Category Archives: christmas

Dec. 25 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Original release date October 20, 1983

We made it! Another year in the books, and another Christmas has come. Indulge in it. Bask in it, for it only comes once a year, and not to get too dramatic, but you never know how many you’re going to get. And we’re ending this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot with another throwback to a terrific holiday classic: Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

When it comes to Christmas specials, there’s no shortage of A Christmas Carol adaptations. It’s the most frequently utilized framing device for a holiday special, be it animated or live-action, and there’s no shortage of just straight retellings too. Even Disney has released multiple theatrical versions of the Charles Dickens classic, and for my money, the best version of A Christmas Carol is the one released in 1983 starring a duck and mouse.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is basically a trimmed down version of the Dickens tale faithfully retold through animation. The familiar Disney characters we all know and love are essentially actors in this story as Mickey Mouse isn’t referred to as Mickey by the characters in the story, he’s Bob Cratchit. It’s essentially what the Muppets would do a decade later, only this isn’t really a comedy as it basically plays it straight. When it released to theaters in 1983 it was a pretty big deal for the simple fact that it was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 30 years to be released in theaters. It unfortunately didn’t lead to a new era in theatrical short-form animation, but the following decade was certainly better than the preceding ones as far as quantity goes.

Scrooge McDuck is the star, but Mickey still gets top billing and his image before the cartoon.

Being that this was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon in 30 years, it marked an era of new beginnings and ends. This was the directorial debut for writer/artist Burny Mattinson. Mattinson would go on to co-direct The Great Mouse Detective, but after that basically returned to his role as a writer for the remainder of his career. For many, this was the first time people were hearing Wayne Allwine as Mickey and Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck. Allwine, who worked in the sound department under his Mickey predecessor Jimmy MacDonald, had started voicing the mouse in some uncredited appearances on The New Mickey Mouse Club, but this theatrical short (which was essentially designed to go right to television given its running time) offered more exposure and a true credit, too. For Young, this was actually his second time voicing Scrooge in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge as he first took on the role for an LP release titled An Adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Performed by The Walt Disney Players in the 1970s. He even voiced Mickey on that release. This cartoon was obviously more far reaching than what was essentially an audio play and Young would retain ownership of the role into DuckTales later in the decade and really for the rest of his life. As for ends, this would be the final credited appearance of Clarence “Ducky” Nash as Donald Duck. He had been the sole voice of the character since creation, but would turn it over to animator Tony Anselmo (who was an uncredited assistant on this production) in 1985.

Other notable performances include Hal Smith voicing Goofy for the second to last time. He didn’t voice the character a ton, but Goofy is still a character with a fairly exclusive list of actors credited as performing his voice. This was also the first time Will Ryan would voice Willie the Giant and that’s a role he filled until his death earlier this year (RIP). For actor Eddie Carroll, this was arguably his most exposure as Jiminy Cricket since taking over the seldom used character in 1947. He would voice the character in his other appearances following this pretty much right up until his passing in 2007. Lastly, this is seemingly the first, and only, time Patricia Parris voiced Daisy Duck. Daisy was somewhat of a seldom used character in the 80s and 90s who had multiple voice actors playing the role until Disney seemed to settle on Tress MacNeille as the one and only Daisy sometime around the year 2000. The only credit missing is one for Minnie Mouse, but that’s because her role is silent in this one. Yeah, it wasn’t the best look to see Minnie reduced to a silent cameo, but this was during her silent era which had been going on for decades. Russi Taylor would eventually be cast as Minnie later in the decade finally putting an end to the madness, but we were denied such a performance in this one.

Time to find out if a man, err duck, who literally hugs his money is redeemable.

After it’s theatrical release alongside a re-release of The Rescuers, Mickey’s Christmas Carol would go on to have a long run as a prime time television special around the holidays. That was how I first encountered it and also how I fell in love with it. Even though the special seems to be purposefully crafted to fit into a half hour broadcast, it would actually be aired as an hour long special with some Christmas or winter themed shorts attached. The version I am most familiar with aired on NBC and was preempted by the following classic shorts: Donald’s Snow Fight, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, and The Art of Skiing. In between the shorts, there would be narration from Mickey describing the favorite Christmas memory of his friends, which would lead into that character introducing their own short (including Pluto who can be heard barking at Mickey). They would also show clips from other shorts like Toy Tinkers and Mickey’s Good Deed before eventually getting to Mickey’s favorite Christmas memory, the year they all got together to tell the story of A Christmas Carol. “Ha ha, we called it Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” he adds a bit sheepishly, almost like he’s a little embarrassed that his name went on this thing. Especially since Scrooge McDuck is the real star!

This one begins with some rousing horns and the classic Mickey head logo only it’s been dressed up with a hat and scarf. From there, we go into a lovely little opening title sequence. Still images in a monochrome, sepia, style from the cartoon to come are displayed along with the credits. It’s set to the song “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” by Irwin Kostal (lyrics by Fredrick Searles), who conducted all of the music for the cartoon. The song really is quite nice and I think it’s been underserved by Disney ever since it was released. This should be their Christmas song, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it outside of this cartoon. The final image of the sequence eventually dissolves into some scenery that is just gorgeous. This one seems to be set in the same era as the original story, 1843, as we get a little multi-plane camera action that zooms into a street setting where the sidewalks are populated by beggars and busy bodies and the streets by horse drawn carriages. It’s important to note that all characters in this cartoon are personified animals from past Disney films and shorts. You’ll probably immediately see the three little pigs and the big, bad, wolf as well as many faces from Robin Hood and The Wind in the Willows.

Scrooge pausing to break the fourth wall.

Ebenezer Scrooge is strolling down the street looking rather unapproachable. A beggar (Young) asks him if he has a penny for the poor and Scrooge just scoffs at him. He eventually comes to the front door of his counting house, and before entering he knocks the snow off of his sign which reads Scrooge & Marley, only Marley’s name has been scratched out. It’s then Scrooge informs us (I’m not sure if we’re to read this as him breaking the fourth wall or him just talking to himself) that his old partner, Jacob Marley, died seven years ago today. He boasts the man left him enough money in his will to pay for a tombstone, but he had him buried at sea! Not said, is that Scrooge is so cheap he’d rather just cross his name off of the sign than get a new one. I also wonder if he’d bother to knock the snow off of the sign if it was covering Marley’s name instead of his own.

Cratchit is apparently allotted one piece of coal every two weeks.

When Scrooge enters the counting house, he finds his lone employee, Bob Cratchit, up to something over by the fireplace. He demands to know what he’s doing, and Cratchit indicates he’s just trying to thaw out the ink for his quill which is coated with ice. Scrooge is apoplectic that Cratchit would dare to use two pieces of coal in the span of a week and demands he get back to his work. Cratchit takes it in stride and hops up onto a tall chair and appears to make do with the frozen quill as Scrooge begins to remove his coat and hat. Cratchit then brings up the topic of Christmas, very gingerly as Scrooge bristles at the mere mention of the holiday. Cratchit meekly requests a half day off for the holiday, which is tomorrow, and Scrooge reluctantly obliges. Only it’s on the condition that he only receive half a day’s pay. He then tries to recall what he even pays his one, and only, employee and Cratchit has to correct him that he’s up to two shillings and a ha’penny per day on account of a raise he got three years ago when he agreed to start doing Scrooge’s laundry. Scrooge smiles to himself at the confirmation, likely quite satisfied to have such cheap help, before his scowl returns as it reminds him the sack he’s had slung over his shoulder is a bundle of shirts for Bob to wash.

Scrooge heads over to his desk and starts making entries in his log. He starts tallying up interest payments (he’s nailing one guy for 80%) and basically playing with the coins on his desk laughing to himself. He goes so far as to embrace a pile of coins remarking “Money, money, money,” to himself in a sequence that would be adorable if it wasn’t so illustrative of his excessive greed.

The duck we’ve all been waiting for!

A bell attached to the door, I suppose that makes it a doorbell, rings with the opening of the door. It’s Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, played by the character Scrooge McDuck also calls a nephew, Donald Duck. Fred arrives by shouting “Merry Christmas!” which his uncle responds to by shouting “Bah! Humbug!” Fred refuses to let his sour uncle get him down and he has Cratchit cheering him on. When Scrooge demands to know what Bob is doing by clapping for Fred he suggests he’s just trying to keep his hands warm. Scrooge demands to know why his nephew is there to bother him and Fred tells him that he came to bring him a wreath and to invite him to Christmas dinner. Scrooge seems actually delighted at the invitation and starts asking Fred about the menu. As Scrooge inquires about each dish, Fred enthusiastically confirms that he’s serving it as his excitement builds up until he finally asks “Are you coming?!” Scrooge then reveals he’s just been toying with the lad by saying he can’t eat that stuff. Fred is clearly hurt, but Scrooge feels he’s wasted enough of his time as shoves the wreath over Fred’s head and literally kicks him out the door. We hear the unmistakable quacks of anger from Fred as he apparently soars off of Srooge’s stoop, only he quickly returns to open the door to shout, once more, “Merry Christmas!” and slip the wreath over the doorknob. Scrooge angrily shoots back, “And a bah humbug to you!”

I’m guessing they’ll never hit Scrooge up for money again.

Cratchit reflects on how kind Fred is, but Scrooge suggests he’s always been a little peculiar. The bell by the door rings again as Scrooge angrily adds that his nephew is quite stubborn, but his mood does a total 180 when he sees that two potential customers have entered. It’s the most personable we’ve seen of Scrooge yet, but unfortunately for him the two gentlemen who just entered are not looking to secure a loan with unfavorable rates. They’re two solicitors for the poor and they’re played by Ratty and Moley (voiced by Smith and Ryan) from The Wind in the Willows. Scrooge sort of recoils at the mere suggestion he just donate money to the needy, but seeing as how he has a business to run, he doesn’t toss the two out like he did his nephew. Instead, he uses some rather twisted logic to indicate that the job of these men are dependent on there being poor, and if Scrooge gives money to the poor, well then they won’t be poor anymore! He then practically begs them not to ask him to put them out of a job, especially not on Christmas Eve! The two completely fall for it as Scrooge gently nudges them outside, but just before closing the door, the real Scrooge emerges as he tells them “I suggest you give this to the poor and be gone,” and tosses the wreath Fred gave him in their direction before slamming the door. We get one lingering shot of the two collectors looking shocked as the wreath swings back and forth on the nose of Moley.

An exasperated Scrooge slumps against the door as he asks his employee, “What’s this world coming to, Cratchit? You work all your life to get money, and people just want you to give it away!” Cratchit doesn’t respond as Scrooge heads to his desk and time passes. It’s dark in the counting house and the clock strikes 7, a long work day is apparently over. A very tired Bob Cratchit is able to smile a bit as the clock bells go off and he begins to head out. Scrooge, checking his pocket watch, then remarks the wall clock is two minutes fast. Cratchit says nothing and quickly jumps back into his chair and into his logs. Scrooge then tells him not to mind the two minutes, but adds that he better be here all the earlier the next day. The animation seems to suggest that Scrooge’s watch and the clock on the wall are in agreement. I wonder if that’s an animation goof or if Scrooge is so manipulative he’d make his employee think he’s leaving early to encourage him to arrive for work earlier in the future? Either way, Cratchit seems positively giddy to be getting out a whole two minutes early and tells his boss that he is so kind. This is clearly the nicest thing Scrooge has probably done for him since that raise three years ago. Cratchit bundles up in his tattered hat and scarf and nearly wishes his boss a “Bah! Humbug,” but corrects himself to “Merry Christmas!” before departing. Scrooge just scoffs and returns to his work.

I like how Goofy’s ears form the handle on the knocker.

When the clock strikes 9, Scrooge finally calls it a day. He puts on his coat and hat and heads out into the snowy, now deserted, streets for a lonely walk home. This walk cycle always floors me with how gorgeous it looks as the snow looks so authentic and the movement of Scrooge so accurate to how this character would move if he were real. He eventually reaches his home, a fairly large looking house with a gaudy, gold-colored, door knocker. As Scrooge goes to unlock it, the visage on the knocker changes to resemble what we, the audience, know to be the face of Goofy, but here he’s Jacob Marley. He calls out in a low, mournful, manner for Scrooge which certainly gets his attention. Scrooge just says “Jacob…Marley?!” at the sight, and when the knocker returns with another wail, Scrooge squeezes his nose which causes him to yell out in pain. This frightens Scrooge into the house while we’re left to see Goofy scrunch up his nose and remark in typical Goofy fashion, “Gwarsh!”

A shaken Scrooge enters his dark and cold house. Wide eyed, he jumps onto a tall staircase and peers through the darkness frantically, but seeing nothing, cautiously begins his ascent up the stairs. As he climbs, a shadow of Marley appears on the wall behind him. The shadow is loaded with heavy chains and makes quite the noise as it moves and Scrooge notices almost immediately. When he stops, the shadow stops, and when he spins around it disappears! Scrooge then resumes his climb and the shadow respawns, only now it’s feeling playful as it lifts Scrooge’s hat off of his head. Scrooge then carefully sticks his cane out behind him and basically tickles the shadow. As it laughs, Scrooge is able to spin around and catch sight of it. The shadow drops his hat while Scrooge yells and races up the stairs into his bed chambers.

Aww, c’mon, Scrooge! He doesn’t look so scary.

Once inside, Scrooge engages numerous locks on his bedroom door (that’s kind of irregular) before retreating to a large chair. Shaking, he pulls his hat low as Marley’s haunting calls for Ebenezer Scrooge return. Scrooge barks back for him to go away, but the ghost enters. As he walks through the door, he fails to negotiate the cane Scrooge hastily left on the floor and trips over it coming to land right beside Scrooge’s chair. Marley pops up remarking it’s kind of slippery as Scrooge lights a candle in disbelief. The ghostly apparition confirms to Scrooge that he is indeed the ghost of Jacob Marley. Scrooge then softens a bit and starts recounting how Marley was a class act who bravely robbed the widows and swindled the poor. Marley seems rather proud of himself before something reminds him that basking in such praise is not what he came here for. He snaps out of his contented state to correct Scrooge. Declaring he was wrong to live his life in such a manner, he reveals he was punished for all eternity for his crimes against humanity as he flings his chains about. They’re his curse, but wrapped around one is a piggy bank that Scrooge takes interest in. When Marley, deep in his dramatic recounting of his cursed state, yanks on the chains they wrap around Scrooge’s neck drawing him closer to Marley and choking him in the process.

It’s at this point that Marley reveals to Scrooge that the same is in store for him when his time is up. Scrooge seems legitimately scared of such a fate and begs his old partner for help. It’s at this point Marley gives him the old “You will be visited by three spirts,” routine, only since this is Goofy he holds up just two fingers when saying “three.” He warns Scrooge that if he doesn’t heed the advice of these spirits that his chains will be even heavier! He then departs with a haunting “Farewell,” and as he vanishes through the door Scrooge calls outs out for him to “Watch out for that first,” before we hear the sound of Marley falling down the stairs with the familiar Goofy yell accompanying it. When the crashing sounds end, Scrooge finishes his warning, “…step.”

A clearly spooked Scrooge searches for ghosts before bed.

Scrooge, now dressed in a gown and cap for sleeping, is inspecting his room for spirits, it would seem. He flashes a candle in the fireplace and under the bed, but seeing nothing he climbs into bed scoffing at the notion of spirits as he blows out his candle. He quickly falls to sleep, and then the camera starts bouncing! We’re clearly seeing the point of view of another creature, which heads for Scrooge’s nightstand. It’s Jiminy Cricket, who rings the bell on Scrooge’s clock to wake him from his slumber. A groggy Scrooge turns to regard this individual who informs him that he’s the Ghost of Christmas Past. Jiminy even displays a fancy badge, like the one he receives at the end of Pinocchio, confirming his identity. Scrooge rather casually remarks he thought he’d be taller, then turns to go back to sleep. The cricket fires back that if men were measured by kindness, then Scrooge would be no bigger than a speck of dust! Scrooge tells him what he thinks of kindness and its usefulness, which Jiminy reminds him he didn’t always feel that way. Declaring it’s time to go, Scrooge encourages him to get out, but when the ghost opens the window Scrooge is suddenly out of bed.

Despite the fact that he’s a duck, Scrooge clearly does not enjoy flying.

Confused, Scrooge asks the ghost (which he always addresses as Spirit) what he’s doing. He tells him they’re going to visit his past, but Scrooge lets him know he can’t go out the window without falling. The ghost just tells him to hold on, and when he opens his tiny umbrella the two sail out of the window with a gust of wind! They fly through the night sky with Scrooge becoming ever frantic like a cat that accidentally wandered onto a motor boat or something. The spirit actually laughs at him, suggesting he thought Scrooge enjoyed looking down on the world.

Scrooge clearly wasn’t very smooth with the ladies.

Eventually, the two come to rest outside a tavern. It belongs to an individual named old Fezzywig, Scrooge’s former employer. Scrooge is excited to peer through the window and the sights are full of Disney cameos. Scrooge remarks that Fezzywig couldn’t have been a kinder person to work for, which is interesting since he doesn’t appear to find that trait useful for himself as an employer. He then gets excited when he spies a younger version of himself seated in the corner. The spirit points that this is the version of Scrooge that hasn’t yet become a miserable miser consumed by greed which doesn’t seem to offend Scrooge in the least as he casually responds “No one’s perfect.” Scrooge then narrows his focus on Isabelle, as played by Daisy Duck. He refers to her as “lovely Isabelle,” and we see her pull the young Scrooge out onto the dance floor. She rather unapologetically begs Scrooge for a kiss by pointing out she’s primed and ready and under the mistletoe, but Scrooge instead takes note that she’s standing on his foot. She doesn’t allow herself to be bothered as she takes Scrooge’s hands and the two dance. When the song ends, Belle plants a kiss on Scrooge which he rather clearly enjoys.

Scrooge isn’t even willing to pause his counting and come out from behind his wall of money to talk with Belle.

The present day Scrooge is left swooning too as he recalls how he was madly in love with her. The spirit then reminds him that in ten year’s time he came to love something else. Scrooge looks around and realizes they’re in his counting house on a dark, and rainy, evening. The young Scrooge is seated at his desk behind a mountain of money he’s counting out as Belle enters. She has to interrupt his counting to get him to acknowledge her, and he won’t even stand up to look at her from behind his wall of coins. She then delivers in rather unforceful terms an ultimatum. She’s been waiting for Scrooge to keep his promise to marry her as she’s been holding onto a cottage for the two of them for years. She asks if he’s come to a decision, and Scrooge rather angrily indicates he has. Belle’s last payment on the cottage, which she apparently financed through him, was an hour late allowing Scrooge to foreclose on the mortgage. As he waves the document in her face, Belle begins to sob and head for the door as broken hearts flutter about in the air – a little corny, but effective. She casts one, last, look in Scrooge’s direction and her face morphs from sadness to anger as she slams the door behind her causing all of the coins to scatter on Scrooge’s desk.

The spirit pushes the knife in deeper by pointing out that Scrooge loved his gold more than Belle causing him to lose her forever. Scrooge then begs the spirit to take him home declaring he can no longer bare these painful memories. The spirit adds that he fashioned them himself, as the scene shifts back to Scrooge’s bedroom. He’s in bed asking himself how he could have been so foolish when he’s roused from his thoughts by a loud, booming, voice. The voice shouts “Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum!” and the being indicates it’s puzzled by the smell of something unpleasant. Scrooge peers out from behind his bed curtains to see a massive man (the only human looking denizen of this world) surrounded by food. He quickly shuts the curtains, before pulling them open carefully again and a giant eye fills the opening.

This is the part of the cartoon where the viewer gets hungry. Well, a little. That pig is more disturbing than anything.

The titanic spirit (portrayed by Willy the Giant from Fun and Fancy Free) reaches into the bed to confirm that he has, indeed, smelled a stingy, little, Englishman. Scrooge emerges from the creature’s grasp and has it confirmed that he’s the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge then takes note of the delicious looking, giant-sized, food before him. He asks where it all came from and is informed that it’s “The food of generosity, which you have long denied your fellow man.” Scrooge scoffs at the notion as he passes through a bundle of grapes, getting one stuck on his foot. He suggests no one has ever shown him generosity, and the spirit is forced to correct him that, despite his not being deserving of it, there are still some out there who do indeed extend good tidings to him. Scrooge tries to assure the spirit that this is not the case, but he’s just told. “You’ll see.”

Time to go meet this adorable little fella.

With Scrooge in the pocket his festive, green, robe, the spirit leaves Scrooge’s home. Since he is a literal giant, he has to lift the roof of the house off to step out. He then grabs a street lantern, which magically functions like a flashlight, as he goes on a search for a specific home. He checks one and the screams of a woman from inside alerts him that he’s not in the right place. He soon finds the home he’s looking for and dives onto his knees outside of it. One would assume a giant jumping around outside would get the attention of the whole neighborhood, but no one seems to notice.

“Hey mom, where did Polly go? She’s not in her cage…”

The spirit removes Scrooge from his pocket and deposits him outside the home. Scrooge, rather angrily, demands to know why he brought him to this old shack. The spirit then tells him it’s the home of his overworked, underpaid, employee: Bob Cratchit. Scrooge looks inside and sees Mrs. Cratchit placing dinner on the table. He cracks a joke by asking if she’s cooking a canary, then, perhaps sensing the ire of the giant, says they must have more food than that and points out a pot boiling over a fire. The spirit corrects Scrooge by telling him that’s his laundry, and the two go quiet and just observe as Bob tells his two children they must wait for Tiny Tim (Dick Billingsly). The small boy tells his father he’s coming as he slowly descends the stairs with the aid of a cane. His father whisks him over to the table where the boy enthusiastically declares there’s a lot of wonderful things to eat. Then reminds his family that they must thank Mr. Scrooge. His mother can’t muster up a response except just to smile politely and avoid his gaze, she probably spends many hours of her day cursing that name. Bob sits down and begins cutting a single pea for himself. Seeing that this is apparently all his dad has to eat, Tiny Tim offers him the drumstick from his plate, but Bob, sort of sadly, just hugs the child refusing to take the offering.

The final spirit is far less friendly than the first two. He also has a bad habit, but if you’re already dead, then why not enjoy a cigar?

Scrooge asks the spirit what’s wrong with Tim, and he responds, “Much, I’m afraid. For if these shadows remain unchanged, I see an empty chair where Tiny Tim once sat.” Scrooge can only respond with “Tim will…?!” but there’s no spirit to answer him. He looks around and the scenery grows foggy as Scrooge begs for the spirit to return through coughing. A shadowy figure appears smoking a cigar, the apparent source of all the smoke. Scrooge, clearly terrified of this new apparition, asks if he’s the Ghost of Christmas Future. The spirit only nods as Scrooge, rather carefully, begs to know what will happen to Tiny Tim.

That’s the one! The shot that breaks me every time.

The spirit simply raises an arm and gestures. A cemetery comes into view and a small headstone sits beneath a tree. Bob is beside it, clutching Tim’s can, as his wife and other two children lower their heads and walk away. The camera focuses on Bob as he sniffles a bit and a tear runs down his cheek. It’s a truly heartbreaking sight. He then lays the cane on the headstone and slowly walks away.

Scrooge can only wail “Oh no!” at the sight, before turning to the spirit. He declares he didn’t want this to happen and begs to know if these events can yet be changed. The spirit doesn’t respond as a raspy pair of voices fill the air. Two weasels (voiced by Allwine and Ryan) are laughing about a recent funeral they just witnessed. They’re grave diggers, and the person they’re digging a grave for apparently had a funeral with no mourners. One laughs and says they should take a break, since “He ain’t going no where,” as they laugh and walk away. Scrooge and the spirit approach the open grave and Scrooge, likely knowing the answer given how spooked he sounds, asks to know whose lonely grave this belongs to.

Dying sure seems like it sucks.

The spirit strikes a match and as he lights his cigar his hood falls away. It’s Peg Leg Pete (Ryan), and he lets him know that the grave belongs to him! He holds the match beside the headstone so Scrooge can see his own name. The spirit then slaps his back, knocking Scrooge into the grave, as he shouts, “The richest man in the cemetery!” and breaks out into laughter. As Scrooge cries out for help, the spirit only continues to laugh harder. Scrooge, holding onto a root, dangles above his own coffin which soon billows with smoke and an eerie red light shines from within. It begins to open, and as Scrooge falls towards it he shouts “I’ll change! I’ll change!”

He’s never looked better!

Scrooge tumbles out of bed tangled in his own curtains. He’s shouting demands for the spirit to let him out before he realizes he’s back in his own room. He runs to the window declaring it’s Christmas morning! He shows his elation by hugging a pigeon that was on his window sill and declares the spirits have given him another chance. He frantically searches for his robe, accidentally stepping through his hat and ripping through the top, as he tosses on a scarf and runs out the door. He then runs back in and declares “I can’t go out like this!” Mind you, Scrooge is in his nightgown and slippers with a red coat, scarf, and busted hat. He then grabs his cane and declares “There!” in a bit of a fake out before running back outside.

Okay, maybe they will come hit Scrooge up for many in the future.

Scrooge gleefully slides down a short, snow-covered, banister and crashes into the individuals who showed up at his counting house the prior day collecting funds for the poor. Scrooge is happy to see them, though they don’t appear to feel the same way about running into Scrooge again. He tells them he has something for them, but they try to deflect him as they likely assume it’s more insults or another wreath, but Scrooge surprises them with gold. He fills the mole’s hat and slaps it down on his head as the rat reacts with shock and punctuates it with an “Oh no!” in disbelief. Scrooge thinks, or acts like he thinks, that the rat thinks this isn’t enough and starts tossing more money. This schtick goes on until Scrooge literally fills the mole’s pants with money leaving them with 100 gold pieces. As Scrooge cheerfully heads to his next destination, the two call out a “Merry Christmas to you!”

Scrooge is just spreading happiness now and it’s lovely.

Scrooge merrily dances through the streets greeting people who are clearly shocked to see this side of Scrooge until his nephew nearly runs him over while riding a horse. Scrooge, not bothered by this at all, simply calls out “Ah! Nephew!” Fred, like the other denizens of town, is shocked to see his uncle in an apparent good mood. He’s even more shocked when Scrooge tells him he’s looking forward to that wonderful meal he’s preparing. Fred, almost sweetly, shouts “You mean you’re coming?!” and Scrooge tells him he’ll be over promptly at 2 and to keep it piping hot as he balances his cane on his nose and scampers off. Fred, with a huge smile across his bill, assures his uncle that he will keep it hot and wishes him “…a very merry Christmas to you!”

Scrooge feels the need to torture Bob mildly before changing his life for the better.

Some kids scamper by, two of the three little wolves chased by one of the little pigs wielding a pop gun, as Scrooge emerges from a toy store with a huge sack over his shoulder. Declaring, “And now for Cratchit’s” he merrily makes his way down the street and to the home of Bob Cratchit. He giddily knocks on the door, but then forces himself to put on a serious face. Bob answers the door and is pretty shocked to see his boss standing there on Christmas morning (he probably shouldn’t be that shocked given how terrible his boss is). He somewhat sheepishly offers a “Merry Christmas” towards Scrooge, who snorts and brushes past him causing Bob to sort of whimper “Won’t you come in.”

Toys! We’ve got toys here!

Scrooge adds a “Merry Christmas, indeed,” in an angry tone. He tells Bob he has another bundle for him as he slams the sack on the ground. A teddy bear pops out, which Tiny Tim takes notice of. Scrooge scoops it up and stuffs it in the pocket of his jacket as he tugs the sack closer to himself trying to ignore the curious child. He then goes into a rant, declaring he’s had enough of this “half day off stuff” He then starts to act like he’s going to fire Cratchit, who looks pretty terrified. As he hollers, “You leave me, no alternative, but to give you,” the last part he can’t get out without a bit laughter as Tim finishes the sentence by exclaiming, “Toys!”

The other shot that breaks me, but in a good way!

Scrooge confirms to a confused Bob that, yes, he is giving him toys. He also tells him that he’s giving him a raise, and making Bob his partner as he doffs his cap and puts an arm around him. Bob can only muster up a “Partner?!” as he clearly didn’t expect this. Scrooge basically just announced that he’s lifting his family out of poverty, for heaven’s sake. He can only respond by saying, “Thanks, Mr. Scrooge” as we see his wife lift a fully cooked turkey out of that same sack (those toys must be gross). Tiny Tim then goes in for his line, “And God bless us, every one!” as Scrooge embraces the kid. They tumble into a rocking chair as Scrooge places his hat on the kid’s head and the other two kids run in to join the fun. “Oh What a Merry Christmas Day” returns as the Cratchits look on as their children pile onto Scrooge and the cartoon comes to an end.

Now, if only this could happen to every other greedy, rich, asshole the world would be a better place.

If that ending doesn’t leave you all warm and happy on Christmas Day, then I’m guessing nothing does. The way that Scrooge toys with Bob at the end doesn’t come across as cruel, though I can see some perhaps thinking that it does. It serves to draw out the suspense of the moment as Bob Cratchit discovers that his boss has made a truly life altering decision for him and his family. Did Disney intend for us to put it in such context? Maybe, I don’t know, but it’s how I’ve always approached that last scene. That family was starving to the point where their malnourished son was essentially a goner if things didn’t change, and fast. Now, assuming Scrooge keeps his word, the Cratchits will basically get half of every dollar Scrooge makes and presumably have a much easier life. And the adorable Tiny Tim gets to live.

Scrooge is also practical in his Christmas Day delivery, though they could really use some sides.

It’s a very satisfying conclusion to a well-worn story. I, like probably many, do not care to see another version of A Christmas Carol come along ever gain. We have enough. This cartoon though was my first introduction to the story which is probably why I like it so much. I do think it has value beyond that and my affection isn’t solely attributed to nostalgia, but I do acknowledge it plays a role in just how much I adore this one. I just think it’s wonderfully paced, beautifully animated, and the cast is exceptional. I love how this one looks, even when I’m watching it on a 35 year old VHS my mother made for my sister and I. I especially love the backgrounds which are so detailed and almost weathered looking to reflect the setting. As a result, the special loses a little something in the HD transfer Disney did a few years ago that brightens everything up and dulls some of the linework. Not that it isn’t still worth watching, but I almost prefer my ancient tape or cheap DVD I bought more than a decade ago. The actual animation is also wonderful. The characters are so expressive and the animators did an amazing job of conveying emotion through them. You could watch this thing on mute and know what every character is feeling at every moment. And even though this re-telling plays it straight, there’s some exaggerated, animated, flourishes here and there like when Scrooge is terrified of Marley or when he kicks Fred out of the counting house. It feels like Disney had something to prove with the first Mickey cartoon in 30 years and it really nailed it here.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is available to stream all year round on Disney+. It probably aired this month on cable too, but at this point those airings may be over. I wish it still got the broadcast network timeslot it occupied 30 years ago, especially with the added shorts (only two of which are on Disney’s streaming network), but that’s how it goes.

The end of the cartoon, and the end for this year’s countdown!

I hope you enjoyed this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot, whether you read one entry, or all 25. Or whether or not you’re reading this in 2021, or 2025. In December, or March. It doesn’t matter, it’s always nice to do a little Christmas reading and reflect on the specials that warmed our hearts as kids and adults. And it’s even fun to look at the not-so-good ones, and that’s why I do this every year. A lot can change in a year, but I plan on being back here next year so I hope to see you then. Merry Christmas, everyone!


Dec. 24 – Shrek the Halls

Original air date November 28, 2007.

2021 marked an important anniversary in animation: Shrek turned 20. The animated film from DreamWorks is credited as really helping to launch the company as a viable competitor to Disney’s Pixar. Prior to Shrek, DreamWorks had found success at the box office with Antz and Chicken Run, but Shrek was the first to really explode in both popularity and revenue. And unlike those preceding films, it was the launch of a bonafide franchise for DreamWorks as the ogre would go on to star in three more pictures and some holiday specials.

Now a days, Shrek is viewed in a somewhat ironic light or with an eyeroll. Part of that is due to the franchise overstaying its welcome. The first film felt like something new, and it was, with its approach to story-telling and humor and the second film delivered more of the same. By the third and fourth films though, the Shrek franchise was getting lambasted by critics though still bringing in money. And the other thing working against Shrek is it’s a film that hasn’t aged particularly well. CG films from 2001 have all aged to some degree, and not for the better, but Shrek‘s approach to its humor and soundtrack have proven especially dated. They also established a formula for DreamWorks that I think a lot of movie goers have grown tired of. Still, the company seems to be able to entertain children well enough so there aren’t many true flops, but I don’t think it’s controversial to say that DreamWorks never became the true Pixar competitor some had hoped it would be.

In this special we’re going to experience Shrek’s first Christmas, though it might be Donkey’s last given how much he annoys the big guy.

Dated humor and presentation aside, Shrek was a good film in 2001 and it’s still a pretty good film in 2021. It’s not a film, or franchise, I have held any real attachment to, but I can appreciate it for what it is. Since Shrek is celebrating its big 20th birthday (the character has actually been around for over 30 years), it made sense to finally include it in The Christmas Spot so today we’re looking at the special Shrek the Halls.

Shrek the Halls was first broadcast on ABC on November 28, 2007 following the release that year of Shrek the Third. Despite that film not being warmly received by critics, Shrek was still very much at the height of his powers as the film made a boatload of money and the Christmas special took the top spot in the ratings for its timeslot. The special takes place after the events of that film, though I don’t think one need to be familiar with that film, or really any of the films, in order to enjoy this special. This special returns the voice cast from the film and looks to tell the story of Shrek’s first Christmas. Even though Shrek is obviously well into his adult years, he’s never celebrated Christmas on account of the fact that he’s an ogre and ogres just don’t do that sort of thing. He now has a wife and kids though who are interested in celebrating the holiday (well, I assume the kids are, but they are infants so one can’t be sure) so he’s going to have to learn on the fly and also deal with his “friends” that prove to be a constant source of frustration for the grouchy ogre.

Donkey annoys Shrek. This will be a theme.

The special begins uncharacteristically with Shrek (Mike Myers) powdering the bottom of one of his triplets in a rather tropical setting. He remarks how they’re all clean now and plops them into a pit of mud before laying out on a deck chair to sun himself. “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Croft plays as Shrek soaks up the sun, until he’s rudely disturbed by Donkey (Eddie Murphy). Donkey is focused on Christmas already, despite it being summer, and Shrek could not care less. Once he’s dismissed, we jump ahead to the fall and Shrek is chopping wood. Donkey, once again, appears to remind Shrek that Christmas is coming and the ogre once again shoos him away. It’s now winter and Shrek is shoveling and when he digs his shovel into a snowdrift out pops the head of Donkey. Now it’s the day before Christmas Eve, and Donkey wants to know what Shrek is doing for Christmas, but he insists no one here cares about Christmas!

Joke’s on you Shrek, turns out your wife is looking forward to Christmas too!

On cue, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) emerges from their home to shout her enthusiasm for a white Christmas. Shrek is surprised and confused, but not willing to let Fiona know he has nothing planned for the holiday. Donkey covers for him, but also tells Fiona that Shrek has a surprise in store for her and the kids. Excited, she returns to the house while Shrek now has to put together a Christmas celebration.

What every ogre needs to have a happy Christmas.

We smash cut to credits and Shrek is shown running across the frozen tundra and scaling a mountain while epic music plays in the background. All of this to get to town and a bookstore being run by a clerk (Marissa Jaret Winokur) looking to close up shop for Christmas. Shrek tells her he needs to create a wonderful Christmas for his family, but he knows nothing about it. She excitedly drags him to the counter and produces exactly what Shrek needs: Christmas for Village Idiots. She quickly skims the book pointing out the things that Shrek needs to do in order to create the perfect Christmas ending with a Christmas story by a warm fire. Shrek seems overwhelmed, but it’s not the clerk’s problem as she assures him he’ll be fine and shoves him out the door, apparently willing to part with the book for free just to rid herself of the ogre. When Shrek finds himself outside he sees various villagers running around screaming trying to find last minute items for Christmas while stores slam doors shut in their face.

A new use for a toilet seat.

The next morning, Fiona awakens from her slumber to a bunch of noise just outside the house. When she goes to investigate, she finds Shrek has decorated their home for Christmas. It’s…interesting and certainly ogre themed with a toilet seat wreath on the front door, but it sure seems to please her. Donkey then reappears to give them his Christmas card. Despite Donkey having a family of his own, his card just has a picture of him in a Santa suit on the front.

Well, he’s clearly put a lot of work into this.

Donkey is here to remind Shrek, and us, that it’s Christmas Eve! Shrek tells him to go home and returns to his task, while Donkey tells Fiona that Shrek needs him in order to pull this perfect Christmas off. Fiona, trying to be polite, tells Donkey that what Shrek really wants is a nice Christmas with his family. Donkey is fine with this, too fine, and he takes his leave allowing Fiona to resume her conversation with Shrek. He’s determined to make this a perfect Christmas, and we head into a montage showing the Shrek family prepare for Christmas. Fiona kills snakes with a belch to create snake canes, they fetch a dead tree for their Christmas tree, and one of the babies grabs a possum for Christmas dinner. I’m sure it will be delicious.

Pictured: Not the Christmas Shrek wanted.

Back at home, the house is decorated for Christmas, the possum is roasting on an open fire, and Shrek is now ready to put a cherry on top of this whole Christmas thing by telling the kids a story. They gather around and Shrek is ready to go, when suddenly there arose such a clatter! It’s Donkey, who comes busting in with a wreath around his neck ready to celebrate, and he’s not alone. Behind him come the other “friends” of Shrek and Fiona from the films: Pinocchio, the three little pigs, big bad wolf, the three blind mice, the gingerbread man (Gingy), and Puss in Boots. They brought decorations too and immediately set to putting them up while Gingy (Conrad Vernon) flirts with an angel cookie. Shrek is clearly not pleased, while Fiona tries to put on a smile, and the others are oblivious to all of this. Donkey strolls over to the fireplace and notices it’s low (since it’s a cooking fire) and calls up the chimney to his wife, a dragon, to heat the place up. She blasts some fire down from above (since she’s far too big to fit in the house) creating a roaring fire, while also destroying the possum dinner. As the pigs wrestle with setting up a tree, Shrek gets bumped out the door and it shuts in his face.

Well, at least his pants are up.

When we come back from a break, Fiona is trying to get Shrek to come out of the outhouse and back into the party. Shrek, clearly irritated, tells Fiona this is not the Christmas he wanted while Fiona reminds him that these people, as weird and irritating as they are, are still their friends. She asks him to come back to the party while the sound of breaking glass alerts her that she needs to get back inside leaving Shrek to stew in his own stench. He gets up to return to the house, reluctantly, and we find out that Pinocchio (Cody Cameron) has been waiting patiently to use the outhouse, which raises several questions. The ground is also shaking as the dragon is doing Snoopy’s dance outside the house.

When Shrek gets back inside he’s immediately annoyed. Gingy tells him he doesn’t feel well causing him to vomit at Shrek’s feet. His vomit is basically a Hershey Kiss, and Donkey strolls over and eats it. Shrek then spies Fiona under the mistletoe and goes to embrace his wife. They start to dance to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” when Pinocchio cuts in. Rather than fight for his wife, Shrek makes a b-line to his children who are playing with Donkey’s weird, donkey-dragon, hybrid kids under a table. He asks the kids if they’d like him to finish the story and goes back into “The Night Before Christmas,” until Donkey butts in. He’s excited for the story, but then declares no one tells it better than him, and summons everyone to a chair so he can recite the poem while Shrek shouts out that he’s supposed to be the one that tells the Christmas story.

A waffle Santa? I could get on board with that.

No one seems to pay Shrek any mind though as Donkey starts into his own version of the story, with him as both narrator and star. He’s focused on the sights, and smells, of the holiday as we see his version of the story fully animated. There’s an eggnog fountain and acrobatics and it all leads to a big Christmas parade. When he gets to the part where he should be introducing Saint Nicholas, he does, only he’s a giant waffle float covered in butter and syrup. Donkey apparently likes waffles and syrup and we see him start to lick the giant Santa float only to find out he’s actually licking Shrek’s foot who gets him to stop.

Adorable.

Now, it’s Puss in Boots’ (Antonio Banderas) turn to tell the real story of Santa, as he describes it. He starts fingering a guitar and telling the story of Santa: a spicy, Latin, cat with some killer dance moves. We see this Santa, who is just Puss in a festive red ensemble. He describes how this Santa has actual claws, and goes into detail about the articles of clothing he wears. When he gets to the hat, which has a pom-pom at the end, we see the cat in the story become entranced by the cotton ball. He starts to bat at it playfully and we cut to Puss in Boots as he’s doing the same to an ornament on the tree. He snaps out of it and concedes that he has shamed himself before slumping his shoulders and walking off.

This Santa reminds me of the Tom Hanks one from The Polar Express. I’m just going to pretend it is.

Gingy then steps up to tell the real story of Santa. It’s a horror story, since Gingy is a cookie and all, and we see him sitting in a convertible with a gingerbread woman. He’s telling the classic man with the hook story and frightens his date, but she’s not mad and they appear to be having a good time. Things look like they’re about to get a little steamy, until a sound startles Gingy. The female cookie thinks he’s just trying to scare her, but soon a monstrous figure appears: Santa! He basically roars like Godzilla as he reaches down and plucks the girl from the car as she screams. Santa bites her head off, to the horror of Gingy, and the story ends because Donkey is offended the cookie would present Santa in such a bad light.

Shrek has had enough at this point and suggests they all leave now to beat the holiday traffic. Donkey wants to finish his story though and as Shrek moves in to tell him it’s not needed, his book falls out of his pocket. Donkey wants to check it out, but Shrek doesn’t want Fiona to see it so he tries to hide it quickly, but Donkey won’t let go. It eventually goes flying across the room setting off a chain of unfortunate events that end with Shrek’s ass getting lit on fire! He eventually gets doused with water, after the flames were put out, and that’s the final straw. As he appears poised to blow, the sound of a whistling kettle can be heard because the pigs had put an actual kettle on the fire for tea.

Well Shrek, you made the wife mad, but at least the kids seem fine.

Shrek explodes and we cut to everyone running out of the house, with Donkey getting literally thrown out. He’s upset and barks back at Shrek that he’s not getting him a Christmas present now, but Shrek doesn’t care. They hurl insults back and forth before Donkey finally leaves. The pigs (Cameron) suggest they can go to their house while Shrek slams the door. When he turns around though he finds Fiona with her winter coat on. She’s gathering up the children to go after the others while Shrek tries to reason with her. She tells him that this is what Christmas is: crowded, loud, and often out of hand. Shrek rather wisely points out that this one went beyond that as he was literally set on fire. She still feels the need to apologize to their friends while Shrek insists he just wanted to have a perfect Christmas. He mistakenly refers to it as “his” Christmas, which is apparently the worst thing he could do. He knows he messed up right away, but Fiona still digs into him that it isn’t his Christmas, it’s everyone’s.

Apparently ogres can experience sadness.

Shrek finds himself alone in his house on Christmas. A sappy song plays as he looks over his book and then to Donkey’s Christmas card. We then check-in with the others and Donkey is complaining to Fiona about Shrek. He says they were just doing what she wanted by giving Shrek a big old, noisy, family, Christmas. Now it’s Donkey’s turn to listen as Fiona explains that’s not what she meant when she told him it was their family’s first Christmas together. Donkey still doesn’t understand as he clearly views them all as family while Fiona points out that no one asked Shrek what he wanted.

It’s confession time.

Puss seems to realize how annoying Donkey was and starts up an argument, but Shrek appears to interrupt it. He’s come to make amends, but he has a hard time doing so as he apologizes for them “being so annoying,” and other similar sentiments. Struggling, he confesses that Christmas is hard for him because he’s an ogre. Ogres don’t celebrate Christmas, they don’t celebrate anything. He takes a seat on a log in a defeated posture as Donkey and others question how he’s never celebrated Christmas and it’s obviously structured to make it seem like Shrek just admitted he’s a virgin.

And now it’s makeup time.

Having that weight off of his shoulders, Shrek is able to apologize appropriately. He also requests that everyone come back to their home and celebrate Christmas with his family. He then gets blasted with a snowball from offscreen. Forcing a laugh while admitting he deserved that, Shrek wipes the snow off of his face before he’s promptly hit with several more. Now he’s getting mad as Donkey howls with laughter, only to get completely buried by snow. He pops his head out in search of the culprit and the camera pans back and reveals it was his dragon wife who knocked some snow off of a tree.

I’m sure you can figure out the joke.

Everyone returns to the ogre home and everyone is preparing for bed. Big Bad Wolf (Aron Warner) is looking for a spot and seems to feel that Pinocchio is in the way, who insists he doesn’t want to move because he always gets a bad spot. The wolf kicks him out of the way clearly not caring about the puppet’s feelings. The three little pigs are sharing a blanket, and one has to point out that they’re pigs in a blanket, but does it in such a manner that saves the bit. Shrek then tells them it’s time for lights out, but Donkey demands a story before bed and the others agree.

Time to meet Ogre Claus.

This is Shrek’s moment to shine as he tosses his book aside and sits down to tell HIS Christmas story with his children in his arms. It’s basically “The Night Before Christmas,” but with a Shrek twist. The house is depicted as it is now decorated for Christmas in a conventional manner. The babies, and Fiona, are “playing kazoo in their sleep” which means they’re farting and we see the blankets billow with the expelling of gas. This is all to set the stage for Ogre Claus, who is Shrek in a Santa suit. He finds the surroundings too sweet, so he lets out a giant belch of green gas that turns the place into something an ogre would find suitable. He gives each baby a bottle of stinky swamp juice, and a Christmas goose to Fiona (a literal goose). Then he sticks a finger in his nose and up the chimney he goes!

Well, it looks like they’re sitting attentively at least.

Shrek finishes his story with a “Smelly Christmas to all, and to all a gross night,” as everyone seems to have taken well to the ogre version of the story. The sound of sleigh bells gets everyone’s attention and they head outside and spy Santa flying in front of a full moon. They all look up with wonder, except for Gingy who screams and runs back inside. Shrek and Fiona share a gaze and he puts his arm around her. We look up to the sky again and see some Christmas magic from Santa. Red and green stars dance around the moon giving it Shrek ears as a raucous version of “Deck the Halls” kicks in and the credits roll.

Hey look! Santa!

Shrek the Halls is a legitimately entertaining Christmas special. Being able to basically duplicate the presentation of the films goes a long way in helping that as we have the usual cast and the visuals hold up very well. My guess is that this thing was basically made in tandem with the third film and that’s why it looks so good. It’s also a clever Christmas story for the Shrek character since it’s not surprising that he would clash with the traditional version of Christmas. It’s a little odd that the subject never came up between he and Fiona before, but it’s not that important either.

This one basically ends in the same manner as Christmas Vacation, and it kind of is like Christmas Vacation just minus the bonus subplot. Donkey is clearly Cousin Eddie.

The antagonist here is basically Donkey, who exists to annoy and irritate both Shrek and the viewer. He works almost too well as I find it hard to view him with any sympathy. Yeah, he misunderstood Fiona, but Shrek is always very clear with how annoyed he is with Donkey who just constantly disregards Shrek’s wishes. And it’s not just him. As Shrek pointed out, he was set on fire! That ogre was totally within his rights to toss everyone out after that happened and the special struggles, via Fiona, to convince me he did anything wrong. It basically presents Shrek’s slip of the tongue in referring to it as “his Christmas” as a terrible sin worthy of punishment. That whole group should have returned to Shrek to apologize to him, not the other way around.

I never saw the fourth Shrek film, but if the moon is present in it, I hope it has Shrek ears.

That’s a small criticism though as the special proves to be plenty entertaining. Yeah, there’s still too much licensed music in play, but little of it feels dated since most if is dated by design (like Journey, though I could definitely do with out that particular song). Most of the side characters get a chance to do something funny with the star player likely being Gingy and his Santa horror story. The ending is about as predictable as it gets, but still suitable. It’s not like many Christmas specials surprise in that regard.

Shrek the Halls is currently locked into an exclusive agreement with ABC so the only channels you’ll find it on are Disney owned ones. It’s also on Hulu (if you have the Live TV add-on) and available on physical media. Considering it’s Christmas Eve, it might be tough to find at this point, but there’s still time to spend Christmas with Ogre Claus.


Dec. 23 – DuckTales – “How Santa Stole Christmas”

Original air date November 30, 2020

One of my favorite modern Christmas specials is the DuckTales episode “Last Christmas.” I feel like anytime I talk DuckTales I have to specify which era, though in this case I really shouldn’t since the original DuckTales never did a Christmas episode. To make up for that, the 2017 edition of the show did two Christmas episodes! I’ll take as many as I can get and had the show continued I’d have welcomed a third one. Since 2021 marked the end of this second DuckTales era, it makes sense to welcome it back into the fold for The Christmas Spot for a final time.

In “Last Christmas,” we learned that Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) hates Santa Claus. It’s basically a throw-away line, as the episode begins with him raging at Christmas and storming off to his room only for us to find out it’s all an act. He just wants to be left alone at Christmas so he can pal around with some ghosts. Him telling his nephew, Dewey (Ben Schwartz), that he actually likes Christmas, but hates Santa, reads as a joke. Given that this show is rather lore heavy, I suppose we should not have been surprised to see the subject of Scrooge hating Santa Claus brought up again. And exploring that hatred is the subject of the show’s second, and final, Christmas episode “How Santa Stole Christmas.”

Della has a story to chill your bones!

The episode begins with the customary cold open. The boys, Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey, and Louie (Bobby Moynihan) are getting ready for bed on Christmas Eve while their mother, Della (Paget Brewster), tells them a story and Uncle Donald (Tony Anselmo) passes out cookies. And getting tangled in Christmas lights. Della is reciting “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” only the words have been changed to refer to Santa as a traitor and other unpleasantries. Dewey is the first to request that she just tell them the regular version of the poem with the nice Santa, but Della quickly responds that he is not welcome in their home! She explains by adding a “He knows what he did,” with narrowed eyes, but when the boys ask what he did it soon becomes apparent that Della hasn’t a clue.

Christmas time is a time for war at McDuck Manor.

A noise from the roof, a clatter if you will, interrupts the awkward moment between hen and ducklings. Della grabs her brother, now immobilized in Christmas lights, to lead the charge to battle while the boys head to the roof. They slide excitedly across the snow in hopes of catching a glimpse of the real Santa, only to find Scrooge. He’s decked out in what I assume is some sort of Scottish military uniform complete with beret and kilt. Webby (Kate Micucci) is there as well camouflaged to blend in with the background. She is quick to remind the boys that an enemy of Scrooge McDuck is an enemy to them all!

Some different reactions to the guest spread across the faces of the McDuck clan.

Scrooge is confused why the boy’s even care about Santa since he can provide anything they’d need. He then hands out their apparent Christmas present this year: boring, knit, hats. Louie questions if his great uncle could have found an itchier material while Scrooge prattles on about how they don’t need modern luxuries. A ring of the doorbell puts an end to the discussion as they try to peer down from the roof to see who’s there, but are unable to. Scrooge speculates it’s just some carolers and makes his way inside, though as he prepares to open the door he’s poised to strike!

Webby is a constant source of entertainment.

When Scrooge does open the door a look of surprise crosses his face, which soon turns to one of anger as he says one word, “Claus.” The boys light up as the camera shows us Santa Claus from their perspective. What does the DuckTales Santa look like, you may be wondering? Well, he’s a polar bear! I honestly had not given it much thought until now, but I suppose it makes sense that he’d be a polar bear. Most everyone else in this universe appears to be some kind of bird or dog, though there is a cross-over with the TaleSpin crew. Santa (Hugh Bonneville) prepares to wish them all a “Merry Christmas,” but before he can get that second part out he lurches forward and collapses on the floor. The boys look devastated while Scrooge seems legitimately surprised as he sheaths his weapon. Webby still looks ready to pounce as Scrooge pulls on her left arm to lower her grapple gun. She quietly raises her right arm in response which brandishes a blade as we smash cut to the intro.

Santa is a big ole polar bear. Makes sense.

The credits are, once again, festively done with the same crooner version to the song that we saw in “Last Christmas.” I still cannot find a credit for who sings it, but for some reason I feel like I heard it was Chris Diamantopoulos, but don’t quote me on that. Following the intro, we return to the home of Scrooge McDuck and focus on a sleeping Santa as he’s waking from his slumber. He’s been propped up in a chair by the fire as the kids have gathered around him. The boys start peppering him the usual questions a kid might have for Santa should they meet while Webby just grumpily asks “When are you leaving?” as she finishes dressing a leg injury on the big bear. Santa seems amused by the children and produces presents for all! Huey gets a video game, Dewey a trampoline, Louie a new cell phone (he plans to sell his old one for cash when Scrooge points out he already has a cell phone) and Webby refuses to open hers. A nice detail on the gifts is they are the exact gifts Scrooge called out on the roof as things they don’t need (he pays attention enough to know what they want for Christmas, and refuses to accommodate their wishes). The boys are enjoying their presents until Scrooge starts barking at Santa to get out. He alludes to Santa stealing something from him in the past and he’s not about to let the big bear turn his nephews against him!

I didn’t grab a screen for this scene, so here’s Scrooge’s house decorated for Christmas!

Santa insists that they not do this in front of the children while the boys seem surprised at this news. Webby, of course, is not and she demands to know what Santa stole from Scrooge. Scrooge fills her in: Christmas! Now it’s the children’s turn to gasp as the very notion of Santa stealing Christmas is a hard concept to wrap one’s head around. Scrooge goes on to say that he came up with the whole Christmas “racket” and this glory hound took all of the credit. Santa isn’t interested in rehashing any of this as he points out that he has a sack full of presents still to deliver and a busted leg that will prevent him from doing so. Scrooge is his only hope as he askes, “Scroogey, with your belt so tight, won’t you fly my sleigh tonight?”

Scrooge gives him the cold shoulder as the boys plead with him to reconsider. Santa starts turning on the guilt, even allowing a present to fall out of his sack that he has trouble reaching. Scrooge has seen enough and grabs the gift for him and tosses it back into the sack telling Santa they’re not interested in what he’s selling. Santa keeps up the routine and decides to make Scrooge an offer: if he helps him deliver toys this year, he’ll never show up at his home again. Scrooge seems unmoved until Santa adds that he’ll save a fortune on traps. Scrooge then rather reluctantly shakes the bear’s hand and scoops up the sack referring to him as a sanctimonious solstice swindler. Nice alliteration, which will be a thread throughout the episode. As he marches out the door the others look on in surprise, but when Scrooge mutters about not believing Santa roped him into this again they let out yet another audible gasp. This allows Santa to tell a little story about how he and Scrooge McDuck first met.

When Scrooge met Santa.

It was a long time ago, as Santa puts it, and the area was in the midst of a nasty blizzard. A young looking Scrooge knocks on the door of a home and when the door is opened by a young lady, he immediately starts ranting at her to buy some coal! He really needs to work on his delivery. She slams the door in his face and he tosses his sack of coal over his shoulder muttering to himself as he walks off. He then hears someone singing “Jingle Bells” nearby, but it also sounds like they’re struggling with something. Scrooge wanders over and sees a young Santa pulling a rather large sleigh. When he inquires with the bear about what he’s doing, Santa explains he’s trying to spread warmth to the region by giving people toys. Scrooge, ever practical, seems to think this is foolish, but tosses his sack of coal in the sleigh and offers to help pull the sleigh.

When the pair reach the house Scrooge was just shut out at, Santa strolls over to the door, despite Scrooge insisting the individuals who live there won’t be accommodating, and knocks on the door. The same lady from before answers and Santa explains he’s looking to trade a present or two for a few minutes of warmth. He hands over a wrapped box and the woman opens it to find a nutcracker. She smiles and lets him in without a word and prepares to shut the door in Scrooge’s face, but Santa insists he’s with him. She seems to agree to let Scrooge in, but narrows her eyes at him and gestures that she’ll be watching him closely.

These creatures are not fooling anyone.

Inside, we see the home is clearly inhabited by elves of some kind. They’re small, wear pointy hats with bells, and are dressed in various, bright, colors. Of course, this being the DuckTales universe, they’re also some kind of dog people. Santa is leading them all in a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells” until the fire goes out. The woman who answered the door, who appears taller than the rest, finally speaks (I’m not sure who voices her, but basically every member of the main cast is credited as voicing “Elves” in this one) to point out the obvious. Santa smiles and lets them know his companion, Scrooge, is in possession of something that will get their fire going once again. He grabs Scrooge’s sack of coal, much to the duck’s surprise, and dumps a few biscuits on the fire and it ignites instantly. The other elves start enthusiastically shoving money in Scrooge’s face insisting that any friend of Santa’s is a friends of theirs. They also inquire about getting coal delivered, and Santa starts boasting Scrooge can deliver anywhere! And by Christmas! Scrooge is rather shocked at this proclamation and tries to explain that Christmas is a mere 20 days away, but Santa insists he’ll help him adding a “What are friends for?” Scrooge tells him to scrap the friends talk and suggests they be partners instead. Santa asks “Why not both?!” as he scoops him up in a big bear hug. A literal one.

I love this.

We jump back to the present where the kids are surprised to find out the two were friends with Webby insisting that Scrooge doesn’t have any friends. They head to the sleigh, which is parked outside, and the boys run excitedly to the reindeer. They start patting them and checking them out while Scrooge barks for them to get away from those “roof wreckers.” He then adds they’re not coming along as they’re too susceptible to Santa’s charms. Only Webby is welcome aboard the sleigh. The boys start to put up a fight, but Santa pulls out his nice list to check it twice and mentions he knows of some boys making their way up the list. As he explains, one of the reindeer is licking Dewey’s head the whole time and it’s adorable. Santa basically bribes them with more presents though so they run inside while Scrooge snaps the reigns sending the sleigh into the night sky. I love you, DuckTales, but I have to confess I can’t forgive you for giving Santa only six reindeer. A Christmas fail.

This episode effectively uses montage to get the other side characters a little face time at Christmas.

We then head into a musical montage set, once again, to “Jingle Bells.” I honestly didn’t realize how much mileage this one gets from that song until I started typing about it. Webby and Scrooge are shown delivering presents to the many side characters we’ve met throughout the show. They recoil in horror at the disgusting sock of Doofus, receive a fruit cake to the face from Gizmoduck’s defense mechanism, and leave a present for that Scrooge-horse abomination character.

Webby is proving she’s not immune to the charms of Santa.

Back in the sleigh, Webby is handling a present while insisting to Santa that she won’t fall for his charms like most do. As she says this, she shakes various gifts and mentions the contents as if such an offering could never work on her, until she gets to a box with a crossbow in it! She asks Santa who it’s for and he implores her to check the tag. Of course, the tag reads Webbigail Vanderquack and her eyes bulge with excitement! She squeals and hugs the gift while Santa remarks to Scrooge how there’s nothing like the happiness of a child on Christmas to warm the heart. Scrooge suggests Webby won’t fall for his tricks and the young girl pauses for a moment, but then resumes the present embrace.

The sleigh continues to soar through the sky and we see the background change to reflect a new part of the world. When it changes from Rome, to China, to Rome again Webby calls out this error in the montage only for Santa to inform her that he delivers the presents alphabetically. When Scrooge, in a rather incredulous manner, demands to know why he wouldn’t do it by country the old bear plays dumb and remarks that doing so would save him some time. Scrooge performs a facepalm as Webby becomes increasingly worried that they’re going to run out of time to save Christmas, then tries to save face by adding, “not that I care.” Santa tells her not to worry, then he produces the secret to his success: the Feliz Navidiamond!

Time for DuckTales to add to the Santa lore.

The gem is hanging from Santa’s sleigh, and as the camera focuses on it and Scrooge speaks it’s name we’re transported back to the past. The image of the gem is replaced with a crudely drawn version as Scrooge and Santa look over a map. They’re after the diamond, but need to enter a dangerous looking cave in order to get it. Scrooge explains the diamond allows the holder to manipulate time, but it only works on one evening: Christmas Eve. Santa and Scrooge know that with this diamond they can deliver all of the coal on time, but they have to enter the rather mean looking cave in order to get it.

And here come the reindeer!

The two make their way towards the cave with Scrooge remarking that they just need to survive los renos voladores. Santa wonders what that could possibly translate to, but his question is soon answered when he looks up to the sky: flying reindeer. The two swoop down looking rather ferocious. As Scrooge tries to ward one off he looks over to see Santa petting the other. When he asks how he managed that, Santa produces some jingle bells. He instructs Scrooge to “jingle all the way” as he tosses him a set (and I groan). Scrooge jingles the set of bells in the face of his opponent, and the reindeer immediately starts to nuzzle his face. Santa saunters over and eagerly asks if they can keep the reindeer.

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Beagle Boys.

Webby interrupts the tale to say “Of course you kept the reindeer,” adding that they’ve got two horns worth of deadly efficiency. Santa agrees insisting they’re a Christmas staple while Scrooge grumbles about the whole business as he prepares to enter another home. When he asks why Webby would care she insists she doesn’t, but when one of the reindeer turns and snorts at her she whispers “It’s not true” to assuage him while Scrooge does his best to ignore her. The two then enter the chimney and the musical montage resumes with Webby and Scrooge delivering more presents to more familiar faces, including the apparent sole member of the Beagle Boys (Eric Bauza) on Santa’s nice list. As the two try to slip out of the junkyard, the one Beagle Boy wakes up excitedly and calls out to his brothers that Santa is here. They in turn wake up and seeing how they’re all on the naughty list, things aren’t looking so well for Scrooge and Webby. That is, until Santa and the reindeer swoop in! They cut through the Beagle Boys and Webby and Scrooge hop back in the sleigh. As they fly away, Santa remarks that since he now saved Scrooge they’re even. Scrooge scoffs at the idea and we return to the past to apparently find out how Scrooge saved Santa.

Not Santa’s best plan.

They’re in that rather formidable looking cave from before clearly looking to retrieve the Feliz Navidiamond. Santa is raring to go, while Scrooge warns of a guardian. As they look upon a frozen pedestal which the diamond sits upon, Santa prepares to go for it when a rather large snowball starts rolling in. More follow and soon a monstrous snowman is assembled! Santa still isn’t frightened and suggests they can beat him with kindness, despite Scrooge’s protesting. He heads over to the snowman and proposes a trade: one present for the Feliz Navidiamond. The snowman apparently does not think this is a fair trade for it snatches Santa and appears ready to devour the humble bear. The sound of jingling bells distracts the being as Scrooge comes riding in on a flying reindeer! He drops flaming coal on the snowman causing it to release Santa. As the creature’s tree-like arms go up in flames it turns its attention to Scrooge, allowing Santa to go for the diamond. The snowman knocks Scrooge from his reindeer and then turns back to Santa grabbing his foot. He’s too late though for Santa reaches the diamond and is able to freeze time! Or at least, he thinks he stopped time, but Scrooge corrects him and points out he’s actually slowed it down (for some reason, Scrooge and the reindeer are not affected, but the snowman is) so that its passage is almost imperceptible. Scrooge declares they’re running on Christmas time and the two embrace to celebrate.

We return to the present where Scrooge and Santa are laughing about their past experiences. Webby is surprised to see the two getting along so well, while Santa seems a bit disappointed they’ve arrived at the last house. Scrooge insists he can do this one alone leaving Webby to ask Santa what the deal is? When she pushes Santa to explain how these two red coat enthusiasts could have had a falling out, Santa replies it was the worst Christmas of his life.

A word of advice: never propose Scrooge do something for free when he’s drinking a hot beverage. Or any beverage.

Another flashback sees Santa sitting by a roaring fire. He’s in the elf home again, and a cheery Scrooge enters singing his own version of “Jingle Bells” swapping out “bells” for “coal.” It’s Christmas Eve and he takes a seat across from Santa and explains he has the whole route mapped out, plus carrots for the reindeer. When he says they leave at dawn, Santa sheepishly interrupts to suggest they leave tonight instead so that the people they deliver coal to can wake up to a surprise on Christmas morning. Scrooge playfully calls him an old softy and he reminds him that they can’t take payment for the coal if the customers are sleeping. Santa then, rather nervously, suggests they don’t take payment, but do it for free. Scrooge spits his coffee, or hot chocolate, in the bear’s face at the suggestion and angrily declares he will not participate in free handouts!

“It’ll never catch on!”

Santa tries to explain that they can’t charge people on Christmas. When he suggests that warming their hearts is enough, Scrooge returns that they’re warming their homes. He then calms himself down and tries to explain the plan to Santa in a way that he, Scrooge, understands it. They use Santa’s charms and “Christmas is magic,” routine to get people to let them in, then Scrooge sells them the coal. Santa insists that it’s not just a game to him, that Christmas IS magic. Scrooge clearly can’t reason with someone so selfless, so he resorts to an ultimatum. Either Santa do Christmas his way, or do it on his own. Santa looks sad, then we hard cut to Scrooge slamming the door behind him as he leaves the home insisting “It will never catch on!” Inside, Santa is upset and doubting himself, but the elves gather around him. They remove their hats and pointy ears pop up (yeah, we already figured that out) while the head elf adds “We can help.”

I hate to see Webby sad.

Santa is still sad about how things ended as we return to the present. Webby is despondent that Christmas is actually a sad story. Santa explains that this is why he was so happy to work with Scrooge again and then instructs Webby to look in the sack as there should be one last present inside: Scrooge’s. Only Webby does look inside the sack and finds it’s still full. Confused, she turns to Santa, but he seems to know what’s been going on, though he can scarcely believe it.

That’s one evil looking Scrooge.

As Santa wails “No, no, no!” we’re taken back to McDuck Manor. Louie is sneaking up muttering to himself that Santa won’t mind if he takes a little peek. He makes his way down to the tree and finds a gift marked for him. He opens it and immediately is enraged to find a lump of coal and an invoice. We then cut to a rather sinister looking Scrooge as he places the final lump and invoice into a box and prepares to descend the last chimney.

Ohh ok, he just wants to make kids literally warm.

Scrooge enters the house and monologues his reasoning here, which is sorely needed because he’s coming across as a true villain here. In his mind, kids don’t need trinkets that they play with for a day, they need something practical. Something like coal which can warm their home. And right on cue, he finds a cold house with a little pig girl (Abby Ryder Fortson) shivering on a nearby couch. He walks over to place her blanket back on her, but her eyes snap open and shouting “Stranger danger!” she nails Scrooge with a right hook. She then mistakes him for Santa and immediately starts apologizing. Scrooge takes it all in stride and hands over the present. As he goes on about the merits of warmth, she opens the box and finds the coal. She’s not particularly disappointed though as she takes the ribbon and wrapping paper and fashions a doll out of it with the lump of coal serving as the head. She cleverly names her new doll Colette and introduces herself as Jennifer. Scrooge, seemingly finding this whole routine absurd, suggests using the coal to warm the house, but Jennifer refuses insisting she loves her doll already!

Well, she’s happy now, but Scrooge sure isn’t.

Scrooge then walks over to a window trying to wrap his head around all of this. He claims when he was a kid he would have killed for a piece of coal at Christmas, even if it only warmed his home for one night. He then looks to Jennifer who no longer appears cold as she lovingly caresses her “doll.” He then finally gets it, remarking to himself that a warm heart can carry you through the coldest times. The mantra of Santa Claus. He returns to Jennifer’s side, who has fallen back to sleep, and is now able to place the blanket on her. He sits beside her and realizes that what he did this night was wrong. As he wonders aloud to himself how he can fix this, a pounding on the door causes it to fly open and a rather enraged Santa enters.

Ooo! I like this Santa!

Santa looks ready to rumble as he shouts out Scrooge’s crimes against Christmas. Webby even enters accusing Scrooge of ruining Christmas! Jennifer also wakes up and Santa immediately goes back into the nice routine and even hands over the Eleanor Roostervelt doll she requested. The girl goes back to sleep so the others can resume their argument. Scrooge deftly turns the situation around pointing out that Santa’s injury is fake and accuses him of knowingly ruining Christmas by putting it in his hands! Santa then comes clean explaining that he came up with the whole thing because he felt if Scrooge saw the joy that Christmas brings to children he’d end their feud and they could be friends again. Webby then sums it up by saying “Santa Claus was willing to risk Christmas,” allowing Scrooge to finish, “because he wanted to spend it with me.”

Now the rest of the cast get to have fun.

Santa and Scrooge seem to be having a rather heartfelt moment, but Webby is forced to point out that they’re at risk of blowing Christmas. Santa remarks the Feliz Navidiamond is nearly out of power as we see the sun start to rise. Scrooge, seemingly unconcerned, informs Claus he just needs to think practically and suggests the strategy divide and conquer. We cut to the whole crew, Della, Donald, Launchpad, etc. all riding reindeer through the sky! It would seem Christmas has been saved as Dewey announces the last gift has been delivered. Santa and Scrooge are sharing a reindeer and he informs Scrooge there’s still one more gift with Scrooge insisting it better be in Duckburg because he’s freezing! Santa snaps back at him using his own alliterative expression for Scrooge as he refers to him as a greedy, Glaswegian, grinch! He hands a small gift over to Scrooge as the last one is his. Scrooge opens the gift and finds a set of bells with the inscription across them “McDuck & Claus Delivery.”

Aww.

Scrooge remarks the sound of it doesn’t sound quite so annoying anymore. He then hands over the real last gift of Christmas: one for Santa. It looks like a key fob one would use with a car. Santa remarks it’s nice, but adds he doesn’t have a car. As the clouds part and Scrooge’s mansion comes into view, Scrooge instructs Claus to push the button. He does so, and Scrooge explains that all of the various Santa traps that adorn his mansion have been deactivated. Santa is welcome at his home anytime. Though he instructs him not to come down the chimney like some creep.

I love seeing the place decorated for Christmas.

Santa can’t even muster a response other than to embrace Scrooge. Webby then enters the picture to narrate the end of the episode allowing Scrooge to take it home with a “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” Santa gets to add in some “Ho ho ho’s,” ending in a “Woah-oh!” as the reindeer all pass in front of the moon – the most appropriate way to end a Christmas special.

Santa gets in one more bear hug.

“How Santa Stole Christmas” is not as good a story as “Last Christmas,” but it is still a nice Christmas episode from DuckTales. It’s a little too maudlin at times, but the twist on the origins of Christmas as we know it are certainly fun. It makes sense that Scrooge would be philosophically opposed to doing business with someone whose business plan is to simply give everything away for free. The episode almost takes things too far though as the reveal that Scrooge has been delivering coal all night really paints the duck in a bad light. The episode is quick to explain Scrooge’s motivation as in his mind he’s doing the world a favor by gifting them something practical as opposed to trinkets, as he calls them. Though, there’s still the matter of the invoice. The Santa character is almost syrupy sweet, so it’s nice to see him get angry with Scrooge upon finding out what he’s been up to and the episode finds its emotional hook in the end.

And now we have nine reindeer.

Helping things along is Webby, who is always a standout character in this show. After giving Dewey the first Christmas episode to shine, it’s nice seeing one of the other kids step into the spotlight. The rest of the supporting cast is shoved aside in favor of the trio of Scrooge, Santa, and Webby. Della gets a couple of lines while Launchpad is allowed to ponder if he can crash a reindeer, but that’s largely it. Donald is present, but he doesn’t have a line. I suppose that’s fine considering he had a starring role in the prior special, though I always have to point out when Donald gets pushed to the side because, what can I say, I love that duck!

There are some terrific shots in this one.

The episode is animated as well as any other episode of the show with plenty of holiday flourishes to be found. I love the look of Scrooge’s home all decorated for the holiday and the elf home is certainly cozy and evocative of old fashioned Christmases. The giant snowman battle is impressive, and the shot from inside the creature’s mouth adds a feeling of dread to a moment that really shouldn’t have any since it’s a flashback and all. I also like the simple design of Santa. Again, it makes sense for him to be a polar bear in this world, and I think he may have appeared as such in a prior episode as a decoration or something. Either way, I clearly forgot until I saw him here. He’s giant, but looks rather cuddly. He sort of reminds me of my grandmother, especially when he starts trying to lay the guilt on Scrooge early in the episode.

If one DuckTales Christmas episode just isn’t enough, well it’s good that you have this one too. It’s a decent little mystery that mostly gets by on the emotional hook found in the end. And it’s also extremely accessible! Disney is likely to air this one on its family of cable networks, along with “Last Christmas,” and it might even be available on the Disney Now app. And if you have Disney+ it’s right there waiting for you. Considering we’re just a few days away from Christmas, you should probably get to it while there’s still time! After all, you’re likely not in possession of a Feliz Navidiamond.


Dec. 22 – Alvinnn!!! and the Chipmunks – “A Very Merry Chipmunk”

Original air date December 12, 2020.

One of the franchises I have great admiration for is The Chipmunks, or Alvin and The Chipmunks. It’s been around since 1958 when Ross Bagdasarian Sr. came up with a novelty song called “The Witch Doctor.” Realizing he could make funny sounds by speeding up his voice, a tactic cartoon makers had been utilizing for years already, he came up with the Witch Doctor character for the song, but soon decided the voice would be better suited for chipmunks. Other songs followed and so did television. Eventually the characters gained their own personalities, with Alvin becoming the dominant one. This isn’t a franchise I respect because of the quality, but just the longevity and the fact that Bagdasarian never sold out. This has to be one of the longest running, family-owned, franchises in American history. Bagdasarian’s son, Ross Jr., took over following his dad’s death in 1972 and he, along with his wife, Janice Karmen, have retained control over the property ever since. Although as I write this there are rumors that the Bagdasarians are finally looking to offload the franchise for a cool 300 million. They’ve had it for a long time at this point and I don’t really blame them for wanting to cash out and retire, but the franchise will definitely lose a lot of its charm when that happens.

Janice Karma is getting all of the credit this time, but don’t be fooled, these chipmunks should be pretty familiar still.

My chipmunks growing up was the 1980s television show Alvin and the Chipmunks. My sister and I loved the theme song probably more than the actual show, but we were regular viewers. We even had some books on tape and rented the animated movie, and when we had grown out of it we moved on. The property went into a semi-dormant state in the 90s as it was mostly relegated to direct-to-video films before coming back as the live-action film property. Now, the license exists on Nickelodeon as Alvinnn!!! and the Chipmunks. It’s a spiritual successor to that 80s show that has been predictably retooled to fit a modern aesthetic. The Chipmunks wear pants now and are presented much smaller than they were in the 80s cartoon (when they were just unexplainably as large as most kids), but still much larger than an ordinary chipmunk. They’re also still shacking up with David Seville who makes music and has the Chipmunks perform his songs. They live in a giant house, but the three brothers are forced to share a bedroom. The dude is making money off of these kid and won’t even grant them their own bedrooms? Something stinks.

Simon, Theodore, and Alvin haven’t changed much over the years, they just now where pants and have tails.

The show premiered in 2015 and is presently in its fifth, 26 episode, season. That’s impressive for a Nickelodeon show not named Sponge-Bob, though I feel like this show doesn’t have much reach. My kids have watched it here and there, but it’s not like I see a ton of merch for it. It’s credited mostly to Karman who is given the “Created by” credit and is also the credited director. Other Bagdasarians are still involved as her children are credited as producers and have writing credits, but obviously Ross has stepped back some. He’s still onboard though to voice Dave and the Chipmunks Alvin and Simon, while Karman voices two of the Chipettes and Theodore. The Season 4 finale was dedicated to Christmas, and it’s the only Christmas episode I’m aware of from this show. It didn’t air as the finale though so that it could be timely. How will it measure up to the classic A Chipmunk Christmas? I dubbed that 1981 special the fifth best Christmas special of all time as recently as last year. I don’t expect this one to match that, but in celebration of that one’s 40th anniversary it felt appropriate to look at a modern interpretation of these rodents.

This may come as a surprise, but what Alvin is willing to do to get that game is arguably worse than what Eric Cartman did to get a Nintendo Wii.

The episode begins in a downtown setting where people are walking around and getting ready for the incoming Christmas holiday. An oversized candy cane is positioned outside a window pining for a video game behind the glass. The candy cane is Alvin (Ross Bagdasarian Jr.) in a costume that appears to be quite difficult to maneuver in. Theodore (Janice Karman), dressed as a Christmas elf, comes strolling up to ask Alvin what he’s doing. Alvin wants this video game (Masters of Zelinda, an obvious Zelda parody), but can’t afford it, and will probably get it for Christmas because this is a Christmas special. As the two walk and talk, we find out this is the first day of their winter recess from school and their surrogate father, Dave, has mandated they spend some of their break helping others. That would apparently mean helping out with some Christmas thing thus explaining the costumes of which Alvin seems resentful of his brother’s more conventional trappings as he falls over in his candy cane one.

Well, I suppose it can’t be worse than that play Charlie Brown was working on.

In a theater, Dave (Bagdasarian Jr) is watching some kid (I think his name is Kevin and he’s voiced by Karman) dressed as a dancing Christmas tree auditioning for a show. Dave doesn’t seem impressed. Two cops then approach him to basically just gush about Dave overseeing the production, since he is a hit song writer of some renown. They’re hopeful he’ll craft a new hit (hmm, I wonder what it could be…) and he responds in kind that he’s working on one. This just feels like window dressing for a closing musical number, doesn’t it?

As a general rule, I would advise children not to converse with men claiming to be Christmas elves on the street.

Back in town, Alvin has resumed his candy cane duties while Theodore is trying to raise funds or something. A gentleman dressed like an elf (I don’t know who voices him as they just credit the main cast, but I assume it’s someone from the main cast) approaches and inquires what Theodore is doing. It would seem there’s a labor shortage up north and it’s an all hands on deck situation. Theodore laughs him off nervously and resumes his duties, while the elf dude sets his sights on Alvin. He asks about taking his “elf” up north to help Santa. Alvin doesn’t deny guardianship of his little elf, but he does point out that Theodore is already helping Santa by gesturing to some kid dressed as Santa. The elf corrects him by saying Theodore will help the REAL Santa. Alvin seems confused, but never one to miss an opportunity, tells the elf to ask Santa why he still hasn’t received the game he’s been requesting for the past three years? The elf asks if he’s been naughty, and Alvin gets a bit evasive. The elf tells him he’ll be right back and dashes away while Alvin falls on his face again. He returns in the blink of an eye with the game Alvin wanted and proposes a deal: Alvin gets the game if he can take Theodore to the North Pole.

Watching Alvin fall down is oddly satisfying.

Alvin is a bit hesitant, but calls out to Theodore asking him if he wants to go to the North Pole. Theodore, possibly maintaining the illusion he’s an elf, basically responds by saying, “Who wouldn’t want to go to the North Pole?” That’s all the elf needs to hear as he frantically tries to find a contract on his person to have Alvin sign. He just grabs a scrap of paper and uses Alvin’s back to write on it knocking him over again. He helps Alvin up and just lays it out: sign this if you want the game, or don’t. He’ll come for the game at the end of the night if he chooses not to let Theodore go north.

They’re going to try to play this off like a misunderstanding, but really there is no need for this elf to literally abduct Theodore. He is totally just forcing him to do this and that’s criminal behavior.

Alvin and Theodore head home and Theodore is quite surprised to see Alvin with the game he has so coveted. He tells his brother the elf just gave it to him and Theodore basically just thinks that’s nice. Inside their bedroom, Alvin reasons to himself that kid could not have been a real elf so he signs his name on the “contract.” Instantly, the elf appears in the window and uses a magic wand to basically grab Theodore and toss him in this fancy looking sleigh. Dave comes bursting in to witness the child abduction and the elf screams and uses his wand to put him to sleep. Simon then enters the fray, but he’s too late as the elf whisks Theodore away.

One of the few times this show made me think, “That looks nice.”

In the sleigh, the elf tells Theodore what’s going on and we’ll soon learn that his name is Chestnut. There’s a massive labor shortage this year where it concerns the elves (I can’t imagine it’s any better this year) and Chestnut has been out looking for any help he can find. Theodore seems rather receptive to the idea of helping Santa and not particularly concerned with the whole kidnapping that has taken place. Back at the house, Alvin informs Simon what happened, leaving out his own involvement. When Simon asks about the game, he says he won it in a contest. Simon then grabs the phone and calls the police, but he just gets yelled at by the dispatcher for playing a prank. Theodore and Chestnut arrive at the North Pole and we meet another elf named Peppermint. Theodore gets setup in front of some monitors and has to parse out the naughty and nice kids, or maybe just note what kids want for Christmas (isn’t there a whole letter mechanism for that?), and he seems game.

Simon and Alvin have no success when it comes to waking Dave.

At the Seville house, Alvin and Simon are consulting a globe as they try to figure out what to do. Dave won’t wake up, and we head into a musical montage! During the montage, Theodore gets super tired watching the monitors while Alvin and Simon go to great lengths to try to wake Dave including trying to lift him with a drone and tying him to a motorized vacuum or something. He ends up going for a ride and the boys leave him asleep on the stairs. His back is going to be in rough shape whenever he does wake up. When the song is over, Theodore is sleepy and has left his station. Chestnut is confused as to how Theodore could be tired for apparently elves never tire at Christmas. Theodore then decides to come clean about not being a real elf and the guy doesn’t believe him. When he removes a false ear he freaks out and uses his wand to put it back in place.

Despite their reputation as magical creatures, elves apparently cannot remove their own ears.

Chestnut ushers Theodore into another room claiming he has no idea how he did that with his ear but orders him not to do it again. Theodore tries to explain and removes the other ear causing the elf to freak out again. This must be some body horror imagery for him since he seems to think Theodore is literally ripping his own ears off. Theodore is finally able to explain he’s not a real elf, but Chestnut still seems confused and questions why his guardian would let him come to the North Pole then. Now it’s Theodore’s turn to be confused as he finds out that Alvin posed as his guardian for a game and in turn let this guy abduct him. Legally. Sort of. Theodore explains that Alvin is just his brother and it’s quite clear that Theodore is a bit hurt by the realization that his brother sold him out for a game. We also find out that Dave has been magically put to sleep and won’t wake until Christmas and that Santa is no where to be found because he’s out looking for more elves. Theodore asks if he can go home, but Chestnut is a bit reluctant to do so. He says once word gets out that Theodore isn’t an elf he’s likely to be banished by his superiors forever. Harsh, but fair.

That is quite the outfit, general.

With nothing else to do, Chestnut takes Theodore to see General Eggnog. The general is an oversized elf in a loud blue suit and seems like a man (elf) in a panic. It’s clear our abductor elf is reluctant to tell him what’s going on, but the general is very enthused about meeting their newest recruit. As Chestnut starts to explain what happened, Theodore interrupts to confirm he’s eager to get to work. The general is pleased and takes his leave. Chestnut asks Theodore why he did that and Theodore explains he feels more wanted here than he is at home, obviously thanks to Alvin’s actions.

It would seem they’re not cut out for Whose Line is it Anyway?

At the Seville residence, it would appear to be the next day. Alvin has returned from doing something and Simon seems irritated at how long he was gone. Alvin informs him he’s been out doing good deeds all over town in the hope of getting Santa’s attention (or to make up for the bad deed he committed of letting Theodore go north?). Before Simon can get mad at him there’s a knock at the door. It’s Officer Dangus (Michael Bagdasarian) from earlier and he’s looking for Dave, who missed that morning’s rehearsal. He just lets himself in because he’s an ass and Alvin and Simon try to play coy, but Dave was left sleeping on the stairs and Dangus can see him. They try to cover for him by saying Dave has been up all night writing his new song and he’s super tired. They also add in that they’re personally sick of hearing it which was a bad move because Dangus asks them to sing it for him. They ad-lib some terrible Christmas song which just ends with Dangus storming out in a panic declaring nothing can save that song. At least he’s gone.

That is some pretty serious vandalism on Alvin’s part. Something tells me this won’t be addressed before the episode ends.

We get a quick look at a tired Theodore once again before going back to the antics at home. Simon has rigged up a remote-controlled gurney with some crazy tech that’s supposed to get Dave off of the stairs and into his bed. Apparently Simon is some kind of super genius in this show. He’s distracted by a scream though as Alvin is now resorting to bad deeds to get Santa’s attention and can be seen chasing a kid while wearing a snowman costume. Simon gets him to stop allowing Alvin to explain his new plan suggesting if this can’t get Santa’s attention then nothing will. He gestures broadly to the neighborhood and it looks like a tornado went through town. Reindeer are hanging from trees and there’s lights and wrappings all over the streets while “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” plays somewhat sarcastically. Alvin then gets a phone call and is hopeful it’s Santa, but it’s just Britney (Karman) looking for Dave. It’s been a day since the incident with Dangus, and the cops are having an argument about the missing Dave. Dangus then gets radioed about a vandalism in progress and heads to the scene.

This idiot is going to split his head open and still get a hero’s funeral, despite being a terrible cop.

The perp is Alvin who is now stealing Christmas lights. Dangus quickly apprehends him and takes him to Dave, who is now strapped to the gurney. Simon gets startled by Dangus storming in swinging Alvin around like a wolf with a rabbit in its mouth which causes him to drop the remote to the gurney. It breaks causing the gurney to rise up on one end portraying Dave like that girl from The Ring. The gurney rumbles down the stairs towards a terrified Dangus and Alvin, collides with them, and starts rolling around through the house at a high rate of speed. It takes out the Christmas tree before flying out the front door with Alvin and Dangus still atop tangled in Christmas lights. As the gurney zooms through town narrowly avoiding pedestrians and cars, Alvin starts calling out to Santa about just wanting Theodore back, which is witnessed by Chestnut at the North Pole. He quickly shuts the monitor off as Theodore approaches inquiring if there’s any word from his family. The elf plays coy and Theodore miserably shuffles off back to work.

Look who finally showed up.

Back in town, Simon gets control over the gurney at last via his hastily reassembled remote control and it comes to a stop amidst a bunch of cops who don’t look too happy for before this they went for a bit of a ride on an ice skating rink. Up north, Chestnut checks on Theodore who looks pretty worse for ware. He proposes taking him home, but Theodore doesn’t want to leave the elves high and dry, and he doesn’t want to go where he’s not wanted, but it’s clear he’s not going to last much longer up here. He then faints and we cut to Theodore in bed and some old elf is telling Chestnut he probably can’t survive the trip back home. A not-so-commanding voice disagrees and we finally get to see Santa. He seems to know what’s going on and declares he’s taking Theodore home. He also has more good news as he’s recruited a shitload of elves to help out, so I guess we don’t have to worry about Christmas getting cancelled or anything. Santa scoops up Theodore and Chestnut gives him a snow globe which shows Alvin begging to have his brother returned to him. This puts a smile on the weary chipmunk’s face as he curls up in the sleigh ready to go home.

I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think his badge permits him to abduct children and force them to perform.

At the Seville house, Alvin and Simon are basically in full lockdown mode at this point. Britney keeps calling Alvin to get them to come to the show and he’s insistent on it not happening. Until Dangus shows up again declaring otherwise and we awkwardly cut to him yelling at everyone at the theater. He instructs the Chipettes that they’re to sing backup for the boys while Dave continues to snooze in a prop sleigh (why haven’t they brought him to a hospital at this point?). The only problem is, no one knows what they’re singing! Dangus just tells them to sing something good, which is hardly helping the situation.

This should go well.

The curtain then opens abruptly forcing Dangus to introduce the rodents. The girls roll sleeping Dave out as Dangus wants to make sure everyone knows who is responsible for this performance to come. He then departs leaving Alvin and Simon to awkwardly start into their lame song. Before they get too far into things, Santa comes flying in to set things right. He wakes Dave up and returns Theodore to his arms. He also puts the audience to sleep, for some reason, even though they already saw him enter. Alvin is able to apologize to Theodore while Dave seems confused. Santa confirms for Theodore that Chestnut will be sentenced to death for his kidnapping. Actually he assures Theodore that Chestnut will be fine and not banished claiming it was an “honest mistake.” Never mind the kid totally broke protocol with that bogus contract. Dave then starts to fret about not having a song and Santa just magics one up for him. He wakes the audience and makes a grand exit leaving everyone to enjoy the new song…

Thank goodness Santa showed up to make sure this very low stakes Christmas pageant has an original song.

It’s not what I expected. This whole time I was ready for this thing to end with “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t be Late),” but instead we get some generic, pop, piece that’s played really fast and sounds like ass. Seriously, this was such an easy layup and a way to bring in parents who have been watching this junk with their kids and instead they roll with this crap? And to make it worse, we get dumb cuts of people dancing and the cop doing the moonwalk.

Simon always struck me as more of a bass player.

Mercifully, it ends back at the Seville house with Alvin tucking his brother into bed. He then creeps over to the window and starts trying to bargain with Santa, because this is Alvin, after all. He says that even though he told Santa he just wanted his brother back, he also wouldn’t mind a few other things. He then produces a giant list and starts to explain it. We cut to Santa in his sleigh watching this all unfold on his snow globe. He shouts out, “Alvinnn!!!” and the chipmunk can clearly hear him as he drops the list and slinks back to bed. Then, finally, the classic Chipmunk song cuts in to serenade Santa as he flies through the snowy skies and, yes, passes in front of the full moon. It feels like it’s been a minute since we got one of those.

He’s always watching…

Well, that was a mixed bag. If we’re doing an Alvin Christmas story then we need Alvin to do something selfish and learn something in the end, and Janice Karman and company certainly came up with an interesting setup. Sure, it’s preposterous, but in a believable way for a Christmas special. We get to feel angry with Alvin and sad for Theodore, though the whole unwanted angle is a tad forced. Plus, it requires Chestnut to act in a rather selfish manner as well. They’re careful to make sure Chestnut never outright lies to Theodore, instead he just doesn’t really answer any difficult questions and gets constantly interrupted. The mix-up works well enough, but then Chestnut is basically an unintentional dick, but all is forgiven in the end by Santa despite him having some pretty harsh ground rules.

Six reindeer – what a fraud!

The stuff that takes place back in town is equally mixed. I was good with the physical comedy, though less so with the bumbling cop, Dangus. He’s more annoying than funny and impossibly incompetent when it comes to his job. It was hard to care about the Christmas show that Dave was supposed to oversee, even knowing everything would turn out fine in the end because it’s, you know, Christmas. That ending though did suck. We gloss over Alvin’s comeuppance in favor of a trash song. Inserting “The Chipmunk Song” in the end does not make up for it either, it arguably makes it worse! I thought maybe there were some rights issues with it that I was not aware of, but no, they just opted to do something else. Which is an okay decision in a vacuum, but you better put together a good song if you’re going to tease a song at the end of the episode and not have it be the one everyone wants to hear.

Officer Dangus sucks and I hate him.

Aside from the song, the audio portion of the episode is okay. The Chipmunks and Chipettes sound like they’re supposed to because the same people have been voicing them for decades, but the other voices were a bit annoying. Dangus irritated me in basically every way while Santa just lacked presence in his voice. And visually this show is pretty disappointing. Regardless of what you think of the character designs, the textures and animation are just lacking. Everything looks wooden and too clean, even when the show is trying to present a mess like Alvin’s rampage. It’s colorful, at least, and there’s plenty of Christmas items in the background, but ugh, it’s just unappealing to look at. I’m sure the budget isn’t very high given this is just a television show, one not backed by a giant studio too, but this is the type of CG show I’m happy to say is starting to die out in favor of 2D computer animation.

This one isn’t great, but at least it looks the part.

“A Very Merry Chipmunk” is, despite some of my ranting, not terrible. It likely pleases the main audience it’s shooting for: modern kids. If your kids like Alvin and the gang, then they’re probably happy with this. It’s just a shame when creators take a modern interpretation of a classic franchise and do little to try and bring in the older fans. I’m not asking them to write different jokes or style the characters like it’s 1985, but just do something to make this interesting for an adult like me who is watching with his children. Seriously, if they just stuck that damn song in where it was supposed to go I’d feel 50% better about this show and would probably give it a solid recommendation. Instead, I say pass and just stick with the classic cartoon from 1981.

If, after all that, you still want to watch this then just tune to Nickelodeon if you have cable. It’s possible it’s even on-demand, and also possible that at this stage of the season you missed your chance. The show is streaming on Paramount+ and available to purchase digitally from other places as well though, so all hope is not lost.


Figura Obscura – Krampus

Oh shit, look who showed up for Christmas!

Over the years, I’ve acquired quite a few action figures designed by the good people over at Four Horsemen LLC. They’ve been designing figures for companies for awhile now. My first exposure to the company was via NECA’s inaugural line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on their appearance in the Mirage Studios comics. Lately, I’ve been enjoying their work with Super7 as they have designed most (all?) of the figures in that company’s Ultimates series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The company has become well known as a result in the action figure community, and while sculpting work for other companies is probably satisfying work, 4H always wanted to do its own thing, so it did. The company launched an in-house line of toys called Mythic Legions. As the name implies, most of these characters are taken from myth and given a new design which is then turned into a rather impressive looking piece of plastic. Just how impressive they are I can’t say because I’ve never gotten into the line.

He even comes with a Christmas card!

My exposure to Four Horsemen changed this month, when the company did a surprise drop in a new, subline, of figures called Figura Obscura. And the chosen character to kick things off is the infamous Krampus, the demon of Christmas! Krampus has long been a character associated with Christmas largely in European countries. In the US, he’s not particularly well known, but he has seen his profile rise somewhat recently. I knew of the character as a kid, though I don’t recall ever seeing him in any pop culture setting until The Venture Brothers included in him in their Christmas special. That was back in 2003 and since then the character has shown up in American Dad! and has had his own movie. In the US, it definitely feels like some companies focus on his appearance and draw from that making him some kind of horror monster when the traditional Krampus is really just someone who punishes bad kids at Christmas. It makes sense that Santa Claus would reward the good and that there would be an entity that punishes the wicked. In many settings, Santa and Krampus are like a team, but over the years that seems to be less the case.

The 4H version of Krampus defined.

Either way, I personally think Krampus is pretty neat and his design (often fawn-like) lends itself well to toys. Obviously, I’m pretty into Christmas and I’ve always wanted to do more with Christmas action figures and when I saw this Krampus go up for sale on December 5th of this year I pounced. It was a surprise drop that I don’t think anyone was aware was coming outside of the people at Four Horsemen. The figure was offered through 4H’s Mythic Legions website twice that day, once in the morning and once in the evening. It was smart on their part as it kept the figure from selling out quickly before most people knew it even existed. I personally found out about it in between drops so I was able to grab one in the evening timeslot. It didn’t sell out super fast, which was nice, and it was an in-stock sale which is unusual for 4H as they usually follow more of a made-to-order model with their releases. The company must have felt secure that this particular figure would sell out without much issue given the seasonal nature. I also understand there’s a lot of parts reuse at play here which obviously reduces costs. Just how much, I can’t say, since this my first dip into 4H’s catalog.

Pardon my flash.

Krampus arrived about two weeks after I ordered it in resplendent packaging. He comes in a window box made of very thick cardstock that’s wrapped with a magnetic, cardboard, outer sleeve. It’s well constructed and durable, more durable than a normal box as it’s laminated. The front of which has a neat Krampus logo of sorts with a story about him on the rear and the rest is covered in blue and white and it’s a snowy scene. When you take it off, the reverse side features the artwork that also adorns the box. It’s a snowy setting at night in the wilderness where a lone cottage sits rather perilously on a cliffside. You can use this wrap as a backdrop for your figure which is a really neat idea and should serve me well as I accumulate Christmas figures.

To flash or not to flash? I’ll be mixing in photos with and without, to try and present this figure as fairly as possible.

Krampus himself sits in the window box and once removed he has immediate presence on any surface he’s placed. He stands about 7″ tall with skin featuring this deep, satin, black, paint that is really rich and cool to look at. He’s covered in it too and it’s applied cleanly. His head is quite ferocious looking as he has what I consider the traditional Krampus facial expression of an open mouth with a giant tongue flicking out. He’s quite angry looking and has two gnarly horns coming off of the back of his head. There’s a lot of sculpted fur on and around the head basically forming a mane that runs down the middle of his back. The only clothing he wears is a skirt with a leathery texture to it and some greaves and gauntlets. The armor bits have a nice, worn, metallic, texture with sharp ridges sculpted into them. His feet end in hooves and they’re fringed with fur and look terrific. Some assembly is required as he has a tail that needs to peg into his rear. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass (pun intended) to insert it as the hole is really tight (I should have bought him dinner first). I had to heat up both ends with hot water to finally get it in and when I was done I was actually surprised to see the sculpted fur on the tail cut into my thumb. Damn!

Gene Simmons wishes he had a tongue like the one on Krampus.

The look of Krampus is going to be this figure’s main attraction and 4H did a great job. I think of Krampus being covered in fur, but I like the look of the bare chest here, probably owing to the fact that I love that black paint that’s in use. His fingers are clawed, but not dramatically so, and the details on his face are incredible. Each tooth is sculpted individually and the paint is remarkably clean. The only issue I’ve run into with this figure from a presentation aspect is some paint chipping. To my surprise, it looks like the figure is cast in a white plastic and then painted, because there are some spots where the paint chipped off. Most of which is in the inner thigh by the joint so it’s not noticeable when the figure is displayed. There’s also a small one near the armor on the left leg that’s probably only noticeable when handling the figure. I don’t know why the figure wasn’t just cast in black plastic and then painted, but I’m ignorant on the costs of figure production when it comes to color choices. Obviously, white can be used for anything and then easily painted over so it could be as simple as that. Other than that one small flaw, I’m pretty pleased with how he turned out.

I guess he kept those kids in his basket too long.

Krampus needs stuff, and if you’re familiar with the legend, you know he has some specific needs at that. This figure comes with a set of loose gripping hands attached in the box, and tighter gripping hands he can swap to. The loose hands work fine with his weapon of choice, a bundle of sticks or switches, as they just rest in place. They look pretty awesome and are well-painted as they’re wrapped with sculpted tape to hold them together. I don’t know if the tighter hands are for anything specific, or just for down the road if you want to give him a weapon from something else, but they won’t hold the sticks unless you heat them up to make them more pliable. He has a pair of cuffs that can fit around his wrists and are attached via real chain. The plastic is softer so it’s not too difficult to slip them around the wrists, but if you’re concerned about breaking them you can also just pop his hands off first.

This is one demon who is going to keep his trusty basket!

Krampus also has his trusty basket. The character is supposed to wear this on his back and some versions of the character toss bad kids in there. It’s sculpted to resemble a woven basket and it has some muted green and red accents. The top is removable, and 4H loaded it with other stuff. There’s a pair of skulls, one with an articulated jaw and one without, two skeletal hands, and a leather strap. The strap seems to serve no purpose on its own and I was advised by fans of the Mythic Legions line that it’s likely included for customizers. If cut and then glued, it could be used as a belt or a shoulder strap for the basket. By default, 4H included a piece of rope with the consistency of hemp. It can be used to string the basket and then hang it off of Krampus. I ran the rope through the included slot on the basket, around each arm of Krampus, and then back through the slit. This made it tight enough to hang just fine, while also leaving room for adjustment without the need of a knot. Krampus, despite being hooved, stands fine on his own and continues to stand well even with a loaded basket on his back. The last accessory 4H included is a loop of red thread with some miniature bells strung on it. You can drape this over the head of Krampus, put them on the basket, around his waist, or even through his teeth! And they really jingle, plus the red thread adds a dash of color and is a really nice touch.

Oh you silly boy!

With all of that stuff in the box, you may be wondering how Krampus moves around. I was rather curious, myself, as I’ve wondered what 4H’s approach to articulation was. With the figures the company does for Super7, there are certain joints some consider standard that Super7 disagrees on. Namely, double joints at the knees and elbows. 4H might share the same philosophy as Krampus has single hinges at both places with swivels, but he does do something many Super7 figures don’t and that’s include a ball-joint at the waist. This gives the figure the twisting motion many want while also providing for some forward and back and a little tilt. And it’s well-engineered, as those who got the recently released Casey Jones from Super7 were treated to such a joint, but it turned out rather unsightly as the figure doesn’t sit deep enough on the ball-peg. Aside from that, Krampus is fairly typical with a ball joint at the head, ball-hinges at the shoulders, horizontal hinges at the hands, ball-jointed hips, and hinges with rocking action down at the ankles. Lastly, he has a ball-hinge at the tail. The tail is sculpted and rigid, so there’s not a lot it can do, but it has enough range to get it out of the way when posing. The amount of fur around the figure’s neck limits his head movements a bit, but he can look up and down a little and twist. The ankle rockers are also a little limited, likely owing to the fact that he has hooves, but there’s enough to support his weight and give him a wider stance, if desired. The only true shortcoming is the lack of vertically hinged wrists. I would have preferred that to horizontal, if I could only have one, though both would have been preferable. Krampus isn’t as dynamic as some figures in my collection, but I find what’s there is enough and it at least works well.

Some comparisons. First up, we have a RED Soundwave and a Super7 Leonardo, another 4H design.

Krampus is a pretty wicked design that’s going to look good whether you display him with Christmas stuff, monsters, or your Mythic Legions. He poses well enough, and best of all, he can hold his accessories without toppling over. The backdrop is an awesome little bonus too, and the only drawback I have with him is that returning him to his box would be a challenge. I really have no desire to unthread the basket nor do I want to remove that tail to get him back in his bubble. With my seasonal figures, I usually put them away after the holidays, but Krampus will likely find a new home on a shelf somewhere. And that’s not really a bad problem to have as this is a figure I want to look at year round. And if my kids start acting up, maybe I should just convince them Krampus operates like that cursed Elf on a Shelf and start moving him every morning. That will probably give them nightmares though, so maybe it’s best that I don’t.

And here he is with another fantasy character in Drizz’t from Hasbro’s very short-lived D&D line and a fellow hooved character in NECA’s Groundchuck.

If you wish to get a Krampus figure of your very own, well, I’m afraid it’s sold out. Four Horsemen made it sound like this is just the first Krampus they’re doing, so maybe he comes back next year in another form. If this is the Krampus you need then you’re going to have to pony up some extra money on the secondary market or hope someone that got one decides they don’t need it. The figure retailed for $50 which is already pricey for a 7″ action figure. While I like it, I definitely wouldn’t have much of an appetite to pay much more than that. Good luck if you’re in the market. As for the rest of you, hopefully this is the only Krampus that visits your house this Christmas!

Merry Christmas, pal!

Dec. 21 – Count Duckula – “A Christmas Quacker”

Original air date December 24, 1990 (IMDB) or December 26 (Wikipedia)

In the 1980s, Nickelodeon didn’t have a lot of animated content. That’s probably surprising for today’s adolescents, but that’s how the network was in the old days. That was due in large part to the network first prioritizing educational content, and then wanting to make sure whatever it aired couldn’t be found on another channel. And if you’re going to produce original content, live action is often far cheaper than animation.

Things would obviously change, and one of the first animated shows Nick would air was Danger Mouse. The British import satisfied the network’s desire to have something that couldn’t be found on broadcast, but it didn’t really satisfy the desire to have an actual, good, show. Sorry Danger Mouse fans, but I don’t like your show. Danger Mouse eventually got the boot, but network president Geraldine Laybourne was still interested in working with Cosgrove Hall Films on a new show. That show would be Count Duckula.

Duckula is a vampiric waterfowl who happens to lack teeth.

The character Count Duckula first debuted as a villain in Danger Mouse. That character had a fun design, but would not be suitable as a lead for a children’s show. In order to lead his own show, Duckula would have to be toned down a bit. As the lore goes, the Count Duckula from Danger Mouse was basically killed off somewhere. His servant, Igor, then needed to create a new Count Duckula through an elaborate reincarnation process requiring blood. He ended up being a vampire created not by blood, but by ketchup as the opening song covers leading to him being a vegetarian vampire who shuns his teeth by literally tossing them out. Since he doesn’t have a thirst for blood, Duckula is instead motivated by a relatable item: money. As well as fame. Despite living in a castle with servants, he’s apparently broke and is forced to travel the world in his teleporting castle seeking out get rich quick schemes and such. His adversary, Dr. Von Goosewing, is basically a vampire hunter that either doesn’t believe that Duckula is harmless or he doesn’t care: a vampire is a vampire. He’s out to destroy him, but frequently is thwarted.

The intro to every episode makes sure the audience knows that this isn’t your typical blood-sucking vampire.

Count Duckula would last about six years from 1988-1993 and totaled a syndication-friendly 65 episodes. Despite it actually overlapping with the original Nicktoons, I can’t remember actually watching Count Duckula past 1989 or so, nor can I recall what timeslot it occupied. And even though it was co-produced by Nick, it’s not a Nicktoon and I assume that’s because it preceded the Nicktoons concept. There was no need to grandfather it in since Nickelodeon didn’t own the rights to the show or character as once their broadcasting rights expired at the end of 1993, Count Duckula was gone from the network. Apparently, despite being gung-ho for the show initially, Laybourne ended up not liking the cartoon. It ended up being a testing ground of sorts for Nick when it came to original animation and I presume had the network president liked the show then the network probably does more to keep it around. Maybe then it would have been a true Nicktoon. As far as I’m concerned, it basically is the first Nicktoon which makes it a rather important piece of cartoon history.

As part of the broadcast third season, Count Duckula celebrated Christmas. Even though a show starring a vampire duck that also incorporates other famous monsters into it feels more like a Halloween thing, there’s still room for Christmas. And since the inhabitants of Count Duckula’s world all appear to be birds, we get to see what Santa would like if he had feathers and a beak.

Santa appears to be an eagle or a buzzard, which begs the question, “If Santa were a bird, what kind of bird would he be?”

The episode begins with a festive title card that dissolves into an actual moving picture. “The Nutcracker Suite” is played as narrator Barry Clayton does his best Vincent Price impression to welcome us in. We look at the cold castle home of Duckula and find Santa Claus (Jack May, I think, only the main cast is credited to their main characters) getting ready to go down the chimney. He mostly looks the part, but he has a crooked beak extended from his face and over his beard. At first glance I thought it was a nose and that Santa was actually human. He’s accompanied by one, lone, reindeer who appears to be Rudolf given that he has a round, red, nose. He kind of looks like Brain from Inspector Gadget, only brown and with antlers.

He may be dressed like Santa, but Duckula embodies the “receiving” aspect of Christmas and not so much the giving.

Inside the castle, Duckula (David Jason) is excited about Christmas and is roaming the halls as Santa. His faithful servant, Igor (May), is doing the same though with much less enthusiasm as he lets us know he much prefers Halloween. Igor is basically the show’s killjoy as he intended to resurrect Duckula as a bonafide vampire and resents this vegetarian lord he got instead. In the bowels of the castle, Santa is seen crawling around. He remarks that every year he spends a few hours delivering presents to the whole world, then the remainder of the night trying to navigate Castle Duckula in order to deliver presents here.

The birds of this world are apparently of the Donald Duck variety in that they can’t fly, as this is surely not the quickest (or safest) way to the top.

Outside the castle, the crow brothers are shown scaling the wall dressed as little Santas as well. These guys are often shown trying to break into the castle, only to rarely succeed. They think there is treasure inside and are apparently unaware that the castle’s owner is broke. Or Duckula is ignorant of actual treasure somewhere inside. They’re singing “Jingle Bells” until one crow brother (Burt, I think) remarks to the lead crow (Ruffles?) about this bringing about warm, fuzzy, feelings inside. It would seem our dim-witted bird thinks they’re bringing presents to Duckula, while the lead brother has to remind him they’re just dressed as Santa to sneak in and steal everything. Once the dimmer brother understands, they resume their scaling and their song.

In this show, the vampire hunter is actually the bad guy.

Flying nearby is Dr. Von Goosewing (Jimmy Hibbert). He’s flying a blimp and also dressed like Santa (everyone is just so festive) and butchering “Jingle Bells.” Most of the lyrics he makes up are borderline unintelligible. He’s in a festive mood though because he has a present for the “wampire” inside and he’s pretty proud of himself for coming up with some ingenious plan. He doesn’t explain it for our benefit, but obviously this isn’t a sincere Christmas gift. He exits the blimp and decides to enter the building as Santa would. In the background, we see the lone reindeer working on a snowman while he waits for his master’s return.

So many Santas…

Elsewhere in the castle, Duckula is marching along and singing “Jingle Bells” as well. We then see Nanny (Brian Trueman), Duckula’s massive, hen, caretaker, also dressed as Santa and also singing along. We then pivot back to Igor and he’s just muttering “Bah, humbug.” All three characters collide at an intersection and Duckula is confused to see they too are dressed as Santa. It would seem one of them plays Santa every year, and all thought it was their turn this year. Nanny confirms for Duckula that Santa is expected soon while the crow brothers outside pause at a window thinking they had been spotted. They weren’t, but Santa opens the window the lead crow was beside which knocks all of them from the castle wall. Santa, thinking he had finally found the exit, sees that he was wrong and resumes his journey oblivious that he just murdered a murder of crows. Inside, Duckula asks Igor what that sound was as the crows crash down to Earth, but soon decides he doesn’t really care.

He does look cooler with fangs.

In the living room, Duckula is bored waiting for Santa so he proposes to Igor they exchange gifts now. Igor is happy to oblige, strangely, and Duckula is happy to receive a present. Until he opens it, that is, and discovers Igor got him new vampire teeth. He’s disappointed, but Igor requests he oblige him this one time since it is Christmas and Duckula tries them on. Immediately he starts talking like a normal person would with those cheap, vampire, teeth found at stores around Halloween and he’s none too pleased. He does wish Igor “Happy Christmas,” and makes the old buzzard quite happy. He hands over Igor’s gift as well, an obviously wrapped axe, which Igor seems pleased to receive or he’s just still beaming about the teeth.

In case you’re wondering, Nanny’s arm is always in a sling. I remember zero plot details from this show despite watching it as a kid, but I did remember the sling thing for some reason. Probably because it bothered me as a kid not knowing why her arm (wing?) is in a sling.

Duckula then picks up another gift that’s intended for Nanny. When he calls for her to enter she comes crashing through the wall, which is kind of her thing. She then scolds Duckula for speaking with his mouth full, on account of the teeth, so he spits them out and ends that little piece of amusement. She’s elated though to receive a gift from Duckula, making it seem like this isn’t a regular thing, and is so excited she almost forgets to open it. Duckula has to encourage her a bit, but when she does she seems disappointed. It’s a book, and she declares she already has a book (she’s not very bright), but Duckula tells her this is a great one and tells her to read the title. It’s actually a comic book about a character named Tremendous Terence. It’s actually The Very Big Tremendous Terence Adventure Book and Duckula tells her she’s very lucky. It soon becomes apparent that this isn’t really a gift for Nanny, as Duckula takes the book from her hands and enthusiastically declares he’s Tremendous Terrence’s number one fan. He then declares she’s too busy to read it now on account of having to prepare Christmas dinner so he’ll just borrow it for a bit. What a jerk? We then get a quick glimpse at Von Goosewing as he tries to navigate the same tunnels as Santa. He remarks to himself that his Christmas gift is at risk of becoming an Easter Egg if he can’t find his way out of this place soon.

This better not lead to a bad case of amnesia.

Back in the den, Duckula is reading the book aloud to a very enraptured Igor. As he reads it, we see the pages of the comic as the camera pans over the panel and Duckula provides narration. He reads the characters in voices, which is a nice touch. It’s a generic story of a space ace thwarting evil aliens, but Duckula is entertained tremendously while Igor is most certainly not. Nanny then enters the room to share some pudding she’s made, only it falls off her plate and bounces across the floor striking Duckula in the head. It continues on and smashes through a window, which the crow brothers had reached and soon take another terrible tumble.

Like many toothless cartoon characters, Duckula gains teeth whenever he smiles.

Following his little bump on the noggin, Duckula is apparently in a daze. He starts to imagine himself in the Tremendous Terence book where he needs to help his hero save Santa from some aliens. The visuals become a comic book with only Duckula partially animated. This must have really knocked down the cost of this episode. As the story moves along though, other characters start to animate. Either this is intentional or they just kind of lost track of the rules. The camera does shake a little as it pans across the page, which is a nice touch since it does make it feel like someone is just holding a book in front of it.

This corny finger pointing joke might actually be my favorite part of the comic sequence.

While Igor and Nanny argue over who is responsible for Duckula’s concussion, the story of Daring Duckula and Tremendous Terence is laid out. Duckula is a space pilot in this story as they go after some aliens who have abducted Santa. Daring Duckula navigates a swarm of pudding, the same that concussed him, and is quite modest when taking praise from Terence. Despite making himself a rather talented pilot, Duckula narrates that he crash lands on the home planet of the Dribulons, the evil aliens they’re pursuing. Once there they find themselves trapped in a net and are to be sent to the Igulon, the most feared being this side of Betelgeuse!

This passage is just fantastic to hear. Print does not do it justice.

The heroes are taken to the Igulon, which is Igor in purple pajamas with yellow polka dots. Duckula remarks he looks familiar, but is apparently unable to make the connection in his present state. They then go into a schtick as Igulon states they’re just in time for dinner and Duckula is eager for some grub. When Igulon tells him that he is on the menu, Duckula is at first fine with that until he realizes what this means. The only thing missing is an incredulous, “WHAAAAT?!” Igulon recites a bunch of fancy dishes that are fun to hear and read (this is presented as a comic book, after all, complete with word bubbles) concluding with duck a la orange (he also intends to consume Santa and Terence). Duckula then tries to convince Igulon that he’d taste lousy, and Igulon surprisingly seems agreeable to this notion. He then suggests a pre-meal bit of entertainment, and Duckula whips out a banjo and starts seeing his own rendition of “Camptown Races.”

The artists really did a great job making this entire section look like a print magazine.

Igulon is not amused and corrects Duckula. He intends for the entertainment to be their battle with the Nannoxx! At this point, almost everything is fully animated as Igulon explains that if they survive the Nannoxx he’ll allow them to be cooked before he consumes them. What a generous guy? A gong is sounded summoning the horrible Nannoxx, which as you probably guessed is just Nanny only she’s all green and polka-dotted as well. She surprisingly enters through the door and immediately scolds Duckula for calling her horrible. Igulon orders her to kill the heroes and she marches over and places all three of them, Terence, Santa, and Daring Duckula, in a giant bear hug.

Sleep reading is a thing, right?

The bear hug is the catalyst for snapping Duckula out of his pudding-induced coma. He has apparently been reading the book, but in a concussed state, or something as he’s holding it and readying it frantically while Nanny squeezes him. Duckula soon notices he’s not in the story anymore and reacts with confusion. He rambles to Nanny and Igor about what had happened and thinks they saved him. Igor is thoroughly confused and as Duckula comes to realize it was all some weird hallucinatory episode he starts to laugh like a mad man. I mean, duck.

Santa and Goosewing being lost in the bowels of Castle Duckula probably could have chewed up more screen time than it did.

In the chimney system, or wherever they are, Santa is peering down another chasm unaware that Goosewing is right behind him. He bumps into Santa and both fall down the chute only to find it ends in the fireplace. At long last, they’ve located the exit! Their falling down the chimney stirs up quite a bit of dust and soot, and when the smoke clears Duckula is happy to see Santa, and surprised to see Goosewing. When they question what he’s doing there, he states he’s there to deliver goodwill since even a creature such as Duckula deserves something at Christmas. Santa seems to take this at face value as he laughs and declares that he’s happy to hear that from Goosewing. Goosewing hands over a present for Duckula and Santa declares he brought some too. Duckula is happy, because he’s like a child and loves getting presents, but Goosewing is frustrated when Duckula turns his attention to Santa instead of opening the gift he brought.

At least they managed to find their way out.

Santa then pulls out a gift for Igor, which is clearly another axe. The old bird doesn’t seem to mind. Nanny gets a big box, which she doesn’t open, and then Santa asks if Duckula has been a good boy this year. He says “Yes,” and Igor sneaks in “Mmm, ’tis a pity,” which is a good line as Santa hands over a gift for Duckula. He rips it open only to find it’s the same Tremendous Terence book he bought for Nanny. Most episodes of this show feature Duckula doing something self-serving where he gets his comeuppance in the end, and the Christmas episode is no different. Santa is confused that Duckula doesn’t seem to want his gift, but before Duckula can figure a way out of this awkward situation Goosewing rips open the gift he brought and asks if anyone wants Christmas crackers?

Duckula does speak with an American accent so that might explain why he doesn’t know how to properly tug on a Christmas cracker.

Nanny is excited to see the crackers so Duckula offers to pull one with her, but he makes it clear that he gets the present inside. The two then try to pull it apart, while Goosewing plugs his ears, but the thing won’t “crack” since Duckula is gripping the middle portion of the cracker and not the end. Frustrated, Goosewing grabs and yanks on the sides causing it to explode rather predictably. The explosion sends Goosewing rocketing through yet another window, where once again the crow brothers lurked and are soon knocked from the wall.

I think we all knew this was coming.

Duckula remarks that was one crazy cracker as Santa announces it’s time for him to go. Duckula wishes him a “Happy Christmas,” as Santa walks away. Apparently he wants nothing to do with the chimney of Castle Duckula. Nanny wishes him the same while Igor sneaks in one last “Bah, humbug,” for good measure. The scene pivots to outside as snow is falling. Santa drives away in his one reindeer sleigh as the narrator returns. He implores us to have “A very, merry, Christmas out there. Whatever you are!” The only surprise is there’s no moon in sight for Santa to fly in front of.

And Santa flies away with nary a moon in sight.

“A Christmas Quacker” is definitely a mixed bag. I enjoy the look of this series and I think the animation is rather well done, even if it’s sometimes minimal. And by minimal I don’t mean the comic book portion as that is certainly not the usual for this show. That whole section though felt like filler. There were a couple of decent and funny lines during that segment, but it was also pretty dull. Apparently there just wasn’t enough material to mine from the awkward gift exchange inside and Santa’s journey through the complicated chimney system of the castle. I like the recurring gag of the crow brothers, but I feel like more could have been done with Goosewing. They also could have just brought in more recurring characters from the show to pad this thing out, rather than roll with the comic thing. It just felt out of place in a Christmas episode because, other than the goal being to save Santa, that portion of the episode was pretty much devoid of Christmas.

The main cast is what makes this show work with Igor being my personal favorite. Look at his little hat, he’s got the Christmas spirit after all!

What this show does offer is British humor and a wonderful cast. Jack May is especially impressive as Igor (and I think Santa) as I loved pretty much every line that character spoke. Nanny is charming as well since she never misses a chance to reprimand Duckula for doing something wrong. Our title character is almost the least interesting since he’s basically just a spoiled child at Christmas, but I do love his design. The scenery is also rather lovely and we get some snow and even a decrepit Christmas tree. There’s no Christmas message really, other than I suppose those who give gifts with the wrong intentions come away with nothing in the end. Well, I suppose Duckula did still get a book he liked, he just wound up with two.

“The Christmas Quacker” is not an easy thing to come by these days. If you live outside of the UK then it’s not even available on DVD and it’s not syndicated on any US channels. It is, however, streaming for free on YouTube via the official Count Duckula channel. If you remember the show from when you were a kid, or are just curious, I actually do suggest you give it a look. These free channels on YouTube feel like they’re not long for this world as various streaming platforms hungry for exclusive content keep cropping up. For now, it’s there, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?


Dec. 20 – Toy Tinkers

Toy Tinkers (1949)

We’re rounding the corner to Christmas. With just five days left until the big day, that means we have time for just five more specials after this one! And since we’ve hit another multiple of five, it’s time to do another retro-lookback (or whatever I’m calling these things) at an all-time classic: Toy Tinkers.

Toy Tinkers is forever linked with the Mickey Mouse cartoon Pluto’s Christmas Tree, which we covered earlier in this countdown. The premise for both is nearly the same, it’s just that Pluto’s Christmas Tree subs out Donald Duck in favor of Mickey’s famous canine. In both cartoons, Chip and Dale serve as the antagonists as they enter a home at Christmas and cause some mayhem. In Pluto’s Christmas Tree, they’re almost fully in the wrong in that they begin the cartoon behaving like assholes towards Pluto and end up in the home of Mickey merely by accident. It’s different from how they enter the home of Donald Duck in their official, named, debut Chip an’ Dale when Donald chops down the tree they live in for firewood. In this one, they’re just going to enter Donald’s house because they want what he has. It kind of makes them jerks, but at the same time, this world the characters inhabit is a weird one in which chipmunks are expected to live outdoors while a duck is important enough to own a home. And for some reason, chipmunks apparently haven’t mutated like mice have into human-sized creatures.

It’s a beautiful sight.

Despite being a self-admitted Donald Duck fan, I’ve always been partial to Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but that’s almost wholly due to exposure. That cartoon was featured on television at Christmas time when I was a kid and I had a copy of it recorded on VHS. Even since then, the cartoon has been released on various Christmas compilations while Toy Tinkers has been less represented. It was included on a pair of VHS and DVD compilations and is featured on the 30th anniversary release of Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Where it’s not featured is on Disney+ and I think that has to do with the level of violence in the short. I think that is also what has kept it from seeing repeated television airings. The two cartoons are so similar that Disney and other networks probably saw little reason to air both, so why not go with the one that doesn’t feature a gun?

The duck needs a tree.

Whether you’re familiar with Pluto’s Christmas Tree or not, Toy Tinkers is absolutely worth watching and is one of the best Christmas anythings ever created, so let’s get to it. The short opens with the catchy Donald Duck theme song added midway through the character’s solo run and settles on a scene of a snowy woods. Chip (Jimmy MacDonald) and Dale (Dessie Flynn) are snoozing in a hollowed out log when the ground beneath them begins to shake. It’s shaking so much that Chip starts to hop involuntarily and finds himself outside of the log under a pile of snow. He looks and spies Donald (Clarence Nash) chopping down a nearby evergreen. Apparently, Donald is so strong that just the mere act of driving an axe into a small tree is enough to shake the entire woods.

Wholesome, but kind of lonely too.

Chip runs back inside to wake Dale and the two watch as Donald ties the tree to a sled (while singing “Jingle Bells”) and proceeds to ride it down a hill towards a cabin. Intrigued, the two slide down the hill after him utilizing the tracks left in the snow by Donald’s sled. They reach the cabin and peer through the window to see Donald in his bathrobe trimming a Christmas tree. It’s a wholesome sight, but what really catches the attention of the chipmunks are the various nuts and desserts strewn about. Donald clearly must be planning on having company for Christmas, though it’s worth pointing out there’s no sign of his nephews.

Now that’s a sight.

Dale immediately starts trying to open the window, but he’s much too small to do so. Chip, always the wiser of the two, and also the more abusive, kicks his partner in the butt causing him to land on his head. He motions for Dale to be quiet and heads to the edge of the structure they’re on while Dale follows by walking on his hands. The two collide and Chip finds himself beneath the ass of Dale and blows his tail out of his face to illustrate his frustration.

Dale is feeling good about himself. It’s amazing what a new wardrobe can do for one’s confidence.

The two head for the front door and Chip indicates to Dale they can use the mail slot to enter the cabin. The two peer through and we see the shadow of Donald pass by indicating he’s no longer in the door’s vicinity. The two quickly sneak in and head for the walnuts. Chip fills Dale’s arms with nuts and sends him on his way. As the little chipmunk runs he collides with a teddy bear knocking it over and the top hat from its head. Dale quickly positions it as he found it, but then stops to regale the hat. It’s sized right for a chipmunk, so he puts it on and takes the cane from the bear for good measure.

I suppose it’s important to remember that Dale is not the smart one.

Dale struts around like a big shot twirling his cane and mugging for the camera. His preening leads him between a doll and a clown, and as he bows to greet each they tumble over slightly as if they’re returning his bow. He continues strutting and twirling the cane, which accidentally strikes an elaborate music box causing it to turn on. Two figures move along the toy that also are dressed in fancy clothing. It’s clearly a duel scene, but Dale being an ignorant chipmunk, hops on the toy and returns their bows. The two toys then fire pop guns at each other knocking Dale’s head around. He tumbles away like a punch-drunk boxer and collides with Chip who literally slaps some sense into him.

Oh, you clever duck!

In another room, Donald is getting more Christmas ornaments when he hears a peculiar sound. He looks into the living room and sees Chip using a toy to load walnuts into the back of a toy truck. Dale is driving the truck and he heads out with a full load. Donald seems amused by this, but he being Donald, he’s not about to make merry with some chipmunks. Instead, he heads over to a toy train set on the floor and lowers the gate before Dale reaches it. He pauses to let the train go by, while Donald sneaks behind him and empties the contents of the truck into a bowl. When the train passes, Dale resumes his travels and Donald has a laugh at his expense only for Chip to then come along on one of those hand-pump cars on the tracks. Before Donald can react to the sight of the chipmunk, Chip snatches the bowl, places it on the car behind him, and promptly thanks the duck before taking off.

I know I just called him a clever duck, but this is legitimately clever of Donald to play the two against each other.

Donald begins to throw one of his classic tantrums while Chip and Dale celebrate, but before he goes too far into his fit he appears to get an idea. He disappears for a moment only to then reappear as Santa Claus! Chip and Dale seem confused, but Santa Donald runs up to them bringing gifts so they let their guard down pretty quick. Donald produces a walnut for Dale wrapped with a red ribbon. He seems happy with the gift until Donald hands Chip his gift: a walnut the size of a football wrapped with a green ribbon. Dale looks at Chip’s nut, then his own, and tosses his own to try to steal Chip’s. As the two bicker, Donald has a laugh, but then things get serious.

Is this why we can’t have this on Disney+?

This whole time, Donald’s hand has been in the giant nut he gifted Chip. When Chip swats Dale away and removes the green ribbon, Donald’s hand is revealed holding a revolver! Chip reacts in a comical manner by having his body go stiff and parallel to the ground. He then tries pointing the gun at Dale, who pushes it back towards Chip, and so on. Donald then discards the Santa guise and forces the two to put their hands up and marches them into the back of a toy paddy wagon. It’s self-driving, and as it speeds away with the chipmunks inside, Donald races out in front of it to cause it to crash into his foot.

That car must have really been flying!

We see the wagon spin, but we don’t see the actual impact as it crashes into the wall leaving the car wrecked and Chip and Dale looking a bit worse for ware. Donald, not satisfied, grabs a pop gun and taunts the pair by saying, “So you want some nuts?!” as he pours a bowl of them into the barrel of the gun. It basically turns into a machinegun as Donald blasts walnuts at Chip and Dale forcing them to seek cover as nuts and Christmas ornaments (I guess they were mixed in with the nuts?) rain down on them.

They sure do look smug now that they have a gun.

The two chipmunks take refuge behind some wrapped gifts. It turns out to be a great spot because a toy canon happens to be setup there as well. It even has a seat for Chip to sit in while he aims it. Donald soon creeps over to see what the two are up to and gets shot in the face with a tomato for his curiosity. I don’t know where the chipmunks got that tomato, but they apparently have more as they hit Donald again forcing the duck to flee.

We just saw him decorating a tree by himself and now we see how happy he is to receive a phone call, I am starting to feel pretty bad for Donald Duck.

Donald creates his own wall of presents and puts on a soldier’s helmet as he calls out, “Prepare to defend yourselves!” The battle is on as both parties appear to be armed with Christmas ornaments as ammo. While Chip gleefully blasts away, Dale grabs a telephone and carries it behind enemy lines. He returns to his shelter and calls Donald on the phone who just can’t help himself. He answers it with an excited “Hello?” only for Chip to blast the receiver on the other end ringing Donald’s head like a bell.

Who gets stuck with all the bad luck?

The battle resumes until the phone rings again. This time, Donald answers it, but holds the earpiece away from his head. When he hears the pleasant sound of a waltz coming through it, he places it against his ear and enjoys the music. Until he doesn’t, for Chip simply blasts the other end again. Donald throws the phone down in anger and shakes his whole body at it before racing off-camera. He returns with dynamite! He shoves a stick into the receiver on the phone and dials Chip and Dale. Once it starts ringing he lights the fuse of the dynamite which is just barely sticking out of the phone. When he doesn’t hear an explosion, he gets frustrated and hangs up. The phone then rings and Donald gets excited once again for a phone call. He answers it, only for the dynamite to finally go off leaving behind a charred duck waving a white flag beside a ruined Christmas tree.

Dale might be embellishing his injuries just a tad.

With Donald’s surrender, Chip and Dale emerge from their hiding spot. Dale has a bandage wrapped around his head while he limps along playing a flute though Chip looks no worse for ware. They lead a line of toys all carrying nuts and other things while the camera moves outside of Donald’s house and back to the top of the hill where the cartoon began. From there, we can see the small army exiting the house as the ending title card comes into view.

I guess they’ll be eating good this winter.

Toy Tinkers is just a fun, slapstick, cartoon set at Christmas time. There are multiple instances of “Jingle Bells” utilized and Donald’s home is very much decorated for the holiday. No one is clearly in the right, and no one is clearly in the wrong, and no one learns a lesson. Chip and Dale wind up with a bunch of nuts and assorted junk food for the long winter ahead and I guess they also have some toys too. Donald, on the other hand, loses everything, sees his home ruined, and probably suffered some serious burns too. There was not a happy Christmas in the home of Donald Duck in 1949.

What makes this cartoon so enduring is it’s just fun. Donald and Chip and Dale work so well together which is why they starred in numerous shorts against each other. The cartoon is able to have a lot of fun with the setting by turning to toys as a framing device. The all-out war in the final act is probably what keeps it from Disney+. Is it offensive to see Dale act like a wounded soldier in the end? Perhaps for some, though not personally for me. Instead this is just an entertaining cartoon with terrific animation. The characters are so expressive and the gags are humorous. I love seeing Chip and Dale amongst the toys so much that I wish Disney had returned to it without Donald. Just Chip and Dale trapped in a toy store has a lot of potential.

I don’t know why Chip and Dale are small like real chipmunks as opposed to Mickey, but I do like seeing them inhabit a world much bigger than they are.

Even today, I’m still partial to Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but recognize Toy Tinkers as being an indispensable Christmas classic as well. Toy Tinkers just brings the funny, while Pluto’s Christmas Tree has those enduring images from within the tree that just puts me in the proper mood for the holiday. What’s great is I don’t have to choose between the two, though Disney does make it slightly more challenging to watch this one. And that has everything to do with it not being on Disney+ like Pluto’s Christmas Tree and if they haven’t added it yet I’m not sure we can expect the company to anytime soon. Which is a shame, because this should be there. There’s plenty of cartoon violence already on the platform and if they need a disclaimer or something then so be it. The only positive about it not being there is it seems to mean the company is less protective of it so if you don’t have one of the out-of-print DVD releases this short is featured on then at least you can stream it on YouTube for free. And since Pluto’s Christmas Tree can also be found there, why not make it a double feature?!


Dec. 19 – Krazy Kat – “Krazy’s Krismas”

This one originally aired on television at some point in 1963.

One of the most celebrated comic strips of all time is Krazy Kat by George Herriman. Krazy Kat debuted in the New York Evening Journal in 1913 and concluded its run in 1944. It contained a fairly simply premise where a cat named Krazy pined for a mouse named Ignatz, only the mouse hated the cat and would pelt it with bricks in response to its advances. What set it apart was the art direction with backgrounds that seemed to morph and change more than the characters and with prose that was often alliterative or was spelled out solely with phonetics. It was a favorite of “intellectuals” earning praise from the likes of art critic Gilbert Seldes and poet E.E. Cummings.

Because of the strip’s popularity, it made the jump to features. The era of the cartoon short soon followed Krazy Kat and multiple studios tried their hand at adapting the strip for film, and almost all without any input from Herriman. The first few that crept out hewed close to the strip, but later entries did not. As a result, the theatrical shorts were often perceived as a knock-off of more famous characters like Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. The series launched by Bill Nolan in 1925 would even fool many as the character is almost indistinguishable from Felix, where as the comic strip is very much it’s own thing stylistically.

The main characters of the show (left to right): Officer Pupp, Ignatz, and Krazy.

In 1962, King Features would bring Krazy Kat to the small screen. This time, the character resembled its strip counterpart and Ignatz, who was written out of some of the film series, was there as well. The character of Krazy Kat was made female though as maybe a gender-neutral one was too much for audiences to handle in the 1960s, especially if the voice actors for Krazy and Ignatz had both ended up male. That didn’t happen as Penny Phillips was handed the role of Krazy with Paul Frees (his third appearance this year at The Christmas Spot) voiced Ignatz and basically every male in the show. Despite looking more like the strip, the cartoon series doesn’t appear to take much from it. It’s a fairly simple show with the minimalist animation folks should expect from King Features. The show was packaged with Beetle Bailey and Snuffy Smith forming a trio for broadcast.

This would appear to be a high stakes argument.

The 29th episode of Krazy Kat is titled “Krazy’s Krismas.” It aired sometime in 1963, presumably in the vicinity of Christmas, though details are scarce. It’s easily available though and rather short, the perfect combination for The Christmas Spot! The short begins with Krazy and Ignatz arguing, over what we don’t initially know as Krazy just says “There is!” and Ignatz retorts with “Is not!” as the two approach Krazy’s house, which looks more like a shack. She’s carrying a hammer and red stocking and promptly nails it to her front door. Officer Pupp (Frees) is standing beside it with a dopey smile on his face. The characters in this show are very simple in appearance. Krazy is a mixture of teal, red, with white for her face, and eyes. The red is just a scarf around her neck while Ignatz is entirely purple with black, stick, limbs. Pupp is all yellow with white buttons and a star-shaped badge. He also has a crudely drawn hat on his head that’s pretty much the same shade of blue-green as Krazy’s fur. I didn’t see him listed anywhere as being influenced by Herriman, but I can’t shake the feeling that Dr. Seuss may have been influenced by this art style to a point.

While I approve of Officer Pupp’s stance on Santa, I cannot condone police brutality.

Pupp inquires what the pair are arguing about, referring to Krazy as “My dear, Krazy,” as there is sometimes hinted that Pupp has a crush on the cat. He soon finds out the two are arguing over the existence of Santa Claus, and when Pupp finds out that Ignatz is on Team No he spins the mouse around and kicks him in the butt to send him soaring off-screen. Clearly, Pupp believes in Santa and he regards Krazy with a smile as he takes note of her “craftsmanship.” The stocking she nailed to the door is hanging with the head of the hammer plunged through it. When he asks why she hung the stocking on the door, she replies that her chimney is clogged.

Ignatz is right to point out that he’s breaking no law.

Ignatz then comes racing over banging a literal drum with a sign hanging off of his body that reads, “There is no Santa Claus.” Pupp chases after him, but then runs back to Krazy to physically turn her body away from Ignatz. My guess is he plans to engage in more police brutality and doesn’t want any witnesses. He returns to chasing Ignatz who points out to Pupp that he’s not breaking any laws. Pupp tells him he’s doing worse – he’s breaking hearts! The mouse ends up at the edge of a lake and breaks his sign in half to float on it in order to avoid Pupp. He seems content to let Ignatz drift away as he announces the need to return to Krazy to, “nurture her delusions.” Sounds like he’s not exactly a true-believer himself.

I suppose he makes for a convincing Santa.

Pupp heads to the jail where he keeps a rather large chest labeled “Disguise” for no doubt nothing nefarious related to his work. As he digs through it, he calls out the stuff he doesn’t need which feels like padding as nothing he says could be construed as a joke. He eventually finds what he’s looking for: a white beard, red, flannel, pajamas, and a pillow to use as stomach padding. Despite mentioning the need for pajamas, he seems only interested in the cap since his entire body remains yellow. Despite that, he mostly looks the part as he dawns his disguise and returns to the home of Krazy Kat.

Somehow they managed to top Popeye in the category of dumb Christmas aircraft.

Pupp stands outside Krazy’s house “ho-hoing” like a maniac. Ignatz shows up to have a laugh as Krazy Kat emerges from her home quite surprised to see “Santy” on her lawn. Pupp keeps saying “ho-ho” over and over and with more conviction, until the pillow under his shirt pops out. When he bends over to retrieve it his beard falls off and Ignatz howls with laughter and points out that it’s just Pupp. Krazy claims she knew it the whole time for Santy lives in the North Pole. When challenged by Ignatz how she knows this, she offers up that her cousin Pole Cat works for him and is sending a private jet to pick her up for a visit. Ignatz finds this quite hilarious until he sees an airplane in the sky above them being pulled by six, albino, reindeer. Why the reindeer? I guess they needed it to look “Christmasy” or something and a red and green color pattern for the plane wasn’t good enough.

I’m surprised they allowed this rat to enter Santa’s work shop.

The plane lands and all three climb aboard and head to the North Pole, which for some reason requires them to enter space first. The landing gear is lowered, and there’s a joke that additional landing gear is needed in the form of skies. It’s not particularly funny. When they do land we meet Pole Cat (Frees again) who just looks like a blue version of Krazy and carries a pole, naturally. He shows them the work shop which is full of toys. While Krazy and Pupp are admiring the scenery, Ignatz decides that Santa won’t miss one of the sacks of presents so he tosses it over his shoulder and makes for the door. Just where is he going to take that? I don’t think the mouse has thought this through.

This Christmas party just got a lot more interesting.

As Ignatz walks out the door he asks himself aloud if he’s forgotten anything as he steps on a pair of skies. He then adds, “Yeah, I don’t know how to ski!” As he slides down the hill outside, Pupp notices and the three others chase after the thieving mouse via sled. He winds up going off of a cliff and is forced to dump out the presents since he needs to use the sack as a parachute. It turns out the fall from the cliff wasn’t very far, but it does end on a ski jump which Ignatz goes off of and winds up deep in the snow. The other three characters find the “X” shape in the snow where Ignatz landed and are forced to pull him out.

He may be a jerk, but at least he’s grateful.

Once removed from the snow, Ignatz is colored entirely blue and Krazy puts a blanket around him. Pupp starts admonishing him about how he should be arrested, but since it’s Christmas and all, they’re going to invite him to a party instead – makes sense. Ignatz can’t exactly respond to this because he’s frozen, so instead his mouth opens and the letters needed to spell “Thank You” float out and “stick” to the screen below him. This is the only moment that got an audible laugh from me.

Must be Pole Cat’s private stash of genuine North Pole moonshine!

The image dissolves and takes us to the party. Pupp, Krazy, and Pole Cat are at a table beside a nicely decorated tree toasting to Christmas. They’re all just drinking something out of brown bottles, so I guess use your imagination. They toast to the holiday and Krazy wishes poor Ignatz wasn’t stuck in bed with a cold following his earlier escapades. At that moment, a sound from the chimeny gets their attention and soon out pops Santa Claus! Or rather, Santa Mouse as it appears to be Ignatz in disguise. For some reason, he just runs past everyone and recites the customary line of “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” as he winks at the camera. He’s also sporting a frown the entire time, so there’s definitely some mixed messages here. No bother, this is the end of “Krazy’s Krismas.”

Ignatz makes for a rather cute Santa, but why so angry?

That was a simple, little, Christmas cartoon now wasn’t it? I only remember Krazy Kat from when I took cartooning lessons as a boy, so I had never seen this Paul Frees vehicle before. The animation is odd as it bounces from being stiff and minimal to being surprisingly fluid in some places. The character designs are obviously simple, which perhaps allowed for some of the movement to be more expressive than expected. There were a few shots I really liked, like Pupp stuffing his clothes with the pillow or anytime Ignatz was running around like a mad-man. I don’t really like the character designs though, so visually, it’s very much a mixed-bag. And audibly, Paul Frees is definitely stretched rather thin. There’s very little in the way of music and sound effects, and Krazy Kat’s voice and mannerisms are more annoying than charming. She’s one of those characters that uses “cute speak” in that she often pronounces her “Rs” as “Ws” and I don’t understand why someone felt that was a fit for the character.

The plot for this one starts out rather conventional, but ends in a confusing manner. It seems like it’s going to be a “Santa Claus is real,” type of story, but ends with us only seeing an imposter. I guess we did see the work shop full of toys so perhaps that’s proof enough? I was expecting a little cameo at the end of the real thing, maybe in a standard moon shot or something, but it never came. Do I think the special needs it? I suppose not since it’s definitely an ending that’s been done plenty of times. I guess I just don’t like it when cartoons leave open the possibility that Santa isn’t real, because I don’t want my kids to see such a thing and begin to question the character’s existence in their own world. I know that’s something that’s going to happen no matter what, but I’m definitely in that mode where I am doing my best to keep my kids in the dark for as long as possible.

Seriously, why is he so angry?!?

“Krazy Krismas” is largely fine. I suppose if you’re someone who is into the strip Krazy Kat then you know this show isn’t entirely representative of that strip. If you told someone the strip was groundbreaking and of great importance and then showed them this instead they probably wouldn’t see what’s so special about it. And that’s because there’s nothing particularly special about the show, it’s just a lesser version of the real thing. It’s certainly not terrible though and while I promoted the Popeye special from a few days ago as being worth watching for the sheer fact that it’s not going to cost you much in the way of time, I would say this one is better, but also won’t cost you much more than five minutes. The show has been released on DVD, but as you could have probably guessed, it’s not well protected so this episode (and basically every other one) can be found streaming for free on YouTube.


Dec. 18 – The Legend of Prince Valiant – “Peace on Earth”

Original air date November 20, 1992

The early 90s saw an influx of cartoons produced solely with the intent to sell to cable networks. Previously, most cartoons were packaged from film or created for broadcast networks which would get the first run on major network affiliates and then gradually migrate to smaller stations. With cable becoming more affordable, it was fast becoming a home for original content and not just re-runs. In the early 90s, two of the biggest suppliers of cartoon programming for cable were USA and The Family Channel.

The Family Channel began as The Christian Broadcasting Network and was a satellite only option until 1981. Owned by Pat Robertson, the channel would grow in popularity and profitability through the 1980s, resulting in Robertson having to sell it or risk CBN losing its non-profit status. So sell it he did, but don’t weep for old Pat, for he basically sold it to his son who founded a new, for-profit, entity. They would eventually sell the channel again to Fox in 1997, and it was sold again to The Walt Disney Company in 2001 who still owns it to this day where it has been rebranded as Freeform. The last remnant of the old CBN Family Channel is that the network still carries Robertson’s show, The 700 Club, which was mandated as part of the terms of the sale. It now airs late at night at 11 PM on the east coast and contains a disclaimer before it that basically indicates the channel wants nothing to do with the content of the show, but apparently Robertson is satisfied.

The Legend of Prince Valiant is a surprisingly gritty, cartoon, portrayal of medieval war.

In the early days of The Family Channel, when the CBN had been annexed from its name, one of the cartoons it acquired the rights to was The Legend of Prince Valiant. Based on the comic strip of the same name by Hal Foster, the show aired from 1991-1993 and followed the exploits of Prince Valiant: a young man who lost his home to invaders, but found new purpose as a member of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. It’s a story that starts off like a typical revenge fantasy, but becomes a story that’s more about emotional growth, friendship, and forgiveness. Being essentially an offshoot of The Legend of King Arthur, it’s not particularly hard to see why the show would be deemed suitable by the powers that be at The Family Channel. While the knights do not appear driven by Christ, there are plenty of opportunities for references to Christianity and the image of these fantastic knights certainly conjures images of The Holy Grail and the Crusades. Also not surprising is that it’s depiction of Merlin is as a man of science and the book who does not possess any actual magic.

What doesn’t stand out as particularly “family friendly” is the level of violence present in the show. In the early 90s, cartoons did start to get away with more as they moved away from over-the-top “toon” comedy and towards something a bit more grounded. In Batman: The Animated Series, which would premiere a year after this show, we started to see characters with realistic weaponry. Premiering shortly after that show was X-Men, and while that show went with lasers and such for weapons, it did famously kill off a character in the second episode while other characters openly used the words “die” and “death.” On The Legend of Prince Valiant, heroes and villains are routinely seen killing individuals. They rush into battle and bash each other with swords or fire arrows that actually hit their mark. The show does not get gratuitous with it though as there is little to no blood and most of the characters that die are nameless soldiers and barbarians. It’s always refreshing to see some level of realism in a show that involves violent confrontations (as opposed to a show like G.I. Joe), and the fact that this one was on cable likely allowed it to be as graphic as it was. The fact that it was on The Family Channel makes it a bit surprising, but hey, give credit where credit is due as I’m impressed the network was comfortable with the violence present. I’ve always felt it’s far more irresponsible to sell violence without consequences to kids, when not presented in an obviously unrealistic manner.

As part of the show’s second season we’re treated to a Christmas episode. Titled “Peace on Earth,” the episode is one about war, as the title implies. It’s not that different from the MGM short of the same name as far as theming goes, though obviously this one does not feature talking rodents. Many of the episodes in this show follow an arc, but several are also stand-alone. This is one of those stand-alone episodes which is not particularly surprising as many Christmas episodes of long-running series tend to do the same. This is good for me since I was not a regular viewer of this one. I recall the show’s existence, but something about it seemed dorky to me for some reason. Maybe it was just the title with the word “prince” in it causing me to think of the prince characters in Disney films, or it was due to my dislike of the other King Arthur themed show King Arthur and the Knights of Justice that came in ’92.

Not the setting I was expecting to start this one.

The episode begins with a look at space as a narrator tells us about Earth. In keeping with making The Family Channel’s Christian owners happy, the narrator refers to space as empty and desolate aside from Earth. He then starts musing about war and peace and how humanity risks destroying its home through war setting the stage for our story. I could not find a credit for this narrator, but it sounds like it could be Merlin who is voiced by Alan Oppenheimer. He sounds deflated as he refers to peace as a fool’s dream, but then triumphant as he refers to it as a dream worth dreaming about for there are heroes in our midst. We then see a young Arthur pulling the sword Excalibur from its stone and as the camera frames around it, it transforms!

Wait, which one is the bad guy?

It transforms because it needs to transition to a new shot as it takes the form of Prince Valiant’s blade for he’s stuck battling barbarians. He wears dark blue armor and actually looks the part of a villain as he rides atop his horse hacking at men who apparently can’t afford armor or swords. They attack with spears and mace as Valiant (Robby Benson) is knocked from his horse, but saved by his companion Arn (Michael Horton) and Rowanne (Noelle North) retrieves his horse. Valiant thanks Arn for the help as the trio note the fog in this forest is so dense they can hardly keep track of each other. The other knights, Bryant and Gawain, are missing while the barbarians they were battling have fled. Rowanne decides they should regroup as well as she dismounts her horse and gives the beast some oats. She bemoans that she can’t believe they’ve been away from Camelot so long and notes she’s lost track of the days. It’s at this point Valiant informs us that it’s December 23rd providing Arn the opening to sarcastically remark, “What a lovely place to spend Christmas.”

For some reason we need to know what’s happening in Camelot throughout this one, even though it’s profoundly uninteresting.

We then turn to Camelot, a far more joyous location. Townsfolk appear to be gearing up for the holiday as a couple kisses beneath a red plant of some kind (miss-colored mistletoe?) and the camera pans past a manger display, the most secular image we’ll see in this one. A little boy looks delighted by the sight, but his mother tugs him away as she must be raising him to practice something other than Christianity. We then see King Arthur (Efrem Zimbalist) and Queen Guinevere (Samantha Eggar) welcoming a priest followed by Lady Daniella (Sarah Partridge). It would seem the lady has arrived as an emissary from the region of the Misty Isles where a Princess Alita dwells, a romantic interest for Prince Valiant. It would seem Daniella is to spend Christmas at Camelot and she has a special message from the princess to deliver to Valiant and no one else. When she requests an audience with the knight, she’s informed by the king that he and the other knights are away assisting the people of North Gallis who are at war with Lindem. The queen remarks she’s hopeful that Valiant and the other knights will return in time for the Christmas celebration and then offers to show Daniella to her quarters. As the two women walk away, a young boy named Denys (Edan Gross) runs up to Arthur asking if it’s time to ring the bells. Arthur informs him that the Christmas bells shall not ring until Valiant and the knights return home safely. Denys seems rather disappointed by this, but Arthur encourages him to make merry and sees him off. He then grows a bit more melancholy himself as he remarks out loud that he hopes, and prays, for a safe return as the camera lingers on a church steeple. See, this show doesn’t need to expressly reference Jesus to get in plenty of Christian stuff.

I do appreciate a nice, gloomy, setting.

The image of the church fades to one of gray skies as we return to North Gallis. Valiant and Arn sit musing on the futility of war. Arn gets all poetic and remarks he believes the people of this region see the futility of it all as they lay dying at his feet. Cheerful stuff! Rowanne has walked off and returns with a helmet full of blackberries. It would seem they’re out of season and Rowanne refers to them as their own Christmas miracle. The knights eagerly eat the blackberries which must be saturated in Rowanne’s sweat and taste just delightful. I feel like I should point out, that this is definitely one of those shows that looks okay when no one is moving. Once the knights undertake even simple gestures, it basically looks like shit.

The way Valiant gets injured is ridiculous, but I do like how the show trusted the animation to demonstrate his sword arm was rendered useless as he’s forced to awkwardly battle with his left hand.

The knights are soon interrupted by the sounds of battle. They run to their steeds while Rowanne dumps their Christmas miracle on the ground so she can wear her helmet again. To just add a little extra drama, as they ride off to battle the horses trample the remaining blackberries on the ground. They should have just went all the way and made them raspberries so the juice left behind would better resemble blood. After a transition, the music grows more foreboding as we see a young kit emerge from its burrow. The mother fox quickly pulls it back into the burrow as five men go marching past. Elsewhere, Valiant remarks things seem too quiet to his companions as they slowly ride through the foggy woods. They approach a line of bushes that turns out to be a blind, for it drops and some barbarians emerge from behind it throwing rocks. Despite the rocks looking fairly harmless for a man in armor, one seems to hurt Valiant’s arm as another nearby blind drops and more men come running out wielding swords and sticks. Valiant discards his shield so he can switch to his left arm to wield his sword as he clumsily fends off attackers. He gives the order to retreat, and Arn and Rowanne seem happy to run away. As they do, Rowanne’s horse trips and throws her from its back. Worse, it lands on her leg leaving her trapped. As the tide of battle quickly turns, their fellow knights Gawain and Bryant finally show up to drive away the barbarians. We even see a flash of what appears to be pink blood as a barbarian gets cut down. As Rowanne reaches her sword, a man approaches and stands on her hand. As he raises a club he advises that she “Prepare to die,” but one of her fellow knights shows up to crack him in the skull with a club. As he slumps against a nearby tree, I notice the attacker had a sword on his belt, so why the club?

It turns out that Prince Thomas is quite the field medic.

We’re then taken to a camp setting where Valiant and his companions are licking their wounds. Valiant informs Bryant (Dorian Harewood) that his arm feels limp and useless while Arn notes that Rowanne is lucky to have not broken her leg. They are then approached by the king of North Gallis, King Weldon (Mark Hamill), who introduces his son to them, Prince Thomas (Fred Savage). He was apparently the one who saved Rowanne and she thanks him, but is taken aback by how young the boy is when he removes his helmet. Thomas immediately takes interest in Valiant and notes that the knight has suffered a dislocated shoulder. Valiant apparently has no idea what that means and is surprised when the young prince pulls his arm out, but is quickly in awe when he feels it pop back into place.

The pot in the foreground wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t have a character in the background interacting with it.

Thomas then leads Valiant around their camp and provides some backstory on the conflict that has been waging here for years. It would seem the people of Lindem aim to overtake the sanctuary, a church-like structure positioned above their camp. Inside the walls of the sanctuary is a relic and whoever possesses the relic rules over the land. Valiant is somewhat aghast at the notion that a mere object is what the people are fighting over. As the two scoop soup from a pot, I feel inclined to point out that the shot was incorrectly configured and the image of the pot was placed over the cel containing the characters. When Valiant and Thomas walk away from the pot towards the camera, they actually remain behind the pot which looks odd as other characters continue to take from it. Rowanne and Arn are then given another moment to yet again bemoan their fate on Christmas. To drive the point home that war is bad, especially at Christmas, the camera pans across the sullen camp and rests on a man laying on a cot. He appears to be feverish, and his hyperventilating visage is used to transition to a barbarian like man making merry.

Check out the sword on Merlin!

We’re back in Camelot and a celebration of the holiday is taking place in the castle. The barbarian dude is apparently a guest of Arthur’s and one probably enjoying his drink. Some guests are in costume, while others are not, but it is certainly a much different atmosphere from that of the camp. Lady Daniella is again speaking with the king about the whereabouts of Prince Valiant. She is so determined to deliver this apparently secret message to him that she’s willing to ride out to North Gallis herself, but the king won’t entertain such a notion. He continues to assure her that the knights will return in time for Christmas. As she takes her leave, Arthur confides in Merlin that it feels inappropriate to celebrate while the knights are in danger. Merlin then tells him that Christmas is important to the people of Camelot and reminds him that he drew Excalibur from its stone on Christmas Day. As he goes on about the holiday’s importance, he surprisingly fails to mention anything secular instead referring to it as a symbol of hope and one the people need. Arthur agrees, though feels the need to remind us that his knights are senselessly fighting a foolish war. Nearby, Denys gets the attention of Lady Daniella and informs her that he has a message from Prince Valiant for the princess. It seems Valiant wasn’t sure he’d make it home in time for Christmas, so he instructed Denys to give Lady Daniella a necklace he had procured for the princess. She’s happy to take it as the two hope for the knight’s safe return.

These guys are going to have many heart-to-hearts in this one.

In North Gallis, Thomas is leading Valiant to the sanctuary in hopes that showing Valiant the relic inside will perhaps allow him to understand why the two factions are at war with each other. The two talk and it allows Valiant to inform Thomas that the people of Camelot were at war like Thomas’s people currently are, but King Arthur put an end to that. He tells Thomas of Arthur’s creed that might does not equal right, and the young knight seems enthused by this. Before the two can complete the surprisingly frightful walk to the sanctuary, the droning horns of battle are sounded and the two are forced to return to the camp.

It just wouldn’t be a Christmas episode without a Christmas tree.

The droning horns are juxtaposed with brassy, cheerful, ones as we return to Camelot for the delivery of the castle’s Christmas tree. The large tree is pulled into the main square and erected as the people place candles on it (Christmas trees have forever been a fire hazard). Arthur, from a balcony, places a candle atop the tree and the animators make no effort to make this look plausible as it just sits there. He makes a brief speech about the lighting of the tree welcoming the Christmas spirit and he prays it will remain in their hearts forever. He declares “Peace to all,” and the townsfolk return the sentiment in a rousing manner. The camera lingers on the candle atop the tree, which fades into a snow-covered evergreen elsewhere.

This guy’s worse than Rickon Stark.

That evergreen is quickly fire-bombed as it is time for battle, and the music is appropriately suspenseful. It sounds very similar to something I’ve heard elsewhere, as we have synth stings to heighten the drama. Maybe it just sounds like something that could have been included on X-Men? King Weldon declares “Death to Lindem,” as he leads his forces to battle against catapult fire from the men of Lindem. Valiant, who rides with Rowanne, Arn, and Thomas, are under fire and Thomas tells them to follow him for he knows a way around their forces. They come up behind the catapults and take out the men there, as we see Bryant and Gawain rush into battle. Bryant tells Gawain to mind his flank, advice that would have been useful 10 seconds earlier for he gets sliced on the arm by an attacker. Another knight cleans up as Weldon races after the retreating men of Lindem. They discard torches as they flee into the woods which ignites the trees on the edge of the woods. Weldon brings his horse to a stop and looks up as a flaming trunk begins to fall. Rather than move, he just screams and lets the thing fall on him and his horse.

A more ruthless king would have the heads of those who defied him.

We are then returned to a gloomy camp where rain has started to fall. Thomas is shown at his father’s side, his body completely wrapped in bandages. The king apparently has succumbed to his wounds, leaving Thomas ruler of his people. As his men await their orders, Valiant informs Thomas that the path of battle is now his to walk. He and he alone can put an end to this constant state of war. Thomas is unsure and remarks that the ways of Camelot may not work here, but Valiant assures him that there is a path. Thomas then emerges from the tent to find a group of men thirsty for revenge for their fallen king. When Thomas informs them of his path of peace, they rebel and let their new king know that they will seek vengeance, with or without him. As they run off chanting death to Lindem, Thomas confides in Valiant. As Thomas walks away, Valiant tells him they must find a way to end this cycle of violence, or “God help us all.” They’re really making that CBN proud!

We return to snowy Camelot where the bells remain quiet still. Denys is in the tower looking out over the kingdom as Merlin enters. He asks the sage how it can be so peaceful in Camelot, but so violent elsewhere? Especially on Christmas Eve! Merlin tells the young man that war is an addiction and that some feed on the violence it spawns. When Denys asks how it can end, Merlin just looks up and asks “How, indeed?” Way to be useful, Merlin.

These two just can’t get enough of their little chit chats.

Under dark, rainy, skies, the people of North Gallis and Lindem prepare for battle. Arn, once again calling attention to it being Christmas Eve, wonders how this can ever end? Bryant doesn’t care as he just wants to see it end in battle so they can get out of this God-forsaken place. His words, not mine. He leads them into battle, but Thomas hangs back causing Valiant to pause. It is then that Thomas informs the knight that he can no longer be party to this ongoing mayhem. He intends to end it, but he needs Valiant’s help. Valiant reminds him that the people of Camelot swore an oath of allegiance to his father, which is extended to him. He is more than willing to help Thomas, but Thomas warns him he’ll need Valiant to risk his very life.

This show was fairly realistic until now.

The battle has begun, and the people of Lindem are seemingly well-positioned with arrows. They launch volleys at the charging North Gallis knights. The melee units meet on the field as well bashing sword against shield with neither side appearing to have an advantage. The people of North Gallis have archers of their own which they use as an equalizer. On the outskirts of battle, Thomas and Valiant remove their armor and ride calmly into battle. Lindem fires at them, and everyone is apparently a terrible shot suddenly as every arrow misses its mark. When the two draw closer, the commanding officer instructs his men to hold their fire, noting they’re warriors, not murderers.

Oh great, it’s a book.

Thomas is then able to dismount and address the people before him. He calls to all of them to stop this violence and in order to do so produces the relic: a book. He remarks they’ve been fighting over this book for so long that no one can even recall what it says. He opens it to read a passage aloud, and I am totally expecting it to be the Bible, but it turns out it’s just a book with some very on-the-nose advice:

The symbolism is strong with this one.

People of North Gallis and people of Lindem, we have been at war far too long. Our soil was stained with the blood of the innocent. Our homes lie in devastation and our families are scattered and broken. And we’ve done it all in the name of this. A book. A book that has lain unopened for so long that no one alive today can even recall what it says, “Let it be decreed that this land belongs to no one king or another. That this land belongs to the people. And that it shall be the shelter and domain of those who dwell upon it, in peace.”

And now they’re all friends! Break out the ale, let’s sing Christmas carols!

Apparently, that’s all it took to end this war. Everyone appears moved by the simple expression of peace and they soon throw down their arms. The passage may not have been biblical, but it leads to a Church-friendly exchange as the warring factions shake hands and utter, “Peace be with you.” At the end of his reading, Thomas also casually tossed the book aside where it came to rest in the mud (maybe that’s why they didn’t want it to be a Bible) driving the point home that it’s foolish to allow a mere object to dictate who rules over another.

These knights know how to make an entrance.

We then return to Camelot once more and it’s Christmas Day. The people are gathered for a slightly more subdued celebration. Lady Daniella approaches the king and queen and presents a gift to them, a statue, on behalf of the Misty Isles. She also extends the most useful gift of all, thoughts and prayers, for the safe return of the knights of Camelot. Right on cue, the doors to the ballroom open and Valiant enters with the other knights. He marches right up to King Arthur and drops to one knee informing the king he brings good news for there is, at last, peace on Earth. The people gathered around all cheer, and a juggler tosses a blue ball into the air which transitions to that of a planet, possibly Neptune. We’re back in space, and Merlin is musing on the subject of peace on Earth. He positions that if peace on Earth is nothing but a dream, then let us all be dreamers, one and all. The camera centers on Earth from the point-of-view of the moon and we fade to black.

He did it! He said the episode’s title!

I expected something melancholy with a touch of Jesus, and The Legend of Prince Valiant did not disappoint. The subject of peace on Earth has been associated with Christmas for generations, and for a show often set during times of war, it’s an appropriate premise for a Christmas episode. It does add quite a bit of the cliché sentiment of “Not at Christmas!” but I certainly wasn’t expecting this one to rise above that. There is perhaps a bit too much of it though as basically every scene in Camelot can be distilled down to that premise and a few filler scenes in North Gallis do the same. The episode, being only 22 minutes or so, isn’t long enough for this to get really annoying, but there certainly is a tiresome element to it. The secular elements are few and understated to the point that it might frustrate viewers looking for more Jesus in their Christmas specials to not see the special take it further. On the flip-side, there’s not enough of it to truly discourage those who don’t want that in their entertainment.

It’s hardly gratuitous, but it’s surprising to see how much violence is present in this show.

What allows “Peace on Earth” to be a bit better than the standard fair is the production and the violence the show is known for. Now, when I say production, I’m mostly talking about the sound design. The animation, done by Sei Young Animation Co. Ltd, is nothing special. It’s probably below average for the era, but I don’t mean that as a slight against Sei Young for I assume the company didn’t have a huge budget to work with. The music though is quite well done and was handled by the duo known as Exchange (Steve Sexton and Gerald O’Brien) while the voice cast is really quite excellent. Robby Benson finds a nice balance between corn and sincere for the very earnest lead character, Prince Valiant, while the rest of the cast finds the right tone for even the lamest of lines. I really enjoyed Efrem Zimbalist as the stoic King Arthur while Fred Savage was a nice surprise in the role of Thomas. The script isn’t particularly good, but the actors treat it like Shakespeare and do an admirable job of selling the story’s sincerity.

It’s a slightly irregular special, but it still has a happy ending.

As a Christmas special, this one is certainly a bit different than others. The theme of peace isn’t really as explored as some others, though there is another subtext that’s essentially “home for the holidays,” but it’s definitely not emphasized as much as the premise of peace. The episode either ran out of time, or the writers decided whatever holiday message Princess Alita had for Valiant was not important in the wake of peace being brokered between the warring factions of Lindem and North Gallis. I likened this one to the classic holiday short Peace on Earth early on and I wonder if it’s that short’s near perfection that causes others to avoid the subject. Who can really get the message across better? Prince Valiant certainly doesn’t, but it’s not without value. The eventual resolution isn’t particularly satisfying, but it had to be wrapped-up somehow. At least there was a price to pay for peace, though as viewers we’re hardly allowed to care about the life of King Weldon, so that lessens the cheapness of it all. It would have been a bit too grim to have the young Thomas give his life in sacrifice to achieve peace, so the book thing is fine.

The Legend of Prince Valiant is a mostly forgotten cartoon series, but it’s not uninteresting. The entire series is available on DVD and also streaming for free on YouTube. This definitely is not the prototypical Christmas episode that puts one in a happy, celebratory, mood, but it’s okay. I wasn’t that enthused about diving into this one, but I came out of it not regretting my time with it. If you want to see some mostly nameless men die for peace in the name of Christmas, then this is the one for you.


Dec. 17 – Popeye the Sailor – “Spinach Greetings”

Original air date November 15, 1960.

One of the big, early, cartoon stars was Popeye the Sailor. Popeye starred in newspaper strips, radio plays, and theatrical shorts with contemporaries like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. His star has faded over the years, but few would deny Popeye’s place among the greatest cartoon stars of all-time. Come the 1960s though, Popeye and really the entire cartoon industry was going through a change. The era of the theatrical short was basically over as the television came to be the new home for cartoon stars. Studios started to look for ways to continue to keep profiting off of these characters, and while some simply packaged up their shorts for syndication, others developed new cartoons specifically made for TV.

Popeye the Sailor was one such show. It was produced through King Features Syndicate and utilized multiple studios to bring it to life. Because this was TV, and studios either didn’t realize as much money for these airings as they did for a theatrical short or just were more aware of their direct profits, the animation quality had to be compromised. Anyone who has seen a United Artists release or even Hanna-Barbera is familiar with the animation shortcuts TV would often take. Popeye was at the forefront of that, and as we’ll see in today’s subject, some shots can barely be called animation.

Popeye the Sailor debuted in 1960 and would produce 220 episodes lasting all the way through 1963. Following that, the show would be syndicated for decades and shown in various places alongside theatrical shorts and newer cartoons. The show featured familiar characters like Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Brutus. Wait, Brutus? Yeah, apparently someone thought there was a rights issue with Bluto so they went with the similar, but slightly different character, Brutus. No matter. The show also featured villains from the world of Popeye like the Sea Hag, who previously only existed in print.

“Spinach Greetings” is the show’s Christmas episode. It was produced by Paramount Cartoon Studios and aired in November of 1960. Even though it’s a cartoon produced for TV, it’s pretty short. It’s even shorter than some theatrical shorts. In it, Popeye and the gang are getting ready to welcome Santa Claus, only for the Sea Hag to come along and mess things up. It’s a conventional premise with some unusual choices, but hey, it’s Popeye and it’s Christmas!

This is about the only conventional thing about this one.

The cartoon begins in the home of Popeye (Jack Mercer). Popeye is reciting A Visit From St. Nicholas with Swee’pea on his lap and Wimpy (Mercer) and Olive Oyl (Mae Questel) present. Remember how I said there’s a lot of animation shortcuts taken in this show? Well, the only thing animated is Popeye’s mouth, which because of how he’s drawn, doesn’t even require his jaw to move. His pipe actually bobs up and down too. When he hits the line about a mouse, an actual mouse pops out of a hole in the baseboard and nails a stocking for himself on the mantel. Wimpy’s stocking is missing a toe while Olive Oyl’s is exceptionally long.

Well, they’re clearly evil and I’m sure they’re no fans of Christmas.

Outside, the Sea Hag (Questel) and her pet vulture are watching from the window. No one apparently notices her ugly, green, mug in the window. She tells her strange, purple, vulture that she hates Christmas. She blames Santa for Christmas being so terrible and instructs her vulture (who is apparently just named Vulture) to intercept Santa before he can make his first stop this evening. She then does a witch’s laugh as she looks at the camera because she knows the role she’s expected to play.

That is one bizarre looking reindeer.

Inside, Popeye is tucking Swee’pea into bed as he finishes the poem and then returns to the living room setting. On his way, he slams the door for some reason (or rather, he appears to close it quietly, but the sound effect sounds more like a slam) then announces to Olive and Wimpy, in a loud voice, that they should be expecting Santa any minute now. He’s apparently not too concerned with not waking up his kid. We then cut to…a reindeer’s face? No, it’s far weirder. It’s a jet shaped like a reindeer being piloted by Santa! This is the craziest thing I’ve seen in a Christmas special in some time. There was no warning that this was going to happen. Is there something I don’t know? Was there an earlier Popeye comic or cartoon involving Santa trading in his customary sleigh for a fighter jet?! Why are we bothering with this other setting when there’s a far more interesting story literally staring us right in the face?!?

What sort of abomination is this?!?

Soon the hag’s vulture comes along, his wings not flapping or really moving much at all, and spots Santa. He dives at the jet, and since it’s an open cockpit, he merely grabs Santa and pulls him right out of the airplane. We then cut to the Sea Hag’s lair as she’s tying Santa to a chair. She’s laughing as she does it while Santa doesn’t seem interested in putting up a fight. He just sits there sullenly. The hag, without so much as pausing her laughter, is then shown smashing Santa’s toys with a hammer. The vulture smiles and the camera cuts to Santa’s face as tears run down his cheeks.

Well, blow me down! Someone blew Santa out of the sky!

Back at Popeye’s house, the sound of sleigh bells mixed with the droning of a jet engine can be heard from inside. Olive Oyl declares they need to hide so Santa doesn’t see them, so Popeye jumps into a drawer, Wimpy hides under the kitchen table (and snatches the turkey from the surface), and Olive Oyl hides behind a floor lamp which draws attention to how thin she is. We then hear the unmistakable sound of a plane crash and everyone rushes outside to find the remains of Santa’s plane. Apparently, no one questions why Santa was in a plane and not a sleigh. Popeye finds a black, vulture’s feather amongst the wreckage and no Santa. It’s enough to alert him to the Sea Hag’s involvement though.

Get used to seeing this one on loop.

We’re then shown a castle on top of a mountain and I am lead to believe this is the home of the Sea Hag. Pretty nice for a hag, I expected a creaky cottage in a swamp. Inside the castle, Santa still looks defeated while the Sea Hag has started tossing toys into her lit fireplace. Popeye creeps over to a window to confirm his suspicions, then silently slips in. As he unties Santa, the vulture spots him. The hag commands her minion to stop him and he flies over and wallops the sailor man across the room.

That vulture has a mean right hook…or wing…or whatever.

Declaring that the spirit of Christmas must be saved, Popeye busts out his trusty spinach! Recognizing what is about to happen, the hag tells the vulture to stop him before he eats the spinach, but the vulture is too late. No matter, for he grabs Popeye by the shoulders and flies him out the door high into the air. The hag returns to burning toys (we’ve seen this same shot recycled 3 times now) and then Popeye pops back through the door only now he has a roasted turkey…vulture. It would seem he not only found a way out of that predicament that seemed to have indicated certain death, but he also managed to cook a vulture too.

Popeye is pretty ruthless.

Popeye taunts the hag by asking if she wants her bird with or without stuffing. She doesn’t bother to respond, nor does she seem too broken up over the loss of her companion, but rather pulls a lever that opens up a trap door underneath Popeye. He grabs onto the edge of the floor and looks down to see two alligators staring up at him. The hag comes over and stomps on his hands ensuring that he falls to his death. Only he doesn’t die. Instead, he pops right back up with a new set of luggage! Once again, Popeye did something rather neat, but we don’t get to see it actually happen on camera.

There’s the jolly, old, elf we’re used to!

Santa smiles when he sees Popeye return while the hag lays on the floor and starts crying and throwing a temper tantrum. As she pounds on the floor, it looks like her arms were reversed in the animation or her head wasn’t placed on the proper cel layer for her hands are clearly backwards. At any rate, the image just dissolves to bring us back to Popeye’s house. Apparently they just left the hag to her own devices. The tree has been properly trimmed, there are gifts packed under it, and all of the stockings are full as well. Wimpy, who’s stocking was missing a toe, has a bucket full of gifts underneath it. Even the mouse has a wedge of cheese stuffed into his tiny sock. He runs out onto the mantel to fetch his gift and races back to his hole.

What is going on here?!

Outside, Santa climbs back into his completely repaired airplane. I suppose Christmas magic is to blame. Popeye and his clan look on cheerfully. Santa waves as he takes off and Popeye and friends return the wave and shout “Merry Christmas, Santa!” Santa (I’m assuming he is voiced by Jack Mercer since he and Mae Questel are the only credited voice actors) returns their wishes and adds the customary “…and to all a good night,” bringing this one full circle back to the poem that began it. He adds in some laughter as he flies away. An iris shot ends it on Santa without having him pass in front of a full moon – fail!

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad the mouse got his cheese.

“Spinach Greetings” was certainly an interesting Christmas cartoon. The story was rather basic as Popeye, a heroic character in most cartoons he’s featured in, is tasked with saving Santa from his nemesis who is simply motivated by a dislike of Christmas. What was bizarre was the lore the short crafted for Santa. I do want to know if this refers to another Popeye Christmas, but at the same time, I don’t really want to look it up. I feel this one will be more memorable if I remember it for just being bizarre.

It’s been a Christmas they’ll never forget.

The animation is terrible though. Shots are looped numerous times and characters move as little as possible. The backgrounds are sparse, and there was that weird shot of the hag having backwards arms. It does make her seem more creepy, though there’s nothing fearful about her. Popeye’s toppling of her obstacles is really just brushed aside. It’s almost amusing in that sense, but I think it’s just done to keep costs down. Santa is surprisingly passive, not even saying a word until the closing seconds, so he’s definitely not interested in defending Christmas.

I hate this thing. GET A DAMN SLEIGH!

This is just an all together weird, little, Christmas special. And emphasis on little as it’s not even six minutes long. It is quite accessible though as multiple YouTube channels have uploaded it, including the official Popeye channel, and it’s also available on DVD with the rest of the Popeye the Sailor show. Should you watch it? Well, I guess if you like Popeye you will and you’ve probably already watched this. If not, well, it’s so odd that I think it’s worth a look since it’s only going to cost you 6 minutes of your life.


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