Tag Archives: christmas cartoons

Dec. 24 – Silly Symphony – “The Night Before Christmas”

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Originally released December 9, 1933.

We have reached a day of great, holiday, release – Christmas Eve. And what better way to mark the occasion than with a holiday short titled The Night Before Christmas. A lot of cartoons have made use of this title, but today’s subject is the Silly Symphony short that falls under that heading. It felt right to tackle this one in the wake of the Merrie Melodies short we looked at a few days ago. Those two brands are forever linked by their similar titles and the competition that existed at the time between the Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. Studios, a competition that still exists today.

The Silly Symphony collection was essentially Walt Disney Production’s play area. The Mickey Mouse shorts the studio was famous for were more straight-forward, while the Silly Symphony shorts could be just as narratively tight or could be more experimental in nature. In some respects, the shorts were a testing ground for techniques the studio would employ for its feature-length theatrical productions, like the multi-plane camera used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Technicolor debuted here as well before making the jump to Mickey Mouse and even the studio’s greatest creation, Donald Duck, debuted in a Silly Symphony short (I may be a touch biased there). The shorts could be funny, whimsical, scary, whatever they needed to be. And sure, a bunch of them did just end up being characters largely dancing to some music, but there was also some great stuff in there.

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Note the top, in case you forgot who the real star is.

This short, The Night Before Christmas, is the 1933 sequel to the 1932 short Santa’s Workshop. In that cartoon, we watched Santa and his elves prepare for Christmas at the North Pole and it ends with the big guy saying “goodbye” to his loyal workers and heading off to deliver the presents. Well, this one is going to show us Santa on his journey that night through at least one house. This one was directed by Wilfred Jackson with Dick Huemer getting the credit for the animation. And as you would expect, it’s an adaptation of the famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore. And since this is a 1933 short, it’s in Technicolor unlike the Merrie Melodies short we looked at earlier.

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The cozy confines for today’s short.

Like so many cartoons, this one also begins with a rendition of “Silent Night” as the title card is shown. Lest we forget who the real star is, this is credited as Mickey Mouse presents…, in case you had no idea what Walt Disney Productions was famous for. After the title card is removed the cartoon begins. A narrator is singing the poem from which this short takes its name. Leigh Harline is credited with the music on this short, but I do not know who the vocalist is that’s singing the song. The visuals show us a cozy home covered with snow. Everything is quiet, as the poem demands, and the home’s children are snug in a rather large bed – all 8 of them.

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That was a close one, boys.

The vocals end with the sound of sleigh bells as we see Santa flying high overhead with his team of eight not-so-tiny reindeer out in front single-file. They barely fit onto the roof of the house, which is maybe why Santa’s reindeer are often in a two-across formation, but the lead reindeer is able to keep from sliding off and Santa seems ignorant to the near miss. He climbs out of the sleigh and makes his way down the chimney. He’s a fairly large Santa and certainly a round one. He has a permanent smile affixed to his face and he is prone to frequent bouts of laughter. He’s not exactly the quiet kind of Santa.

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Fire just loves Santa’s ass.

When he emerges from the chimney he’s all covered in soot, but doesn’t seem to mind. Somewhat surprising for a 1930’s short, his sootiness isn’t in the form of a blackface gag which is nice to see. He shakes the soot off and seems to notice the hot coals in the fireplace, a near miss for Santa’s rump. When he turns his back on the hot coals they grow into tall flames which reach out and caress Santa on the bum. He jumps and spins around waving a finger at the fire. He then laughs and the flames go out making me wonder if he has this sort of playful relationship with all of the fireplaces he’ll visit this evening.

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There’s something familiar about that toy in front, and something odd about that sheep one.

Santa then gets to work. He first pulls out a modest tree from his sack which isn’t quite as tall as he is. He opens it like an umbrella and places it on the floor. He then pulls out a toy bugle and uses it to summon the toys to work. A marching band comprised of toy clowns emerge first from the sack as they lead the rest of the toys which soon includes dolls and even a toy Mickey Mouse riding on a scooter. The animation with Mickey repeats several times almost as if they wanted to make sure everyone noticed the rather hard to miss cameo. One toy squeezing a sheep is a bit curious looking. I don’t want to say it’s definitely blackface, but it’s close.

The toys then begin decorating the tree which includes some lit candles (there must have been countless Christmas tree related fires over the years). My favorite gag, if you can call it that, would be the team of toy soldiers firing ornaments out of a toy canon at the tree. A plane flies around leaving a trail of garland on the tree while toy firemen coat the tree with artificial snow.

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Santa pretty much thinks anything he does is hilarious.

While the toys take care of what is apparently their job, Santa starts filling stockings. Some are a bit shabby looking, but all have a little note in them detailing what the kid wants for Christmas. One stocking is actually a diaper, which Santa puts a doll in. Another appears to be three socks stitched together which is the perfect size for a baseball bat, which forces a laugh out of Santa. When he comes to one with a hole in the toe, he improvises by first sticking an umbrella in it upside down and then dumps a bunch of toys into it laughing all the while.

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That’s a mighty fine tree there, toys.

Horns sound to apparently announce that the tree has been decorated. All that is left is for a toy zeppelin to fly to the top with the star-shaped tree topper. Once it’s placed where it belongs a small cheer goes up and the clown band starts playing “Jingle Bells.” The other toys dance merrily while Santa gets in on the act via a toy piano. If you’re thinking this must be noisy as hell, then you would be right. Soon, the kids perk up due to all of the commotion, and a patch on the comforter even flips open to reveal a ninth kid had been sleeping underneath it. The kids race to the top of the stairs for a look, with our ninth kid apparently the focal point as he’s the straggler and the seat of his pajamas is unbuttoned revealing his naked bottom. As the kids look on, it’s this little guy who tries to hold back a sneeze, and fails, alerting Santa down below.

Santa hastily orders the toys back to their places. They all head for their spot under the tree with some toys returning to their packaging. As the kids descend the stairs, Santa squeezes himself into the fireplace with his empty sack, places a finger beside his nose, and vanishes up the chimney.

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And we almost made it to the end…

The kids then attack the tree as they all reach for the toys that stand out most to them. Our little straggler, who is apparently named Junior, is the only one who apparently noticed a disturbance by the fire place and he heads for that first. Looking up the chimney, a blast of soot falls on his face and there we have it – a blackface gag (sigh). Our attention is soon directed to an unopened present under the tree addressed to Junior and he heads over and opens it. Inside is a little, black, Scottish Terrier which licks the soot off of his face. All of the kids then run to the window when they hear the sound of sleigh bells and they watch as Santa and his team of reindeer fly off into the creepiest looking moon I’ve ever seen. It has an unpleasant grin, and this is basically the same shot that ended the previous short, Santa’s Workshop. The vocalist from earlier returns as well to sing the final stanza of the poem with the short ending on the now famous line “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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Having an adorable puppy erase the blackface is probably the best outcome we could have asked for.

The Night Before Christmas is a fairly tame piece of animation, that one instance of blackface excluded. It has a simple premise and follows the Silly Symphony formula of showing a bunch of characters acting out a mundane process, but with a touch of fantasy. There’s no spoken dialogue in this one, aside from the narration of the poem, as Santa just laughs a bunch and never actually says a word to the reindeer or the toys. He doesn’t even get to belt out that closing line. The kids also don’t really say anything, they just cheer or make a noise of surprise or delight. I like that they never actually see Santa until they get to the window, as even from atop the stairs they couldn’t see anything since the room Santa was in is blocked by a door.

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I expected an ending in which Santa flies in front of the moon. What I did not expect was for that moon to wear a maniacal grin.

What this short does have some fun with is merely the process Santa goes through at each house. It’s a bit surprising to see so many toys bestowed upon these children since this was released during The Great Depression. I suppose we get some sense of that via the shabby stockings and the fact that all of the kids share a single bed. Santa bringing the tree and decorating seems to be a relic of the old days. I know my dad’s family never decorated their tree, that was Santa’s job, though I think they at least put it up first. I think some families did decorate it together on Christmas Eve before going to bed, as I’m sure some probably do that now. I think for many homes though the customary thing to do now is to get a tree and then decorate it as soon as possible. The only matter up for debate is how soon is too soon. I like getting as much visual enjoyment as possible from a tree so I’m more of the sooner the better camp. However, I have my limits. My neighbors literally put their tree (an artificial one) up the weekend after Halloween which is something I thought only happened in Bob’s Burgers. If you want my advice, even though it’s pretty useless advice coming on Christmas Eve, I say cut down your own tree if you can that way you can put it up in early December and it will still be relatively fresh come the end of the month. Those lot trees are often cut in October which is why they often don’t last very long. And if you do have a tree, don’t put lit candles on it or leave it plugged in when you’re not home or asleep. Lets avoid those Christmas tree fires, everyone.

If you want to check out this short this year then it would be rather helpful to have the collection of Silly Symphony shorts, More Silly Symphonies, which was released in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Treasures line. It’s since gone out of print, and as of this writing it wasn’t on Disney+ and if you’re reading that then it wasn’t added before this went up, which is a shame, but that blackface gag could be to blame. There’s still hope though as Disney is not very protective of these shorts so if you just punch it into your preferred search engine you’ll probably find it no problem. And if you can’t, maybe that too is a bit of a good thing as it likely means Disney is prepping this for a future release on Disney+ or via some other method. We’re still waiting on an HD release of all of the classic shorts, so come on Disney, what are you waiting for? Needless to say, have a Merry Christmas Eve and hopefully you can find some time to check back tomorrow for the final entry in this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot.


Dec. 19 – The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives

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Original release date January 7, 1933

Every year I do this I am reminded at how surprising it is that so few Christmas themed Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes shorts exist. Disney put out several memorable ones over the years featuring their characters, but Warner Bros. mostly stayed away. Bugs Bunny would eventually get a Christmas television special in the 70s, but that was well past the age of the cartoon short.

That’s not to say Warner didn’t produce any Christmas cartoons under their two most popular banners, just that most didn’t feature the company’s most recognizable faces. The first of which, The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives, contained no recognizable faces even though this was during the heyday for Bosko. The Rudolf Ising directed short was the first Merrie Melodies cartoon released in 1933, missing the Christmas holiday by a couple of weeks. Even though the Merrie Melodies line of shorts is often distinguished from Looney Tunes due to the presence of color (that wouldn’t come until 1934), this is a black and white film that’s fallen into the public domain.

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Possibly the nicest piece of animation in the short.

The short is a Depression-era cartoon, hence the name The Shanty Where Santy Claus lives. It’s not a particularly well known short as it wasn’t shown on television much given that it’s associated with a holiday and thus confined to a short window for release. Since it’s from 1933, it also doesn’t look particularly great compared with the more popular Warner cartoons and, as I already mentioned, it’s devoid of the characters the studio is known for. Despite that though, it did receive some play on Cartoon Network during the 1990s, but sometimes with alterations. I honestly can’t recall if I ever saw this one on the channel. I used to love falling asleep to the Christmas Eve programming on Cartoon Network which ran all night and mostly consisted of winter or Christmas themed cartoons. I could usually bank on seeing Peace on Earth at that time and only that time. This cartoon was probably shown as well, but I don’t remember it specifically. When viewing it now, it has an air of familiarity to it, but that could just be my imagination.

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Our downtrodden protagonist.

The cartoon begins with bells ringing and they are gorgeously animated. It then heads for ground level where the animation is less gorgeous and is accompanied by “Silent Night,” something that will become a trope in Christmas specials to come. A disheveled looking kid is drearily stomping through the snow with a floppy hat and his hands stuffed into his pockets. His exaggerated feet practically look like snowshoes. He hears singing coming from a church, but declines to enter. He perks up momentarily when he hears another commotion. Racing over to a window he looks in on a bunch of kids dancing around a Christmas tree. He then turns to the camera with a sad face as the wind howls.

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Listen kids, normally it’s not okay to run off with an old guy promising toys.

The boy gets caught in the gust which tosses him into the side of his shanty. The snow falls off the roof and buries him momentarily. He pulls himself up and heads inside. It’s a one-room shack with hardly anything inside, including parents. He’s rather down, even weeping, until he hears something outside. Sleigh bells herald the arrival of Santa Claus who comes bursting in singing the short’s signature song. Santa offers to take the boy with him to his shanty where toys and wonderful things await. The kid is more than eager to take old Saint Nick up on his offer and the two head outside. Santa puts the boy on the back of his sleigh before climbing in himself. He orders the reindeer to “giddy-up” and as they take off the boy tumbles from the back of the sleigh. Malnutrition has apparently not affected the boy’s speed or conditioning as he races after the sleigh and essentially outruns the reindeer to get back into Santa’s arms. This time the old man is smart enough to put the kid in the sleigh proper and the two take off into the sky.

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You are correct if you assumed Santa flew past that moon before landing in front of his shop. Maybe the first ever animated shot of Santa in front of a moon?

Santa and his team of two reindeer (the Depression even impacted Santa) make it to Santa’s shanty. And it’s hardly a shanty. The two head inside and the kid’s eyes widen to see all of the toys waiting to be delivered to new homes. Some of them are a bit…iffy looking, but we pan back to the kid pretty quickly who’s looking quite happy. He heads in further and starts playing with a kangaroo toy. When he squeezes a ball on the end of a tube it makes the little joey pop out of the pouch. Cute.

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Well, this just went wrong very fast.

The boy then turns his attention to a musical toy and….oh no, here’s our reminder this is a cartoon from the 1930s. A toy of jazz musicians is displayed and they basically all look like they’re pulled from a minstrel show. We then see a baby doll crying out for it’s Mama before tumbling off the shelf into a box of soot. It then emerges, in blackface, crying for its “Mammy” who then shows up to retrieve the toy. And we’re not done! A rag doll starts dancing as the short’s song returns with two other dolls that also look like blackface dolls. She then ditches the pair to watch on the side cheering them on with some maracas.

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Oh my god, it just got worse!

More toys are spotlighted including a doll that tries to blow up a balloon. She sucks in the air and turns into a woman of generous proportions who begins to sing “Shine on Harvest Moon” in what is undoubtedly a caricature of singer Kate Smith. There’s also a toy soldier on a baby bank. When the register pops open it’s, get this, full of babies. A teddy bear is shown playing a trombone and a jack-in-the-box beside it pops out and it’s thankfully not racist. The trombone keeps hitting it into a drum which is mildly amusing.

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Make it stop!

We then end up at the Christmas tree which has a lit candle on it. One of the toys knocks it over and soon the tree catches on fire (and you thought those giant bulbs from the 40s and 50s were a fire hazard) forcing the fire brigade into action. The toy fire brigade, that is. A fire engine races over and tries to put out the flames, but it is just a toy. We then see the boy again, the supposed main character who has apparently just been watching this whole thing and is possibly willing to let the racist toys burn, who decides he should take some action. A hose is conveniently at his feet and hooked up to a sink. He inserts the other end into some bagpipes which are just laying on the floor and runs over to the tree. He squeezes the bagpipes spraying water out of the various pipes which douse the flames. The toys cheer triumphantly and the short comes to an abrupt end.

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Kid, maybe you should just let this place burn.

I suppose when I saw this cartoon was in the public domain I should have expected some racism. Cartoonists, for whatever reason, loved these blackface gags in the 20s and 30s and really seemed to like the black figures seen here. Maybe it’s a benign reason, since these cartoons are in black and white it was an easy gag to get over, but it is what it is. When Cartoon Network aired this one it eventually edited out those parts, though I think at one point in time they were left in. Considering the short is a little over 7 minutes with that stuff intact, it must have been incredibly short without it. If you watch a lot of old cartoons, there’s nothing in here you haven’t seen before. I don’t think those images would keep this from being released as part of a collection of Warner cartoons, but it sure would earn it a disclaimer.

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Well, the fire’s out and…it’s over? Okay then.

Visually, this is an old cartoon and it shows. The backgrounds aren’t very detailed and certainly pale in comparison to what Disney was doing at the time. The characters have noodle-like limbs and their mouth movements are a bit odd. There are some twin characters that were probably just doubles of the film cells or possibly traces from one image to another as they move in perfect unison. The kid main character also doesn’t look particularly good, but a lot of effort was put into Santa who has a nice, jolly, demeanor.

As a Christmas toon, this is essentially a piece of wish fulfillment. A poor kid is not going to get to enjoy Christmas like the more well-off children will, so Santa shows up to whisk him away. It probably wasn’t something a poor kid needed to see as it would have felt patronizing. Santa is also barely in it as he just shows up to take the kid and then basically disappears once we get to his work shop. I kept waiting for him to come in and put out the fire (or destroy those racist toys), but he must have left to go find some other poor kid. There’s a lot of public domain Christmas music at play though, and the one original song works well enough.

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He’s certainly not as charismatic as Porky.

The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives is a public domain cartoon that is quite easy to come by. Just typing the name into a search engine should produce plenty of results, or you can even just go straight to YouTube. There are various public domain Christmas VHS and DVDs that include it, and Warner even featured it on a laser disc release of shorts back in the day, but I doubt you want to go that route. Because it’s free, the quality can vary. Some claim to be upscaled to HD, but they get a blurry, smear, effect as a result. Some are very gray in appearance and there’s even some that are practically yellow. Still, you don’t have to look too hard to find one with nice enough contrast levels. I don’t really recommend it, but it is only 7 minutes so it’s not exactly much of a time commitment. It’s a shame the few gags present are mostly racist humor. The only memorable non racist gag was the baby bank, which wasn’t particularly funny either. As the first Christmas-themed Merrie Melodies short, it at least has some historical significance. Just beware of the racist stuff.


The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  Robin (Tim Drake), Mo, Lar, Cur

After pausing for a week to discuss the 1998 film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero we have now finally arrived at The New Batman Adventures era of the show. This is essentially the start of a sequel series, but it’s been retconned over the years (or just simplified) as Season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series. The Blu Ray set released in 2018 simply refers to it as such and the intro for each episode is the Season One intro from the Fox Kids era. The show largely exists thanks to two new developments since the previous series ended in 1995:  the WB network, and Superman.

Warner Bros. and Fox had a nice relationship in the 1990s where WB created several shows that Fox aired as part of its Fox Kids lineup on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning. At some point, the executives at WB decided it would just make more sense for them to start their own network. On January 11, 1995 The WB was launched and alongside it came Kids’ WB. That block of programming would be occupied by cartoons primarily, most of which included characters WB owned. Gradually, as the license agreements with Fox expired the shows WB had created for that network migrated to its network.

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The New Batman Adventures placed greater emphasis on Batman’s supporting cast.

The network’s flagship action cartoon was Superman, or Superman: The Animated Series. It was decided that it would make a lot of sense for Superman to simply be partnered with Batman to form an hour programming block of DC’s hottest heroes. It would make sense for the two to cross paths, and so WB commissioned a new Batman series envisioned as a sequel to BTAS. Like the second season of that show, this one would focus on Batman and a supporting cast of heroes. Dick Grayson would return, but not as Robin but rather Nightwing. In his place was a new, much younger, Robin and Batgirl would be there as well. The show would need to be updated to match the style of Superman and to also make the show cheaper to produce. “Dark Deco” was now out, in its place was a modern Gotham with cell phones and (gasp!) color TV. Oddly, Gotham would also feature a red sky apparently to heighten the darkness of the show vs the much brighter Superman. There is a reduction of shadows as well making everything lighter in appearance. Perhaps something that disappoints only me is the dropping of title cards. I loved the title cards on BTAS and I was so bummed to see they weren’t continued here. It also makes each one of these posts a little less interesting to look at.

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A look at the various villains from the show, some old some new.

This new style meant character redesigns. Batman would ditch the blue of his prior costume opting for a strictly black and gray ensemble. His belt was also muted in tone and more utilitarian in appearance. Robin’s costume dropped the green and Batgirl ditched the gray as well. On the villain’s side things were a bit more extreme. We’ll mostly get to them as they show up. To highlight a few; Scarecrow received an entirely new look while Joker featured an aggressive redesign that removed the sclera of his eyes and the red of his lips. Some of these redesigns are quite interesting on their own, while some are just plain inferior to the previous look. The characters had to be simplified to reflect the shrinking budget, but some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.

Most of the creative staff was returned for the new series. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm served as executive producers alongside Alan Burnett. Dini and Timm would both contribute to multiple episodes as writer while Dan Riba returned to direct multiple episodes as well. Also returning was the majority of the voice cast from the prior series, with the only notable change being Tara Strong (then known as Tara Charendoff) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. A lot of new blood was also brought in, many of which would hang around the DC Animated Universe which was about to expand to include The Justice League and Teen Titans. This is basically the beginning of an expansive television universe by WB and DC which is basically the television equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m primarily only interested in Batman when it comes to DC, so don’t expect me to do this for the other shows. Hopefully no one is disappointed.

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New show, new logo.

The New Batman Adventures was released on DVD as Volume 4 of Batman: The Animated Series and is included in both the DVD and Blu Ray box set of the series as Season 3. For this feature, I considered simply sticking with the BTAS title, but decided this show was different enough to change it up. I’ll include both the episode number as it relates to this series as well as how it relates to the entire series. We’re also sticking with production order as opposed to air date order. The show was ordered as one season, but aired as two seasons of 13 and 11 episodes respectively concluding in January of 1999. At some point I’ll summarize my thoughts on the whole of Batman: The Animated Series, but since we’re getting started with The New Batman Adventures I’ll say upfront that I find this series to be inferior to its predecessor. It’s less unique looking and not as well written. The new villains introduced aren’t as memorable and we also lose a little bit of Batman by switching to an ensemble format. He’s made to be more grim, apparently to heighten how different he is from his younger companions, and as such loses some of his humanity in the process. He’s overall just less interesting as a character, and the focus on the others doesn’t really make up for that. It feels like a diservice to the excellent Kevin Conroy, who simply has less to work with in regards to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Anyways, let’s finally start talking about this first episode, shall we? First airing just over 2 years after the conclusion of BTAS, “Holiday Knights” is a pretty bizarre way to kick-off this series. For one, it’s a Christmas/New Years episode that’s presented in anthology format with three separate mini stories starring different heroes and villains. It’s based on the Batman Adventures Holiday Special released in 1995 written by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Oddly, WB chose to air this as the premier as well in September rather than stashing it away until closer to Christmas like Fox did with “Christmas with the Joker,” the second episode from BTAS. Also complicating things, the new Robin (Mathew Valencia) debuts here even though the second episode is the one that details how he met Batman and came to assume this persona. Clayface is also the featured villain of the middle tale, but his actual return from the events of “Mudslide” is recounted in a later episode as well. This episode almost feels non-canon as a result, and it’s just overall a weird and confusing way to bring the series back.

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Ivy has apparently spent the past few years avoiding the sun.

The episode begins on December 22 and quickly reintroduces us to a pair of villains:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). Harley largely looks the same as she did in the previous series, while Ivy has received a fairly dramatic makeover. Her hair is more stylized and her skin bone white. She displays what is basically the new female body-shape on the show:  short, pointed, with an oversized head. It’s a more “toon” presentation and is less realistic compared with BTAS. I personally don’t care for it, but it is what it is.

Harley is bored and not at all excited to be stuck in a slummy motel for the holidays. She bemoans their lack of a Christmas tree, which naturally sets Ivy off as she views them as a form of genocide against trees. Ivy insists she has a plan that will brighten up their holiday and urges her friend to trust in her. We’re then taken to a gathering of the wealthy at the Vreeland estate where we get our first look at the new Bruce Wayne. He dresses all in black now with a white shirt under his suit and red “power” tie. His hair is black as well and slicked back to give him a real douchey look befitting a billionaire playboy. He’s socializing with Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) who has returned to her red-haired look after a brief dabble with being a blonde and seems amused when a gaggle of women swarm Bruce. While Bruce is being pushed around by the ladies, one of them plants a kiss right on his lips. It’s Ivy, and as we learned way back in “Pretty Poison” getting a kiss from her is not something anyone should desire.

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Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

Bruce leaves the party and as he heads for his car he’s invited into a limo by a pair of women. Bruce finds himself unable to control his own body as he’s subjected to Ivy and Harley’s whims. They then use Bruce and his fabulous wealth to go on a shopping spree. A montage plays which feels fitting for a holiday special and is set to a saxophone rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The women seem to enjoy themselves while Bruce is helpless. As they force him to carry all of their purchases he begins to make some headway in fighting off the effects of the poison. The girls realize too late that he needs another dose, and as they approach to do so Bruce is able to back away falling into an open elevator shaft. The girls are indifferent to Bruce’s plight as they still have his credit cards and continue on with their evening. Meanwhile, the gloved hand of Batman reaches up from the depths of the elevator shaft.

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The Ivy and Harley montage is probably the best part of the whole episode.

Harley and Ivy make their escape in their stolen limo being driven by another brainwashed lackey, but soon enough the cloaked outline of Batman flashes behind them. Harley warns Ivy about who’s on their tail and Ivy makes some evasive maneuvers to avoid The Dark Knight which leads them to a toy store – how fitting. Batman enters and encounters all manners of toy-related traps:  wooden soldiers, giant boxing gloves, and Harley’s trusty mallet. The ladies lure Batman through their fun house leading up a tower of toys before they hastily attempt a retreat. As the duo turn to rub salt in his wounds, Batman fires his redesigned grappling hook (it makes a less satisfying hissing sound when fired and features an end that’s just a bladed Batman logo) to hook the base of a massive Christmas tree. He topples it landing right on the thieves putting a damper on their holiday, but returning to the Christmas tree gag with Harley who’s strangely comforted by its presence.

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Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

Our second story takes place on Christmas Eve. Barbara is shopping at Mayfield’s Department Store for a gift for her father. As she’s paying for her gift, a crying child gets her attention and the clerk remarks it’s been like that all day. Not far from the checkout station is a department store Santa being played by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). Apparently, Bullock isn’t the best Santa and tends to leave the kids who sit on his lap in tears. Serving alongside him as his elf is Officer Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and the two are apparently on a stake-out which is why Bullock isn’t exactly into this whole Santa schtick. Bullock does at least find the Christmas spirit momentarily when a little girl sits on his lap asking to have her dad back for Christmas. Apparently, her dad is a crook Bullock just helped get put away. Not really knowing what else to do, he gives her some money. That should cheer her up.

Barbara is amused by Bullock’s turn as Kris Kringle and makes her way for the exit. Along the way she notices a child who appears to be shoplifting. The daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner can’t stand idly by as someone commits a crime, so she reaches out to grab him only she comes away with a handful of mud instead. Montoya then receives word to be on the lookout for a rabble of child thieves which fellow detectives are chasing through the store. They corner the kids, who then all merge into one being right before their very eyes.

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Batgirl showing off her new attire.

It’s Clayface (Ron Perlman), and he’s not the type of bandit to go quietly. He immediately begins trashing the place forcing Barbara to duck out and re-emerge as Batgirl. She takes the fight right to Clayface knocking him through an oversized window and onto a skating rink outside causing him to smash through the ice. Santa and his elf arrive to provide backup, though their guns do little to bother Clayface. Batgirl hollers at them to stop wasting their ammo and to aim for the Santa. Bullock at first confuses her command to mean him, but above Clayface is a giant, lighted, Santa as well as strings of Christmas lights. Bullock and Montoya take aim and blast the Santa down to land on top of Clayface. The frayed wires land in the water around Clayface electrocuting him and putting a stop to his rampage. Montoya then leaves Bullock to handle the clean-up.

new joker

I don’t like this new Joker at all, but at least we still have Mark Hamill doing his voice.

Our final tale takes place on December 31 and involves The Joker (Mark Hamill). He’s sent out one of his famous broadcasts to the people of Gotham revealing his New Year’s resolution to not kill anyone in the new year. This means he needs to make up for it all tonight and send the current year out with a bang! A taping of this broadcast is being viewed by Batman and Robin in Commissioner Gordon’s office. It would seem Gordon stopped heading to the gym following the events of BTAS as he’s a lot smaller and older looking now than he was before. Gordon (Bob Hastings) informs Batman that they have a lead on Joker as a GothCorp scientist was murdered earlier in the day. The scientist specialized in sonics and had been working on a new weapon that could kill with sound. Batman deduces that Joker’s likely target will be The New Year’s Countdown in Gotham Square and it’s likely he’ll have this new weapon in hand.

jokers favors

Joker’s party favors.

Joker is shown at Gotham Square with some of his finest: Mo, Lar, and Cur (all voiced by Ron Perlman and obvious reference to The Three Stooges). They’re rigging the sonic bomb to a massive bell. Apparently at midnight, the bell goes up to ring in the new year and when that happens the bomb will go off. And to make things harder on Batman, Joker has some “party favors” to distribute.

Batman and Robin head for the party and realize finding Joker will be a bit harder than expected. Joker has distributed his Joker masks to all of the party-goers making it hard to find the real Joker. Batman peers through some binoculars and spots a clown in a purple suit at a piano in the middle of the gathering onstage. He’s wearing ear muffs and so are the rather large men flanking him. Figuring that’s his man, Batman and Robin head for the stage and Batman dings Joker’s head with a Batarang knocking off his ear muffs. They then turn their attention to Joker’s goons, but find they’re pretty hard to deal with. Joker ends up grabbing the upper hand by smashing a bucket full of ice and champagne over the back of Batman’s skull.

joker champagne

This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

Joker grabs the bottle of champagne to celebrate and apparently die with everyone else. As Joker gloats over Batman, The Dark Knight is able to snatch the bottle of champagne and spray it all over the controls to the bell shortening out the killing device. As he does so, Joker tries to stop him and shoots at him and actually hits Batman in the right arm. As Batman lays on the ground, Joker laughs like only he can. As he does so the bell begins to fall, and it just so happens to land right on Joker who offers a well-timed “Ouch,” from beneath it to close out the scene.

bat gordon toast

We’re introduced to an annual tradition for Gordon and The Dark Knight.

With Joker’s plot foiled once again, Commissioner Gordon is shown entering a diner around 2 AM. The owner (Corey Burton) ushers everyone out and tells them he’s closing up as Gordon takes a seat at a booth. The man brings him a mug of coffee as well as a second mug and wonders aloud if Gordon’s buddy is coming. Gordon assures him he is, and Batman soon enters through a rear door. He sits down and the two indicate this is a yearly tradition of theirs. They speak only a few words before Gordon turns to request something from the kitchen to go. When he turns back he finds an empty booth and a couple of bucks left on the table to cover the tab. Remarking he’ll one day beat him to the check, Gordon collects himself and heads out into the night while Batman is seen swinging off into the red sky himself.

As I said, this is an odd way to begin the series. Three fragmented stories which lean heavily into comic relief that contain characters who will require a true introduction (or reintroduction) further down the road. It at least gets a lot of characters on-screen though giving us a peek at this new look. In general, I’m not much of a fan for how this series looks. It uses mostly straight lines in its characters and the women and children have huge heads. I mostly hate the new Joker as his face just lacks personality and is so bland and wooden to look at. The removal of his lips also just makes his mouth flaps look odder as he’s all teeth gnashing together. He looked so great in BTAS so it’s just really disappointing to see him reduced to this. This practically elderly looking Commissioner Gordon is also not a favorite of mine and Bullock looks like he’s gained about 50 pounds.

clayface hk

Clayface doesn’t come across looking so hot. Meanwhile, less censorship apparently extends to Montoya’s attire as well.

Not surprisingly, Clayface isn’t as well animated as he was before. He still contorts his body into weapons and other beings, but not a lot of resources are spent on the transitioning animation. He’s also far more stable looking than he was in “Mudslide” and has almost a rocky appearance compared with his old one. It should also be pointed out he was previosuly immune to elecrocution so either that was a goof by Dini or they intentionally took that immunity away from him. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is just a less interesting looking show. They wanted it to be in-line with Metropolis from Superman and it wouldn’t make sense to have Gotham look like it was trapped in the 1940s and Metropolis like something from the 90s.

harley and the tree

It’s nice to have a little Christas in June, right? Interestingly, the comic this episode is based on portrayed Harley as Jewish.

There is one advantage this show has over its predecessor and that appears to be with the level of violence on display. It’s blatantly discussed that Joker murdered someone and he has an apparent lust for carnage and mayhem that was more tip-toed around on Fox. Batman is also free to punch people while villains, and the police, are still able to wield realistic looking weapons. Warner must have desired a way to differentiate its network from Fox and upping the violence was apparently one such way.

As an episode, this is a pretty benign, disposable, piece of entertainment. And there is entertainment value for it largely as a comedic vehicle. I wish it had chosen to end on Batman and Gordon sipping coffee together rather than turn to the tired gag of Batman vanishing whenever someone turns their back on him. I think that would have been the way the old series would have ended this one with a somber, but also sweet, ending. I guess this is just one more way for this show to announce it’s here and it’s not the same one we’re used to. Since I am a bit of a Christmas cartoon junkie, I should add that as a Christmas episode this is also just all right. It doesn’t linger much on the holiday, but it also doesn’t beat anyone over the head with Christmas clichés. It’s probably a touch better than “Christmas with the Joker” actually though less memorable. I don’t think either makes a strong case to be included with annual Christmas viewings, but you could certainly do worse.


Dec. 16 – Mickey’s Christmas Chaos

christmas crisisAlternatively known as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis, Mickey’s Christmas Chaos is a Mickey Mouse Works cartoon from 2000. If you’re like me, you were probably “too old” for The Disney Channel around the turn of the millennium and are not too familiar with the Mouse Works toons. This was basically Disney’s attempt at creating a new series of cartoon shorts starring its classic characters. They’re 2D animated and usually run around 7 minutes and were shown on television as opposed to being a theatrical short. They vary in quality, and while very few measure up to the classic shorts, I’m happy they exist.

These shorts originally aired in blocks, but were eventually repackaged as part of the House of Mouse series which launched in 2001 as part of ABC’s One Saturday Morning programming block. House of Mouse basically packaged these shorts, and select classic shorts, together with a wrap-around animated segment taking place at the actual House of Mouse which was basically a club owned by Mickey and all of the animated characters would show up for the party. Again, it’s not a show I’ve seen a lot of and what I have seen never really wowed me, but I still think it’s great some attempt was made to keep these characters in a starring role.

mickey mouse works

Mickey’s Christmas Chaos originally aired as part of the Mickey Mouse Works shorts.

Mickey’s Christmas Chaos first aired September 16, 2000 alongside Mickey’s Mix-Up and Whitewater Donald. It was then included in episode 44 of House of Mouse, “Clarabelle’s Christmas List,” where it was re-titled for some reason as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis. That episode aired December 2, 2002. As the title implies, this is a Mickey Mouse cartoon that takes place around Christmas and features Mickey’s loyal dog Pluto and adversary Mortimer Mouse.

house of mouse

The short was re-packaged with other Mouse Works cartoons as Mickey’s Christmas Crisis for the House of Mouse program.

The episode opens with Mickey (Wayne Allwine) emerging from his home to decorate his house for Christmas. Pluto (Jim Cummings) is alongside him and we learn that Mickey is aiming to win a local decorating contest. He decorates his house as only a cartoon character can affixing some garland to a toy airplane which flies around the house spreading the garland around while Pluto (in a sort of nod to Pluto’s Christmas Tree) flings ornaments from his tail to decorate as well. Next door, Mortimer Mouse (Maurice LaMarche) emerges from his house to mock Mickey’s decorating. He seems to think tacky is good as he brags about his electronic talking Christmas wreath while looking down on Mickey’s more traditional wreath. They then engage in a game of one-upmanship, as they each keep making their wreath more extravagant until Mortimer slips a toilet seat into Mickey’s box which he affixes to his wreath then reacts with horror.

mickey decorating

Mickey and Pluto have a deocrating contest to win.

The two mice then turn to one-upping each other via lights. Mickey has tastefully outfitted his house with Christmas lights, while Mortimer just throws a bunch of traditional lights onto his house such as lamps and bulbs. It’s hideous, but he seems to like it. Mickey counters by turning on his lights, which like Clark Griswald, causes a brown out across town. The heat from the lights even gives Mortimer a sunburn.

mortimers power

I think it’s fairly common knowledge now, but Mortimer was originally the name for Mickey but Walt’s wife Lilian disliked it. The character Mortimer was later created for Mickey’s Rival and designed to resemble Walt Disney.

It’s then onto the tree, and Mickey sets up a rather nice one in his yard by basically planting a box of Christmas decorations in the ground. Mortimer sets his tree up Grinch-style, opening it like an umbrella and allowing presents to fall out. Mickey then starts spreading items out on his lawn which include a church diorama and Uncle Scrooge and his nephews as carollers. Mortimer starts doing the same and even uses Pete as an angel to decorate his lawn while Mickey has a Goofy Claus. Mortimer swipes Goofy, and Mickey in turn swipes Mortimer’s nut roaster. They then get kind of nasty and even destroy each other’s trees, which also destroys Mortimer’s house momentarily.

mickeys house

Nice job, boys.

Then the two start just stealing each other’s decorations in outlandish fashion. Mickey has some extensive technological implants in the neighborhood which allows him to swap houses with the pull of a lever. Mortimer, to his credit, has a giant bucket-crane to pluck decorations off of Mickey’s house to place on his. Things then take a real Looney Tunes turn. When it appears Mortimer has won, Mickey gives him a wreath. It has a black ribbon on it that reads R.I.P. and when Mortimer sees that he looks over his shoulder at his Christmas tree which is loaded with bombs and TNT. The resulting explosion takes out both houses and leaves both mice covered in soot, but Pluto’s dog house is intact. The decorations fall out of the sky and land on Pluto’s house right as the mayor shows up to judge the contest. Pluto is awarded first prize, and when Mickey and Mortimer are about to come to blows a “Peace on Earth” marquee behind Pluto’s house reminds them what season it is. They then exchange gifts, seemingly putting an end to their feud, but each mouse takes a peek in the gift before opening it. They both angle their box at each other in an unassuming manner and when both open the package a spring-loaded boxing glove shoots out of each one knocking them both out.

mortimer yells

Mortimer’s a jerk, but Mickey gives as good as he gets which is unusual for him.

Mickey’s Christmas Chaos is a screwball cartoon. It’s much more Warner Bros. than Disney with two characters basically taking each other out and trying to raise the stakes with each gag. It’s not nearly as smart or as funny as a Warner Bros. short though. I like the little cameos of other characters including Scrooge and Chip and Dale and Mortimer is a great foil for Mickey. He doesn’t really get nasty enough though and I wish he at least had some good insults, but his dialogue is fairly routine. Same for Mickey, though at least he gets to be a bit more antagonistic than he typically is. This isn’t a perfect Mickey and he gets mad and even a little mean, especially with the bomb-tree. I also like that Pluto gets to be the only good character in the short, and in the end it’s he who is rewarded.

The animation is 2D, but fairly simple. The characters look nice and they animate in a very 90s fashion. Their movements are a bit exaggerated and they have a rubbery look to their limbs. The backgrounds are a bit disappointing though, especially in the long shots. There’s a disconnect between them and the action. As a result, this and basically all of the shorts from this series look inferior to the classic shorts, but I suppose that’s not surprising since those were made for the movie theater and not television. The thing that disappoints me a little though is these shorts aren’t even on par with the late era Disney Afternoon shows like Bonkers. This show came at a time when there was a shift in children’s programming and it wouldn’t be long before some networks pulled out of Saturday Morning all together and it’s reflected in the diminished budget for shows of this era.

mortimers gift

This one surprisingly doesn’t end with the two making up.

“Mickey’s Christmas Chaos” isn’t a bad cartoon, but it’s hardly memorable. That’s the case with most of the Mouse Works cartoons that I have seen. The ones I’m most familiar with are the Donald Duck ones included on the Chronological Donald – Volume 4, and even those I’ve only watched once or twice. As I said before, I’m happy these shorts exist and that the modern character actors got to voice these characters outside of Disney Park exhibits and early childhood shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but they’re not on par with the classics. Disney also hasn’t done much with these shorts since they ceased airing, but they’re actually pretty protective of them across streaming sites which stands in contrast with their attitude towards their classic shorts. Most have never received a home video release, and this cartoon is no exception (though snippets of it appear in Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse) in that regard. Disney basically stopped airing House of Mouse in 2009, so it’s probably not getting shown on television this month. And as I mentioned, it’s surprisingly tricky finding this online somewhere, but if you’re willing to dig, it’s there. Definitely search for the House of Mouse episode “Clarabelle’s Christmas List” instead of just looking for this cartoon. If you don’t want to look for it though and would rather watch Pluto’s Christmas Tree or Toy Tinkers then I don’t blame you one bit.


Dec. 11 – “Santa’s Surprise”

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“Santa’s Surprise” first released December 5, 1947

Cartoons were a pretty big deal at one point in time. Any studio that wanted to be thought of as a major studio had its own animation division and its own characters. Everyone knows the big ones from Disney and Warner and then after them I suppose the next biggest was MGM with Tom & Jerry, as well as others. Eventually animation became less important as television invaded the homes of people all around the world. No longer did customers heading off to the movies expect a newsreel, cartoon, and feature and the cartoon short started to disappear. Now it’s largely a novelty and a bunch of the lesser ones have slipped into the public domain.

noveltoon christmas

Paramount’s Noveltoons ran from 1943 until about 1967.

Of the many cartoons that appear to be floating around in the public domain, it would seem a lot belong to Paramount Pictures. They were there early as well, with the likes of Betty Boop and Popeye, but they scrambled for stars in the 40s and 50s. This was a time when the short was fading, and even Mickey Mouse had all but been retired. One of the studio’s stars during this era was Little Audrey. She was basically a replacement for the more popular Little Lulu character that Paramount declined to keep licensing. I wouldn’t say Little Audrey is a total rip-off of the Little Lulu character, but there are certainly some similarities. Paramount was at least smart enough to give her a different voice, and tasked Mae Questel with the honors. Questel is best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl.

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A rather pleasant looking Santa flies around singing to himself on Christmas Eve. The man loves his job.

The debut for Little Audrey is actually not a true Little Audrey cartoon, but she’s the most recognizable face in it. “Santa’s Surprise” is a 1947 Noveltoons cartoon short that depicts some kids giving Santa a present of his own on Christmas. It opens rather simply with Santa flying around in his sleigh on Christmas Eve. Ahead of him, six chunky reindeer pull his sleigh. It hasn’t come up much this year so far, but my biggest Christmas special pet peeve is when Santa is depicted with less than 8 reindeer. I won’t demand they include the 9th, but come on! There has to be at least 8!

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I guess this kid thinks this face on his pillow is enough to fool Santa. Looks like it worked.

As Santa flies around he enters homes to stuff stockings. From under beds and behind blankets little eyes watch his every move. Audrey has the most auspicious debut when Santa arrives at her house to find she cut a hole in her stocking, thus attempting to trick him into refilling it over and over. Santa laughs and it’s clear he’s having himself a good time. He even stops to take note of a little stocking hanging outside a mouse hole and stuffs a wedge of cheese into it. Poor cartoon mice, all they ever get is cheese.

santa snores

I have my name on my bed too.

With his work done, Santa returns home to the North Pole. His existence in this cartoon actually seems rather sad as his house is empty. No elves. No Mrs. Claus. Just a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Santa is pretty tired and climbs into bed, though he pauses to wish himself a “Merry Christmas!” in the mirror, which is either cute or just further adds to his depressing surroundings. As he snores away, the tassel on his night-cap billowing with each snore, some eyes emerge from his sleigh. It’s a group of multi-cultural children! They’ve stowed away in Santa’s sleigh throughout the night to reach his home. This is clearly not the same Santa of my youth who was impossible to catch in the act.

audrey and kids

Little Audrey, center, is going to tell these kids what’s up.

The kids all climb out of the sleigh and peer into Santa’s home. They take note of the dour surroundings and decide they should do something for Santa since he does so much for the children of the world. Little Audrey is basically the focal point of the group as she’s the one who suggests they help him out. As the white American of the group, I’m guessing the animators thought no one else could possibly lead this bunch. We get a little word from everyone, and boy are there some uncomfortable depictions here. The little black kid somewhat resembles a white kid in blackface. It’s not good. The Chinese child has tiny slits for eyes and speaks in stunted English. There’s a Hawaiian girl that seems to only communicate in hula and another questionable accent on the Spanish girl. This is 1947, folks!

sneeky kids

The kids sneak around, until they realize they don’t really have to.

From here it’s a pretty benign little cartoon. The kids sneak into the house and try to keep quiet as they get busy cleaning up the place. One of the boys gets the seat of his pants set on fire and has to plant it in the snow, which is probably the only real physical comedy here. I did find it amusing how they keep insisting on being quiet so as not to wake Santa, and then Little Audrey just starts singing a song as she dusts the place.

hot buns

The physical comedy is not high in this one, but a kid does set his ass on fire.

When they’re finished, they leave Santa’s tree decorated and with a present under it. He’s startled and wakes up to find the children have fled, but he sees how clean everything is and finds the present under the tree. It’s a music box with all of the faces of the children on it and there’s a little note reminding Santa not to forget them next year. He gives a hearty laugh, and the short is over. How did those kids get home? I have no idea.

dusty fish

Little Audrey, just over here dusting this fish.

If it weren’t for the dated representations of the other cultures of the children, “Santa’s Surprise” would be a totally boring, but sweet, Christmas cartoon short. It’s got a nice, simple, message about repaying acts of kindness with more kindness. Who is more deserving of a Christmas present than Santa Claus himself? It’s not an unheard of thing, and other shorts and specials have tackled the same and probably have done it better. The Prep & Landing short “Operation:  Secret Santa” is one that comes to mind. While it doesn’t feature children giving something to Santa in thanks, it does feature Mrs. Claus trying to get the perfect gift for Santa.

The absence of Mrs. Claus is also rather bizarre. I don’t know if she is more of a modern staple, but it seems like the concept should have been common in the 40s. After all, she was in the agreed upon very first story about Santa. This completely lackadaisical and certainly jolly Santa Claus is both nice and weird. He really doesn’t seem to care if he’s seen or heard and obviously he doesn’t check the sleigh much. I always do enjoy seeing simple homes from this era depicted in cartoons like the ones Santa visits. Maybe we should just go back to hanging a sock for gifts instead of filling up the underside of a tree? My credit card bills would like that very much.

santa prime

“Santa’s Surprise” has been released a bunch of times on video since it entered the public domain.

Paramount isn’t the most well-remembered producer of animation, and if we’re judging them solely on the quality of their animation then it’s relatively easy to see why. This picture is not on par with what the other studios were putting out. It almost looks like it’s ten years older than it really is. The characters are bit rubbery looking and there isn’t a ton of animation that’s out of the ordinary. It’s far from ugly or off-putting, but you definitely know you’re watching something old. It’s also possible this wasn’t preserved all that well and there could be some deterioration at work here as well. The backgrounds are nice though and there’s a cold, yet cozy, quality to them. There’s lots of wood which means lots of wood grain, but nothing seems too busy or cluttered.

If you want to check out “Santa’s Surprise” and other cartoons that feature Little Audrey, then I actually have some good news. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released some restored cartoons from the public domain and “Santa’s Surprise” is included. At least, that’s according to Wikipedia. It claims it was released on October 11 of this year, but I can’t find anything online and it’s not cited. “Santa’s Surprise” has been released on DVD over the years and it’s not expensive. Since it’s also public domain, you can find streams of it online with relative ease as well, including Prime Video. It’s really not worth seeking out, but if you want something light and have a taste for old cartoons then you might get something out of it.


Dec. 22 – Johnny Bravo: ‘Twas the Night

TwasTheNight-JBThis thing kicked off this year with the What A Cartoon! original George & Junior’s Christmas Spectacular. The comedic bear duo failed to make a lasting impression and faded away from sight. Johnny Bravo, on the other hand, debuted via the same show, but to a much warmer reception earning him his own series. The character was created by Van Partible and some guy named Seth MacFarlane was a writer for the show. Johnny Bravo was essentially a modern guy with the personality of a 50s greaser who talked like Elvis. He wants to help the ladies and be kind of a stereotypical macho man. I guess he’s kind of like Uncle Jesse from Full House, except he thinks he’s as strong as a super hero and probably not as bright as the frontman for the Rippers. It honestly wasn’t a character that resonated with me right off the bat. I guess I just preferred child protagonists or animals in my cartoons, but it was a success and I think it was voted the #2 cartoon of the year by viewers of the What A Cartoon! show, behind only Dexter’s Laboratory which also got its own series.

“‘Twas the Night” is a cartoon from the show’s fifth episode. It, for some reason, premiered on August 4th, 1997 as the third segment in the half hour show. Why they chose to a premiere a Christmas episode in August is possibly due to many delays the show supposedly had in production. It’s possible it was meant to air closer to Christmas, or maybe even earlier for Cartoon Network’s then annual Christmas in July, but was ready when others were not. Or maybe they just didn’t care, since the broadcast lists online don’t appear to contain many gaps during the first season.

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I can’t tell if Johnny is supposed to be sitting on the roof or standing awkwardly.

The episode opens on a scenic look of a bridge and a city. There’s a narrator spinning a rendition of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” but with different words, and in a familiar voice. It’s Adam West! Oh, how we miss you Adam. He would guest star as himself on a later episode. The scene takes us to Johnny’s house where he’s preparing for bed and needs to silence his mama’s snoring. While laying in bed he hears a sound outside, he heads for the roof and spies a burglar. No, Johnny! It’s Santa! We cry out, but the thick-headed blond can’t hear us through the television and takes the poor bastard out. Santa has a busted arm as a result, and he’s pretty ticked, but also understanding, since he knows Johnny is an idiot. That and this Santa only has six reindeer, so Johnny was justified in thinking he was a fake. The problem is now he can’t fulfill his obligation to the children of the world, so Johnny is going to have to take his place.

Johnny hopes for cash and chicks in return for doing Santa’s job, but Santa threatens him with violence so he puts on the coat and the hat and takes off through the night. He screws up the names of the reindeer, then questions where the freak with the red nose is. We get a sort-of cut-away depicting laser wielding bad guys that look like Cobra rejects doing battle with a laser-nosed reindeer at the North Pole. The blasts even reach Johnny in the sky, but he pays them no mind. He whips out the list of gifts and it contains nothing but Senators all scheduled to receive coal. Johnny Bravo getting political! Their names are also almost all references to Hanna-Barbera and Warner properties so it’s worth a pause or two to read them. One senator is actually receiving a gift:  Senator Puffnstuff.

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At least the suit fits.

Johnny sets to delivering the gifts. The mayor is the first to receive his, new underwear, and he prances around happily in his living-room until his wife knocks him out with a rolling pin, “You promised me no cavorting!” He next visits little Suzie and squeezes down her chimney. He eats the cookies and drinks the milk while little Suzie is sleeping peacefully in an easy chair, “She’s kind of cute when her mouth isn’t flapping.” He then visits Jungle Boy in the jungle and delivers a new loin cloth and makeup for the gorilla girls. The gorilla king gets coal and Johnny calls him Magilla, and he’s right to take that as an insult. He then visits a hibernating Cronos the bear and gives him an alarm clock, which goes off almost immediately forcing Johnny to scramble out fast. Then he pops in on Scooby-Doo and gives him a slip of paper for speech therapy with Cindy Brady. I always thought he spoke pretty well considering he’s a dog and all.

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And he can also squeeze down a chimney. 

Johnny continues on through the night, and has a near miss with a space shuttle that’s woefully animated as it kind of bends in flight. He leaves gifts for a sleeping pair of twins, Tim and Tom. He’s depicted going all over the world causing him to question how Santa stays fat considering the work is hard. I guess working hard for one night can’t make up for all of the milk cookies throughout the year, Johnny. As Johnny gets to the bottom of the list he realizes he has one gift left to deliver:  Bunny Bravo, also known as mama. The problem is he has no gifts left – he must have delivered her gift to the wrong house. We then cut back to the mayor and his wife finding some woman’s garment and she accuses him of cavorting with some woman named Bunny. He tries to tell her he’s not, but gets another rolling pin to the noggin for his honesty. She’s rather abusive.

Johnny returns home, sad to not have a gift for his precious mama. As he sits sheepishly on the roof, he hears his mother cry out with joy from inside the house. He dives down the chimney and sees she’s sporting a new diamond ring. It says it’s from Santa, but she thinks it’s from Johnny. What a weird thing to give your mama. There’s also another gift and it’s for Johnny – a new pair of boxing gloves and mouthpiece. As Johnny admires his gift, Santa appears in the window to angrily remind him he didn’t forget how the night began, “Merry Christmas, you pinhead. Round two is next year!”

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These Hanna-Barbera folks love cameos.

“‘Twas the Night” is a pretty simple little cartoon short that goes the predictable route of casting its protagonist as Santa. Really, that feels like the number 3 Christmas cartoon cliche at this point behind parodies/adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. The narration is carried throughout the short and Adam West delivers all of his lines with great timing. He sounds sincere, even when he’s saying something funny, “And mama was sleeping, you can tell by the snoring. After four times today, Jimmy Stewart gets boring,” and It’s a Wonderful Life’s title card is depicted on the television set to complete the joke. Because of the narration, Johnny is sort of just there and he gets in a line every so often, but aside from the “Magilla” comment I didn’t find them memorable. I did like how Santa was depicted as professional and understanding of what happened. He can’t just blow-up at Johnny because he needs to focus on the task at hand, but he’s also pretty pissed and he isn’t just going to forget that Johnny Bravo broke his arm on Christmas. The animation is kind of cheap and minimalist. Johnny moves with quick actions that don’t require a lot of frames, but that’s a stylistic choice. The backgrounds though are quite static and droll. The best I can say for the show is it’s bright and colorful, and the Rudolph bit was funny.

If you like Johnny Bravo then you probably like this short well enough, even if it feels like a novelty due to the inserting of the poem. I love Adam West, so I’m inclined to at least give this one a passing grade. It may show up on Boomerang this year, but it also may not. I’d be surprised if Cartoon Network bothered to air it as they don’t do much with their legacy programs. Season one was released on DVD in 2010, and so far it’s the only season to receive a Region 1 release on DVD and it’s actually still easily obtainable so I guess they still print the things. For whatever reason, probably poor sales of season one, none of the other seasons have been released or even scheduled for release. If you like Johnny Bravo then you probably already have it at this point, and if you don’t well then I guess you stopped reading about a thousand words ago.

 


Dec. 21 – A Pinky and the Brain Christmas

Title-PinkyAndTheBrainChristmas

For as great as this episode looks, that is one ugly title card.

When Warner Bros. was looking to launch its own network which would feature weekday afternoon and weekend morning cartoon blocks they looked to the past to fill out the ranks. In particular, they went to their cartoons that had been running on the Fox network for sometime. When the rights to those shows expired, such as with Batman and Tiny Toon Adventures, Warner simply moved them to their own network. For something like Animaniacs which was still ongoing, they simply created a spin-off. And probably the most popular part of Animaniacs, aside from the main Warner siblings, was Pinky and the Brain.

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This special, like many holiday themed episodes, received a VHS release.

If you were a kid in the 90s then you’re likely familiar with this odd couple duo. Pinky and the Brain, as the theme song informs us, is a duo of lab mice where one is a genius and the other is insane. You can probably guess which is which based on their names. Each short they were featured in on Animaniacs involved Brain coming up with a scheme for world domination, and it was always introduced with this setup:

Pinky:  Gee Brain, what are we going to do tonight?

Brain:  The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!

Brain is voiced by Maurice LaMarche doing his Orson Welles impersonation that has been featured on The Simpsons and Futurama at this point. Cartoon veteran Rob Paulsen handles the role of Pinky in his most outlandish toon voice (I seriously forgot it was him until doing research for this write-up) that he can probably do. Familiar voices Frank Welker and Tress MacNeille were also regulars on the show. The show lasted four seasons airing from 1995 – 1998. Almost every episode involves Brain coming up with a crazy scheme and Pinky usually messes it up for him. Why a brainiac like the Brain kept Pinky around is something we’ll never understand. For their own show, the plots were freshened up some to seem less redundant, but the goal was always there. Brain, surprisingly, is actually pretty gentle with Pinky. He’s a not a Ren-type who slaps his dim-witted partner when he fouls-up, so maybe he actually genuinely likes his mentally-challenged friend. Also a bit surprising, is during the show’s first season the writers tackled a Christmas episode. Airing on December 13, 1995, “A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” involves the Brain coming up with a plan to use Santa Claus to take over the world.

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Adding some holiday flair to the opening credits is a nice touch previously seen with Tiny Toons.

The episode opens with the familiar credits dressed-up for the holidays. There’s snow falling and some of the lyrics are changed-up to reflect the coming Christmas holiday. It’s a nice touch and one the Warner cartoons did on more than one occasion. Pinky is in a jolly mood bouncing around being his looney self singing Christmas carols while Brain is hard at work. Pinky sits down to start writing his letter to Santa, while Brain drops a doll that resembles himself behind Pinky. When Pinky turns to look at the Brain-doll, Brain starts speaking through it and is able to hypnotize Pinky. He makes Pinky do some stuff to demonstrate the doll’s power including making him think he’s standing in hot sand (Pinky doesn’t try to get off the “sand” and instead screams) and asks him to impersonate William Buckley resulting in Pinky just shrugging his shoulders indicating he has no idea who that is. Brain asks him to do Regis Philbin instead and Pinky goes bonkers giving us our first dated joke of the episode.

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Behold the Noodle Noggin!

After releasing his hold on Pinky, Brain explains he can use his doll, Noodle Noggin, to also hypnotize humans. Pinky then asks him if he’s sure he wants to take over the world on Christmas and we get some cut-away gags! I didn’t watch this show a lot as a kid, but I don’t remember the cut-away being a big part of the show’s construction. They’re introduced just like Peter Griffin would, “Remember that time you played Santa?,” and it’s kind of amusing for that reason. The actual jokes aren’t great, although the second one references those suction-cup stuffed animals tons of people would have in a car window. Brain insists he wants to go through with his plan on Christmas and explains it to Pinky. They need to get a Noodle Noggin into every home so Brain can hypnotize the world. Unfortunately, creating the billion dolls they need to pull this off would require over 100 years of labor for the two of them. Then Brain notices a help wanted ad in the paper for elves at the North Pole giving him the idea to use Santa’s work shop to create the billion dolls they require.

Pinky is over-joyed to be going off to see Santa as the duo plan to play elves. They create a very crude dummy (during the commercial break) to play the role of their caretaker and hitch a ride on a small plane to the North Pole. The pilot isn’t very bright and just thinks her passenger is quiet comparing him to a previous boyfriend, who she informs us turned out to be a propane tank. She’s a character, all right. While riding in the plane, Pinky continues work on his letter to Santa. When Brain ridicules him by saying Santa could not possibly read every letter, Pinky corrects him by saying the elves in the mailroom handle that and enter everything into a massive computer. Brain bristles at the thought, but I’m certain Pinky’s assumption will prove true because that’s the kind of joke this series likes to make.

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Pinky and Brain disguised as elves.

When the pilot tells the dummy to take the wheel for a minute they go into a dive. She slaps the dummy and his head pops off, though she doesn’t react in a horrified manner to decapitating her passenger. Instead she continues to scold it while Pinky and Brain struggle to remain in their cage. The passenger door pops open and the dummy tumbles out. Brain is able to grab the dummy’s falling head, which was apparently a pillow case, and he and Pinky are able to use it as a make-shift parachute. As they fall, Pinky remarks to Brain that he doesn’t want to be an elf. “What do you want to be?” “A dentist!” “You’ve seen too many Christmas specials, Pinky.”

The mice somehow manage to acquire a team of sled-dogs and manage to find the North Pole with minimal effort. Once there, they put on their elf disguises and head in for a job interview. Brain lists his many qualifications to the interviewer whom agrees they’re worthy of a hire, but sends them to the mail room. As expected, the mail room is exactly as Pinky imagined. He’s loving being in Santa’s work shop, and Brain isn’t too down-hearted as he sees a way to make this work to their advantage. Brain simply adds Noodle Noggin dolls to all of the lists and we cut to Santa working out (while eating a turkey leg) and looking over the lists wondering what a Noodle Noggin doll is.

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The duo are unable to evade Schotzie, who was previously mocked by Santa for still having a goatee.

Back in the mailroom, Pinky is delighted to see all of the elves are being invited to a party at Donner the reindeers house. Brain remarks that he sees no appeal in joining the Donner party for anything – hah! I bet that one went right over the heads of this show’s target audience. When Brain finishes with the letters, Pinky points out there’s still his to enter and Brain tells him to grow up. They set out for the work shop with Brain’s Noodle Noggin blue prints so they can get these dolls into production. They spot the design room and when the elf in plain sight heads off somewhere, they enter to drop off the plans. They, however, run into the elf that interviewed them (Schotzie, who appears to be Santa’s #1 elf) and he questions what they’re doing there. Brain tries to say it’s a union-mandated break, but the elf points out they don’t have a union prompting Brain to question if that’s wise. Santa’s work shop is apparently very against unions because the elf reacts negatively and gives chase, pulling off their ear disguises in the process. Recognizing that Pinky and Brain are in fact not elves, he sounds the alarm.

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The work shop in action.

Pinky and Brain run into a toy room full of toy cars. They try a girl’s toy first, but it’s just a fancy makeup case that won’t drive. The second is a dump truck that is much too slow, while the third is a race car that’s plenty fast. Unfortunately for them, it’s also an RC car and Schotzie has the remote. He crashes the car and apprehends the two, pulling off the remainder of their disguise. Brain tries to tell him they’re Canadian elves just trying to blend in, but Schotzie informs them they’ve failed.

a p and b christmas copy

I’m not sure if this was a print ad or something, but it would have been a much better title card for the episode.

After the break, Pinky and Brain find themselves under the bright lights in an interrogation room. Schotzie wants answers, but Brain is naturally reluctant to reveal why they’re really there. They’ve also been fully undressed and they’re just sitting there as lab mice. Another elf finds the Noodle Noggin blue prints and Schotzie immediately thinks it’s espionage. He accuses them of working for other various holiday institutions before Pinky tries to explain how they really came to have the blue prints. Brain hushes him, happy to have Schotzie and the elves think they’re common thieves and still produce his doll. Schotzie falls for it and tells the other elf to get these into production and fast. While doing so, Brain and Pinky run off. They’d have probably been able to escape but Pinky happily yells out that they’re getting away, thinking it’s all a game, apparently.

A chase scene commences and we get a look at the rest of Santa’s work shop. Various assembly lines are shown constructing toys, including Brain’s Noodle Noggin. Brain decides to hide out among the dolls by jumping into the assembly line and instructs Pinky to do the same and to just look like him, which he does rather well. Schotzie almost spots them, but gets called away because Santa can’t remember that thing he always says to make the sleigh fly. The plan is going well, until Brain realizes they’re about to have Noodle Noggin arms jammed into their bodies. That’s not as bad as what’s next – head removal so a speaker can be inserted. Brain tries to free himself from the assembly line’s feet shackles, but can’t, and a doomed look crosses his face. Off-camera, the technician apparently fails at removing Brain’s head and he’s tossed into a bin marked “Rejects.” There, we see Brain’s head has been turned completely around. He fixes it just as Pinky comes sailing in. A janitor elf, with what appears to be a candy cane dangling out of his mouth to resemble a cigarette, comes by to empty the bin into his garbage can.

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They’re not the most convincing reindeer.

Outside, the duo finds themselves in a dumpster, but they’re just in time see Santa as he heads to his sleigh. Brain sees this as an opportunity for escape, while Pinky sees it as his last chance to give Santa his letter. Brain angrily tells Pinky they’re not going to do that, and the two disguise themselves (poorly) as reindeer amongst Santa’s team (which includes Rudolph!). Santa and Shotzie stand over the two ridiculous looking mice and regard them appropriately, but not enough to remove them from the team. Santa takes off and when Brain notices they’re above ACME Labs they remove their harness and plummet all the way through the ceiling window (apparently they didn’t really need that parachute earlier) smashing onto a lab bench. Unfortunately, they landed on Brain’s transmitter for his Noodle Noggin dolls and he must scramble to rebuild it.

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I never thought Brain could appear so sad.

Pinky, now realizing he’ll never be able to give his letter to Santa, becomes inconsolable. Brain needs Pinky to stand by a power switch and turn it on when the meter hits red, but Pinky is basically sobbing and hysterical. Brain grows ever-frustrated, snatches the list, and places Pinky into position who just whimpers obediently. Brain, standing with a maniacal look on his face, prepares for the moment to arrive. We see Noodle Noggin dolls have been delivered all over the world, including even to President Clinton. As Pinky goes to throw the switch, Brain takes notice of Pinky’s letter. Turns out, it was a letter to Santa from Pinky telling Santa how much he loves his best pal, The Brain. It includes observations about how determined he is in spite of his many failures, and asks Santa if he has The World in his sack. Brain is overcome with emotion, and when the time comes to broadcast he’s at first speechless. Pinky implores him to speak through his machine, and finally finding words, all Brain can do is command the world to have a  Merry Christmas while sobbing like a child. He then goes about smashing the device, apparently viewing it as something that caused him to hurt his dear friend Pinky.

The world reacts accordingly, and it appears everyone does indeed enjoy a very, merry Christmas. Brain gives Pinky a Christmas gift – a spell checker, apparently inspired by Pinky’s letter writing. Pinky gives Brain his gift too – the world, as a keychain, plus a great big hug. Brain resists only slightly, as Christmas carols lead us into the familiar Pinky and the Brain theme song.

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Pinky gives Brain what he’s always wanted.

“A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” is pretty entertaining, and I’m surprised I didn’t see the ending coming until basically it got there. I figured Pinky’s letter to Santa would play a role in foiling things for Brain, just not in that way, though I probably should have. The humor isn’t as manic as Animaniacs, and some of the jokes are quite dated, but Pinky manages to be over-the-top without being too annoying and Brain is the perfect foil. I like that Brain ended up foiling his own scheme this time. The plan essentially worked, and global domination was in his hands, but he turned it down because his quest made him treat his friend like crap. It’s a cute ending, though maybe not as emotional as the writers thought it would be. The animation is wonderful though, and that whole ending sequence shows it off with the various facial expressions made by both Pinky and Brain, which are the type we hardly ever see from them.

2As for watching this special this year, that remains to be seen. Boomerang was showing Pinky and the Brain, but I don’t know that it still does. The show was released on DVD in its entirety and this special even had its own VHS release back in 1996, if you really want to dust off your VCR. Perhaps more than any other special I’ve covered this year, this one feels worth digging up because it’s pretty unique, and for me it’s still pretty fresh as I’ve rarely seen it on television. I always enjoy cartoons the focus on diminutive main characters as seeing the world from their perspective is a great deal of fun for me. Check it out, if you can.

 


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