Tag Archives: merrie melodies

Dec. 7 – Bedtime for Sniffles

Original release November 23, 1940.

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

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

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

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

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

A solid looking house for a mouse.

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

Gotta make sure Santa can see your welcome mat.

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

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

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

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

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

Pictured: not measles.

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

Here you go Internet, do your worst!

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

It’s time to give in, Sniffles.

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

This is how he died.

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

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

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

Gotta get that moon-shot in!

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


Dec. 19 – The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives

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Original release date January 7, 1933

Every year I do this I am reminded at how surprising it is that so few Christmas themed Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes shorts exist. Disney put out several memorable ones over the years featuring their characters, but Warner Bros. mostly stayed away. Bugs Bunny would eventually get a Christmas television special in the 70s, but that was well past the age of the cartoon short.

That’s not to say Warner didn’t produce any Christmas cartoons under their two most popular banners, just that most didn’t feature the company’s most recognizable faces. The first of which, The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives, contained no recognizable faces even though this was during the heyday for Bosko. The Rudolf Ising directed short was the first Merrie Melodies cartoon released in 1933, missing the Christmas holiday by a couple of weeks. Even though the Merrie Melodies line of shorts is often distinguished from Looney Tunes due to the presence of color (that wouldn’t come until 1934), this is a black and white film that’s fallen into the public domain.

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Possibly the nicest piece of animation in the short.

The short is a Depression-era cartoon, hence the name The Shanty Where Santy Claus lives. It’s not a particularly well known short as it wasn’t shown on television much given that it’s associated with a holiday and thus confined to a short window for release. Since it’s from 1933, it also doesn’t look particularly great compared with the more popular Warner cartoons and, as I already mentioned, it’s devoid of the characters the studio is known for. Despite that though, it did receive some play on Cartoon Network during the 1990s, but sometimes with alterations. I honestly can’t recall if I ever saw this one on the channel. I used to love falling asleep to the Christmas Eve programming on Cartoon Network which ran all night and mostly consisted of winter or Christmas themed cartoons. I could usually bank on seeing Peace on Earth at that time and only that time. This cartoon was probably shown as well, but I don’t remember it specifically. When viewing it now, it has an air of familiarity to it, but that could just be my imagination.

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Our downtrodden protagonist.

The cartoon begins with bells ringing and they are gorgeously animated. It then heads for ground level where the animation is less gorgeous and is accompanied by “Silent Night,” something that will become a trope in Christmas specials to come. A disheveled looking kid is drearily stomping through the snow with a floppy hat and his hands stuffed into his pockets. His exaggerated feet practically look like snowshoes. He hears singing coming from a church, but declines to enter. He perks up momentarily when he hears another commotion. Racing over to a window he looks in on a bunch of kids dancing around a Christmas tree. He then turns to the camera with a sad face as the wind howls.

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Listen kids, normally it’s not okay to run off with an old guy promising toys.

The boy gets caught in the gust which tosses him into the side of his shanty. The snow falls off the roof and buries him momentarily. He pulls himself up and heads inside. It’s a one-room shack with hardly anything inside, including parents. He’s rather down, even weeping, until he hears something outside. Sleigh bells herald the arrival of Santa Claus who comes bursting in singing the short’s signature song. Santa offers to take the boy with him to his shanty where toys and wonderful things await. The kid is more than eager to take old Saint Nick up on his offer and the two head outside. Santa puts the boy on the back of his sleigh before climbing in himself. He orders the reindeer to “giddy-up” and as they take off the boy tumbles from the back of the sleigh. Malnutrition has apparently not affected the boy’s speed or conditioning as he races after the sleigh and essentially outruns the reindeer to get back into Santa’s arms. This time the old man is smart enough to put the kid in the sleigh proper and the two take off into the sky.

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You are correct if you assumed Santa flew past that moon before landing in front of his shop. Maybe the first ever animated shot of Santa in front of a moon?

Santa and his team of two reindeer (the Depression even impacted Santa) make it to Santa’s shanty. And it’s hardly a shanty. The two head inside and the kid’s eyes widen to see all of the toys waiting to be delivered to new homes. Some of them are a bit…iffy looking, but we pan back to the kid pretty quickly who’s looking quite happy. He heads in further and starts playing with a kangaroo toy. When he squeezes a ball on the end of a tube it makes the little joey pop out of the pouch. Cute.

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Well, this just went wrong very fast.

The boy then turns his attention to a musical toy and….oh no, here’s our reminder this is a cartoon from the 1930s. A toy of jazz musicians is displayed and they basically all look like they’re pulled from a minstrel show. We then see a baby doll crying out for it’s Mama before tumbling off the shelf into a box of soot. It then emerges, in blackface, crying for its “Mammy” who then shows up to retrieve the toy. And we’re not done! A rag doll starts dancing as the short’s song returns with two other dolls that also look like blackface dolls. She then ditches the pair to watch on the side cheering them on with some maracas.

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Oh my god, it just got worse!

More toys are spotlighted including a doll that tries to blow up a balloon. She sucks in the air and turns into a woman of generous proportions who begins to sing “Shine on Harvest Moon” in what is undoubtedly a caricature of singer Kate Smith. There’s also a toy soldier on a baby bank. When the register pops open it’s, get this, full of babies. A teddy bear is shown playing a trombone and a jack-in-the-box beside it pops out and it’s thankfully not racist. The trombone keeps hitting it into a drum which is mildly amusing.

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Make it stop!

We then end up at the Christmas tree which has a lit candle on it. One of the toys knocks it over and soon the tree catches on fire (and you thought those giant bulbs from the 40s and 50s were a fire hazard) forcing the fire brigade into action. The toy fire brigade, that is. A fire engine races over and tries to put out the flames, but it is just a toy. We then see the boy again, the supposed main character who has apparently just been watching this whole thing and is possibly willing to let the racist toys burn, who decides he should take some action. A hose is conveniently at his feet and hooked up to a sink. He inserts the other end into some bagpipes which are just laying on the floor and runs over to the tree. He squeezes the bagpipes spraying water out of the various pipes which douse the flames. The toys cheer triumphantly and the short comes to an abrupt end.

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Kid, maybe you should just let this place burn.

I suppose when I saw this cartoon was in the public domain I should have expected some racism. Cartoonists, for whatever reason, loved these blackface gags in the 20s and 30s and really seemed to like the black figures seen here. Maybe it’s a benign reason, since these cartoons are in black and white it was an easy gag to get over, but it is what it is. When Cartoon Network aired this one it eventually edited out those parts, though I think at one point in time they were left in. Considering the short is a little over 7 minutes with that stuff intact, it must have been incredibly short without it. If you watch a lot of old cartoons, there’s nothing in here you haven’t seen before. I don’t think those images would keep this from being released as part of a collection of Warner cartoons, but it sure would earn it a disclaimer.

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Well, the fire’s out and…it’s over? Okay then.

Visually, this is an old cartoon and it shows. The backgrounds aren’t very detailed and certainly pale in comparison to what Disney was doing at the time. The characters have noodle-like limbs and their mouth movements are a bit odd. There are some twin characters that were probably just doubles of the film cells or possibly traces from one image to another as they move in perfect unison. The kid main character also doesn’t look particularly good, but a lot of effort was put into Santa who has a nice, jolly, demeanor.

As a Christmas toon, this is essentially a piece of wish fulfillment. A poor kid is not going to get to enjoy Christmas like the more well-off children will, so Santa shows up to whisk him away. It probably wasn’t something a poor kid needed to see as it would have felt patronizing. Santa is also barely in it as he just shows up to take the kid and then basically disappears once we get to his work shop. I kept waiting for him to come in and put out the fire (or destroy those racist toys), but he must have left to go find some other poor kid. There’s a lot of public domain Christmas music at play though, and the one original song works well enough.

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He’s certainly not as charismatic as Porky.

The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives is a public domain cartoon that is quite easy to come by. Just typing the name into a search engine should produce plenty of results, or you can even just go straight to YouTube. There are various public domain Christmas VHS and DVDs that include it, and Warner even featured it on a laser disc release of shorts back in the day, but I doubt you want to go that route. Because it’s free, the quality can vary. Some claim to be upscaled to HD, but they get a blurry, smear, effect as a result. Some are very gray in appearance and there’s even some that are practically yellow. Still, you don’t have to look too hard to find one with nice enough contrast levels. I don’t really recommend it, but it is only 7 minutes so it’s not exactly much of a time commitment. It’s a shame the few gags present are mostly racist humor. The only memorable non racist gag was the baby bank, which wasn’t particularly funny either. As the first Christmas-themed Merrie Melodies short, it at least has some historical significance. Just beware of the racist stuff.


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