Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were among the first stars of cartoon creation to burst onto the scene. Together, the duo would work for Disney, Warner, and MGM (among others) creating and overseeing some of animation’s most memorable characters from the golden age. After working with Leon Schlesinger’s studio to produce Looney Tunes shorts, the duo jumped to MGM in 1934 taking one of their creations with them: Bosko. Bosko isn’t exactly the most well-remembered character from that era, but for a little while, he was indeed a bonafide star. Harman continued making theatrical shorts of the character under the new banner Happy Harmonies while Ising specialized in one-offs that sometimes returned characters, and sometimes did not. One returning set of characters was a pair of puppies which debuted in the short Two Little Pups, but it’s their next appearance that we care about today which came in the 1936 short The Pups’ Christmas.
It is a bit of a stretch on my part to call these puppies returning characters. They look basically the same between the two cartoons as far as the general shape and model look, but the original pups were white while the two we’re about to meet are brown and black. The thought process for both shorts is essentially the same though which is to watch two, ignorant, and curious pups interact with the world around them. And for this cartoon, that world happens to be the underside of a Christmas tree full of presents. It’s a fairly simple and basic premise that lends itself well to physical comedy. There’s almost no dialogue present in the short, apart from a few lines spoken by some children, as the focus is going to be squarely on the puppies and the toys they encounter.
The cartoon begins in typical Christmas fashion. We get a rendition of “Jingle Bells” over the standard MGM intro followed by a simple title card that fades to show the exterior of a snow-covered house as “Silent Night” filters in. Maybe some day I’ll go back through all of the Christmas cartoons I’ve consumed over the years and count the number of times “Silent Night” brings us into a short because it sure feels like there’s a lot. When the camera enters the house we find three children, two boys and one girl, as well as our two title characters lurking on the stairs. They’re all spying the goodies recently left by Santa under the tree, though while the children display some excitement, the pups show uncertainty. The kids, which are mostly just shown from the feet as the camera is locked-onto the puppies, beckon the pups to follow while also reminding them to keep quiet as they continuously bark at the sight before their eyes. The two eventually descend the stairs, but not before the brown pup gets its head stuck in the banister supports. The pup is able to yank its head out, it’s neck stretching impossibly long to do so, and the two head for the tree.
Once at the tree the pups run and bark at the assortment of packages and toys left neatly piled all around the tree. These kids seriously made out like bandits this year based on the sheer amount of stuff present. One of the boys starts fiddling with a toy train that the brown pup is suspicious of, while the girl is seated in a new rocking chair with a doll. The brown pup goes to inspect the doll and jumps when it says “Mama.” The two pups are then further startled when the toy train takes off. They run and try to hide behind a large box, but the other boy comes blasting out from behind that on a new tricycle nearly running the pair over as they dash for cover. It’s a scary world for these pups.
The pups take refuge in what is I assume one of their Christmas gifts: a dog house with a bow on it. Near the dog house is a pup-sized, fake, Christmas tree and numerous packages that must be intended for the dogs for they include dog collars and a miniature fire hydrant. The black pup seems quite please with the hydrant, but before he can even entertain the notion of taking a whiz on it he’s startled by a stuffed, polka-dotted, dog that kind of resembles Disney’s Pluto. The black dog retreats towards the dog house where the brown pup has been hiding barking all the way. The barks turn to growls as the pup slowly creeps towards the doll with the brown pup in tow. The two approach the doll with a great deal of trepidation and when the black pup stops short of it the brown pup starts pushing it. The two circle the doll nervously sniffing at it until it collapses causing the two to frantically run away and seek shelter amongst the unopened gifts.
When the black pup emerges from one of the boxes it tore through it’s sporting a Native American headdress. A stereotypical Native American jingle plays in the background as the pup barks in the direction of the doll. It cuts out rather quickly as the camera pans to reveal where the brown pup is hiding. It’s in a doll stroller and it pops up from under a blanket with a bonnet on its head. The doll from earlier is positioned behind the pup and it tilts forward saying “Mama,” as it contacts the pup’s rear. The black pup jumps out of the offensive headdress to look in the brown pup’s direction as that pup bats at the doll (behaving more like a kitten now than a pup) each swat causing the doll to say, “Mama!”
The black pup then takes note of the little boy once more. This time he’s winding up a tank toy. When he lets go the tank practically comes to life as the sound of drums rumble in the background. It hops and blasts the poor little pup with a shower of sparks from its cannon as it lurches forward. The tank waddles more than it rolls as it marches through the area while the black pup hides behind a large ball. Once the tank passes the pup nervously pursues it. As it sniffs at the tank, the pup gets too close and the tank whirls around and blasts it once again causing the pup to retreat into a large bass drum. Seemingly satisfied, the bird-like tank turns itself around and resumes it’s march with the top turret bouncing on a spring with each step.
The black pup is clearly a little miffed at the treatment it’s receiving from this toy and stalks after the tank. The tank climbs a rectangular box that’s leaning against a cubed one, and once at the top, literally jumps a gap over to the next stack of presents as this thing is clearly alive at this point. It doesn’t quite make the leap, tanks aren’t known for their agility, but is able to pull its rear end over the edge of the gift and disappear to the other side. The pup runs around and looks behind the gifts expecting to find the tank, but unbeknownst to it the tank anticipated this and pops out from around the other side. It starts shooting off sparks once again and the pup spins around to yelp and run away after taking a shot to the face.
The pup runs away and right into a small, hand accordion. It crashed through one end and emerges out the other clearly destroying someone’s new gift. It then runs and hides behind a present and now just looks plain terrified instead of curious or angry. Too bad for the pup the tank remains one step ahead of it. We see it slip past the pup, and as the pup backs away from the present it’s rear end comes to rest in a French horn. On the other side is the tank which shoots its sparks through the horn and connects with the puppy’s backside. It yelps and runs away crashing right through the gift it was previously hiding behind and emerging out the other end draped in someone’s new pajamas.
The sound of “Mama” gets the black puppy’s attention and we pan over to see the brown pup is batting at something on the floor. It’s the voice box for the doll which says “Mama” each time the puppy hits it. In the background is the doll itself torn to shreds. Where are the kids during all of this? That little girl is going to be heartbroken when she finds her new doll. Judging from the volume of gifts though, it looks like mom and dad can afford to get her a new one. The brown pup stops smacking the toy and instead chooses to bark at it which causes the black pup to bark too. That dastardly tank, apparently not yet satisfied, comes up behind the black pup once more and blasts it with sparks. The black pup yelps and runs away only to collide with the brown pup causing it to swallow the voice box. Now the brown pup is confused as every time it’s butt connects with something it hears “Mama!”
The tank returns to inflict more terror upon these hapless pups. Seeing it, the brown pup takes shelter behind more gifts while we see where the black pup ended up following its collision with the brown one. It, once again, smashed through another box only this one contained boxing gloves. It emerges from the box with the gloves on its front paws. I expected the pup to then use these to bash the tank, but instead it reacts more like an actual puppy would if it found itself in such an improbable situation and starts trying to shake the gloves off. One goes soaring across the room and the tank has to duck to avoid it. Then comes the other one which the tank jumps to avoid. Now apparently mad, the tank goes after the black pup and resumes blasting it with more sparks.
The brown pup emerges from its hiding place seemingly ready to help out the other pup, but instead chooses to sit down. This causes the soundbox to go off again and the pup spins around confused. We then go into a little dance where the brown pup keeps searching for the source of the “Mama” soundbite, but can’t find it since it’s coming from inside it. Once the pup does figure that part out, it keeps gently sitting down and popping its bum back up the second it hears the first little piece of sound. Only when the pup sits with more force does it freak it out causing it to run for another hiding spot.
The brown pup, in its haste, crashes into another toy. And yup, I figured this was going to happen, it’s racist. The toy is a dancing black person depicted in a very offensive manner. It’s limbs flail about as it does a dance ending with a “Hey!” as it spreads its arms out wide. The bit is mercifully over in a few seconds as the pup takes off. It comes towards a monkey toy, or ornament, that is very much alive as it climbs up a string to avoid the puppy. It then slides down with a look of shock on its face, only for the barking pups to come running by once again, this time with the tank in pursuit. The monkey avoids them all, but for some reason the tank whirls around to regard the monkey up in the Christmas tree. The monkey is pretty ticked off at this point and it yells down at the tank with a bunch of unintelligible, high-pitched, squeaks similar to what Chip and Dale do at times. The tank does not take kindly to this at all and fires off a volley of sparks in the monkey’s direction catching it clear in the face and utterly destroying it. Poor, little, monkey.
This terrible tank them goes after the pups once again. As they run away, they run into a toy airplane hangar and quickly bounce out. That’s because it’s occupied by a toy plane which comes rolling out and takes to the sky. The tank ducks under the plane, but once clear of it fires more sparks at it. The plane soars around the Christmas tree seemingly avoiding the tank which only makes it madder. The tank fires off another round with the last one being something akin to a “charged” shot. That’s the one that strikes the plane which stops in mid-air to grasp at it’s chest like it was a man shot in the heart. It then goes into a tailspin with flames shooting out the back. The pups run for cover in their new dog house seemingly shutting the tank out. It runs around in circles, but with no where to go, does the only thing it can: duck and cover.
The planes lands a direct hit on the tank reducing both toys to a pile of twisted steel and springs. The pups emerge from their house to sniff at the pile, only for the tank’s turret (which is basically its head) to pop out on its spring and fire one last blast of sparks at the pups when it strikes the ground. The pups race back into the dog house, but turn around to bark incessantly in the tank’s direction. “Jingle Bells” plays in the background as we close on an iris shot and one last, somewhat joyful, yelp from the brown pup.
And thus, the first Christmas for these two little pups is concluded. They caused a lot of mayhem as they investigated the gifts under the tree. I’m not sure what happened to the kids from the beginning. Did they go back to bed? Head into the kitchen? Or did they just watch these toys torture their little puppies with amusement? I have to believe they vacated the room since the brown pup was able to absolutely savage that doll. The destruction wrought by the pups almost makes them villains, in a way, albeit innocent ones. At least it would if not for that asshole tank. Seriously, what is that thing’s problem? One puppy sniffs your backside and you make it your mission to murder the little dog?! That thing got what it deserved, but not before it “killed” a monkey toy and a plane toy that were all just minding their own business. Why couldn’t it have killed the racist toy?!
For its part, The Pups’ Christmas feels like a Rudolf Ising short. It’s mostly set to music and relies on the animation to depict a fairly conventional setup that doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just two, cute, puppies getting into mischief. It’s the sort of cartoon Ising does well as the animation style is very pleasing to the eye and the production values appear fairly high for this sort of thing. Probably too high for the folks at MGM since the Happy Harmonies series of shorts was ended because they routinely went over budget. I do like how the puppies are presented, even if some of their behavior felt more cat-like than dog-like to me. That detestable tank was also animated in a very amusing manner. It’s waddling and bouncing is a lot of fun, even if it appears to break a whole bunch of rules as far as sentience goes. The short begins with the puppies having exaggerated, but realistic, encounters with objects around the tree until that tank comes into the picture. From there, all of the toys basically come alive with no explanation. Not that one is necessarily needed since we’ve looked at a bunch of pictures like this in the past where toys on Christmas Eve behave like living beings. And of the ones I have looked at, this one is probably the best so far.
The Pups’ Christmas, being an old cartoon short, is not an easy thing to come by if you want to actually pay for it. It’s never been released on home video and isn’t streaming on any of the major streaming platforms even though it’s owned by Warner Home Video at this point. And I’m guessing the one offensive toy will keep it that way, unless a renewed push is made to get the Happy Harmonies series up and running. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily hard to watch it though as Warner apparently sees no value in protecting its asset which means this short can be found streaming for free all over the place, including YouTube. Just punch it in and you’re sure to find multiple options. MeTV has also shown it in the past year, with the racist toy edited out, so chances are it will pop up this month either as part of Toon in With Me or as part of the Saturday morning Tom & Jerry block of cartoons. And if you’re a dog lover, you’ll probably find this one cute and if you just like animation there’s a lot to enjoy here. It’s nothing amazing by any means, but at a running time of less than 8 minutes why not give it a look?
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