Tag Archives: friz freleng

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

Original air date December 7, 1978.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess he kind of looks like a toy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gotta get some of that yellow currency.

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet, sweet, prison.

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

Now he can’t even get himself arrested!

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

Ooo! A donut!

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

Well, at least he made a friend tonight.

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

Christmas magic!

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

This guy always comes through.

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

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

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

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

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


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. 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?

giftwrapped8p

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.

sylvester

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!

gift-wrapped-blast

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.


%d bloggers like this: