It’s Better to Give

20180423-205349Debuted in 1963

5 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Jughaid is angry at Santa for never bringing him the bicycle he’s been asking for so Snuffy, thinking a kind gesture for Santa might help, suggests they build a television set as a gift for Santa. Meanwhile, Loweezy uses various pipes and parts to build a makeshift bike for Jughaid so he won’t be disappointed. On Christmas morning, Jughaid finds a real bike in his stocking and there’s also a real television for Snuffy, with a note from Santa, who is glad they learned the importance of giving.

Fun Fact: The original comic strip that these characters are based on is the longest currently running comic strip in the United States.

My thoughts: I remember Snuffy Smith from the comics section of the newspaper, which I really enjoyed reading when I was a kid. I don’t think I ever knew the history behind the strip, which started in 1919 with the character of Barney Google. In 1934, Barney travelled to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and met moonshiner Snuffy Smith. He was so popular that Barney kind of faded into the distance and Snuffy and his family took over as the main characters. King Features produced 50 animated shorts featuring these characters and the comic strip, incidentally, is still running today. The character voices are over-exaggerated ‘hillbilly’ talk that was played for humor back in the 60’s, but is mostly just annoying to listen to now. I think it’s particularly cute that Snuffy reacts to Jughaid’s (hey, it’s their spelling, not mine) anger by putting a positive spin on it and trying to teach him the joy of giving. Overall, I think this one is pretty forgettable unless you, like me, grew up with the comic and are just curious to see those characters in their animated forms.

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I kind of hope Santa brings Loweezy a good supportive bra.

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No matter how hard you hug it, Snuffy, that thing is not going to pick up HBO.

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She built a working bike from pipes and household items. Respect.

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When Loweezy (as Santa) has trouble getting back up the chimney, Snuffy just unzips it. Well, duh.

Individual Superlative: Most Self Confident Theme Song – The words to the theme song are ‘Great balls of fire, I’m bodacious!’ I supposed if you started every day out singing that to yourself, you’d have the confidence to master anything.

Want to Watch it? It’s Better to Give is available on YouTube.

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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.

Uncle Grandpa: Christmas Special

Title

Debuted in 2014

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: When Santa breaks his leg, Uncle Grandpa steps in to deliver the toys. He causes lots of trouble and then gets captured by Sally Smith, a naughty kid. His guardian lobster shows him what life would have been like without him and he manages to save Christmas and have a nice holiday with his friends.

Fun Fact: Cartoon Network developed a video game called ‘Sneakin’ Santa’ to promote this holiday episode of the show.

My thoughts: Well, there are no two ways about it. This show is nutso. In addition to the main character, there is also a talking fanny pack, a slice of pizza named Pizza Steve, a grumpy dinosaur and a photographic cutout of a tiger who can fly. Creator Peter Browngardt was influenced by Gary Larson, Robert Crumb, Tex Avery and Don Martin and it’s not too hard to see their fingerprints here, although the show is extremely original. Normally, each show features two 12 minute segments, but this show uses both segments to tell its story and appears to be the first double episode in the series. We find out early in the show that Uncle Grandpa and Santa are brothers and that Uncle Grandpa is still angry at Santa for ruining his talent show performance when they were young.  There are some good underlying messages about friendship and family hidden amongst the bizarre moments here and if you enjoy your specials a little on the wacky side, this one should be right up your alley.

Santa and elves

Elves make really good footrests.

Other holiday mascots

Sally Smith keeps a prison for holidays.  Not pictured: The Veterans Day Velociraptor.  (No, that wasn’t a joke.)

Skeleton

Does Mr. Gus wind up as a skeleton in a museum without Uncle Grandpa?

Rooftop

Photorealistic Flying Tiger is absolutely my favorite character in anything.

Individual Superlative: Born to Be Crazy – Contributors to this series include the folks who gave us both Chowder and Ren & Stimpy so there’s no way this show wasn’t going to be insane.

Want to Watch it? Uncle Grandpa: Christmas Special is available on Hulu and will likely show up in holiday programming.

 

A Christmas Carol

TitleDebuted in 1971

25 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: Even though this was made for television, this special won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, prompting the Academy to change the qualification guidelines.

My thoughts: For my money, the definitive Ebenezer Scrooge has always been Alistair Sim, from the 1951 movie version. So I was super intrigued to see that he had performed the character again, 20 years later, for an animated version. Michael Hordern, who was Jacob Marley in the 1951 version, also reprises his role here. Although this version is animated, I think it’s pretty clear that it was never intended to be a children’s cartoon. This version concentrates on the grittier parts of the story, painting Scrooge’s London as dark and poverty-ridden, echoing his miserly nature. They condense the story down and hit all the important highlights, but interestingly keep a scene from the book that very few adaptations keep, in which the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to some remote places (such as a lighthouse, a ship and a place where miners live) to show him people celebrating Christmas. There is very little music of any kind in this special and all these things combine to make Scrooge’s transformation even more compelling at the end. It’s a really good version, especially if you’re looking for one that captures the spirit of the original story.

Thoughts

Young Ebenezer Scrooge can think about lots of things at once.

Marley

I can’t unsee this Jacob Marley!

Old Joe

Old Joe and the cleaning women sort through Scrooge’s things and are drawn roughly, making them even creepier.

Happy Scrooge

Scrooge looks ready for a big dance number! Break it down, Ebenezer!

 

Individual Superlative: Actual Creepiest Jacob Marley – Okay, I know I said that Jacob Marley’s ghost in the 1969 animated version was the creepiest, but that’s because I hadn’t see this one yet. They leave in the part from the book where he unties the ribbon around his head and his jaw drops to his chest.  Holy cats!

Want to Watch it? A Christmas Carol is available on VHS, DVD and 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.

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.

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Little K’nuckles has a lot of teeth.

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Flapjack seems to be experiencing some holiday ennui.

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I didn’t know mermen were so grumpy.

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“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.

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.