If you were a major motion picture studio in the 1940s and you didn’t have a mascot cartoon character then you really weren’t a major motion picture studio. The big ones were at Disney and Warner while Tom and Jerry reigned at MGM. Universal was one of the later entrants, but they struck gold with their own creation of Woody Woodpecker. Woody was the creation of Walter Lantz, and like seemingly every major cartoon character from the era who didn’t originate at Disney, he was originally voiced by the great Mel Blanc. Woody debuted in the cartoon Knock Knock in 1940 and would go on to become a star. And like most cartoon stars of those days, he would make the move to television in the 1950s where his cartoons would be packaged together and shown in a half hour format. These shows were on television in some form or another well into the 1980s and even into the 90s in some places when they eventually faded out for one reason or another.
In the late 90s, Woody received a makeover and a new show. The New Woody Woodpecker Show would air from 1999 to 2002 and it typically followed a format similar to the old show of three shorts shown together. Usually you got a new Woody cartoon, a Chilly Willy, and then another Woody cartoon. Woody was now voiced by Billy West and most of his friends and foes returned like Buzz Buzzard (Mark Hamill) and Wally Walrus (West). It tries to capture the spirit of the old cartoons, while also toning down some of the violence. In the first season it produced a Christmas episode among it’s 26 season order and it actually premiered on December 25, 1999. Was this the last new Christmas special to air before the new millennium? I’m not sure, but it must be rather close.
Like most episodes of the show, this one contains three cartoon shorts and all three are Christmas themed. The first is A Very Woody Christmas which naturally stars Woody Woodpecker himself. It opens with Woody walking down the street talking to himself about what people are getting him for Christmas and what he got them in return. He realizes he forgot to get gifts for Knothead and Splinter, his nieces, or nephews, or something. He dashes into a store just before it closes and snags a couple of robots while passing the owner a few bucks. He then notices a dilapidated looking stand offering free gift-wrapping (too good to be true, Woody).
The stand is being run by Buzz Buzzard and his lackey Tweaky (Hamill). Their scheme is to take the gifts and replace them with rocks as they wrap and then return them to the patron. Woody picks up on this, but Buzz just launches him into a nearby Christmas tree. Decorated as an angel as a result, Woody swings down from the tree in Tarzan style and kicks Buzz into a snowman decoration, causing Tweaky to confuse him for an abominable snowman. The two then jump in their getaway sleigh, leaving Woody behind.
The pair arrive at their warehouse hide-away. Tweaky is worried that Santa won’t come to visit them because they aren’t asleep yet (even though it’s still daylight) while Buzz informs him that they just stole a bunch of gifts so Santa isn’t coming. He takes off to get a celebratory pizza. Outside, Woody was watching from a window and Tweaky’s Christmas spirit gives him an idea. He puts on a Santa costume and enters much to Tweaky’s delight. Woody convinces Tweaky to go to bed, but while he does he lists off all of the stuff he wants for Christmas. If you were feeling bad for Tweaky, since he’s bullied by Buzz, then you don’t have to anymore as all of the stuff he wants from Santa are crime-aiding devices. He knows what’s doing.
As Woody tries to reclaim the goods, Tweaky keeps interrupting him causing Woody to have to put him to bed, only for him to re-emerge and get put to bed in a more comically restrictive fashion. It’s exhausting, and Woody seems like he may lose his tempur and blow his cover, but he’s able to convince Tweaky to pull the sleigh of stolen goods for him. As they’re ready to leave, Buzz returns and is incensed to see what his cohort is up to. Unlike Tweaky, he knows that this isn’t Santa and he tells Tweaky he’ll get him whatever he wants for Christmas if he’ll just stop, but Tweaky isn’t satisfied. Unless the gift is from Santa, he doesn’t want it. He takes off acting as Woody’s lone reindeer while Buzz is eventually run over by the sleigh. As Tweaky pulls the sleigh through town, Woody laughs and tosses out the stolen goods to their rightful owners.
The second cartoon is It’s a Chilly Christmas After All and it stars the mute penguin Chilly Willy. Chilly Willy is a classic cartoon star and he still is here. His segment opens with him freezing in his igloo at the South Pole. He’s watching a weather report remarking how cold it is which also goes into a little detail on Santa’s upcoming voyage that night. The weatherman (Billy West) points out all of the warm climates Santa visits which apparently gives Chilly an idea. He races out of his igloo to the literal South Pole which is poking out of a hole in the ice. He slides down the pole and into the hole and re-emerges at the North Pole! There he finds Santa’s workshop, and inside is old foe Smedley (West doing a pretty good Daws Butler impression) the hound dog. Smedley has apparently taken up a job as Santa’s elf and he’s trying to make sure everything is in tip-top shape for tonight. If all goes well, he hopes to be brought along as Santa’s exclusive Christmas delivery helper.
As Smedley narrates his existence for our viewing benefit, Chilly slips in and dashes for Santa’s sack of toys. Smedley intercepts him and lightly admonishes him for trying to sneak a peek in Santa’s sack before tossing him outside. Chilly will then make further attempts to get into that sack, only for Smedley to catch him. Chilly in turn uses some violence to escape, at one point dropping a bowling ball on Smedley’s toe. Santa himself then enters and he seems pretty joyful and oblivious to what is going on here. He has Smedley go inspect the toy assembly line in preparation for departure and Smedley obliges. You would think this would present an easy opportunity for Chilly to just jump back into Santa’s sack, but comedy demands that he jump into the toy assembly line. He doesn’t escape Smedley’s notice though and is promptly tossed away.
Chilly is forced to sneak back in where he finds Smedley putting the finishing touches on a model airplane. Chilly hops in and takes off forcing Smedley to ground the airplane. Apparently having enough, Smedley then breaks-out a home chemistry set to whip up some kind of adhesive to catch the penguin. As he does his thing, Chilly sneaks in behind dressed in a lab coat and blastshield and mixes up something dangerous looking. As Smedley continues adding ingredients to his concoction, he grabs the beaker containing Chilly’s mixture, informs us it’s nitroglycerine, and casually explodes. Santa sees Smedley all covered in soot and remarks that he looks in need of a rest and tells him to take the night off. Before Smedley can explain he doesn’t want that, Santa takes off (with only two reindeer – preposterous!) with Chilly along for the ride. Smedley tries to hang onto the sleigh, but that just results in him taking a nasty spill. As the sleigh flies away, he shouts for Santa to make sure that Chilly Willy gets nothing but coal!
Back at Chilly Willy’s igloo, the little penguin is standing outside bouncing a lump of coal off his flipper while Santa flies away. Don’t feel bad for old Chilly though, he heads back inside and tosses the coal into his fireplace. Santa left him with a mountain of the stuff which is apparently just what he wanted for Christmas.
Our final segment is another Woody Woodpecker cartoon titled Yule Get Yours. It opens with Woody at a toy store waiting in a line to see Santa. He’s impatient and the line is long, so he burrows under the carpet to emerge on Santa’s platform to get the big guy’s ear. This Santa is a lot rounder than the one we just saw in the previous cartoon, and he has an elf attendant voiced by Rob Paulsen. After Santa confirms that Woody is the bird who lives in a tree and laughs obnoxiously (my word, not his), the elf steps in to let him know he’s been very selfish this year. In fact, he’s been so bad he’s not only getting coal but also having his previous Christmas gifts repossessed.
Dejected, Woody slumps his way down the street until he notices a video camera in a storefront. He decides if he video tapes himself doing good deeds tonight, it will be enough for Santa to put him on the good list. We then jump to Woody outside his neighbor Wally’s house where he removes a panel from Wally’s fence. He then turns the camera on to show him repairing the fence, but he ends up knocking the whole thing over by accident. Moving along, he heads to his other neighbor’s house, a Ms. Mimi, and tries to get himself on tape clearing her walkway of snow. As he uses a snowblower to tidy up, a delivery man shows up with a package. Seeing another opportunity for a good deed, Woody films himself signing for it. The package turns out to be a giant, decorated, Christmas tree and as Woody carries it to the house he accidentally turns on the snowblower. It goes haywire and chases Woody around the yard. Eventually, he turns to smash it with the tree, but the snowblower just grinds the tree up.
Failing once again to do a good deed, Woody decides to decorate Wally’s house with more lights. In order to do so he steals lights from the other houses in the neighborhood. When he turns on the lights, the circuitry gets overloaded and Wally’s house catches fire. Woody then grabs a hose from Ms. Mimi’s yard and races to her roof to water Wally’s house and put out the fire. Once the fire is out, he loses track of the hose which covers Ms. Mimi’s house in water. It freezes, then crumbles, and Woody is left under a pile of ice. The elf from earlier then walks in to point out the obvious – Woody is just trying to look good without actually being good, and in doing so he’s done a lot of harm. As Woody tries to plead his case, the elf tells him Santa will be by in five minutes and he can take it up with him.
Woody realizes he has to act fast if he wants to save his own Christmas. He scoops up the wood from Wally’s ruined fence and hastily reconstructs both houses out of it. They look like shit, and Santa soon arrives (still with two measly reindeer). He tries to land on one of the houses, but the wood breaks under the weight of the reindeer causing Santa to tumble out of the sky. Woody races to catch him and succeeds, but of course gets flattened by the bulbous man in the process. Nonetheless, Santa thanks him and is impressed with Woody’s selfless act. He goes on a bit about how wonderful an act it was or something before remarking he was wrong about Woody. As he flies away, he puts a finger to his nose. Suddenly, the houses are rebuilt and Woody’s house is flush with presents causing Woody to proclaim that Santa is “da man.” As Santa flies past the moon, he calls out a merry Christmas and laughs in a manner similar to Woody, who waves and returns the laughter. The end.
I have some conflicting emotions about this one. First of all, I think it’s great Universal tried to bring Woody and the gang back in a new show. Woody mostly looks pretty good, and West is fine in the role. His voice may be pitched a touch too high, but the character is supposed to be annoying. The look of the show is pleasing enough. There are lots of bright, solid, colors on simple backgrounds. The animation is largely fine, save for maybe the reindeer which looked kind of shitty. My main issues are more with the creative direction. The first cartoon just wasn’t very funny and none of the gags were memorable. The second Woody cartoon was a bit more interesting, and I prefer a more rascally Woody, but the resolution was pretty stupid. Santa even says Woody’s heart was in the right place – no, it wasn’t, you dope! I probably liked the Chilly Willy segment the best. It didn’t contain any physical comedy bits that haven’t been done before, but the general look was better and the format lended itself well to the gag-centered pace.
Before this I had never watched this show for more than a minute. I don’t feel like I missed out, but it does make me want to revisit some classic Woody shorts as I haven’t seen those in decades. I’ve never really heard anybody talk about this show, and I can kind of see why. I don’t want to judge it on one episode, but it didn’t leave me with a great impression.
The New Woody Woodpecker Show hasn’t received a home video release outside of the first 13 episodes. It was on Netflix for a time, but now is not. If you want to watch this one though, there’s an official Woody Woodpecker Show channel on YouTube and it streams a lot of content for free, including this one. There are a bunch of ads inserted into it, but you get what you (don’t) pay for.