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Dec. 11 – A Flintstone Family Christmas

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Original air date December 18, 1993

The Flintstones got its start back in 1960 and for many years it was the standard for prime time animation. It was really the only prime time animated show for decades and has now been firmly supplanted by The Simpsons in almost every conceivable fashion. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, being new to sitcoms, treated The Flintstones as if it were just another sitcom in many ways. A lot of the characters and gags were borrowed rather liberally from The Honeymooners (though Joseph Barbera wants us to think that wasn’t intentional) and the show made use of a laugh track. It also followed adult characters navigating social situations, work, and marriage. Really, the only thing making it feel animated was the setting of Bedrock, a stone age location populated with people, dinosaurs, and other creatures long extinct.

The show was pretty stand-alone in terms of approach, but in season three it added a new character:  Pebbles. Like any other sitcom, this meant Wilma had to go through a lengthy pregnancy captured on film before finally having a baby girl. Not long after, neighbors the Rubbles welcomed Bamm-Bamm via adoption, and suddenly the show started to skew young. Sponsor Winston cigarettes was out and in came Welch’s, maker of jelly and grape juice. Ratings began to slide and the show eventually came to an end, but it would find extended life in children’s timeslots for years to come. The 166 episode total may seem minor considering The Simpsons has gone well beyond that mark, but it’s still a healthy total and represents a long run.

In the 1980s the show was resurrected via spin-offs and specials. The brand also remained pervasive in grocery stores via cereal and vitamins which still exist to this day. The franchise was still popular enough in the 1990s to receive a prime time animated Christmas special titled A Flintstone Family Christmas. Airing on December 18, 1993, it depicts Fred and Wilma as grandparents waiting to welcome their family home for the holidays. Pebbles has married and had children with Bamm-Bamm, essentially making Fred and Barney family officially. It made use of a lot of voice actors that had become prevalent in shows of the era, and it’s a bit of a trip to hear them work on The Flintstones.

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Fred is all about Christmas in this one.

The special begins with Fred (Henry Corden) decorating his home for the holidays while Barney (Frank Welker) looks on. Fred is putting lights on his house that just look like rocks that apparently light up. The source of power for these lights is a tank of water with an electric eel inside. When Fred drops the wire into the tank, the eel goes to work lighting up the display. It soon explodes, changing Fred’s holiday greeting to read Fatso’s House. Fred’s neighbor, Mr. Gravelberry (sp?), shares his disapproval of Fred’s light show, but nothing is going to take Fred out of his holly jolly mood. Not even the paper, which contains stories about drive-by stonings and other non-Christmasy happenings.

Betty (BJ Ward) and Wilma (Jean Vander Pyl) are wrapping gifts when Fred and Barney come inside to find out the kids are on their way home from Hollyrock. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm have two little ones and Fred can’t wait for them to see him play Santa in a Christmas parade. Wilma lists off all of the things they have to do before the kids get there and usher the boys out to pick up some stuff.

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Well that certainly doesn’t look like a jolly, old, elf.

As Fred and Barney leave a store with a rather large prehistoric turkey, a street Santa gets their attention. He’s soliciting donations, at least that’s what they think when they approach him only to get held up. He takes their belongings, and as he runs away it becomes obvious this Santa is actually two children with one standing on the shoulders of the other. He apparently didn’t get far as Fred and Barney are shown at the police station picking their mugger out of a Santa line-up. Wilma and Betty think it’s rather funny when they see it was just a kid that mugged them, but Fred is insistent that this kid needs the book thrown at him.

A social worker named Stella Stalagmite (Didi Conn) then enters to tell us all about the kid, Stony (Christine Cavanaugh). He’s a cave-less child, which horrifies Wilma. No one wants him, and they’ve tried appealing to all of the major religions too, but no one can get this kid to fly straight. Fred finds out it was a stick and not a gun that the kid was holding when he held them up, and becomes irate when Wilma suggests they bring him home. The two argue, with Fred insisting there’s no way this kid is coming over to his house, which can only mean one thing…

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Fred is rather protective of his television which appears to be powered by magic.

Stony is indeed brought home to the Flintstone residence and is amazed by what he sees. He’s very polite and complementary, but Fred isn’t buying it. As the Rubbles head off to make dinner, Fred is left alone with the kid who marvels at his big screen TV. Stony rewires it so that Fred can get all of the channels illegally and some all cave girl network pops up on the screen. Unlike most Flintstone gags featuring modern tech in a stone age world, there’s no explanation for how this TV works. As best I can tell, it’s just a regular TV in a stone box. Fred is interested in this racy channel at first, but soon changes the channel insisting they watch what he wants to watch. The remote is at least low tech as a little bird flies out of it to manually change the channel to It’s a Wonderful Stone Age Life. Fred declares it’s his favorite movie, while Stony isn’t impressed. We then get what’s probably going to be the prevailing message of this special when Stony imagines himself entering the movie only to have the main character to tell him to beat it, “We don’t want to think about your kind at Christmas!”

Stony relays his distaste for the holiday to an incredulous Fred. He doesn’t understand how a kid could dislike Christmas and declares him defective. Wilma has to break up the fight, and suggests that they go get a Christmas tree. Fred wants to wait for the grandkids, but when Stony offers to get them a tree for only 20 bucks Wilma insists they should let him do it so that they can demonstrate their trust for him. Fred reluctantly gives Stony a twenty, and he takes off and reappears quickly with a fully-decorated tree. Fred can’t believe it, but then Barney re-enters the picture and immediately recognizes the tree as his own.

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Will nothing go right for Fred and the gang? Stay tuned!

As Wilma fits Fred for his Santa suit, Pebbles calls with bad news. It seems she and the family are stranded at O’Harestone (this is already like the fifth “joke” that’s just the name of something from the real world with “stone” added onto the end of it) and she isn’t sure when they can make it home. This bums Fred out and Stony tries to cheer him up. They get into a little conversation about Stony not understanding what he did wrong, Fred gave him a 20 and he produced a tree. Wilma reasons the kid is just acting in the only manner he knows how, while even Barney sticks up for him as he apparently hooked him up with the cave girl channel too. Fred then tells Stony he just wants him to try and enjoy Christmas, and it seems like our special is turning hopeful. They then pile into the car to make what Wilma calls their “Christmas rounds.”

The next segment is a montage set to an original song. If I had to guess, I would say it’s titled “It’s a Merry Christmas in Bedrock This Year.” During the montage, the gang is shown caroling while Stony solicits donations to himself which Fred puts a stop to. They then deliver cookies, and we get our shot of Stony looking thoughtful on the kind gesture. Fred tries to show the boy how to figure skate, which ends in pain for Fred, and then they all gather for a picture and Fred puts the kid on his shoulders.

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The best character in this special.

When we exit the song, Fred and Wilma are taking Stony to see Santa Claus. Fred expresses to Wilma that he’s getting through to Stony, while Stony sits on Santa’s lap. He tells him how he used to have a red suit like that, until the pants ran away. This sets the Santa into a sad story about his own life. He admits he’s not the real Santa and then adds how he feels like he’s under tremendous pressure to tell the kids who see him that they’ll get what they want for Christmas, even though he’s powerless to make it so. While he tells his story, Stony swipes a handful of candy canes from Santa’s sack. Fred approaches and tells the Santa to brighten up and hands him a homemade ornament. Santa does as he’s told, and Stony is apparently warmed by Fred’s holiday spirit and slips the candy canes back into the sack.

The family then heads to pick out a tree. Wilma eyes an eight-footer, but Fred is scared off by the price. Stony tells him he needs to get a good tree for his grandkids’ first Christmas, but Fred remarks he can’t print money and they walk off. This gives Stony an idea as he tells the salesman to hold the tree. We then see him hosting a table game. He has three turtle shells and is taking money from people to see if their eye is quicker than his hand. When a very large man insists Stony cheated him, he runs off seeking the help of Fred. He insists to Fred, with a tear in his eye, that he didn’t cheat the guy and Fred stands up for him. This doesn’t go so well for Fred as the big guy grabs a Christmas tree and hits Fred over the head with it.

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A hospital bed for Fred – what’s next?

The tree did enough damage that Fred needed to be hospitalized. As he lays in a hospital bed with Wilma and the others at his side he openly wonders how this Christmas could get any worse. Mr. Slate (John Stephenson) then enters to tell Fred he’s taking him out of the parade. He can’t risk Fred’s health and have Santa die in the middle of the thing. Fred is heartbroken, and as Stony looks on he starts to feel sorry for himself declaring this is all his fault. He then spies Slate’s car waiting for him outside and a smile crosses his face as he apparently has another idea. When Mr. Slate returns to his car, he orders the driver to head to Flintstone’s house so he can retrieve the Santa suit. As the car drives away we see it’s Stony who is behind the wheel.

Stony brings the suit to Fred’s hospital room, and upon hearing what he did to his boss, Fred flips out. He takes off with Stony in tow and we see that Stony locked Mr. Slate in Fred’s bathroom. As he shouts for help, he gets the attention of the police who soon show up as Fred arrives. When Fred goes to free Mr. Slate from the bathroom, the door falls on him and out comes Mr. Slate. The cops order everyone to put their hands up, and all three do with Fred’s coming from underneath the door.

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Jail – that’s what’s next. It ends up being a nice time for a heart-to-heart about Christmas though.

Stony and Fred are then shown being taken to a jail cell. They’re in pin-striped suits and Fred looks pretty mopey. Stony tries to cheer him up by telling him it’s not so bad, but it’s not getting through. He imparts some advice to Fred as well, like don’t slow dance with Bubba or play Marie in the prison play. Fred has had enough of Stony and draws a line on the cell they share and orders Stony not to cross it. Stony gets back on Fred’s good side when he produces some crumb cake he smuggled into prison (he doesn’t elaborate on how he snuck it in). When Fred asks why he did that he explains when you live on the street you never know where your next meal is coming from so you always try to save something. He even gives Fred a bigger chunk of the cake which leads into the sappiest moment yet where the two have a heart-to-heart. Stony explains he just wanted to help Fred out since he helped him out with that big guy at the tree lot. Fred explains that Stony’s intentions are good, but his methods are not.

As the two have their happy Christmas moment, which includes the both of them resigning themselves to spending Christmas in jail, the cell door opens and in comes Mr. Slate and the social worker from earlier. Slate has the Santa suit and slams it on Fred. He cleared up the charges and still wants Fred to play Santa in the parade. As Fred struggles to get the beard over his head, the social worker takes Stony out as she assumed the placement with the Flintstones isn’t working out. As he’s lead away, Fred is dragged by Mr. Slate as he calls out for Stony.

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The Flintstones have had a lot of different reindeer stand-ins over the years.

Fred is at the parade sitting in Santa’ sleigh, which is pulled by six giant birds (why not 8?), when Wilma, Betty, and Barney show up. They’re glad to see him out of jail, but Fred is depressed over Stony being taken away. The parade starts and the birds pull him along and as he heads down the street he realizes something is in his hat. It’s a star-shaped Christmas card that Stony slipped inside his hat, and as Fred wishes the lad a merry Christmas, he sees Stony getting into the social worker’s car. He then snaps the reigns and orders the birds to fly. They sail over the parade and over the mayor’s car (the mayor, by the way, looks just like Fred but with a moustache) which Mr. Slate was riding in. He shouts out “Flintstone!” as he often does at the sight of Fred abandoning the parade.

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Gotta have this shot.

Fred soon catches up to the social worker’s car and reaches down to pluck Stony from the rear seat. He tells the social worker Stony has a home and the two fly off into the required Santa in front of the moon shot. They head home, where Pebbles and the gang are waiting for them. They’re singing a Flintstone’s version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while Stony shows the babies his turtle shell game. Fred then approaches to tell them it’s time for the family tradition where the newest member of the family puts the star on the tree. Stony hands over the babies thinking that honor falls to them, but Fred hands him the star instead. Bamm-Bamm lifts the boy on his shoulders and Stony places the start on the tree, an amber rock with a firefly inside of it. Fred then remarks to Wilma that this is the best Christmas ever, and everyone sings about wanting chocolate pudding. A “Merry Christmas!” lets us know this one is over.

This is a mostly serviceable Christmas special starring The Flintstones. I don’t have tremendous affection for The Flintstones, but I will say that as a Flintstones special this is rather weak. There aren’t any good puns and the stone age technology isn’t very creative at all. The writers seemed to think just tacking the word “stone” onto the end of everything serves as a joke all by itself. The special at least doesn’t repeat the trope of Fred having to find a new appreciation for Christmas, as we’ve seen him do in other Flintstones Christmas specials (he’d even play Scrooge the following year), but that’s a low bar to clear.

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Can I get a “Looky what he can do?”

As a Christmas special though, this isn’t terrible. Stony coming around to see the good aspects of Christmas and feel accepted by his new family happens pretty quickly and conveniently. Having the Flintstones adopt another kid certainly makes them look good, though I don’t think Stony every shows up again (not that much follows this special). When the gang all return in 1994 for A Flintstone Christmas Carol, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm are kids again so it obviously takes place at a different time. Both specials essentially mark the end of The Flintstones as a prime time network attraction and it’s possible they only exist to cross-promote with the film which came around the same time.

Visually, this one looks like a 90s cartoon. It’s in-line with the level of quality that would show up in other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The characters are on-model, though they have exaggerated 90s flourishes to their actions. It’s actually refreshing since a lot of Flintstones animation was re-purposed and reused often. The sound design is also of a similar quality as most of the voices fans were familiar with were still around to voice these characters. And Frank Welker does a pretty good Mel Blanc impression as Barney Rubble.

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Exit on everyone singing, and that’s a wrap!

If you like The Flintstones then you’ll probably think this is okay, but may also feel let down. The Flintstones premise was never very creative making the only charming aspect of the show often the little gags tossed in which usually revolved around some animal appliance. This special is missing that as what is present just isn’t funny. It’s a heart-warming Christmas special though, so if you’re just looking for some Christmas feels it will probably get the job done. And at only 23 minutes, it’s not like it hangs around too long.

If you want to add this to your viewing this year, your options are a bit limited. The video-on-demand service Boomerang still shows episodes of The Flintstones, but it’s a paid subscription service. The special was sold as a manufacture-on-demand DVD with A Flintstones Christmas through Amazon as A Flintstone Christmas Collection and that might still be the case. That’s how I came upon it. Just taking a look, it appears it’s no longer available from Amazon, but third party sellers have it for less than 5 bucks. Warner Bros. doesn’t appear too protective of the property these days, so if you want to watch it without spending any money it’s not hard to find.


Dec. 25 – A Jetson Christmas Carol

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Original air date December 13, 1985

Merry Christmas! We have reached the end on our advent calendar celebration of the holiday season. This is the third complete 25 day advent calendar here at The Nostalgia Spot and fourth overall. For this year, I managed to shy away from the tropiest of the tropes when it comes to Christmas television specials – adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. For this final feature though, I’ve decided to go traditional. I like to weigh these features by visibility, so if I’m covering a special that might actually air on TV during the countdown I try to put that up front. For the ones that have no shot, I tend to save them for the end. In the case of “A Jetson Christmas Carol,” I saved it for last since it’s a conventional holiday special that many people have probably seen. While it’s unlikely to be broadcast on a major cable channel, it’s easy enough to find in the wild and it’s a perfectly satisfying take on the classic Christmas tale.

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The Jetsons first preiered September 23, 1962

The Jetsons was Hanna-Barbera’s logical next step following the success of The Flintstones. Where The Flintstones depicted a fictional family of prehistory, The Jetsons focuses on a family of the future. It premiered on September 23, 1962 in prime time on ABC and was the first show broadcast on that network in color. It would last one season with the final new episode airing in March and reruns taking it all the way around the calendar where it was removed from the lineup in September of 1963. It was then moved to Saturday mornings where reruns were shown for the younger audience. It’s popularity endured though into the 1980s and with cable now expanding television lineups Hanna-Barbera would return to the series to bring the total episode count to 65. A third season of ten episodes would follow and the series was essentially capped-off by the 1990 animated feature film. The Jetsons would continue to have a presence in syndication, along with a lot of Hanna-Barbera’s works, for much of the 90s before eventually being ousted by newer programs.

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In the future, everyone has terribly ugly laser trees.

The Jetsons may have seemed derivative of The Flintstones, but it’s take on the common nuclear family played well for audiences. Where The Flintstones focused more on the adult problems of Fred, The Jetsons was more confident in spreading things around. The family, as introduced by the very catchy and lavishly produced theme song by Hoyt Curtin, consists of George Jetson (George O’Hanlon), his wife Jane (Penny Singleton), teenaged daughter Judy (Janet Waldo), son Elroy (Daws Butler) and they’re also joined by the family dog Astro (Don Messick) and robot maid Rosie (Jean Vander Pyl). For the second season, the little alien Orbitty (Frank Welker) was added to the cast as another pet, of sorts. George is a typical working man who has a job at Spacely Sprockets working for Mr. Spacely (Mel Blanc), a short man with a big temper who often is at odds with his employee. They live in a future as envisioned by folks in the 60s so Jane is a stay-at-home mom while George is the bread-winner. Their lives are made easier by technology with Jane’s housework largely automated or falling to Rosie while George just pushes buttons from a console at work. They have flying cars, video phones, and a host of other contraptions some of which have since become reality while others remain just fantasy.

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What would the Jetsons be like if they were rich? Well, we’re going to find out.

“A Jetson Christmas Carol” is from the show’s second season and it first aired on Friday the 13th in December of 1985. As the title implies, this is a re-telling of A Christmas Carol. In the place of Scrooge we have Mr. Spacely with George serving as the Bob Cratchit of the tale. In the role of Tiny Tim is surprisingly not Elroy, but Astro the dog who’s very life depends on the actions of Mr. Spacely.

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George is a bit concerned with the size of the Christmas shopping list this year.

The episode opens with the family sitting at the table while machines feed them breakfast. Jane is talking about how she needs to finish the Christmas shopping while the kids are eager to hit the mall. Astro is off in the corner sneaking a peek at Jane’s Christmas list until she snatches it from him. When George sees it he asks aloud how they can afford so many gifts and Jane matter-of-factly informs him that they can’t, but also that they can’t worry about such things at Christmas (what an awful sentiment). George, surprisingly cheerful, leaves for work while Jane hopes he can get out early for Christmas Eve. She and the kids leave for the mall, though not before Judy expresses some indecision on what to wear (all the while using space puns or 80s teen lingo) before just settling on the same outfit she always wears. Once they’re gone, Astro heads for the neon Christmas tree with hovering ornaments and starts snooping around.

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The mall on Christmas Eve is crowded no matter what year it is.

While the kids shop at a very crowded mall, George hosts an office Christmas party attended entirely by robots, other than himself. He jokes with his computer partner RUDI (Messick) who shares a corny joke until Spacely catches them via video monitor and orders everyone back to work while also declaring he hates Christmas. After Elroy gets a lesson on “want” at the mall, we head home to find Rosie whipping up some eggnog (ingredients:  one egg and one nog). Astro helps Elroy hang up some mistletoe and then goes back to gift-snooping. Orbitty calls Astro out and Jane catches him opening his gift. When she tells him it’s supposed to be a surprise, he insists he is surprised (Astro is on the same level as Scooby Doo in terms of communication skills) and finds a toy cat inside. The robot cat (Welker) rolls around on a wheel while Astro gives chase and seems to be enjoying himself.

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And you thought Futurama was the first to depict drunk robots.

Back at Spacely Sprockets, George is literally counting down the seconds until quitting time, but just as that time arrives Spacely pops-up on the video monitor to tell him he’s working late. George, sullen, doesn’t really offer up a fight and turns back to his console. Jane soon phones in and gets the bad news, while George returns to work wishing some ghosts would visit Spacely like they did Scrooge.

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This is unfortunate for Astro, but what about the obviously sentient robot cat?

At the Jetson residence, Astro continues to chase his toy while the family seems to be getting along all right without their patriarch. Astro ends up catching his toy leading to a crash. The robot explodes and as Astro is left lying on his back a single sprocket lands in his mouth and is ingested. The family runs over to him with worry, while Astro’s fur takes on a greenish hue. They bring him over to the couch for a look and all are worried. Elroy wants to call a vet, but Jane isn’t certain they can find one on Christmas Eve. As he and Judy head out to find one, Astro wails that he’s dying. This is actually kind of dark.

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Hopefully there’s some booze leftover from that office party.

At the office, an exhausted George is finishing up the orders as he lays on the terminal pushing the last button. Spacely pops back in on the monitor to ridicule George for working too slow. He tells him he’ll see him in the morning, but George at least stands up for himself a little by reminding Spacely that tomorrow is Christmas and it’s a day off, to which Spacely remarks “Too bad,” to himself. George beats a hasty retreat only to emerge in a snowstorm. Remarking he’ll be lucky to get home by Groundhog’s Day, his car seems to have little trouble lifting itself out of the snow. At home, Astro is running a fever of 102 as Elroy and Judy return home with bad news:  they couldn’t find a vet open at Christmas. Jane tells them things are looking grim, as George makes his triumphant entrance. He’s in a celebratory mood, but finds the family is not. He takes a look at Astro and arrives at the same conclusion as his wife, though when he finds out Astro got hurt chasing his toy he admonishes him for opening his gift early. He then questions if he’s faking it while Judy scolds him.

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That’s what you get for peeking, Astro – death!

At Spacely Sprockets, Mr. Spacely is seated in his office enjoying his money. Since it’s too late to deposit it at a bank, he decides he better spend the night with his money at the office. Upon falling asleep he’s greeted by the ghost of his former business partner, Marsley (Blanc). Marsley gives him the usual Jacob Marley talk while Spacely angrily insists he’s dreaming and orders Marsley to go away before remarking he was always a bit of a sicko. He goes back to sleep only to be awakened by a weird, floating, robot (Messick). It’s the Ghost of Christmas Past, and he takes Spacely back to his days on the playground where he had little Georgie Jetson run his lemonade stand. A young Spacely (Welker) flies in to find George counting the cash and snatches it from his hands returning only a penny. When George questions this arrangement the young Spacely tells him to not be greedy before taking off. They then journey to a fly-in movie theater where a college-aged (and bald) Spacely (Welker again) is watching The Flintstones with his future wife. When she questions if he loves money more than her he insists that of course he loves money more! He promises to take half a day off for their wedding, which is apparently good enough.

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Jacob Marsley – not one of the show’s better puns.

Spacely is returned to his office in quite a happy mood. He saw nothing wrong with the actions of his past as he resumes his sleeping only to be roused by yet another ghost (Welker). This one is a giant Christmas present, a too on the nose joke on the Ghost of Christmas Present. The giant box with extendable arms takes Spacely to the home of the Jetsons where they look at the family as they worry over Astro. Spacely is unmoved by the family’s plight, insisting he’s a business man and not a dog-father. He’s returned to his office, but he’s not alone for very long.

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That would be ghost robot number one.

A giant, black-green, robot with red buttons looms over him. Spacely is a bit unnerved by this silent third ghost who soon zaps him to the future. There they arrive at a mansion and Spacely is over-joyed to see what he assumes is his future home. Instead though they find the Jetsons inside happily discussing how fabulously wealthy they are. Spacely is annoyed to see this and demands to know how they got so rich, and even though George can’t hear him, he’s happy to fill him in. They attained their wealth thanks to a lawsuit against Spacely after Astro’s death as a result of swallowing that sprocket. The family is sad recalling their old dog, though if they’d give up this new lifestyle to bring him back I’m not sure. George then elaborates on what became of Spacely as Spacely questions how George could sue his beloved boss, thus proving he has no concept of how people really feel about him. After the suit, his company went under and his wife left him. Last anyone knew, he was on skid row. As Spacely turns to the ghost to ask if this is all set in stone or just a vision of what might be, the ghost zaps him back to his office.

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Did I say Marsley was bad? Okay, this one is worse.

Spacely wakes up on his hands and knees begging for another chance. When he realizes where he is, he immediately perks up and sets out for the home of the Jetsons. For now it’s Christmas morning, and the family is still worried about their dog who at least made it through the night. Spacely arrives with his personal vet whom he dragged out of bed (this is still Spacely, after all, who will absolutely force a man to work on Christmas if it means saving his money) to treat Astro. He demonstrates some neat future tech when he whips out a portable X-Ray to spot the sprocket in Astro’s stomach. Then he demonstrates that vet technology has only come so far as he simply reaches down Astro’s throat to remove the obstruction. Astro immediately feels better and Spacely also announces he’s brought gifts for the whole family. Elroy gets the rocket guitar he was eyeing while Judy gets some nuclear roller skates. He departs by telling George he’s getting a big, fat, raise as he heads home to spend Christmas with his wife. George and the family then join arms to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with Astro and Orbitty getting the honors of the last line as our holiday special comes to an end.

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Simple yet fearsome. I like ghost number three.

That last act gives this special an interesting wrinkle. Spacely’s motivation for acting “good” is purely to save his money, unlike Scrooge who is motivated to save Tiny Tim out of the goodness of his heart. Had Spacely not acted, Astro would have died, but the Jetsons would have been thrust into an easy life. No more crappy job for George while Elroy and Judy would find their higher education not limited by financials. The kids are a bit spoiled in the future vision, so perhaps their character suffers, but George is also quick to remind them of how they ended up in this position so it isn’t as if they’ve lost sight of what the costs were for this new life. There aren’t many episodes to follow, but for what it’s worth Mr. Spacely remains unchanged following this one so he didn’t really learn anything.

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Spacely to the rescue!

Being one of the 80s episodes of the show, it actually is animated a little better in places than it was in the 60s. There’s less of characters just standing around, and best of all, no laugh track. There are a few instances of that canned running sound Hanna-Barbera was so fond of, but the voice acting is overall quite good. It’s pretty neat that the studio was able to return the entire original cast for the relaunch of the show, though O’Hanlon and Blanc would eventually both pass away during production on The Jetsons Movie. Some of the backgrounds are a bit abstract or even empty, and the trip through time with the ghosts and Spacely is surprisingly static. I suppose in most versions of the story there is little depicting the change in time between past, present, and future so I suppose I can’t really deduct points here. The plight of Astro is actually genuinely sad. The poor dog knows he’s dying and is borderline hysterical. The show is quite honest in how grim his outlook is.

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An early joke about Judy taking forever to pick an outfit even though she can change outfits literally in an instant.

A lot of the humor in this show stems from essentially the same joke. A character complains about something, then we see how trivial the complaint is. For example, Elroy complains about how long it’s going to take Judy to get changed, when she literally steps into a machine that can instantaneously change her outfit. The joke is basically “Ha, they have no idea how easy they have it!” There’s also a lot of material meant to appeal to working class folks with the greedy Spacely lording over Jetson. He makes Jetson do all of the work while he sits back and takes in all of the money. This feels like a mainstream attitude back then that has some-what shifted, and that shift seemed to begin in the 80s where wealth became the be-all end-all measurement of success. If you’re not rich then it’s because you didn’t work hard enough. It’s preposterous, but it seems to permeate our culture today and a leading cause of current clash division. Then there’s also the dated jokes at Jane’s expense where she’s characterized as a do-nothing housewife. In her case, times have obviously changed as fewer and fewer women can even afford to be stay-at-home mothers and housewives. It’s not as if the show though portrays George as some work-a-holic though as he often gripes about work while being shown doing actually very little. Though in his defense, many people now have jobs where they just sit and push buttons, and while it may not be manual labor, it’s strenuous and ultimately still a job that keeps us from doing things we’d rather do.

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Hey! A Flintstones cameo!

It’s a bit surprising how dated a show about the far-off future can seem, but there’s no predicting where society is truly heading when looking so far ahead. The Jetsons is actually fine entertainment and I would probably prefer to watch it over The Flintstones. Neither show is as good as some of the prime time animation that followed, but for its time it was good enough. This version of A Christmas Carol can be described in similar terms – good enough. It has a few laughs, some down moments, and ultimately a happy ending. It’s a fine ending for the 2018 version of The Christmas Spot.

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This one isn’t afraid to get a little grim.

If you’re hoping to sneak in a viewing of “A Jetson Christmas Carol” before the holiday is through then you’re in a relatively good spot. The Jetsons are available on DVD and there are even special holiday editions of Hanna-Barbera cartoons sold separately likely destined for the discount bin tomorrow. Season Two of the show was a manufacture on-demand release so it’s a little tricky to come by, but hardly impossible. While the show isn’t presently streaming on a major service in 2018, episodes of this show (including this one) can be found online for free rather painlessly.

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In the end though everyone is pretty happy.

Well, that about does it. I hope you enjoyed 25 days of 25 blog posts on 25 pieces of Christmas media. For me, it’s a great way to really bask in the season both writing and reading similar pieces, not to mention actually consuming all of this media either again or for the first time. Even though it’s a lot of work, I always enjoy doing it so I have no plans on stopping. I hope to see everyone back again next year when we do 25 more. As always, thanks for reading and I hope you have a very, merry, Christmas and a happy new year!


Dec. 15 – The Night Before Christmas with Tom and Jerry

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Originally released December 6, 1941

As someone who loves the cartoon shorts produced by Warner and Disney, I sometimes am guilty of overlooking the contributions of MGM from that same era. MGM was a big player back then, and their flagship creation was Tom and Jerry. The cat and mouse pair first debuted in 1940 and were the creation of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, two folks most associated with television creations through their company Hanna-Barbera. Because the quality of those television productions is largely poor, Hanna-Barbera is more of a punch-line in the world of animation which is why I always try to keep things in scope. Their creation of Tom and Jerry is their crowning achievement and their greatest contribution to the world of animation. They were also responsible for bringing animation to television, which is something we can likely all agree was a good thing, even if we turn our noses up at the likes of Jabber Jaw and Grape Ape.

Tom and Jerry’s third cartoon was the 1941 classic The Night Before Christmas. It was nominated, but did not win, an Academy Award and it was once a Christmas staple on Cartoon Network, but is now relegated to home video and streaming services. It was written and directed by the duo of Hanna and Barbera and even features voice work by Clarence Nash, as Tom, who is most famous for being the voice of Donald Duck. He went uncredited in this short, perhaps because of his association with Disney or perhaps just because a lot of folks initially went uncredited who work in animation.

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Jerry’s too smart to fall for that.

The short opens with a narrator (Frank Graham) reciting the opening to A Visit from Saint Nicholas, more commonly referred to simply as Twas the Night Before Christmas. The camera pans through a cozy home all decorated for Christmas and rests on a mouse nook in the wall with a mousetrap outside it. The trap contains a wedge of cheese with a festive red ribbon placed around. Given the cheese is in a trap, I’m thinking this isn’t the work of one Santa Claus. The narrator ends his narration after the conclusion of the mouse line from the poem, which is Jerry’s cue to emerge from his home.

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Jerry is so stinkin’ adorable throughout this cartoon.

Jerry is a happy little rodent who seems delighted by the festive decor. He pays the cheese no mind as he happily skips over to the Christmas tree which is loaded with gifts and treats. He finds a candy cane and licks the stripe off of it and also manages to get his head stuck in the mouth of a stuffed lion. He soon discovers that same lion has a squeaky toy in its belly, and he delights in bouncing up and down on it to make it squeak. The force of his bounce causes him to bounce off of the lion and come to rest on a soft, furry, gray surface. Mistaking this for another toy, he bounces up and down trying to make it squeak, only to come to find he’s actually bouncing on the rump of one Tom the cat.

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I bet I know how this encounter ends…

Upon being woken up by the careless mouse, Tom takes a swipe at him only for Jerry to avoid him and slap a Do Not Open Until Christmas sticker over his mouth. It’s a frequent gag in old cartoons, even in ones not taking place at Christmas (Daffy Duck Hunt). Tom chases Jerry around the Christmas tree and through the various toys where the characters pause for comic hijinks. Jerry uses the various toys to his advantage, and even demonstrates how cartoon science works. Upon noticing a missing bulb in a string of Christmas lights on the tree, Jerry jumps into the exposed socket and immediately glows like an angel atop a tree. When Tom grabs Jerry he’s immediately electrocuted though Jerry is unharmed.

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…nailed it!

Jerry is able to escape through more toys and comes to rest atop a model train. Tom is forced to stop when the crossing bar for the train is lowered and Jerry goes on by. He’s a bit careless though as he’s knocked from the train when he fails to duck for a tunnel giving Tom an opening. Jerry hides in a boxing glove and is able to jab at Tom who grabs the matching glove. He gives chase once more and Jerry takes shelter in a box, which turns out to be a jack-in-the-box which belts Tom in the face.

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I’ve seen enough cartoons to know it won’t end well for you, Tom, if you touch that mouse.

After recovering from the blow of the toy, Tom gives chase once more and Jerry arms himself with a piece of mistletoe he plucked from a wrapped gift. He stands there holding it over his head while making kissing faces towards Tom. Tom pauses in his pursuit to fold his arms across his chest and feign indifference to Jerry’s advances. He soon softens and appears to be flattered at Jerry’s proposal, eventually giving in and kissing the little mouse. While Tom is basking in the the afterglow of the smooch, Jerry slips behind him and kicks him in the butt.

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Mistletoe:  the only aphrodisiac that works on sight.

Tom, now wounded both physically and emotionally, chases Jerry once more who jumps through the mail slot in the door and escapes outside. From there he’s able to pelt Tom with a well-aimed snowball through the mail slot, but it’s his final act of mischief as Tom simply piles household objects in front of the door to prevent Jerry from getting back in.

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Tom soon begins to worry about that adorable little mouse.

Satisfied he’s dealt with the mouse, Tom grabs a fluffy pillow and prepares to lay down beside a roaring fire. As he does so the mournful tunes of “Silent Night” begin to play, and Tom looks over at the blocked mail slot with some concern. Jerry is shown pacing back and forth in the snow outside. The camera jumps between the two as the volume of the music increases. Tom tries to distract himself, but it’s clear he’s experiencing some guilt over trapping the mouse out in the cold. Jerry continues to pace as the snow accumulates around him eventually overtaking him. When Tom can’t stand it any longer, he races over to the door and removes the blockage. He then hides behind a corner and waits for Jerry to come back in. When he doesn’t, Tom opens the door and sees a snow-covered object sticking up from out of the snow. He grabs it and it at first resembles a popsicle. He shakes it to reveal a frozen Jerry and he races back inside.

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A mousicle.

By the fire, Tom thaws Jerry out by the tail and places him on his pillow. As Jerry comes to, he’s at first scared to see Tom but is soon gifted a candy cane from the now softened cat. He happily licks it while Tom goes over to a bowl of milk to indulge himself. Jerry then races over to stop Tom from drinking the milk. He plunges the candy cane into the milk splashing Tom in the process, but also triggering a mouse trap he had apparently hidden in the milk for his adversary. Tom smiles and returns to his milk while Jerry heads for his nook. He pauses outside it and takes note of the wrapped cheese wedge on the mouse trap. Using the hooked end of his candy cane, he safely removes the cheese only for the trap to snap-back and reveal it wasn’t a trap at all, but a music box which plays “Jingle Bells.” As the song plays, Jerry looks to the camera with glee as the short ends.

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Jerry repays the favor, because Christmas.

The Night Before Christmas is a delightful little short starring Tom and Jerry. It contains the chase scenes the duo is known for while also putting a Christmas spin on everything. The layout of the home and the various Christmas decorations creates a very festive setting. It’s a home I want to visit for Christmas. The sweet conclusion of the short is also the right note to strike for a Christmas themed cartoon. It’s interesting that MGM was willing to show Tom and Jerry in such a light after only a few shorts, but it’s still sweet nonetheless and for most people who actually view it today I doubt it feels too soon. There’s plenty of festive music as well, and I’m glad the short didn’t include the entire poem it borrows its title from. This is also the only post this year that is duplicative of acartoonchristmas.com, but it’s so wonderful I think there’s plenty of room for many posts like this.

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Just look at that happy little guy!

Visually the short is near breathtaking. Jerry is so plump and happy and his expressions feel authentic and genuine. I love how happy he is just checking out all of the Christmas toys under the tree and his expression to close short is perfection. Tom has a nice scruff to his appearance, considering he is a tom cat after all, but he too is capable of all manner of expressions. I really enjoyed the back and forth between he and Jerry during the mistletoe scene, and Tom’s anguish over Jerry being locked out in the cold was played well. The characters do not speak, so it falls on the animators to make sure we understand what they’re experiencing in the moment. A particular triumph is when Tom removes the obstruction from the door in hopes that Jerry will return. He hides behind the wall likely because he’s not entirely sure he’s comfortable with Jerry knowing he extended such a courtesy to him, but all the while the look of fear is etched on his face that the little mouse is no more.

Tom and Jerry cartoons may not air on television much anymore, but they’re still easy to come by. This particular short has been released several times on home video including the Christmas themed Tom and Jerry: Santa’s Little Helpers and the Blu-ray release Tom and Jerry Golden Collection Volume One. If you just want to see this short and aren’t interested in purchasing a DVD or Blu-ray, you probably won’t have much trouble finding it online for free to stream. And I totally recommend it as this is right up there with my favorite Christmas shorts from Disney.


Dec. 7 – Dexter’s Laboratory – “Dexter vs Santa’s Claws”

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Original air date April 29, 1998. Yes, you read that right.

After yesterday’s entry ran 3,000 words, it seems like a nice time to slip in one of the shorter specials we’ll be looking at this year. This one comes from the Cartoon Network original Dexter’s Laboratory. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky, Dexter’s Laboratory was one of the inaugural series to be spun-off from the Cartoon Cartoon/What A Cartoon! show which was basically an elaborate testing ground for cartoon pilots. Cartoon Network, which at the time mostly consisted of old Hanna-Barbera shows, would package together three cartoon shorts and air them over a half hour of television. Viewers could call into a hotline and vote for the short they liked best. At the end of the year, Cartoon Network would have a big New Year’s countdown ranking all of the shows in order of what was most beloved and what was not. The network wasn’t beholden to do anything with the results so for all we know they decided on what to promote and what not to, but Dexter’s Laboratory was one of the most well-received and it was the first to get a full production order.

The show is about the title character, Dexter (Christine Cavanaugh), a boy-genius with an elaborate and high-tech laboratory hidden under his parents’ house. They’re unaware of their son’s impressive intellect, but sister Dee Dee (Kathryn Cressida) is not. Despite Dexter’s best efforts, Dee Dee often finds a way into his lab and drives him crazy often times ruining whatever his latest invention is. He also has a rivalry with another boy genius, Mandark, and one of his laboratory monkeys also got to star in his own series of shorts. An episode was usually broken out into three short segments and I have mostly fond memories of it.

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What Dexter thinks happens on Christmas.

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” was the third segment of episode 37 of season 2 which first aired on April 29, 1998. Why did a Christmas episode air in April? I do not know. The show did have some issues with production delays, but that’s not out of the ordinary for a cartoon series. Often when that happens networks will just sit on a holiday episode and air it the next time that holiday comes around, but Cartoon Network apparently didn’t want to do that. The network didn’t even want to wait for Christmas in July. In looking over the episodes from season 2, a Halloween one premiered the prior month so I’m guessing this was supposed to air in 97 or something, or Cartoon Network just didn’t care.

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What really happens on Christmas!

The episode begins with Dee Dee using Dexter’s super computer to make her Christmas list. Dexter is irritated she would be utilizing his computer for such a foolish task and reprimands her. He explains she’s wasting her time for Santa Claus is just make-believe. When Dee Dee counters with a question of who puts the toys under the tree, Dexter explains, through rap, that their father does that. The humor is in how far Dexter thinks his parents carry the ruse insisting that their dad not only dresses up as Santa, but he disguises the car as a sleigh and puts it on the roof. Their mother, dressed as a reindeer, greases him up and sends him down the chimney with all of the toys. Dee Dee insists that’s not what happens, cutting his very poor rap off in the process, and gives the more conventional explanation of elves and magic. Dexter vows to prove her wrong.

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Dexter confronts Santa, who only speaks in “ho’s”

That night, while everyone sleeps, Dexter sits in front of his monitors fighting off sleep hoping to catch their father in the act. When a sleigh and some reindeer go whirling past he thinks he’s got him. He emerges from his lab to find Santa in the living room getting down to business. The Santa model looks almost exactly like the one from A Flintstone Christmas only he seems incapable of speech and just keeps saying “Ho ho.” Dexter accuses him of being his dad in disguise, forcing Santa to magically flee up the chimney. Still not convinced, Dexter heads for the roof as well and confronts Santa once again as he climbs into his sleigh. He manhandles a reindeer, thinking it’s an elaborate costume worn by his mother, and even snaps its antlers off. Santa then takes off leaving Dexter stuck in the chimney.

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Dexter is basically a violent, little, asshole this whole episode.

Dexter was apparently prepared for such a development as the chimney morphs into a high-tech spaceship and detaches from the house. In doing so it takes the side of the house with it leaving Dee Dee’s room without a wall. She awakens due to the frigid air and goes to shut her already closed window when she catches sight of Santa. She watches as her brother pursues him firing missiles which Santa intercepts with gifts (“Those better not be my presents!”). Dexter resorts to laser-fire and eventually he hits Santa causing him to crash into their home.

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When Dee Dee doesn’t have her pigtails in, the flatness of her head makes her look like Hulk Hogan.

Now with Santa incapacitated in the ruined livingroom, Dexter approaches armed with an electric razor. As he shaves off Santa’s beard his father (Jess Bennett) enters the room demanding to know what Dexter is doing. His mom (Kath Soucie) follows, still wearing her rubber cleaning gloves that she always wears, and is horrified to see the Christmas tree and everything else in ruin. Dee Dee then follows and scolds Dexter further demanding to know where her presents are. Dexter is forced to apologize for ruining Christmas, again, and apparently realizing he’s in a Christmas special, implores his family to treasure that they’re together and not fret over the destroyed gifts and decorations. He breaks into a rendition of “Oh Christmas Tree” and Dee Dee puts a stop to that telling him he’s wrong and calling him a block-head. When he asks what Christmas is about then, a beard-less Santa let’s him know, “The presents.”

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Do you like dog fights in your holiday specials?

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” is a pretty odd entry in the world of Christmas specials. We’ve seen plenty of cynical specials, and some that are just bizarre, but this one has an all-together different feel. Dexter basically beats up Santa Claus. He’s relentless and cruel. Unlike network-mate Johnny Bravo, he didn’t mistake Santa for an intruder or something he’s just trying to beat a confession out of him. And possibly worse, he assaults a reindeer and breaks its antlers off, which just sounds painful. The only really cute aspect of the episode is Dexter’s hypothesis on what really happens on Christmas Eve. Even though he’s super-smart, he’s still a kid and isn’t capable of just assuming his parents stick presents under the tree, they have to make it elaborate. The ending of the episode with the message being that Christmas is about the presents is pretty much the cynical 90s cartoon take. A lot of the comedy shows delighted in upending norms and that’s a pretty logical point for this one to make.

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Ruined Christmas.

Revisiting this series reminded me how flat the design is. The characters are about as flat as those on South Park and they practically slide across the screen rather than trying to create the illusion that they exist in three dimensions. It’s a stylistic choice more than a budget one, I think, but it’s not unique to this show as basically all of the Genndy Tartakovsky shows were animated in this fashion. I really enjoy Christine Cavanaugh (RIP) as Dexter. He’s one part Chuckie from Rugrats (who Cavanaugh also voiced) with an accent that kind of sounds like Ren from Ren & Stimpy, with perhaps a slight Swedish twist? It’s an accent that doesn’t exist in the real world and it’s a funny quirk of Dexter. The show is also very bright and the characters change attires even in this brief little short which is kind of neat. I also definitely liked the homage to the Flintstones Christmas special. I wouldn’t think they were able to actually re-use the model from that special, but this Santa was definitely drawn to look almost exactly like it.

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There is something very unsettling about a beard-less Santa.

“Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws” is not going to make you feel good about Christmas. It might make you uncomfortable to see Santa get his ass handed to him, but it also might make you laugh. It’s certainly different and I don’t regret watching it or anything, but it’s more dark than funny so ultimately I suppose it comes up a bit short. If you’re looking to check it out this year, Dexter’s Laboratory can be found on Hulu and iTunes. The entire series is also available on DVD, but it’s out of print and kind of pricey. This specific episode can also be found on The Powerpuff Girls:  ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas DVD and also on the Cartoon Network:  Christmas Rocks DVD and both are cheaper than getting the entire series. And as usual, if you’re not picky about quality you can probably find this one streaming for free somewhere on the world wide web.


Dec. 5 – “Don Coyote and the Christmas Bell”

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Originally aired sometime in 1991, probably in December.

After four relatively solid entries this year, I feel like we need to take a look at something that has the potential to be truly awful. In the 80s and early 90s Hanna-Barbera was still trying to remain current while it moved away from the shoddily animated mysteries and animated sitcoms of its past. Its solution for remaining current was to bizarrely adapt the 17th century novel Don Quixote into a show about anthropomorphic animals, in this case changing the title character to Don Coyote (Frank Welker). His sidekick Sancho Panza was now Sancho Panda (Don Messick) though the crux of the story remains surprisingly similar to the source material. Don Coyote is a wandering knight who wishes to do good deeds for the people he encounters. His intentions may be noble, but his imagination runs wild causing him to mistake ordinary objects like windmills for massive dragons. Rather than help people, he tends to make a big mess of anything he touches and has to make make-up for that before the episode’s conclusion. He’s constantly oblivious to his own psychosis, but most of the people around him aren’t, especially his horse Rosinante (Brad Garrett) and Sancho’s donkey Dapple (Welker) who get to be the mouthpiece for the audience in a, “Here we go again,” sort of way.

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Don Coyote accidentally pulls this want-to-be knight from a well and immediately becomes the boy’s idol.

The Adventures of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda is not particularly well-remembered and no one seems to care that it was at one-time a thing. As a result, determining when this episode originally aired is almost impossible and I can only say it aired sometime in December 1991 as the show’s 25th episode and part of season 2. “Don Coyote and the Christmas Bell” begins with our heroes stumbling upon a small village as Christmas descends on the area. The locals are moving a large bell to the bell tower and having a tough go of it when Don Coyote mistakes it for a monster or something and smashes it. They’re all pretty irate, while a young boy has a case of hero-worship at meeting Don Coyote. Don Coyote does not realize he did anything wrong, but does notice the broken bell and vows to find the town a new one in time for Christmas. The villagers aren’t having any more of Don Coyote, and they toss him off a cliff forcing his horse to run underneath him to give him a soft landing. Don Coyote mistakes this as a kindness assuming they were showing him a shortcut and vows to return with a new bell.

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That’s no bell, but an ogre!

As Don Coyote and Sancho Panda ride off, a dastardly pirate has just stolen a rather large sum of gold. He speaks as if he’s a recurring character and uses a relatively cliché form of pirate-speak. I think he also says his name but I can’t make it out. One of his men reminds him that he’ll never get all of this gold they swiped from the king past the guards, forcing the captain to come up with a plan. They melt the gold down and fashion it into a giant golden bell. He and his men then disguise themselves as monks to carry the bell wherever it is they’re taking it, until they hear of Don Coyote’s approach. The pirate captain remarks that Don Coyote is the crazy knight who destroyed his pirate ship and forced him to this life of crime on land, so we’re apparently supposed to be familiar with him. While I did watch this show as a kid, I can’t say I remember anything about specific plots.

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A bunch of pirates masquerading as monks.

Don Coyote thinks these humble monks need an escort, and they try to get him to go away, but he won’t hear of it. They go along with it, while back at the village, everyone grumbles about not wanting to ever hear of, or see, Don Coyote again while the one little kid tries to convince them otherwise. Some physical comedy ensues as one man falls down a hill and drops all of the pieces of the bell and it settles into the shape of Don Coyote. Another village just keeps making sarcastic quips and he sounds exactly like Brainy Smurf.

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Pirate captain Jack (I think) finds killing Don Coyote a tough gig.

Meanwhile, the pirate leader tries to get rid of Don Coyote. He has one of his men tell Don Coyote that there is trouble up ahead at another bell tower and Don Coyote races off to help. There he finds the pirate leader at the top of the tower, and seeing nothing wrong, calls for Sancho to help him down. With his back turned, the pirate tries to boot Don Coyote out of the tower, but misses and he falls to the ground. He remarks to the camera (so much fourth wall breaking in Hanna-Barbera stuff) “Well, at least we know the fall wouldn’t have killed him,” for our first genuinely amusing line of the show. Surprisingly, it won’t be the last.

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Oh no! Don Coyote has returned! This feels like such a Hanna-Barbera gag.

At the village once more, the villagers have reassembled the bell and it looks like a real piece of shit. Still, they seem pleased enough. Not content to just let others think what they will of Don Coyote, the little boy from before rides around acting like the swordsman and inadvertently destroys the bell once more. He’s doing a good job of realizing his dream.

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I’m sure they’ll be fine.

Back on the road, the pirate captain is scheming to rid himself of Don Coyote once again and has created a rope trap that looks like a hammock. He complains of his bones being weary and Don Coyote proposes they take a break. The captain leads the pair to his hammock trap, and insists he and Sancho have a seat. When Don Coyote refuses, suggesting the captain is far more tired than he, the pirate shoves him into it and his man cuts the rope. The two soar through the air undaunted, Don Coyote enjoying the ride while Sancho is indeed concerned. They collide with a docked pirate ship’s sail (I thought the guy said his ship was destroyed?) which sends them back from where they came. As the pirate captain celebrates, he’s then horrified to see the pair returning as they crash into him and all three land back in the hammock which has been inexplicably reset. His man then cuts the rope once more, for who knows why, and the trio are launched into a tree. The pirate captain appears ready to give up the golden bell and his other treasures, until he notices that Don Coyote and Sancho are stuck high up in the tree. He drops down delighted as Don Coyote urges them to push onward to deliver the bell to the village and not to worry about their predicament.

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The pirates are making off with their booty.

Next we get some brief sequences. First, we check in on that kid and he’s actually praying for Don Coyote’s success while his mom orders him to bed. The pirates are then shown loading the bell onto a small rowboat and affixing that to their ship. All the while Don Coyote and Sancho Panda sleep in the tree, while Rosinante and Dapple (the horse and donkey, in case you forgot) talk about how it’s all up to them once again. They use the hammock trap to fling themselves through the air at the tree knocking Don Coyote and Sancho from it. They land on their trusty steeds while still soaring through the air crashing down on the rowboat with the bell. The force of their landing causing it to detach from the main ship, and they decide to take the bell back to the village themselves, feeling the monks have done all they can (Don Coyote is still oblivious to the fact that they’re actually pirates).

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The real heroes of the show, and the only characters I don’t hate.

As they row through the night, they realize they don’t know where they’re going. Sancho says they need to head north, but doesn’t know which way north is. Don Coyote suggests he just have faith and says they should follow the only star in the night sky, deeming it the north star. The young boy is then shown waiting by the shore at sunrise and his mom scolds him once more to come in out of the cold and to stop waiting for things that aren’t going to happen. The rowboat then makes land rather violently, and the boy and his mother call for help.

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Time for a Christmas miracle.

On the beach, the capsized vessel needs to be lifted and the villagers begin raising it once they hear someone from underneath it. As they lift it, the boy peers under and sees Don Coyote. He shouts with excitement about his discovery, causing the villagers to insist they cease lifting the boat. Don Coyote then shouts they have the bell and the villagers reluctantly free the trapped knight and marvel at the shiny, golden, bell. The whiney villager who sounds like Brainy Smurf (I can only assume he is voiced by Danny Goldman) says they’ll never haul that bell up to the tower before Christmas (it’s now Christmas Eve) while the message of the episode is now coming through loud and clear – have faith.

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The idiot actually made good on his promise.

They drag the bell up the steep hill to the village and it’s now nightfall, only 15 minutes until Christmas. As the villagers prepare to raise the bell to the tower, the pirates show up and put a musket in Don Coyote’s ear. Now dressed in their traditional pirate attire, Don Coyote still mistakes them for monks and declares everyone welcome their generous benefactors. The rest of the village is skeptical, but the pirate captain turns his attention to the bell and gives a hearty laugh pointing out that thing will never ring because it’s solid gold (though, he withholds the part about it being solid gold). The villagers strike it and it makes just a thud before angrily turning on Don Coyote. As he approaches the bell he trips and smacks his head on it breaking the scaffolding surrounding it and causing a loud “dong” to ring out. Now the villagers cheer Don Coyote and even the pirates. As the villagers hoist the pirate captain in the air triumphantly, he confesses he likes the good attention and decides they can keep the bell, he’ll find gold elsewhere. Don Coyote and Sancho ride off into the sunrise echoing the sentiments about fate or something.

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Don Coyote gets his bell run while ringing a bell in the process. Genius.

I set out looking for a bad Christmas Special and I’d say I mostly found one in “Don Coyote and the Christmas Bell.” It contains the same shoddy animation Hanna-Barbera was known for during this era with some cheap sound design as well. The voice actors are ones you have heard before, though I couldn’t find credits for this particular episode. They’re professional, but rely on a lot of clichés from the era and everyone basically sounds like another character from one of the other many Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the era, like the Brainy Smurf clone, for example. Don Messick also uses a mildly offensive accent for Sancho Panda, but Hanna-Barbera was never known for casting minority actors to voice minority roles.

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Pirate Jack gets the hero treatment.

What I did like about this episode is just how much the villagers despised Don Coyote. It was rather amusing to hear them openly wish for his death and to see them actually attempt to murder him by tossing him off a cliff. Don Coyote is an annoying character, and he’s intentionally so. He speaks in an annoying cartoon accent, the kind of accent that only exists in cartoons, that’s best described as dumb-speak. It’s bizarre that someone thought a character this annoying should function as a lead, because even as a kid I remember not really liking him when I watched (though strangely I can also remember playing Don Coyote and forcing my little sister to role-play as Sancho) this show, as infrequently as that may have been.

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“It’s all faith and shit, Sancho. Trust me, I’m Jesus.”

This special is also somewhat light on Christmas. We know it takes place in the days leading up to Christmas and there’s some light traces of snow on the backgrounds. There’s not much else though until the closing scenes when getting the bell back to town in time for the holiday becomes more urgent. The message of faith is then amplified, though it was there from the start in the form of the little boy who keeps faith that Don Coyote will find a new bell. The “miracle” of Don Coyote making a solid gold bell ring is kind of dumb, even though I saw it coming a mile away. I have no idea if a solid gold bell could ring though. It would make for a great conductor of electricity so maybe that bell tower will get hit by lightning and burn that whole village to the ground. A fitting postscript, indeed.

What intrigues me about this show is just how did it come to be? Did someone just hear the name Don Quixote and say “That kind of sounds like ‘coyote,'” which would be a stupid premise for a show, but this is Hanna-Barbera. Maybe someone actually had a genuine affection for that old story and wanted to share it with children? Or maybe someone was familiar with the tale of Don Quixote and felt it could work as a children’s cartoon? It’s honestly not a terrible, if unconventional, thought. It still kind of amazes me though that this exists.

If for some reason you still wish to watch this one yourself then your only option is via the internet. If you search for The Adventures of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda on YouTube you’ll find it labeled as episode 25. This is another show that no one is trying to profit off of in 2018 so the only thing keeping it offline is the actual public, who probably shouldn’t care about this show either. Watch it only if you’re really curious.


Dec. 24 – Chucklewood Critters: T’was the Day Before Christmas

511N57VG66L._SY445_In the 80s, if you had any connection to a successful animation production unit you could probably get a shot at creating your own series. Such was the case for former Hanna-Barbera animators Bill Hutten and Tony Love. They left that famous cartoon factory to create a series of holiday specials that would eventually lead to a cartoon series:  Chucklewood Critters. The show centers round a Fox named Rusty and a Bear cub named Buttons. If it sounds sweet that’s because it is. This is a very sincere show that just tries to be a nice little cartoon. In some ways, it’s the type of show that just doesn’t get made anymore. The 90s were all about gross humor and characters so it’s kind of crazy these specials were turned into a series in 1998. The first special was released in 1983, “The Christmass Tree Train,” and the last in 1994. We’re not talking about that inaugural special from ’83 though, because it’s currently December 24th, better known as Christmas Eve, and it’s the day before Christmas so lets talk about “T’was the Day Before Christmas.”

The special opens with some really corny Christmas music, remember this special is ultra-sincere, and a duck in search of his flock flies by. His wings flapping sound like plastic tarps wafting in the wind and there’s very little animation. Something tells me this thing didn’t receive a large budget. We soon see our protagonists, Rusty and Buttons, as Rusty rouses Buttons from his hibernation to go sledding in the snow. They crash their sled into a snowbank and and a female fox and bear happen to walk by. Buttons seems pretty into the she-bear (I think he calls her Bear Bear, or something equally unimaginative). Moving along, they see the Christmas Tree Train in the distance and Rusty asks Buttons if he wants to hitch a ride prompting him to question Rusty’s sanity. Nice call-back. They also notice some large footprints in the snow and are creeped out.

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The Chucklewood Critters brand was all about holiday exploitation. They even have a Thanksgiving special! No one does that.

Scared off by the prints in the snow, Buttons and Rusty go running to Buttons’ dad, Abner, and find him operating a giant wooden snow plow. They’re immediately taken by the giant machinery and seem to forget about the footprints. Abner is called away by his wife, and Buttons and Rusty decide to hop on the plow thinking they can make a nice sledding track with it. Instead the thing proves hard for the diminutive duo to control and they end crashing into some weird creature in a long fur coat (possibly the originator of the footprints?). The two kids are frightened by what they deem a monster as the creature runs off leaving them to survey the damage of the ruined plow.

As one would expect, Abner is pretty pissed when he sees his wrecked plow. His son insists it was the cause of a monster, but he seems pretty skeptical. The mothers of Rusty and Buttons seem to find this whole thing amusing and think nothing of their claim. Surprisingly, the two are allowed to go off sledding in search of Ranger Jones. I would have expected some kind of punishment for destroying the snowplow. When they get to the cabin of Ranger Jones, they find a note on the door informing them he’s left to visit his family for Christmas. The mailbox is overflowing with Christmas cards and Buttons and Rusty look at the festive images and wish they had a critter Christmas of their very own. Somehow, I don’t think this is going to lead to a blood orgy.

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This angry little guy is Skeeter, maybe the only part of this special that doesn’t irritate me.

The two walk off still openly griping about the lack of Christmas for critters. A bald eagle observes them and tells them its nonsense to desire a Christmas for its beneath critters. Are the animators suggesting Christmas is un-American? The eagle does little to put a damper on things and Buttons and Rusty decide to create their very own Critter Christmas. Buttons doesn’t notice a hole in the ground and falls in leading to a rabbit den. There Skipper and Bluebell live and they’re surprised to see Buttons is awake and not hibernating. Rusty pops in and the two are happy to inform the bunnies that they’re throwing a Critter Christmas. The bunnies, apparently feeling this doesn’t infringe upon Easter, seem excited by the prospect. The four go off in search of a Christmas tree while, unknown to them, menacing music is playing in the background as it’s revealed the fur-coated monster from earlier is pursuing them!

The group find a tree, and that duck from earlier pops in for a second for some reason before flying off, only to find its inhabited by a rodent of some kind named Skeeter. Skeeter sounds like he’s from Brooklyn and is hiding from a monster. When he sees that the others are clearly not monsters he becomes more concerned with the fact that they want to dig up his home for their Christmas tree. He convinces them to use a different tree and leads them to one by a frozen creek. There he asks Buttons and Rusty just what is Critter Christmas? Buttons just says it’s a bunch of fun, basically, and mentions treats which is apparently what interests Skeeter most (he is a bit paunchy). Meanwhile, Skipper was left to dig out the tree while Bluebell just looks on to tell him he’s a sour-puss for complaining about doing all of the work. The fur-clad monster then pops in and scares them off. He pauses to question why everyone is so scared of him (he clearly can’t hear the music) and says he’s just the alligator friend of Buttons and Rusty – Lester. So I guess this isn’t going to be a mystery that takes us through the episode.

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And down goes the tree.

Skipper and Bluebell run into Buttons, Rusty, and Skeeter to inform them of the monster. They’re getting out of there, leaving the others to ponder what to do about the monster, and their tree. Rusty suggests they go check it out thinking the monster may have left. Skeeter is not impressed, but when Buttons agrees he’s kind of stuck going along. Sure enough, no monster, but now they need to finish uprooting the tree without the help of the rabbits. Buttons casually leans on the tree to think, and of course this causes it to fall landing on the frozen creek. It shoots off on the ice and the trio has to pursue in their sled. Rusty is able to lasso the tree, but that just means they’re stuck going for a ride with it. Things only get worse when a water fall appears and the sled goes flying through the air. They whiz by that duck once again from earlier, still searching for his flock, and come crashing down to earth in a giant snowbank. The tree lands upright and the spot is apparently as good as any as Rusty remarks they need to now enlist the help of the other critters to decorate it. Skeeter, meanwhile, is still pretty ticked about the near-death experience he just had and rightfully so.

Up next, a musical montage! The staple of the Hanna-Barbera Christmas special lives on in the works of Hutten and Love. The critters are creating decorations and ornaments for the tree while a really annoying song plays to the scenes. The rabbits even returned to operate the toy assembly line (they really got that up and running fast) and someone thought it was a good idea to put a skunk in charge of the perfume. The song mercifully comes to an end after a brief amount of time to find Buttons and Rusty waking their turtle friend Turner up to help out. They basically order him to make decorations and give him no guidance, even though he’d rather stay in his nice warm shell. He doesn’t protest though and runs off to gather materials, I guess, and runs into Lester. As the others did before him, he mistakes Lester for a monster and immediately runs the other way passing Rusty and Buttons. They don’t understand how Turner could let a little thing like a monster come between him and their Christmas celebration. They decide not to work on convincing him otherwise as they need to focus on their new task – finding a star for the tree.

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I’m not convinced they know what a proper Christmas decoration looks like.

Rusty and Buttons’ search for a star leads them to the work shop of Ranger Jones. There with Skeeter, they finish making ornaments and their star, but by the time they’re done the sun is setting. Buttons and Rusty are eager to get going while Skeeter has little interest in heading out after dark with a monster on the loose. He doesn’t voice his concerns to his friends, and instead offers to stay behind to dry the ornaments while they fetch the sled. Of course, after Rusty and Buttons take off Lester strolls in and Skeeter predictably freaks out. He races up a tree and screams for help as Lester approaches. I’m not sure why the cartoon is trying to drum up some tension here as we already know Lester isn’t a monster. When Rusty and Buttons return to the work shop with their sled, they see the tracks in the snow and assume Skeeter is in trouble. They race off after him and just as Skeeter was falling out of the tree into Lester’s waiting arms Rusty and Buttons crash into him with their sled.

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It’s just Lester, guys.

Rusty and Buttons soon realize they were mistaken and the monster is no monster, but their friend Lester who came up from the bayou to visit. Apparently he had an open invitation following an appearance in a previous special (“The Honeybunch”). He explains his clothes because of the cold and tells them how he rode the Christmas Tree Train up to see them. Now that they’ve sorted everything out, Rusty and Buttons invite Lester to their Critter Christmas. They all gather around the newly decorated tree to bask in its Christmas-goodness, only for Lester to notice it needs lights. Just then, that stupid duck drops in again and Rusty and Buttons say what we’re all thinking, “Not again!” Lester has some info for the duck this time though as he saw his flock a few days ago. He offers to give him directions, in return for a favor – he’s to bring some friends back from the bayou for Lester. I think I know where this is going.

The critters pile onto the sled, with Lester serving as a reindeer to pull it, and they start reciting “A Visit From St. Nicholas” but with all of the words changed to reflect their Critter Christmas basically just recounting the events of the day. They zoom past most of the characters from before, and arrive at the tree as night falls. The duck returns with a bunch of fireflies in tow (called it!) and they serve as the lights for the tree. All of the adult critters remark how wonderful a job Buttons and Rusty did, and they point out they couldn’t have done it without Lester (apparently no one wants to thank the fireflies who are willing to just chill out on the tree so they can enjoy an illuminated Christmas tree). Ranger Jones then shows up with a big sack of goodies, and even the duck’s flock (his name is apparently Quackers, I should have guessed) goes flying by so he can join them. The special ends with Rusty and Butters wishing Quackers a merry Christmas as he struggles to catch up with the flock.

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Hooray, the dumb little critters have their own tree!

“T’was the Day Before Christmas” is a by-the-numbers old school Christmas special. It tells a story and stars some cute animals, but doesn’t have anything to say or even lessons to teach. I will say it’s pretty cool that it acknowledges the events of past specials, since often cartoons exist in a vacuum. It’s pretty clear that this mindless special is what inspired South Park’s “Woodland Critter Christmas,” which was featured earlier in this year’s list. The animation is probably below contemporary Hanna-Barbera standards and the original music is brutally sweet. The orchestral parts are fine though and the voice cast does the best it can with the script they were given. The Lester mystery being revealed so early is kind of weird, as it seems like the show was trying to build tension with the monster in the snow. Since his head is covered until his true reveal, I wonder if his dialogue confirming his identity was added in later because someone felt it was too scary for kids or something. Surprisingly, no visit from Santa at the end. I guess he cares about Critter Christmas as much as I do.

If after reading all of that you still wish to view “T’was the Day Before Christmas” then you’re best bet is to probably just google it. No one cares about the Chucklewood Critters brand in 2017 so it’s not hard to find a free stream. All of the specials were released on VHS individually and the entire series was also released on DVD once upon a time, but is out of print. Despite that, the various DVDs are still pretty cheap if you must have them, probably because no one wants them.


Dec. 22 – Johnny Bravo: ‘Twas the Night

TwasTheNight-JBThis thing kicked off this year with the What A Cartoon! original George & Junior’s Christmas Spectacular. The comedic bear duo failed to make a lasting impression and faded away from sight. Johnny Bravo, on the other hand, debuted via the same show, but to a much warmer reception earning him his own series. The character was created by Van Partible and some guy named Seth MacFarlane was a writer for the show. Johnny Bravo was essentially a modern guy with the personality of a 50s greaser who talked like Elvis. He wants to help the ladies and be kind of a stereotypical macho man. I guess he’s kind of like Uncle Jesse from Full House, except he thinks he’s as strong as a super hero and probably not as bright as the frontman for the Rippers. It honestly wasn’t a character that resonated with me right off the bat. I guess I just preferred child protagonists or animals in my cartoons, but it was a success and I think it was voted the #2 cartoon of the year by viewers of the What A Cartoon! show, behind only Dexter’s Laboratory which also got its own series.

“‘Twas the Night” is a cartoon from the show’s fifth episode. It, for some reason, premiered on August 4th, 1997 as the third segment in the half hour show. Why they chose to a premiere a Christmas episode in August is possibly due to many delays the show supposedly had in production. It’s possible it was meant to air closer to Christmas, or maybe even earlier for Cartoon Network’s then annual Christmas in July, but was ready when others were not. Or maybe they just didn’t care, since the broadcast lists online don’t appear to contain many gaps during the first season.

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I can’t tell if Johnny is supposed to be sitting on the roof or standing awkwardly.

The episode opens on a scenic look of a bridge and a city. There’s a narrator spinning a rendition of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” but with different words, and in a familiar voice. It’s Adam West! Oh, how we miss you Adam. He would guest star as himself on a later episode. The scene takes us to Johnny’s house where he’s preparing for bed and needs to silence his mama’s snoring. While laying in bed he hears a sound outside, he heads for the roof and spies a burglar. No, Johnny! It’s Santa! We cry out, but the thick-headed blond can’t hear us through the television and takes the poor bastard out. Santa has a busted arm as a result, and he’s pretty ticked, but also understanding, since he knows Johnny is an idiot. That and this Santa only has six reindeer, so Johnny was justified in thinking he was a fake. The problem is now he can’t fulfill his obligation to the children of the world, so Johnny is going to have to take his place.

Johnny hopes for cash and chicks in return for doing Santa’s job, but Santa threatens him with violence so he puts on the coat and the hat and takes off through the night. He screws up the names of the reindeer, then questions where the freak with the red nose is. We get a sort-of cut-away depicting laser wielding bad guys that look like Cobra rejects doing battle with a laser-nosed reindeer at the North Pole. The blasts even reach Johnny in the sky, but he pays them no mind. He whips out the list of gifts and it contains nothing but Senators all scheduled to receive coal. Johnny Bravo getting political! Their names are also almost all references to Hanna-Barbera and Warner properties so it’s worth a pause or two to read them. One senator is actually receiving a gift:  Senator Puffnstuff.

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At least the suit fits.

Johnny sets to delivering the gifts. The mayor is the first to receive his, new underwear, and he prances around happily in his living-room until his wife knocks him out with a rolling pin, “You promised me no cavorting!” He next visits little Suzie and squeezes down her chimney. He eats the cookies and drinks the milk while little Suzie is sleeping peacefully in an easy chair, “She’s kind of cute when her mouth isn’t flapping.” He then visits Jungle Boy in the jungle and delivers a new loin cloth and makeup for the gorilla girls. The gorilla king gets coal and Johnny calls him Magilla, and he’s right to take that as an insult. He then visits a hibernating Cronos the bear and gives him an alarm clock, which goes off almost immediately forcing Johnny to scramble out fast. Then he pops in on Scooby-Doo and gives him a slip of paper for speech therapy with Cindy Brady. I always thought he spoke pretty well considering he’s a dog and all.

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And he can also squeeze down a chimney. 

Johnny continues on through the night, and has a near miss with a space shuttle that’s woefully animated as it kind of bends in flight. He leaves gifts for a sleeping pair of twins, Tim and Tom. He’s depicted going all over the world causing him to question how Santa stays fat considering the work is hard. I guess working hard for one night can’t make up for all of the milk cookies throughout the year, Johnny. As Johnny gets to the bottom of the list he realizes he has one gift left to deliver:  Bunny Bravo, also known as mama. The problem is he has no gifts left – he must have delivered her gift to the wrong house. We then cut back to the mayor and his wife finding some woman’s garment and she accuses him of cavorting with some woman named Bunny. He tries to tell her he’s not, but gets another rolling pin to the noggin for his honesty. She’s rather abusive.

Johnny returns home, sad to not have a gift for his precious mama. As he sits sheepishly on the roof, he hears his mother cry out with joy from inside the house. He dives down the chimney and sees she’s sporting a new diamond ring. It says it’s from Santa, but she thinks it’s from Johnny. What a weird thing to give your mama. There’s also another gift and it’s for Johnny – a new pair of boxing gloves and mouthpiece. As Johnny admires his gift, Santa appears in the window to angrily remind him he didn’t forget how the night began, “Merry Christmas, you pinhead. Round two is next year!”

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These Hanna-Barbera folks love cameos.

“‘Twas the Night” is a pretty simple little cartoon short that goes the predictable route of casting its protagonist as Santa. Really, that feels like the number 3 Christmas cartoon cliche at this point behind parodies/adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. The narration is carried throughout the short and Adam West delivers all of his lines with great timing. He sounds sincere, even when he’s saying something funny, “And mama was sleeping, you can tell by the snoring. After four times today, Jimmy Stewart gets boring,” and It’s a Wonderful Life’s title card is depicted on the television set to complete the joke. Because of the narration, Johnny is sort of just there and he gets in a line every so often, but aside from the “Magilla” comment I didn’t find them memorable. I did like how Santa was depicted as professional and understanding of what happened. He can’t just blow-up at Johnny because he needs to focus on the task at hand, but he’s also pretty pissed and he isn’t just going to forget that Johnny Bravo broke his arm on Christmas. The animation is kind of cheap and minimalist. Johnny moves with quick actions that don’t require a lot of frames, but that’s a stylistic choice. The backgrounds though are quite static and droll. The best I can say for the show is it’s bright and colorful, and the Rudolph bit was funny.

If you like Johnny Bravo then you probably like this short well enough, even if it feels like a novelty due to the inserting of the poem. I love Adam West, so I’m inclined to at least give this one a passing grade. It may show up on Boomerang this year, but it also may not. I’d be surprised if Cartoon Network bothered to air it as they don’t do much with their legacy programs. Season one was released on DVD in 2010, and so far it’s the only season to receive a Region 1 release on DVD and it’s actually still easily obtainable so I guess they still print the things. For whatever reason, probably poor sales of season one, none of the other seasons have been released or even scheduled for release. If you like Johnny Bravo then you probably already have it at this point, and if you don’t well then I guess you stopped reading about a thousand words ago.

 


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