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

Advertisements

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 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.

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.

Elf on the Shelf: An Elf’s Story

titleDebuted in 2011

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: When Santa tells a new scout elf about a boy (named Taylor McTuttle) who is starting to doubt Santa’s existence, the elf volunteers to be sent there, believing he can turn things around. The family names their new elf ‘Chippey’ and although everyone else welcomes him into their house, Taylor’s disbelief pushes him to break the rule and touch Chippey, which robs him of his magic. Chippey’s fellow elves take him back to the North Pole and when Taylor writes Santa to apologize, Chippey’s magic returns and he celebrates Christmas with the McTuttles.

Fun Fact: The original Elf on the Shelf book was written by a mother and daughter team in 2004.

My thoughts: There are so many things I dislike about this half hour advertisement masquerading as a Christmas special that I don’t know where to start. Actually, I guess I already started with the fact that it’s just an extended commercial. I could let that slide, I think, if it was actually good, but it’s not. It’s just not at all. The animation is poor quality, the few lines intended to be funny miss by a mile and the songs are so cheesy they should come with a warning for the lactose intolerant. Sure, there’s some good choreography in the big elf dance number, but the song uses the word, “Extravaganzalorious” repeatedly to express the joy they’re all feeling. And in the obligatory meant-to-be-heartwarming song sung by the McTuttle girls, the lines, “Christmas is a time for forgiveness; that’s why we all believe in Christmas” are also sung repeatedly and that’s what supposedly makes Taylor regret his actions. He then says it doesn’t feel like Christmas without Chippey…after they only had Chippey for two days and Taylor hated him for both of those days! Ugh. Very little kids who have no real discerning taste in entertainment might enjoy this, but otherwise, I’d say steer clear.

santa

Santa has a cumulo-nimbus beard.

book-promo

A not-so-subtle plug for the book.

hospital

I hope they don’t have candy cane rectal thermometers, too.

bad-touch

Bad touch!

Individual Superlative: Littlest Big Brother – A huge backlash against the whole Elf on a Shelf phenomenon followed a couple of years after this special, with many people believing that Elf on a Shelf trains children to be comfortable with surveillance and give up privacy.

Want to Watch it? Elf on the Shelf: An Elf’s Story is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, iTunes and it usually shows up on the networks during the holidays.

Spike’s Reindeer Rescue

title

Debuted in 2012

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Tony (the criminal bear) kidnaps some of Santa’s reindeer and elves Spike and Dorothy team up with Paco the Penguin to rescue them. Tony uses a giant robot to steal fish from the penguin village and Dorothy realizes he’s used the same workings as this year’s big robot toy so she uses the toy’s voice command to take control of it. The team rescues the reindeer, stops Tony’s plan and saves Christmas before Santa gets back from vacation.

Fun Fact: This special is a sequel to Spike Saves Christmas.

My thoughts: This digitally animated special is a French import that aired on the CW during its Saturday morning Vortexx programming slot, which featured programs from the Saban brand (famous for giving us the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and all the associated shows that followed it). The plot of this one is really convoluted and the fact that it also skips over plot points doesn’t help. If Tony’s big plot is to steal fish from the penguin village, I don’t see the point in kidnapping the reindeer, which have nothing to do with any of it. The animation has a low quality feel and none of the characters have any real personality. A good chunk of the special is a chase scene/showdown between the good guys and the bad guys.  There’s a moment when Paco is throwing the seagull minion of the polar bear mafia (there’s a phrase you don’t get to say often) at the crowd of seagulls chasing him and the point of view zooms up to show us that it looks like he’s playing a giant game of Breakout. It might have been funny in a better special, but here it’s just another weird moment in an onslaught of weird moments. Give this one a miss.

spike-and-raymond

Spike and Raymond are either shocked or not listening to Paco at all.

dorothy-and-robi-ho-ho

Dorothy shows extreme poise under pressure, yet she still gets paid less than the male elves.

reindeer-captives

All the reindeer are Swedish hippies.

santa

I know Santa’s supposed to carry some extra weight but when your waist is three times the width of your head, it’s time to start scaling back the cookies and milk.

Individual Superlative:  Very Merry Mafia – The polar bear villains have stereotypical Italian accents, so I think we’re supposed to assume they run some kind of crime syndicate in the North Pole. I somehow always suspected it.

Want to Watch it? Spike’s Reindeer Rescue is available on 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.