A Christmas Story

TitleDebuted in 1972

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Goober the dog and Gumdrop the mouse realize that Timmy’s letter to Santa never got mailed so they go out to deliver it themselves. They run into several obstacles and have trouble finding Santa, but then they involve all the local animals. Eventually, they return home and fall asleep and when they wake up, Santa has been there and clearly found Timmy’s letter.

Fun Fact: Three of the songs from this special were reused in A Flintstone Christmas, five years later. And one of them was used a third time in Yogi’s First Christmas in 1980.

My thoughts: I hadn’t seen this one in years and I have to say I really enjoyed seeing it again. It’s a simple story, but they pack a lot of fun and heart into it and prove that you really don’t need more than 23 minutes to tell a good story, even when you include songs. The songs here are festive and fun, especially the one that Goober and Gumdrop sing about how to tell which Santa is the real one in a city full of corner Santas. In typical 70’s Hanna-Barbera style, a lot of animation is re-used over and over during the musical bits and there are lots of jokes that I recognize from lots of other animated specials and shows. Of course, it gets a little sappy toward the end, when Timmy asks his parents what they asked Santa for and his mom tells him they asked for peace on Earth. Clearly, Santa keeps deciding not to give this particular gift every year, because we’re still asking for it (although definitely not doing our part to make it happen). But this one is a warm throwback to a simpler time when peace didn’t seem like such a crazy thing to ask for.

Christmas Eve

Mom is hiding all the Christmas cookies in her puffy sleeves.

Goober and Gumdrop

Goober and Gumdrop should get a kickback from the Post Office.

Santa parade

Too many Santas!

Look for Santa!

Funniest bit in the whole show – this bulldog yells at the cats “Look for Santa!”

Individual Superlative: Hanna-Barbera’s Greatest Hits – With a script by Ken Spears and Joe Ruby (from Scooby-Doo) and classic voice acting from the actors who voiced Yogi Bear, Judy Jetson, Gargamel, Dr. Benton Quest and Mr. Slate (from The Flintstones), this represents some of the best of the studio’s talent pool.

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

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Tom & Jerry: Ho Ho Horrors

TitleDebuted in 2006

8 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: On Christmas Eve, Tom falls asleep under the Christmas tree and dreams about tormenting Jerry. Jerry suspects Tom is up to no good and catapults himself into Tom’s dream, where he teams up with his dream self to turn the tables on Tom. On Christmas morning, Mrs. Two Shoes discovers that the two have wrecked the house during their sleep and she throws them out into the snow.

Fun Fact: The term ‘Tom and Jerry’ comes from 19th century London, where it referred to young people engaging in ‘riotous behavior.’

My thoughts: This animated short comes from the first season of the Tom and Jerry Tales show that ran for two seasons on the CW network. The main characters, Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse, originally appeared in theatrical shorts starting in 1940 and they continued in several different television incarnations over the years. As per usual, the newer cartoons don’t have the same feel as the originals, but this one comes closer than most. I like the ‘plausible impossible’ notion of Jerry injecting himself into Tom’s dream, especially when the two versions of him seem so happy to be together. I suppose I would give myself a really big hug if I ever surprised myself and showed up unexpectedly.  (That’s a really weird sentence.) The ending is surprising and a little on the harsh side, especially when Tom seems ready to call a holiday truce and Jerry responds by smacking him in the head with the Christmas wreath, leading to the start of another battle. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s far superior to the disaster they released the following year, Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale.   

Two Jerrys

Dream Jerry is kind enough to keep his nightcap on, so we know who is who.

Rolling out

That’s a proper villain face right there.

Weird face

Ew…what kind of face is this, though?

To all a good night

And to all, a good night.

Individual Superlative: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby – Mrs. Two Shoes is a nice step up from the stereotypical ‘mammy’ character that used to be the human character in the Tom & Jerry shorts. In this one, you can see family photos on the mantel, so apparently also a much fuller life than the original, too (who was always presumed to be a housemaid).

Want to Watch it? Ho Ho Horrors is available on DVD and YouTube and it sometimes shows up during holiday programming.

Alias St. Nick

titleDebuted in 1935

10 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A mother mouse reads’Twas the Night Before Christmas’ to her children on Christmas Eve and one little tough mouse insists that there is no Santa Claus. A hungry (and devious) cat overhears them talking, disguises himself as Santa and is welcomed into their home. The tough mouse discovers that the cat is an imposter and leads the others in foiling the cat’s plans and chasing him out of their home.

Fun Fact: The tough guy mouse was named Little Cheeser and he was featured in other MGM shorts after this one.

My thoughts: MGM released 37 animated shorts under the Happy Harmonies name from 1934 to 1938. When I was a kid, I loved that there were Silly Symphonies, Happy Harmonies, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in the world of animated shorts and was really surprised to learn that they were all from different studios. I used to try coming up with new alliterative words for ‘happy songs’ just to see how many I could come up with, but all I can remember at this point is Delighted Ditties and that one doesn’t really work. Anyway, this short is a lot of fun. Little Cheeser (named for the gangster character in Little Caesar) is a pretty likeable character in spite of his smart aleck attitude. Although he mocks his siblings at the beginning (and again at the end), he stands by them when they are under attack and is the first to suspect the fake Santa. The cat’s voice is performed by Billy Bletcher, whose deep and gravelly voice made every character seem sinister. There are lots of great and creative uses of toys as weapons, including using a Jack-in-the-box as a tool to punch the cat across the room. At 10 minutes, it’s longer than most of the shorts of that time period, but it makes good use of its extra time.

doubter

Little Cheeser even stands like a skeptic.

kewpie

That kewpie doll better have some mace.

evil-santa

Yeah, when Santa is making that face, he’s the naughty one.

sandwich

MMmm…bacon, lettuce and mouse.

Individual Superlative: Full-On Toy Betrayal – The mice attack the false Santa Claus with the same toys that he brought them as gifts, which leads me to wonder if that’s why so many kids asked for toy guns and tanks back in the day.

Want to Watch it? Alias St. Nick is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

A Very Merry Cricket

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Harry the cat and Tucker the mouse are dismayed by the general sense of unhappiness and distraction that pervades New York City. They travel to Connecticut to bring back Chester Cricket, hoping his music can once again bring the city together. Chester has trouble being heard over the hustle and bustle of the holiday, but then a blackout puts him center stage, where his music creates the perfect holiday mood.

Fun Fact: Animator/director Chuck Jones can be found in the collection of people listening to Chester’s song near the end of the special.

My thoughts: A Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden, with wonderful illustrations from Garth Williams, was published in 1960 and won a Newbery Honor. Chuck Jones adapted the story as an animated special which aired in April 1973 and this sequel was aired later that same year. (Another sequel, Yankee Doodle Cricket, featuring the same characters bizarrely involved in the American Revolution came out two years later.) I loved this special when it came out and was moved by its gentle message of quieting down the loudness and slowing your hectic pace to listen to something as simple and beautiful as a cricket’s song. (Of course, I had been a fan of the book already, so I was predisposed to like the animated version.) Sadly, I think this one feels very dated now, although the message is even more important with the explosion of technology that has happened since the 1970’s. The ending, with its montage of Christmas carols and pictures of rapt New Yorkers feeling the holiday spirit, is still very touching. Most of the rest of the special is plot recap or sub-plot filler (such as the hungry cat and dog in Connecticut who try to have Harry and Tucker for dinner) while we wait for that moment, but I have to say it’s worth it. I’m happy to have this one in my collection.

santa

Mechanical Santa is full of fabricated joy!

singing

We’re getting the band back together, you guys!

predator-cat

Hey, that’s a main character!  Spit him out!

listening

Stopping for a musical interlude.

Individual Superlative: Haven’t I Seen You Before? – This special begins with a recap of A Cricket in Times Square and then pretty much retells the same story.

Want to Watch it? A Very Merry Cricket is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Happy Days: Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas?

title

Debuted in 1974

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Fonzie tells the gang that he is going to Waukesha for a big family Christmas. But Richie finds out that Fonzie is actually spending the holiday alone. So the Cunninghams ask Fonzie to come over and repair their broken Santa Claus figure and then convince him to stay for Christmas Eve dinner festivities with them.

Fun Fact: George Lucas saw Ron Howard in the rejected pilot episode for Happy Days (which was originally aired as a segment of Love, American Style) and cast him in American Graffiti, which was very successful at the box office and helped the show get picked up as a series.

My thoughts: Like most people my age, I watched Happy Days pretty regularly when it first started. There was a big fascination with the 1950’s at the time and the show’s success owes a lot to that wave of nostalgia, which is pretty funny when you think about the fact that the show was only set about twenty years before the current time. (It would be like getting all nostalgic now over a show set in the 1990’s.) This episode opens at Arnold’s Diner and we see Fonzie talking to Al, who says he isn’t going to the Cunningham’s Christmas party because he thinks they only invited him because they felt sorry for him being alone. The rest of the episode is a flashback as Fonzie is telling him about his first Christmas with the Cunninghams, but we never go back to Fonzie and Al, which makes the show feel unfinished. The show itself doesn’t age well and now feels ham-handed and trite. Plot-wise, I like that the Cunninghams found a way to bring Fonzie into their Christmas without making him feel uncomfortable. Overall, though, this one can be easily missed.  And I have to mention the mistletoe scene at the beginning that was funny in the 1970’s but is just uncomfortably awful now.

office-party

I think you’ve had enough, Mr. C.


sad-christmas-eve

The saddest Christmas Eve dinner ever.


blessing

Joanie prays quietly, but Fonzie apparently has a direct line.


trimming-the-tree

It’s a perfect family Christmas!

Individual Superlative: Chuck? Chuck Who? – This was the last appearance of the Cunningham’s oldest son, Chuck. In the nine seasons that followed, he was never seen or mentioned again.

Want to Watch it? Happy Days: Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas is available on DVD, YouTube and Hulu.

Nick and Noel

title

Debuted in 1993

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A singer and her dog move in next door to a widowed writer and his daughter, Sarah, and the adults don’t get along. Their pets (Noel the cat and Nick the dog) go on a quest to find a new mother for Sarah and run into some danger. The singer and writer fall in love while looking for their missing pets and they all have a happy holiday.

Fun Fact: The singer is voiced by Lorna Patterson, who played Randy, the singing stewardess in the movie Airplane.

My thoughts: I can’t find anything positive to say about this special, other than being happy that it was one of the shorter ones and not a full hour long story. The plot is completely ridiculous and the whole thing is narrated by a mouse named Barnaby, voiced by Paul Williams, who lives under the main character’s duplex and is completely superfluous to the story. You know from the moment you find out that Sarah wants a mother for Christmas that her father and the singer next door are going to fall in love, but of course we have to see them start off as enemies. I guess I should be thankful that we get to see them form a friendship first before they fall immediately in love, but we find out in Barnaby’s end narration that they rush out and get married on Christmas Eve…probably no more than a week after they first fall in love. The two songs in the special are terrible and the animation is sophomoric. When I found out the fact listed in the individual superlative below, it came as no surprise whatsoever.

barnaby

Why does a mouse need a smoking jacket?

writer-dad

More importantly, why does he need safety goggles to play piano?

song

Sarah’s look captures it perfectly.

dressed-pets

It’s not Christmas until you dress up the pets in matching outfits.

Individual Superlative: Now Playing at Your Local Toy Store! – Toys R Us purchased the 7:30 slot on Thanksgiving Day to air this special, peppered with commercials showing the VHS version, plush versions of the toys, storybook and tape set (available only at your local Toys R Us store, of course), prompting an investigation by the Center for Media Education, who limits the number of minutes devoted to commercials in children’s programming.

Want to Watch it? Nick and Noel is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Gift Wrapped

Title

Debuted in 1952

6 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Disappointed by the rubber mouse he gets from Santa, Sylvester sets his sights on the Tweety bird intended for Granny. He tries several times to eat Tweety, but is thwarted at every turn and is equally pursued by a dog wanting to eat him. Granny insists on peace in the house for Christmas and they all sing a carol together.

Fun Fact: Scenes featuring Sylvester being blown up are sometimes edited out for television while a ‘cowboys & Indians’ scene is almost never shown anymore.

My thoughts: I have always been a fan of the Looney Tunes animated shorts, going way back to when they were shown on Saturday morning with a classic musical introduction that most people my age can probably still remember. (Sing it with me, Baby Boomers, “Overture, curtain, lights…”) There were not a lot of Christmas-themed shorts featuring the classic characters, which makes this one a little more special. The Sylvester and Tweety shorts were not usually among my favorites, since I was more of a Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck kind of gal. But this one is pretty funny, with several moments where Sylvester chomps Tweety down in one bite and even a few where Hector the bulldog pops Sylvester down in one bite. For some reason, that always makes me laugh. Coincidentally, this one ends with a dog (and cat) singing Christmas carols with a gift tag slapped over their mouths, just like Pluto’s Christmas Tree, which debuted the same year.

Mouse.

Agreed. A rubber mouse is a poor gift.

Teeth

That looks like a bad Puddy Tat.

Mouthful

The tail is the toughest and chewiest part.

Cowboys and Indians

I hope Tweety has a concealed carry permit.

Individual Superlative: The Gifts are Alive! – Granny gets Tweety as a gift and I’m assuming that since Hector is also wrapped up under the tree, he’s intended as a gift for her, too. Who keeps giving her animals?

Want to Watch it? Gift Wrapped is available on DVD and YouTube.