Tag Archives: christmas specials

Dec. 25 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Original release date October 20, 1983

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrooge pausing to break the fourth wall.

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

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

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

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

The duck we’ve all been waiting for!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A clearly spooked Scrooge searches for ghosts before bed.

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

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

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

Scrooge clearly wasn’t very smooth with the ladies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to go meet this adorable little fella.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dying sure seems like it sucks.

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

He’s never looked better!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toys! We’ve got toys here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dec. 24 – Shrek the Halls

Original air date November 28, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

Donkey annoys Shrek. This will be a theme.

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

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

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

What every ogre needs to have a happy Christmas.

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

A new use for a toilet seat.

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

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

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

Pictured: Not the Christmas Shrek wanted.

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

Well, at least his pants are up.

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

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

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

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

Adorable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently ogres can experience sadness.

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

It’s confession time.

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

And now it’s makeup time.

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

I’m sure you can figure out the joke.

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

Time to meet Ogre Claus.

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

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

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

Hey look! Santa!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Original air date November 30, 2020

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

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

Della has a story to chill your bones!

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

Christmas time is a time for war at McDuck Manor.

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

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

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

Webby is a constant source of entertainment.

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

Santa is a big ole polar bear. Makes sense.

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

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

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

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

When Scrooge met Santa.

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

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

These creatures are not fooling anyone.

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

I love this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for DuckTales to add to the Santa lore.

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

And here come the reindeer!

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

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

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

Not Santa’s best plan.

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

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

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

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

“It’ll never catch on!”

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

I hate to see Webby sad.

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

That’s one evil looking Scrooge.

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

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

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

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

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

Ooo! I like this Santa!

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

Now the rest of the cast get to have fun.

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

Aww.

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

I love seeing the place decorated for Christmas.

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

Santa gets in one more bear hug.

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

And now we have nine reindeer.

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

There are some terrific shots in this one.

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

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


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

Original air date December 12, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching Alvin fall down is oddly satisfying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is quite the outfit, general.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look who finally showed up.

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

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

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

This should go well.

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

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

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

Simon always struck me as more of a bass player.

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

He’s always watching…

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

Six reindeer – what a fraud!

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

Officer Dangus sucks and I hate him.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

This would appear to be a high stakes argument.

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

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

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

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

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

I suppose he makes for a convincing Santa.

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

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

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

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

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

This Christmas party just got a lot more interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously, why is he so angry?!?

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


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

Original air date November 20, 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not the setting I was expecting to start this one.

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

Wait, which one is the bad guy?

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

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

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

I do appreciate a nice, gloomy, setting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the sword on Merlin!

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

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

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

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

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

This guy’s worse than Rickon Stark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This show was fairly realistic until now.

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

Oh great, it’s a book.

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

The symbolism is strong with this one.

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

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

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

These knights know how to make an entrance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dec. 16 – The Pink Panther in: A Pink Christmas

Original air date December 7, 1978.

In 1964, MGM released a film titled The Pink Panther. Such a title conjures up a certain image in one’s mind, but the titular pink panther in the film was not an animal, or even alive, but a pink diamond. Someone must have felt though that you can’t have a title like The Pink Panther and not have an actual pink panther, so the studio turned to the duo of cartoon legend Friz Freleng and David H. DePatie to create a mascot. Add in a theme composed by Henry Mancini and the rest is history. The character was born and in some ways would become more popular than the films he was attached to, even though those films had nothing to do with the actual Pink Panther character, but he was popular enough that he made the leap to television to star in his own show appropriately titled The Pink Panther Show.

As a kid, I saw a little bit of The Pink Panther Show. Many cartoons from the 60s and 70s were still being shown in syndication or on smaller, broadcast, networks and a few cable outlets too. I remember no specifics of the show, and probably saw far more of the Pink Panther at my local hardware store since he was used to sell home insulation. He may have even had a run on television in commercials, but I could be mistaken. Regardless, I’ve seen more of the Pink Panther in 2021 than I have any year of my life and that’s because of a show called Toon in With Me. It’s a cartoon package show on Me TV that shows a lot of Pink Panther cartoons along with stuff from Looney Tunes, Popeye, and more. It’s a show I can watch and enjoy with my kids and it’s actually pretty cool to see these old cartoons still getting some airplay today.

If you have never seen a Pink Panther cartoon they’re basically just cartoon shorts without dialogue. The protagonist and everyone else is silent and the main theme is relied upon quite a bit for the music. It usually involved the Pink Panther character just going about his business which seems to always inadvertently make life miserable for an unnamed, pointy-nosed, man often just referred to as The Little Man. The show premiered in 1969, following theatrical releases for some of the shorts, and basically aired on television into the 2000s in some form or another. In 1978, ABC commissioned a Christmas special starring the Pink Panther and aired it December of that year. The special was produced by DePatie and Freleng and directed by Bill Perez. The half hour long special may have been longer than the standard Pink Panther cartoon, but it largely obeys the same rules of being a silent story set to music. There’s some singing provided by The Children of Saint Michaels Day School Choir, but they’re basically the only voices you’ll hear aside from the occasional yelp or shout of a character. I’m not sure how successful the special was. It probably drew a large audience since basically everything did back then, but it definitely didn’t have the staying power of other Christmas specials as I can’t recall any prominent, network, airings in the 80s or 90s.

This special is partially adapted from the O. Henry short story The Cop and the Anthem. In that story set in the early 1900s, a tramp by the name of Soapy tries to find shelter for the winter in New York by getting arrested. He goes through a series of trials that all fail to get him incarcerated. Finally, at the end of the story, he has an epiphany outside a church while listening to the organist and resolves to end his terminal homelessness by getting a job, only for a cop to come along and arrest him for loitering which results in a 3 month jail sentence (ouch, that’s harsh!).

This intro is a little bit of a red herring for the special.

The special begins with an introduction that’s basically an unrelated animation. The Pink Panther, dressed up as Santa, is on the roof of a house preparing to enter, but he knocks over the chimney separating it from the house instead. This takes us to the title card while the main theme plays, which we’ll hear a lot. When the special truly begins, we just see a lot of city sights around the holidays. The animation is no better than a typical television cartoon of this era, so it would appear no extra money came from MGM to make this one look “special.” As the camera pans and focuses in on various characters, we hear the children’s choir singing an original Christmas song called “Yuletide Spirit.” Eventually, the camera lingers on a pile of snow which gets blown away to reveal a sleeping Pink Panther.

Winter in New York is probably not the ideal climate for a panther.

Our protagonist is apparently cold, hungry, and poor and the events of this cartoon are largely going to revolve around the Pink Panther trying to score a meal. He sits up on the bench and there’s a bindle beside him. He unfolds the purple wrapping to reveal a lone can of peas. Actually, it turns out to be a can of “pea” as one pea is dumped onto his lap. Still, he looks happy and prepares to feast, only for a little bird to swoop down and take it off of his fork. Angry, the panther walks off kicking piles of snow out of frustration, only one turns out to be a snow-covered fire hydrant and he hurts his foot.

Get used to this sight as there are a lot of cops in this one.

The panther then notices some kids buying roasted chestnuts from a vendor. One lands on the ground and the panther is so hungry he goes to pick it up and eat it, but it’s so hot that he drops it into a pile of snow. He furiously digs through it only to find a sewer vent underneath and the steam from the chestnut rises from below. Defeated, he sits with his shoulders slumped a moment, until a cop shows up to get him to move along. Can’t have the homeless uglying-up the park, now can we?

It’s a little known requirement of animation that if a cold character comes across a heat source he has to toast his buns in this fashion.

The panther roams around the city streets taking in the sights and does some window shopping because he apparently enjoys torturing himself. He comes across a man warming himself by a fire in an old drum and he immediately heads over to do the same. As he rubs his buns and points them at the fire, a nearby Christmas tree salesman is about to make a last-minute sale on a clearance tree when the scent of it apparently bothers the panther’s nose. He sneezes, and all of the needles fall off of the pathetic, little, tree. The panther just saved some old lady a few bucks, but at the cost of angering the salesman who chases him off.

Packs of stray dogs are actually known for having the smallest, and cutest, of their rank do the begging. You learned something today.

The panther then comes to a delicatessen where a little puppy is barking at the window. The panther apparently lost his scarf when he ran from the tree guy, but smiles at the sight of the dog. They both look at the food behind the glass as a man pays for a large order and leaves. The little dog, seeing a string of sausages dangling out of the man’s bag, gives chase. He successfully pulls the wieners from the bag and runs for an alley. The panther runs after him likely hoping to snatch the sausages from the tiny puppy only to find out he has a very big friend lurking in the alley who frightens him off. Adding further insult, the little dog chases him away. On the bright side, his scarf has reappeared!

Oh, okay, so he’s going to do some Santa stuff in this picture.

The panther finds himself in the street and nearly run over by a horse-drawn trolley (the setting of this special appears to be pre-automobile). He narrowly avoids becoming a pink pancake, only to be run into by a man chasing after the trolley. The collision causes a wrapped box to fall from the very encumbered man’s arms. The panther chases after him a moment trying to alert him to the missing gift, but the man gets on the trolley and is soon far off in the distance. Since he has this box now, the panther opens it and finds a Santa costume inside. He happily puts it on, I think just to get warm, and starts strutting down the street.

This store manager must value the apparent professionalism of the panther as Santa since he has a costume right there. He could put any guy in that thing, even himself!

Nearby, a man is seated in a dressing room and he’s clearly under the weather. He’s wrapped in blankets and has his feet in a hot bucket of water trying to get rid of the chills while a well-dressed man looks on. There’s a Santa suit hanging on the wall and it’s clear the well-dressed man is a department store manager without a Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. When he sees the panther go strutting by in his own Santa suit though, his prayers are answered! He runs outside and apparently offers the panther a job as he smiles and heads inside with the man.

Not sharing your bag of candy with Santa should definitely land a kid on the naughty list.

We then see Santa Panther seated in an ornate chair as a line of children greet him. They sit on his lap and apparently tell him what they want for Christmas (the cartoon is basically silent, after all) and the panther smiles and sends them on their way. It’s all going rather well, until a little girl with a bag full of sweets comes to sit on his lap. A gingerbread man gets the panther’s attention, and his smiling visage is basically taunting him while the scent appears to be torturous. The camera cuts back and forth from the cookie and the panther’s eyes until he can’t take it anymore and bites the head off of the cookie. The kid screams and cries (geez, you can’t share your cookie with Santa?!) and her mother angrily approaches and takes a swing at the false Santa with her purse. The panther decides to bail and as he runs he peels off the costume, but the store manager chases after him.

I guess this dude is going to catch the panther, force him to play Santa, and maybe something will come of that?

I’m not really sure what the manager hopes to accomplish as he continues to chase after the panther even after seeing his discarded clothes. The panther tries to hide in a fur coat, but a woman scoops it up and takes it towards a mirror while the manager digs through what’s remaining. He turns and sees the woman trying the coat on and the panther’s tail is dangling out from underneath it. He grabs it and pulls, flinging the panther over his head. The panther takes refuge under a table, but a bowl of wax fruit on top of it proves too tempting. The panther reaches out from under the table to grab an apple, apparently not realizing it’s wax, and eats it while the manager stands beside it. He makes a noise demonstrating he found the “fruit” unappealing, but returns a spent apple core to the bowl anyway. The manager sees this and looks under the tablecloth and spots the panther who smiles at him sheepishly. He dives under the table, and the panther squirts free and takes the tablecloth with him.

Now this jerk has wrecked his store trying to reinstall his Santa, where could we go from here?

As the manager scours the store for his runaway Santa, a children’s choir starts up. The panther ends up trying to hide amongst the children and as he moves under them the kids pop-up like a game of Whack-a-Mole. The panther eventually emerges from the choir with the manager still chasing after him. He slides down a massive banister and the manager follows, only he’s not very good at this and crashes into a gigantic Christmas tree in the store. It topples over and a bunch of patrons are covered in pine needles and merchandise, including the panther. The manager emerges from the rubble and sees his former Santa, and continues to chase after him. Seriously, what is this guy planning on doing when he actually gets him? He basically quit, and now the manager has destroyed his store by trying to capture him. He should probably just cut his losses at this point.

I guess he kind of looks like a toy?

The panther runs into the toy section and attempts to pass himself off as a stuffed animal. The manager walks right on by him while a kid seems to think he’d be a great toy. He drags the panther by his tail over to his mom who apparently has no interest in buying the kid a stuffed animal the night before Christmas. He sadly drags the panther back to the toy department and just leaves him on the floor while his mother watches with a look of apparent regret on her face. A little girl takes notice of the panther and stands him up on his feet. Treating his tail like a crank, she turns it and he holds it in shape and goes along with it. He starts walking in a stiff manner like a toy and smiles when he sees a beautiful sight: the exit. Only the manager is standing in between him and the door. When he sees the manager he does an about-face and walks back towards the girl. The manager seems confused for a moment, and then starts walking after him. The panther begins to slowly drop the toy act as he walks faster and faster and the manager breaks into a sprint. He steps on a roller skate though and goes whizzing past the mother of the boy from earlier and tumbles down an escalator.

After all of that he’s just going to watch him leave?!

The woman and her kid then take the panther to the register. There he’s gift-wrapped as she apparently had a change of heart, and the gift is given to the boy. The panther soon shoots his feet out of the box and jumps out of the kid’s arms. He starts running off and the manager just stands and scowls. Either he doesn’t realize what is happening, or he’s finally given up, because he just watches as the panther runs out the door. I still don’t know what that guy was trying to achieve, but it ate up nearly 5 minutes of the special’s run time so I guess mission accomplished?

I don’t know what we’re doing here. This special has no idea where it wants to go.

Now free of the department store, the panther is back to sulking as he walks around the city. Some kids are building a snowman and the panther is so hungry that the carrot the kids use for a nose proves too tempting to ignore. He casually walks past the snowman and once he clears it the nose vanishes. The kids notice immediately with one crying while the other starts chasing after the panther. Unfortunately, he runs into a police officer and the kid mimes what happened. The officer demands the panther show his hands, and he does, one at a time. The cop then gestures for him to show him both hands at the same time and he complies and still no carrot. That’s because he’s holding the carrot in his tail, which seems clever, until it’s revealed a horse-drawn trolley is behind him and the horse finds himself a snack. With the evidence destroyed, the panther is able to walk away free of consequences, but he stops to lift up his “fur” to reveal a belt which he tightens further to illustrate his severe hunger.

You have to be really hungry to take bread crumbs from pigeons.

An old woman is shown feeding pigeons in the park, and now the panther is going to get really desperate. When she finishes dispersing what appears to be bread crumbs, the panther chases the birds away. He begins gathering up the crumbs, only for the old woman to return and pummel him with an umbrella. He runs off, and has apparently lost his scarf for good now, and comes to rest beside a bridge. Water drips on his head and he looks up to see he’s standing under a tree loaded with snow. He steps aside to avoid the dripping water, but he can’t avoid all of the snow that immediately falls off the tree limbs. This feline really can’t catch a break.

Hey! That dog wasn’t there a moment ago!

The panther emerges from the snow and actually smiles for he hears more singing. He walks over the bridge and peers under it to see people ice skating as the music grows louder. This leads to a short montage of children sledding, people skating, and a group of kids having a rather cold picnic around a roaring fire where they roast hot dogs, toast marshmallows, and drink hot chocolate. The panther imitates a more famous cartoon character by burrowing in the snow to travel undetected. He then channels his inner Yogi Bear as he attempts to swipe the picnic basket, only he accidentally grabs the tail of the bulldog snoring beside it. They get into a fight underneath the snow as the song fades out.

Gotta get some of that yellow currency.

We pick up the panther some time later as he’s resumed walking sadly through the city neighborhoods. He walks past a set of stairs covered in snow and a woman emerges from her door with a shovel and some money. The panther is eager to perform some labor in exchange for a couple of bucks and takes her up on her offer. She goes back inside while he shovels only he’s just tossing the snow from this woman’s staircase to her neighbor’s. When he finishes, he gets ready to claim his payment only for the neighbor to emerge from their house angry to see their stairs covered in snow. Rather than accept payment and apologetically clear the guy’s stairs, the panther just runs off once again. He does a lot of running from people in this thing.

Well, I suppose soapy water beats an empty stomach? Also, I wonder if this is a reference to the story that inspired this special as its main character is named Soapy.

The panther goes running back into the city proper and now night has fallen. He comes across a soup kitchen and immediately jumps into the rather long line. As people get served, the panther moves closer and closer until it’s his turn only the pot of soup is down to its literal last drop. The server even tries to dump want’s left in the panther’s bowl, but a single drop of brown is all that’s there. The panther still licks his bowl and then jumps into the pot to lick that. He emerges with an angry look on his face and, spying another pot, dives into it. He happily laps up whatever the pot’s contents are until he pauses to belch. Bubbles pop out of his mouth when he does indicating this pot is for doing the dishes. That suspicion is confirmed when another member of the kitchen approaches with an armful of dirty dishes. The panther turns a sickly blue and slinks away.

Aww come on! Just let the poor thing eat! He can do some dishes or something after. The bird can’t be uncooked.

He then emerges back in the city and returns to just staring forlornly into a restaurant he can scant afford. A wealthy looking man enjoying a meal alone sees the hungry panther shivering in the cold and motions for the waiter to come over. The waiter then invites the panther in to join the man for dinner. It would seem his luck has changed! As the panther orders a feast via thought balloons, we see a horse-drawn ambulance come racing down the street. It stops at the restaurant and the drivers run inside. It would seem our wealthy man is a doctor, for he grabs his kit and races out to go off and presumably attempt to save a life. This leaves the panther all alone at the table as the waiter brings a giant turkey over along with something else: the bill. Totaling a massive $7.50, the panther sheepishly gestures to the waiter that he has no money and is promptly thrown out. He lands on the welcome mat, which is then pulled out from under him.

Sweet, sweet, prison.

The panther is forced to resume his mournful, night time, walk, until a pleasant smell stops him in his tracks. It’s coming from the city jail and the panther peers through some bars to see a police officer delivering a delicious looking Christmas meal to one of the inmates in solitary confinement. This gives the panther an idea as he sneaks in alongside a troupe of newly arrived prisoners. The guard shuts the cell door before he can get in though, and since no one recognizes the panther, they toss him out.

Now he can’t even get himself arrested!

Outside, the panther seems intent on getting himself arrested, but rather than act like an actual panther and maul someone, he searches for a different method. Spying a “wanted” poster, he grabs it and places a picture of himself over the actual criminal. Why he seems to have a picture of himself handy is not something the show has any intention of revealing. He slaps the poster on a wall near a police officer, but the photo starts to fall off. He replaces it and quickly tries to get the cop’s attention, only a nearby individual sees the poster with the panther’s face and immediately grabs him. Likely hoping for a cash reward, he gets the cop’s attention and presents the panther while gesturing to the poster. Unfortunately for him, the panther’s picture has fallen off and the actual wanted man underneath it is him! He shrugs his shoulders as the cop chases him into the precinct. Meanwhile, the panther is left standing with his eyes closed and his arms out awaiting handcuffs that don’t come. He turns to see the two run into the building and then he looks up and we see the criminal in a cell with a steaming Christmas dinner in his arms. This may have been the panther’s greatest failure yet!

Ooo! A donut!

The panther resumes his walk and even passes by the same street corner from earlier in the special where the guy was selling trees only now no one is around. A cop is nearby eating a donut and drinking coffee as the panther walks past. He comes to a jewelry store where a shady looking character is standing outside the window with a brick. He soon smashes the window of the store and starts taking the jewelry while the donut cop drops what he’s doing and runs over. The panther sees the crook drop the booty and run and he seems to think he’s found a new way to get arrested. He picks up a watch and waits for the cop to arrive only to see him go running past him after the real crook. He looks momentarily defeated, until he sees the cop’s discarded donut go rolling by! He quickly replaces the sack of booty before giving chase.

Well, at least he made a friend tonight.

The panther chases after the donut which comes to rest by a hungry looking stray dog. The dog licks his chops and prepares to chow down, only to get stiff-armed in the face by the panther. He picks up the donut and goes to eat, but takes a look back at the dog who is sulking away, tail between his legs. It’s a pitiful sight, and our main character can’t be this big of an asshole, so he hands the dog half of the donut which he happily eats. The pup licks the panther’s hand clean and he happily barks and starts following the panther, who sports a smile on his face. They walk through the city which suddenly is alive again as the children’s choir returns to sing about Christmas time. We get a brief montage of people celebrating the holiday and even a glimpse of some secular imagery.

Christmas magic!

Eventually, the panther and his new dog companion return to the park bench where the story began. He gestures for the pup to sit beside him. As the panther pats the dog on the head, some “magic dust” falls from the heavens to land on a small tree beside the bench. It soon morphs into a pretty, little, Christmas tree. Before the panther can begin to comprehend what just happened, more of this dust falls in front of him and a table appears! It’s covered with delicious looking food and the panther can scarcely believe his eyes! He then turns and looks to the sky and we see the culprit: Santa. The jolly old man waves to the Pink Panther, who returns the gesture, and flies through the sky. As the two prepare to feast, we get a shot of Santa and all eight reindeer fly in front of the moon. What we don’t get to see, is the panther finally enjoying a big old turkey leg. How dare you deprive us, MGM!

This guy always comes through.

And that’s how the Pink Panther spent his Christmas. I’m a bit surprised by the absence of the Little Man, but not entirely surprised by the direction of the special. I did think it was going to go elsewhere for when the panther ended up with that lost gift I expected it to turn into a special where the panther had to make sure some kid got their present. Instead, that gift was just the springboard for one of the many misadventures the panther has during the night as he simply searches for a warm meal and a little kindness at Christmas. He’s a bit self-defeating, which makes aspects of this special tiresome to watch. It definitely spins its tires a bit too in the middle portion as it tries to find a way to pad this thing out. Seeing the panther try to get arrested in a bid to score some grub was pretty amusing though, and it definitely finds the right note to end on, but it definitely didn’t need to be a half hour. It was a bit of a surprise to see “The Cop and the Anthem” referenced in the opening credits, only for maybe 5 minutes of the special to actually be an adaptation of that story. At least the Panther doesn’t wind up in jail at the end though.

He even serves the puppy first, what a guy! Err, cat.

The animation quality is pretty bare. This is televised animation in the 70s which wasn’t an area where producers were spending big. Even for a special the studio might have thought it would be able to market year-in and year-out, this thing turned out pretty cheap. The backgrounds and character models are rather simple and many of the characters are mildly animated. It’s interesting to see where some scenes were short-changed and where some weren’t. It’s not all-together terrible or anything, but if you thought nearly 15 years post A Charlie Brown Christmas things would look better, they certainly do not. The music is fairly pleasant though and you’ll hear familiar Christmas stings alongside the catchy Pink Panther Theme. I don’t know that I needed the children’s choir, nor was I particularly fond of the original compositions, but they also weren’t annoying or overplayed. Instead, it just feels a little monotonous, much like the plot.

I definitely didn’t expect this one to get the reindeer count right.

It’s not particularly hard to see why A Pink Christmas failed to catch on as a holiday classic. It’s a decent Christmas story, it’s just that the sight of a forlorn and hungry panther loses some impact when it’s just repeated over and over. There’s also a lack of clever gags when compared with a traditional Pink Panther short, and the poor feline is almost downright pathetic at times in his quest for food. Still, it’s far from terrible and if you want to watch it basically every Pink Panther cartoon is available for free on YouTube via the Official Pink Panther channel. And hey, maybe MeTV will spring for the broadcast rights to show it this year since they already show the other cartoons, plus it can’t be very expensive if they’re basically already giving it away for free.


Dec. 15 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! first premiered on December 18, 1966.

It’s December 15 which means it’s time for another retro throwback and I bet you’re surprised to see the green guy here. Since I dubbed Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! as the best ever Christmas special not just once, but twice, you may have expected it to appear on this year’s edition in the coveted Christmas position. Well, it already received that honor back in 2015 and, to be honest, the actual Christmas Day post is usually one of the least read because people are quite busy that day. I figured we should leave that spot open for another deserving entry and give the Grinch his due on the road to Christmas 2021!

The now familiar A Cat in the Hat Presentation logo.

Now, in case you’re confused, there is only one Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! that we need to acknowledge. That live-action movie with Jim Carrey? Nah, don’t like it. The CGi Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle from a couple of years ago? Technically, it’s titled The Grinch so I guess people shouldn’t confuse it with today’s topic, but it’s understandable if they do. That film is better than the live-action one, though it’s hardly what I consider truly memorable or even essential Christmas viewing. The 1966 animated special directed and produced by Chuck Jones is the only Christmas special I need in my life featuring the Grinch. I think it even far surpasses the beauty that is the source material, though I do consider that essential Christmas reading at this time of year. The animated version though just brings the character to life in a way that print and still images cannot. The famed Seuss himself did criticize the animated version a bit by pointing out to Jones that he took his character and just made it look like himself, but I don’t care! If he looks like Jones, it’s probably because the famed animator had to look at himself in a mirror to try to get that infamous smile drawn correctly and it turned out so well that I think he’s more than deserving of injecting a little bit of his own likeness into the character.

I take a trip to Who-ville probably a dozen times a year.

The animation for this special is terrific, especially for television. It likely had a bigger budget than what people were used to seeing and definitely a larger one than the latter day Looney Tunes shorts Jones had worked on. There’s a fluidity to Grinch’s movements few rivaled at the time and the little personality quirks and gags are so well designed. Beyond the simple looks of the special is the music. What is the Grinch these days without “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,”? The two are inseparable and the other musical bits are nearly as memorable. To top it off, you have the incomparable Boris Karloff as narrator who adds just a touch of a growl to his voice when performing as the title character. It’s just magic for the eyes and ears and the simple story of a Christmas grump trying to ruin everyone’s holiday makes the Grinch both loathsome and relatable.

We begin with what the Grinch hates most of all: singing!

Obviously, I love this cartoon and could talk about it for hours, but we should probably get on with the viewing before I get on too much of a roll. The special begins with the now familiar Cat in the Hat logo which fades into falling snow. Soft singing comes in as we’re introduced to the song “Welcome Christmas” as sung by the people of Who-ville. Albert Hague wrote the now memorable music featured in this special with lyrics by Dr. Seuss himself (it’s pretty obvious where he contributed). Eugene Poddany oversaw the score which is arguably as good as the actual songs with lyrics. There’s basically no soft spot in the production for this one.

Little Cindy-Lou Who who is no more than two.

We are introduced to the Whos as they chop down a massive tree to bring to their little town square. As it’s erected, the song shifts abruptly from the serene “Welcome Christmas” to the much livelier “Trim Up the Tree.” The massive tree is splashed and decorated with garish objects that have wacky, Seussian, names attached to them. The Whos move on to other parts of town as they hang wreaths outside and decorate the interior of their homes and through the lyrics of the song we learn that Christmas is tomorrow! These Whos are old fashioned in that they trim the tree and put up all of the Christmas décor on Christmas Eve, which is such a waste. It’s also during this song we get our first look at little Cindy-Lou Who who will play a larger role in the story later, but who Chuck Jones wanted to play an even larger role initially. He wanted her to be the granddaughter of the Grinch, but the idea was either cut for time or nixed by Seuss. If you ever thought Cindy-Lou looked an awful lot like the Grinch, well now you know why.

Never mind the size, that thing just doesn’t look healthy. The Grinch may only have a few more Christmases to endure.

As the song fades out the camera shifts to the snowy mountains and begins its climb. Our narrator, Boris Karloff, enters the picture to tell us that the people of Who-ville really like Christmas, if that wasn’t already obvious, but one guy does not: the Grinch! We’re introduced to this grumpy, green, fur-covered being as he leans against the entrance of his cave which he calls a home. His cave is located 10,000 feet above Who-ville in the side of Mt. Crumpet. When we meet Grinch he seems fairly nonchalant as he chews something with a toothpick hanging out of his mouth. As we regard this curious creature, Karloff tries to figure out just why he dislikes Christmas and hypothesizes it could be his shoes, or maybe his head, before settling on the size of his heart. A little X-Ray window is positioned over Grinch’s torso to demonstrate that his heart is two sizes too small.

Staring down from his cave…

The narrator dismisses the exercise as perfunctory for it matters not why Grinch hates Christmas, he just does! Grinch then walks over to the ledge as his dog, Max, comes trotting out and the two look down over Who-ville. It’s clear that Max is the opposite of the Grinch for everything about his disposition is cheerful and happy. Then Grinch speaks for the first time and Karloff uses a slight growl when reciting his lines. The Grinch informs his dog, or maybe himself, that Christmas is coming and he just can’t take it any more.

Yeah! Wham that gardinka!

Grinch then goes into detail about what it is he dislikes most about Christmas and it mostly boils down to noise. Grinch, you big wimp, it’s one day a year! Just deal with the noise! Though to be fair, the Whos definitely make a lot of noise as basically every one of their Christmas toys is some crazy concoction designed to make noise. My favorite as a kid was the gardinka (spelling?), mostly because it had the word “dink” in it. Though it’s hardly the most impressive of the instrument-vehicles. Some electro-who-cardio-thing is quite a spectacle and definitely good at producing loud noises.

The dude in the front should definitely be wearing ear protection.

The Grinch doesn’t just hate the noise though, he’s also annoyed by the feast the Whos have. Why? I don’t know. They have a bunch of desserts and rare, Who, roast, beast which is a feast that the Grinch cannot stand in the least. Again, we don’t know why, maybe he’s a vegetarian?

I think it’s a rather nice Christmas tradition the Whos have. No, I do not want to hold hands and sing with my neighbors.

The feast isn’t what Grinch hates the most though, nor is it the abstract noise from earlier. Oh no, what Grinch hates the most is the singing! And yeah, these Whos definitely seem to enjoy singing. It’s apparently a pretty large part of their Christmas celebration as every man, woman, and child gathers around the town tree to sing, with Christmas bells ringing! And their song of choice is “Welcome Christmas,” and we get another taste of that rather wonderful song. As Grinch recites all of this, the camera dissolves onto Max who seems to really be enjoying the memories of Christmases past.

Oh Max, do you have an idea?!

Grinch is not enjoying these memories and he repeats “Sing! Sing! Sing!” as he shoves his face right into Max’s as if to convince him he’s wrong to reflect fondly on these memories. Grinch has had it though. He’s put up with Christmas for 53 years! Is that how old he is, or just how long he’s lived in this cave? He doesn’t elaborate, but he has decided that he now must stop Christmas from coming. There will not be a 54th! In order to do so though he’ll need a plan, and one doesn’t come to mind immediately. Then he looks at Max…

The good stuff!

The rather meek canine had backed himself into the snow when confronted by the Grinch and found himself covered in snow. Upon popping his head out of the pile, the snow clings to his head like a hat and beard. Yes, he looks like Santa Claus and it’s Max in this state that gives Grinch an idea. Not just any idea though, a wonderful, awful, idea! The animation on the Grinch’s smile is quite possibly the highlight of the entire special, which is full of highlights. I just love how that smile climbs up the sides of the Grinch’s head and then it’s topped off by the tuft of fur on the top of his head unfurling. It’s so good, that I had to include a gif. Still images just won’t work.

Some amusing antics take place during the montage of Grinch and Max crafting the Santa suit. The original story was so short that the special needed the songs and non-speaking scenes to really lengthen the whole thing for TV.

The Grinch, chuckling to himself proudly, grabs his dog by the tail and drags him into the cave. He doesn’t keep any secrets as he informs the dog (and us) that he’s going to make a quick Santy Claus hat and coat. To do so, he starts cutting up some red curtains in his rather sad looking cave. What little we see of the interior seems to contain old, worn out, furniture. It looks rather dank, but also like a fitting place for such a creature to call home. His sewing machine looks nice though!

As the Grinch, and Max, get to work on a Santa outfit, we’re introduced to the baritone of Thurl Ravenscroft. I suppose Thurl is best known for his role of Tony the Tiger for many years, though kids today probably won’t know him from anything except this special. He gets the honor though of singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which is now a Christmas classic. Granted, the song never mentions the holiday, but its association with this special is all the Christmas it needs. Ravencroft’s performance combined with the words of Seuss and the bombastic melody nearly steal the show here. We only get a taste of the song though, the rest will have to wait for later.

The Grinch apparently doesn’t think much of the Whos if he expects them to confuse he and Max for Santa and a reindeer.

When the song drops out, we see the Grinch in his new Santa costume. It’s rather basic as it’s just a hat and coat. Apparently, Grinch is a bit like Donald Duck in that he refuses to wear pants. He also doesn’t see the beard as a necessity, but he does need a reindeer. He has none though, but he does have a dog and a pair of antlers on his wall! He takes some black thread and ties one of the antlers onto Max’s head. It looks rather uncomfortable as all of Max’s fur gets scrunched where the antler meets his skull. Worse though, is that it’s too heavy. When Grinch steps back to admire his handy-work, Max slowly collapses under the weight of the headpiece. Grinch then grabs a saw and removes some of the tines from the antler and Max slowly rocks back onto all fours, a little splash of drums can be heard as his feet return to the ground. I love the sound effects in this one, like the strings when Grinch saws the antlers. It’s all so good.

He’s so cute!

With Grinch in costume and Max turned reindeer, it’s time to stock an old sleigh with some bags. Max, behaving like a typical dog, jumps enthusiastically into the sleigh thinking he’s about to go for a ride. Oh, you’re going for a ride, Max, but it’s not going to be a fun one. The Grinch is not amused by his dog’s antics and grabs him by the fur and hooks him up to the front of the sleigh. The tiny dog looks ridiculous out in front of such a large sleigh, but the Grinch either disagrees or doesn’t care. He is coming up with this plan on the fly, after all. He cracks a whip over Max and orders him to “giddy-up” and the dog is forced to comply.

My second favorite piece of animation after the infamous smile.

The beginning of Grinch and Max’s descent to Who-ville is quite steep, so steep that the sleigh rushes past the dog. In perhaps the special’s cutest moment, Max winds up behind the sleigh and hops onto the back as the Grinch looks under the sleigh for his dog. When he turns and sees Max just sitting on the sleigh, the only thing the dog can do is smile and wave. That won’t do for the Grinch, who is committed to arriving at Who-ville in a style similar to Santa’s so he grabs the rope and yanks Max back out and in front of the sleigh where the little dog rolls before going into a run. The two then head up an embankment that causes the sleigh to flip in the air which results in Max grabbing onto his master for dear life. When the sleigh lands in the snow again, the Grinch is forced to pull Max off of him like one would a really tight-fitting sweater. For some reason the sequence reminds me of one of Jones’ other famous creations, Wile E. Coyote, as this seems like a predicament he’d find himself in. Though it wouldn’t be a dog grabbing onto him, but some weird ACME contraption.

Oh Max, you’re in for a long night, buddy.

With Max back out in front, the sleigh completes its descent and arrives in Who-ville. The Grinch immediately puts Max to work carrying a massive ladder while he grabs a bunch of bags. He leads the dog to the first house informing him this is only stop number one. Now we get to see the Grinch’s plan in motion as he ascends the ladder to arrive at the chimney. Since he’s committed to the Santa role, he can’t just break in through a window or door, no, he must go down the chimney!

This has become a rather iconic image over the years.

Grinch pauses at the top of the chimney to strike a pose before descending. He squishes his back against the side and basically “walks” his way down the chimney. He gets stuck briefly (Karloff claims it’s for a minute or two, but it’s more like a second) before eventually arriving in the living room of the Who house. His eyes shine from the blackness of the fireplace making him look like a rather sinister character, indeed. When he pops out, he uses a magnet to pull the tacks out of the mantle to collect the stockings. Then he slithers just like a snake, I guess to be quiet, and arrives at the tree. Old St. Nick has apparently already come and gone for the tree is covered in presents and goodies. The Grinch takes them all, stuffs them in bags, and then shoves them up the chimney where poor Max is expected to catch them and load them onto the sleigh.

You better believe he’s taking that star!

The song then returns as Thurl Ravenscroft continues to tell us how much the Grinch sucks. While he does so, we get to see the Grinch sneak around the house and take stuff. And he’s going to take it all! Presents, decorations, furniture, food – you name it. It doesn’t have to be anything representing Christmas, he apparently wants the Whos to suffer! The song drops out for him to raid the fridge where he makes sure to take the rare, Who, roast, beast. It returns for him to take everything else, before dropping again when only one item remains to be claimed: the tree!

Uh oh, Grinch, you’ve been found!
I love this shot.

As the Grinch stuffs the tree up the chimney, one, lone, ornament falls off of it and rolls into a bedroom. We had already seen Grinch raid this bedroom earlier and steal the candy canes from the hands of the sleeping children, now one of them has awoken. Cindy-Lou Who (June Foray) picks up the ornament and heads into the den to find the Grinch shoving the tree up the chimney. Now, she’s only 2 so we can forgive her for not noticing all of the other missing items and for confusing Grinch for Santa. Upon seeing the girl though, the Grinch gets really unnerved for a moment, but Karloff assures us he’s thought up a lie and thought it up quick! The Grinch changes his facial expression indicating that this did indeed happen and begins his lie. He tells Cindy-Lou that a light on the tree has malfunctioned and he’s taking it home to his workshop to fix it. A totally plausible explanation. She buys it, and the Grinch gets her a cup of water and puts her back in bed.

You might as well have fun while stealing.

With Cindy-Lou out of the way, Grinch is able to stuff the tree up the chimney without further issue. It’s at this point we’re informed of just how much he took as he left basically just wires on the wall. The narrator then tells us the one speck of food he left was a crumb that was too small for a mouse. As the wee little mouse approaches said crumb, Grinch’s hand comes back into frame to steal that too! He then goes to the other houses in Who-ville as “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” returns for a final time. It plays over the Grinch stealing more stuff, some of the images are recycled from before as we see Max getting buried under bags and Grinch slithering around some more. The last thing the Grinch steals is the giant tree in the town square which he opens like an umbrella and then folds up to carry it away.

I’m starting to think the real Santa should try hiring Max.

When the song ends we learn that it’s quarter to dawn. It’s time for Grinch and Max to get out of there, but how are they going to do that? The sleigh is massive now, and it’s just little Max out in front who needs to pull it 10,000 feet up the side of a mountain! No matter, the little dog is a lot stronger than he looks as he’s forced to run when Grinch cracks his whip. The dog becomes buried in snow with only the antler showing, which is probably a good thing as he’s safe from the whip. The Grinch, being a chubby, green, guy, reclines on the pile of stuff and relaxes as his dog tugs the sleigh all the way up to the top of the mountain where Karloff informs us the Grinch intends to dump the sleigh.

And he put a hand to his ear.

Once the Grinch reaches the top, he cheerfully bounds from the pile of bags. He stops for a second to regard poor Max, who is just dangling in the air from his harness as the sleigh literally balances on the tip of the mountain. The Grinch then makes his way down to a perch where he’s able to assume yet another iconic pose as he places a hand to his ear. He’s hoping to hear the cries and wails of a defeated town, but he’s not prepared for what he hears instead.

Holy shit! The Whos have created a Spirit Bomb to avenge Christmas!

The people of Who-ville all emerge from their homes as the sun rises. They gather in the center of town as if nothing has happened, clasping hands and singing “Welcome Christmas” just as joyously as they would have even with trees and such. The Grinch also failed to steal the Christmas bells which blare as the song is sung and the narrator sounds aghast at what is taking place.

One grumpy Grinch.

We then pivot back to the Grinch, with his ice cold feet in the snow, looking as grumpy as ever. It’s at this point he tugs on Max and shoves his face into the dog’s to question how this could be happening, “It came without ribbon! It came without tags! It came with out packages, boxes, or bags!” He continues to ponder over it, before the background starts to brighten and the Grinch’s eyes turn a brilliant shade of blue. A smile comes across his face as he realizes that, “Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Time to get bombarded with screenshots because this climax is just too good. First, we have the Grinch starting to realize something about Christmas.
However, this sudden change of heart coincides with the sleigh deciding it’s had enough. And don’t forget about poor Max who will surely die if he falls with the sleigh!
The Grinch’s initial bid to save the sleigh did not go well, but at least Max got free.

Unfortunately, just as the Grinch comes to this realization the sleigh starts to move. As it inches closer to the edge, the Grinch scrambles after it. He grabs onto Max to try to pull it back towards him, but Max slides out of the harness and the two wind up going headfirst into the snow. When they pop up, they both see the sleigh begin to fall and race after it. The Grinch gets to it first and tries to pull it back. Max arrives to grab onto Grinch’s coat with his mouth, but it appears their effort will be for naught. As the sleigh slowly slides down the backside of the mountain where it will soon plunge off the edge, the Grinch and Max slide with it.

If this special had been made in the 2000s it probably would have started right here, with Patton Oswalt the narrator, “Hi, my name is Grinch, and you’re probably wondering how I got into such a predicament.”
Normally, an enlarged heart is a bad thing, but not here!
Now he has so much Christmas spirit inside him it’s shooting out of his face!

Then it happens. The Grinch’s small heart, the thing suspected of being the source of his grumpy attitude towards Christmas, begins to grow. It grows one size, then another, and then another! As it breaks free from the confines of the X-Ray window from earlier, the true meaning of Christmas is able to enter the Grinch’s heart and he finds the strength of 10 Grinches! Plus two!

Christmas is saved!
And now, Max finally gets that ride he wanted.
And he brought everything back.

With such unbelievable strength coursing through his body, the Grinch triumphantly lifts the massive sleigh over his head. The sun bursts behind him as Max clings to the end of a runner. Now, their descent can begin as Grinch and Max ride down the side of Mt. Crumpet. Max gets to ride on the sleigh this time while the Grinch announces their arrival with a blast of a trumpet he must have found amongst the gifts. They pull into the village and the Whos welcome them without an ounce of judgement. He and Max then cheerfully toss items from the sleigh as the narrator informs us that they gave everything back.

Carve that beast, Grinch!
A slice of meat and a pat on the head for the best boy.

The image then dissolves as a little triumphant piece of music comes in. We see the Grinch has been invited to participate in Christmas with the Whos, not just as any old guest, but as the one to carve the roast beast! He hands a slice of beast to Cindy-Lou Who seated at his left who passes it on to the goodest boy of Christmas – Max! She pats his head as he looks at the full plate with eager eyes. The camera then pans back to show the Grinch carving and passing, carving and passing, before the camera moves beyond the wreath-lined window. As Boris Karloff recites some of the lyrics to “Welcome Christmas” the camera pans up the mountain as snow falls and the words “The End” come into focus.

Norman Rockwell, eat your heart out.

And that’s it: the greatest Christmas special ever made! Every time I watch this special I go into it knowing it’s the best, and I leave it secure in my thoughts. There’s nothing about this special I do not like. Even the few animation shortcuts, like the female Who pouring a glass of orange juice that’s not even animated during the feast scene, I find charming at this point. The sounds, the sights, the emotions, it all comes together in a delightful symphony of pure, Christmas, goodness.

A serene, Christmas, image to take us out.

Because this special is so old and such a part of our culture at this point, it’s easy to forget that before it came around the Grinch didn’t even have a color. His old book was mostly black and white, with a dash of red for his eyes and Santa suit. It’s a delightful, visual, story, but adding the voice of Boris Karloff and that green fur just adds so much life to the character. I love reading my kids that book every Christmas, but it’s so odd to not have the music to go along with it. When my son was just a baby, I loved putting on the spoken word version of this special for him while I was working. He probably didn’t care about hearing it, but he did bob his head with the music and both of my kids today love this special. Maybe not as much as their father does, but not a Christmas goes by without it.

Everything about this special is wonderful, but perhaps an undersold element is just how playful Grinch is with the camera. Look at this guy – he’s such a ham!

And thankfully the world loves How the Grinch Stole Christmas! so catching it on television shouldn’t be difficult this Christmas. If you missed the NBC broadcast to start the month, it will return on Christmas Eve so set your DVR if you can’t be in front of the TV to enjoy it. TBS also plays it throughout the month for those with cable, and you can purchase the special through various means if you wish. As for me, my preferred method of watching this one is on my ancient VHS from 1987 of recorded Christmas specials, even though CBS that year chopped out a piece of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” It’s just not the same though without the old commercials and the now washed out colors from years of use. Obviously, you shouldn’t let the season pass without watching this at least once (and I encourage you to watch it more than just once) so get to it! This is the best Christmas special ever!


Dec. 10 – It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!

Original air date November 23, 2012.

For December 10, we are returning to the theme of this year which is to revisit the best of the best. When I originally ranked my favorite Christmas specials, I had the recently released It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! ranked at #19. The years have been kind to this throwback Christmas special as last year I bumped SpongeBob and the residents of Bikini Bottom all the way up to #11! And from where I sit, it’s not in any danger of dropping back to 19, if anything, it’s a threat to move up into the Top 10 because this is a pretty fantastic way to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas returns to Bikini Bottom, but in a cool, new, old, way!

SpongeBob Squarepants is a show, and character, that I missed. I wasn’t watching Nickelodeon when he premiered and I’ve never made it a point in my life to see what all the fuss is about. I’ve seen episodes here and there, enough to know how the show works, but the only appointment viewing this show has ever produced for me is this Christmas special. When I saw the promos for this special I immediately was interested because the show had made the decision to produce a stop-motion Christmas special in the same vein as the old Rankin/Bass specials. If you’re going to enter the crowded world of Christmas specials and you’re looking to stand out, nostalgia is a recipe for success! Now, not everyone can just up and decide they want to do something like this and it helps that SpongeBob appeared to have the backing of Nickelodeon and the Viacom company since this sucker was ticketed for a CBS premiere. Sadly, CBS hasn’t turned this one into an annual tradition, but at least for one night there was an air of importance attached.

SpongeBob has the right DNA for a Christmas protagonist.

The animation for this episode was produced by Screen Novelties and directed by two of the studio’s founders: Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh. Screen Novelties is a modern producer of stop-motion and has worked with yesterday’s feature, Robot Chicken, as well as famed visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, so SpongeBob found himself in good company for this one. Screen Novelties also participated in the restoration of some of the puppets from the original special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, so they have significant Christmas cred. A collective of writers worked on this story, and it was partially inspired by the song featured in the episode, “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas),” which was recorded by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley in 2009. It’s a semi-conventional plot, where a bad guy and naughty list regular tries to trick Santa into giving him a present for Christmas. The unconventional part is the method utilized to get on Santa’s famed nice list.

Patchy and Potty are back for another Christmas episode!

The special begins with old friend Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny) and his parrot sidekick, Potty (Paul Tibbitt). We met both in the original Christmas special from SpongeBob Squarepants, and when we catch up with them here we find Patchy driving a mail truck. It’s design, and Patchy’s, is reminiscent of Special Delivery from Santa Claus is Coming to Town, though it has conventional tires. Patchy informs us he’s giving the mailman some time off, by tying him up in the back of the truck. He wants to get to Santa so he can ask him to introduce him to his hero, SpongeBob, and Potty seems to be just along for the ride. Unfortunately, they’re about to hit a literal fork in the road which causes the vehicle to spin out of control. While the truck is spinning, Patchy suggests we peek in on old SpongeBob and see what he’s up to this Christmas.

SpongeBob has a rather festive pineapple.

We then head under the sea, after a modestly festive rendition of the credits, and the stop-motion set looks gorgeous. SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) emerges from his bed singing a festive tune, “Santa Has His Eye on Me,” as he decorates his home. He spins his entire pineapple house to wrap lights around it, and there is an animation cheat when it’s done as the lights that wrapped around his door have vanished. He sprouts a Santa hat and hops his way over to Squidward’s (Rodger Bumpass) house to find his crotchety neighbor decorating as well. This seems like a change of heart since we last saw Squidward at Christmas, but he lets us know his decorations serve a purpose: to tell Santa to go away! SpongeBob then checks in on his buddy Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) who appears to be setting up a traditional box trap. It’s baited with a Christmas cookie, and Patrick explains to the tune of “The Nutcracker Suite” that he intends to catch Santa so he can have Christmas every day! He then sees his cookie and promptly traps himself. Also, an image of Santa dominates the “sky” momentarily while SpongeBob sings about Santa having his eye on him and it’s super creepy. Santa is some sort of sea elf. He looks like an old doll that was left to soak in the ocean and then dried out.

Squidward’s home is considerably less festive.

SpongeBob then pays a visit to his pal Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) in her dome. She’s deconstructing the Christmas spirit or something via alchemy and seems to be having a good time. At the Krusty Krab, Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) is decorating the restaurant in anticipation of the “Season of getting.” When SpongeBob tries to correct him, he further corrects SpongeBob because he’s a greedy prick.

Plankton has a plan to get on Santa’s nice list.

At the Chum Bucket, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) continues our song as he sings about Santa watching him too. He punctuates the song by announcing that every year he gets a stocking full of coal! His computer A.I., Karen (Jill Talley), chimes in that he’d probably get presents if he wasn’t the biggest jerk in Bikini Bottom, and that’s when we find out Plankton has a plan. Since it would be too hard for him to just be nice, he’s going to make everyone in Bikini Bottom a bigger jerk than even he so that he looks nice by comparison. And just how is he going to do that? By lacing the most innocent of holiday treats, the fruit cake, with the substance Jerktonium. Apparently, just one speck of the stuff will turn an ordinary person into a colossal jerk!

Fruit Cake jokes are a pet peeve of mine when it comes to Christmas specials. Here, it works because the special has you bracing for such a joke, but it never comes. Instead, everyone loves the stuff, especially SpongeBob.

Plankton prepares his fruit cake and then loads up a special dispenser he created that’s part oven and part go-kart. He takes it for a spin outside and immediately encounters SpongeBob. Upon seeing the little fruit cake cart, SpongeBob gets excited and asks if he can try some of his fruit cake. Plankton is happy to oblige and SpongeBob devours a slice. When Plankton inquires to see how SpongeBob is feeling, he finds he’s his usual cheerful, annoying, self and won’t stop raving about the fruit cake. Plankton gives him some more, but the result remains the same. Plankton then goes into a mini rage and starts firing fruit cake at SpongeBob who continues to devour it. Defeated, Plankton decides to retreat into the Chum Bucket, but before he does he hands SpongeBob the keys to his fruit cake cart since he’s so eager to share it with the rest of the town.

This idyllic Christmas setting is about to be poisoned by fruit cake.

SpongeBob pilots the cart over to a trio of carolers (Kenny, Fagerbakke, Lawrence) and offers them some fruit cake. They’re all happy to be offered the most foul of holiday “treats” and eat a slice each as SpongeBob looks on. After they’re done eating, a change comes over the carolers and each ends up with angry eyes and a five-o-clock shadow. They bicker about what song to sing and argue over which “bells” song is superior: “Jingle Bells” or “Silver Bells.” The third chimes in about wanting to sing “Randolph the Red-Nosed Seahorse” and they start to fight. SpongeBob drives away content that they enjoyed the fruit cake, seemingly oblivious to the violence that has commenced, while Plankton emerges from the Chum Bucket pleased to see the Jerktonium working on these “jerks.”

SpongeBob is so hopped-up on Christmas spirit that he’s oblivious to the chaos all around him.

SpongeBob then happens upon a festive, Christmas, parade. He decides that this would be a wonderful place to spread Christmas joy via Plankton’s fruit cake and hops right into the fray. SpongeBob goes into a new song about spreading holiday cheer as he fires off volley after volley of fruit cake towards the onlookers. They all eat their fruit cake and immediately turn into jerks. We see some minor stuff like a kid popping a balloon and another smashing a present. We also get to see Mr. Krab’s whale daughter, Pearl, get angry and start blasting others with her blowhole (that’s a weird sentence to type). Soon the town is in flames as fish grapple in the street while a kid (Carolyn Lawrence) seated on a fake Santa (Brown) details the stuff he wants for Christmas. SpongeBob gives him some fruit cake and the Santa turns into a jerk and tells the kid to get a job. SpongeBob then gives the driver of the float some fruit cake causing him to abandon his responsibilities sending the float to drive off a cliff. The kid seems happy about it though as he starts bouncing on the semi-conscious Santa like a trampoline.

Plankton has a pretty solid Plan B.

Plankton then returns to the Chum Bucket pleased with how things are going. He just has one problem: SpongeBob. Karen refers to the sponge as a fatal flaw pointing out that he’s immune to the effects of Jerktonium. Plankton assures her he has an answer to that problem and unveils his latest creation: Robot SpongeBob! The robot looks just like SpongeBob, only he’s all steel and probably twice as big. A reasonable person wouldn’t confuse the two, but that’s the joke! Plankton winds him up and commands his creation to go ruin SpongeBob’s good name as it blasts a stream of fire from its nose. He then heads for the Krusty Krab, smashing a boat along the way. Mr. Krabs meets the mechanical sponge at the door and immediately mistakes him for SpongeBob, but seems to assume he’s not the one responsible for the commotion since he’s SpongeBob and all. The robot then knocks over the Krusty Krab sign which lands on the restauranteur while Plankton looks on with glee.

It’s so cold Patchy’s signature eyewear is cracking.

We then hop back to check-in on Patchy and Potty. Their mail truck is still spinning but it eventually crashes into a snowbank allowing the mailman to escape. The hogtied mail carrier hops away while Patchy inspects the damaged tire which still has the fork stuck in it. He tells the viewers to go make some coco while Potty builds him a fire. When we return, the duo are freezing around a fire in the middle of the night. Patchy laments he hasn’t eaten anything for 20 minutes and could really go for a plate of Buffalo wings. He then hallucinates Potty as a plate of just that and tries to eat the bird, but gets a mouth full of log instead. When he comes to his senses, he apologizes to Potty who then in turn hallucinates Patchy as some sort of pizza slice covered in bird seed. He hops onto Patchy’s head and starts pecking at him as we dissolve back into the undersea world.

Squidward, a regular jerk, is about to have a splitting headache.

SpongeBob is driving around in Plankton’s fruit cake buggy and is surprised to find everyone acting like jerks. Mr. Krabs sees him and lets him know he’ll be garnishing his wages to pay for repairs to the restaurant. SpongeBob then comes across Patrick who is setting up a more elaborate trap for Santa. He’s also stuffing his face with fruit cake and acts like a jerk towards SpongeBob. Dismayed, SpongeBob heads home in confusion. He wakes up the next morning, Christmas Eve morning, hopeful things will be better, but when he heads out the door he sees two fish fighting in the street. He decides to check-in with Squidward who won’t even answer the door. He tells him to go bother Sandy and SpongeBob remarks he’ll have to thank Squidward for the advice when Squidward gets home – stupid sponge. As he bounds away, robo-SpongeBob shows up and knocks on the door. When Squidward won’t answer, the robot simply rips the door off of its hinges. Squidward shows up now, and I feel like I should point out he isn’t under the effects of Jerktonium – he’s just a regular jerk, and demands SpongeBob put his door down. The robot does as it’s told by smashing it over Squidward’s head and leaves.

SpongeBob makes an important discovery!

SpongeBob then goes to bother Sandy, as Squidward instructed, about how everyone is acting like jerks. He then finds the squirrel also under the effects of Jerktonium, but she’s at least lucid. Still, she’s a jerk towards SpongeBob and he frets he needs to go find someone who isn’t a raging jerk. As he goes to leave, he slips on an acorn and a piece of fruit cake he was holding goes flying into Sandy’s Christmas analyzer thing-a-ma-jig. She gets pissed at him for getting fruit cake in the machine, but then pauses her anger when the machine reveals the cake is laced with Jerktonium. She then asks where SpongeBob got the cake, and he says from Plankton. When she questions in an incredulous manner that he fed everyone fruit cake made by Plankton he just blankly says “uh huh,” prompting her to call him an idiot. SpongeBob then panics for a moment because he’s eaten a ton of the fruit cake, but Sandy points out the combination of SpongeBob’s pure heart and tiny brain have rendered him immune. She then turns to her machine for an antidote and it spits out sheet music. Sandy gets angry, but SpongeBob (rather surprisingly) recognizes the tune for what it is and can even read it. As he hums it aloud, the Jerktonium affecting Sandy wares off leaving SpongeBob overjoyed. He then sets out to spread the antidote around town.

Just sit back and enjoy the song.

SpongeBob arrives with an “Ahoy everybody!” and goes into the flagship song of the special: “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas).” It’s a plenty delightful little song that will definitely stow away in your brain and pop up at the drop of a hat. It’s a real banger in my household. As SpongeBob sings, he does good deeds around town and and we see everyone shaking off the Jerktonium. By the end of it, the whole town is singing and dancing along!

That is one unpleasant looking Santa.

Sandy congratulates SpongeBob for saving the town from Plankton, and just in time, because Santa is here! Despite being under the sea, he arrives via conventional means though only sporting six reindeer. As SpongeBob races over to welcome him to Bikini Bottom he finds a rather sullen Santa. He has the unfortunate responsibility of informing everyone they’re getting coal this year because they’ve all been a bunch of jerks. And much to his surprise, only Plankton is on the nice list! Plankton shows up to get his gift: the secret formula for the Krabby Patty. Delighted, he takes his prize while Mr. Krabs asks Santa how he got that. When he informs the crab that he has his ways, we see an ugly little elf pick his pocket.

I don’t think this is going to be an even match-up.

SpongeBob then pleads their case with Santa, but he’s not interested in hearing an explanation from the naughtiest person in town. He then points out that SpongeBob is being naughty right now and gestures to the robot which is wreaking havoc still. It smashes through a crowd of people then begins to target Santa. SpongeBob jumps in front of his hero willing to defend him with his life, which he may need to expend. The robot SpongeBob doubles in size, apparently going into assault mode or something, and karate chops SpongeBob right between the eyes. The dazed and disfigured SpongeBob still stands ready and the robot picks him up and flings him off into the distance.

Who will save Santa?!

Santa then beats a hasty retreat, but rather than fly away, he tries hiding in the Krusty Krab. The robot simply lifts the restaurant up and pulls Santa out. When all hope appears lost, SpongeBob returns! Now driving the fruit cake cart once again, he whirls and fires away at the robot with sticky fruit cake. It appears to gum up the exhaust ports and the robot soon explodes!

It’s SpongeBob! With a cool, motion-blurring, background!

Santa shakes SpongeBob’s hand and thanks him for saving his hide. He’s now convinced that SpongeBob is indeed a very good boy, but frets over how his list could be so wrong. The elves then bring something to his attention: the wind-up crank leftover from the exploding SpongeBob robot. Santa inspects it and finds a message stamped onto it, “If found please return to the Chum Bucket.” He then shouts out for Plankton in an angry tone, who sheepishly tries to duck away still clutching onto the bottle that contains the secret formula. Mr. Krabs gets to him and orders him to hand it over. When he initially refuses, Mr. Krabs pinches his head with his claws and takes it away then flings him up against the Chum Bucket like a freshly picked booger.

SpongeBob just got onto the nice list for life.

Back in his sleigh, Santa is ready to take off. He wishes everyone in Bikini Bottom a merry Christmas as the reindeer take flight, or swim, or whatever. As Santa flies off, we see Patrick has stowed away on the back of the sleigh armed with a net. As they fly in front of the full moon, Patrick strikes! If he is successful at catching Santa, we don’t know, but he sure gave it a good try.

Stupid Plankton.

We then check-in with Patchy and Potty once again. Patchy appears to have stumbled onto Santa’s workshop which is in a snowy cave. He races inside to find the fat man seated on a throne. Patchy immediately whips out a list and tells Santa that what he wants for Christmas is to meet his hero: SpongeBob Squarepants! When he finishes his request, he finds Santa is pouring salt over his head. The screen then dissolves and we find out that Patchy is hallucinating again and the creature gently salting him isn’t Santa, but a very hungry polar bear! He runs out of the cave with the polar bear chasing after him The real Santa and Potty are standing outside the real workshop while Santa checks his list. Noting that stealing a mail truck definitely counts as naughty, he adds Patchy to his list as he and Potty share a laugh. They then turn to the camera and wave wishing us all a merry Christmas!

Even under the sea, we still get a moon shot!

And so ends the very special It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Many Christmas episodes feel just like that, an episode that just happens to feature Christmas. Few are worthy of the term Christmas Special, and this one certainly qualifies. The music and festive scenery go a long way in conveying that special Christmas magic, but it’s the animation that really takes this one to another level. Stop-motion lends itself very well to Bikini Bottom. When your main character is an actual sponge, that certainly helps because it’s wonderful to see this character have actual texture. It works for the other characters as well and the ones who shouldn’t be squishy or furry are done in a different style. Mr. Krabs is a good example there as he has a smooth texture befitting an actual crab and the robot SpongeBob looks like an actual wind-up toy. The only character I wasn’t enamored with is Santa himself, who just features a weird design. He looks like he’s falling apart or something and is kind of gross, but he’s not in it that much in the end.

Patchy probably getting what he deserved.

The interesting thing about this special is if you strip away what makes it so special it would still work. If this were traditionally animated and without songs it would be a fun Christmas episode. It works as just a soundtrack, and I would totally buy a set of figurines made to look like the puppets in this special and make a Christmas display out of them. It’s a rare example of a show going all-out for Christmas and totally nailing it. It’s one I recommend to fans of SpongeBob and to people who have never watched a second of the show. It’s easily one of the best Christmas specials of the past decade and deserves to stand alongside the classics as well.

Is Patchy responsible for all of those infractions on Santa’s list? No wonder why they’re apparently letting the polar bear have his way.

If you want to catch It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! this year, and I obviously recommend that you do, then tune into Nickelodeon and its various offshoot channels all month long as it’s guaranteed to air multiple times. The entire show is also streaming on Paramount’s streaming platform and this episode can be found in Season 8. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if a special holiday channel is also featured on the network that makes finding this one even easier. If neither option works for you, then you can also buy the special on physical media or rent it via other streaming platforms. However you choose to view it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Dec. 9 – “Robot Chicken’s Santa’s Dead (Spoiler Alert) Holiday Murder Thing Special”

Original air date December 10, 2019

Yesterday, I sung the praises of American Dad! for its ability to give me fresh, Christmas, content seemingly on an annual basis. I should also apply the same to Robot Chicken, for even though it goes about making people laugh in a completely different manner from a more traditional animated show, it does have a solid track record of getting festive each and every December. I didn’t tally them up, but I would assume the number of Robot Chicken Christmas episodes actually compares quite favorably to American Dad!. The main difference though is that while American Dad! is essentially a sitcom, Robot Chicken is basically sketch comedy and sketch comedy doesn’t always lend itself well to such exercises.

As is customary for Robot Chicken holiday specials, this one begins with an homage to the old CBS Special Presentation logo.

The writers of Robot Chicken must have had me on the brain then when it unveiled its latest Christmas special, the insanely long-winded Robot Chicken’s Santa’s Dead (Spoiler Alert) Holiday Murder Thing Special. I’ve now typed it twice and I have no desire to type it again! This episode though is not a typical episode of Robot Chicken. While it’s still largely animated using stop-motion techniques, it actually possesses a narrative instead of just a theme. It’s going to introduce a plot in the early moments and just stick with that until it’s over. This makes doing a write-up a lot more rewarding than the typical episode. I’ve done those in the past, I’m just not convinced they make for good reading material. Feel free to correct me in the comments if you so wish.

Someone killed Santa, and it’s up to Jesus to figure out who among these characters is guilty!

This episode premiered in 2019 and is the most recent Robot Chicken holiday episode as-of this writing. The whole episode takes place on a train and unfolds like a typical murder mystery, only with some Robot Chicken humor tossed in. Tonight, our victim happens to be the big man himself: Santa Claus. Someone has put an end to the jolly, fat, man and answers need to be found so the culprit is brought to justice! Who would kill Santa? A jealous Jesus? Spoiled coal recipient? Overworked elves? The list of suspects may be longer than you think, and we’ve only got 11 minutes to solve the case!

Comet being an annoying chatterbox who confused The Polar Express for The North Pole Express will be a running gag throughout.

Our story begins on The North Pole Express, not to be confused with The Polar Express, as we’ll soon learn. Our conductor is the cheerful Porter (Timothy Simons) who is happy to boast about the train’s zero murder rate. Onboard, a snowman named Snowball (Zahn McClarnon) is seated beside the famed reindeer Comet (Breckin Meyer) who won’t shut up about this train being different from the other famous one. The snowman then moves to sit beside Krampus (Jason Alexander) who openly wonders what happens to their crap when they take a dump on the train causing the snowman to move once again.

Santa is dead. Very dead.

The scream of Porter interrupts Comet and Krampus, who were now seated together, and all rush over to see that he has discovered the corpse of Santa Claus (Seth Green) in another passenger car. He’s clearly been stabbed, many times, but that doesn’t stop Comet from assuming suicide. The passengers insist they need to de-board the train immediately, but Porter says no one is leaving until this mystery is solved. He then turns to the only man who could possibly solve this case: Jesus. Jesus (Meyer) immediately dubs himself Inspector Jesus and boasts that not only will he solve this case, he’ll do it without his powers! Despite Porter insisting to him that’s not necessary and he would actually prefer he use his powers, God takes them away with a blast of light. Jesus smooths his moustache into more of a handlebar variety and begins his investigation by ordering everyone away from the crime scene.

Santa needs better performance out of his reindeer and he’s found a solution.

Everyone is assembled in a passenger car. Jesus paces the room initially and then sets his eyes on Comet. In searching for a motive for the reindeer, Jesus zeroes in on whipping scars present on Comet’s rump. Comet comes clean about the whipping, insisting they all enjoy it, then casually asks Jesus if he’d also like to hear about the drugs. He obviously does and Comet then details how Santa has been shooting up the reindeer with performance-enhancing drugs for years. Apparently, poor Prancer lost his life to an equipment mishap when his legs were torn off accidentally. Santa is shown shoving needles in the ass of reindeer and it would seem that Jesus has stumbled onto a reason for the reindeer to want the big man dead.

Nutsy has reason to get agitated with Jesus.

Reasoning that steroids cost a lot of money, Jesus then turns his attention to a nutcracker by the name of Nutsy Goldberg (Wayne Knight), a Jew, as he “follows the money.” Nutsy takes exception to Jesus calling him out for being a Jew and adds he owes Santa his life. It seems nutcrackers were once a popular Christmas present, until Cabbage Patch came along. We see a kid (Matthew Senreich) removing a nutcracker from his stocking and his mom (Emmy Raver-Lampman) calling out from the other room asking him what Santa brought him and he casually chucks the nutcracker into an open fire and responds, “Fire wood!” It seems Santa was looking out for old Nutsy when it became apparent that no kid would want him and hooked him up as an accountant at the North Pole. Jesus then points out that Nutsy has a mink hat and Nutsy casually comes clean to embezzling here and there, like it was expected of him. Jesus accuses Nutsy of killing Santa when Santa found out, but Nutsy brushes him off and insists he’d never kill off his cash cow. Jesus then shouts back that it would be just like a Jew to kill Santa since they killed him, and Nutsy gets offended and calls him racist. Jesus apologizes and the two have a stare-down.

It’s doubtful anyone misses this act.

Krampus declares the case unsolvable and references the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldberg which causes Jesus to narrow his focus on him. Jesus refers to Krampus as Santa’s mortal enemy, and Krampus calls that an absurd characterization. He doesn’t hate Santa, just kids. He then says how they used to work together as a comedy duo and we see a little flashback to that. When Krampus uses Santa’s setup for a joke to make one about beating children, he storms off the stage in disgust and that’s apparently how that act came to an end.

Snowball and his family during happier times.

Krampus starts strumming his ukulele and singing a song about Santa when he’s interrupted by the train coming to a sudden stop. Jesus heads outside to see a small avalanche has blocked the tracks and it’s there he encounters Snowball. Snowball mentions how this stop is good for the murderer as it will allow the wolves to descend upon the train and desecrate Santa’s corpse thus destroying any physical evidence. Jesus then points his finger at the snowman, who has no problem admitting his disdain for Santa. We then see how the North Pole used to be a paradise for snow people, until Santa showed up and took over. He forced the naturally nose-less snow people to sport carrots and cover their heads all the while polluting the land with his toy factories contributing to global warming. We see a family of snow people being forced off land via a chunk of floating ice as Santa waves mockingly. Jesus accuses Snowball of doing the deed, but he responds with, “Does it matter?” and references the North Pole being lost to global warming. Krampus is there to make a “Global warming bullshit,” remark as we’re definitely supposed to view him as just the worst.

Ginger couldn’t handle just being the featured artist.

Porter then calls out to inform everyone who the real hero of the story is, him, as he shovels the snow off the tracks. Everyone returns to the train and Jesus takes note of the crumbs falling from the gingerbread woman, Ginger (Gina Rodriguez). He confronts her on the train for he spotted crumbs just like that on Santa’s corpse. He accuses her of killing Santa in a jealous rage since he wouldn’t leave Mrs. Claus for her. She confesses to being with him last night, but denies killing him, but does explain how she knows Santa. He discovered her in a night club one night and encouraged her to take her career to the next level. We see Ginger in a recording booth, and Santa shoves the engineer aside and starts rapping at the control deck. She explains creative differences drove them apart. Jesus presses further and she snaps, admitting she hated the guy and indicates she slept with him by complaining about his balls and small penis.

I think this joke predates the reveal on the working conditions inside Amazon warehouses.

As the suspects start feeling the heat, they turn things around on Inspector Jesus. They point out his many reasons to want to kill Santa, while also mistaking his heritage (“Santa was his father?”) which just frustrates him. Jesus then retreats to go examine the body once again, alone. The lights cut out though and when they come back on Jesus finds himself nailed to a cross! Worse, someone has written “BOOB” across his forehead! Removing himself, Jesus races out of the car and sees two candy cane-striped legs disappearing through an opening in the roof. He follows and encounters the elf, Peppermint (Emmy Raver-Lampman), on the roof of the train. The others gather around Jesus as he interrogates the scared elf and we see a permanent marker fall from her hand as she tries to deny any involvement in the murder of Santa or the recent attack on Jesus. It’s at this point Krampus informs us of the poor working conditions experienced by the elves. We see elves being mutilated by the equipment, urinating on the floor, and attempting suicide by jumping out of windows only to land in nets Santa strung up. Peppermint had tried to form a union, but Nutsy adds that Santa hired the Bumble from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to put an end to that nonsense. We are “treated” to a visual of the Bumble curb-stomping a poor elf as an intimidation tactic for the rest of them.

Now that’s just low.

Peppermint is fed up at this point and announces she’s ready to blow the whole thing open. Only she would have, if not for a sniper taking her out! Jesus demands to know who did that, but the other individuals all deflect attention They head back inside and Jesus orders Porter to alert the authorities at the next stop to be prepared to receive a prisoner for he, Inspector Jesus, has solved the case! Utilizing what Jesus refers to as the most exciting flashback yet, Santa is shown in his train car when he went to open the door for some “friends” he thought were paying him a visit. Only their intentions were vile! One by one, each suspect is shown stabbing Santa “For the Watch” style punctuating with Ginger snapping her hand off in Santa’s mouth.

It’s kind of like that Korn video from 20+ years ago.

The suspects still aren’t entirely willing to come clean, but Jesus details the evidence even further which includes entrails on Comets antlers and Ginger’s hand still lodged in Santa’s throat. Porter makes the announcement that they now know why they wanted to kill Santa, only for Krampus to interject that he’s wrong. They actually wanted Santa dead because he cheated at fantasy football by using his naughty and nice list to guess which players would get suspended. Jesus then makes the announcement that Santa was killed for the greatest sin of all: giving a shit about fake football! Krampus, angry at Jesus for exposing them, whips out a gun and fires away! The bullet travels in slow-motion passed the shocked faces of the other culprits until it passes right through the nail hole on Jesus’ hand and strikes poor Porter. Jesus retaliates with his magic, some sort of icy blast or something that decapitates Krampus, and then kneels beside the dying Porter. He thanks Jesus for solving the train’s only murder, then asks him if he was happy with his service? Jesus indicates his experience was satisfactory, 3 1/2 stars, and Porter dies.

I knew he wasn’t dead!

The North Pole Express stops at the next station and all of the murderers are taken away. Jesus is quite pleased with himself and does a celebratory dance, only to be shocked when Santa comes out and thanks him! Jesus, confused, asks how Santa could possibly be alive? He explains he was in the locomotive the whole time running a different sort of train (Comet’s voice can be heard calling out “There’s two trains!”), and then informs Jesus the corpse he found was none other than Tim Allen (Tom Root). They share a hearty laugh as we head to the credits which includes a flashback of Santa calling Allen to invite him on the train. He only speaks in those grunts he used to do all of the time on Home Improvement. We also see him in costume as Santa basically assures him he’ll be fine as he walks him into a death trap. A Stoopid Monkey card appears on the screen at the end of the credits wishing us a “Merry Christmas” while the monkey mascot lights a menorah, which is genuinely cute.

Everyone is relieved to find out it was only Tim Allen.

The Robot Chicken special with the absurdly long title is a solid way to spend 11 minutes this holiday season. Turning the classic murder mystery into a holiday special where Santa is the victim is a solid setup and the Clue-like resolution is also appropriate. The Game of Thrones reference for the murder means this sucker is already super-dated, but it’s not a reference viewers need to get in order to find the situation funny as Christmas mascots all shout, “For the Pole!” as they stab Santa. Snowball, who apparently hates Santa the most, stabs him in the crotch. The animation and character designs are fun to take in and there’s plenty of blood and guts, if that’s your thing.

R.I.P. Porter.

Where the special does stumble a bit is where most Robot Chicken jokes have a tendency to fall flat, and that’s just in how obvious the jokes are. Robot Chicken always goes for the easiest joke. When your show is basically the Wario Ware of television and the joke needs to be communicated in about 10 seconds, that sort of thing makes sense. Here they actually have some semblance of time on their side, but they still go for the easy setup and knock down. I did enjoy the “dad jokes” Jesus leaned on which were all just Jesus puns like saying he does Crossfit and pointing out how he’s been double-crossed. They were able to create a fun lead with the character which initially surprised me as I thought Porter was being setup to lead the investigation. I also enjoyed the dig at Tim Allen during the credits.

Aww, how sweet?

If you like the comedy stylings of Robot Chicken then you’ll probably be entertained by this episode. I can see some fans being disappointed in the format as it’s not what’s expected, but the jokes are fairly similar and the staff probably welcomed the chance to just deal with a few puppets and staging areas rather than the usual amount needed to shoot an entire episode. And if you’re unsure, well, it’s only 11 minutes of your life so it’s hardly much of a risk. Cartoon Network is assured to show this one during the month of December, likely multiple times, and Robot Chicken is also available on HBO Max. For the Pole!


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