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Dec. 6 – “Gift Wrapped” starring Tweety Bird

Gift-wrapped-title

“Gift Wrapped” (1952)

After yesterday’s rather lengthy write-up, I need something a bit more bite-sized today, so how about a Looney Tunes short? Surprisingly, there really aren’t a lot of Christmas themed Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts out there. Sure there’s a Christmas gag here and there, but usually those are not in cartoons actually taking place on Christmas. Bugs Bunny did have a television Christmas special in the 70s, and Daffy Duck got one decades later, but when it comes to classic shorts the most well known starring a Looney Tunes character is probably “Gift Wrapped.”

“Gift Wrapped” is a Tweety Bird short so naturally it also features Sylvester the cat and Granny. Tweety isn’t one of my favorites as his shorts are almost all interchangeable. Yeah, you could say the same of most of these characters, but his just stuck out the most. In that sense, “Gift Wrapped” isn’t particularly remarkable as a cartoon, but it does take place at Christmas and if you’re only going to watch one Tweety cartoon why not go with the Christmas one?

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If ever your cat eats one of your other pets just give him a firm slap on the butt.

The short opens with a shot of a cozy looking house in the falling snow. A narrator is reciting “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” and Sylvester feels compelled to confirm that there are indeed no mice stirring as he hungrily sits outside a mouse hole. The narration cuts out soon after and it’s Christmas morning. Sylvester comes running down the stairs like a kid all excited to see what Santa brought him. When he unwraps his gift to find a rubber mouse he’s dejected – he wants a real mouse. He soon overhears a small voice singing “Jingle Bells” and notices one of the gifts for Granny is a bird cage with a little yellow canary inside. In a move a little too clever for Sylvester, he re-wraps his gift and switches tags with Granny’s gift.

Granny soon emerges excited for Christmas. She’s a bit puzzled when she opens her gift and finds a rubber mouse, but quickly realizes the tags must have been switched. When she goes to give Sylvester his mouse she finds a contented cat and an empty bird cage, feathers floating in the air. She grabs him and starts smacking him on his rear and out pops Tweety, none too pleased. She dangles some mistletoe over the little bird and tries to get Sylvester to be nice, but it’s a non-starter.

Gift Wrapped (12)

Yeah, this isn’t going to work. Nice try, Granny.

From here the cartoon becomes a pretty typical Tweety vs Sylvester face-off. Tweety is in his cage and Sylvester is going to try his hardest to get that bird. Sylvester get his hands on the little canary, only to be directed to a Christmas present for him which turns out to be a giant dog. Sylvester tries to use a toy crane to snatch Tweety’s cage, only to accidentally grab Granny instead which earns him a few whacks with a broom. A classic Looney Tunes gag is utilized in which Sylvester cuts a hole in the ceiling to retrieve Tweety’s cage, only for Tweety to hop out and replace himself with a stick of dynamite. The explosion occurs offscreen, and Sylvester quietly lowers the now battered cage back into place before emerging from the ceiling a smoldering wreck. A Sylvester as Native American gag plays out next, only for Tweety to produce a cowboy outfit and pop gun, which wouldn’t you know, ends up firing like a real gun right in Sylvester’s face. Tweety then tries to take a ride on a model train around the Christmas tree, and Sylvester adds additional pieces of track to the train so it drives right in his mouth. The big dog from earlier is waiting though, and once Sylvester eats Tweety the dog eats him forcing Granny to swat the dog until Sylvester pops out, and then do the same to the cat in order to free Tweety.

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Take that, cat!

By now Granny is fed up that none of her pets can get along, especially with it being Christmas! She declares that they will get along and we next see a shot of the three animals from behind as Granny is seated at a piano playing a Christmas tune. The camera eventually circles around and we see over-sized Christmas stamps have been placed over Sylvester and the dog’s mouths while Tweety is free to sing happily. The end!

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It just wouldn’t be a Looney Tunes short if someone didn’t get shot in the face.

As I said, this a pretty straight-forward Tweety cartoon with Sylvester trying different schemes to get the bird, only for Tweety to outsmart him. All the while Tweety is free to break the fourth wall and talk into the camera uttering his typical catch phrases. Granny at least adds a fun dynamic as she gets involved in foiling most of Sylvester’s schemes and the Christmas theme is worked into almost all of the gags in some way. I also appreciate that all of the characters are happy that “Santa came” and no other origin for those gifts is suggested. Lets keep the kids in the dark, right? This is a fun short though, and while I don’t think it measures up to the Disney Christmas shorts from that era it’s still good enough. In the 90s, Cartoon Network could be counted on to play this and other non Looney Tunes Christmas shorts around the holidays, but they basically ditched all of that programming and kicked it on over to Boomerang, which can also no longer be counted on to show these. It used to be readily available on Youtube, but it would seem Warner has cracked down on that practice as I had a hard time finding it there so if you want to watch it I recommend getting the Looney Tunes Golden Collection which has this plus over 300 other cartoons and is usually pretty cheap, like under $40 cheap. There may not be a lot of Christmas cartoons in that set, but how can you go wrong with nearly 400 Looney Tunes cartoons? And you still have time to add it to your list for Santa!


Halloween is Grinch Night

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

In 1966, a Chuck Jones produced TV special by name of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas arrived. Ever since it’s been a staple of the Christmas television schedule each year and with it nearing its 50th anniversary expect it to only become even more celebrated in the near future. What’s not as celebrated is the spiritual sequel produced eleven years later, Halloween is Grinch Night, despite the fact that it won an Emmy. Like its predecessor, it too was produced by a legend of the animated short: ¬†Friz Freleng. It’s become so obscure that most people have never even heard of it. It has yet to receive its own stand-alone DVD or Blu Ray release and finding it on television at Halloween time is often an exercise in futility.

Halloween is Grinch Night is sometimes cited as being a prequel to the more popular How the Grinch Stole Christmas. If it is, it creates a plot hole or two, but how it relates to the prior special is of little importance. The character of the Grinch seems like a natural fit for Halloween. He’s mean looking and kind of scary and would most likely enjoy a holiday such as Halloween over one like Christmas. Because the first special was so successful, it’s not surprising that the Halloween special would try to use a similar format. There’s a narrator present, Hans Conried, who also happens to voice the titular character just as Boris Karloff did before him. There’s music and the people of Whoville, as well as the Grinch’s dog Max, are here to play foil. Thurl Ravenscroft even shows up again in a singing role.

The Grinch once again is accompanied (reluctantly) by his dog Max.

The Grinch once again is accompanied (reluctantly) by his dog Max.

What isn’t the same is the animation and general look of the special. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a very clean production. It’s brightly colored with simple backdrops and is quite stylized looking. It’s a perfect mash-up of Chuck Jones’ work and that of Dr. Seuss. Halloween is Grinch Night is less sophisticated to behold. The Seuss designs almost seem downplayed to a point and the Grinch himself has a more cat-like appearance. The backgrounds are exceedingly busy and the characters sometimes appear lost on the screen. When the story takes the visuals to a more surreal place, this style starts to prove its worth, if only for a brief moment. I do appreciate how most of the colors utilized are shades of brown, red, and orange which does enhance the feeling of autumn. This basically looks like a late 70s production, an era when animation was less celebrated, which is partly why it looks the way that it does.

The story of the picture involves the people of Whoville noticing a sour-sweet wind blowing, a harbinger for the Grinch that sends most scurrying into their homes. A young Who by the name of Euchariah steps out to hit the outhouse (referred to as a euphemism by the story) and gets caught up by the breeze and eventually encounters the Grinch. Once encountered, the Grinch makes it a point to try and scare Euchariah, who is either brave or simply feels emboldened when faced with the Grinch’s ghostly apparitions because his poor eyesight renders them less scary. His confrontation with the Grinch is the meat of the story and his ability to face him is what ultimately brings about the story’s resolution.

The plot is certainly less straight-forward than the Christmas special. It’s also less satisfying. The story spends too much time away from the only interesting characters in the special; the Grinch and his abused little dog Max. It would seem the approach this time was to build the Grinch up as a character to be feared, not understood, and to do that a little mystery needed to be created by having much of the story follow Euchariah. If that is indeed what Freleng and Seuss were going for then they should have committed to it fully and further reduced the Grinch’s screen time. At no point does the viewer truly feel like the Grinch is someone to be feared because there’s just nothing very fearsome about him. If anything, we’re just trained to not like him because he’s a terrible dog owner. Perhaps had this story originated in the pages of a Dr. Seuss book it would have come out better and with a tighter narrative.

There seems to always be a lot present in the background of each image with little shading to create depth. It looks much more congested when animated.

There seems to always be a lot present in the background of each image with little shading to create depth. It looks much more congested when animated.

The cast for the picture and the production in general is also less than impressive. Conried does all right as the Grinch, once you get over the fact that he and Captain Hook (from the Disney version of Peter Pan) have the same voice. His singing is probably something I could have done without, and the songs in general just aren’t very memorable. The only time they really caught my ear was when one included an inner monologue from Max. This felt cheap to me as the beauty of the Max character from How the Grinch Stole Christmas was the way in which we were able to understand him without the need to personify him.

Halloween is Grinch Night can be found on a few compilation DVDs as well as some old VHS tapes. It’s included in at least one version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and also on the Dr. Seuss: On the Loose compilation. I found a copy of the latter for fifty cents, so it’s a pretty easy special to acquire for the curious. It’s never received a proper release though because it’s just not that good. It’s visually inferior to its more popular cousin and the plot, while promising in concept, is poorly executed and utterly forgettable. There’s room for the Grinch at Halloween time, but just not like this.


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