A Pinky & the Brain Christmas

titleDebuted in 1995

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Brain’s plan to take over the world at Christmas involves having Santa deliver a special ‘Noodle Noggin’ toy to every house, allowing him to hypnotize every person within earshot of the toy. He and Pinky go to the North Pole and pose as elves to manipulate the system and get their toys made and delivered. But on Christmas morning, just as Brain gets ready to speak through his transmitter, he reads Pinky’s letter to Santa (in which Pinky asks Santa to give all his gifts to his best friend, Brain) and has a change of heart, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Fun Fact: The characters’ voice actors, Rob Paulson and Maurice LaMarche, have said that they were in tears while recording the end of this episode.

My thoughts: Pinky and the Brain were recurring characters on the wonderful Animaniacs show, which started in 1993, and they were spun off into their own show in 1995. The show ran for four seasons and eventually spun off into a new series, which also included Elmyra from Tiny Toon Adventures. This episode really showcases what made this show (and Animaniacs before it) so wonderful. There is humor that works really well for kids and humor aimed specifically at the adults (such as the moment at the North Pole when Pinky tells Brain they’ve been invited to a Christmas party at Donner’s place and Brain tells Pinky he doesn’t want to join the Donner party). But there is also real warmth here, too. The characters have depth and complexity to them. Throughout the special, Pinky keeps bringing up his letter to Santa and Brain keeps ridiculing him for it. So when Brain reads the letter, you see that he really feels regret at how he’s treated his friend and when he delivers his new message, it’s so heartfelt. I think this one deserves more recognition and a place alongside the classics.

reindeer

Such tiny tiny reindeer.

elves

The elf outfit really suits Pinky.  NARF!

santa-reviewing-his-list

Would Santa use an exercise bike?  I think he’s more of a treadmill guy.

touched

Me too, Brain.  ALL the feels.

Individual Superlative: Ready for Prime Time – This episode was originally aired as a prime time special and not just as a regular episode of the show. It won a prime time Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program.

Want to Watch it? A Pinky & the Brain Christmas is available on VHS and DVD.

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Christmas in Tattertown

titleDebuted in 1988

26 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Debbie and two of her toys fall into a magic book and end up in Tattertown, a city that’s home to everything that’s ever been lost. Her doll, Muffet, rejoices at being free and heads to Deadster (the home of war toys) to plot her takeover of Tattertown. Debbie teaches everyone in Tattertown about Christmas and the story ends with Muffet in jail.

Fun Fact: This was the first animated special created specifically for Nickelodeon.

My thoughts: Imagine dropping acid in a room full of toys, probably while you also have a high fever and maybe schizophrenia, and you have a good idea of what watching this special is like. Christmas in Tattertown was actually the pilot episode of what was supposed to be new 30+ episode series on Nickelodeon, which was just hitting its stride as a network. Director and writer Ralph Bakshi was joined by an impressive group of animators and voice talent to create the series based on his comic strip, Junktown. There were a few different factors that killed the series and the most interesting one involves the American Family Association’s ridiculous assertion that Mighty Mouse’s sniffing of flowers was representative of cocaine use. It blew up into a big thing and since Bakshi was involved in the Mighty Mouse show, Nickelodeon’s support for Junktown wavered. So they aired the pilot as a standalone Christmas special. Knowing it was meant to be a pilot helps explain some things, since they thought they’d have other episodes to flesh out characters and build their world better. The animation is fantastic, clearly paying respect to the early days of animation, with wacky squash-and-stretch characters and silly visual gags. But the pace is too frenetic, the characters are too bizarre and there’s too much unexplained for me to enjoy.

miles

Miles, the jazzy saxophone narrator, is probably my favorite character.

debbie-and-dog

Debbie is giving her dog the fish eye.

muffet-as-santa

Muffet does not make a convincing Santa here.

tannenbaum

That’s Tannenbaum, the comic book store owner, who will also double as their Christmas tree. Huh?

Individual Superlative:  Most Confusing Internal Tag Struggle – I initially checked the box to tag this entry as for ‘Not for kids’ when I watched this, but the more I thought about it, there’s nothing really overtly adult about it. Then again, there are some questionable moments, but then again…let’s just say I went back and forth and eventually decided not to tag it. I think, with today’s kids, it’s probably all fair game.

Want to Watch it? Christmas in Tattertown is available on YouTube and still sometimes shows up during holiday programming.

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.

Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Nestor is thrown out of the barnyard because of his long ears and his mother gives her life to save him during a snowstorm. He meets a cherub who guides him to his destiny, which is to carry Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. His ears allow him to hear guiding voices and bring the expectant couple safely to their destination, making him a hero among the animals.

Fun Fact: The special is based on a 1975 Gene Autry song, which Roger Miller covers as the title song for this show.

My thoughts: There’s no question that this seems like a mawkish and sentimental attempt by Rankin/Bass to recreate their earlier success with 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The stories share a lot of similar themes, although there was a little more social conscience at work here, as the show takes a much stronger stand against the bullying that Nestor receives from the other animals. A song called ‘Don’t Laugh and Make Somebody Cry’ was part of the original broadcast but is usually missing when it’s shown during the ABC Family holiday schedule. Long time Rankin/Bass fans will recognize some familiar faces in the cast, as models from The Year Without a Santa Claus, The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year were all re-used here. Yes, it’s a really sad story and I don’t watch it every year, but it’s one that I consider to be a classic that’s worth watching (if you have a box of Kleenex nearby).

camels

Further proof that camels are jerks.

sad-nestor

Nestor is showing us what all the viewers look like.

tilly

Tilly is adorbs.

mary-and-joseph

Mary’s eyes are so light blue that it makes her look blind.

Individual Superlative: Make that the Jumbo Kleenex – I watched the premiere of this special with two boys that I was babysitting and the three of us were reduced to a blubbering mass of tears and sniffles after Nestor’s mother died. “Ears, Nestor.” SOB.

Want to Watch it? Nestor, the Long Eared Christmas Donkey is available on VHS and DVD and it still shows up annually in the regular holiday programming.

A Johnny Bravo Christmas

titleDebuted in 2001

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Johnny finds the letters to Santa that he and his mama wrote (and he neglected to mail) and the Post Office tells him it’s too late to send them now. He hires a pilot to fly him (and neighborhood girl, Suzy) to the North Pole to deliver the letters and along the way, they meet some circus animals and Donny Osmond. Johnny learns that his mama had only asked for gifts for him, so he gives all his gifts to her instead.

Fun Fact: The character of Johnny Bravo was based on a short film that animator Van Partible created for his senior thesis project at Loyola Marymount.

My thoughts: I wasn’t a regular watcher of Johnny Bravo when the segments were airing regularly as part of the Cartoon Cartoon series on Cartoon Network, but I absolutely love this Christmas special. There had been a short Christmas-themed segment in 1997 called ‘Twas the Night (in which Johnny mistook Santa for a burglar and beat him up) but this was their first half hour special and there’s lots to like about it. It’s crammed full of comic moments and even gives us a female character who literally slams Johnny (into the door of a truck, I think) for his misogynistic overtones. Donny Osmond’s appearance here is hilarious, especially when he encourages everyone to sing while they’re talking. After all the funny bits, it’s even more meaningful when the special takes a sweet and sentimental turn at the end. We’ve shown this at a few of our Christmas special parties and it’s always a big hit.

post-office

Postal Guy doesn’t respect personal boundaries.


fred-and-velma

Johnny & Suzy make a really good Freddy and Velma


plane

The pilot who flies them to the North Pole only just got his license.


donny-and-santa

Santa and Donny are buddies from way back.

Individual Superlative: Laugh at Yourself – Donny Osmond provides the voice for his character here, poking fun at his own cheesy image and he sounds like he’s having a blast.

Want to Watch it? A Johnny Bravo Christmas is available on DVD and YouTube.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Title

Debuted in 1970

51 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A foundling child is adopted by a family of toymakers and he grows up determined to deliver his family’s toys to children in nearby Sombertown, where toys are outlawed. In order to do so, he befriends the Winter Warlock, charms a local schoolteacher and finds ways to get around the town’s rules. He marries the schoolteacher, eventually limits his toy deliveries to once a year (on Christmas Eve) and becomes Santa Claus.

Fun Fact: This was the first time that Mickey Rooney provided the voice of Santa Claus. He did it again in The Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph & Frosty’s Christmas in July, The Happy Elf and A Miser Brothers’ Christmas. Maybe he was so good at it because his actual last name was Yule.

My thoughts: This classic special has been a part of my Christmas for as long as I can remember. I was terrified of the Winter Warlock and his razor sharp teeth, so his transformation was always a big deal to me. And I used to think that the ‘Put One Foot in Front of the Other’ song was a big waste of time, but as an adult, I can better appreciate the concept of achieving goals by taking small steps. (So now it’s just Jessica’s love song, ‘My World is Beginning Today,’ with its trippy animation that I forward through.) Fred Astaire reprised his role as mailman/narrator S.D. Kluger in a similar special that explores the origin of the Easter Bunny. Burgermeister Meisterburger is a fantastic villain here and I kind of like that the story resolves with the people realizing that his laws are silly and overturning them. I could make a really good political statement here, but it’s Christmas so I’m not going there. In addition to being a good origin story, this special sets Santa up as a role model for perseverance and positivity. I’m glad this one is still out there entertaining a whole new generation. (And let’s face it…this is where we all learned the word ‘burgermeister.’)

A baby baby

This scene is equal parts ridiculous and awesome. “A baby baby, Zingle.”

Winter and Kris

Putting one foot in front of another is still the best way to get where you’re going.

Burgermeister

Burgermeisters just want to have fun.

Fever dream

“Before we animate Jessica’s song, let’s all drop acid!”

Individual Superlative: They Cut What? – Over the years, they’ve trimmed the special down to allow for more commercials by cutting songs and taking out the ‘traumatic scenes’ of Burgermeister Meisterburger setting fire to the toys. But some versions have removed the clips of Kris Kringle jumping from house to house on the rooftops, out of fear that kids will emulate his dangerous behavior, which seems ludicrous to me when you’re talking about a guy who has flying reindeer.

Want to Watch it? Santa Claus is Coming to Town is available on VHS, DVD, YouTube and it still comes on TV annually.

Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends: A Lost Claus

Title

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

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.