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Dec. 15 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! first premiered on December 18, 1966.

It’s December 15 which means it’s time for another retro throwback and I bet you’re surprised to see the green guy here. Since I dubbed Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! as the best ever Christmas special not just once, but twice, you may have expected it to appear on this year’s edition in the coveted Christmas position. Well, it already received that honor back in 2015 and, to be honest, the actual Christmas Day post is usually one of the least read because people are quite busy that day. I figured we should leave that spot open for another deserving entry and give the Grinch his due on the road to Christmas 2021!

The now familiar A Cat in the Hat Presentation logo.

Now, in case you’re confused, there is only one Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! that we need to acknowledge. That live-action movie with Jim Carrey? Nah, don’t like it. The CGi Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle from a couple of years ago? Technically, it’s titled The Grinch so I guess people shouldn’t confuse it with today’s topic, but it’s understandable if they do. That film is better than the live-action one, though it’s hardly what I consider truly memorable or even essential Christmas viewing. The 1966 animated special directed and produced by Chuck Jones is the only Christmas special I need in my life featuring the Grinch. I think it even far surpasses the beauty that is the source material, though I do consider that essential Christmas reading at this time of year. The animated version though just brings the character to life in a way that print and still images cannot. The famed Seuss himself did criticize the animated version a bit by pointing out to Jones that he took his character and just made it look like himself, but I don’t care! If he looks like Jones, it’s probably because the famed animator had to look at himself in a mirror to try to get that infamous smile drawn correctly and it turned out so well that I think he’s more than deserving of injecting a little bit of his own likeness into the character.

I take a trip to Who-ville probably a dozen times a year.

The animation for this special is terrific, especially for television. It likely had a bigger budget than what people were used to seeing and definitely a larger one than the latter day Looney Tunes shorts Jones had worked on. There’s a fluidity to Grinch’s movements few rivaled at the time and the little personality quirks and gags are so well designed. Beyond the simple looks of the special is the music. What is the Grinch these days without “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,”? The two are inseparable and the other musical bits are nearly as memorable. To top it off, you have the incomparable Boris Karloff as narrator who adds just a touch of a growl to his voice when performing as the title character. It’s just magic for the eyes and ears and the simple story of a Christmas grump trying to ruin everyone’s holiday makes the Grinch both loathsome and relatable.

We begin with what the Grinch hates most of all: singing!

Obviously, I love this cartoon and could talk about it for hours, but we should probably get on with the viewing before I get on too much of a roll. The special begins with the now familiar Cat in the Hat logo which fades into falling snow. Soft singing comes in as we’re introduced to the song “Welcome Christmas” as sung by the people of Who-ville. Albert Hague wrote the now memorable music featured in this special with lyrics by Dr. Seuss himself (it’s pretty obvious where he contributed). Eugene Poddany oversaw the score which is arguably as good as the actual songs with lyrics. There’s basically no soft spot in the production for this one.

Little Cindy-Lou Who who is no more than two.

We are introduced to the Whos as they chop down a massive tree to bring to their little town square. As it’s erected, the song shifts abruptly from the serene “Welcome Christmas” to the much livelier “Trim Up the Tree.” The massive tree is splashed and decorated with garish objects that have wacky, Seussian, names attached to them. The Whos move on to other parts of town as they hang wreaths outside and decorate the interior of their homes and through the lyrics of the song we learn that Christmas is tomorrow! These Whos are old fashioned in that they trim the tree and put up all of the Christmas décor on Christmas Eve, which is such a waste. It’s also during this song we get our first look at little Cindy-Lou Who who will play a larger role in the story later, but who Chuck Jones wanted to play an even larger role initially. He wanted her to be the granddaughter of the Grinch, but the idea was either cut for time or nixed by Seuss. If you ever thought Cindy-Lou looked an awful lot like the Grinch, well now you know why.

Never mind the size, that thing just doesn’t look healthy. The Grinch may only have a few more Christmases to endure.

As the song fades out the camera shifts to the snowy mountains and begins its climb. Our narrator, Boris Karloff, enters the picture to tell us that the people of Who-ville really like Christmas, if that wasn’t already obvious, but one guy does not: the Grinch! We’re introduced to this grumpy, green, fur-covered being as he leans against the entrance of his cave which he calls a home. His cave is located 10,000 feet above Who-ville in the side of Mt. Crumpet. When we meet Grinch he seems fairly nonchalant as he chews something with a toothpick hanging out of his mouth. As we regard this curious creature, Karloff tries to figure out just why he dislikes Christmas and hypothesizes it could be his shoes, or maybe his head, before settling on the size of his heart. A little X-Ray window is positioned over Grinch’s torso to demonstrate that his heart is two sizes too small.

Staring down from his cave…

The narrator dismisses the exercise as perfunctory for it matters not why Grinch hates Christmas, he just does! Grinch then walks over to the ledge as his dog, Max, comes trotting out and the two look down over Who-ville. It’s clear that Max is the opposite of the Grinch for everything about his disposition is cheerful and happy. Then Grinch speaks for the first time and Karloff uses a slight growl when reciting his lines. The Grinch informs his dog, or maybe himself, that Christmas is coming and he just can’t take it any more.

Yeah! Wham that gardinka!

Grinch then goes into detail about what it is he dislikes most about Christmas and it mostly boils down to noise. Grinch, you big wimp, it’s one day a year! Just deal with the noise! Though to be fair, the Whos definitely make a lot of noise as basically every one of their Christmas toys is some crazy concoction designed to make noise. My favorite as a kid was the gardinka (spelling?), mostly because it had the word “dink” in it. Though it’s hardly the most impressive of the instrument-vehicles. Some electro-who-cardio-thing is quite a spectacle and definitely good at producing loud noises.

The dude in the front should definitely be wearing ear protection.

The Grinch doesn’t just hate the noise though, he’s also annoyed by the feast the Whos have. Why? I don’t know. They have a bunch of desserts and rare, Who, roast, beast which is a feast that the Grinch cannot stand in the least. Again, we don’t know why, maybe he’s a vegetarian?

I think it’s a rather nice Christmas tradition the Whos have. No, I do not want to hold hands and sing with my neighbors.

The feast isn’t what Grinch hates the most though, nor is it the abstract noise from earlier. Oh no, what Grinch hates the most is the singing! And yeah, these Whos definitely seem to enjoy singing. It’s apparently a pretty large part of their Christmas celebration as every man, woman, and child gathers around the town tree to sing, with Christmas bells ringing! And their song of choice is “Welcome Christmas,” and we get another taste of that rather wonderful song. As Grinch recites all of this, the camera dissolves onto Max who seems to really be enjoying the memories of Christmases past.

Oh Max, do you have an idea?!

Grinch is not enjoying these memories and he repeats “Sing! Sing! Sing!” as he shoves his face right into Max’s as if to convince him he’s wrong to reflect fondly on these memories. Grinch has had it though. He’s put up with Christmas for 53 years! Is that how old he is, or just how long he’s lived in this cave? He doesn’t elaborate, but he has decided that he now must stop Christmas from coming. There will not be a 54th! In order to do so though he’ll need a plan, and one doesn’t come to mind immediately. Then he looks at Max…

The good stuff!

The rather meek canine had backed himself into the snow when confronted by the Grinch and found himself covered in snow. Upon popping his head out of the pile, the snow clings to his head like a hat and beard. Yes, he looks like Santa Claus and it’s Max in this state that gives Grinch an idea. Not just any idea though, a wonderful, awful, idea! The animation on the Grinch’s smile is quite possibly the highlight of the entire special, which is full of highlights. I just love how that smile climbs up the sides of the Grinch’s head and then it’s topped off by the tuft of fur on the top of his head unfurling. It’s so good, that I had to include a gif. Still images just won’t work.

Some amusing antics take place during the montage of Grinch and Max crafting the Santa suit. The original story was so short that the special needed the songs and non-speaking scenes to really lengthen the whole thing for TV.

The Grinch, chuckling to himself proudly, grabs his dog by the tail and drags him into the cave. He doesn’t keep any secrets as he informs the dog (and us) that he’s going to make a quick Santy Claus hat and coat. To do so, he starts cutting up some red curtains in his rather sad looking cave. What little we see of the interior seems to contain old, worn out, furniture. It looks rather dank, but also like a fitting place for such a creature to call home. His sewing machine looks nice though!

As the Grinch, and Max, get to work on a Santa outfit, we’re introduced to the baritone of Thurl Ravenscroft. I suppose Thurl is best known for his role of Tony the Tiger for many years, though kids today probably won’t know him from anything except this special. He gets the honor though of singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which is now a Christmas classic. Granted, the song never mentions the holiday, but its association with this special is all the Christmas it needs. Ravencroft’s performance combined with the words of Seuss and the bombastic melody nearly steal the show here. We only get a taste of the song though, the rest will have to wait for later.

The Grinch apparently doesn’t think much of the Whos if he expects them to confuse he and Max for Santa and a reindeer.

When the song drops out, we see the Grinch in his new Santa costume. It’s rather basic as it’s just a hat and coat. Apparently, Grinch is a bit like Donald Duck in that he refuses to wear pants. He also doesn’t see the beard as a necessity, but he does need a reindeer. He has none though, but he does have a dog and a pair of antlers on his wall! He takes some black thread and ties one of the antlers onto Max’s head. It looks rather uncomfortable as all of Max’s fur gets scrunched where the antler meets his skull. Worse though, is that it’s too heavy. When Grinch steps back to admire his handy-work, Max slowly collapses under the weight of the headpiece. Grinch then grabs a saw and removes some of the tines from the antler and Max slowly rocks back onto all fours, a little splash of drums can be heard as his feet return to the ground. I love the sound effects in this one, like the strings when Grinch saws the antlers. It’s all so good.

He’s so cute!

With Grinch in costume and Max turned reindeer, it’s time to stock an old sleigh with some bags. Max, behaving like a typical dog, jumps enthusiastically into the sleigh thinking he’s about to go for a ride. Oh, you’re going for a ride, Max, but it’s not going to be a fun one. The Grinch is not amused by his dog’s antics and grabs him by the fur and hooks him up to the front of the sleigh. The tiny dog looks ridiculous out in front of such a large sleigh, but the Grinch either disagrees or doesn’t care. He is coming up with this plan on the fly, after all. He cracks a whip over Max and orders him to “giddy-up” and the dog is forced to comply.

My second favorite piece of animation after the infamous smile.

The beginning of Grinch and Max’s descent to Who-ville is quite steep, so steep that the sleigh rushes past the dog. In perhaps the special’s cutest moment, Max winds up behind the sleigh and hops onto the back as the Grinch looks under the sleigh for his dog. When he turns and sees Max just sitting on the sleigh, the only thing the dog can do is smile and wave. That won’t do for the Grinch, who is committed to arriving at Who-ville in a style similar to Santa’s so he grabs the rope and yanks Max back out and in front of the sleigh where the little dog rolls before going into a run. The two then head up an embankment that causes the sleigh to flip in the air which results in Max grabbing onto his master for dear life. When the sleigh lands in the snow again, the Grinch is forced to pull Max off of him like one would a really tight-fitting sweater. For some reason the sequence reminds me of one of Jones’ other famous creations, Wile E. Coyote, as this seems like a predicament he’d find himself in. Though it wouldn’t be a dog grabbing onto him, but some weird ACME contraption.

Oh Max, you’re in for a long night, buddy.

With Max back out in front, the sleigh completes its descent and arrives in Who-ville. The Grinch immediately puts Max to work carrying a massive ladder while he grabs a bunch of bags. He leads the dog to the first house informing him this is only stop number one. Now we get to see the Grinch’s plan in motion as he ascends the ladder to arrive at the chimney. Since he’s committed to the Santa role, he can’t just break in through a window or door, no, he must go down the chimney!

This has become a rather iconic image over the years.

Grinch pauses at the top of the chimney to strike a pose before descending. He squishes his back against the side and basically “walks” his way down the chimney. He gets stuck briefly (Karloff claims it’s for a minute or two, but it’s more like a second) before eventually arriving in the living room of the Who house. His eyes shine from the blackness of the fireplace making him look like a rather sinister character, indeed. When he pops out, he uses a magnet to pull the tacks out of the mantle to collect the stockings. Then he slithers just like a snake, I guess to be quiet, and arrives at the tree. Old St. Nick has apparently already come and gone for the tree is covered in presents and goodies. The Grinch takes them all, stuffs them in bags, and then shoves them up the chimney where poor Max is expected to catch them and load them onto the sleigh.

You better believe he’s taking that star!

The song then returns as Thurl Ravenscroft continues to tell us how much the Grinch sucks. While he does so, we get to see the Grinch sneak around the house and take stuff. And he’s going to take it all! Presents, decorations, furniture, food – you name it. It doesn’t have to be anything representing Christmas, he apparently wants the Whos to suffer! The song drops out for him to raid the fridge where he makes sure to take the rare, Who, roast, beast. It returns for him to take everything else, before dropping again when only one item remains to be claimed: the tree!

Uh oh, Grinch, you’ve been found!
I love this shot.

As the Grinch stuffs the tree up the chimney, one, lone, ornament falls off of it and rolls into a bedroom. We had already seen Grinch raid this bedroom earlier and steal the candy canes from the hands of the sleeping children, now one of them has awoken. Cindy-Lou Who (June Foray) picks up the ornament and heads into the den to find the Grinch shoving the tree up the chimney. Now, she’s only 2 so we can forgive her for not noticing all of the other missing items and for confusing Grinch for Santa. Upon seeing the girl though, the Grinch gets really unnerved for a moment, but Karloff assures us he’s thought up a lie and thought it up quick! The Grinch changes his facial expression indicating that this did indeed happen and begins his lie. He tells Cindy-Lou that a light on the tree has malfunctioned and he’s taking it home to his workshop to fix it. A totally plausible explanation. She buys it, and the Grinch gets her a cup of water and puts her back in bed.

You might as well have fun while stealing.

With Cindy-Lou out of the way, Grinch is able to stuff the tree up the chimney without further issue. It’s at this point we’re informed of just how much he took as he left basically just wires on the wall. The narrator then tells us the one speck of food he left was a crumb that was too small for a mouse. As the wee little mouse approaches said crumb, Grinch’s hand comes back into frame to steal that too! He then goes to the other houses in Who-ville as “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” returns for a final time. It plays over the Grinch stealing more stuff, some of the images are recycled from before as we see Max getting buried under bags and Grinch slithering around some more. The last thing the Grinch steals is the giant tree in the town square which he opens like an umbrella and then folds up to carry it away.

I’m starting to think the real Santa should try hiring Max.

When the song ends we learn that it’s quarter to dawn. It’s time for Grinch and Max to get out of there, but how are they going to do that? The sleigh is massive now, and it’s just little Max out in front who needs to pull it 10,000 feet up the side of a mountain! No matter, the little dog is a lot stronger than he looks as he’s forced to run when Grinch cracks his whip. The dog becomes buried in snow with only the antler showing, which is probably a good thing as he’s safe from the whip. The Grinch, being a chubby, green, guy, reclines on the pile of stuff and relaxes as his dog tugs the sleigh all the way up to the top of the mountain where Karloff informs us the Grinch intends to dump the sleigh.

And he put a hand to his ear.

Once the Grinch reaches the top, he cheerfully bounds from the pile of bags. He stops for a second to regard poor Max, who is just dangling in the air from his harness as the sleigh literally balances on the tip of the mountain. The Grinch then makes his way down to a perch where he’s able to assume yet another iconic pose as he places a hand to his ear. He’s hoping to hear the cries and wails of a defeated town, but he’s not prepared for what he hears instead.

Holy shit! The Whos have created a Spirit Bomb to avenge Christmas!

The people of Who-ville all emerge from their homes as the sun rises. They gather in the center of town as if nothing has happened, clasping hands and singing “Welcome Christmas” just as joyously as they would have even with trees and such. The Grinch also failed to steal the Christmas bells which blare as the song is sung and the narrator sounds aghast at what is taking place.

One grumpy Grinch.

We then pivot back to the Grinch, with his ice cold feet in the snow, looking as grumpy as ever. It’s at this point he tugs on Max and shoves his face into the dog’s to question how this could be happening, “It came without ribbon! It came without tags! It came with out packages, boxes, or bags!” He continues to ponder over it, before the background starts to brighten and the Grinch’s eyes turn a brilliant shade of blue. A smile comes across his face as he realizes that, “Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Time to get bombarded with screenshots because this climax is just too good. First, we have the Grinch starting to realize something about Christmas.
However, this sudden change of heart coincides with the sleigh deciding it’s had enough. And don’t forget about poor Max who will surely die if he falls with the sleigh!
The Grinch’s initial bid to save the sleigh did not go well, but at least Max got free.

Unfortunately, just as the Grinch comes to this realization the sleigh starts to move. As it inches closer to the edge, the Grinch scrambles after it. He grabs onto Max to try to pull it back towards him, but Max slides out of the harness and the two wind up going headfirst into the snow. When they pop up, they both see the sleigh begin to fall and race after it. The Grinch gets to it first and tries to pull it back. Max arrives to grab onto Grinch’s coat with his mouth, but it appears their effort will be for naught. As the sleigh slowly slides down the backside of the mountain where it will soon plunge off the edge, the Grinch and Max slide with it.

If this special had been made in the 2000s it probably would have started right here, with Patton Oswalt the narrator, “Hi, my name is Grinch, and you’re probably wondering how I got into such a predicament.”
Normally, an enlarged heart is a bad thing, but not here!
Now he has so much Christmas spirit inside him it’s shooting out of his face!

Then it happens. The Grinch’s small heart, the thing suspected of being the source of his grumpy attitude towards Christmas, begins to grow. It grows one size, then another, and then another! As it breaks free from the confines of the X-Ray window from earlier, the true meaning of Christmas is able to enter the Grinch’s heart and he finds the strength of 10 Grinches! Plus two!

Christmas is saved!
And now, Max finally gets that ride he wanted.
And he brought everything back.

With such unbelievable strength coursing through his body, the Grinch triumphantly lifts the massive sleigh over his head. The sun bursts behind him as Max clings to the end of a runner. Now, their descent can begin as Grinch and Max ride down the side of Mt. Crumpet. Max gets to ride on the sleigh this time while the Grinch announces their arrival with a blast of a trumpet he must have found amongst the gifts. They pull into the village and the Whos welcome them without an ounce of judgement. He and Max then cheerfully toss items from the sleigh as the narrator informs us that they gave everything back.

Carve that beast, Grinch!
A slice of meat and a pat on the head for the best boy.

The image then dissolves as a little triumphant piece of music comes in. We see the Grinch has been invited to participate in Christmas with the Whos, not just as any old guest, but as the one to carve the roast beast! He hands a slice of beast to Cindy-Lou Who seated at his left who passes it on to the goodest boy of Christmas – Max! She pats his head as he looks at the full plate with eager eyes. The camera then pans back to show the Grinch carving and passing, carving and passing, before the camera moves beyond the wreath-lined window. As Boris Karloff recites some of the lyrics to “Welcome Christmas” the camera pans up the mountain as snow falls and the words “The End” come into focus.

Norman Rockwell, eat your heart out.

And that’s it: the greatest Christmas special ever made! Every time I watch this special I go into it knowing it’s the best, and I leave it secure in my thoughts. There’s nothing about this special I do not like. Even the few animation shortcuts, like the female Who pouring a glass of orange juice that’s not even animated during the feast scene, I find charming at this point. The sounds, the sights, the emotions, it all comes together in a delightful symphony of pure, Christmas, goodness.

A serene, Christmas, image to take us out.

Because this special is so old and such a part of our culture at this point, it’s easy to forget that before it came around the Grinch didn’t even have a color. His old book was mostly black and white, with a dash of red for his eyes and Santa suit. It’s a delightful, visual, story, but adding the voice of Boris Karloff and that green fur just adds so much life to the character. I love reading my kids that book every Christmas, but it’s so odd to not have the music to go along with it. When my son was just a baby, I loved putting on the spoken word version of this special for him while I was working. He probably didn’t care about hearing it, but he did bob his head with the music and both of my kids today love this special. Maybe not as much as their father does, but not a Christmas goes by without it.

Everything about this special is wonderful, but perhaps an undersold element is just how playful Grinch is with the camera. Look at this guy – he’s such a ham!

And thankfully the world loves How the Grinch Stole Christmas! so catching it on television shouldn’t be difficult this Christmas. If you missed the NBC broadcast to start the month, it will return on Christmas Eve so set your DVR if you can’t be in front of the TV to enjoy it. TBS also plays it throughout the month for those with cable, and you can purchase the special through various means if you wish. As for me, my preferred method of watching this one is on my ancient VHS from 1987 of recorded Christmas specials, even though CBS that year chopped out a piece of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” It’s just not the same though without the old commercials and the now washed out colors from years of use. Obviously, you shouldn’t let the season pass without watching this at least once (and I encourage you to watch it more than just once) so get to it! This is the best Christmas special ever!


Dec. 1 – Frosty the Snowman

Original air date December 7, 1969

Welcome back, lovers of Christmas, to the 7th edition of The Christmas Spot! If you missed the introduction a few days ago, we’re doing things a little differently this year. Yes, you’re still getting a dedicated write-up each day through Christmas about a beloved or not-so-beloved holiday special, but this year we’re also going retro by this blog’s standards. In order to shine a brighter light on the best of the best in the field of televised Christmas specials, we’re revisiting some of the 25 best as laid out in 2015 and reaffirmed just a year ago on this blog. When the subject was first discussed, the format for The Christmas Spot was to do a mini review of each special as opposed to the full-on walkthrough it has turned into. It didn’t make sense that so few words were reserved for the best the holiday had to offer, so we’re going to start rectifying that this year. Not every one of those inaugural 25 are being rehashed this year, just a select few of my choosing. Maybe next year we’ll look at some more, maybe we won’t, it’s all rather fluid.

Today, we’re kicking things off with a lookback to one of those 25: Frosty the Snowman. The Rankin/Bass classic was originally ranked at number 15, but was dropped down to 19 last year. Being in the top 20 is still nothing to sneeze at as Frosty is here to stay.

The 1969 classic is now one of the longest running Christmas specials on television today. For the past several years it has been the unofficial start of the holiday special season as CBS has chosen to air it the day after Thanksgiving for quite awhile now. As streaming services continue to take over, the days of the event special may be coming to an end. Last year saw Charlie Brown and the gang get axed from a network timeslot all because Amazon scooped the property up and intended to put an end to the tradition. What happened was people were so pissed about missing out on annual viewings of the Peanuts holiday specials that Amazon rethought its position and made the Thanksgiving and Christmas special available for one night only each on PBS. They aired at 7 EST and were barely in prime time, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. ABC also seemed to reduce their holiday output since it now has Disney+ to stash its specials on. It’s likely we’ll continue to see massive corporations hoard these valuable pieces of television history and what was once a shared, viewing, experience each year is just another thing to binge at your leisure.

For now, we still have Frosty. The special, which is obviously adapted from the song written by Walter Rollins and Steve Nelson, was written by Romeo Muller and directed by the tandem of Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. It’s narrated by comedian Jimmy Durante and features voice work from Jackie Vernon, Paul Frees, Billy De Wolfe, and June Foray. It’s a special that always stood out to me as a kid because, unlike Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it was a cel-animated production from Rankin/Bass instead of stop-motion. I feel like everyone associates Rankin/Bass with stop-motion, but their more traditional animated works are pretty noteworthy as well. When it came time to animate the special, Rankin/Bass turned to Mushi Productions, the animation studio based in Japan founded by the legendary Osamu Tezuka. Yes, Frosty the Snowman is basically anime. It would be more obvious if Rankin/Bass had not hired Paul Coker Jr. to first design the characters for the special, but you can certainly see the Japanese influence in several places.

Jimmy Durante will be our guide through the story, and song, of Frosty the Snowman.

Frosty the Snowman opens in idyllic fashion. Snow is falling and the people of this small community are busying themselves getting ready for Christmas. Our narrator, Jimmy Durante who is animated to resemble himself, explains that this is the first snow of the season and that it’s actually a Christmas snow. Why is that important? Apparently, when the first snow of the season happens to fall on Christmas Eve, something wonderful is bound to happen!

Our attention then shifts to a small school house. The kids are restless as they want to go play in the snow and their teacher (voiced by June Foray) has organized a Christmas party. Yeah, those days were always long even if they weren’t filled with education as no one wants to be in school so close to the holiday (and basically no one goes to school on Christmas Eve these days). The teacher informs the students that she’s hired a magician to entertain them. Considering the teacher had to pay out of pocket to bring this guy in, you can probably guess just what kind of magician a teacher’s salary can afford.

Behold! The worst magician in the world!

Professor Hinkle (Billy De Wolfe) is introduced by the narrator as probably the worst magician in the world. He begins his routine by tossing some eggs into his “magic” hat, says some traditional magic words, and then turns the hat upside down only for the eggs to fall out and smash on the floor. The kids are disappointed, which is perhaps the most unrealistic aspect of this special about a snowman coming to life as any group of kids I know would have laughed at a trick going so poorly. Hinkle then tries to retrieve a rabbit out of the same hat, which is going about as well as the egg trick. Declaring the hat is only fit for the trash can, he chucks it towards the waste basket only for the rabbit to finally pop out. Before the kids can react to the reveal of Hocus Pocus, the bell rings and they storm out of there basically trampling the magician in the process.

Once outside, the kids race through the snow. Most apparently did not consult a weather report earlier in the day as several are wearing shorts. One girl is sporting short sleeves and a pink skirt with suspenders which really can’t be comfortable. Some of the boys immediately start building a snowman, and it’s during this process we really get to meet Karen (who was voiced by Foray in the original, now lost, airing and re-dubbed by Suzanne Davidson) as she volunteers to build the head for the snowman. She declares it’s the most difficult part of snowman construction, and even challenges the boys to ask anyone on the subject for confirmation. Well Karen, I’ve built a few snowmen in my day and I have to strongly disagree. The head is quite possibly the easiest part, especially if you’re building a snowman like Frosty who has actual legs! Seriously, that’s damn near impossible.

Never in my life have I been able to make a snowman half as good as what’s present in cartoons.

Once the snowman is assembled, the kids gather around to choose a name. After some truly wretched suggestions, including an unintelligible suggestion from one kid who apparently just speaks in sound effects, Karen proposes Frosty and the kids all seem to agree this is a fine name. They then clasp hands and spontaneously break-out into song. Either they’re all amazing at improv, or they’re just as unoriginal as most kids and they named their snowman after a song that already exists in their world. While they’re singing, the rabbit Hocus Pocus comes bounding out of the school house in the discarded hat which Karen tosses on Frosty’s head to complete his ensemble. Much to everyone’s shock, the hat brings Frosty to life as his lifeless, coal, eyes become whole and he greets everyone with a “Happy birthday!” Considering it is essentially his birth day, it’s an appropriate greeting, if a bit unexpected.

Professor Hinkle is there to witness the whole thing as he had been chasing Hocus. When Karen declares the hat must be magic, Hinkle decides he wants it back as a fortuitous wind blows it off Frosty’s head and into his waiting arms. When the children protest, Hinkle plays dumb and claims he didn’t witness any such nonsense. He admonishes the children informing them that when they’re grown up they’ll understand snowmen can’t come to life. As he takes off with his hat and rabbit, the kids turn forlornly towards Frosty and reassure the snowman that they did see him come to life. Durante then comes back in to sing a jolly rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” as we’re finally shown the opening credits for the special and the major network gets to toss some commercials our way.

Get a load of this asshole.

When we return from the festivities, our informative narrator makes it clear that Professor Hinkle was wrong to take Frosty’s hat. He doesn’t elaborate, but I guess we’re to hold him to his momentary anger at the hat when he tossed it at the garbage. That seems a bit extreme, but it’s important the viewer hates this guy (and denying life to a snowman is a pretty shitty thing to do) as Hocus Pocus is about to take action. As the magician walks past people on the street greeting them happily, Hocus quickly swaps the hat with a wreath and bounds off.

When Hocus returns to the site of Frosty’s awakening, the kids are still just standing around accepting defeat. Karen notes the hat is back, seemingly oblivious that it was the rabbit who returned it, and she places it back on Frosty’s head. He once again greets the children with a “Happy Birthday!” and then begins to question his existence. Rather than be burdened by some truly out of this world thoughts on who he is and why he’s here, he just humbly accepts that life has been granted to him and then begins to test out his bodily functions. No, nothing weird or gross, mainly just juggling and checking if he’s ticklish. Okay, that does sound a little odd. His right hand also sprouts an extra finger so he can count to five (like most cartoon characters, Frosty only has four digits normally), but that’s just one of many odd animation quirks we’ll endure.

Frosty admiring his own rump.

Once Frosty is satisfied that he’s alive, the dancing can commence! We get a little more of the song as sung by Jimmy Durante as we’re basically just going to hear a verse here and there until the special is over and the song concluded. Once they seem to get over the thrill of life, Frosty wipes some “sweat” off of his head and takes note of a nearby thermometer. I question its accuracy, as it appears to be pushing past 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but the point is made and that’s snow is destined to melt, which means Frosty is destined to melt. This is where the special takes a hard pivot from the song. The lyrics make it sound like Frosty accepts his fate as all snowmen must melt and resigns himself to have a good time until the moist, dripping, splash of death consumes him. In the special, he immediately decides death is quite a bummer and a thing to be avoided. Where can a snowman cheat death? Why, the North Pole of course! When Frosty shares this bit of info the children decide they have to help him get to the North Pole, so they have a parade! All right, that part is a little weird, but I guess if you need to head to a train depot you might as well make a parade of it.

We deserve a sequel that explains if this guy ever got his whistle back.

As Durante sings more of the song, we see Frosty lead the children through town (with Hocus in tow) which contains some visual gags of people reacting with shock at the sight of a walking, talking, snowman. The parade comes to a halt when they encounter the traffic cop the song makes mention of. He’s directing pedestrian and automobile traffic and has to scream at Frosty in order to get him to stop. This begins a 1920s-esque bit of shtick as the cop questions Frosty on the various signs and signals all around him, never once seeming to realize he’s speaking with a snowman. Frosty is ignorant of basically all things, and Karen has to explain he just came to life and the cop then backs off. After instructing the gang to move along, he remarks to himself that snowmen are so stupid when they first come to life. Only then does he realize how absurd the whole situation was as he exclaims to himself “Come to life?!” and swallows his own whistle.

The parade finally reaches its destination, a train depot. The clerk (Paul Frees) working the ticket counter is fast asleep when the kids approach requesting a ticket to the North Pole. He then springs into action as he stamps a whole sleeve of tickets remarking how their journey will take them through the Klondike and for some reason mentions aurora borealis. He’s clearly lost in his work. He returns with a stack of tickets, as this journey is going to require quite a few trains, and then requests payment: three-thousand dollars and four cents (including tax). When Karen sheepishly responds that they don’t have any money, the enraged clerk slams his fist on the table causing the whole pile of tickets to spring up and wrap around him. He then utters perhaps the most quotable line in the entire special, “No money, no ticket!”

He’s so angry that he just closes up shop and quits the business right here and now.

Well, if you can’t buy a ticket to the North Pole, just do like the old hobos do – stow away! One of the kids takes note of a refrigerated box car on a train apparently heading north. That’s good enough for Frosty as they inspect the car. It’s full of ice cream and frozen Christmas cakes, which we’ll find out is a splendid way to travel for a snowman. Frosty climbs aboard, and so does Karen. All of the other kids have sense enough not to attempt to travel to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and Frosty is too dumb himself to point out that Karen climbing aboard is a bad idea. She seems to think she can get there and back before supper which begs the question how old is Karen supposed to be? Hocus Pocus also climbs into the car as I guess he would prefer the North Pole to whatever town they’re currently in. As the train speeds off, we see there’s another stow away on board – Hinkle!

After the break, we take a look inside the box car to find a contented snowman and relaxed rabbit, but a freezing girl. It takes Frosty a few seconds to realize that this is a bad situation for a little girl. Proving he’s not some selfish jerk, he elects to scoop Karen up in his arms and leave the frozen confines when the train has to stop at a crossing (the animation makes no sense as the train goes past the junction, then stops, and an express train goes past behind it). Hinkle, still clinging to the caboose, sees the trio hop off as the train starts to leave and thinks they’re trying to ditch him. As he shouts at them “No fair!” it’s hard to tell if Frosty actually takes note of him or not. Hinkle is then forced to jump from a moving train if he has any hope of getting his hat back. He hits the ground and stats flopping down a snow-covered embankment before finally crashing into a tree. As he falls, the person doing the sound effects just goes nuts as there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the sounds we’re hearing, but it certainly sounds painful for Hinkle!

He deserved that.

Frosty, Karen, and Hocus wander through the cold, darkening, woods as Frosty frets about finding warmth for Karen. Hocus, through pantomime, suggests he build her a fire, but that’s not something a snowman can do. They press on and eventually come across a bunch of animals. They’re slightly personified, sort of like Hocus, and they’re decorating the forest for Santa’s arrival that night. It’s a bit preposterous, but I suppose not out of character for a Christmas special. Frosty asks Hocus to communicate with the animals about building Karen a fire. He does as he’s told, and soon the deer, squirrels, and such get a roaring fire going for Karen to get warm by. It’s pretty damn goofy to behold.

As Karen warms herself by the fire, Frosty stays far away. With Hocus by his side, he contemplates how he can get Karen home and himself to the North Pole. Hocus acts out some suggestions including the marines and President of the United States. Hocus then covers his face in snow like a beard and struts suggesting Frosty seek the aide of Santa Claus. Frosty thinks that’s a great idea and smiles at the camera apparently happy with himself. Hocus is ordered to be a Santa look-out, and once the guy flies overhead, he’s expected to somehow get his attention even though he’s a fluffy white rabbit standing amongst a bunch of snow.

It’s belly-whopping time!

Unfortunately though, a roaring fire in a dark forest is quite visible and Hinkle soon stumbles upon Karen. He taunts her before laughing then demonstrates he has some amazing lungs as he literally blows the fire out. Frosty comes running over and Hinkle demands he hand over the hat. He makes an empty threat, which Frosty calls him on, and Hinkle just stamps his feet like a toddler screaming to get his hat back! When he makes a lunge for it, Frosty deftly sidesteps him and drops down onto all fours. Frosty tells Karen to jump on his shoulders and our narrator interjects that Frosty, being made of snow, is the fastest belly-whopper in the world! He basically shoots off like a rocket across the snow, down a small hill, up another, and down again leaving Hinkle far off in the distance.

This is where Hinkle goes from annoying to evil.

The ride comes to an end at a random green house in the middle of no where filled with poinsettia. Karen is pretty cold from the ride, and also likely because she’s currently being cradled in the arms of living snow, so Frosty decides to bring her inside. She reminds him he’ll melt in there, but he suggests he’ll only stay in to melt a little and makes a joke about losing weight. Hinkle then arrives, suggesting he not only has tremendous lung capacity, but he’s also really damn fast. Honestly, I feel a little betrayed by the narrator who said he was left far off in the distance just seconds ago. Anyway, Hinkle sees the snowman in the green house and promptly slams the door shot. It must lock from the outside, or Frosty just isn’t very confrontational, because they’re trapped. Hinkle laughs devilishly proclaiming the hat will soon be his as Frosty looks on with horror.

Up in the sky, Santa passes by! Maybe he’s just out for a quick preflight check or something, because he only has four reindeer and no sack of presents. He comes across the woodland critter celebration where he is informed by Hocus what’s going on with Frosty, Karen, and the magician. Hocus leads the big guy to the green house, but when they arrive they’re met with a terrible sight. Karen, on her knees sobbing, is beside a puddle and Frosty’s “parts” are floating in it. I feel like there’s a darker cut of Frosty the Snowman where we watch the poor snowman melt and Karen is forced to look-on helplessly. That girl has seen some shit and Hinkle, who presumably watched it all unfold too, is quite an evil soul.

She’s going to need some therapy.

The narrator tells us that Santa is too late, but he breaks the fourth wall to correct him. With a big, booming, voice, Santa (Paul Frees) shouts “Nonsense,” at the suggestion of being too late and then sets to comforting Karen. He tells her that Frosty, being made of Christmas snow, can never disappear completely. This does little to cheer up Karen since her friend is still a puddle, but Santa just chuckles and opens the green house door. He commands Frosty to basically pull himself together as a cold wind enters the green house, scoops up Frosty’s parts, and recreates the snowman outside the green house. The only thing left to do is return the hat to Frosty, but now Hinkle makes his presence known demanding the hat be returned to him.

Santa, who almost looks ready to throw-down, instructs Hinkle not to lay a finger on the hat. Rather than threaten him with the violence he so richly deserves, Santa just tells him he’ll never bring him another Christmas present so long as he lives. Earlier, Hinkle seemed to think a magic hat would make him a millionaire magician so I don’t know why he places any value on future Christmas presents, but he’s not the sharpest guy. He immediately begins to pout and kicks a can that mysteriously appeared in the snow before remarking, “We evil magicians deserve to make a living too.” Santa then tells him that if he goes home right now and writes one-hundred-zillion times that he’s sorry for what he did to Frosty, then maybe he’ll get a new hat for Christmas. Despite being handed an impossible task, Hinkle seems pretty happy with this arrangement as he starts hopping up and down with excitement. In probably my other favorite quote from this special, he hollers “Sorry to lose and run, but I’ve got to get busy writing! Busy! Busy! Busy!”

Santa will make everything right!

Santa slips in a little chuckle as Hinkle disappears into the night, then turns his attention back to Frosty. He returns the hat, and once again Frosty greets everyone with a “Happy birthday!” I guess it still is his birthday, after all. We then slip into a bit of a montage as the song returns. The group celebrates a bit before getting back to business. Santa, after all, has a long night ahead of him, but he still finds time to return Karen home. Maybe he’s a little ticked off though about the extra work on Christmas Eve since he leaves her stranded on her roof before taking off with Frosty. The narrator then pops in to let us know that Frosty would return every year after that and the whole town would have a big celebration in his honor. The song gets into full swing now and we basically see everyone from the special in Frosty’s parade, including Professor Hinkle in a new hat. Jimmy breaks from the song again to wish us all a very, merry, Christmas as Santa swoops down in his sleigh (again, only four reindeer) to retrieve Frosty as the song ends. Frosty gets the last word in as he alters the closing line of the song, “I’ll be back on Christmas Day!”

Santa finds time to fly past the moon, now how the hell is Karen getting off of that roof?

Frosty the Snowman is sort of like the Christmas special baseline. It’s cheerful, charming, magical and it has some memorable characters. It helps that it’s anchored by the classic song, which is catchy enough and isn’t as overplayed (or annoying) as other Christmas songs. It might not be anyone’s favorite Christmas special, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hated it. There’s definitely some goofy logic at times, and the animation is merely adequate. This is from the 60s so I think most of the animation warts are only really apparent with modern eyes. I don’t think it’s as good looking as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but it’s definitely better looking than A Charlie Brown Christmas. And it has character with the design of Frosty being simple, but pleasant, and Hinkle looking quite memorable. About the only thing I don’t like when it comes to the visuals are the deer. They just look stupid, but not offensively so.

Rankin/Bass seemed intent on transforming Frosty from a character that was just a wintertime creation to a Christmas icon. As much as the old song is associated with the holidays, it doesn’t make mention of Christmas at all. Maybe that’s why when Rankin/Bass did return to the character with Frosty’s Winter Wonderland they left Christmas out. They did produce Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, one of the lesser stop-motion efforts from the studio, but otherwise Frosty has mostly left Christmas behind. Today this special is almost always joined by the non-Rankin/Bass production Frosty Returns every year, even though that special has nothing to do with Christmas. In 2005, Classic Media produced another pseudo-sequel titled The Legend of Frosty the Snowman. That one features a Frosty that looks identical to the one presented here (and that’s because Classic Media bought up the Rankin/Bass library), but otherwise tells a new story and also has nothing to do with Christmas.

He says he’ll be back on Christmas Day, but it’s an empty promise.

This Frosty the Snowman is truly the only worthwhile one. I don’t particularly care for the other animated specials, and the feature with Rudolph is a tremendous slog that shouldn’t be viewed by anyone. This one though is an annual tradition and no Christmas season goes by without at least a viewing of Frosty the Snowman in my house. It’s become a favorite of my kids, so I actually am subjected to it a lot each year and I’m totally fine with that. If you’re hoping to catch it on television this year, check cable and keep an eye on CBS. They already did the first airing, but often will re-air it later in the month. It’s one of the harder ones to miss.


Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special

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

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

Warning, there are few treats ahead.

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

What the Hell is this hot garbage?!

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

Witch Hazel faired slightly better than Bugs. Slightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dec. 10 – The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries – “Feather Christmas”

feather christmas title card

Original air date December 12, 1999

One of the earliest Kids’ WB shows was The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries. It centered on Granny (June Foray) and her pets Tweety Bird (Joe Alaskey), Sylvester the cat (Alaskey), and Hector the bulldog (Frank Welker) and they went around, I bet you’ll never guess, solving mysteries. The personalities of the characters are all pretty much the same as you remember from the old Warner cartoon shorts. I don’t know if Hector technically is the same character as the bulldog who often showed up in those cartoons, but he’s just a big dog who likes to inflict pain upon Sylvester, usually in response to the cat trying to eat Tweety. Yes, even though they’re on a team now, Sylvester still very much wants to eat Tweety. The show ran from 1995-2000 with even one holdover episode not airing until 2002.

The_Sylvester_and_Tweety_Mysteries

The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries ran from 1995 to 2000 and produced 52 episodes.

The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries was not a show I watched. By the time it premiered I was aging out of television cartoons. I did take a look when it first launched, but found the show too long and a tad boring. That first season of 13 episodes contained one long-form story over the half hour television slot while future seasons would switch to a two-segment formant. The little I’ve seen of those are definitely much improved in the pacing department, though I haven’t seen enough of them to really offer an opinion.

Our episode today is from season 4, so it’s actually just half of an episode. “Feather Christmas” is the first segment in the show’s 41st episode and it originally aired December 12, 1999. The second segment (not covered in this post) is actually a New Year’s special and is titled “A Fist Full of Lutefisk,” if you’re interested.

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A pair of Christmas crooks.

The special opens with a shadowy couple sneaking around a home at night. They snatch a bird from a cage and then sneak around the Christmas tree to hand it off to a driver outside. As he leaves with the creature, a little girl shows up with an empty bird cage in hand. She’s clearly just woken up and is immediately distressed about the bird-napping. The lights come on and it’s revealed the thieves are actually her parents.

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Hey cat, tampering with the mail is a federal crime.

At Granny’s home, Sylvester is making out his Christmas list. He recounts how each year they head to New England to visit a comically distant relative of Granny’s and every year he gets the same present:  a rubber mouse. This year he wants a little yellow bird (what else?) and he hopes that by being extra good Santa will finally gift him what he wishes. Tweety shows up to inquire what he’s doing and Sylvester hides his letter from him. Tweety then basically taunts him as he seals it in an envelope and heads out to a mailbox to send the letter. As Tweety sits perched on the mailbox lid, Sylvester gets sick of his incessant nagging and flicks him down into the mailbox. When Tweety reminds him he needs to be nice or Santa won’t give him anything, he immediately regrets his decision and starts reaching into the mailbox and pulling out letters. Tweety slips out the rear door of the mailbox (apparently it wasn’t locked) and then watches and continues with his chattering. A Mailman shows up and eventually puts a stop to Sylvester’s mail destruction.

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I’ve stared at this picture for several minutes and I still have no idea what’s in Hector’s mouth.

Sylvester winds up in a snowdrift just outside the house, while inside Granny is singing a rousing rendition of “The Feast of Stephen” while Hector snoozes beside. She leaves when the phone rings allowing for Hector to go nosing through the bags of gift-wrapping by the piano. Granny returns to announce they have another case, while Hector emerges from the wrapping with a bunch of…something…in his mouth. Dog treats? I don’t know.

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Nice house.

At the Fontleroy residence, the little girl (Laura, voiced by Laraine Newman) from earlier is howling about her missing bird while the parents try to sell her on a new pet. As the dad (Mark L. Taylor) lists off different pets as options, their butler presents an example. The one for a dog is an old Warner character, a brown dog that may or may not have a name, but he’s pretty recognizable. It ends up being the butler who passes on Granny’s business card to Mr. Fontleroy and at first he mistakes Granny for a pet substitute, then smartens up.

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Laura is portrayed as a brat, though she’s also clearly been wronged by her parents in regads to her bird. I’m not sure who to root for.

Granny shows up and the Fontleroys explain what happened. They hated the bird, and Mr. Fontleroy claims it even bit him several times, so they had their chauffeur take it away in the middle of the night. Now they regret their decision since their daughter is inconsolable and they want Granny to find it. The problem for them is their chauffeur is off for the rest of the year and they don’t know what pet store he returned the bird to. Granny agrees to take “the case,” though this doesn’t strike me as much of a mystery.

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Sylvester “helping.”

Granny heads out with her animal companions and Sylvester is eager to appear nice and helpful. He opens the door to the pet store for Granny, but mistakenly pins Hector and Tweety between the door and the wall in doing so. Hector does not take kindly to this and he and Sylvester have a rumble through the store causing a great mess. The store had taken in the bird, but the problem is the owner then traded it to another pet store for a blue-tongued skink.

Granny heads to the next store, and this time she forbids Hector and Sylvester from coming in with her and Tweety. They sit outside on the curb when Hector notices a tree lot nearby and silently asks Sylvester (Hector is mute) to watch his “spot” on the sidewalk until he returns, which Sylvester agrees to do. Hector happily runs over to doggy paradise while Sylvester notices a Salvation Army-like volunteer ringing a bell for charity donations. Sylvester heads over to help and begs for change alongside the bell-ringer. When that fails to generate any additional donations he straps himself into a one-man band costume and makes a ton of noise which just drives everyone away.

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Hector gets caught relieving himself on a tree.

At the tree lot, Hector finds a nice douglas fir to mark and is enjoying himself until the tree lot owner chases him away. He hides in another tree to avoid the attendant, or at least that’s what the guy thinks, and he pounces only to find it’s a little old lady. A much bigger man in her company comes over and pounds the man into the ground. Meanwhile, Granny finds out this second pet store has traded the bird to a third pet store, and she’s off to Bob’s Pet Emporium for another try.

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More of Sylvester’s helping, though actually he’s not really to blame for this one.

When Granny and Tweety enter the store, Sylvester notices a woman trying to string up Christmas lights. He sees this as another opportunity to be helpful and thus impress Santa Claus. Sylvester offers to take the lights up the ladder for the lady, and she’s happy to let him do so. She holds the ladder, which is on wheels, while Sylvester strings the lights, but a phone call from inside her shop causes her to abandon the “puddy cat.” The ladder rolls off, and Sylvester is forced to hang on for dear life. He uses the string of lights as a lasso to rope a giant Christmas tree that Hector was about to pee on. The tree is uprooted and is taken along with Sylvester while Hector gets caught as well. Inside the pet shop, Granny finds out the store is expecting the bird to arrive at any minute. Outside, Sylvester and gang come to a stop when they collide with a delivery truck. Granny heads outside to find the damaged bird cage the little yellow bird was traveling in, but no bird.

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Were you aware that Sylvester is a Christ-like figure?

At the Fontleroy residence, Granny is dismayed to only be able to present to the family a damaged bird cage with no bird. Outside, Sylvester is watching when the bird flies over to land on the window beside him. He thinks it’s his gift from Santa and he’s overjoyed to have a little yellow bird of his very own to consume. He looks over at the sad little girl, and it’s enough to convince him to give the bird to its rightful owner. As he goes to present it, the girl sees Sylvester and decides she’d rather have him. Her parents point out that she has her bird back, but the tantrum ensues nonetheless.

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Every Christmas special needs an unselfish act.

Back at Granny’s house, everyone receives gifts from the Fontleroys as a thank you for returning the bird. Sylvester rips his present open to find yet another rubber mouse. Tweety flies over to smartly remind him there’s always next year, which just provokes Sylvester into chasing him around as the camera zooms out on the house.

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And Sylvester’s unselfish act is largely unappreciated.

Since “Feather Christmas” is only one segment of a half hour show, it ends up being rather brief. It works out well then that there isn’t much of a mystery to solve, since there’d hardly be time for anything substantial. Instead, it’s basically just a story about Sylvester trying to be good, but also not trying all that hard. A problem I have with the show in general is present here and that’s in how the physical comedy bits feel a bit redundant with the old cartoon shorts. I suppose that’s fine if you were a little kid in 1999 who may not have been that familiar with those toons (though I think they were still on television then), but if you grew up with the packaged blocks of those cartoons then this episode probably won’t make you laugh. I liked some of the personality in Hector and his embarrassment over getting caught urinating on a tree. There isn’t a lot of Tweety in this episode, which I’m also okay with as he was never one of my favorites. I always rooted for Sylvester in those old cartoons.

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Tweety just has to get in one last dig before the episode ends.

It’s a bit surprising that Sylvester is shown doing the right thing at the end, Christmas spirit and all, but actually doesn’t get anything. There isn’t even an implied presence from Santa Claus at the episode’s end, just gifts from the family they (sort of) helped out. On one hand, you’re not automatically owed anything for doing the right thing, but on the other characters usually receive some token from old Saint Nick in these tales. I suppose it’s intentionally trying to up-end the norm for a Christmas special, but it didn’t really do it in a funny way. Not much of this was very amusing, so I can’t say I missed out on anything by not watching this show in the 90s. For what it’s worth, the show is at least well-animated and the voice acting is good. Other episodes feature more cameos of classic Looney Tunes characters and those are probably a bit more enjoyable for that reason alone.

The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries have only received a partial home video release. The 13 episode first season, which contains a different Christmas episode that will likely be covered here some day, is on that set. This episode was never released though along with the other seasons. This show actually was still airing on Boomerang as recently as 2017 so I suppose there’s an outside chance it could pop-up this month? I’m not sure if the channel still has the rights to broadcast it. If you must watch it though, it looks like WB isn’t too concerned about piracy so it’s not hard to find. If you want my opinion though, if you really want to spend Christmas with Sylvester and Tweety just check out the far superior “Gift Wrapped.”


DuckTales: Remastered

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DuckTales: Remastered (2013)

If you read yesterday’s post about DuckTales for the NES, you may have thought, “Wow, I’m surprised he didn’t mention anything about the re-make that came out in 2013.” Well, that’s because I was saving it for its own post! DuckTales: Remastered is a complete remake of the original NES game for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U. Initially a digital only release, DuckTales: Remastered would receive a tangible release as well, and for a game the started as a budget-friendly digital title, I can think of few others that received as much attention and fanfare as DuckTales: Remastered.

Capcom debuted the game at E3 with a memorable video hyping it up before indulging the audience in a sing-along of the memorable theme song from the show. The release of the game coincided with the 25th anniversary of the NES original, and it was a worthy title to revisit based on the fact that the original is still a ton of fun to play. Naturally, remaking a game many consider to be a classic is a tall task, but with such simple play mechanics, how could Capcom go wrong?

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Transylvania got a lot scarier over the last 25 years.

DuckTales the game is largely unchanged at its core. The player still controls Scrooge who jumps and pogos his way through various levels (now six) in an effort to accumulate more wealth for himself and eventually to recover his lucky dime. What is changed are the production values. Modern game consoles can obviously handle quite a bit more, and this being tied to a Disney property, means a remake needs to meet the expectations and standards of The Walt Disney Company.

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A comparison of the sprites from the NES original and the Remastered version.

For the first time ever, a Disney Afternoon property can now basically look just like it does in game form as it did on television. The game is still a 2D side-scroller, but now the sprites for the characters are lovingly hand-drawn in great detail in bright, expressive colors. Scrooge will mostly sport a happy expression, but when he encounters the Beagle Boys or Magicka DeSpell he’ll scrunch his face up into a frown. The enemies too feature changing facial expressions, and not just the boss characters, but even lowly spiders and the like. The levels really come to life as the difference in climate is really accentuated by the enhanced presentation. All in all, DuckTales: Remastered is a beautiful game to behold and one of my very favorites from a visual point of view.

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Another comparison shot to the original.

The enhanced fidelity of the game’s graphics are not the only aspect of the presentation to be enhanced with better technology. The audio is also greatly expanded upon featuring full-voiced characters with actors from the show as well as remastered music. Alan Young, in what is basically his swan-song as Scrooge, does a great job of voicing the greedy old duck and shows that time hasn’t taken much away from his vocal chords. Russi Taylor is on-hand to reprise her role as the nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, while  Terry McGovern returns as Launchpad. The wonderful June Foray was even brought back to voice Magicka DeSpell, making this a reunion of sorts for the cast. This seems all the more special since the new version of the cartoon set to launch this summer will feature an all new cast for these characters.

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I love how cold this cavern looks.

The downside to all of these resources is the need to make liberal use of them. DuckTales for the NES was a quick and fun to play title that would have worked even without the DuckTales license. For Remastered, a lot of cut scenes and cinematics were tacked onto the experience, not just in between levels, but even during them. They can be skipped, but even so they really break up the experience of playing the game and not in a welcomed way. Worse, I feel kind of guilty skipping over any line from Young and the other cast-mates, but it can get old hearing the same lines over and over if you’re forced to retry a stage. The game has also been lengthened quite a bit, not just with these scenes, but with a new level and longer boss encounters. Some of the boss fights are fine in their new form, while others do drag. I particularly hated the very final encounter with Magicka and Glomgold. What was a pretty simple race to the top of a rope in the first game, is now a death-defying escape from an active volcano with questionable hit detection. I had to replay the final, added level (which aside from the ending was quite good) repeatedly because I kept dying on this final part. Once I finally beat it I was too aggravated to enjoy it.

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And you thought only Zelda came in gold carts.

The game also adds additional collectibles that can be unlocked as you play, giving you something to do with all of the money Scrooge accumulates throughout the game. It’s mostly limited to concept art and background stills from the game but it’s still fun to look at, though not really enticing enough to encourage repeated play-throughs. I wish Capcom had gone the extra mile and included an unlockable version of the original game or its much rarer sequel. There was a press kit sent out to select individuals that included an actual copy of the original NES game, painted gold, and with the Remastered artwork on the cart. Acquiring one of those on the after-market will set you back a few grand, though it is a pretty neat collectible (and one that probably really irritated those select few that had a complete library of NES games in 2013).

Ultimately, DuckTales: Remastered is a fine enough love letter to the original game. It looks and sounds great, though it’s not quite as much fun to play as the original (though Scrooge’s pogo is still just as satisfying as it was back then) due to the pacing issues. It’s an odd duck (pun intended) in that regard, as most objective onlookers would take one look at both and immediately decide they’d rather play the remake. If you enjoyed the original, Remastered is still worth your time as it’s pretty cheap to acquire and includes enough fan-service to make you smile. And at the end of the day, it’s still DuckTales and still inherently fun, even if it could have been more.


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

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

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

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

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The money shot.

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

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

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

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

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


#3 – A Chipmunk Christmas

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A Chipmunk Christmas (1981)

Few properties have managed to return from obscurity like The Chipmunks. They originated in song with “The Witch Doctor” and ended up getting an animated television show. That show faded and their popularity waned, but was resurrected in 1981 with A Chipmunk Christmas which celebrated their popular Christmas song “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” The success of the special lead to a new animated series called Alvin and The Chipmunks and a string of direct to video films. Now the Chipmunks are back as a film property after a long absence and they even have a new TV show. They’re not exactly well received by critics, but kids seem to love them again.

The quality of these various shows and films has never exactly been the best, but the original Alvin Show has some genuine humor which A Chipmunk Christmas gets right. What the Christmas special does better though is add a little heart. The story goes that Dave, the Chipmunks’ guardian and manager, is getting his boys geared up to play a Christmas Eve concert while the boys are more interested in just being boys. That is until Alvin finds out about a little boy Tommy who’s very sick and also a big fan of The Chipmunks. What Tommy wants more than anything for Christmas is a golden Echo harmonica, which Alvin so happens to be in possession of. He sneaks away from a recording session to give Tommy the harmonica, under the guise of saying Tommy won a contest, but Alvin is afraid Dave will be mad at him when finds out he gave away his harmonica. Especially once it’s reveled that Alvin is expected to play it as part of their Christmas Eve show.

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The Chipmunks received a slight redesign for their special, which would be further modified for the TV show Alvin and The Chipmunks.

This is one of those stories where the audience is naturally frustrated because the protagonist has done the right thing but is misunderstood. Alvin becomes consumed with making enough money to buy a new harmonica so Dave won’t know he gave away the original, but Dave just sees Alvin’s schemes from the outside as Alvin being selfish. Since this is a Christmas special, Alvin does eventually find a way out of his predicament when an old woman (voiced by the immortal June Foray, who pops up a lot in Christmas specials) offers to buy him a new harmonica for helping her out. The special culminates with the concert, and the ending has a nice little surprise for the viewer which might be my favorite ending of any Christmas special.

The Chipmunks may have seen their popularity seesaw over the years, but their Christmas special has remained timeless. With their renewed popularity, A Chipmunk Christmas has returned to television after a lengthy absence, though I never came across it this year. The special is widely available on DVD and Blu Ray and can be streamed online for free. This one is a classic that hits all of the right notes by being funny, charming, and has a great Christmas message. Don’t hold those new movies against it.


#15 – Frosty the Snowman

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Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Frosty the Snowman is a Christmas special that everybody knows. It’s been airing on CBS every year since 1969 and will likely continue to do so for as long as there’s a Christmas. Starring comedian Jackie Vernon as the voice of the titular snowman, Frosty the Snowman is the rare Rankin/Bass production done in traditional animation as opposed to stop-motion and is based on the song of the same name.

Because the special is so well-known, there’s not a lot that can be said about it that hasn’t been said before. I could strike a more snarky tone and point out that, for some reason, a bunch of the children at the beginning are wearing shorts in the winter time. And what is going on with the voice of that kid in the gray sweater with the bowl cut? It’s almost as if they didn’t want to hire another voice actor so they just made some weird sound effect. Maybe he’s a robot? It’s also easy to question the wisdom of the kind-hearted Karen who opts to climb into a giant refrigerator when she’s not even wearing pants. And why does Santa only have four reindeer? That one has bothered me for years.

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Only four reindeer for Santa? Was it too much of a financial burden to give him four more? Was food so scarce at the North Pole that Santa and Mrs. Claus had to butcher the other four for meat?

Yeah, there’s some weird stuff in this one but there’s also some genuine humor. Frosty being rather dim is funny and a surprisingly logical move for a children’s program. It’s also incredibly quotable with lines sticking with me through the years such as “No money, no ticket!” and “We evil magicians have to make a living too.” Frosty may be the star, but I do think Professor Hinkle is the MVP. He’s easy to dislike, just inept enough to stay one step behind, and a constant source of humor. He has that truly wicked moment during the special’s climax as well that adds legitimacy to his character. Really, how often do we actually see the villains in these various Christmas specials do something truly evil?

For a Rankin/Bass production, this cast is pretty star-studded. I already mentioned Vernon but they also opened up the checkbook for comedian Jimmy Durante who serves as the special’s narrator. The first lady of voice overs, June Foray, lends her voice to Karen. Billy De Wolfe voices Hinkle and Paul Frees has a small role as the traffic cop. Woven throughout the special is, of course, the song “Frosty the Snowman” and they actually do a pretty good job bringing the song to life without it feeling forced (though I suppose striking up a random parade is a little odd) or overplaying it. There’s also the emotional pay-off towards the end that gives the special an added punch.

Frosty the Snowman is a nice little Christmas special that virtually everyone knows. It gets enough right for it to earn a spot on pretty much every list of this type. The only thing that really holds it back for me is that it is a little corny and a little dated. There’s probably some exhaustion bias at work here too since I’ve just seen it so many times. Still, I don’t think being the 15th best Christmas special, considering just how many there are, is anything to be ashamed of. And it’s also ten times better than any of the sequels and spin-offs that have been made after this special.


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