Lucas is going to insult Mrs. Slocombe, there’s going to be a point-of-display model that goes wrong and Mrs. Slocombe will make a double entendre statement about her cat. But it still manages to be good fun most of the time, with a few genuine laughs along the way. This is not my favorite of their Christmas episodes, but it still has its high points, including the bit at the end when they tell Young Mr. Grace that he’s done very well (which is something he usually says to them). You’re expecting the worst when the department decorations are revealed, so it’s a surprise when they turn out to be lovely and it makes for an unexpectedly sweet and cheerful ending.

Charming smile

Mr. Grainger displays the warm and friendly smile he will give to children.

Point of display model

Mrs. Slocombe is not amused by the point-of-display model…and she is unanimous in this!

Funny faces

Captain Peacock’s googly eyes are awesome.

Staff in costume

Of course, Mr. Humphries has the most outrageous costume.

Individual Superlative: Christmas Envy – From the ‘Christmas pud’ to pulling the giant crackers, this special makes you want to spend at least one Christmas in the U.K.

Want to Watch it? Are You Being Served?: Christmas Crackers is available on DVD and you can watch it on YouTube.

The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries: A Nutcracker Scoob

Title

Debuted in 1984

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The gang is helping out with the Christmas pageant at Mrs. Featherwig’s orphanage and Winslow Nickleby shows up, offering to buy the building (because he wants to find the emerald hidden there by a past member of his family.) During the rehearsal for A Christmas Carol, a ghost shows up and frightens everyone and everyone thinks it’s Nickleby, trying to scare them away. But they discover it’s actually the maid, Nanette Musette, who was hoping to steal the emerald for herself and Mr. Nickleby has a change of heart about the orphanage after Tiny Tina saves his cat, Snowball.

Fun Fact: This was the series finale of The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries and the last time any Scooby-Doo show used the ‘villain behind the mask’ plot until the A Pup Named Scooby-Doo series premiered four years later.

My thoughts: When it comes to Scooby-Doo, I have to admit that I’m a traditionalist. I grew up with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which paired the Mystery Machine gang (rather bizarrely) with celebrities like Sandy Duncan and the Harlem Globetrotters. Most of the Scooby-Doo shows that came after the first series seemed like they were stretching the show’s basic concept a little thin. Like most people, I have no use whatsoever for Scrappy Doo, Scooby’s annoying nephew. By the time they got to this series, it seemed like the show was just going through the motions. There are lots of overly silly moments in this that don’t make much sense and, overall, I can’t say it’s worth your time to watch it unless you’re a serious Scooby fan. (And even then, there are better Scooby-Doo Christmas specials.)

Tiny Tina

Yeah, that teddy bear is wise to the pure evil that is Tiny Tina.

Bed mover

Who knew Shaggy would be the best person to call to help you move?

Cleaning Freddy

The most mysterious thing about Nanette is the way she cleans everyone she meets.

Sugar Plum Fairies

What is going on here? Never mind, I don’t want to know.

Individual Superlative: Creepiest Association – Sure, they may have named Tiny Tina after Tiny Tim, but she looks and talks exactly like Talky Tina from the “Living Doll” episode of The Twilight Zone and that makes her just no damn good

Want to Watch it?  A Nutcracker Scoob is available on DVD.

Prep & Landing: Operation Secret Santa

TitleDebuted in 2010

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Lanny and Wayne are called in by Mrs. Santa for a special assignment. Following her instructions, they sneak into Santa’s secret workshop (narrowly avoiding waking him) and bring back the box she requested. It contains the missing piece for her Christmas gift to Santa, which is the first toy he ever made.

Fun Fact: In the final scene, you can get an early glimpse of Wayne’s brother, Noel, who would be a major character in the next Prep & Landing special.

My thoughts: I loved Disney’s original Prep & Landing animated special and was really excited when they announced an animated short to be premiered during the time slot for A Charlie Brown Christmas. (As it turned out, a presidential address bumped the premiere back a week.) I assumed that, with less than ten minutes, this short would be more comical than emotional. Nope. It definitely has its comic moments while Lanny & Wayne are on their mission, but the ending is so sweet and emotional, celebrating all that Christmas gift-giving is supposed to be. Michael Giacchino’s music is wonderful here and his beautiful theme from the first special shows up here, too. I’ve read that a new Prep & Landing special is in progress and I hope it will result in new animated shorts like this one.

For an elderly lady, Mrs. Santa is pretty comfortable around advanced technology.

For an elderly lady, Mrs. Santa is pretty comfortable around advanced technology.

I always wondered exactly what those ceramic light-up trees were for.  Now we know they're combination locks.

I always wondered exactly what those ceramic light-up trees were for. Now we know they’re combination locks.

Caught in a moment of fear that Santa is waking up to discover them. This is just a great picture of these guys.

Caught in a moment of fear that Santa is waking up to discover them. This is just a great picture of these guys.

Santa's very first toy.  I think the X-Box probably came right after this one.

Santa’s very first toy. I think the X-Box probably came right after this one.

Individual Superlative: Sassiest Mrs. Santa – Betty White was 88 when she recorded the voice for Mrs. Santa and I can’t help thinking, just from her voice, that Mrs. Santa is a force to be reckoned with.

Want to Watch it? Prep & Landing – Operation Secret Santa is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.