Tag Archives: christmas cartoons

Dec. 23 – The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! – “Koopa Klaus”

Original air date October 23, 1989

During the late 80s Nintendo was on fire in the US. The Nintendo Entertainment System came storming into living rooms, basements, and dens across the country making Mario and Luigi household names. In addition to video games, there were tons of licensing deals for clothing, school supplies, bedding, you name it. If it could be sold to a kid, then it had a Mario on it. This naturally made everything associated with Nintendo desirable for things like cartoons. Other older video game stars made that leap before Mario and found success, so it’s no surprise that Nintendo was willing to take the plunge as well.

Good old DiC was the first to come calling. By now, DiC is practically on top of the cartoon world in the US. The company has had some big hits while the former Hanna-Barbera juggernaut is starting to flounder and will soon be purchased by Ted Turner. Because of their stature in the world of animation, it wasn’t a surprise to see Nintendo go with DiC. Well, it’s not when you ignore that there are plenty of far more talented animation studios in Japan that Nintendo could have turned to, but their cartoon was clearly being targeted towards Americans so that likely explains the choice.

Danny Wells loves being Luigi.

For DiC’s first stab at a Nintendo cartoon it turned to the Super Mario Bros. It handed things over to Inspector Gadget creator, Andy Heyward, and trusted him to bring Nintendo’s mascot to the world of cartoons. That was hardly a surprise, but what was a bit surprising was the decision to include a live-action component in the show. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! would begin with a segment featuring actors playing the brothers Mario and Luigi. They would have their own plot to untangle that would be setup in the opening act before the show would transition to the cartoon segment. The cartoon featured Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and her attendant Toad as they traveled through the vast Mushroom Kingdom always crossing paths with the evil King Koopa. When the cartoon concluded, the show would go back to the live-action portion where it’s story would progress and then resolve in the final act.

Why did DiC feel the show needed this live-action component? Well, it probably didn’t, rather DiC just saw an opportunity to knock the costs down. Who knows what Nintendo charged for the license, but my guess is the live-action was a lot cheaper to produce than animation. The actual cartoon in each episode is only 12 minutes or so in length. And the live-action part is just shot on a soundstage. There’s no on-location filming, wardrobe is pretty consistent, and they could probably bang out a few of these things in a day. Plus, it also allowed for the show to have some guest stars when the opportunity presented itself.

Monday through Thursday 1989, little dudes like me were “treated” to a Super Mario Bros. cartoon as part of the Super Show.

To add another wrinkle to the program, is that the show was actually 3 shows in one. It was a direct-to-syndication program that aired on weekday afternoons in most markets. Monday through Thursday featured a Mario cartoon and on Friday the Mario cartoon was swapped out for a Zelda one. During the lead-up to Friday, a sneak peek of the Zelda cartoon would be featured too so that when Friday came it almost felt like a re-run. It was an odd setup, but Mario and Zelda were like a packaged deal during this era, if cereal could be believed.

This is not a show with a large budget.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! lasted just the one season before it was replaced with a show based on Super Mario Bros. 3. The show produced 52 Mario cartoons and 13 Zelda ones. It also produced a pair of Christmas segments. One of which is the subject of today’s post, “Koopa Klaus,” in which King Koopa tries to ruin Christmas. The other Christmas segment was the live-action “Santa Claus is Coming to Flatbush.” Why the two weren’t paired up I have no idea. It makes no sense, especially since this one aired before Halloween in 1989 and the other on the more appropriate date of November 29. Instead, this one was paired up with “Little Marios” which is actually one of the more memorable segments for me since it features a ridiculous flashback in which the same actors portray kid versions of themselves. At any rate, it has nothing to do with Christmas so I’m just going to ignore it.

Better than a toilet…

Every episode opens with the very catchy theme song, “The Plumber’s Rap.” There are actually two versions of the rap, the one at the beginning of the show and then a different, much shorter one, that introduced the cartoon itself. Let’s just get it out of the way right now: this show sucks. However, I unironically love “The Plumber’s Rap.” It is perfect for what it is. When the opening credits are done, the episode begins with the first segment in the “Little Marios” plot. Now, I already said I’m going to ignore it, but while we’re here, I’ll just make some observations. For one, Mario is played by former professional wrestler Lou Albano and Luigi by Danny Wells. Both men are, unfortunately, no longer with us. They mostly look the part, I suppose. They’re definitely a little older than how I would have pictured the Mario brothers, but they have the colored overalls, blue undershirt, and big moustache. Albano even shaved his signature beard for the role, which was quite a commitment for him. Their home, which doubles as their place of business, makes no attempt to disguise itself as something other than a set. It’s very open. For some reason, the telephone is always shown in the middle of an actual pizza and it’s covered in cheese and pepperoni. The Mario brothers basically speak in Italian stereotypes and seem to consume nothing but pizza and spaghetti. The show makes very liberal use of a laugh track which makes it feel even more dated than it is.

Behold! Koopa Klaus!

When we get to the cartoon, we get the other opening credits with the modified rap. The lyrics are different and tell the viewer how the Mario brothers came to be in the Mushroom Kingdom (they found the secret warp zone while working on the drain). When the cartoon itself finally begins, we’re dropped into a factory where Koopa Troopas are dumping toys into a machine to grind them up into junk. King Koopa (Harvey Atkin, easily the best part of this show) is decked out in a Santa suit and is delighted to see the toys being smashed. He hates Christmas and he’s made it his mission to ruin the holiday for everyone. The three-headed serpent, Triclyde, approaches and he’s wearing a reindeer outfit. Koopa addresses him as Randolph the red-nosed triclyde. Apparently, Koopa’s sleigh is ready for him and he announces he’s off to Santa’s workshop to bomb it. He takes off with a sleigh full of bob-ombs being pulled by a pair of albatross with bicycle handles for reindeer antlers, a superior solution than what the Grinch settled for.

Mario gets to wear this stupid outfit the whole episode.

Mario and the gang have just popped up out of the ground like fucking Bugs Bunny for some reason in a very cold environment. Mario is dressed for some place much warmer and we find out that Toad (John Stocker) gave him some bad directions which has taken the four to The North Pole instead of Hawaii-Land. It would seem Toad may have done this on purpose for when Princess Toadstool (Jeannie Elias) realizes where they are Toad eagerly suggests they pay Santa a visit. Mario (voiced by Albano, Wells voices Luigi to keep things consistent with the live-action portion) then adds an entry in his “Plumber’s Log” as the gang starts walking towards the work shop. This is an obvious homage to Star Trek, though we never see a physical log book for Mario so maybe he just does this in his head to feel important.

FYI: if you didn’t already hate Toad, you’re about to.

Toad is rather excited about the whole thing with a major focus of his holiday love being the presents. Oh Toad, will you ever learn the true meaning of Christmas? He hopes Santa will give him his present now, which reminds the Princess that she has a gift for the little shroom and pulls it out. It’s a snowboard, and Toad is more than pleased with this development. He zooms around on the thing without so much as a “Thank you,” but the Princess seems to be enjoying this new development that has left her loyal attendant in a more infantile state.

Toad grave. Sadly, it’s short-lived.

The sound of sleigh bells get the attention of the Princess, but when she looks to the sky it isn’t Santa she spies, but Koopa Klaus! He drops some bombs which explode on impact and appear to be a direct hit on Toad. He’s not blown into bits though, he just goes soaring through the air and lands in a pile of snow. His snowboard follows and lands with one end in the ground forming a crude tombstone. When Toad emerges from the snow, he shrieks about his precious present and gives it a hug. The others then surround him and the Princess is rather pissed he doesn’t seem to care about their well-being. When confronted by this, Toad can’t even muster much of a defense aside from “well, it is Christmas” before finally asking the Princess if she’s ok.

This shot of everyone staring angrily at Toad is going to be repeated a lot in this one.

Luigi then rightly forgets about the dumb, little, fungus and wonders what Koopa is up to. Mario realizes that Koopa was flying towards Santa’s work shop which sets Toad off once again. As expected, he’s worried about the toys and the others have to glare at him to get him to add “…and Santa” to the list of things he’s worried about. No one is concerned for the elves.

The icy work shop, and our first animation gaffe of the episode as Mario is depicted in his red overalls.

The gang then comes across Santa’s work shop only to find it encased in ice. I guess somehow Koopa’s bombs can freeze stuff as well as blow up? I don’t know. They’re all pretty shocked at what they see, but worse, there’s no sign of Santa! They then spy Koopa Klaus (and I find it funny they keep calling him Koopa Klaus) flying away with Santa hogtied on the back of his sleigh. Toad starts crying about never getting another present while Koopa (rightfully) laughs his ass off.

That son-of-a-bitch kidnapped Santa Claus!

The Marios give chase as Koopa is heading…to the frozen work shop? I don’t understand his strategy. Mario is also so committed to saving Santa that he’s still in his vacation attire. Anyway, they happen upon a playground and Mario declares it’s a playground for the elves. Usually elves are little old men and women, but okay. Mario especially eyes a teeter-totter, only it’s not what I would call a teeter-totter, but a seesaw. Maybe it’s a regional thing? He tells Luigi to get a block of ice, only it’s too heavy for Luigi to toss over to Mario so he has to hobble it over. Mario then places it on the seesaw and instructs Luigi to jump off of his shoulders and onto the other end. Luigi does as he’s told and the block gets launched through the air and strikes Koopa’s sleigh. He and Santa fall, but Koopa uses his empty bomb sack as a parachute to slow their descent. I guess Mario was counting on Koopa doing that otherwise Santa would have just plunged to his death.

It’s Snoweegi!

When they hit the ground, Koopa keeps a firm grasp on Santa and uses his sack like a wind sail and lets the breeze pull he and Santa across the snow. Mario and Luigi respond with…snowballs. Koopa, who has a big, spiny, shell on his back could probably just weather the storm here, but he actually stops. He catches some snowballs in his sack, then throws it back at the Marios. Mario gets knocked over, while Luigi ends up covered in snow resembling a snow Luigi.

And I bet you thought Bender did it first.

Koopa Klaus carries Santa across the tundra, and it’s at this point I am just now realizing they aren’t leaving footprints in the snow – cheap animation budget! Mario and the others are right behind them, so Koopa does the reasonable thing of using Santa as a taboggan. As Mario and the others watch Koopa race away on his Santa-sleigh, Luigi worries aloud about the potential for thin ice ahead. Luigi, you’re at the North Pole. I’m pretty sure that ice is plenty thick. Toad then says something smart and points out if the ice can hold Santa and Koopa then it must be pretty thick. It must have been standards and practices that demanded they acknowledge the possibility of dangerous ice ahead or something.

This little guy doesn’t have much of a threatening aura to speak of.

The gang slides down on their rumps and crash land on the ice. Koopa then summons his Koopa Flurries, the little ice skating guys from the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2. They enter to the boss theme from the same game and spin-up some ice blocks to toss at the Marios. Their aim sucks, and Mario declares they must fight fire with fire! No, he’s not whipping out a fire flower, but tossing the ice block back at the flurries. Luigi makes the obvious observation that they’re actually fighting ice with ice, while he and Toad help Mario give it a push. All three wind up on top of the block as it whizzes towards the flurries who just…stand there. In tight formation, so we can get a bowling pin joke. No wonder why Koopa always loses.

Looks like certain death awaits you if you go in the cave.

Lamenting the defeat of his flurries, Koopa races into a cave still dragging Santa behind him (Koopa must be absurdly strong considering how easily he yanks this obese man all around the frozen north). The good guys arrive at the mouth of the cave, but hesitate once there. Luigi seems to be afraid of the dark, but the Princess declares the whole world will be a dark place without Christmas! Toad chimes in with a reminder they need to save the presents or some shit, but really this thing is sending mixed messages at this point. It would seem, per the Princess, that there’s no Christmas without Santa. Since Santa is just a jolly fat guy who brings presents, it would also seem that the implication is there will be no Christmas without presents! Hah! Check-mate, Princess!

It’s worth pointing out that it’s only the bad guy who has festive, holiday, attire.

They go after Santa and slide through the cave, though not smoothly. They end up essentially just going through a tunnel and emerge back out on the tundra. Koopa Klaus is above them though with Santa and he’s ready to dump the fat man over a cliff. He also slips into an Edward G. Robinson impression for some reason, as he spells it out. He ends his evil monologue with his catchphrase of the episode, “Bah Hum-koop,” which he shouts over and over until the predictable occurs: he starts an avalanche.

Is the background ice or water? Eh, it’s just a kid’s show.

The horribly animated avalanche falls on Koopa and Santa. In order to save Santa, Mario relies on that tool he’s most famous for, a plumber’s snake! Yeah, not a power star or flower or even a Koopa shell, but a plumber’s snake. He uses it like a whip to retrieve Santa, while leaving Koopa Klaus. When he asks what he’s supposed to do, Mario just makes a diving gesture. Koopa refuses, but has no choice in the end, so he jumps into…the ice? The background looks like more frozen tundra, but the animators layer a splash effect on it and Koopa behaves like he’s in water, but it looks ridiculous. Koopa hauls himself out of the water and onto some ice to feel sorry for himself. He asks “What else could go wrong?” and is greeted by an angry polar bear. We now leave Koopa to die.

Koopa’s new friend.

Back at Santa’s work shop, the big guy is pretty happy about being rescued, but things look dire. Santa (Stocker) doesn’t see how he could possibly unfreeze the work shop in time for Christmas. Surprisingly, no one seems concerned about the elves or reindeer encased in ice. They should be pretty dead at this point. Toad doesn’t give a shit though since he has his snowboard. He races around like a show-off, while Santa cries.

That is one punchable face.

Toad the infinite moron, then asks “What’s wrong?” when Santa walks off to be sad. The Princess has to dumb it down for him, and then Toad gets to flip a switch in his stupid little brain. He hands over his snowboard to Santa and tells him to give it to someone for Christmas. Santa, in an extreme overreaction, embraces Toad and tells him he’s never seen anything quite like the gesture Toad just made. His exact words are, “In all my life, I’ve never seen anyone express the true spirit of Christmas quite like you did.” What an astoundingly stupid thing to have Santa say. The little mushroom donated a snowboard, not a kidney!

Toad using Santa’s beard to dry his tears feels way too clever for this show.

Santa starts crying, and then everything melts because of Christmas. The Princess and Santa spell it out for the kids at home, in case they couldn’t figure it out, that the spirit of Christmas has warmed Santa’s heart to the point where the ice is thawing. It’s dumb, and an easy out. The elves and reindeer even seem fine, and Santa is able to prep his sleigh for Christmas Eve.

Looks like they saved Christmas after all.

Santa is ready to depart, and once again gives all of the credit to Toad for saving Christmas. Never mind that the little brat did almost nothing to actually rescue him from Koopa Klaus. That was pretty much all Mario. He then declares he has a special present for the lot of them and invites them to ride with him tonight to deliver presents. Toad gets to sit beside Santa, while the other three get stuck in the back. Santa is running lean too since he only has four reindeer and apparently two elves. They take to the sky and Santa calls out “Mario Christmas to all and to all a good night!” and does a moon fly-by to close it out.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting the show to have an eight reindeer budget so I’m not even mad about it.

That’s how the Mario brothers saved Christmas. This is a profoundly stupid and cheap Christmas cartoon. I hate the Toad character as he’s annoying even when he isn’t acting like a child and he’s also kind of dumb looking, if I’m being honest. His arc is plainly obvious from the get-go and his selfishness at the beginning is just so over-the-top. Santa should just boot him out of the sleigh when they’re over the ocean.

The rest of the characters are fine, though none are particularly entertaining. Mario, who sounds like he was recorded over the phone or something, is the leader with all of the right ideas. Luigi is just there to be a sidekick and question Mario while the Princess is mostly along for the ride. She explains things, I guess, but in a cartoon lacking subtlety explanation is rarely needed. We don’t get any fun Mario power-ups in this one, and there’s a real lack of bad guys outside of Koopa Klaus. I did enjoy the Triclyde and birds with handlebar antlers, at least.

King Koopa, or Koopa Klaus, is the only redeeming part of the show. He’s over-the-top as well, but it works. He’s just an entertaining villain, even if he’s mostly inept, and the voice of the late Harvey Atkin is just so unique in this role. He and Stocker were pretty much the only voice actors that DiC would hang onto for the other Mario cartoons, as everyone else would eventually be replaced.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! is a relic of its era, a licensed cartoon designed to simply boost the profile of the main characters leading to sales of other merchandise. It’s not a good show, and this isn’t a good Christmas special. It is a widely available one though as Netflix currently has the streaming rights. It’s also available, cheaply, on DVD if you for some reason need to own this thing physically. You could also just stream it for free too, as it’s available on YouTube without the need for payment. Like I said, it’s not any good, but sometimes you just have to DO THE MARIO!

Swing your arms…

Dec. 22 – Extreme Dinosaurs – “Holiday on Ice”

Original air date December 24, 1997

After looking at what I considered to be a pretty good cartoon yesterday, I’m feeling like I need to take-in some trash today. It’s to the late 90s we go and the Bohbot/DiC Street Sharks spin-off Extreme Dinosaurs! Ah yes, everything was extreme around this time. Surge was packing the soft drinks aisle in stores, the X-Games were coming to ESPN, and even the Ghostbusters were getting extreme, or should I say X-treme? And what could be trashier than a Street Sharks spin-off? That unapologetic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip-off started as a toyline and migrated to television and was truly abysmal in almost every way. The characters were just piles of muscles with mouths full of sharp teeth with easy to market personalities. I didn’t even know there was a spin-off until I came across this show, and my expectations could not be lower.

It was a just few days ago we looked at Inspector Gadget, DiC’s first big hit from the 80s when its animation was actually pretty good. Come 1997 though, DiC was all done with good and was only interested in cheap. Extreme Dinosaurs is an ugly show with poor animation, simplistic writing, and adequate voice acting. It was supposed to sell toys, and it shows. The character designs are in-line with Street Sharks in that it’s just muscles upon muscles with a dinosaur head on top. The show produced 52 episodes which aired as part of the Bohbot Kids Network, a package of syndicated cartoons that at one point was featured in about 75% of the US. I have no idea what channel carried this block in my market, but I do remember coming across Extreme Ghostbusters so it must have aired around me.

They’re dinosaurs, and they’re extreme!

The plot for Extreme Dinosaurs is some aliens created humanoid dinosaurs for nefarious purposes. They rebelled and became the heroic Extreme Dinosaurs on Earth. Opposing them are more mutated dinosaurs, these ones all velociraptors (again, this was the 90s and a post Jurassic Park world) that want to accelerate global warming and return Earth to a habitable environment for dinosaurs. The Extreme Dinosaurs live at a ranch/museum in the middle of no where with a kindly old man named Porcupine.

The 52nd and final episode of this dumpster fire was a Christmas episode. Titled “Holiday on Ice,” the evil raptors are taking their talents to the North Pole to set off a bomb of some kind that will melt the polar ice cap and flood the world. The Extreme Dinosaurs need to stop them for the obvious reason of not letting the world become flooded, and because Santa lives up there! Duh!

And you thought Charlie Brown had a pathetic little tree.

The episode begins in a cave with the bad guys. Haxx (Lee Tockar) is working on his letter to Santa. He is apparently the dim-witted portion of the bad guys as he doesn’t seem too bright and almost sounds a tad infantile. Bad Rap (Gary Chalk) enters to admonish him for his foolishness. He also explains their new plan to melt the polar ice caps using some device Spittor (Terry Klassen), the third Raptor of their little team, cooked up. When Haxx questions what this will do to Santa, Bad Rap predictably doesn’t care.

There’s something you don’t see in every Christmas special.

At the museum, Bullzeye (Jason Gray-Standford), a pteranodon, is trimming the Christmas tree when Spike (Cusse Mankuma), a blue triceratops, enters the room. He’s confused why Bullzeye would erect a tree in the house, and he goes on to explain it’s a Christmas tree. It would seem Porcupine’s nephew is coming to visit them and he figured the kid would want to see a Christmas tree. Not knowing what holiday the kid is into though, he’s also prepared by having a menorah on hand and even some Kwanzaa decorations!

“All right, lunch is here!”

Outside a car pulls up and some guy in a blue suit drops his kid off. The kid is Matt (couldn’t find a credit for him, but he sounds super familiar and it’s driving me nuts) and he’s not very happy about spending Christmas Eve at this place. His uncle Porcupine (Chalk) comes out to greet him followed by Spike and Bullzeye. The kid has basically no reaction to these dinosaur guys which is just insane! They look horrifying! Any reasonable human, kid or not, would flip out at the sight of these things.

The most unrealistic thing about this image is the fact that the kid isn’t shitting his pants.

They head inside and because the kid doesn’t seem to care I just assume his dad prepared him for them. Nope, as he ends up suggesting they take off their masks. The other members of the team, Stegz (Sam Vincent, you can probably guess what kind of dinosaur he is) and T-Bone (Scott McNeil), a T-Rex, introduce themselves, but also have some information. They received a distress signal from way up north and want to check it out. Matt wants to go too so he grabs his coat and hat and the gang heads out.

The dinosaurs meet the “mysterious” Claus Nicholas. What a dumb, fucking, name.

The dinos ride some flying contraptions to reach a research station in the North Pole. A bald guy with a white beard and lab coat greets them and he too is apparently not frightened by gigantic dinosaur creatures. Oh, and he’s obviously Santa Claus. He’s thankful the dinosaurs have arrived as he’s all alone for Christmas and noticed a disturbance. They head inside and check out the place, and Matt soon discovers the raptors up to no good when he checks some security terminal. It’s decided that Matt will stay with “Mr. Nicholas” while the Extreme Dinosaurs confront the raptors.

These raptors have style.

The Extreme Dinosaurs head out and at this point I feel the need to point out that these guys are likely cold-blooded and they’re running around the polar ice cap in short sleeves. I know they’re “extreme” and all, but come on! Bad Rap, Haxx, and Spittor are up to something, and it would appear they’re drilling into the ice. They’ve also at least put on some clothing to better prep them for the cold. Bad Rap looks quite nice in his baby blue vest and stocking cap.

Time to get X-treme!

To emphasize their extremeness, the Extreme Dinosaurs descend upon the raptors via snowboards. T-Bone and Bad Rap square-off with each other, as I assume they probably often do as leaders of their respective factions, which results in Bad Rap getting tossed into a snowbank. Declaring it’s too cold for this stuff, he activates some device and a bunch of robot dinosaurs attack. They make the stock “dragon” sound you’ve probably heard in many shows and cartoons (think the Dragonzord from Power Rangers, and the dragon unit from Warcraft II) and quickly surround the good guys.

Oh goodie, robots!

With the cyber raptors occupying the Extreme Dinosaurs, the raptors slip away to resume their operation. The good guys take a bit of a pounding at first, but once they get extreme and hop back on those snowboards the tide of battle turns. They even find one of Spittor’s devices and Bullzeye is tasked with taking it back to Santa before returning to deal with the raptors.

“Ok Matt, lets watch your new friends freeze to death.”

At the research station, Santa (they keep calling him Claus or Mr. Nicholas, but I’m just going to call him Santa because he’s obviously Santa) brings Matt some hot cider while he busies himself at the computer keeping an eye on things. Bullzeye drops by with the device and takes off. Matt shows concern for the dinos since it’s getting really cold out. Santa confirms it’s probably getting too cold, but if anyone can handle it, it’s the Extreme Dinosaurs! Yes, they actually refer to themselves as the Extreme Dinosaurs.

“Don’t get too attached Matt, food is scarce up here so you’re hugging Christmas dinner.”

Santa’s husky enters the room and Matt thinks it’s a wolf at first, but warms to the dog quickly. He mentions how he wants a dog, and Santa replies, “No shit you want a dog. Don’t you think I already know that – I’m fucking Santa Claus!” Ok, not really, but he gets a lecture on doing his chores and showing his father he’s responsible and all of that crap so he can get a dog. And we now know how this episode is going to conclude. An alarm goes off to interrupt their conversation. Apparently now it’s too cold for the dinosaurs, but all they can do is watch a monitor.

I tried to warn them. Cold-blooded and all.

The Extreme Dinosaurs then come upon the raptors who are finishing up with their operation. The snow is really coming down though and everyone sounds cold. Spittor shows off why he has that name, and what all of the hoses and stuff are for on his body, as he blasts the good guys with water. Normally, this would just be annoying, but since it’s well below freezing the Extreme Dinosaurs ice-up. Bullzeye arrives and narrowly avoids the same fate. Even though they have the Extreme Dinosaurs practically dead to rights, the raptors retreat as it’s just too cold. Stegz is then the first to succumb to the cold as he falls on the ground declaring he can’t stay awake. Santa and Matt watch this all unfold and by now the kid is pretty worried.

Santa tells Matt he has to have faith in the Extreme Dinosaurs in order for them to prevail. Matt thinks this is a load of bull, but decides it can’t hurt. Miraculously, the storm stops and the sun emerges. He accuses Santa of being responsible, and he in turn accuses Matt as the frost on the window starts to melt.

Stegz is apparently not extreme enough to handle the heat.

Bullzeye emerges from a pile of snow and looks around for his comrades. He finds them frozen solid, but with the sun now out he’s hopeful. He apologizes in advance for what he’s about to do, and lets out a mighty scream to shatter the ice prison each of his buddies is in. They emerge, seemingly no worse for ware, and Spike passes around a thermos of hot sauce to really get them going. With the temperature a balmy 50 below, the Extreme Dinosaurs set out to find the raptors.

It’s time for another fight, but this time they’re taking it TO THE EXTREME!

The raptors are prepping the last of Spittor’s disrupters when the Extreme Dinosaurs come upon them. Before the detonator can be activated, it’s knocked from Spittor’s hands and the Extreme Dinosaurs take hold of it. Inside the research station, Santa informs Matt he’s figured out the frequency of Spittor’s device and announced he can jam it. A crash outside alerts the two of the rumble taking place, and Matt excitedly races outside to see the Extreme Dinosaurs in action.

Matt: a kid who is clearly not extreme.

This proves to be a bad move, as Bad Rap gets a hold of him almost immediately. With a hostage in hand, T-Bone hands over the detonator and Spittor is happy to activate it and plunge the world into a new reality. Unfortunately for him, Santa is ready and activates his own device which cancels it out. When nothing happens, Matt happily informs the evil dinos that Santa messed things up for them. Defeated, they race to their personal flying devices taking Matt with them and toss their last remaining disruptor behind them. They detonate it burying the Extreme Dinosaurs in snow. As they fly away, Matt actually asks Bad Rap if they’ll be okay and he shoots back, “I certainly hope not!”

“Don’t worry about it. People go missing all of the time up here at the North Pole.”

The Extreme Dinosaurs emerge from the snow to find Santa. Bullzeye is especially upset that the raptors got Matt, as he just wanted to help the kid be less jaded, as he puts it. Santa assures him that Matt has come a long way and has learned to believe in others. The dinosaurs are skeptical, but Santa leads them back inside assuring them that Matt will be back in an hour.

Ahh yes, the bad guy moved to do good on account of Christmas.

Inside the research station, the dinosaurs can be seen pacing about while Santa sits contently at a computer. Spike informs him the hour is up, but Santa informs him there’s still five minutes to go. T-Bone expresses his displeasure at this course of action, but a knock at the door gets their attention. It’s Haxx, and before the Extreme Dinosaurs can “fossilize” him, Matt runs in waving them off. Haxx has apparently brought him back in exchange for something, and Matt promised him he’d be able to leave unharmed.

Always a good move to give Santa a hug when the opportunity presents itself.

After Haxx departs, T-Bone reminds the others (and us) that it’s Christmas Eve. They need to get the kid home as Spike invites Matt to ride with him. Before he boards Spike’s personal transportation thing, he informs him he has one last thing to do. He runs over to Santa and gives him a hug and thanks him for his lesson on believing. He also hands Santa a note, and I think we can figure out what the deal between Haxx and Matt was. Santa gives him a wink and a chime sound effect is even played when he does it which always means magic. Matt and the dinosaurs then head home. Except for Bullzeye who stays behind to request a favor of Santa that we’re not privy to just yet.

Uncle Porcupine should probably give that cider a sniff.

Back at the ranch, Matt is excited to tell his uncle what happened, but also upset that Bullzeye is apparently going to miss his first Christmas Eve. Spike tells him not to worry, and gets him some cider. Later, Matt is passed out on the couch beside a now shirtless Spike (this is kind of weird) who is watching TV. A Santa report pops onto the news and we see that Santa has apparently traded in his eight reindeer for one pteranodon. Matt wakes up to recognize that it’s Bullzeye pulling the sleigh, and Spike reminds him he better get to bed before Santa arrives.

A puppy – who would have guessed?

The next morning, Matt steps out onto the porch to get the paper. There he finds a little dog with a ribbon tied around him. He’s pretty excited and knows this is the work of Santa Claus. His uncle is there to suggest that maybe the dog is a stray as people apparently often leave them here (probably for the dinosaurs to feast upon), but Matt knows better. His dad arrives to pick him up, and he’s surprisingly not pissed about the whole dog thing. He tells Matt he can keep him, and everything is wrapped up in a neat, little, package.

Sadly, the show was cancelled before it could do a proper Kwanzaa special.

After Matt leaves, the Extreme Dinosaurs are able to reflect on their first Christmas a bit. Spike is actually disappointed they have to wait a whole year to do it again, but Bullzeye informs him that Kwanzaa starts tomorrow!

The lesson here is it’s okay to take a hostage as long as you return them unharmed. At least, as far as Santa is concerned.

Elsewhere, Haxx finds a little tarantula under his makeshift tree. Apparently this is what he asked Santa for and he’s delighted that Matt gave Santa his list. Spittor walks in to throw cold water on his moment saying the bug probably just wandered in. Bad Rap also enters to suggest the whole Santa thing is nonsense since he didn’t get what he wanted: a boiling, hot, warming, trend. Haxx informs him that he probably didn’t get what he wanted because he’s on Santa’s naughty list, and Bad Rap responds by throwing one of those disrupter things at him. Only he misses and hits the wall of their cave causing a bunch of lava to come flowing in. As the three take shelter, Haxx explains to Bad Rap that he got what he wanted after all and he reasons he must not have been a bad, little, raptor after all. Bad Rap responds by saying if he wasn’t bad, he’s going to start being bad right now and chases Haxx. And that’s apparently the joke the series decided to end on.

Well, I went looking for a trash cartoon and I mostly found one. This episode of Extreme Dinosaurs hits on a lot of the Christmas special tropes we’ve come to know (and love?). We get a bratty kid who doesn’t believe in Santa who ends up learning to not only believe in Santa, but in everything, apparently. The kid is so bratty that towards the end Spike even tells Porcupine he thought his nephew sucked, which actually made me laugh out loud. And in order to reach that end we get to watch a pair of warring factions of mutated dinosaurs do battle and out scheme one another. The animation sucks and so do the character designs. I could see how these creatures could make for interesting toys, but as cartoons they mostly look awful. T-Bone looks like an oversized Poppler from Futurama. I will say the bad dinosaurs looked better than the heroes, but not by much.

The Santa radar from the news broadcast is the closest we get to a proper moon shot.

As far as Christmas goes, for an episode that takes place at the North Pole there’s very little Christmas to be found. We basically just get the beginning and end which features some decorated interiors and that’s it. We don’t even get to see Santa fly in front of the moon with his snazzy dinosaur ally! It’s fine though, and I did appreciate the winter clothing worn by the bad guys.

I had a little fun laughing at this one, but I’m not going to tell you that Extreme Dinosaurs is a good show. Or that it’s even worth watching. If you want a dose of 90s extreme then go for it, I suppose. No one is protective of it, so just punch the episode title into your search engine of choice. This is sometimes just labeled episode 52, and if you actually want to relive the Extreme Dinosaurs experience in its full then worry not as this episode was only the final episode in broadcast order. Production wise, it’s in the middle and feels like it’s pretty stand-alone at that. I don’t think Matt ever returns, which is probably why I can’t confirm a voice credit on the role, and it’s the only Christmas episode the show did. What a pity.


Dec. 21 – Buzz Lightyear of Star Command – “Holiday Time”

Original air date December 16, 2000

When Pixar set out to create competing, fictional, toys in its debut film Toy Story it settled on cowboys and space rangers. The thought being that once upon a time cowboys were the most popular fantasy toy among boys, but were soon replaced by fantastic space voyagers once real-life space travel became possible. In order to really set the mood for the film, Pixar created Buzz Lightyear. He had a fictional back story that felt like it came right off of the back of an action figure blister card in 1990. He had a fictional TV show in the film, though we saw little of it. He had a nemesis, and the lore of the Buzz character was added to for the sequel, Toy Story 2.

Both films were a huge success for Pixar and Disney. And since the films were popular with kids, it meant licensing was super easy. After all, every character in the film was a toy! Toys were created and sold and even more money was earned. Pixar didn’t stop there though. Kids liked Buzz and they had interest in the fictional lore of the character that the films only touched upon, so why not turn that into a real world cartoon series? That’s how the world ended up with Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. This is the story of the fictional Buzz created and sold to kids like Andy of Toy Story. He’s supposed to be a cartoon in that universe, so in our real world he too is a cartoon (and because animating the show like a Pixar film would probably be way too expensive). The only thing the show couldn’t do was preserve his voice, since star Tim Allen was either too expensive (probably) and also probably didn’t want to be tied down to an animated series.

Enter Patrick Warburton, who has a better voice for the character than Allen himself. He’s a natural fit for the regal, yet brash, space ranger that is Buzz Lightyear. The show was, like many Disney Afternoon shows that came before it, a direct-to-syndication order. And like DuckTales and Gargoyles, it premiered in an extended format as a mini film of sorts which spanned multiple episodes when aired on television and could be sold at retail and marketed as a movie. The show was part of the One Saturday Morning block and also aired on week day afternoons (though not as part of the famed Disney Afternoon) from 2000-2001 and likely in reruns there after across various Disney platforms. For a long time, it was the only Pixar television series, though Disney+ is expanding that. It also has the distinction of being one of the few hand-drawn, 2D, animated offerings from Pixar.

Every episode begins with the gang racing to the TV to watch the show, a cute addition.

As a syndicated program, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command totaled 65 episodes with the 62nd being a Christmas one. We’re going to find out how the denizens of space celebrate the holiday. And if you thought the Santa who lived on earth had it bad, the one we’re about to meet has to deliver toys to an entire galaxy! And since this is a cartoon series with Buzz in the starring role, we’re going to have to meet some unfamiliar supporting characters along the way. The big, baddie is obviously Zurg, but he figures to have some minions or something, I would assume. I’m going into this show pretty cold as it’s a blind spot for me, but it at least has a solid pedigree to start.

This little robot is XR and today he’s going to learn a lesson about giving, because someone has to in a holiday special.

Each episode begins with a cute little piece of animation where the characters of Toy Story are rushing to get to a television set to watch the show. The episode begins on what I assume is the home planet of Buzz, or at least the home planet where the Space Rangers are headquartered. There’s a Santa ringing a bell in the center of town and this Santa is not the real deal, but is actually Buzz. He strikes a nice pose, though he’s lacking in the whole bowl full of jelly department. Fellow space ranger Mira (Nicole Sullivan) is educating her colleague XR (Neil Flynn) about the holiday season. Mira is pretty basic looking as she’s just a blue human, though XR is some sort of robot. He looks kind of like Earthworm Jim to me. He thinks all of this holiday stuff is pretty dumb as he buys a gift for a friend and they do the same (he’s pretty cheap since he cites the gift as being ten bucks) and doesn’t see the point. Mira stresses it’s the giving that matters, and we’re probably setting up for a holiday lesson that will pay off in the end. Some kid then goes running by and mistakes XR for a toy snatching him up and thus proving his point for him. I also can’t help but notice that the characters have yet to say “Christmas” and instead use the generic term “holiday.” It’s sort of weird to have a holiday just named “The Holiday,” but apparently there was no Space Christ for a Christmas to arise from.

Buzz is a pretty solid looking Santa.

They soon turn their attention to Santa Buzz who’s working the crowd. A large man in a red suit soon approaches needing Buzz’s help and it’s plainly obvious that this guy is going to turn out to be Santa (Earl Boen). And sure enough, he claims to be Santa! Buzz thinks he’s crazy and isn’t eager to help him out with whatever problem he currently has. Fellow ranger, Booster (Stephen Furst), then calls for backup and Buzz bails. As Santa calls out to him practically begging for help he refers him to Mira to provide a statement.

But this guy is a better looking Santa.

Buzz then happens upon Booster who too was playing Santa in a different part of town to collect donations. The kids have turned on him though as they recognized the big, red, alien is not Santa. He’s hiding in terror behind his collection bucket as the locals pelt him with snowballs. When Buzz arrives, they stop momentarily to regard him and soon claim he isn’t Santa either. When Buzz insists that he is they ask him to explain how he can possibly get toys to every kid in the galaxy in a single night, and Buzz confesses that he can’t. They ready their arms, and Buzz distracts them with promises of destruction by offering to show off his wrist laser. Problem solved!

Booster is apparently not the most reliable member of the force.

Mira is still taking “Santa’s” statement back in town. He had something stolen, but can’t say what. While Buzz is regaling the children with tales of his exploits until Star Command sends out a signal for him to return to base. They all return to an orbiting space station where Commander Nebula (Adam Corolla) hands over a list of crimes Zurg apparently intends to commit. It’s the usual sort of stuff, but ends with Buzz’s newspaper being stolen on the list which really seems to piss him off.

Diabolical!

The first item was to sabotage the fleet, so Buzz and team head to where they think Zurg is going to strike only to find nothing. Buzz thinks he was scared off, and then a flash of white light and snowflakes appear for a second. When it fades all of the space ships are in disarray. Buzz is in disbelief over what he just witnessed, but has no time to ponder how Zurg did it because next on the list was busting out everyone in a space prison. The fleet is scrambled and Buzz and team are shown surrounding the jail. Once again, a flash of light and snowflakes occurs and when it fades Buzz and his subordinates are surrounded by escaping criminals! And then to top it off, the next morning Buzz emerges from his home in his robe to find his paper waiting for him. He’s comforted by its presence, but as he reaches for it a flash of light and snowflakes once again occurs, and Zurg (Wayne Knight) appears with newspaper in hand. He offers a quick pleasantry and then vanishes!

Never mess with a man’s paper.

Back in town, Buzz is overseeing the lighting of a giant, holographic, Christmas tree. It lacks the charm of an evergreen, but at least it’s environmentally friendly. Soon the man claiming to be Santa reappears to once again request Buzz’s aide. Buzz is in a grumpy mood on account of the Zurg stuff and is in no mood to even entertain this guy’s request. The rest of the team bails too since they think this Santa guy is literally insane. Santa pushes back though and is pretty insistent on who he is. He does allow himself to get frustrated though as he wonders aloud why no one believes him. Clearly, no one realizes they’re in a Christmas special. Buzz then explains he stopped believing when he was 9 because he didn’t get the laser he wanted. Santa knows, and he knows why he didn’t get what he wanted. For one, he wasn’t going to gift a 9-year-old a weapon for Christmas, and two, Buzz was actually on the naughty list for shooting the fur off of his cat’s tail.

Nice tree, would be a shame if something were to happen to it…

Buzz is pretty shocked that Santa knows this as blasting Fluffy was something only he knew about. Now that he finally believes this guy is Santa, it’s the perfect opportunity for Zurg to strike again. He’s going full Grinch this time as he steals the giant, hologram of a tree with the same flashing lights and snowflakes as before. And it’s not just the tree, as Buzz receives a transmission from Star Command that Zurg has hit all of the other planets in the galaxy and stolen everything related to the holiday! They keep teasing the line too that Zurg stole Christmas, but no one actually goes so far as to say it as they still insist on not saying Christmas. They had me on the edge of my seat just waiting for it!

Well this puts every version of The North Pole to shame.

Santa then has Buzz hop into his Christmas tree-shaped spaceship to take him to his work shop on North Polaris. It looks like a snowglobe of a planet, which is pretty near. There Buzz meets the elves, which are actually “LGMs” or Little Green Men (the squishy aliens from Toy Story). They are decked-out in elf attire (and also voiced by Warburton, but with his voice sped up) and apparently serve Santa. They finally spill the beans on what Zurg stole from Santa. Apparently, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Santa uses a device that stops time to deliver presents. He used to use some impossibly fast jetpack contraption, but apparently he’s too old for it. The elves are working on a replacement, but it’s still a week away from completion and Christmas is just two days away. Buzz takes one look at the old hyper-speed accelerator and requests it be strapped to his back.

Buzz is a character that seems quite comfortable in the spotlight.

Buzz radios ahead to his teammates and instructs them to meet him on Trade World. Their the group rendezvous with Buzz and Santa, only the rest of the team still wants to discuss the whole Santa thing. There’s no time though, and Santa demands they help decorate the place for the holiday. As they do, they broadcast out a message designed to infuriate Zurg and basically challenge him to come wreck their holiday again. Zurg sees the broadcast and acts accordingly, while Buzz shows off his new toy. Santa’s hyper-speed whatever thing has been strapped to Buzz’s back and looks ridiculous. It’s a giant snowflake, but the side is what is strapped to Buzz so it extends off of his back twice his height. The other rangers aren’t sure of this plan, but Buzz tells them they just need to go at Zurg when he shows up to make him think they don’t have any real plan for dealing with him.

This jetpack thing is pretty ridiculous.

Zurg then arrives on Trade World flying around in this Dr. Robotnik-like ship. He’s predictably pompous, and I have to say I love the choice of Wayne Knight for his voice. Santa informs Buzz he has to activate the hyper-speed accelerator at the exact moment Zurg uses his stolen device to stop time. Zurg readies his item as the other rangers surround him and engages it. Everyone appears to freeze in place, including Buzz! Oh woe, Christmas is ruined! As Zurg starts wrecking up the place and celebrating his victory, the frozen Buzz comes to life!

This battle and chase sequence is pretty awesome.

Buzz breaks out the one-liners (“I’d say the yuletide has turned!”) and the rock music kicks in. It’s battle time! Zurg chases after Buzz and opens fire with his laser blaster. Buzz does some Matrix moves to avoid it demonstrating his impressive speed. As the two zoom around the city, Zurg blasts a bunch of holiday decorations that Buzz apparently feels compelled to save. Zurg laughs at him and tells Buzz his devotion to his holiday has made him weak. Oh, that’s where you’re wrong Zurg, it’s made him more powerful! They do the Dragon Ball Z thing of zooming around as lights and eventually come to blows.

Yes! Give me more of this!

When the dust settles, Buzz’s hyperspeed accelerator is destroyed and Zurg has lost his grip on the time stopping device, which frees everyone else. Buzz and Zurg meet in a standoff in front of a billboard lit up red as the snow begins to fall. It’s quite an impressive visual. Zurg then finds out he’s out of ammo, and as Buzz declares victory, he summons his little buggy thing which knocks Buzz over. Zurg jumps into it ready to escape, but Buzz tells him he lost since he doesn’t possess the ability to stop time any longer. Zurg points out that the device is broken so Santa can’t either. He’s ruined everyone’s holiday! XR even admits that Zurg has won.

With morale at its lowest, it’s time for XR to get his lesson in believing.

Zurg escapes and the rangers return to Santa’s work shop. They’re all pretty down as without the ability to stop time Santa can’t bring everyone their gifts. XR then asks what Santa did before he had all of this fancy tech, and he shows them. A bright, red, sleigh is summoned and Buzz is pretty taken by it right away. He jumps in and ponders what it uses for fuel, and Santa predictably confirms it runs on belief. The belief in Santa.

Who needs reindeer when you have…lights…on sticks..?

Everyone starts to proclaim they believe, and apparently it takes very little to fill the tank. With Buzz, Mira, and Booster all professing their belief it’s nearly full, but they need one more person. Santa confronts XR about his lack of belief and basically tells him he knows that he believes in him more than anyone, even though he’s rather insistent that he does not. When he asks how Santa knows that, he replies simply that he’s Santa! It’s kind of cheap as the sleigh then fills with power without XR actually declaring his belief. With it at full power, some lights extend off of the front of it. It kind of looks like an old TV antenna that used to adorn every house, but it’s in the shape of a Christmas tree. There are lights where the reindeer would be, though only six. A seventh, red, light is at the tip.

This is like Christmas porn for someone like me.

With the sleigh powered-up, Santa just needs some helpers. Buzz and the gang dawn space helmets and they take off for other planets. Buzz even gets to drive the sleigh! We see a montage of the gang sneaking into houses to leave presents, the best of which is a reverse of a scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A bunch of fish aliens are sharing a bed in a manner similar to Cindy Lou Who and her siblings. Mira slides a candy cane under the hands of one of the fish kids, rather than stealing a candy cane out from under her.

A toast to a job well done. No whiskey here, though.

The gang ends up back at the work shop where Santa toasts hot chocolate to a job well done. The only thing is one person is missing: XR. Apparently he had a special task to attend to and we cut to a little boy’s room where XR is the actual present. It would seem he gifted himself to the little kid from the beginning of the episode which is…weird. We don’t get to see how he untangles himself from that situation to return to work as the episode ends on a shot of the family’s tree with a Space Rangers logo where a star would normally be. That’s actually kind of weird and is like placing a police badge or something at the top of one’s tree. If you do that at your house well more power to you, I guess. I stick with a star.

If some weird guy pops out of one of my kids’ Christmas presents and goes for a hug it’s not going to be a happy ending.

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is a show I wish had existed when I was younger. It has a nice pace to it and the dialogue is rather witty. I love Warburton as Buzz and his supporting cast is solid as well. Knight is fantastic as Zurg and I wouldn’t mind seeing more episodes where he has an even bigger presence. The animation is also way beyond what I expected. Perhaps Pixar had something to prove because everything looks great. The lighting especially is dynamic and I had a great time just taking this one in. The action scene with Zurg and Buzz was set to techno music and gave off some serious Samurai Jack vibes, even though this show actually predates that one.

It’s almost a blink and you’ll miss it, but we do get the moon shot in this one.

As a Christmas story, this one is both fun and odd. The characters never actually say Christmas during the episode. It’s just referred to as a holiday and obviously shares a lot of the same imagery and even an icon. The animators kind of screw up though as the word “Noel” is present during the city fight between Buzz and Zurg. If they were avoiding the term Christmas because it references Christ, then they should have avoided noel as well since it translates to “to be born,” and is a reference to Christ as well. The lack of reindeer is almost bizarre, but I get that they wanted to do their own space thing with it. Santa does have decorative reindeer antlers on his seat in his spaceship, so maybe he had them once upon a time and now they’re dead. I definitely like that the show went for a Grinch plot with Zurg, made all the more obvious by the visual gesture during the montage near the end. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the best Christmas special ever, why more shows don’t borrow from it confuses me. We have a million different versions of A Christmas Carol, and hardly any Grinch plots. It’s 50 years old at this point, it’s fair game!

Despite there being no “Christmas,” there’s still plenty of the usual imagery.

This special could have been pretty manipulative since it telegraphs everything that’s coming our way. We know XR is going to come around on the holiday, we know Santa is telling the truth about who he is before he ever opens his mouth, and we also know that the heroes will prevail. The episode does a good job though of not really staying with anything too long. It does come close with the Santa/XR confrontation, and that bit is probably the weakest part, but at least it doesn’t get too sappy. They also made room for humor during the exchange, such as Buzz declaring you can’t force someone to believe in anything followed by him ordering XR to believe in Santa. The montage was a good move, and making the kid get XR as a present is more funny than heart-warming so it works and doesn’t betray the spirit of the show.

Bizarrely, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is pretty hard to come by. Disney never released it on DVD or Blu Ray, and has yet to add it to Disney+. It doesn’t make much sense to leave it off, but for now the company is not being protective with it. That means you can find it online rather easily, though everything is going to be a rip from a TV broadcast. I assume it’s only a matter of time until Disney brings it to their streaming platform, but for now it’s basically YouTube or bust. If you like Toy Story then give it a look. It’s pretty fun and visually it’s definitely worthwhile. I think I even like it more than Toy Story That Time Forgot and if Disney were smart it would start airing that special alongside this one during the holidays. Of course, I’m the type of person that thinks Disney should be running a ton of its holiday themed episodes and specials on ABC this time of year so maybe I’m biased.


Dec. 20 – Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas

Original air date December 4, 1992

Once upon a time, Hanna-Barbera ruled the cartoon television universe. The company was one of the first to prioritize television over film when it came to cartoons, and it was a strategy that worked quite well. Come the 80s, cartoons were a Saturday morning staple and were taking over the weekday afternoon as well. Hanna-Barbera had been challenged by other companies, but was still holding strong. Then along came a little French company called DiC. DiC had a few shows airing in France, but wanted to expand to the US. In order to do so, it would hire ex-Hanna-Barbera story writer Andy Heyward, who would go on to create the character Inspector Gadget.

Inspector Gadget was DiC’s break-out hit in America. The cartoon was about a cyborg detective tasked with stopping the nefarious M.A.D. which was lead by the villainous Dr. Claw. The catch was that Inspector Gadget was an idiot completely oblivious to what was going on around him. His gadgets, while neat, were prone to malfunction and Gadget would find himself in perilous situations he would either rescue himself from via dumb luck, or with the help of his niece Penny and her dog Brain. Penny is a smart kid who comes with a lot of tech while Brain is apparently a super-smart dog capable of everything a human is save for speech. Brain would basically shadow Gadget to keep him safe while Penny did a lot of the real sleuthing. Gadget would inevitably spy Brain in one of his disguises, mistake him for the real crook, and somehow Dr. Claw’s plots would be foiled. Every episode would end the same way with Gadget getting the credit and Dr. Claw flying away in his car screaming “I’ll get you next time, Gadget! Next time!”

The theme song is definitely the most fondly remembered part of the show, for me.

The show is basically Get Smart for kids, with Gadget even sounding a lot like Maxwell Smart. That’s because he pretty much is! Don Adams played Smart on Get Smart and is also the voice of Inspector Gadget. Since this happens to be a cartoon, Gadget’s spy tech gets to be a lot more extravagant than what Smart had. The old shoe phone is now a phone embedded in Gadget’s glove, for example. It also looks pretty great for an 80s TV cartoon since DiC had the fortune of partnering with Tokyo Movie Shinsa for the animation. TMS would utilize its connections to outsource the animation to various satellite studios, but it means Inspector Gadget looks better than pretty much everything Hanna-Barbera was doing. DiC would eventually take over animation in an effort to cut costs (those in the business often referred to the company as Do It Cheap) so the era of TMS DiC cartoons on US television was brief.

A lot of people who worked on the original series were willing to come back for the special, including writer Jack Hanrahan.

Inspector Gadget was a direct-to-syndication show that only produced new episodes from 1983 to 1986. It was quite popular though so it remained on television in various markets for pretty much the entire duration of the 1990s. When I was a kid, the show felt inescapable. I watched a lot of Inspector Gadget as a result, though it was never one of my favorites. It was just on. Well after the show ended production, DiC went back to the well and produced a Christmas special for 1992. Titled Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas, DiC was able to get Adams back to voice the title character as well as the other mainstays Frank Welker and Maurice LaMarche. Hung Long Animation Company was contracted to produce the animation and was likely fed a bigger budget than a typical episode. It premiered in prime time on NBC on December 4, 1992 before heading to VHS were it was probably sold for an obscene amount (television shows and Christmas specials were often 25 bucks an episode in 1990 dollars) and then eventually forgotten. I don’t recall seeing this re-aired much at all after 1992 as the Inspector Gadget craze was apparently over. At least until a movie was made in 1999.

This is Santa, and he’s about to have a not so great day.

The special begins up at the north pole. It’s early in the morning, and Santa Claus (Frank Welker) is seated in his control tower as he rouses the elves awake. He’s a pretty traditional looking Santa; short, fat, big beard, kind eyes. The elves are roused from their slumber and they’re also pretty typical looking. They’re not little old men, save for at least one, but instead look quite young, and they all pretty much look the same. There’s a lot of inbreeding up there. They have mostly green outfits with tall hats that curl like a candy cane and end with a bell. They wake up quite happy and sing their own version of “Jingle Bells” with the lyrics altered to just describe what they’re doing.

These guys looks pretty happy considering they have a boss who literally possesses a machine to extract them from their beds and put them to work.

Unbeknownst to them all, Dr. Claw (Welker) has infiltrated the work shop and he’s up to no good. His trusty M.A.D. Cat (Welker) is at his side looking a little off model from what I remember, as he dawns a Santa outfit of his own. This is quite possibly the most we’ve ever seen of Dr. Claw as he rather famously avoided the camera during the show. We get to see his fully body with only his face obscured. He whips out a little device that when turned on activates a hidden, mind control, device in the bells of the elf hats. The elves enter a zombie like state and cease their wretched singing. Santa is confused, and then even more confused when a mechanical claw on the ceiling grabs him, pulls him from the command tower, and dumps him into a frozen dungeon. Why does Santa have a dungeon?

Dr. Claw is now Santa Claws. It writes itself.

Dr. Claw then enters the command tower and begins taking over. His plan is to sabotage the toys of Christmas and ruin Santa’s reputation. The elves start dismantling the toys on Claw’s orders and reassemble some into horrible toy abominations. As Dr. Claw enjoys the view and strokes his cat, he informs us only one man can stop him, and he’s deployed his highly ineffective M.A.D. Agents to stop him!

Christmas comes to…Gadget Land…All right, I confess, I have no idea where they live.

We then head to the home of Inspector Gadget (Don Adams). He and niece Penny (Erica Horn) and dog Brain (Welker) are busy decorating their home for Christmas. As they do, a corny Inspector Gadget theme plays that just sounds like a parody of other spy properties. Why they didn’t just use the catchy theme from the main series, I do not know. While the song plays though, we see Claw’s agents attempt to take down Inspector Gadget, only every one that tries gets tossed aside by a completely aloof Gadget. One bounces off of his springs, another gets accidentally gift-wrapped, and we also see the classic ice gag of an agent cutting a hole around Gadget as he ice skates only for the rest of the ice to fall away freezing the bumbling henchman. It ends with Gadget getting launched into his own logo as we get a second title card.

I don’t recall Gadget possessing a child-like demeanor. Maybe the cancellation of his show broke his brain?

Off to the mall, the most sacred place at Christmas time, where Gadget is seated on Santa’s lap reading him an exceptionally long list of Christmas wants. Only, this Santa isn’t the real Santa, but Gadget’s boss, Chief Quimby (Maurice LaMarche), in disguise. He tries to tell Gadget who he is, but Gadget is an idiot so Quimby calls him instead to relay the ruse. Gadget is then confused why Quimby called when he’s presently seated on his lap and I have no idea how Quimby hasn’t just snapped and murdered Gadget at this point. He hands Gadget a note, that will self-destruct, and details to Gadget how Dr. Claw has kidnapped Santa and dispatched M.A.D. agents to take him out. Gadget is confused why the agents never came for him, but declares he’s always on duty and tosses the note aside before heading out. As is always the case, the note finds a way back to Quimby, this time bouncing off of the trash can and landing on his pipe, where it explodes. Serves him right for smoking around children.

What a dope.

Gadget, Penny, and Brain then head for the north pole. They take some giant airplane that can carry the Gadget mobile, or whatever it’s called, and also flies itself. Gadget informs the plane it can drop them where they are, and the A.I. takes Gadget literally and drops the car. Gadget tries to summon the Gadget Plane, but his Gadget Copter activates instead and whirling propellers pop out his hat and remove him from the car. A calamity of errors follow, with Gadget deploying his parachute, then the copter again, which just cuts up the chute. Penny is the one who saves the day activating the plane function of the car. Gadget plummets through the roof no worse for ware, though he declares there’s a lump in the seat. That’s just Brain though, whom Gadget landed on. He doesn’t seem concerned, and now I’m wondering if Gadget has just been playing dumb all of these years and really harbors a secret hostility towards the dog.

Inspector Gadget: the agent so dumb he wouldn’t know his nemesis if they were face-to-face.

The trio then enter Santa’s work shop, and Dr. Claw is understandably irritated to see Gadget is still alive (though really he should expect it). Gadget uses his extendable legs to approach the control tower where he introduces himself to Santa Claws. Gadget is, again, a moron so he doesn’t see through Dr. Claw’s disguise. He’s so dumb that he’s even fooled by M.A.D. Cat’s antlers and thinks he’s a tiny reindeer who does a mean cat impression. While Gadget and Claw exchange pleasantries, Penny and Brain take note of how odd the elves are acting. She soon realizes that something is off, and then spies Dr. Claw in his Santa suit. Gadget informs Santa he’s going to inspect the work shop to make sure everything is operating smoothly. Penny approaches and tries to tell him what’s up, but before she can the ceiling hook grabs Gadget and takes him away.

If Brain could speak I bet he’d have a Brooklyn accent.

Penny tells Brain to keep an eye on Gadget, while she investigates what’s going on with the elves. Meanwhile, Gadget thinks he’s on a tour of the facilities and begins his inspection. Unfortunately, this is set to a rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” LaMarche takes over as Gadget’s singing voice and the audio quality dips. Maybe this was recorded last and on the cheap? LaMarche is a fantastic voice actor, but he can’t save this horrible song. It mercifully ends after five days with Gadget dumped into the same dungeon as Santa. Upon seeing the real Santa, Gadget does what you would expect: he arrests him.

I expected no less.

Brain dresses up as an elf to take a look around while Penny hides in a giant jack-in-the-box to observe what’s going on. She realizes the elves are sabotaging the toys and figures out what Dr. Claw is up to pretty quickly. She radios Brain with her Apple Watch (not really, but the similarities are pretty insane) to relay her findings, while he informs her that her uncle has been imprisoned with the real Santa, and has arrested him. She takes the news well as she’s apparently used to this sort of thing. Unfortunately for her, the elves take notice of her and slam the lid the shut on the jack-in-the-box. They’re just as inept as Dr. Claw’s usual minions though and fail to alert him of what they found.

If this show were to come back, they’d have to get creative with Penny’s tech if they want her to stay ahead of the curve.

The elves place the box in a warehouse with the real toys. Penny radios to Brain that she’ll be fine, but he needs to get the key to the cell to free Gadget and Santa. And that key is currently dangling off of the antler of of M.A.D. Cat. Dr. Claw watches the presents getting sabotaged and relays the predictable news to the audience (via talking to his cat) that he wants to ruin Santa’s reputation because he didn’t get the toy he wanted as a kid. It’s always that. As he revels in his own villainy, we see Brain lurking in the rafters.

How do they know which one is Rudolph?

In the cell, Gadget continues to interrogate Santa. He has a long list of qualifications he expects Santa to possess, but they’re unreasonable demands as, for instance, he wants Santa to descend a chimney, but there’s no chimney present. There are reindeer, which just look like a palette swap of Brain with antlers, but Gadget remains unconvinced. He then declares it’s time to get rough, but don’t worry kids, he just deploys a bird from his hat which supplies a feather for cartoon torture: tickling. Santa is apparently exceptionally ticklish as Gadget doesn’t even remove a boot and just tickles the jolly, old, man’s beard and achieves the desired effect.

Poor kitty.

Dr. Claw enjoys watching the torture via his monitor which provides the perfect distraction for Brain. As he hangs from the ceiling by his feet, he extends a candy cane to try and slip the key ring off of M.A.D. Cat’s antlers. Instead, he hooks the elastic portion of the antlers which is around the cat’s neck. As he tugs, the cat gets strangled. Dr. Claw is completely oblivious though as Brain continues to yank on it. Brain bites the candy cane in half freeing the cat and also letting him snatch the key. M.A.D. Cat winds up on Claw’s face, and when he removes the cat he also removes his beard and hat which end up on the cat. How cute? Claw notices Brain though and orders…someone…to go after that elf. As he bangs the terminal, poor M.A.D. Cat gets knocked off.

Gadget has officially moved into “bad cop” territory. He’s assaulting Santa!

Back in the cell, Gadget has now begun trying to remove Santa’s beard. He’s got a foot in the poor guy’s belly while he tugs all the while taunting him for not actually being Santa. This is pretty damn cruel. Brain arrives dressed as a guard and unlocks the cell. Gadget is happy to finally see some security around here, but when Brain grabs Santa and takes off, he assumes he’s just an accomplice to Santa’s crimes. Gadget deploys his lasso, which actually works perfectly and entangles both Brain and Santa. Gadget then leaves the two bound together to go tell the “real” Santa he’s cracked the case.

A job not well done for Inspector Gadget!

Gadget then helps Dr. Claw load his sleigh. He’s confused that no reindeer are hooked up to the sleigh, and even names a few using incorrect names (the real Santa must have supplied the real names to no effect earlier). Dr. Claw tells him he’s taking care of things himself this year to make sure nothing goes wrong. Back in the jack-in-the-box, Penny has figured out how Dr. Claw is controlling the elves. She did so by looking in her computer book thing that’s basically magic. She then deploys the creepy “jack” she’s been stuck with which pops the box open and sends her sailing into a pile of teddy bears.

Thankfully, the real heroes are on the case, no thanks to Inspector Gadget.

Back in the cell, Brain is trying in vain to free he and Santa. He disappears into a classic cartoon cloud complete with whirling sounds only to emerge each time in a different sort of knot. Penny radios him to relay the info and Santa is initially confused to hear a little girl’s voice coming from the dog. They then realize Brain has actually untied the knot. Santa then summons his first four reindeer (I’m guessing they didn’t want to draw all eight) as they head for Dr. Claw hoping to catch him before he takes flight.

I can definitely relate to that elf smiling happily pulling on Gadget’s right foot.

Topside, Gadget has finished loading the sleigh and is trying to convince Dr. Claw to let him come with. Claw is finished with Gadget though and he orders the elves to seize him. True to his character, as the elves ineffectively grab him he just assumes they’ve grown attached to him. Meanwhile, Penny storms the warehouse alongside Brain. They’re being pursued by elves, which are pretty slow. The ones who have Gadget though are basically pulling him apart now like a torture rack, though he still isn’t bothered. Penny slips into the command tower and finds Dr. Claw’s mind control device and disables it. Immediately, the elves resume their stupid rendition of “Jingle Bells,” but at least they stop dismantling Gadget. Actually, I wish they had been successful.

Here come the reindeer!

It’s too late though, as Dr. Claw is in his M.A.D. Mobile ready to take off. That is, until Santa appears! He deploys the reindeer with a “Go-go-Santa’s reindeer!” As Claw speeds away with Santa’s sleigh hooked up, Santa jumps into the sleigh and disconnects the cable. Gadget sees the cable go by and connects it to a giant candy cane pole (perhaps THE north pole) in a bid to help Santa keep his odd looking car from getting away. Santa then orders the reindeer to “bash away all!” since Claw’s vehicle is resting on ice. The reindeer use their antlers to smash the ice allowing for Dr. Claw to simply drift away. They basically just let him go for no good reason. Claw calls out as he often does that he’ll get Gadget, only he drops the “next time” since this is evidently the end for this series.

Once Claw calms down he’s just going to disconnect that cable and fly away. Sure seems like they wasted an opportunity to finally nail him here.

Santa then thanks Gadget for his help. Why? I have no idea. Surely the old man remembers how awful Gadget treated him in the cell, and he should be aware of how he didn’t really contribute anything to take down Claw. Chief Quimby parachutes in to congratulate Gadget on solving the case and to declare that Inspector Gadget has indeed saved Christmas, as the title of the cartoon promised. Gadget has no time for congrats though as he instructs the reindeer to take off with a “Go-go-eight-tiny-reindeer!” Santa takes to the sky with Penny and Brain in the sleigh with him. Gadget soon joins them and we’re treated to an accurate depiction of Santa’s sleigh, complete with 8 reindeer, as he passes by a full moon. We return to the sleigh itself for one final shot of the whole gang wishing us a merry Christmas as we say goodbye to Inspector Gadget.

Time for the usual end of Christmas special pleasantries.

Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas is essentially a holiday themed exclamation point for the old cartoon series. It stays true to the spirit of that show with Gadget being comically inept while Penny and Brain save the day, with some help from the real Santa Claus. And in keeping with most Christmas specials, the writers and animators happily turn to song to kill some time and basically keep it in the public domain so there are no significant added costs. The story is super basic and adds nothing to the Santa legend, but at least it doesn’t contribute with ugly elf designs or something.

First up is the moon shot. Very nice!

The animation is noticeably different from the main series, but is largely acceptable. Some characters appear slightly off-model when compared with the old show, and Gadget’s coat looks slightly “off” to me, but for the most part I have no complaints. Gadget gets to deploy his most popular and recognizable gadgets, even if most are crammed into the one segment of Gadget falling from the sky, though it also doesn’t get to add any fun ones. At least they didn’t give him a love interest for a “Go-Go-Gadget-mistletoe” sequence. The special is so true to the spirit of the show that it’s even super familiar for someone like me who hasn’t watched an episode of Inspector Gadget in probably 30 years.

Followed by the standard farewell. Nice job, folks!

And that’s basically the crux of Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas. If you have fond memories of the old cartoon, then you’ll probably be okay with this. All of the old voices, save for Penny, are here and the special follows the usual beats. Few will probably enjoy the musical moments, but at least there’s some slapstick involved with them. Even if the slapstick isn’t particularly inventive. For me, this special mostly reminded me how annoying I found the character of Inspector Gadget. He’s so impossibly dumb, but also dangerously arrogant, that I actively root against him and wonder why any of the characters around him actually enjoy him. At least we get to see the elves attempt to dismantle him, though he unfortunately seems impervious to pain.

As always, the cat was the best part.

If you wish to set aside 20 minutes or so for Inspector Gadget this Christmas, this special has been released a few times on DVD. The first version contains some bonus episodes of the original series while a stand-alone version also followed. It’s cheap too and shouldn’t even run you ten bucks, should you wish to own it. It’s also available to stream for free online without any need for piracy. Sometimes, just being easy to watch is enough reason to take in a Christmas special if you have the time.


Dec. 19 – Christopher the Christmas Tree

Allegedly released December 24, 1993.

We look at a lot of Christmas stuff pulled from every day cartoons, for the most part. On occasion though, I suppose we should throw the Christians a bone and look at something a bit more secular. Yes, I think most people know Christmas was basically co-opted by the church many years ago, but it’s certainly because of that faith that it’s as popular as it is today. Or maybe it’s Coke’s fault. I don’t know. Either way, for many people Christmas is a time for worship so lets see if something intended to acknowledge that aspect of the holiday can be entertaining.

Christopher the Christmas Tree is a 1994 television special from the folks at Delaney and Friends Cartoon Productions. Look at the credits for that studio and you will find some other secular items, and also a Pfish and Chip cartoon (that feels like a mistake, but maybe they were looking to broaden their base). It was in conjunction with Chuck Glaser Productions and this is the only credit attributed to that entity. This thing is practically a one-off filled with voice actors of little renown, for the most part. Basically, the only one I recognized was Scott McNeil who was all over cartoons during the early 90s. According to a few sources, this thing aired on Fox and was relegated to VHS after that. It was possibly rebroadcast on Fox Family, but it’s definitely not a popular Christmas special

There’s scraggly little Christ, I mean Chris, the tree no one wants for obvious reasons.

Christopher the Christmas Tree is about a tree named Christopher – naturally. His wish is to be a Christmas tree some day, but when our feature begins (with narration by Bill Reiter who also voices the titular tree), he’s a scrawny, little, sapling. The other trees around him are large and lush and all feature a name that begins with the letter “C,” which must be standard in tree society. They’re all just trees with faces, but they also have strands of snow to distinguish them from one another and some feature pine cones. It’s not unpleasant.

“Ha ha, there’s no freakin’ way I’m letting you pick this tree, kid!”

A young boy and his grandpa come strolling up to the trees. The little kid wants Christopher, but his grandpa says he’s too small for the star they have at home. The kid then asks why they put a star on the tree, and here’s our first religious lesson. The grandfather says it’s to remind them of the star the three wise men followed long ago to reach Christ, and leaves it at that. That wasn’t too bad! They then get a tree, and leave Christopher to himself. Soon all of the trees are gone, except poor Christopher who just wants to die for a cause (that’s totally where this special is going).

This pathetic little creature is Hootie. Not pictured: The Blowfish.

We’re then taken to another area of the fictional Hidden Hollow. There we see a family of owls reading because owls are wise and all that. One owl, though, is not. He’s Hootie (very original), and he’s dumb. His book titled “How to Fly” is upside down and when his dad tells him to turn it around he just spins it in a 360 degree manner. His dad is so angry at his son’s stupidity that he tells him to get lost. Which is convenient, since a bindle has been sitting beside Hootie the entire time. I have no idea what sort of lesson this is supposed to impart, but poor, dumb, mute, Hootie leaves the confines of the tree for the snowy ground below. There he encounters some raccoons who want to play ball with him. They’re very hostile though, but without really an end goal, it would seem. When Hootie demonstrates that he can’t fly, they laugh at him so he scoops up his little bindle and trudges off into the woods.

He’s kind of like Rudolph, except no one cares.

We then get a montage set to a terrible song. All of the songs are originals and have a pop-country flair to them. Hootie just walks sadly through the forest as the seasons change and eventually encounters some bears on one occasion, but the mother bear chases him away. He winds up frozen and near dead on some family’s doorstep. A little kid brings him into their warm, Christmas-decorated, home and his parents instruct him to place the owl by the fire. This kid then, without really much prompting, asks his dad about the star on the tree and we learn the dad is the kid from before. The kid then makes a wish on the star for Hootie to survive, and what do ya know, it works! A wild animal isn’t a pet, though, so the kid’s dad makes him set Hootie free the next day, even though Hootie is in tears over the whole thing.

Note how Hootie is placed before a nativity scene prior to his miraculous recovery, except it’s just a red herring. The owl isn’t Jesus (spoiler: it’s the tree!).

Sad, rejected, Hootie is back to being sad in the woods, which is when he comes across Christopher. Now a big, full, tree, Christopher is happy to make friends with Hootie. The two even make a wish on a star for Hootie to fly and be able to talk, which seems a bit greedy. Christopher still wants to be a Christmas tree some day, though he seems resigned to just being a tree in the forest since he’s grown too large for most homes.

It’s Christopher! No longer a sapling, but a perverted old tree who loves having animals crawl up inside of him!

Some animals come across the two and they’re apparently in search of shelter. Being that Christopher is the only tree in a sea of stumps, they look to him to provide said shelter. He’s more than willing to be of some help as the various birds and rodents happily settle in. They do a bunch of dancing around Christopher, and this is becoming a really easy special to do a write-up on because it’s just full of empty songs and dancing!

That is not how fire works.

The next day, the animals head off to do animal stuff. A fox and a weasel happen by and they for some reason are wearing clothes to make them look like ruffians. They’re just here to crap on the dreams of Christopher and Hootie, and taunt him by saying the only thing he’ll amount to is fire wood. Proving their point, they set him on fire and leave. It’s a bit odd because they literally set ablaze the snow on Christopher. Christopher is pretty calm for a burning tree, and Hootie puts the fire out. He’s fine, and he even encourages Hootie to go find some food. He’ll be okay by himself.

Note how the setting sun has a cast the snow in a blood, red, hue for the execution scene.

Not (this was made in the 90s, I’m allowed a “Not!” joke)! A big red truck pulls up and a guy with a chain saw emerges. It would seem Christopher’s time has come, and he’s a bit distraught over it. Assuming he’s destined to become firewood, Christopher pleads with the man to not cut him down, but trees can’t talk so the guy doesn’t care. Hootie returns and tries in vain to stop what must be done, but he predictably fails and Christopher is hauled away. This thing just got dark.

Oh good, the little owl learned how to fly. I was really worried he never would.

As the truck speeds away, Hootie tries to follow, but he can’t keep up since he’s unable to fly. He just walks along sadly in the middle of the road and at this point it would not shock me if he gets run over. He doesn’t though and instead he starts flying! And talking! His wishes came true! He catches up to the truck and is even able to untie Christopher, who is still alive. Try as he might though, he can’t push Christopher off of that truck so he leaves to get help.

Hootie returns to rally the troops. Lucky for him this is a Christmas special and woodland animals are always extremely useful in such productions.

By now, the other animals have returned to find the stump that once belonged to Christopher. They’re pretty bummed, but Hootie arrives to tell them what’s up and soon they’re all racing down the road to catch the truck. They eventually find where the truck headed, and Christopher.

Hey! It’s Christopher! And he’s not on fire!

Now, apparently this where things can divert. If you were watching the original Fox broadcast, the animals find Christopher outside The White House. I am watching the VHS version and Christopher has been erected outside the United Nations. He is to be the Christmas tree for all of the children of the world, apparently even those heathens who don’t celebrate Christmas. And the little kid from earlier who helped Hootie is also there to put the star on Christopher. Someone with the UN is addressing the crowd and he declares the tree’s name to be Christopher. Not one for subtly, he goes on to say he is named so because a man named Christopher discovered America (lies) and because it contains the name of Christ who died for us all. He even remarks that Christopher had to be sacrificed in the name of Christmas. This is a special that doesn’t want to confuse anyone.

And look! The little boy from before is here to place the star on Christopher. What a happy, Christmas, ending!

Christopher is pretty damn happy to be the world’s Christmas tree. It was his destiny, he declares. Hootie though realizes this means it’s his first and last turn as a Christmas tree since this ends with him dead. Christopher reassures Hootie that this is what he wanted, and that he also shook out a bunch of pine cones before he left the forest. He wants Hootie and the animals to return to that spot and make sure they’re planted. Hootie and the animals do as instructed, and during the ending credits we see little saplings grow and a tiny, personified, tree emerges not unlike the version of Christopher we started with. The end.

Oh yeah, that’s right, he’s basically dead now. Well, one last hug before he goes!

Christopher the Christmas Tree is about what I expected; a bland cartoon about a lonely tree that just wants to die. Actually, it’s a little better if we’re just talking animation. It looks fine and the characters animate well, even if the character designs are about as boring as it gets. Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, so it’s a bit weird to see this special focus on sacrifice, that’s usually more of an Easter thing, but whatever. Some of the backgrounds are a bit drab, and in one place the characters are in a lush forest and then in the next shot it looks like a meadow, but for the most part it’s error free.

This one may be a Christian special, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get a little freaky!

The music was all done by George T. Bowers. It’s fairly disposable, though I suppose the main “Christopher the Christmas Tree” song is fine. It definitely gets a bit tiresome towards the end, but the special is mercifully only about 20 minutes worth of content. Since this one is religious in nature, there’s no Santa to speak of. It’s not particularly over-the-top with the religious messaging either choosing to mainly focus on the role of the star in the whole thing. Only at the end does all of the sacrifice stuff pop up. The only thing I was confused by was the origins of Hootie. His intellectual family is portrayed as the bad guys, are we supposed to interpret that as a dig on academics who teach “pesky” things like evolution? I could be reading too much into that scene, but it struck me as dumb. If you have small kids and don’t consider yourself a Christian household you might not want to put this on lest you confuse your children.

Or, you could just not put it on because it sucks! I do feel bad for families looking for a Christmas special that is more secular, because so often what they get is junk. I hesitate to call this one junk, but I definitely wouldn’t call it good. It’s not as cloyingly sweet as something like The Chucklewood Critters, and it at least feels earnest in its attempt to tell a story. I just personally take issue with how a lot of Christian media places so much emphasis on sacrifice, like it’s something to aspire to. At least for families that want to watch it, Christopher the Christmas Tree is easy to find online for free so have it. If you’re more of a Santa, Frosty, Grinch kind of household then you should probably just ignore this one. If you do consider your household a Christian one, maybe just watch A Charlie Brown Christmas again.


Dec. 10 – The Town Santa Forgot

“The Town Santa Forgot” originally aired on December 3, 1993 on NBC, I just liked this Cartoon Network ad more.

Come the 1990s, the cartoon juggernaut known as Hanna-Barbera was fading. It’s said the company once had control of approximately 80% of the children’s programming on television and even come 1990 it was still around 20%. The studio’s last big hit had been The Smurfs which set all kinds of Saturday morning records despite few animation buffs finding cause to celebrate. There were several spin-offs and specials, some stuck and some which did not, but the name was still fairly prominent on both broadcast and cable.

In 1991, Turner Broadcasting acquired Hanna-Barbera marking a major turning point for the studio. Less legacy properties would be developed as David Kirschner took over. This was the era that brought in more action cartoons like The Pirates of Dark Water and eventually SWAT Kats. Turner would launch Cartoon Network which in its early days was basically a dumping ground for Hanna-Barbera content, both old and new. A swath of new creative directors would be hired like Pat Ventura, Genndy Tartakovsky, and even Seth MacFarlane. Those individuals, along with several others, were the creative minds around the What a Cartoon! series of shorts that would come to define Cartoon Network in the late 90s and beyond.

The original broadcast had its own bumpers, an old staple I wish would return.

Even though Turner was working on creating a cartoon channel to rival Nickelodeon, Hanna-Barbera still had its hands in broadcast animation. We talked about one of the 90s broadcast Christmas specials last year with A Flintstone Family Christmas, and in 1993 Hanna-Barbera produced The Town Santa Forgot. The animated special starred Dick Van Dyke and aired in prime time on NBC that year. Following 93, it would become a holiday staple on Cartoon Network for a few years before being retired to Boomerang with pretty much all of the other Hanna-Barbera properties.

The Town Santa Forgot is based on a poem called Jeremy Creek written by Charmaine Severson. Severson wrote several rhyming poems that were carried by numerous print outlets in the 70s and 80s. Jeremy Creek appears to have first seen publication in 1985 and it tells the tale of a greedy little kid who accidentally brings happiness to a neglected town at Christmas. It was a major hit for Severson and she would follow it up with an annual Christmas rhyme each year into the 90s, though none have risen to the level of popularity enjoyed by Jeremy Creek.

The special was produced by Hanna-Barbera with animation by Wang Film Productions. Wang Film had done work for Hanna-Barbera in the past, most notably with The Jetsons Movie, but it wasn’t handed many Hanna-Barbera originals. As a result, The Town Santa Forgot doesn’t really look like a Hanna-Barbera production. I’d argue it looks better than a lot of the content the company was responsible for at that time. The character designs have a vague hint of Rankin/Bass too, which could be just me or it could be intentional since that company is basically synonymous with Christmas specials. While Hanna-Barbera doesn’t have the greatest reputation, at least this special is an original story with a unique look so I’m already more excited for it than I was with A Christmas Story from a few days ago.

This old grandpa is our story-teller who has to teach his spoiled little grandkids a lesson.

The special begins with a grandfather and his two grandchildren. Dick Van Dyke provides the voice of the grandfather who will serve as narrator. The kids aren’t named, but one is a boy (Troy Davidson) and one a girl (Ashley Johnson). It’s the grandfather who is giving me the Rankin/Bass vibes as he looks like he could fit in with one of the animated Frosty the Snowman specials. The kids are a bit more generic with black, soulless, eyes.

The kids are both talking about all of the stuff they want for Christmas, which prompts Grandpa to sit ’em down and tell them a story about the greediest kid who ever lived: Jeremy Creek.

This is Jeremy. Don’t be fooled by that smile, he’s a little asshole.

Jeremy Creek (Miko Hughes) is a little red-headed child with enough toys for over 400 boys. He has toys of all variety, and he doesn’t like to share. Worse, he always wants more. He can’t possibly have enough toys and when he sees something he wants, he lets his parents know. And if his parents say “No,” then he screams and wails until they give-in. We see Jeremy spy a cowboy doll outside a store and go purple with rage until his parents buy it for him. When he’s home later that night watching television, he sees a commercial for a better version of the same doll and goes into a rage. For once, his parents put their foot down, but that just incites the neighbors who complain about the noise. Eventually, dad (Philip Proctor) lays down the law and tells Jeremy he wants to hear nothing further from the boy and he retreats to his room.

This is a pretty great shot.

Once in his room, we get to see Jeremy survey his toys while perched like a vulture on his bedpost. He then starts playing with all that he has as the narrator goes into detail on the sheer volume of what’s in there. There’s army men, baseballs, vampire costumes, and more. He even has toys for boys much older than he, like remote-controlled airplanes, which he uses to harass the neighborhood. While it’s clear to see this kid is spoiled rotten, it’s at least admirable to see him actually playing with and enjoying the toys as opposed to acting like a dragon and simply hoarding them, which is what my kids seem to do.

They didn’t have any computer paper back then. Hell, they don’t have it now!

Eventually, Jeremy gets the idea that if his parents won’t buy him what he wants then he’ll have to turn to Santa. The problem is it’s currently June, but that doesn’t stop Jeremy from drafting a list. He has to tape sheets of paper together to accommodate his vast array of wants and the list stretches for miles. After he has listed every possible toy under the sun, he signs the list with a simple Jeremy Creek – no thanks or nothing. He bundles it up like a roll of wall insulation and drops it onto a mailman’s back to send it to Santa way up at the North Pole.

A conventional, yet unique, depiction of Santa.

Santa Claus (Hal Smith) is then shown flying his sleigh (with 8 reindeer!) up north and comes to land in the garage of his workshop. This Santa has a plump appearance, basically being shaped like a bell, and he enters his workshop where some elves are hard at work. They’re small and a bit conventional looking with pointed ears and hats. Santa is excited to show them that the first Christmas letters have started to come in, and one of them is particularly massive. The list dominates the room and Santa and his elves can scarcely believe someone wrote this thing. When Santa sees the name at the bottom, Jeremy Creek, it never crosses his mind this could be the list of one person and assumes it refers to an actual place.

The elves of this special also manage to look conventional, yet different, much like Santa.

Santa and his elves get out the map and look all over for a place called Jeremy Creek. Sure enough, they find one only to discover it’s not on their usual route. It’s a town with approximately 4,000 kids which matches up with the number of gifts requested and Santa assumes this is a letter from the town alerting him to their plight. Santa, realizing he’s passed this town over for years, decides he needs to make up for it by fulfilling this request.

Young Jeremy has some evil intentions this evening.

Back at his own home, we see Jeremy counting down the days until Christmas while Santa and the elves get busy at the North Pole. The elves sing a simple little song accompanied by a montage of Jeremy pulling down calendar pages. Eventually, the day arrives and Jeremy is eager to receive all of the gifts on his monstrous list. He climbs out onto his roof armed with a net and some binoculars. It seems as the months have gone by, Jeremy has decided he doesn’t just want what was on his list, but everything Santa has in his sleigh! Santa soon appears and Jeremy watches as Santa goes from house to house slipping inside through various ways. His body is like gelatin as he slides down chimneys and exhaust pipes, beating The Santa Clause to that idea, before climbing back into his sleigh and taking off. Oddly, the narration refers to his sleigh as a “green, glowing, sleigh” but it’s colored red. There’s a slight hue with a greenish tint to it, but it reads like the sleigh itself should have been green. Santa completely bypasses Jeremy’s house which confuses and enrages the young boy. He returns to his bedroom and assaults his pillow before despair starts to sink in.

Suck it, Jeremy!

The next morning, Jeremy arises to see all of the neighborhood kids playing happily with their new toys. He allows himself to be hopeful for a moment and reasons that maybe Santa entered through the window or something and he missed it. He races downstairs and, sure enough, the underside of the tree is just floor. His mom (Melinda Peterson) enters the room and remarks “That’s too bad,” when she sees the empty tree. She then explains that Santa must have noticed that Jeremy couldn’t possibly have more room for toys and passed him over.

Elsewhere in the world, some deserving kids are having a good Christmas for the very first time.

Jeremy storms off to the livingroom where his dad is watching television in his new Christmas socks. The program is detailing the story of an impoverished swamp town that woke up to a wonderful surprise. A pile of toys was left in the center of town for the girls and boys after years of receiving nothing at all. It’s soon revealed this was the work of Santa Claus and the town is none other than Jeremy Creek. Jeremy’s parents are shocked to see a town with the same name as their son, who soon puts two and two together and realizes his massive list of presents was given to the kids of Jeremy Creek.

Jeremy isn’t having any of this.

Jeremy is initially angry that his presents went to these kids. Then the news woman reads a letter from Santa which states someone brought this town to his attention, but chose to remain anonymous. Jeremy finally starts to feel something as his mom explains that people who do a kindness like that don’t need the adulation that comes with it. Jeremy is moved to tears, but he doesn’t want his parents to see, so he races back into the den and retreats to the underside of the Christmas tree.

If he can fit down a chimney, he can fit in a tree.

There Jeremy smiles as he looks up at the brightly decorated tree. He’s finally happy, but much to his surprise he spies a small Santa inside the tree. Only it isn’t an ornament, but Santa himself! Santa explains he figured out what happened, and that the kids of Jeremy Creek want the person who wrote them the letter to be properly thanked. Santa makes a sack appear and asks Jeremy what he would like for Christmas. Jeremy tells Santa that he wouldn’t know what to ask for and that he’s finally figured out that giving is better than receiving. Santa is overjoyed to hear this and tells Jeremy that from now on he will be his gift-giving assistant.

An older, wiser, Jeremy bids Santa farewell.

Jeremy, feeling inspired, changes from then on. He gives away all of the toys he couldn’t possibly find time for which is a callback to some of the scenes we saw earlier of him being mean to other kids in the neighborhood. And come Christmas every year, Jeremy helps Santa deliver presents. He climbs out onto his roof on Christmas Eve with a pair of binoculars and waits for Santa. When Santa arrives, he hops in his sleigh and helps deliver all of the toys. As the years go by we see Jeremy get older until eventually he’s too tall to fit in the sleigh. Santa sadly informs him that his time as his assistant must now come to an end. Jeremy is visibly sad, but he gives Santa a warm hug and hands over his binoculars for Santa to give to the next lucky boy or girl.

And now the kids get to have their own change of heart.

Back in the present, the story is done and the little boy and girl are feeling less selfish. They remark they don’t care what Santa brings them, even if he brings nothing at all! They both also aspire to be the next boy or girl that Santa makes his assistant. The grandfather says it could be either one, or both, and he also breaks the fourth wall to tell the viewer it could be them too. The special ends with an external shot of the house with the mailbox covered in snow. The snow soon slides off revealing the name J. Creek.

That sneaky, son-of-a…

The Town Santa Forgot is a charming little Christmas special. It has a conventional message in that giving is better than receiving, but it’s a message that surprisingly isn’t often relied upon to anchor a Christmas special. Young Jeremy is easy to dislike, as who hasn’t encountered a spoiled little brat in their life and actually enjoyed that kid? The poem origin of the special is retained, though maybe not word for word, as Dick Van Dyke narrates it. He is well cast in this role as he’s not asked to do any embellishment and to just use his natural speaking voice.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say I didn’t see the twist ending coming. Not that I was surprised by it, I just gave it no thought. It wasn’t until then it became obvious that the story the grandfather was telling took place before the present. The toys are a bit older and the television in Jeremy’s house is in black and white. It’s a fun little reveal though to find out Jeremy had been telling us his story the whole time. It’s also a fun twist on the Santa myth for him to select a selfless girl or boy to help him each year. I suppose it’s not a popular addition though since kids would certainly become suspicious when they couldn’t find a single person who received that honor. In that though it makes the act of selflessness become something that is perhaps unattainable, but still worth aspiring to.

This one has a lot less music when compared with other Hanna-Barbera Christmas specials. That’s not a complaint.

As I mentioned in the lead-in, the look of this cartoon is actually quite nice. Early 90s Hanna-Barbera productions should probably get more love than they do as I remember enjoying the look of several of the cartoons from that era. The animation is smooth and distinct and the character designs have some personality, which is harder than you think when it comes to Christmas. There aren’t any animation gaffes I noticed, nor is a bunch of animation recycled as often would happen with older Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The music is pleasant, and there’s only one song of sorts when the elves are shown getting the gifts ready for Christmas. I went into this one with the aim of just finishing off the big Hanna-Barbera Christmas specials, but I may have stumbled upon the best one from the venerable production company.

It’s small and through binoculars, but we do get a “Santa passing in front of the moon” shot.

The Town Santa Forgot is no longer shown on broadcast or cable television, which is too bad because it’s a lot better than some of the specials that still show up on broadcast networks today. My understanding is it’s available on Boomerang, but I’m not a Boomerang subscriber so I can’t confirm that. It is available on DVD for a very reasonable price. It’s included on the same release that features A Christmas Story and Casper’s First Christmas. If you’re like me and you still cling to physical media and like to stockpile Christmas specials, it’s a DVD worth owning for The Town Santa Forgot alone. Consider the other two as bonus features.


Dec. 9 – Space Goofs – “Holiday Heave Ho”

Original air date December 20, 1997.

Come the late 90s I was definitely losing track of what was airing on Fox Kids. X-Men came to an end, as did Spider-Man and The Tick. They were replaced with Silver Surfer and a new Spider-Man cartoon that was pretty awful. There was also that live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show called The Next Mutation which was a bit horrifying to look at. Even a lot of the comedy shows were coming to an end like Animaniacs, Eek! the Cat, and Life with Louie.

One of the shows that was meant to replace one of the above-mentioned was Space Goofs. Space Goofs is a French cartoon about some aliens who crash land on Earth and wind up hiding out in a seemingly abandoned home for rent. They’re pretty wise to the fact that if humans find them they’ll be rounded up and experimented upon so they do their best to scare people away and keep their presence a secret. All the while, they learn about human culture largely via watching television.

Space Goofs is pretty much a forgotten piece of 90s pop.

It’s a show I recall seeing ads for, but I don’t think I ever watched it. It originally aired at 9:30 on Saturday mornings and I just wasn’t awake at 9:30 when I was in my teens. After some reshuffling took place on Saturdays, it moved to 10:30 where I would have been far more likely to be awake, but I never checked it out. By 1998, Fox had a ton of competition on Saturday as ABC had revamped its One Saturday Morning and Kids WB was now a real contender with Batman, Superman, and Pokemon. As such, it would seem Space Goofs got lost in the shuffle. After the first season, Fox booted it from Saturday to Monday afternoon where it went to die. It doesn’t look like the show ever popped up on any other network like a lot of Fox Kids shows.

The snowy home where the aliens reside. This show was originally titled Home to Rent before it was changed to Space Goofs.

As part of that inaugural season, Space Goofs tackled Christmas. This was a segmented cartoon show so each short is only about 10 minutes in length. It was animated by Gaumont Multimedia and actually has a bit of a modern look to it as it was probably done digitally. The backgrounds are pretty minimalist and the character designs are simple. Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the show include the theme song by Iggy Pop and the character Candy (Charlie Adler), who is clearly a homosexual. It’s still considered progressive and even taboo in some circles to have a homosexual character in a children’s cartoon in 2020, so to have one in 1997 is pretty surprising. It sounds like the French dub was more obvious about it, while the subject isn’t really tackled head-on from what I’ve seen in the English dub. In the Spanish dub, the character’s gender was changed to female to avoid any controversy. Since we’re talking about a little green alien, I suppose that works.

The aliens (left to right): Candy, Gorgious, Bud, Stereo, Etno.

The episode begins with the aliens sitting around the television in their pajamas watching a horror movie. Our aliens are Candy, Gorgious (Danny Mann), Bud (Jeff Bennett), Stereo Monovici (Jeff Bennett), and Etno (Maurice LaMarche). Candy has that Charlie Adler gay voice you’ve probably heard before while Etno is LaMarche doing his Vincent Price impression. It’s a colorful collection of voices that are quite suitable for these illustrations.

Bud practically has a nervous breakdown when everyone goes to bed leaving him to watch horror films all alone.

The aliens are all watching a film about a red blob. Bud, who is the most involved in the program, is getting rather anxious and is further upset when his comrades all retire for the evening. Left to himself, he starts to freak out, especially when he hears noises coming from the chimney.

Our Santa for the next 11 minutes with his frozen helper Brad.

Unbeknownst to Bud, Santa (LaMarche) and his elf helper Brad (Adler) are about to pay them a visit. Santa and Brad discover there’s a house with five individuals in it who have never appeared on the list before. Santa is determined to make his presence felt at this home in the only way Santa can – by bringing presents. He goes into a rather extravagant speech before the two set down on the roof. It should be noted, Santa is only accompanied by two reindeer, a severe Christmas fail.

Despite watching lots of television, these aliens apparently know nothing of Santa Claus.

When Bud hears noises coming from the roof he wakes up the rest of his alien buds who all gather at the fireplace. Bud is convinced the red blob from the movie he was watching is coming after them, but the rest aren’t so sure. Etno takes a look up the chimney and he does indeed see a big red blob coming his way. Of course, this isn’t a monster, just Santa’s big red ass which crawls down the chimney with animation that reminds me of Stimpy’s butt dance during the “Happy Happy Joy Joy” song from The Ren & Stimpy Show.

A rather solid depiction of pain on old Santa’s face.

Etno informs the others that Bud is right, and he’s pretty freaked out. He mentions the blob resembles an apple, and sure enough, as Santa’s rear descends into view it does indeed look like a big red apple (or a big, red, ball-sack) which gets the attention of Gorgious. Gorgious is essentially a giant mouth with eyes and a nose, so he does the thing he’s best equipped to do: he bites Santa’s ass. Santa climbs out of the chimney in a surprisingly calm manner despite the chunk missing from his bottom. Bradley is surprised to see Santa finished already, but Santa informs him (his face is contorted with pain) that there appears to be a clog in the chimney. It would seem Santa is rather embarrassed by the whole ordeal and would prefer Brad didn’t know he just went ass to mouth with an alien.

This Santa has a bit of a dark side, it would seem.

Inside the house, the aliens are congratulating Gorgious on a job well done, their pajamas suddenly vanishing. Bud isn’t congratulating anyone though as he knows the blob will be back. He then screams and points at the fireplace as some goo starts to leak in. Etno nominates Candy to do something about it, and he turns to the camera and says “Ships” to express mock enthusiasm in a cheeky manner.

That’s gonna require some skin grafts.

Santa is pouring some kind of corrosive substance down the chimney and is a bit gleeful about it. Candy checks it out and does not look eager to stick his head up the chimney. He looks back at his comrades and sees their assuring expressions, sighs, and sticks his head up the chimney. He screams and re-emerges shouting “It’s chemical warfare!” as his scalp melts away. He then realizes he’s standing in a puddle of the substance and his skin (Etno says shoes) melts revealing human-like feet underneath. We then see the burned part of Candy’s head basically turn to ash making him look like a giant, green, lit, cigarette. An interesting visual for a children’s show.

This Santa can really take a beating.

Stereo then suggests they try a new method of trapping the intruder and produces a giant mousetrap. They first test it on a teddy bear, which decapitates it reducing Gorgious to tears while the others react in a gleeful manner. On the roof, Santa decides it would be best to descend headfirst on this next try as he squeezes himself down the chimney. The aliens wait with the trap below, and once Santa’s face comes into view, they shove it up the chimney! They hear a satisfying snap as Santa goes soaring through the sky with the mousetrap attached to his head while Johann Strauss plays.

Never tell Santa to use the door.

One of the reindeer makes a quip (“Right out of the ballpark.”) as Santa climbs onto the roof. He orders Brad to get the trap off of him and I can’t tell if he’s talking through his mouth or a nostril. Brad sticks a foot on his face for leverage and pries the trap off. As Santa heads back to the chimney, the reindeer suggests, rudely, he try the door. Santa gives him an angry look, marches towards him, and insists this is tradition. He’s going down the chimney!

More ass-play with Santa!

Below, Candy is giving directions to someone as they drive a truck into the room. He pops the hood and produces some jumper cables. This is not going to end well for poor Santa. As the aliens ready the cables, they all make sure to inform the audience that this isn’t a safe thing to do. I’m glad we got that out of the way.

The only Christmas tree in the episode and really the only Christmas decor of any kind.

Santa, going rear first once again, approaches the fireplace near enough so that the aliens can attach the jumper cables. Once affixed, Etno gives the order to start the truck and Santa is once again sent rocketing into the night sky, again accompanied by Strauss. Bradley can only watch as Santa comes to rest in a Christmas tree.

It’s been one long, stressful, night for these guys.

Bud and Etno, with heavy bags under their eyes, keep their eyes glued on the ceiling. Bud is freaking out as they hear footsteps above them and the unmistakable sound of a chainsaw. The others are losing their will to keep this up, but Etno says they have one final weapon. On the roof, Santa is basically going mad as he and Brad are constructing something massive. When the camera pans out, we see what looks like a makeshift bobsled track on the roof of the house.

Beardless Santa is a bit unsettling.

Inside the home, the aliens have filled the fireplace with dynamite, and Etno has his hands on the activator. On the roof, Santa has climbed into a bobsled (with a helmet on) that’s numbered “13” which seems awfully unfortunate. As he descends the track, the sled picks up tremendous speed causing all of the hair on his face to be torn from him and his nostrils to flair like giant parachutes. The camera cuts quickly from Santa, to Etno, to Santa, to Etno throughout and when the jolly fat man hits the chimney Etno activates the dynamite.

Despite all of that violence and mayhem, Santa came through for the aliens.

Santa is sent blasting off into the night sky leaving the aliens feeling victorious. As they celebrate, presents start littering the room. The aliens are confused, but they begin to open them and find them to be full of things they wanted, including a new teddy bear for Gorgious. They realize that whoever was trying to get into their home meant them no harm. Stereo remarks how they mistook him for the color of his skin, and it seems the aliens are about to learn an important lesson, until Etno wonders aloud what else he brought them and they dive back into the presents.

These guys still have a long night ahead of them.

We then return to the sky, where a heavily bandaged Santa is flying through the air, his reindeer seemingly frozen. Bradley seems fine though as Santa remarks that the alien house was a piece of cake, even though he can scarcely move. He then asks Bradley what house is next, and he starts listing off some horrifying names: Frank Stein, Lizzie Borden, Young Jack Ripper. Santa then looks at the camera and his bandages fall off revealing his face as he laughs ready to take on all-comers. The sleigh passes in front of the moon to end things.

The writers of Space Goofs certainly know how to properly end a Christmas special.

I never really heard any good things about Space Goofs, so this wasn’t a show I was eager to check out. This episode has been on my list for years, to give you an idea of just how excited I was to watch it. Turns out though, it’s pretty solid. I didn’t find anything hilarious, or really felt myself getting attached to any of the characters, but I did enjoy the premise. It’s not often you encounter a Christmas special in which the would-be gift receivers do their best to keep Santa out. Futurama would go on to do so, but the circumstances were entirely different. Here we have some aliens with no knowledge of Santa just afraid someone is breaking into their home. Meanwhile, this version of Santa is basically a fanatic. He’s going to deliver those presents if it kills him. I definitely enjoyed watching his descent into madness as the episode went on and it felt appropriate that he didn’t feel defeated in the end, but somehow invigorated despite his broken body.

I rather enjoyed this somewhat deranged, hopelessly devoted to his job, Santa.

The personalities of the aliens don’t really have a chance to shine through. The cartoon is fairly brief, so I imagine it would take several episodes to give me a real handle on things. It’s obvious Etno is the de-facto leader or voice of reason, while Bud is probably supposed to be the one the audience likes the most. Candy is definitely unique and I enjoyed the Charlie Adler screams when the acid dripped all over him. Their designs feel very “90s” to me, for lack of a better description. I’m reminded of the stop-motion cartoon Bump in the Night when I look at some of them. The voice acting was great though, which I expected of this cast, and I liked the addition of classical music which had my mind going back to Loony Tunes shorts.

If you want to check out this holiday edition of Space Goofs then you’re in luck. Apparently no one sees much value in the property, so the official Space Goofs YouTube channel has uploaded every episode of the show, from what I can tell. No subscription required, you’ll just have to sit through an ad break midway through. There are certainly worse ways to kill twelve minutes this Christmas.


Dec. 4 – A Christmas Story (1972)

Original broadcast date December 9, 1972

For today’s Christmas post, we’re going to take a look at A Christmas Story. No, not that Christmas Story, the first one. Way before Ralphie started obsessing over a BB gun, the duo of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought us a story about a mouse and a dog trying to get a last-minute letter to Santa Claus. Not familiar with this one? That’s not surprising as it didn’t have much staying power. Sure, it was still shown on television from time to time as late as the 1990s, but it feels like even Hanna-Barbera wrote this one off as a bunch of the original music created for it would be repurposed just fives years later for the more popular Christmas special A Flintstone Christmas.

Hanna-Barbera produced numerous Christmas specials over the years. The company is often a punching bag in the animation community because of the low quality that became representative of television animation, which is unfortunate as the duo from which the company gets its name were hugely important contributors to animation in general. It just so happens their greatest contribution to the world of animation occurred before the founding of their company when the team created Tom and Jerry. For television, yeah, it’s true the output wasn’t great. Some stuff is better than others, but little is truly celebrated.

The most memorable aspect of this special is going to be the original music written for it. It was apparently so good, most of the songs would be reused in more popular Christmas specials to come.

I do give the company credit though for being big on Christmas. I need a lot of material to do this year in and year out and I can usually count on Hanna-Barbera to fill a day or two each year. A Christmas Story might be our deepest pull yet though when it comes to the company. It was directed by the duo of Hanna and Barbera and was written by the pair Ken Spears and Joe Ruby, who would follow in their boss’ footsteps and found their own studio, Ruby-Spears, in 1977. They were big contributors at Hanna-Barbera for creating Scooby Doo and their company would handle the likes of Thundarr the Barbarian as well as Alvin and the Chipmunks. The company was eventually acquired by Hanna-Barbera through its parent company, Taft Entertainment, and was part of the sale to Turner Broadcasting in 1991 so both Ruby and Spears weren’t really away from Hanna-Barbera for very long.

This special is so basic it even features a “little Timmy.”

A Christmas Story is about as simple as its title implies. We’re going to be introduced to little Timmy (Walter Tetley) and his family at the start. It’s an idyllic Christmas setting as mom (Janet Waldo) decorates the tree while dad (Don Messick) sits on his ass reading a newspaper. It’s hard to say what time period this story is set in, possibly the 30s or maybe even 40s, but certainly not present day for 1972. Timmy needs to get to bed, but he reminds his father that he owes him a Christmas story so he breaks out A Visit from St. Nicholas and even refers to it by the correct title, though he does botch the end by saying “Merry Christmas,” as opposed to “Happy Christmas.”

Your stars for this one: Goober and Gumdrop. They won’t be memorable.

Once Timmy is in bed, we’re properly introduced to the real stars of the short, a basset hound named Goober (Paul Winchell basically doing his Tigger voice) and a mouse named Gumdrop (Daws Butler, basically doing his Elroy Jetson voice, which he used on many characters). Goober and Gumdrop obey the standard animation rule that animals can converse with one another, but not humans. Goober helps Gumdrop hang his stocking beside the stockings for the rest of the family before retiring for the evening. As he heads to his mouse hole, he notices something under a table: Timmy’s letter to Santa. Gumdrop panics and informs Goober it’s up to them to save Christmas for Timmy by making sure Santa gets his letter.

Oh no! Someone forgot to mail Timmy’s letter to Santa!

How do a mouse and dog get a letter to Santa on Christmas Eve? Well, they simply head outside and start looking. At first, Goober (who is sporting a cute, little, green, hat) has some trouble with a slippery walk and does the Charlie Brown-sliding-into-a-tree gag complete with snow falling from the tree to cover him. It’s not particularly well animated, which is true for the special as a whole. Get ready to see a lot of repeating images as Goober and Gumdrop journey through the night.

Dumb mouse looking for Santa in a mailbox.

As the search for Santa begins, the first of three musical montages begin. The song for this one, “Where Do You Look for Santa?” is unique in that it won’t be repurposed down the road for a new Hanna-Barbera Christmas special. The song is utilitarian in nature, and strongly resembles a song we’ll hear later. As it plays, Goober and Gumdrop look all over town, ride a sleigh, and try to be cute as animation is recycled quite liberally throughout.

If you want to put a mouse in peril, simply add cats.

As the two search for Santa, Gumdrop runs afoul of a gang of cats. They’re apparently lead by a cat named Sleezer (Winchell) who is accompanied by the likes of Polecat (John Stephenson) and Fatcat (Hal Smith), among others. Cats obviously don’t take too kindly to mice out on their own and they give him some trouble. It’s basically the show’s only section of comedic violence as Gumdrop avoids catastrophe while the cats do not. The only worthwhile gag is Fatcat deploying a claw like a switchblade before getting it caught in a fence panel.

Clumsy, but effective.

Eventually, Gumdrop wisens up and simply hollars for Goober to come save him (I’m not really sure what he was doing this whole time). Goober, being a dog, basically just has to run into the alley where this is all going down to scare the cats away. He’s a bit of an oaf though as he falls over and takes on the form of a snowball and crashes into some garbage cans, along with the cat gang which soon scatters. As Gumdrop asks him if he’s all right, he replies he’s fine save for the bells ringing in his ears. Gumdrop can hear the bells too, and the two turn their gaze towards the heavens where Santa (Hal Smith again who was apparently charged with only voicing fat characters) can be seen flying overhead with a mere six reindeer. He even starts to call them out by name, but stops after listing only four so as to avoid shouting the names of two reindeer clearly not present.

Pictured: Santa. Not pictured: Donner and Blitzen.

Gumdrop and Goober then basically chase after Santa hoping to catch him as he enters a house. There, they hope to simply give him Timmy’s letter. How he will provide toys without the aid of his workshop is not something this special appears concerned with. As the two run from house to house they have little luck, as they keep missing him.

Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.

Gumdrop decides they’re going about this all wrong and need to think like Santa, whatever that means. They decide to go to a house with a bunch of kids and settle on the home of the Andersons. When they arrive, they see Santa has yet to visit and there’s a ladder conveniently left out in the snow. Gumdrop and Goober head up to the roof, with Goober demonstrating a fear of heights. When he goes to hand Gumdrop Timmy’s letter, it gets blown away. As Goober reaches for it, the ladder splits forcing him to use the remaining pieces like stilts as he chases after the letter eventually securing it in his jaws, before falling into the snow.

This guy has a shitty job.

It’s there a postman, who for some reason is out delivering mail on Christmas Eve, finds Goober. Not seeing this as a solution to their problem (who better to deliver Santa a letter than a mail carrier), the postman actually becomes a hindrance when he assumes Goober got locked out of his house. He puts the dog in his old timey mail truck and locks the doors before heading off to deliver more mail.

That mail man’s job just got a whole lot worse.

Gumdrop sees Goober’s plight and hops onto the truck. He instructs Goober how to open the door, but the dog accidentally knocks the car into gear and they start rolling along. Gumdrop tries to direct the dog, but in a surprising bit of realism Goober has no idea which way is left or right. The two eventually crash into a tree which frees Goober from the truck and the two have improbably escaped the crash injury-free.

The concussion dreams of a dog high on Christmas.

It’s at this point Goober starts to have doubts, but Gumdrop reminds him to have hope, which ushers in a musical number of the same name. If you’ve seen A Flintstone Christmas, then you’ve heard this song as it’s the same one used after Wilma tells Pebbles to do the same. It’s actually a sweet little number capped off with the line “Hope believes in Santa Claus.” I don’t know who sings it though as it’s absent from the credits. Hoyt Curtin handled the musical direction of the program and presumably wrote the song. Susie McCune and Judi Richards are both credited as part of the voice cast without a corresponding character so I’m left to assume one of them sang on this one.

This special is starting to feel like one, long, musical montage.

The montage, which features a goofy visual of Gumdrop riding atop Goober as he flies through the air via flapping his ears, ends with Goober now feeling full of hope. Unfortunately though, their little ride in the car took them away from Santa so now they need to find him. Gumdrop urges Goober to use the animal relay, which is basically the same as The Twilight Bark from One-Hundred and One Dalmatians. Goober barks out that they’re looking for Santa, and some other dogs (two males sharing a dog house, animation’s first gay canines?) pick up on it and spring into action. Surprisingly, this sequence isn’t utilized to bring in some more famous Hanna-Barbera canines for a cameo, but we do see a dog bossing the gang of cats from earlier around.

Surely, this will work!

This then ushers in another familiar musical montage, “Which One is the Real Santa Claus?” The sequence will be remade for A Flintstone Christmas as Gumdrop and Goober look for the real Santa amongst a sea of fake ones. It’s a cute song, but at this point feels like padding (which it is). It also doesn’t help that it sounds an awful lot like “Where Do You Look for Santa?” They eventually spot the real Santa as he’s heading into another house. Gumdrop then folds Timmy’s letter into a paper airplane and fires away. As the two prematurely celebrate, the paper airplane misses the mark and comes to rest in the cold snow. Santa is leaving, our heroes have failed, and Timmy is surely doomed.

Never trust a dog and mouse to save Christmas.

Gumdrop and Goober mope their way back home upset they couldn’t get the letter to Santa. As they head inside, Gumdrop reasons that maybe there’s still a chance and they can give Santa the letter when he visits their house. Goober though immediately falls asleep despite Gumdrop’s urging against doing such a thing, and he too falls asleep. As they sleep together by the fire, a hand reaches down to snatch Timmy’s letter!

Great, so you mean this whole time they’ve been trying to make sure Timmy gets his stupid, racist, presents?

The next morning, the two are woken up by the cries of Timmy. They are not sad cries though, for Timmy finds the underside of the family tree full of toys and presents. The little racist even got the Native American headdress he wanted! Goober and Gumdrop are shocked to see that Timmy got what he wanted, and Gumdrop then notices Timmy’s letter on the floor. It’s been opened, and the only explanation is that Santa did come and found the letter. They then take note of their own stockings, which Gumdrop’s has grown in size considerably, which are overflowing with goodies.

Well, at least he didn’t go straight for the headdress.

Timmy takes time out from his revelry to ask his parents if they got what they asked for. Timmy’s mom then informs him they asked for peace on Earth (so they get extra presents). Timmy then runs to the window and tells his parents that’s what Santa wants too! As the family looks out the window, Santa has written “Peace on Earth” in pixie dust or whatever in the sky. His “ho ho ho” signals that this is the end for A Christmas Story.

I guess they’re cool with sharing their house with a mouse?

A Christmas Story is a pretty safe, conventional, little tale. The animal protagonists give it a cutesy quality as the two just want to make a little boy’s Christmas wish come true. There are no real stakes though, had they failed Timmy just doesn’t get any presents. He’s not ill or anything, just a kid who wants some toys. Goober and Gumdrop are just good-hearted characters with no real personality to speak of. Goober, I suppose, is a bit clumsy, but that’s basically it as far as character traits go. The cat gang was also full of very generic characters all basically characterized by their appearance. There must have been some desire by the studio to keep its usual cast away from this one, but it’s fair to wonder if it would have been better suited to just use Augie Doggy or make it a Mr. Jinks cartoon with the mouse duo of Pixie and Dixie.

This one actually doesn’t feature the image of Santa passing in front of a full moon, despite being a super basic Christmas special.

Easily the best part of this special is the music. “Sounds of Christmas Day” opens the cartoon and it’s a nice little tune. It’s perfectly cast as a song created for a Christmas special; it’s nice to hear in the short, but probably not a song one would request on the radio. I do think “Hope” is a bit better, though it’s definitely more melancholly. It’s sweet though, and the other songs are fine as well. I think a special should be commended for not simply relying on public domain songs. There is a bit of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” but it’s being sung by carolers so that makes perfect sense given the use. Considering these original songs are the most memorable aspect of the short, it’s no surprise it fell into obscurity since they were all recycled for A Flintstone Christmas. If you’re a network executive choosing between two Hanna-Barbera Christmas specials to air, you’re going to side with The Flintstones nine times out ten given the choice. And that special, despite featuring an unnecessary amount of padding as well, is superior to this one and one I unironically enjoy.

Considering it’s hard to find even The Flintstones in this day and age on television, the chances of any network airing A Christmas Story in 2020 are nil. The special was released on VHS in 1989 and reissued in the 90s after the Turner acquisition. It’s currently available as part of the Warner Home Video burn-on-demand service under the title Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics. Buying it there also gets you the specials The Town Santa Forgot and Casper’s First Christmas. And since seemingly no one gives a shit about it, it’s also pretty easy to find streaming online for free. Watch it if you’re sick of A Flintstone Christmas or just plain never liked that one, but enjoyed the songs.


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.

mickey silly cameo

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!”

junior and dog

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.


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