Tag Archives: christmas

Dec. 24 – Shrek the Halls

Original air date November 28, 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

Donkey annoys Shrek. This will be a theme.

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

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

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

What every ogre needs to have a happy Christmas.

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

A new use for a toilet seat.

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

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

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

Pictured: Not the Christmas Shrek wanted.

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

Well, at least his pants are up.

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

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

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

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

Adorable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently ogres can experience sadness.

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

It’s confession time.

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

And now it’s makeup time.

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

I’m sure you can figure out the joke.

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

Time to meet Ogre Claus.

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

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

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

Hey look! Santa!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Original air date November 30, 2020

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

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

Della has a story to chill your bones!

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

Christmas time is a time for war at McDuck Manor.

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

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

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

Webby is a constant source of entertainment.

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

Santa is a big ole polar bear. Makes sense.

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

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

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

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

When Scrooge met Santa.

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

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

These creatures are not fooling anyone.

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

I love this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for DuckTales to add to the Santa lore.

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

And here come the reindeer!

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

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

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

Not Santa’s best plan.

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

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

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

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

“It’ll never catch on!”

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

I hate to see Webby sad.

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

That’s one evil looking Scrooge.

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

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

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

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

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

Ooo! I like this Santa!

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

Now the rest of the cast get to have fun.

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

Aww.

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

I love seeing the place decorated for Christmas.

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

Santa gets in one more bear hug.

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

And now we have nine reindeer.

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

There are some terrific shots in this one.

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

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


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

Original air date December 12, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching Alvin fall down is oddly satisfying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is quite the outfit, general.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look who finally showed up.

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

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

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

This should go well.

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

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

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

Simon always struck me as more of a bass player.

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

He’s always watching…

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

Six reindeer – what a fraud!

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

Officer Dangus sucks and I hate him.

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

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

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

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


Figura Obscura – Krampus

Oh shit, look who showed up for Christmas!

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

He even comes with a Christmas card!

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

The 4H version of Krampus defined.

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

Pardon my flash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh you silly boy!

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, pal!

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

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

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

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

Duckula is a vampiric waterfowl who happens to lack teeth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many Santas…

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

He does look cooler with fangs.

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

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

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

This better not lead to a bad case of amnesia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep reading is a thing, right?

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

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

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

At least they managed to find their way out.

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

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

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

I think we all knew this was coming.

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

And Santa flies away with nary a moon in sight.

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

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

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

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


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

Original air date November 15, 1960.

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

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

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

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

This is about the only conventional thing about this one.

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

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

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

That is one bizarre looking reindeer.

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

What sort of abomination is this?!?

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

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

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

Get used to seeing this one on loop.

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

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

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

Popeye is pretty ruthless.

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

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

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

What is going on here?!

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

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

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

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

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

I hate this thing. GET A DAMN SLEIGH!

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


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. 13 – Bob’s Burgers – “The Bleakening: Part 2”

In part two of “The Bleakening,” the Belchers search for their missing tree. Will they be reunited?!

Well fellow cartoon Christmas enthusiasts, we’re in a new and interesting place today. We’re coming in for the second part of a two-part story we started looking at yesterday. In the first part of “The Bleakening,” the Christmas special from Bob’s Burgers which originally aired in 2017, the children of Bob and Linda Belcher were out hunting for the mythological being known as The Bleaken. It is he whom the children have accused of stealing their mother’s dainty little Christmas tree, which was once the top of their regular sized tree, which had been on display in their restaurant for a Christmas party. More important than the tree though, are the ornaments that were on it. Handmade ornaments from the kids which had become precious to Linda disappeared along with the tree. Despite a few leads, the adults were unable to determine who stole the tree so it befalls the children to do something about it.

Louise (Kristen Schaal), despite being the youngest sibling, is often the de-facto leader for these expeditions. She has convinced her brother Gene (Eugene Mirman) and sister Tina (Dan Mintz) to sneak out of the house on Christmas Eve to chase down a lead they uncovered from the police station earlier in the day. Louise thinks she knows where The Bleaken is hiding out, and she’s determined to find out. Because if they fail, her mother will lose her Christmas spirit and without that, well there probably won’t be any Christmas presents.

If you’re going on a walk on Christmas Eve, be sure to bring plenty of walking cookies.

The episode picks up right where the prior one left off. There are no opening credits, probably because this one originally aired back-to-back with the first part so there was no need to interrupt it, though it does feel a little jarring if you happen to catch it without the first part in syndication. The siblings are walking in the dark down a snowy road as Tina is the apparent guide. She is also reluctantly on this mission with her brother and sister which was really only hinted at in part one when she forlornly looked up the stairs to their apartment as the three made their escape. Louise is trying to reassure her siblings that they’re doing the right thing. Gene is mostly fine, though he warns he’s running out of walking cookies, but Tina is not onboard. She doesn’t quite reveal that to her sister, but she does slyly use the family emergency cell phone she brought with them to dial their mother. When she places the phone in her pocket, she speaks rather loudly so she can be heard and announces the street intersection and what’s going on while making it sound like a conversation so as not to tip-off Louise. She’s rather clumsy, and also makes sure to let her mom know this isn’t her idea, but Louise doesn’t pick up on it. At the Belcher home, Linda (John Roberts) is freaking out hearing all of this on the phone and wakes up Bob (H. Jon Benjamin). She apparently doesn’t consider that her daughter would be clever enough to fake call, but make it sound like a butt dial, because she tells Bob that Tina butt-dialed her and she can tell they’ve snuck out.

Shit just got real!

The kids continue their search until they make an important discovery – one of Gene’s ornaments is found in the snow! Emboldened that they’re on the right track, the kids press on, but black feathers in the road portend something ominous. The Bleaken is real, and he really did take their mother’s tree! Louise is determined to find the rest despite the obvious concerns her siblings are sharing. As they walk, Louise and Gene start quietly singing that The Bleaken is going to wish he had never been born, though they aren’t convincing in their threats. Tina just hyper-ventilates to provide a beat for their walking music.

That’s one way to spend a Christmas.

Meanwhile, we check-in with Teddy (Larry Murphy) who was last seen constructing some sort of Santa monstrosity in his basement. It turns out the monstrosity is just a Santa inflatable decoration and he fashioned a crude window in its mouth so he could hide inside. The Bleaken didn’t just take Linda’s tree, it’s also been taking decorations off of the sidewalk and Teddy is determined to find out who is responsible by using himself as bait.

Someone went through a lot of trouble to hide some ornaments.

This kids turn down an alley, but a crater in the road would indicate they can’t continue down the alley they’ve found, but Louise quickly determines it’s not a crater, but an elaborate mural painted on a wall! Gene is correct to make a Wile E. Coyote reference at the sight as his sister inspects it further. She soon uncovers a door, behind it they find a chilling stairwell. At this point, Louise informs her siblings she’s armed, but the choice of weapons is not too comforting: a ruler and a keychain. When Louise introduces each, she has clever suggestions for how they could be used as weapons while Gene makes helpful, non-violent, suggestions like how rulers can be used for measuring. When Tina asks if she has anything better, she deadpans that she has a knife and some mace, but she’s hanging onto those so Tina takes the ruler leaving the keychain for Gene. The kids descend the stairway only to find they lead no where. Tina, suspecting another false wall, walks into a very real wall and lets her siblings know it hurts.

I don’t know how Bob does it.

Bob and Linda are driving around trying to figure out where the kids were when Tina called, but it turns out Tina is bad at directions and the intersection she referenced doesn’t exist. Linda is freaking out and is not particularly helpful, but to Bob’s credit he’s always so patient and tries to assuage her, even when he can’t. He points out two stray dogs “playing to the death” as evidence that this part of town in the middle of the night isn’t dangerous, but thankfully, Linda is more preoccupied with freaking herself out than truly paying attention to her surroundings. They eventually figure out the street intersection Tina must have been referencing, and Bob justifies her getting one of the names wrong on the fact that they haven’t bought her new glasses since she was 6. They get out of the car and soon find the trail of footprints and cookie crumbs and follow it. Meanwhile, Teddy is still in his Santa disguise when a neighbor walking a dog stops near him. The dog defecates at Teddy’s feet revealing to him who is never scooping their dog’s waste, so tonight won’t be a total loss even if he doesn’t find the thief. The smell of the dog poop works its way into the Santa inflatable though causing Teddy to gag.

This is what happens when you complain about the coupon books, Bob.

Louise is certain this is The Bleaken’s lair, even though they can’t find a way out aside from the way they came in. Soon someone enters from above and Louise determines there’s no way out because this place is designed to trap people for The Bleaken! The kids brace themselves against the wall, and when their would-be assailants approach they pounce! Of course, it’s just Bob and Linda who are forced to curl into fetal positions on the stairs. Bob is his ever calm self and doesn’t seem too angry with his children for sneaking out, though he does ask if someone hit him in the face with a ruler. Linda is relieved they’re okay, while Louise wants to know how they got there. They don’t tattle on their daughter, but say someone butt-dialed them. Tina fesses up, but Louise hardly needed her to. Louise doesn’t want to leave though and insists they’re onto something, and it’s actually Tina who makes the important discovery. She notices the stairs shaking and the family lifts them up to find another secret staircase underneath. The kids convince their dad to go along and find out who stole the tree, while he insists The Bleaken isn’t real. Louise produces the ornament they found and references the police map, but Bob doesn’t want to spend Christmas in a creepy tunnel. Unfortunately, he’s married to Linda who isn’t leaving until she finds her ornaments. She tells Bob to take the kids home, but he’s not leaving her so he agrees to press on. He needs a weapon so Tina hands over her ruler. Just to make sure he knows it can be used as a weapon, she strikes him on the head with it. Very helpful.

Fear will bring us together.

We check back in with Teddy whose eyes are scanning the area around him and his pipes are singing a delightful holiday song. To the tune of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Teddy sings about finding the jerk whose gonna get a fight. He sings over the Belcher family searching the catacombs below, but their trek is interrupted when they see The Bleaken! He disappears as quickly as he appeared and Bob wants to go back, but Linda declares this place is like Ikea and there’s no going back.

This should have turned out way worse.

The family presses on until Bob finds a door. He tells his family to stand back as he takes a peek, but then looks over his shoulder to see they are indeed standing very far behind him. Bob then cracks the door open and tells the family it’s not what he expected. When they open it they find it’s a secret, underground, Christmas rave! A bunch of people dance in a large, crowded, room while a DJ spins records from a platform at the other side. And there, on top of the speakers, sits Linda’s beloved Christmas tree and all of its ornaments! She’s more angry than anything upon seeing it and declares they aren’t leaving until she gets her friggen’ tree back!

We’re being deprived of Bob’s butt crack.

The family notices some other decorations that were stolen as the DJ ramps up the volume. Linda orders Bob to get her tree while she plans to give the crowd a piece of her mind. The kids watch Bob try to climb up the speakers and let him know that not much of his butt crack is showing (they’re so supportive) while Linda is able to reach the DJ’s platform and steals his microphone. He puts up a fight, but she wins out in the end. As he searches for the kill switch on the mic, Linda starts speaking to get everyone’s attention. She scolds the party-goers for having secret tunnels and being thieves. One of the men in the audience informs her they have all of the protections in place because they’re unlicensed as this is apparently where everyone who normally parties at The Wiggle Room for Christmas has gone. If you forgot, The Wiggle Room was forced to close as recounted on a new broadcast the family watched in part one. Another raver then shouts they aren’t thieves, but she tells him to go “play Ping Pong with your ding dong,” and points out her tree, which Bob has reached. She tells them she’s taking back her ornaments, but what she can’t get back is her Christmas spirit!

More Christmas stories should have a magic Christmas drag queen.

She is then interrupted by a performance from the newly Christened Miss Triple X-Mas (Todrick Hall), formerly known as Cleavage to Beaver, who performs a saucy number to mark the fact that it’s midnight. The Belchers watch the performance of “Twinkly Lights” with awe as Linda notices Marshmallow and some of her other friends while the kids see The Bleaken dancing around. Louise interrupts him and asks him to confirm that he’s just a guy in a costume, which is the case. She insists they could have taken him, though.

Finally, the thief comes forward!

Linda interrupts the music by grabbing the mic again to reveal she is understanding, and a little embarrassed, but also to apologize because she called the cops! The crowd is upset with her, but they also insist no one stole her ornaments. That’s when Art the Artist (Adam Driver) comes forward. He was at the Belcher Christmas party and was a suspect in the case of the missing tree, but when Bob and Linda spoke with him during one of his nude modeling sessions he convinced them otherwise. It turns out, it was him as he was put in charge of decorating for the party. He didn’t have any money though, so he “borrowed” a bunch of stuff from around town. And to successfully steal the little tree, he first took it and then went out the back door of the restaurant and hid it in the dumpster there while he went and did his session. When the session was done, he came back for it. He goes on to explain the Wiggle Room party is normally so well decorated, and he didn’t want to let everyone down.

Thievery helped Linda realize her Christmas dream.

Linda realizes that she and Art shared a dream – the perfect Christmas party! And Art realized it with some help from her tree. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that the cops are outside. Everyone is upset, but Bob has an idea that may help them avoid getting shut down. He feels like they owe it to the ravers, though he points out he would have never called the cops and it was all his wife’s doing. The only thing he needs is the The Bleaken costume that guy is wearing.

Bob the Bleaken!

Bosco (Gary Cole) and another cop are driving around searching for the secret entrance to the club when they encounter Bob in the middle of the road dressed as The Bleaken. He flaps his “wings” and gets the pair to chase him. Despite them being in a car and Bob on foot, he manages to get away and runs down a street that just so happens to be Teddy’s street. He collides with his friend, who had been struggling to stand up after falling down earlier, and is still hiding in the Santa inflatable and tells him he needs to hide. Teddy says he has just the place as we see the lights from Bosco’s cruiser appear on the street. They drive by and pay no attention to the Santa inflatable and there’s no sign of Bob so Bosco decides he’s had enough and suggests they get some Kung Pao Chicken. When the cops drive away, we find out Bob is hiding inside the Santa suit with Teddy. He thanks Teddy who remarks that he told Bob there was room for both of them. Bob politely disagrees as he’s clearly uncomfortable being smooshed up against Teddy’s back. He then starts to question why they didn’t just go in the house, but Teddy keeps shushing him. When he finally demands Teddy tell him why he keeps shushing him he remarks he thought he heard something, but it was nothing. Bob then tries asking why they didn’t go inside again, but Teddy keeps shushing him some more until Bob gets fed up and leaves. Teddy is upset and tries to get him to stay shouting this could be the best Christmas Eve ever!

Linda has rediscovered her Christmas spirit, and she has spirit to burn.

Back at the club, the rave is back on. The kids are seated on the edge of the stage with their mother’s tree reflecting on the past few days. Louise seems disappointed there was no real Bleaken, but the kids find comfort in the return of their mother’s Christmas spirit. We then see Linda cutting it up on the dance floor as she screams, “I love Christmas!”

It’s also the kind of spirit that lasts all night long and into the morning.

The image then locks on Linda in a triumphant pose and fades to the next morning. The family is back home reunited with the tree and the ornaments and Linda is still dancing, just now in her pajamas. Louise asks how much sleep she got and her dad tells them she never went to sleep. Linda explains someone at the club gave her something which made her feel great, but then finally says she needs to lay down. She faceplants onto the floor and Bob assures the kids she’s fine, though he needs to check her pulse. As the camera moves outside of the apartment to linger on the restaurant we hear Bob confirm she’s fine. Merry Christmas!

Aaaaaand she’s down!

The second half of “The Bleakening” is quite different from the first. Part one is definitely a mystery story, while the second part is more about pay-off. It introduces a few twists and some intriguing moments, but it’s mostly concerned with just answering the lingering questions from part one. The real star of the show is just the cast. It’s never easy to tell how much is ad-libbed and how much is scripted, but there are some great exchanges in this one between the kids and pretty much anything Bob says. There was also never a ton of mystery to begin. Any veteran TV viewer could assume that one of two characters introduced in part one were the thief: Art or Dalton. The fact that Art was voiced by probably the biggest guest star of the episode was all the confirmation one needed. It just became a question of “why” from there and it was hardly surprising it had something to do with the club that got shut down, because why else would we be privileged to such information as an audience?

Teddy’s scenes didn’t always feel necessary, but at least they resulted in a funny exchange in the end.

It’s still a fun journey though, even if the threat of a Bleaken was never a real one. It was still going to be interesting to see how that part would be continuously sold though. The B-plot involving Teddy wasn’t great as it merely existed just so the two could intertwine at the end. On the other hand, it’s always fun to see Teddy in a ridiculous situation, by himself, where he constantly talks to himself. He’s a good character, even if this wasn’t the best use of him, but I enjoyed his awkward exchange with Bob at the end.

This is about as happy as the Belchers are allowed to be on Christmas.

And speaking of the end, this one does end rather abruptly. It’s a bit odd for an oversized episode like this one to run out of time, but then again, Bob’s Burgers isn’t the type of show that’s going to spend much time watching the family have a happy Christmas morning. There weren’t even any presents under the tree. It wants to show us the weird parts, the awkward parts, and then get out before things can get sentimental. As a result, if this one doesn’t make you laugh then it probably won’t entertain you as a Christmas special. There’s just not enough there, but what is there is relatable if you have a mom who loves those crappy ornaments you made for her as a kid or if you yourself are a mom or dad who loves that stuff. I am a dad that does enjoy homemade ornaments from my kids and I do like these two episodes. Are they my favorite Christmas episodes from this show? No, but I’m not going to turn away. Especially during the holidays.

This was Linda’s story, and at least she found what she needed to find in that secret, gay, rave.

If you would like to catch “The Bleakening” this year then like all shows that air on Adult Swim you need only keep your eyes out. It will be aired or has aired and likely more than once. Bob’s Burgers is also syndicated now and can be found on several other cable and broadcast channels and all are likely to air the Christmas episodes between now and the actual holiday. If streaming is more your thing, the series can be found on Hulu and you also have rental options in other places. Like American Dad!, this is definitely a show that’s worth stockpiling Christmas episodes on your DVR all month and then having a nice binge at some point. There isn’t an arc or anything that ties them all together like there is with American Dad!, but they are all pretty funny!


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