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.

Advertisements

Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever

titleDebuted in 2002

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Zim poses as Santa in order to get money and then, as he learns more about Santa, to lure humans to their doom. But the Santa suit he creates begins to believe he’s actually Santa and fills Zim with warm emotions and jolly feelings toward children. Dib and Gaz show up in time to stop him by jettisoning the mutated spirit of Santa into space.

Fun Fact: This was the last episode to be completed before the series was cancelled, but it was actually the first Season 2 episode to air in the US.

My thoughts: Invader Zim was a short-lived series on Nickelodeon created by comic book writer Jhonen Vasquez (best known for his Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comic series). The basic plot (an alien sent to Earth to infiltrate and plot world domination) is simple, but offers a lot to work with and the show had a fair-sized cult following. It’s a little confusing if you’ve never seen any of the show before, but still enjoyable even without the full knowledge of the characters. The show is bookended by a mechanical snowman narrator, telling a group of children the story we’re watching as something that happened in the long ago past. It’s definitely on the darker side, in plot elements and character design, but there are plenty of funny moments and quite a lot of unpredictability, which is always welcome in the world of overdone holiday plots. Definitely worth watching, especially if you enjoy things a little on the weird side.

snowman-narrator

The robot snowman should do something about that unibrow.

jolly-jail

The ‘Jolly Jail’ turns incarceration into minty holiday fun!

soft-hearted-santa

Santa’s going all emotional on us.

easter-platypus

Next plan: The Easter Platypus!

Individual Superlative: Least Reassuring Santa Outcome – In the story’s ending narration, the talking snowman tells the children that Santa isn’t dead (which is normally good news) but that he’s out in space, gathering power to come back and destroy us all. You better watch out!

Want to Watch it? Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever 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.

Olive, the Other Reindeer

title

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.

Scrooge Loose

TitleDebuted in 1957

6 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Gumby & Pokey (posing as Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson) see Scrooge escaping from his storybook and pursue him. Scrooge disappears into a Santa Claus story, steals a bag of presents and replaces all the toys with rocks. Gumby ties up Scrooge and puts him in the bag, then Santa mistakenly takes him on his sleigh ride.

Fun Fact: Gumby gets his name from the clay used to make him, which creator Art Clokey got from his grandparents farm. They called it ‘gumbo’ so he named his new character Gumby.

My thoughts: The Gumby cartoons have always struck me as weird. The character voices are strange and sound like they were recorded inside a tin can and then played back at a faster speed. Gumby and Pokey were cool looking characters, but whenever they tried to animate human faces, they just looked so freaky. You see that here in both Scrooge and Santa Claus, who are both just really unsettling. It’s not all bad, though. There are some cool elements in this short, including characters jumping into books and moving around inside of book worlds, which helped make Gumby a spokesperson for the Library of Congress and its reading campaign in the 90’s. It’s also pretty funny when Scrooge pushes all the toys off the side of the table onto the floor, where both Gumby and Pokey splat into puddles of clay. And the ending is so abrupt and weird (see Individual Superlative below) that I was certain my copy had been cut short. But no, that’s the ending. Huh.

Scrooge

Gumby seems to have misgivings.

Tractor

For a Dickensian literary character, Scrooge has mad skills at driving tractors.

Scrooge is terrifying

Whoa…Scrooge is a really creepy character.

Terrifying Santa

Yikes! I think Santa is even creepier.

Individual Superlative: Most Apathetic Ending – When Gumby realizes that Santa has taken off with a bag full of Scrooge instead of toys, he just makes a joke and grins, watching the sleigh fly away.

Want to Watch it? Scrooge Loose is available on YouTube.

Rich Little’s Christmas Carol

Title

Debuted in 1978

55 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge has no use for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he’s visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who show him the error of his ways. Changed by the experience, he embraces the season and those around him.

Fun Fact: Rich Little used to incorporate a Christmas Carol bit in his stand-up routine, but Scrooge was Jack Benny instead of W.C. Fields.

My thoughts: When I was young, this special was an annual staple on HBO, along with Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas and The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. We were big fans of Rich Little’s celebrity impressions at my house and I remember watching The Kopycats, which was a TV variety series based entirely around impressionists. In this version of Dickens’ story, Little plays every character as a different celebrity (or famous character) and some of them work really well (such as Humphrey Bogart as the Ghost of Christmas Past) and some of them really don’t (such as Inspector Clouseau as the Ghost of Christmas Future – it’s a terrible idea to get silly with the most serious part of the story). The show was videotaped and features a laugh track that is overused to the point of distraction. The writing throughout is peppered with one-liners and cheesy jokes and there are a few musical numbers thrown in for good measure. I remember enjoying this when I first saw it, but it is tremendously dated at this point and because of that, it just doesn’t hold up all that well.

Nixon as Marley

As Jacob Marley, Richard Nixon is wrapped up in tape instead of chains.

Groucho

Groucho is Mr. Fezziwig.  Now you KNOW those parties would be legendary.

Tiny Tim

This is just wrong.

Three Men

In case you ever said to yourself, “I wish John Wayne, James Mason and George Burns had done a movie together.”

Individual Superlative: RIP Everyone – It seems that every time this special gets mentioned, someone jokes about how all the impersonated celebrities are dead and many of them were probably dead when it was made. Actually, only six of them were already dead when this premiered in 1978 and three of them actually made it into the 21st century. But they’re all gone now, since Jean Stapleton passed in 2013.

Want to Watch it? Rich Little’s Christmas Carol is available on DVD and in segments on 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.