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Dec. 10 – A Chipmunk Christmas

Original air date December 14, 1981.

Alvin and the Chipmunks is one of the oldest, family-owned, pieces of intellectual property left in the world. And it might not be for much longer as the franchise is reportedly up-for-sale and has been since last year, but as-of this writing nothing has been agreed upon. The Chipmunks date back to the 1958 novelty song “Witch Doctor” written and recorded by Ross Bagdasarian. Technically not the first Chipmunks song, but it did feature the same high-pitched, squeaky voiced characters the franchise would become known for. The true, real, debut of the trio came in the song “The Chipmunk Song” later in 1958 which is also titled “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” That song is when the chipmunks were given names and Bagdasarian also assumed the persona of David Seville, who would come to be known as the group’s manager and adoptive father.

Following the success of that song came a media empire. The Chipmunks recorded additional novelty songs and would be featured in comics, television, and even movies. The Alvin Show, which premiered in 1961, basically established, or confirmed, that Alvin was the alpha chipmunk of the group and the one the franchise would center around. And thanks to that show as well as the 80’s revival is why a whole generation of people (like myself) actually think of the franchise as Alvin and the Chipmunks as opposed to just The Chipmunks.

In 1972, Bagdasarian passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 52. His son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr., eventually took over recording duties for the group, but their star had waned by then. Thanks in part to reruns of The Alvin Show, the group never completely faded away and come the end of the decade NBC was ready to do something new with Bagdasarian which is how we got A Chipmunk Christmas. For the trio’s return to television, Bagdasarian went back to their roots and produced a special that incorporated the classic song where it all started. The special isn’t an adaptation of the song in the same sense that Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is, but it does feature the “recording” of it and it’s certainly an easy thing to leverage. Given how the Christmas special took off as a thing in the 60s, it’s actually surprising that we didn’t see this special until 1981 given the popularity of the song.

The chipmunks retain their look from The Alvin Show, but with a little Chuck Jones mixed in.

A Chipmunk Christmas is a joint venture between Bagdasarian Productions and Chuck Jones Enterprises with direction by Phil Monroe. The newly married Bagdasarian and wife Janice Karman would serve as producers and voice actors for the show with Jones handling direction and design work. Marvel Productions was also onboard as producers with NBC set to broadcast for Christmas 1981. A Chipmunk Christmas, as well as the album Chipmunk Punk released the previous year, was a re-introduction of the franchise to a whole, new, audience. In 1983, Alvin and The Chipmunks would debut as an animated series which would air on Saturday morning and eventually in syndication with the franchise’s first film arriving in 1987. It was a big decade for the franchise and it would continue into the 90s before waning a bit, but a lot of people my age know this franchise because of A Chipmunk Christmas and the media it spawned.

A Chipmunk Christmas basically carries forward the designs of the characters established in The Alvin Show. The chipmunks are presented as anthropomorphized creatures that are basically the size of a normal, human, child of the same age. It’s not explained how these chipmunks came to be. There’s no ooze, radiation, or toxic waste involved, they just simply are. Given that show was produced in the 60s for television, the designs were rather simple with Alvin looking almost like a red triangle with a head. For this special, and in the hands of Chuck Jones, the chipmunks were given much softer features. Their cheeks are more defined, they have freckles, and big eyes. Their clothing looks like actual clothing and they were able to animate better than they ever had. They still have the same general aesthetic as the old show; Simon is the tallest, Theodore the chubbiest, and Alvin wears a hat and has a big “A” on his shirt, but they just look much nicer. They would never look exactly like this again as the 1983 series had its own aesthetic which is what was carried forward for the next two decades, but for my money the chipmunks never looked as good as they do here.

In this story, we have ourselves a sick, little, boy suffering from a bad case of Iwannaharmonicitus.

The special begins with a lovely look at what I believe is supposed to be New York City, or a city center of a nearby suburb, all decorated for Christmas while an instrumental rendition of “Deck the Halls” chimes in the background. The background designs for this special are just gorgeous. They’re so textured and intricate, especially the interiors. The camera pans to an apartment building and inside we find a doctor (Frank Welker) and a woman (June Foray) having a discussion. It would seem the woman, Mrs. Waterford, has a very ill child on her hands. Tommy is shown laying in bed asleep. On the wall is a picture of Alvin so we know the Chipmunks are stars in this world. The doctor indicates that he’s done all he can, but they just don’t have a solution for what ails Tommy. His mother says he’s lost interest in his music, which is apparently something that normally interests him, and he has almost no reaction to his sister’s nightly readings. Speaking of, Tommy’s sister Angela (Janice Karman) sits down to read to him to no reaction from Tommy. Sounds like he has a severe case of plot flu.

Skateboarding down a banister – welcome to the 1980s chipmunks!

The soundtrack switches to “Here Comes Santa Claus” as the camera pans across the city and comes to rest on a large house somewhere outside the city. It’s the home of our favorite rodents, Alvin (Bagdasarian), Simon (also Bagdasarian), and Theodore (Karman in her first time voicing the chipmunk). We find the three getting excited for Christmas, and given the darkness, it would appear to be very early in the morning. The three want to go Christmas shopping, but first must wake up their father, David (Bagdasarian), who seems uninterested in rising at this hour and really doesn’t appreciate being woken up by his kids skateboarding through the house.

Well, he doesn’t look mad.

The chipmunks bounce on David’s bed which gets him to bounce in the air, his face still heavy with sleep. As he bounces, the three sing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and each time David bounces one of the chipmunks follows with an article of clothing. Eventually, David rises from the bed and walks over to a full-length mirror to take-in this new look. He has a pillow on his head, socks on his hands, and a coat on for pants. An irritated look overtakes his face as he recites the boys’ names, “Theodore. Simon. ALVIN,” rising with intensity for each until he practically yells Alvin. It’s essentially his catchphrase.

That’s a good look for you, Dave.

David then reminds them that he knows how many days there are until Christmas as he stomps around. The three boys are shown just laying in David’s bed with their eyes closed the whole tirade feeling quite a bit routine. When they grow tired of David’s ranting, Alvin whips out his harmonica and plays a note which is the signal for the other two to start singing. It’s an original composition, but I don’t know what it’s called or who wrote it as it isn’t featured on the soundtrack. Chris Caswell is credited with the music for this special, but that might not extend to anything with lyrics. As the chipmunks sing David continues his ranting, but eventually he takes note of the song and comes to rest in his lounge chair. In the distance, we can see the sun is now rising as David sinks into the chair and remarks that the song sounds pretty. The song ends with a line about gifts under the tree and Alvin adds a solo embellishment of, “…and I hope the rest are for me!” Fade to title card.

Alvin’s anger about having to work does raise some good questions about how this whole arrangement works.

After the title card, we cut to the boys sharing a skateboard and David strolling behind them as they head into town. Alvin is angry with Dave for making them work on their Christmas vacation, but David insists it’s just a short recording session. Alvin rightly retorts with “It’s work!” Remember kids, no matter how much you love your job in the future, work is still work. Is this exploitive on Dave’s part? Hard to say. They are, after all, chipmunks which normally would live outside in trees so having a nice, warm, house and all they need is certainly a good gig. On the other hand, as we’ll see later, they live in a pretty large house and yet all three share one bedroom. What the hell, Dave? Yeah, I think he might suck. Anyway, during the course of the conversation Alvin is reminded he left his precious harmonica at home, so he turns his legs into an airplane propeller and flies home, grabs it, and flies back. It’s this weird running animation that we’ll return to more than once.

Alvin feels the need to introduce his harmonica to the store display model.

As a solution to their problem, Alvin proposes that while David gets the studio ready that he and his brother do some window shopping, which Dave agrees to. As they speed away he reminds them, “Don’t be late!” The boys skate into town singing their own version of “Jingle Bells” that’s at least a bit charming, if not exactly an improvement over the standard version. We pan to a mall and dissolve on an image of a display for the Golden Echo Harmonica. Have you ever seen a gaudy store display for a harmonica before? I certainly have not. Alvin stops to look at it and whips out his own version of the harmonica, so it would seem this won’t be a story about Alvin desiring one of these. As he “shows” his harmonica to its brother, Alvin hears a voice calling out about it. He ducks, for some reason, behind the display as we see the voice belongs to Angela Waterford. She’s shopping with her mother and points out the harmonica and says it’s the thing Tommy wants more than anything. She begs her mom to buy it for him, but she reminds the child they can’t afford it. The girl wails that “Tommy will just die without it!” Her mother tells her not to talk like that and then says it will take all that they have to make sure that Tommy makes it through Christmas.

Alvin just isn’t feel it right now.

We then cut to the pair walking on the city streets and it’s already getting dark by the looks of it. Angela is asking her mother what she meant about that comment regarding Tommy making it through Christmas, but her mom is non-responsive. Alvin is lurking in the background as he’s apparently stalking the pair. As we zoom in on his sullen expression, the background dissolves to the recording studio. The chipmunks are performing their signature song, but Alvin is too sad to sing. Dave stops the recording to tell Alvin he’s a little flat, who proposes they take a break. When David sarcastically responds, “Take a break,” Alvin takes this as an agreement and runs out. As he does, his feet spin like a propeller once again and that whistling run animation from earlier returns.

I don’t like this.

Alvin races over to the home of the Waterfords, the weird run animation is utilized the whole way which makes him look like he’s floating over the streets as opposed to running on them. He arrives and Mrs. Waterford wakes Tommy to tell him he has a visitor. When Alvin is introduced, Tommy sits up and says, “Oh, hi Alvin!” like they’re buddies and not like this is an impromptu visit from a celebrity. Alvin somewhat clumsily explains to Tommy that he’s here as a delivery boy and says someone entered his name into a contest and he won. His prize? A Golden Echo Harmonica! Tommy is overjoyed to receive such a gift and his mother gives her daughter this side-eyed look with a sly smile. I don’t think this is the conclusion I’m supposed to draw, but it almost looks like she’s saying to her kid, “Hah, see? Our plan to get the chipmunk to gift him the harmonica worked, now we don’t have to buy it!”

A present for Tommy. Smells like chipmunk spit.

With his delivery completed, Alvin informs Tommy that he has to run and he resumes his odd, whirling, run animation. We cut back to the studio and a voice can be heard informing David that his time is just about up. David reluctantly decides to proceed with the recording and indicates they’ll dub Alvin later, but as the boys start to sing Alvin comes running in and nails it. David throws his hand up in the air with exasperation, but then settles into a smile as the boys perform. The song is allowed to linger for a bit, not ending until the boys actually since the line, “Please Christmas don’t be late.”

How chipmunks trim a tree.

At the Seville house, it would appear to be the next day. Dave is then shown answering the phone and remarks to the man on the other end that “It’s not too late to talk business,” so I have no idea when this is supposed to take place. It’s not even dark out. The boys are decorating the tree and Simon and Theodore can’t believe Alvin gave away his harmonica. When they ask him if he told Dave, Alvin indicates he has not as he thinks it would break his heart since he gave Alvin the harmonica. He says he has a plan to use his Christmas money to buy a new one before Dave finds out, but of course that’s not going to work. Dave enters the room right after to tell the boys they’ll be performing at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve! And best of all, they want Alvin to perform a harmonica solo! I know I always expect a harmonica solo when I head to an event.

I’m surprised this rinky dink setup is so successful with the neighborhood kids. Also, I hate how that moustache is drawn on Alvin.

Now suddenly burdened with a need for money and before Christmas, Alvin starts scheming. The sound of the neighbor’s dogs barking gives him an idea and he whispers it to his brothers. Soon we see Simon and Theodore enthusiastically carrying a chair outside. Theodore and Alvin are then shown in the attic pulling some clothes out of a trunk and it becomes obvious it’s a Santa suit. We then cut to a hastily painted sign that reads: Have your picture taken with Santa Claus and his reindeer – only 25 cents. The dogs are all lined up in a row and playing the role of the reindeer, which none are fit for, but the boys at least put antlers on them. Blitzen looks rather cheeky about something, maybe he farted? Alvin is playing the role of Santa, and Theodore is his elf, while Simon works the camera. When a kid comes over, Theodore uses a rope and pully to lift Alvin up out of the way for the kid to have a seat in the chair and he’s then lowered onto the kid’s lap, which seems backwards. It’s at that point Simon takes the picture. It looks like there’s a design, or animation, error with Santa Alvin as his moustache is drawn coming out of his mouth, but will be fixed in a later shot.

Somehow it’s Dave that always takes the brunt of it.

David is reading a newspaper in his chair when he hears the dogs barking. He goes outside to investigate and immediately looks irritated. He asks Simon what’s going on, who says they’re helping Alvin make money. He probably could have softened that explanation some, and I thought he was the smart one. Dave then calls for Alvin, who has to remind him that he’s to be addressed as Santa. David tells him he’d like a word and now the moustache on Alvin has been moved to under his nose. Alvin doesn’t have time to explain things though and moves over to his seat which is now occupied by a girl, Cindy Lou, who does bare a small resemblance to Cindy Lou Who and I have to believe that was intentional on the part of Chuck Jones. Cindy Lou is not alone though as she brought her cat. When Alvin realizes this, so do the dogs, and they chase the cat. There’s an animation error where one dog just disappears from the shot. Carnage ensues, leaving David covered in snow which Alvin casually flicks from his nose. The moustache continues to move all over the place on Alvin throughout.

I’m with the boys, I don’t want to hear this poem.

That night, David leans upon the mantle and tells the boys it’s time they all be reminded about how lucky they have it. He asks if they remember a poem he wrote, “The Spirit of Christmas,” and the boys moan about having to endure it once again. As David recites it, the boys finish certain lines and it’s pretty bland as it’s all about being generous at Christmas. Dave works up to a big finish and says the line, “So let’s all give a big cheer for…” and the boys respond in unison with “Money!” They immediately clutch at their own mouths to indicate that they didn’t intend to say that and it causes David to probe the boys for more information following their stunt earlier that day. When Dave asks why they suddenly need money, Theodore is the one to say that Alvin needs it so he can buy a present – for himself. David is disgusted at the idea that Alvin is thinking about himself at Christmas and sends the boys to bed. He takes a seat in his chair once more and Alvin approaches cautiously from behind. He asks Dave if he’s mad at him and gets the response every kid hates, “No, I’m just very disappointed.”

All these years later, I’m still surprised Clyde Crashcup made it into this.

We’re then shown the chipmunks asleep in their beds. Alvin’s is decorated with Christmas lights, and given this was in the era before LED lights, this strikes me as super dangerous. Alvin is tossing and turning as we hear him thinking aloud about his problem. We then enter the special’s oddest moment, Alvin’s dream in which he meets a character from The Alvin Show: Clyde Craschup (Charles Berendt). Alvin is shown entering a lab where both he and the hapless inventor confuse each other for a loan officer. Craschcup is a man who enjoys puns and when Alvin tells him he needs a loan, he remarks “Well, of course you’re alone!”

Ladies and gentlemen: Santi Claus!

Crashcup leads Alvin inside. Clyde explains that he’s busy working on the spirit of Christmas and leads Alvin to a door labeled Santi and his Reindeer. He explains Santi as a man with a beard and a hat, but when he opens the door to reveal his creation, we see it’s Abraham Lincoln in a Santa hat riding in a pumpkin. The date is also February 12th and the reindeer are pink elephants. One such elephant apparently dislikes being portrayed as a reindeer and grabs Crashcup with its trunk and flings him into a wall. The now likely concussed inventor sits up and declares his invention a success.

It’s munny. Get it?

Alvin then tries to explain to the inventor that he hasn’t lost the spirit of Christmas, he just needs money to buy a harmonica. Crashcup seems irritated, then a bit confused as he ponders what money is. Alvin tries to explain it, but Crashcup is rather dense. He think it sounds wonderful though and declares that he’ll just have to invent it adding that it will go rather well with his other invention: the I.O.U. He whips out a canvas and easel and gets to work. He paints an image of an inverted magician’s hat and out jumps a green bunny – “munny,” get it? When Alvin objects, the “munny” makes an annoyed face and jumps back in the hat, flips it over, and with its feet poking out of the bottom runs off. Alvin then says that he needs “Money!” and he repeats the word over and over as the dream apparently ends.

Dave is then shown coming up the stairs remarking to himself that maybe he was a bit too hard on Alvin. He enters the room and finds the boy crying for money, throws up his hands, and walks out. The next morning, we begin with an exterior shot and then find the boys inside. Theodore and Simon are lending Alvin all of the money they have, which isn’t much considering Theodore spent most of his on cookies. Alvin graciously accepts and heads off to the store, but Simon remarks to Theodore that Alvin doesn’t have nearly enough cash to buy that harmonica. Dave then enters the room and asks the boys if they’re ready to head to Carnegie Hall and immediately becomes irritated when he finds out Alvin isn’t here. Before he can ask further questions, he’s interrupted by a phone call. It’s Mrs. Waterford, and she was just calling to tell Alvin that the harmonica worked wonders for Tommy! Dave is delighted and gestures for the boys to come closer. He then tells them it’s time they tell him the whole story.

The tactic of “If I stare at something long enough looking real sad maybe someone will buy it for me,” has only ever worked this one time.

We then find Alvin by the display for the Golden Echo Harmonica. Just as Simon predicted, he doesn’t have enough money to buy it. The special is also pretty smart to never let us know how much this thing costs which helps to insulate it from inflation. He’s without his hat for some reason, but his moping is soon interrupted by an old woman (June Foray). She approaches in need of help and has identified Alvin as someone who can help her. Only, she has an unusual request in that she would like to buy Alvin a Christmas present. Why? We don’t know, she just refers to herself as a lonely old woman far from home. Alvin is basically speechless as she purchases the harmonica and immediately gifts it to Alvin. He unwraps it and the thing practically glows in his hands. He thanks her, but she refuses his thanks and instead asks him to play her something. Alvin is happy to oblige as he plays a slow rendition of “Silent Night” which attracts a small crowd.

I’ll give the harmonica credit, it sure is shiny.

As Alvin plays, the camera zooms out and we see Dave and the boys watching from a balcony. The camera pans up to the sky to focus on the North Star as a choir is introduced to sing a few lines of the song. When it’s over, Dave scoops up Alvin and apologizes for how he reacted to Alvin earlier. Alvin is completely unphased as he just wants to find the old woman who gave him the harmonica. She’s gone though, and Theodore soon reminds Dave that they need to go if they want to make it to Carnegie Hall on time. David then tells Alvin they have a surprise for him when they get there and we cut to a horse-drawn carriage apparently taking the chipmunks to their destination as the trio sing “Sleigh Ride.”

Let’s see that harmonica, Tommy!

At Carnegie Hall, Alvin is shown finishing his rendition of “Silent Night” on his harmonica before their sold out crowd. He exits the stage to applause and bumps into a kid backstage – Tommy! Alvin is shocked to see Tommy (R.J. Williams), who just responds by complimenting Alvin on his solo. Dave then tells Alvin this is the surprise he was telling him about and we see Tommy’s mom and sister are there as well. He’s all better, and best of all he brought his harmonica. Alvin pulls him onstage in the spirit of celebration!

And the concert went off without a hitch, in case anyone was worried about that.

Alvin introduces Tommy to the audience as the curtain lifts to reveal a model of Santa in a sleigh with Theodore and Simon positioned behind it. Alvin takes his place beside his brothers as Tommy plays “Deck the Halls.” The chipmunks sing their own version, like they did with “Jingle Bells” earlier, only this one is a bit more lame as it begins with “Deck the world with smiling faces.” Dave is shown with his arms around Tommy’s mom and sister, then the scene cuts back to the performance, then back to Dave who is now standing with his arms at his sides. He then reaches out and wraps them around the Waterfords and it makes me think the shots were ordered wrong as it doesn’t make much sense. Alvin then concludes the verse with a line directed at the Santa display, “And don’t forget your gifts for me!” Dave covers his face with his hand indicating this was an ad-lib on Alvin’s part and scowls in Alvin’s direction, but Mrs. Waterford seems amused by it.

That’s better.

We then cut to a familiar face soaring high in the sky above Carnegie Hall – Santa Claus! He’s looking down and can apparently hear the performance. We pan over the city and it’s just a still image. It looks nice, but awkward, because the cars on the streets aren’t moving. It cuts to a silhouette shot of Santa and his reindeer as they fly through the city and eventually into a less inhabited area. These shots are the easiest Santa shots since you only need to animate 4 reindeer when it’s from the side. He never passes in front of a moon though.

This is how I picture Santa after a hard night’s work. Hell, this is me every Christmas Eve!

We’re taken to the North Pole and a tired Santa is shown stretching as he enters a cozy, little, home. There’s a roaring fire and a big sandwich by a lounge chair waiting for him. He greets his wife who we can’t quite see as she’s seated in a chair doing some knitting and is presented from behind, but her voice sure sounds familiar. Santa (Welker) then collapses into his chair and tells his wife she should get out of the house some Christmas and see how the world celebrates. We pan over to her and can see her now. It’s the old woman from the store and she dismisses Santa’s suggestion and remarks that making children happy is his “thing.” Santa doesn’t even hear her as he’s already snoring away in his chair. Mrs. Claus then looks to the camera and makes a “shush” gesture. She blows us a kiss as the special ends. A sweet ending for a sweet special.

She’s so cute!

A Chipmunk Christmas is a Christmas special that’s very easy to poke holes in and have a little fun with. Tommy is apparently a devious child who made himself sick so he could get a harmonica for Christmas that his apparently single mother couldn’t afford and it worked. They got a harmonica out of Alvin who then made the unwise decision not to tell his own father about and instead set out on what should have been an impossible task only for a little divine intervention to take place and set things right. Obviously, that’s not how we’re supposed to interpret things, just as we shouldn’t interpret that mental manipulation Mrs. Waterford engaged in to get that harmonica from Alvin, but so much is left unexplained that there’s room for the viewer to fill in the gaps with whatever they please. And since Santa exists in this world, why couldn’t he just bring Tommy the harmonica he wanted so badly? Plus I still maintain that glance Mrs. Waterford gives her daughter is bizarre and out of place.

What is this glance?! I think Alvin’s been played.

If I allow myself to drop the cynicism and think back on this special as I did when I was young, then it works much better. Tommy is just sick, with what we don’t know, and it’s the Christmas Spirit that saves him. Or residual chipmunk saliva in the harmonica. Alvin has to keep it a secret so we can have some Alvin-type hijinks and it all works out in the end. We get a nice dose of the chipmunks, plenty of singing, and Mrs. Claus gets to be the hero for a change. I think it’s her inclusion that puts this one over-the-top for me as it’s a clever way to deus ex machina Alvin out of his predicament without taking back the harmonica or just having a rather simple reveal that ends with David buying him a new one. Because that’s probably what would have normally happened. Logic even suggests that Alvin just find the new one under the tree, and that’s likely where most headspaces go with this one until we find out Alvin needs the harmonica for a performance on Christmas Eve! Whoops, Santa can’t help you there, little buddy!

The plot, which just highlights the spirit of giving at this time of year and does it through a normally selfish character, works well enough and the reveal is a fun one. We get a lot of songs throughout this one, but it is a bit light on Simon and Theodore. I suppose that’s nothing new for the duo as Alvin absorbs a lot of the spotlight frequently, but it would have been nice to see them more involved somehow. Instead, they’re just needed to cover for Alvin and serve as extra hands. Maybe we could have cut out the dream sequence, which feels out of place, in favor of another scheme involving those two. Perhaps Simon could have taken on a bigger role in said scheme or something. I just know I would much prefer more of the chipmunks in favor of a Clyde Crashcup cameo.

It was a pretty smart move to incorporate “The Chipmunk Song” into their first Christmas special. Kills a few minutes too.

That’s really the special’s only weak spot and it’s not exactly a big one. The dream has some decent jokes in it, so it’s not as if I groan when it gets to that mark. Mostly, I’m just charmed by the chipmunks. They look cute, they’re mostly well-voiced (Simon is a bit robotic at times), and have never looked better. There are some animation gaffes here and there, but not enough for me to render this one problematic from a visual perspective. The characters animate well (aside from when Alvin is running) and I love the backgrounds. The other character designs are fairly basic, but still look fine. I like the Chuck Jones Santa who has more of a “dad bod” than an obese one. It would have been nice to see a full reindeer design, but that whole sequence works well as-is so I can’t say I miss it.

A sweet story with some lovely visuals, it’s a shame this one isn’t still shown annually on network TV.

If you want to check out A Chipmunk Christmas this year, your best bet is to just track down the DVD release Christmas with the Chipmunks. It’s pretty inexpensive and contains some holiday themed episodes of the 1980s series. The only downer is that those episodes omit the theme song, which must be a rights thing. Currently, this special isn’t streaming as part of a service anywhere as everything Chipmunks-related seems to be in limbo given the franchise is up for sale. There are sometimes rights issues as well since the Bagdasarians are always partnering with someone to make these things. Again, I say just grab the DVD. As one of the best specials of all time, it’s well worth the purchase.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 10 – It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!

For December 10, we are returning to the theme of this year which is to revisit the best of the best. When I originally ranked my favorite Christmas specials, I had the recently released It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! ranked at #19. The years have been kind to this throwback Christmas special as last year I…

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Dec. 10 – The Town Santa Forgot

Come the 1990s, the cartoon juggernaut known as Hanna-Barbera was fading. It’s said the company once had control of approximately 80% of the children’s programming on television and even come 1990 it was still around 20%. The studio’s last big hit had been The Smurfs which set all kinds of Saturday morning records despite few…

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Dec. 10 – Merry Christmas, Super Dave!

  There are a lot of cartoons that have come and gone in my lifetime, many I forgot even existed until something jars my memory. Earlier this year we lost comedian Bob Einstein. Einstein is probably best known for his role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but twenty years ago he was best known for his…

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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. 7 – Bedtime for Sniffles

Original release November 23, 1940.

Not every Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies star had to be inherently funny. Sure, most of them were and that’s often what many cartoon enthusiasts will point to the Warner catalog of cartoons as having over Disney, but it wasn’t some hard and fast rule. That’s why when a guy by the name of Chuck Jones was getting into directing cartoon shorts he envisioned creating a star out of a character that was cute first, funny second. It was Jones along with Disney import Charles Thorson that created Sniffles, a little mouse character designed to make audiences go “aww!” The little guy was distinct from a more famous mouse, but was very much in-line with other Disney mice as Thorson basically ripped himself off when designing Sniffles as he looks an awful lot like the mice from The Country Cousin.

They set out to make a cute character and it would appear they succeeded.

Sniffles debuted in the 1939 short Naughty but Mice and would go on to star in 12 additional short films, all but one released under the Merrie Melodies umbrella. He was an unassuming character that often stumbled into, and out of, danger in his cartoons or he just went on a little adventure with low stakes. Eventually, Jones seemed to become disinterested in “cute” and moved towards comedy. Towards the end of his run, Sniffles underwent a change in personality in which he became a chatterbox who often annoyed other characters with his incessant questions and explanations. It’s that version of the character some may remember since that was the persona he possessed for a brief cameo in the movie Space Jam.

Sniffles was conceived as a Merrie Melodies star since he wasn’t looney enough for Looney Tunes.

In 1940, Sniffles was still very much in his cute phase and he was handpicked to star in a Christmas short that year. Bedtime for Sniffles is a simple little cartoon about trying to stay up late on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus in the act. Sniffles seems a bit like a child, but he’s actually an adult mouse who lives alone. This short relies on his cuteness and the capabilities of Jones to put the viewer in Sniffles’ shoes. It’s definitely short on laughs, but it’s also not going for them.

A solid looking house for a mouse.

The cartoon begins with “Joy to the World” being sung. It’s implied the song is coming from carolers as we see a snowy cityscape illustrated in just a still. As the camera pans the animation comes in and the song fades and is replaced by Sniffles (Margaret Hill-Talbot, probably, as it’s uncredited) singing “Jingle Bells.” The camera pans to a rooftop and a little, wooden, barrel on its side with warm light escaping from it. A door has been fashioned out of the bottom of the barrel and it’s adorned with a Christmas wreath. Sniffles pops out to brush snow away from his welcome mat before heading back inside.

Gotta make sure Santa can see your welcome mat.

Once in the cozy confines of his little home, Sniffles takes note of the time. It’s Christmas Eve, and Santa is due to arrive in about an hour and a half. He decides if he’s going to stay awake for Santa he’ll need to brew some coffee. He heads over to a large container of Haxwell Mouse (this sort of pun-based humor is basically it for comedy in this one) and fills up a little coffee percolator positioned over a lighter. Most of the home of Sniffles is cleverly designed with every day items repurposed into something a mouse could use, but the coffee percolator just looks like a mini coffee percolator.

I hope you enjoy the sight of a yawning mouse, because you’re going to get a lot of it in this one.

Sniffles continues to sing “Jingle Bells” to himself as he waits for his coffee to brew. He heads over to a radio, which is massive in his house, and turns it on. He appears to be dozing off as his voice kind of trails a bit, but then some classical music comes on the radio and he decides to dance with himself. He waltzes over to a makeup compact setup like a dresser on top of some matchstick boxes and looks himself over in the mirror. He then starts talking to himself and even flirting with himself (poor guy must be pretty lonely) before going into a shadow boxing routine. A sleepy song (“Sleep Baby Sleep”) comes on the radio and seems to instantly tire him out as he turns towards the mirror and starts to nod off. His head comes to rest on a little brush as he drifts into sleep.

If he pulls out a bottle of lotion I’m turning this one off.

The sleepy song ends and a lively rendition of “Jingle Bells” comes on to rouse Sniffles from his brief slumber. As he pops his head up, the brush has left a bunch of dot marks on his cheek. He exclaims “Measles!” at the sight, and it sure must have sucked to not have a vaccine for them back in the day! As he rubs his face, he soon figures out the culprit and smiles to himself. He then saunters over to the radio and slumps against it. He’s in bad shape now as sleep is making a hard play for him. The animation takes over as we close in on the face of Sniffles as his eyes grow heavy and his posture slumps, only for him to snap himself back awake with a big smile. He can’t convince himself he’s wide awake though as his face quickly starts to sag once more.

Pictured: not measles.

Sniffles stumbles over to his makeshift sink, two eyedroppers over some cup-like structure. He washes his face to try to and wake himself up and reaches for a box of cigarette paper on the wall to use as a towel. He discards it in an empty walnut shell he uses as a trash receptacle then walks over to his door to get a blast of cold air and probably search the sky for Santa. As he mumbles to himself about the need to stay awake, his posture slumps and he leans against the frame of the door for support. By now, I’m already thinking about that open flame under the coffee percolator and wondering what that will mean for Sniffles should he fall asleep, thankfully the thing whistles like a tea kettle though and Sniffles wakes up. He turns to the camera and his face is covered in white snow and he looks like…well, I could make a filthy joke right now, but this is a Sniffles cartoon!

Here you go Internet, do your worst!

Sniffles heads over to retrieve his coffee with a little bit of pep in his step. He tries to convince himself a thimble of coffee is just what he needs and he sits in a chair to nurse it. We pan over to the radio and a chime comes on to indicate this is the end of the broadcast day. It’s now 11:30, and the departing DJ doesn’t even wish the listeners a “Merry Christmas,” which just seems wrong. The camera then pans back over to Sniffles. The coffee is all over the floor in a puddle, he’s slumped forward in his chair barely clinging to the thimble he used as a mug, as he barely clings to semi-consciousness. Sniffles then lifts his head and turns to a magazine to keep him awake. It’s titled Good Mousekeeping, and he immediately spies another visual pun encouraging him to go sleep, this one a cartoon of a yawning baby carrying a tire with the caption “Time to Re-tire.” He then looks up from his magazine and spies his bed. It looks so inviting, but he turns his head with a frown to avoid it. Only his eyes then rest on his mirror, and the bed is reflected in it. He turns again, but now he can see the shadow of the bed on the wall!

It’s time to give in, Sniffles.

Sniffles then returns to his sink and plunges his head into the bowl of water. He can see through the side of the sink his bed once again, only now it’s inhabited by Sniffles! Now, my head cannon is Sniffles drowned himself in the sink, and the rest of the cartoon is his ghost trying to call out to his body. Sniffles lifts his head out of the sink, and the Sniffles in the bed is semi-transparent, like a ghost! It sits up and beckons for him to come to bed. Sniffles is resistant at first, but soon he starts to head that way. He starts with a couple steps, then floats across the floor as the ghost Sniffles gets out of the way allowing for tangible Sniffles to get into bed. The ghost pulls the covers over him and climbs in beside him, their bodies merging. The ghost then pops back up to blow out the candle because this mouse seems determined to start a major fire. Good thing he has ghosts looking out for him.

This is how he died.

We then pan over to a window as “Joy to the World” returns. The sound of sleigh bells soon fill the air and we see the silhouette of Santa pass by a chunk of the moon. He has six reindeer, because eight are just too hard to draw, and the short comes to an end before he can pay old Sniffles a visit. Or pull his corpse from the sink.

If you’re relying on a hallucination to keep you safe then you probably shouldn’t be living alone.

And that’s all folks! A simple, little, situational Christmas cartoon starring a cute little mouse. Sniffles doesn’t really get to do or say enough in this one to become annoying, and while this cartoon is short on laughs, it’s pretty involving from an animation point of view. Jones and his staff do a terrific job of just animating the slowly deteriorating condition of Sniffles. I liked how he battled his fatigue, and I especially thought introducing the bed as an antagonist was a nice touch towards the end. The way the character frowns as he spins away from even looking at his bed is done well, though the ghost Sniffles was a little weird. I do wish we saw a little more of Santa, but I guess it would have been a challenge to try and draw a human character interacting with this miniature world crafted by the short. Even just a little gift dropping onto Sniffles’ welcome mat would have been appreciated though.

Gotta get that moon-shot in!

Bedtime for Sniffles, being a cartoon that stars one of the lesser Warner stars, is pretty easy to come by today. I believe it’s officially streaming on HBO Max and it’s been included on various VHS, DVD, and even Blu Ray releases over the years, most notably the Chuck Jones focused Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection. And if you don’t think it’s worth paying for, you can find it easily enough online streaming for free in various places, though I do recommend that Blu Ray if you’re still into physical media (like I am). This is a solid, low energy, Christmas short you could sandwich in between something like Gift Wrapped and The Night Before Christmas. It’s probably no one’s favorite Christmas short, but it’s a hard one to truly dislike.


Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special

One thing I lament a bit is the loss of the shared television experience. And in particular, the thrill of knowing a seasonal favorite was airing on a given night. These things seem to be dying as even Charlie Brown has found himself relegated to PBS. And it’s mostly due to these specials getting gobbled up by streaming platforms. There’s still a few that get seasonal airings, but their numbers are dwindling.

Once upon a time, a seasonal special was a surefire way to get some nice ratings during a holiday. That made them attractive for producers who went out of their way to create a holiday themed cartoon for their popular characters. And when it comes to cartoons, few could argue that the Looney Tunes weren’t near the top of the mountain in terms of popularity, or just sheer greatness. Bugs Bunny is a character that can lay claim to being top dog, or rabbit, in the field of animated characters. Want to argue Donald Duck or Popeye? Sure, they and others can make an argument, but so can Bugs. I’m not concerned with figuring out who is best, but I am reminded that Bugs and the gang once had their own holiday specials you could find on television at the right time of year. Unfortunately, they’re almost all bad. How can this be?! Bugs Bunny is fantastic! Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tweety, Sylvester – they practically write themselves! It’s an unfortunate reality though, as we saw with Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales, and the rabbit didn’t just get victimized by Christmas.

Warning, there are few treats ahead.

In 1977, CBS aired Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special. This could have been an annual viewing tradition, and it was for a little while, but fell by the wayside because it’s, well, not great. Come the 70s, Warner’s theatrical shorts division was dead and their vast cast of characters had pivoted to the small screen. The classic Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes were now airing in syndication with little in the way of original animation being created aside from wrap-around segments or commercials. Warner and CBS not surprisingly saw an opening to do a Halloween special because the Looney Tunes have dabbled with the macabre before. They could have, and probably should have, just rounded up some popular, spooky, cartoons and aired them in a block. Maybe they could have done some wrap-arounds too, or brought in a live-action host, and people probably would have tuned in. They did not.

What the Hell is this hot garbage?!

Instead, Warner made the decision to take 8 classic (well, mostly classic) shorts and edit them together. Only they didn’t stitch them together with wrap-arounds, instead they tried to make the transition from one toon to the next seamless with new animation. This feels almost sacrilegious to cut up these cartoons like that. Some are even split in half with entire cartoons shoved in the middle. A-Haunting We Will Go is the first toon, and it gets chopped up to have four different cartoons inserted into it before it concludes. Now, maybe if the original directors were making these calls it wouldn’t be so bad, but none of them worked on this special. Hal Geer is the credited executive producer while David Detiege is the credited director who must have overseen the new animation and layouts. I don’t know if they tried to get Chuck Jones or Friz Freleng to do this thing, but presumably that would have cost money and they probably didn’t want to be a part of this.

Witch Hazel faired slightly better than Bugs. Slightly.

If dicing up the cartoons feels bad enough, wait until you see the new animation! Holy Hell is it bad. Now, I don’t want to rag on the animators and artists involved. They probably had a shit budget to work with and Warner animation was a shell of its former self come the late 70s, but they couldn’t even get Bugs Bunny on model. It is immensely distracting to watch the old animation suddenly cut to the new, because Bugs looks about as different as he can. He looks like the bootleg Bugs that adorned VHS covers of public domain cartoons in the 80s. It’s bad. The audio is also noticeably different since Mel Blanc had gotten older. That can’t be helped, but it does just add to that jarring feeling.

It’s a shame what happened here, because most of these cartoons are great on their own like “Hyde and Go Tweet.”

If you can get past all of that, is there something to enjoy here? Yes and no. You get snippets of the old shorts in some cases which just isn’t very satisfying if they’re cartoons you’re familiar with. The pacing is off and most will be left feeling frustrated. Which is a shame, because most of these shorts by themselves are plenty enjoyable:

  • A-Haunting We Will Go
  • Broom-Stick Bunny
  • Hyde and Hare
  • Hyde and Go Tweet
  • A Witch’s Tangled Hare
  • Claws for Alarm
  • Scaredy Cat
  • Transylvania 6-5000
  • Bewitched Bunny

Some of these edits will confuse kids. The special goes right from Hyde and Hare to Hyde and Go Tweet which both feature Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the character models aren’t the same. Claws for Alarm and Scaredy Cat are brutally cut up and quite lousy as a result, even though Scaredy Cat is a terrific toon by itself. And like the new animation issues, you’re also jumping from different eras of Warner shorts which have different production values. It also draws attention to the reuse common in these cartoons like Bugs’ witch costume and walk cycle being the same as Daffy’s nephew. I guess what I’m saying is, this special cuts up the cartoons while also drawing attention to their original flaws. Talk about a swing and a miss.

If you’re thinking about watching this thing, don’t do it!

If you want to spend Halloween with Bugs Bunny and his friends, you can get this special on DVD. You won’t find it airing anywhere, but it is streaming for free in the usual places. It’s mostly an example of what not do do with these shorts. If you want to just experience some spooky tunes, watch the above mentioned shorts by themselves. Or see if you can get the Halloween edition of Toon in With Me that aired this morning. Maybe it’s on demand, but it has some of these cartoons and it’s far more well put together than this. There’s also a block of Looney Tunes airing tomorrow morning on MeTV that may or may not follow a spooky theme. The official Warner YouTube channel even has a bunch of Halloween cartoons on there for free which is way better than this, even if they’re edited. Basically, there are far better options when it comes to enjoying Halloween with Bugs and the gang.


Dec. 13 – The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials

Five years ago The Christmas Spot did its first advent calendar countdown to Christmas and the theme was “The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials.” With that list, my approach wasn’t entirely forthright. I really had a list of 20 specials that I deemed worthy of such an honor and I devoted the back five to specials I felt were worth spotlighting that might otherwise have been overlooked. What I also should have added at the time was that the list is fluid. It’s going to change as we as a society of holiday consumers reevaluate the old and welcome the new. Seeing as it’s been five years, it felt right to look back on that list, re-arrange a few entries, add some more, and kick out some that have grown stale. I should stress, this is all one man’s opinion on television specials and as someone who loves Christmas I do tend to watch a lot of these specials too much and there’s definitely a fatigue factor. The list of holiday fare I indulge in year in and year out goes deeper than 25, so if your favorite isn’t here don’t sweat it. I probably think it’s fine.

For this exercise, I think it makes sense to just go down the list comparing the original to the revised edition. I’ll list the number and the entry with the previous ranking (if applicable) in parenthesis after and the 2015 entry after that, like so:

25. A Flintstone Christmas (#9) (Moral Orel – The Best Christmas Ever)

I like A Flintstone Christmas a lot, but I’ve also seen it a lot and I think it just doesn’t affect me in the same way now as it did years ago. As for Moral Orel, it’s a fine, dark, Christmas special and not something I need to watch every year.

24. American Dad! – For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls (UR) (Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too)

American Dad! has become one of the titans of Christmas as it has a new special almost every year. “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” is bloody and insane, which is what makes it the most memorable for me, but there are a lot of contenders from this show. Winnie the Pooh’s foray into Christmas is plenty sweet, but also not very remarkable.

23. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (#13) (Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special)

Rudolph is a classic, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s mostly included on all of these lists because of its classic status. It’s kind of ugly, and I think most of us watch it out of habit as opposed to pure enjoyment. Still, there’s no replicating that warm, nostalgic, feel it’s still capable of conjuring up. As for Robot Chicken, I very much enjoy the marathon sessions Adult Swim will air during December, but it’s designed to be disposable and the jokes are very hit or miss.

22. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (UR) (Invader Zim – Most Horrible X-Mas Ever)

Olaf’s special wasn’t around in 2015, but it looks like it’s going to be an annual tradition for awhile. It’s funny, warm, and even features songs I don’t hate. He’s quickly become the most charismatic snowman around. Invader Zim is fine, but if you want an absurd Christmas story then I think there’s better out there (like American Dad!).

21. The Tick Loves Santa (UR) (Married…with Children – You Better Watch Out)

In 2020, offbeat and silly superhero stuff is really appealing given how superheroes rule the box office (or would in a normal year). That makes The Tick a series I can appreciate even more now than I did back in 94. And watching The Tick bumble his way through a Christmas story is a great deal of fun. It knocks off the only live-action special from 2015 to be featured on this list. Married…with Children is sort of like the sitcom version of American Dad! because it has a lot of Christmas specials, and most are pretty subversive. It’s still worth watching, but it was always at risk of being dropped for the simple fact that I favor cartoons.

20. Bob’s Burgers – Christmas in the Car (UR) (The Snowman)

Bob’s Burgers and American Dad! are battling it out to be the current king of Christmas since both are prepared seemingly year in and year out. I give the edge to the Belcher family, and while it’s hard to pick a favorite from this crew, I think “Christmas in the Car” is still the reigning champ though I seem to warm more and more to “Father of the Bob” every time I view it. The Snowman is the victim I feel the worst about. It’s not moving up the ranks, but out. I know a lot of folks adore it, but I’ve just never been able to feel the same way about it. Sorry!

19. Frosty the Snowman (#15) (It’s a SpongeBob Christmas)

Like Rudolph, Frosty is skating by on reputation at this point. Unlike Rudolph though, I still feel charmed by this one whenever I watch it. The characters are goofy, some of the plot points make no sense, and that damn song will forever remain catchy. As for SpongeBob, worry not for him, for he will appear later on this list in a more prominent position.

18. Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas (#18) (Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas)

Hey! One that didn’t change! Spoiler alert, but this one is just the first to not move a spot. This one is wonderfully stupid and subversive. Many confuse Beavis and Butt-Head for just stupid, but there’s a lot of satire to be found with the duo. It’s not for everyone, but it sure is funny.

17. Futurama – Xmas Story (#12) (A Muppet Family Christmas)

Futurama hangs on slipping just five spots. It wasn’t in any real danger to fall off as I love the show and I love it’s take on Christmas. The Muppets, on the other hand, were mostly on the old version for the novelty of their special and nostalgia. Admittedly though, the special isn’t great and has maybe 2 or 3 good laughs during its hour-long runtime. Plus that ending goes on and on…

16. A Charlie Brown Christmas (#4) (Yes, Virginia)

Hoo-boy was I coward in 2015! Charlie Brown is a classic, but it’s also quite dull. It’s quotable, has great music, and the good-bad voice acting is somehow really charming. It’s near the top of many lists because it’s been around so long and boomers love it while younger generations were forced to enjoy it. Top 16 is still good, but we all need to be more honest when it comes to Charlie Brown. Yes, Virginia is super sweet and I love the ending, it’s getting there that’s tough. The special is pretty slow and the CG is downright ugly. This one would have been a lot better as a short, but maybe someone will return to it and do just that. And if you hadn’t heard, A Charlie Brown Christmas is airing tonight on PBS at 7:30 PM local time (6:30 CT) which is big news since It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was frozen out of a broadcast airing in 2020 for the first time ever.

15. A Pinky and the Brain Christmas (UR) (Frosty the Snowman)

This one was just an oversight on my part back in 2015. I had not seen it in years, but when I re-watched it for The Christmas Spot in 2017 I was reminded of how wonderful a viewing it is. That ending gets me every time.

14. The Night Before Christmas starring Tom and Jerry (UR) (A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas)

Another one I forgot about and overlooked, Tom and Jerry’s battle under the Christmas tree is full of the usual gags the duo is known for. The animation is gorgeous, especially the backgrounds, and it tops it all off with a really sweet ending. Family Guy was generously ranked in this spot in 2015 and actually was a tough omission this time around. I do still like that special, easily the best Family Guy Christmas episode I’ve seen, but I basically gave it the boot in favor of the superior show, American Dad!

13. Duck the Halls (UR) (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

It’s Donald Duck and it’s Christmas – it was practically made for me! Duck the Halls is hilarious and the animation is great. Sure, it isn’t ink and paint like the old days, but I find it plenty pleasing. Tony Anselmo gives maybe his best performance ever as Donald, and if anything I’m penalizing this one because we have more Donald to come.

12. Rocko’s Modern Christmas (UR) (Futurama – Xmas Story)

I love Rocko, but in 2015 I had all but forgotten about his Christmas special. Well, not this time as I’m putting him just outside the Top 10. The story is fairly simple, but Rocko is so likable and sympathetic that it makes this one instantly charming. And let’s not forget the great gags like the constipated cloud and the living (until it’s not) Christmas tree.

11. It’s a SpongeBob Christmas (#19) (Prep & Landing)

SpongeBob is moving up in the world and actually is the biggest mover, in a positive direction, this time around. My affection for this stop-motion Christmas special seems to grow and grow each year. In 2015 it was still pretty new so a recency bias worked against it, but five years later I’m more than ready to declare this a modern Christmas classic. And the same can be said for the special that once occupied this spot.

10. South Park – Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo (#8) (A Garfield Christmas)

Mr. Hanky just barely hangs onto a top 10 spot this time out. Is his spot in danger? Yes, considering my love of SpongeBob and Donald Duck. For now though, let’s just reflect on how crazy this special was when it first showed up in 1997 and how South Park used to have a new Christmas special every year. My, how the times have changed.

9. Prep & Landing (#11) (A Flintstone Christmas)

I’m surprised I held Prep & Landing out of the Top 10 last time around, but like SpongeBob, I guess I just wasn’t quite ready to let someone new into the club. The CG still looks great on this one and the story is unique, fun, and even heart-warming. New Christmas specials arrive every year, but rarely does one actually add to the whole Santa Claus lore in a meaningful way, but that’s what Prep & Landing has done. These elves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

8. A Garfield Christmas (#10) (Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo)

The fat cat who loves lasagna gets to move up a couple spots, largely benefiting from folks like Fred Flintstone and Charlie Brown getting kicked further down the line. This 1987 special is still a treat to take in that blends humor with a surprising amount of sentiment. It’s a shame it lost the network timeslot it held for many years.

7. DuckTales – Last Christmas! (UR) (Toy Tinkers)

DuckTales has made a comeback since 2015 and included among the new episodes is the show’s first ever Christmas special, and it’s wonderful! It turns the story of A Christmas Carol on its head, in a way, with a time travel tale all its own and features the first mother-son pairing of Della and Duey Duck. Plus it has a fantastic cameo from the late, great, Russi Taylor. If you have yet to see it, fix that this year. Especially since word has come out recently the show isn’t being renewed for a fourth season. 2020 just refuses to stop sucking!

6. Toy Tinkers (#7) (Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire)

The Donald Duck/Chip and Dale vehicle moves up one spot this year. It matters little as this is a cartoon all animation lovers and Christmas enthusiasts should make a point to watch every year. The only negative is that the gunplay contained within this one means Disney+ will likely continue to shun it making it a tad harder to come by.

5. A Chipmunk Christmas (#3) (Pluto’s Christmas Tree)

Alvin and the gang spin a fine Christmas tale. I thought highly enough of it to rank it in the top 3 last time, but I’m bumping it down just a couple of spots this year as I basically rearrange some things. This one is becoming a little harder to come by each year as you can’t guarantee a network showing, but DVDs are cheap so grab one if you need it!

4. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (#6) (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

The premiere episode of The Simpsons is still my favorite Christmas special the show has done. Sure, it’s a bit rough to look at these days, but the story is great, classic, Simpsons. I just wish it and the other 80s Christmas specials on this list were celebrated as much as the stuff from the 60s that hasn’t aged so well. Well, most of that stuff has aged horribly, but there’s one notable omission we’ll get to shortly.

3. Pluto’s Christmas Tree (#5) (A Chipmunk Christmas)

Alvin and Pluto essentially switched places largely because I just love this little short. It’s just perfect. The scenery inside the Christmas tree featuring Chip and Dale is just the best. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every time I watch this short – I want to live in that tree. The physical comedy is fantastic, and I just absolutely adore this short. Unlike Toy Tinkers, you can find this one on Disney+ 365 days out of the year. I’ll probably watch it at least a dozen times between now and Christmas.

2. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (#2)

Mickey and our number one didn’t move, and that’s with good reason. This is my preferred version of A Christmas Carol, and frankly, we don’t need any more. It’s the only one on this list other than the parody featured in Beavis and Butt-Head (I don’t really consider “Last Christmas!” an adaptation) which is kind of surprising to me, but it also feels right. This one is beautiful and features some phenomenal voice acting. I’ll never not tear-up at the sight of a crying Mickey when he visits Tiny Tim’s grave, ditto for when Scrooge informs him he’s getting promoted at the end. I’m getting misty eyed right now just thinking about it.

  1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (#1)

It was number one in 2015, and it will likely remain number one for as long as I’m alive. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is just a perfect Christmas special. It features a story full of heart, humor, redemption, and joy. It’s gorgeously animated with a style unique to both Dr. Seuss and animator Chuck Jones. The music is equally as memorable and the narration from Boris Karloff is the only voice people hear in their heads now-a-days when reading the source material. There’s nothing I’d change about this special, and if I had to pick just one Christmas special to watch annually it would be this one.


Dec. 15 – Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales

Bugs_Bunny's_Looney_Christmas_TalesOnce upon a time, Bugs Bunny was a big enough star to land numerous television specials. He’s still a recognizable character across the world, but I sometimes feel as if Bugs isn’t as loved as he should be. I can’t recall the last time I saw him standing next to a Warner Bros. logo in front of a film. I just feel like he should be on the same level as Mickey Mouse and Disney does a much better job of promoting their mascot than Warner.

In 1979 Bugs returned to the small screen for a Christmas special. Unlike some other Bugs TV specials, this one wasn’t just a collection of previously released theatrical shorts but a collection of all new shorts with an obvious Christmas theme. It features the most recognizable of Looney Tunes as well as the voice of Mel Blanc. It’s broken up into three acts that are each different shorts:  Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol, Freeze Frame, and The Fright Before Christmas. Fritz Freleng directed the book-end shorts as well as the joining segments while Chuck Jones handles Freeze Frame.

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Our carolers for the evening, no Daffy is pretty disappointing.

The special opens with Bugs leading some other Looney Tunes characters in some carols before we’re whisked away to an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. In this, Bugs is sort of the narrator, but he’s also a part of the story as Fred and Jacob Marley. Yosemite Sam is Scrooge and Porky is Cratchit. Tweety is the Tiny Tim character, though he’s not really essential to the story. Bob asks Scrooge for some coal, which Scrooge denies because he gave him a piece last Tuesday (Disney will kind of steal that line). Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is there to wish his uncle a Merry Christmas with the carolers and notices Bob’s predicament. When Scrooge tosses him out, Fred swipes a piece of coal and gifts it to Bob. Scrooge’s cat, played by Sylvester, sees this and alerts Scrooge who tosses everyone out and fires Bob. Bob thanks Fred, even though he did kind of get him fired, and invites him over to his home for dinner. There he meets the rest of the family and sees how little they have. A knock on the door is from a man with the light company and he comes in and takes the family’s candle. Another knock is from the bank – Scrooge is foreclosing on the mortgage and kicking the family out tonight. That’s one harsh lender.

Screenshot1

You know what they say about a fool and his money.

Bugs takes it upon himself to teach Scrooge-Sam a lesson uttering a popular Looney Tunes line of, “Of course you know, that this means war.” He returns to Scrooge’s house to first annoy him with carolers. Then he throws snow in his hot bath. To really scare him straight though, he dresses up as a ghost and convinces Sam that he’s his deceased former partner Jacob Marley. Rather than run through the usual past, present, and future routine, Bugs is able to just get to the point by threatening Scrooge with eternal damnation. It’s enough and Scrooge heads over to the Cratchit house to set all the wrongs right, though he’s not particularly happy to do it. Once done, it’s revealed to be a sort-of play and Sam assures Bugs he’ll be getting his money back. Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner look on from outside the house, which leads us into the next segment.

The Coyote is busy researching road runners (book title “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Road Runners but were Too Afraid to Ask”) and discovers they love deserts and hate snow. One ACME snow-seeder later and the Coyote is buried under a pile of snow. Every time he tries to use the snow generator it just drops a pile on him, even when he takes shelter in a cliff face it just shoots the snow horizontally. Realizing that’s a dead end, he resorts to the tried and true method of switching two road signs, one pointing to the desert with one pointing to a snow summit. The Road Runner falls for it and ends up on a frozen pond unable to get much traction. The Coyote is ready with a pair of speed skates and calmly skates a circle around the Road Runner intending for the bird to fall through the ice. Of course, the ice under the Coyote drops instead out leaving the Road Runner floating on a circular piece of ice. He runs in place and creates an outboard motor effect to escape the trap.

Screenshot1-2Next the Coyote uses rocket-powered skis to chase the Road Runner while some subtle Christmas music sets the mood. The two become buried in the snow with only their tails exposed. In a repeat from an old Bugs Bunny short, the Road Runner’s tail splits in two when he approaches a tree there-by allowing him to go around the obstacle, while the Coyote possesses no such ability and merely crashes into the tree. He then acquires a dogsled with a team of 12 92lb dogs guaranteed to run-down any road runner. Turns out, the dogs also love coyotes and they maul him. Had he checked the invoice more thoroughly he would have noticed. Next comes what’s probably the Coyote’s worst idea of the short – he rides a rocking horse like a sleigh while wielding a Road-Runner Lasso. All he does is entangle himself in the lasso while the rocking horse plunges off a cliff. It has the misfortune of landing on some train tracks. You know the rest. The Coyote then makes a giant snow ball he intends to crush the Road Runner with. He just ends up getting stuck to it and when it rolls towards a cliff he falls with the snowball close behind. He pops out of the snow looking like Santa Claus and holds up a sign wishing the viewer a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

We go back to the carolers and Bugs is still leading them in song when his nephew shows up to remind him that he owes him a Christmas story. Bugs informs him that he’s going to tell him all about Santa Claus and the night before Christmas. We’re then taken to the North Pole where Santa is speaking offscreen about getting a move on. High above an airplane soars by and the pilots are discussing their cargo – a tasmanian devil. The cargo falls from the plane and Taz ends up landing in Santa’s suit which was hanging out on a clothes line. He ends up in the sleigh (six reindeer, grrrr!) and the reindeer take off.

Clyde_in_Bugs_Bunny's_Looney_Christmas_Tales_02Back in Bugs’ home, or his nephew’s, he’s reading the little bunny A Visit From Saint Nicholas when a sound on the roof causes his nephew to get all excited for Santa. Bugs sends him to bed while Taz jumps down the chimney and lands in the roaring fire below. Bugs cracks some jokes at Taz’s expense, but invites him in for a snack. Taz is eager for food and not only does he devour Bugs’ milk and cookies but the entire table as well. Bugs then reads him his nephew’s Christmas list while Taz sets to eating the decorations on the Christmas tree. Eating the lights cause him to get electrocuted, but it doesn’t seem to bother him too much. Bugs suggests he sit by the fire so he can make him some popcorn, but Taz eats the kernels before Bugs can get the popper and the heat from the fireplace causes them to pop in his stomach. He starts to wreck the place, and Bugs sets up a gift exchange booth and gifts Taz a present – a self-inflating rubber raft (I expected TNT). Taz eats it, and when it inflates he floats away.

Bugs’ nephew Clyde wakes up disappointed that Santa didn’t bring him anything. Bugs assures him everything will be all right and they set out to return Santa’s sleigh. As they soar through the air Bugs wishes us a Merry Christmas. Back from the break, the Looney Tunes are sleighing along and singing carols when Taz decides in to eat their sleigh. That’s basically the end and they must have only tacked on this final segment so Porky can chime in with his signature good bye, only he stammers his way through “Happy Holidays” instead of the usual.

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Mmm, lights.

Bug’s Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales is pretty underwhelming for the old rabbit. A lot of the gags have been done before, and the animation is definitely television quality as opposed to move theater quality. Of the three segments, the middle one, Freeze Frame featuring the Road Runner and Wile E, is probably the best. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but it’s a solid Road Runner short with just a dash of Christmas thrown in. Yosemite Sam as Scrooge makes a lot of sense, but it’s still a tired tactic to adapt A Christmas Carol. At least  the light department gag is probably the best joke in this one and probably the only time I laughed out loud. Tweety is essentially wasted though. And where’s Daffy? Did someone think he and Bugs could not co-exist in the same Christmas special? Is Daffy too big a star to play second banana to Bugs?

Watching this one, I inevitably feel compelled to come back to the Bugs and Mickey comparison. While Mickey was given Mickey’s Christmas Carol, yes a trope to adapt that story but done so well it’s probably my favorite adaptation of it ever, Bugs was gifted this. It’s unfortunate. While it’s true the format of a typical Bugs short doesn’t lend itself to a Christmas tale quite as easily as the more adaptable Mickey Mouse, they still could have done better. Why not have Bugs just wind up in the North Pole and his antics there mess up Santa’s plans or something? We don’t need to make Bugs more wholesome, we just want to laugh and get in a little Christmas cheer at the same time. Oh well.

Clyde_in_Bugs_Bunny's_Looney_Christmas_Tales_11

Of course Bugs would end up in Santa’s sleigh at some point.

Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales probably won’t be shown on television this year. If it’s shown at all, it would probably be on Boomerang. If you insist on viewing it, you can find it on the fifth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection set of DVDs. They’re sold individually or as a box set with all six volumes and it’s actually really affordable and comes highly recommended by yours truly, even if this special isn’t particularly…special.


#1 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

how-the-grinch-stole-christmas

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Most people that know me personally are not surprised by my choice for number 1 on my list of the best Christmas specials of all time. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a holiday classic of the finest order. Few films and television shows are able to delight all of the applicable senses like this one does. Allow me to list the ways.

First of all, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was animated and produced by Chuck Jones, one of the greatest masters of the animated short. Jones is known primarily for his work with Bugs Bunny, and when he was tasked with bringing the Grinch to television he brought his A game. The Grinch exudes personality. He’s angry, grumpy, and is delighted with himself while acting out his schemes. He’s his own biggest fan. And that smile! Probably the most memorable part of the special is that moment when the Grinch gets his wonderful, awful idea. There’s a bit of a cat-like quality to his face (Seuss himself remarked it looked too much like Chuck Jones) but also this sort of odd, plant quality as well. He’s much more interesting to look at here than he was in the original book. In addition to the titular character, the setting of Who-Ville looks great and very Seuss-like. Little was lost in translation, and the whole world really pops when it needs to. Voiceless characters like Max are animated beautifully as well. Even though Max never speaks, we always know what he’s thinking and feeling. He’s also the most empathetic character in the film.

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The money shot.

In addition to the wonderful style and supreme animation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! also features some excellent voice acting and an iconic score. All of the songs are originals which is quite the rarity for a Christmas special. The flagship song is undoubtedly “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” song by Thurl Ravenscroft in an uncredited role. The song is stretched to cover the meat of the special and it’s up to the task. The lyrics are suitable and the song is incredibly quotable decades later. The uptempo instrumental when the Grinch and Max are racing down the side of Mt. Crumpet is compelling, and the other songs are catchy in their own right. This is a soundtrack I have no problems listening to around the holidays. Rounding things out, Boris Karloff narrates the tale and provides a voice for the Grinch. His depiction is spot-on for the character as he adds a slight growl to his voice when he reads the Grinch’s line. No voice of the Grinch since has come close to matching Karloff’s delivery. June Foray even pops up once again as Cindy Lou Who. Her presence is a small one, but as usual for her, she’s perfect for the role.

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It’s pretty impressive how many creative sequences can be found in this one short.

The special is flat-out entertaining, but it also has the required good Christmas message needed to be a timeless Christmas classic. And here it’s kept to a simple one, which is that Christmas isn’t about the material things but the time spent with family. The Grinch has no family at the start so he can only see the material aspect of Christmas, which he comes to loathe and attempts to steal. Of course, Christmas can’t be stolen and the Grinch realizes that in the end. It’s an easy concept to grasp and it’s told well.

The animated version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the best way to experience this classic story. The original book is wonderful in its own right, but is less thrilling than its television counterpart and obviously lacks the musical numbers. The feature film is a piece of garbage in which the Grinch character is reduced to a generic Jim Carrey screw-ball. The unfortunate thing is its title is identical to the short’s so it’s easy to get the two confused when looking at a television listing. Since How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is such a classic, it’s featured prominently on television on both network TV and cable. It’s also readily available on DVD and Blu Ray. Next year will mark the special’s 50th anniversary and hopefully it will be properly celebrated on TV just like Rudolph and Charlie Brown have been recently (and maybe it will receive its own line of stamps from the USPS too). Since it’s now Christmas Day, the Grinch has probably already received his last showing on television for the 2015 season so hopefully you didn’t miss it, and if you did, you have a copy to watch today. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the greatest Christmas special ever made. I doubt it will ever be topped.

Thus concludes this top 25 countdown. I hope you enjoyed it and that my rankings didn’t infuriate you too much. I also hope you had a great holiday season and a very merry Christmas. See you in 2016!


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