Tag Archives: santa claus

Dec. 23 – DuckTales – “How Santa Stole Christmas”

Original air date November 30, 2020

One of my favorite modern Christmas specials is the DuckTales episode “Last Christmas.” I feel like anytime I talk DuckTales I have to specify which era, though in this case I really shouldn’t since the original DuckTales never did a Christmas episode. To make up for that, the 2017 edition of the show did two Christmas episodes! I’ll take as many as I can get and had the show continued I’d have welcomed a third one. Since 2021 marked the end of this second DuckTales era, it makes sense to welcome it back into the fold for The Christmas Spot for a final time.

In “Last Christmas,” we learned that Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) hates Santa Claus. It’s basically a throw-away line, as the episode begins with him raging at Christmas and storming off to his room only for us to find out it’s all an act. He just wants to be left alone at Christmas so he can pal around with some ghosts. Him telling his nephew, Dewey (Ben Schwartz), that he actually likes Christmas, but hates Santa, reads as a joke. Given that this show is rather lore heavy, I suppose we should not have been surprised to see the subject of Scrooge hating Santa Claus brought up again. And exploring that hatred is the subject of the show’s second, and final, Christmas episode “How Santa Stole Christmas.”

Della has a story to chill your bones!

The episode begins with the customary cold open. The boys, Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey, and Louie (Bobby Moynihan) are getting ready for bed on Christmas Eve while their mother, Della (Paget Brewster), tells them a story and Uncle Donald (Tony Anselmo) passes out cookies. And getting tangled in Christmas lights. Della is reciting “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” only the words have been changed to refer to Santa as a traitor and other unpleasantries. Dewey is the first to request that she just tell them the regular version of the poem with the nice Santa, but Della quickly responds that he is not welcome in their home! She explains by adding a “He knows what he did,” with narrowed eyes, but when the boys ask what he did it soon becomes apparent that Della hasn’t a clue.

Christmas time is a time for war at McDuck Manor.

A noise from the roof, a clatter if you will, interrupts the awkward moment between hen and ducklings. Della grabs her brother, now immobilized in Christmas lights, to lead the charge to battle while the boys head to the roof. They slide excitedly across the snow in hopes of catching a glimpse of the real Santa, only to find Scrooge. He’s decked out in what I assume is some sort of Scottish military uniform complete with beret and kilt. Webby (Kate Micucci) is there as well camouflaged to blend in with the background. She is quick to remind the boys that an enemy of Scrooge McDuck is an enemy to them all!

Some different reactions to the guest spread across the faces of the McDuck clan.

Scrooge is confused why the boy’s even care about Santa since he can provide anything they’d need. He then hands out their apparent Christmas present this year: boring, knit, hats. Louie questions if his great uncle could have found an itchier material while Scrooge prattles on about how they don’t need modern luxuries. A ring of the doorbell puts an end to the discussion as they try to peer down from the roof to see who’s there, but are unable to. Scrooge speculates it’s just some carolers and makes his way inside, though as he prepares to open the door he’s poised to strike!

Webby is a constant source of entertainment.

When Scrooge does open the door a look of surprise crosses his face, which soon turns to one of anger as he says one word, “Claus.” The boys light up as the camera shows us Santa Claus from their perspective. What does the DuckTales Santa look like, you may be wondering? Well, he’s a polar bear! I honestly had not given it much thought until now, but I suppose it makes sense that he’d be a polar bear. Most everyone else in this universe appears to be some kind of bird or dog, though there is a cross-over with the TaleSpin crew. Santa (Hugh Bonneville) prepares to wish them all a “Merry Christmas,” but before he can get that second part out he lurches forward and collapses on the floor. The boys look devastated while Scrooge seems legitimately surprised as he sheaths his weapon. Webby still looks ready to pounce as Scrooge pulls on her left arm to lower her grapple gun. She quietly raises her right arm in response which brandishes a blade as we smash cut to the intro.

Santa is a big ole polar bear. Makes sense.

The credits are, once again, festively done with the same crooner version to the song that we saw in “Last Christmas.” I still cannot find a credit for who sings it, but for some reason I feel like I heard it was Chris Diamantopoulos, but don’t quote me on that. Following the intro, we return to the home of Scrooge McDuck and focus on a sleeping Santa as he’s waking from his slumber. He’s been propped up in a chair by the fire as the kids have gathered around him. The boys start peppering him the usual questions a kid might have for Santa should they meet while Webby just grumpily asks “When are you leaving?” as she finishes dressing a leg injury on the big bear. Santa seems amused by the children and produces presents for all! Huey gets a video game, Dewey a trampoline, Louie a new cell phone (he plans to sell his old one for cash when Scrooge points out he already has a cell phone) and Webby refuses to open hers. A nice detail on the gifts is they are the exact gifts Scrooge called out on the roof as things they don’t need (he pays attention enough to know what they want for Christmas, and refuses to accommodate their wishes). The boys are enjoying their presents until Scrooge starts barking at Santa to get out. He alludes to Santa stealing something from him in the past and he’s not about to let the big bear turn his nephews against him!

I didn’t grab a screen for this scene, so here’s Scrooge’s house decorated for Christmas!

Santa insists that they not do this in front of the children while the boys seem surprised at this news. Webby, of course, is not and she demands to know what Santa stole from Scrooge. Scrooge fills her in: Christmas! Now it’s the children’s turn to gasp as the very notion of Santa stealing Christmas is a hard concept to wrap one’s head around. Scrooge goes on to say that he came up with the whole Christmas “racket” and this glory hound took all of the credit. Santa isn’t interested in rehashing any of this as he points out that he has a sack full of presents still to deliver and a busted leg that will prevent him from doing so. Scrooge is his only hope as he askes, “Scroogey, with your belt so tight, won’t you fly my sleigh tonight?”

Scrooge gives him the cold shoulder as the boys plead with him to reconsider. Santa starts turning on the guilt, even allowing a present to fall out of his sack that he has trouble reaching. Scrooge has seen enough and grabs the gift for him and tosses it back into the sack telling Santa they’re not interested in what he’s selling. Santa keeps up the routine and decides to make Scrooge an offer: if he helps him deliver toys this year, he’ll never show up at his home again. Scrooge seems unmoved until Santa adds that he’ll save a fortune on traps. Scrooge then rather reluctantly shakes the bear’s hand and scoops up the sack referring to him as a sanctimonious solstice swindler. Nice alliteration, which will be a thread throughout the episode. As he marches out the door the others look on in surprise, but when Scrooge mutters about not believing Santa roped him into this again they let out yet another audible gasp. This allows Santa to tell a little story about how he and Scrooge McDuck first met.

When Scrooge met Santa.

It was a long time ago, as Santa puts it, and the area was in the midst of a nasty blizzard. A young looking Scrooge knocks on the door of a home and when the door is opened by a young lady, he immediately starts ranting at her to buy some coal! He really needs to work on his delivery. She slams the door in his face and he tosses his sack of coal over his shoulder muttering to himself as he walks off. He then hears someone singing “Jingle Bells” nearby, but it also sounds like they’re struggling with something. Scrooge wanders over and sees a young Santa pulling a rather large sleigh. When he inquires with the bear about what he’s doing, Santa explains he’s trying to spread warmth to the region by giving people toys. Scrooge, ever practical, seems to think this is foolish, but tosses his sack of coal in the sleigh and offers to help pull the sleigh.

When the pair reach the house Scrooge was just shut out at, Santa strolls over to the door, despite Scrooge insisting the individuals who live there won’t be accommodating, and knocks on the door. The same lady from before answers and Santa explains he’s looking to trade a present or two for a few minutes of warmth. He hands over a wrapped box and the woman opens it to find a nutcracker. She smiles and lets him in without a word and prepares to shut the door in Scrooge’s face, but Santa insists he’s with him. She seems to agree to let Scrooge in, but narrows her eyes at him and gestures that she’ll be watching him closely.

These creatures are not fooling anyone.

Inside, we see the home is clearly inhabited by elves of some kind. They’re small, wear pointy hats with bells, and are dressed in various, bright, colors. Of course, this being the DuckTales universe, they’re also some kind of dog people. Santa is leading them all in a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells” until the fire goes out. The woman who answered the door, who appears taller than the rest, finally speaks (I’m not sure who voices her, but basically every member of the main cast is credited as voicing “Elves” in this one) to point out the obvious. Santa smiles and lets them know his companion, Scrooge, is in possession of something that will get their fire going once again. He grabs Scrooge’s sack of coal, much to the duck’s surprise, and dumps a few biscuits on the fire and it ignites instantly. The other elves start enthusiastically shoving money in Scrooge’s face insisting that any friend of Santa’s is a friends of theirs. They also inquire about getting coal delivered, and Santa starts boasting Scrooge can deliver anywhere! And by Christmas! Scrooge is rather shocked at this proclamation and tries to explain that Christmas is a mere 20 days away, but Santa insists he’ll help him adding a “What are friends for?” Scrooge tells him to scrap the friends talk and suggests they be partners instead. Santa asks “Why not both?!” as he scoops him up in a big bear hug. A literal one.

I love this.

We jump back to the present where the kids are surprised to find out the two were friends with Webby insisting that Scrooge doesn’t have any friends. They head to the sleigh, which is parked outside, and the boys run excitedly to the reindeer. They start patting them and checking them out while Scrooge barks for them to get away from those “roof wreckers.” He then adds they’re not coming along as they’re too susceptible to Santa’s charms. Only Webby is welcome aboard the sleigh. The boys start to put up a fight, but Santa pulls out his nice list to check it twice and mentions he knows of some boys making their way up the list. As he explains, one of the reindeer is licking Dewey’s head the whole time and it’s adorable. Santa basically bribes them with more presents though so they run inside while Scrooge snaps the reigns sending the sleigh into the night sky. I love you, DuckTales, but I have to confess I can’t forgive you for giving Santa only six reindeer. A Christmas fail.

This episode effectively uses montage to get the other side characters a little face time at Christmas.

We then head into a musical montage set, once again, to “Jingle Bells.” I honestly didn’t realize how much mileage this one gets from that song until I started typing about it. Webby and Scrooge are shown delivering presents to the many side characters we’ve met throughout the show. They recoil in horror at the disgusting sock of Doofus, receive a fruit cake to the face from Gizmoduck’s defense mechanism, and leave a present for that Scrooge-horse abomination character.

Webby is proving she’s not immune to the charms of Santa.

Back in the sleigh, Webby is handling a present while insisting to Santa that she won’t fall for his charms like most do. As she says this, she shakes various gifts and mentions the contents as if such an offering could never work on her, until she gets to a box with a crossbow in it! She asks Santa who it’s for and he implores her to check the tag. Of course, the tag reads Webbigail Vanderquack and her eyes bulge with excitement! She squeals and hugs the gift while Santa remarks to Scrooge how there’s nothing like the happiness of a child on Christmas to warm the heart. Scrooge suggests Webby won’t fall for his tricks and the young girl pauses for a moment, but then resumes the present embrace.

The sleigh continues to soar through the sky and we see the background change to reflect a new part of the world. When it changes from Rome, to China, to Rome again Webby calls out this error in the montage only for Santa to inform her that he delivers the presents alphabetically. When Scrooge, in a rather incredulous manner, demands to know why he wouldn’t do it by country the old bear plays dumb and remarks that doing so would save him some time. Scrooge performs a facepalm as Webby becomes increasingly worried that they’re going to run out of time to save Christmas, then tries to save face by adding, “not that I care.” Santa tells her not to worry, then he produces the secret to his success: the Feliz Navidiamond!

Time for DuckTales to add to the Santa lore.

The gem is hanging from Santa’s sleigh, and as the camera focuses on it and Scrooge speaks it’s name we’re transported back to the past. The image of the gem is replaced with a crudely drawn version as Scrooge and Santa look over a map. They’re after the diamond, but need to enter a dangerous looking cave in order to get it. Scrooge explains the diamond allows the holder to manipulate time, but it only works on one evening: Christmas Eve. Santa and Scrooge know that with this diamond they can deliver all of the coal on time, but they have to enter the rather mean looking cave in order to get it.

And here come the reindeer!

The two make their way towards the cave with Scrooge remarking that they just need to survive los renos voladores. Santa wonders what that could possibly translate to, but his question is soon answered when he looks up to the sky: flying reindeer. The two swoop down looking rather ferocious. As Scrooge tries to ward one off he looks over to see Santa petting the other. When he asks how he managed that, Santa produces some jingle bells. He instructs Scrooge to “jingle all the way” as he tosses him a set (and I groan). Scrooge jingles the set of bells in the face of his opponent, and the reindeer immediately starts to nuzzle his face. Santa saunters over and eagerly asks if they can keep the reindeer.

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Beagle Boys.

Webby interrupts the tale to say “Of course you kept the reindeer,” adding that they’ve got two horns worth of deadly efficiency. Santa agrees insisting they’re a Christmas staple while Scrooge grumbles about the whole business as he prepares to enter another home. When he asks why Webby would care she insists she doesn’t, but when one of the reindeer turns and snorts at her she whispers “It’s not true” to assuage him while Scrooge does his best to ignore her. The two then enter the chimney and the musical montage resumes with Webby and Scrooge delivering more presents to more familiar faces, including the apparent sole member of the Beagle Boys (Eric Bauza) on Santa’s nice list. As the two try to slip out of the junkyard, the one Beagle Boy wakes up excitedly and calls out to his brothers that Santa is here. They in turn wake up and seeing how they’re all on the naughty list, things aren’t looking so well for Scrooge and Webby. That is, until Santa and the reindeer swoop in! They cut through the Beagle Boys and Webby and Scrooge hop back in the sleigh. As they fly away, Santa remarks that since he now saved Scrooge they’re even. Scrooge scoffs at the idea and we return to the past to apparently find out how Scrooge saved Santa.

Not Santa’s best plan.

They’re in that rather formidable looking cave from before clearly looking to retrieve the Feliz Navidiamond. Santa is raring to go, while Scrooge warns of a guardian. As they look upon a frozen pedestal which the diamond sits upon, Santa prepares to go for it when a rather large snowball starts rolling in. More follow and soon a monstrous snowman is assembled! Santa still isn’t frightened and suggests they can beat him with kindness, despite Scrooge’s protesting. He heads over to the snowman and proposes a trade: one present for the Feliz Navidiamond. The snowman apparently does not think this is a fair trade for it snatches Santa and appears ready to devour the humble bear. The sound of jingling bells distracts the being as Scrooge comes riding in on a flying reindeer! He drops flaming coal on the snowman causing it to release Santa. As the creature’s tree-like arms go up in flames it turns its attention to Scrooge, allowing Santa to go for the diamond. The snowman knocks Scrooge from his reindeer and then turns back to Santa grabbing his foot. He’s too late though for Santa reaches the diamond and is able to freeze time! Or at least, he thinks he stopped time, but Scrooge corrects him and points out he’s actually slowed it down (for some reason, Scrooge and the reindeer are not affected, but the snowman is) so that its passage is almost imperceptible. Scrooge declares they’re running on Christmas time and the two embrace to celebrate.

We return to the present where Scrooge and Santa are laughing about their past experiences. Webby is surprised to see the two getting along so well, while Santa seems a bit disappointed they’ve arrived at the last house. Scrooge insists he can do this one alone leaving Webby to ask Santa what the deal is? When she pushes Santa to explain how these two red coat enthusiasts could have had a falling out, Santa replies it was the worst Christmas of his life.

A word of advice: never propose Scrooge do something for free when he’s drinking a hot beverage. Or any beverage.

Another flashback sees Santa sitting by a roaring fire. He’s in the elf home again, and a cheery Scrooge enters singing his own version of “Jingle Bells” swapping out “bells” for “coal.” It’s Christmas Eve and he takes a seat across from Santa and explains he has the whole route mapped out, plus carrots for the reindeer. When he says they leave at dawn, Santa sheepishly interrupts to suggest they leave tonight instead so that the people they deliver coal to can wake up to a surprise on Christmas morning. Scrooge playfully calls him an old softy and he reminds him that they can’t take payment for the coal if the customers are sleeping. Santa then, rather nervously, suggests they don’t take payment, but do it for free. Scrooge spits his coffee, or hot chocolate, in the bear’s face at the suggestion and angrily declares he will not participate in free handouts!

“It’ll never catch on!”

Santa tries to explain that they can’t charge people on Christmas. When he suggests that warming their hearts is enough, Scrooge returns that they’re warming their homes. He then calms himself down and tries to explain the plan to Santa in a way that he, Scrooge, understands it. They use Santa’s charms and “Christmas is magic,” routine to get people to let them in, then Scrooge sells them the coal. Santa insists that it’s not just a game to him, that Christmas IS magic. Scrooge clearly can’t reason with someone so selfless, so he resorts to an ultimatum. Either Santa do Christmas his way, or do it on his own. Santa looks sad, then we hard cut to Scrooge slamming the door behind him as he leaves the home insisting “It will never catch on!” Inside, Santa is upset and doubting himself, but the elves gather around him. They remove their hats and pointy ears pop up (yeah, we already figured that out) while the head elf adds “We can help.”

I hate to see Webby sad.

Santa is still sad about how things ended as we return to the present. Webby is despondent that Christmas is actually a sad story. Santa explains that this is why he was so happy to work with Scrooge again and then instructs Webby to look in the sack as there should be one last present inside: Scrooge’s. Only Webby does look inside the sack and finds it’s still full. Confused, she turns to Santa, but he seems to know what’s been going on, though he can scarcely believe it.

That’s one evil looking Scrooge.

As Santa wails “No, no, no!” we’re taken back to McDuck Manor. Louie is sneaking up muttering to himself that Santa won’t mind if he takes a little peek. He makes his way down to the tree and finds a gift marked for him. He opens it and immediately is enraged to find a lump of coal and an invoice. We then cut to a rather sinister looking Scrooge as he places the final lump and invoice into a box and prepares to descend the last chimney.

Ohh ok, he just wants to make kids literally warm.

Scrooge enters the house and monologues his reasoning here, which is sorely needed because he’s coming across as a true villain here. In his mind, kids don’t need trinkets that they play with for a day, they need something practical. Something like coal which can warm their home. And right on cue, he finds a cold house with a little pig girl (Abby Ryder Fortson) shivering on a nearby couch. He walks over to place her blanket back on her, but her eyes snap open and shouting “Stranger danger!” she nails Scrooge with a right hook. She then mistakes him for Santa and immediately starts apologizing. Scrooge takes it all in stride and hands over the present. As he goes on about the merits of warmth, she opens the box and finds the coal. She’s not particularly disappointed though as she takes the ribbon and wrapping paper and fashions a doll out of it with the lump of coal serving as the head. She cleverly names her new doll Colette and introduces herself as Jennifer. Scrooge, seemingly finding this whole routine absurd, suggests using the coal to warm the house, but Jennifer refuses insisting she loves her doll already!

Well, she’s happy now, but Scrooge sure isn’t.

Scrooge then walks over to a window trying to wrap his head around all of this. He claims when he was a kid he would have killed for a piece of coal at Christmas, even if it only warmed his home for one night. He then looks to Jennifer who no longer appears cold as she lovingly caresses her “doll.” He then finally gets it, remarking to himself that a warm heart can carry you through the coldest times. The mantra of Santa Claus. He returns to Jennifer’s side, who has fallen back to sleep, and is now able to place the blanket on her. He sits beside her and realizes that what he did this night was wrong. As he wonders aloud to himself how he can fix this, a pounding on the door causes it to fly open and a rather enraged Santa enters.

Ooo! I like this Santa!

Santa looks ready to rumble as he shouts out Scrooge’s crimes against Christmas. Webby even enters accusing Scrooge of ruining Christmas! Jennifer also wakes up and Santa immediately goes back into the nice routine and even hands over the Eleanor Roostervelt doll she requested. The girl goes back to sleep so the others can resume their argument. Scrooge deftly turns the situation around pointing out that Santa’s injury is fake and accuses him of knowingly ruining Christmas by putting it in his hands! Santa then comes clean explaining that he came up with the whole thing because he felt if Scrooge saw the joy that Christmas brings to children he’d end their feud and they could be friends again. Webby then sums it up by saying “Santa Claus was willing to risk Christmas,” allowing Scrooge to finish, “because he wanted to spend it with me.”

Now the rest of the cast get to have fun.

Santa and Scrooge seem to be having a rather heartfelt moment, but Webby is forced to point out that they’re at risk of blowing Christmas. Santa remarks the Feliz Navidiamond is nearly out of power as we see the sun start to rise. Scrooge, seemingly unconcerned, informs Claus he just needs to think practically and suggests the strategy divide and conquer. We cut to the whole crew, Della, Donald, Launchpad, etc. all riding reindeer through the sky! It would seem Christmas has been saved as Dewey announces the last gift has been delivered. Santa and Scrooge are sharing a reindeer and he informs Scrooge there’s still one more gift with Scrooge insisting it better be in Duckburg because he’s freezing! Santa snaps back at him using his own alliterative expression for Scrooge as he refers to him as a greedy, Glaswegian, grinch! He hands a small gift over to Scrooge as the last one is his. Scrooge opens the gift and finds a set of bells with the inscription across them “McDuck & Claus Delivery.”

Aww.

Scrooge remarks the sound of it doesn’t sound quite so annoying anymore. He then hands over the real last gift of Christmas: one for Santa. It looks like a key fob one would use with a car. Santa remarks it’s nice, but adds he doesn’t have a car. As the clouds part and Scrooge’s mansion comes into view, Scrooge instructs Claus to push the button. He does so, and Scrooge explains that all of the various Santa traps that adorn his mansion have been deactivated. Santa is welcome at his home anytime. Though he instructs him not to come down the chimney like some creep.

I love seeing the place decorated for Christmas.

Santa can’t even muster a response other than to embrace Scrooge. Webby then enters the picture to narrate the end of the episode allowing Scrooge to take it home with a “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” Santa gets to add in some “Ho ho ho’s,” ending in a “Woah-oh!” as the reindeer all pass in front of the moon – the most appropriate way to end a Christmas special.

Santa gets in one more bear hug.

“How Santa Stole Christmas” is not as good a story as “Last Christmas,” but it is still a nice Christmas episode from DuckTales. It’s a little too maudlin at times, but the twist on the origins of Christmas as we know it are certainly fun. It makes sense that Scrooge would be philosophically opposed to doing business with someone whose business plan is to simply give everything away for free. The episode almost takes things too far though as the reveal that Scrooge has been delivering coal all night really paints the duck in a bad light. The episode is quick to explain Scrooge’s motivation as in his mind he’s doing the world a favor by gifting them something practical as opposed to trinkets, as he calls them. Though, there’s still the matter of the invoice. The Santa character is almost syrupy sweet, so it’s nice to see him get angry with Scrooge upon finding out what he’s been up to and the episode finds its emotional hook in the end.

And now we have nine reindeer.

Helping things along is Webby, who is always a standout character in this show. After giving Dewey the first Christmas episode to shine, it’s nice seeing one of the other kids step into the spotlight. The rest of the supporting cast is shoved aside in favor of the trio of Scrooge, Santa, and Webby. Della gets a couple of lines while Launchpad is allowed to ponder if he can crash a reindeer, but that’s largely it. Donald is present, but he doesn’t have a line. I suppose that’s fine considering he had a starring role in the prior special, though I always have to point out when Donald gets pushed to the side because, what can I say, I love that duck!

There are some terrific shots in this one.

The episode is animated as well as any other episode of the show with plenty of holiday flourishes to be found. I love the look of Scrooge’s home all decorated for the holiday and the elf home is certainly cozy and evocative of old fashioned Christmases. The giant snowman battle is impressive, and the shot from inside the creature’s mouth adds a feeling of dread to a moment that really shouldn’t have any since it’s a flashback and all. I also like the simple design of Santa. Again, it makes sense for him to be a polar bear in this world, and I think he may have appeared as such in a prior episode as a decoration or something. Either way, I clearly forgot until I saw him here. He’s giant, but looks rather cuddly. He sort of reminds me of my grandmother, especially when he starts trying to lay the guilt on Scrooge early in the episode.

If one DuckTales Christmas episode just isn’t enough, well it’s good that you have this one too. It’s a decent little mystery that mostly gets by on the emotional hook found in the end. And it’s also extremely accessible! Disney is likely to air this one on its family of cable networks, along with “Last Christmas,” and it might even be available on the Disney Now app. And if you have Disney+ it’s right there waiting for you. Considering we’re just a few days away from Christmas, you should probably get to it while there’s still time! After all, you’re likely not in possession of a Feliz Navidiamond.


Dec. 17 – Popeye the Sailor – “Spinach Greetings”

Original air date November 15, 1960.

One of the big, early, cartoon stars was Popeye the Sailor. Popeye starred in newspaper strips, radio plays, and theatrical shorts with contemporaries like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. His star has faded over the years, but few would deny Popeye’s place among the greatest cartoon stars of all-time. Come the 1960s though, Popeye and really the entire cartoon industry was going through a change. The era of the theatrical short was basically over as the television came to be the new home for cartoon stars. Studios started to look for ways to continue to keep profiting off of these characters, and while some simply packaged up their shorts for syndication, others developed new cartoons specifically made for TV.

Popeye the Sailor was one such show. It was produced through King Features Syndicate and utilized multiple studios to bring it to life. Because this was TV, and studios either didn’t realize as much money for these airings as they did for a theatrical short or just were more aware of their direct profits, the animation quality had to be compromised. Anyone who has seen a United Artists release or even Hanna-Barbera is familiar with the animation shortcuts TV would often take. Popeye was at the forefront of that, and as we’ll see in today’s subject, some shots can barely be called animation.

Popeye the Sailor debuted in 1960 and would produce 220 episodes lasting all the way through 1963. Following that, the show would be syndicated for decades and shown in various places alongside theatrical shorts and newer cartoons. The show featured familiar characters like Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Brutus. Wait, Brutus? Yeah, apparently someone thought there was a rights issue with Bluto so they went with the similar, but slightly different character, Brutus. No matter. The show also featured villains from the world of Popeye like the Sea Hag, who previously only existed in print.

“Spinach Greetings” is the show’s Christmas episode. It was produced by Paramount Cartoon Studios and aired in November of 1960. Even though it’s a cartoon produced for TV, it’s pretty short. It’s even shorter than some theatrical shorts. In it, Popeye and the gang are getting ready to welcome Santa Claus, only for the Sea Hag to come along and mess things up. It’s a conventional premise with some unusual choices, but hey, it’s Popeye and it’s Christmas!

This is about the only conventional thing about this one.

The cartoon begins in the home of Popeye (Jack Mercer). Popeye is reciting A Visit From St. Nicholas with Swee’pea on his lap and Wimpy (Mercer) and Olive Oyl (Mae Questel) present. Remember how I said there’s a lot of animation shortcuts taken in this show? Well, the only thing animated is Popeye’s mouth, which because of how he’s drawn, doesn’t even require his jaw to move. His pipe actually bobs up and down too. When he hits the line about a mouse, an actual mouse pops out of a hole in the baseboard and nails a stocking for himself on the mantel. Wimpy’s stocking is missing a toe while Olive Oyl’s is exceptionally long.

Well, they’re clearly evil and I’m sure they’re no fans of Christmas.

Outside, the Sea Hag (Questel) and her pet vulture are watching from the window. No one apparently notices her ugly, green, mug in the window. She tells her strange, purple, vulture that she hates Christmas. She blames Santa for Christmas being so terrible and instructs her vulture (who is apparently just named Vulture) to intercept Santa before he can make his first stop this evening. She then does a witch’s laugh as she looks at the camera because she knows the role she’s expected to play.

That is one bizarre looking reindeer.

Inside, Popeye is tucking Swee’pea into bed as he finishes the poem and then returns to the living room setting. On his way, he slams the door for some reason (or rather, he appears to close it quietly, but the sound effect sounds more like a slam) then announces to Olive and Wimpy, in a loud voice, that they should be expecting Santa any minute now. He’s apparently not too concerned with not waking up his kid. We then cut to…a reindeer’s face? No, it’s far weirder. It’s a jet shaped like a reindeer being piloted by Santa! This is the craziest thing I’ve seen in a Christmas special in some time. There was no warning that this was going to happen. Is there something I don’t know? Was there an earlier Popeye comic or cartoon involving Santa trading in his customary sleigh for a fighter jet?! Why are we bothering with this other setting when there’s a far more interesting story literally staring us right in the face?!?

What sort of abomination is this?!?

Soon the hag’s vulture comes along, his wings not flapping or really moving much at all, and spots Santa. He dives at the jet, and since it’s an open cockpit, he merely grabs Santa and pulls him right out of the airplane. We then cut to the Sea Hag’s lair as she’s tying Santa to a chair. She’s laughing as she does it while Santa doesn’t seem interested in putting up a fight. He just sits there sullenly. The hag, without so much as pausing her laughter, is then shown smashing Santa’s toys with a hammer. The vulture smiles and the camera cuts to Santa’s face as tears run down his cheeks.

Well, blow me down! Someone blew Santa out of the sky!

Back at Popeye’s house, the sound of sleigh bells mixed with the droning of a jet engine can be heard from inside. Olive Oyl declares they need to hide so Santa doesn’t see them, so Popeye jumps into a drawer, Wimpy hides under the kitchen table (and snatches the turkey from the surface), and Olive Oyl hides behind a floor lamp which draws attention to how thin she is. We then hear the unmistakable sound of a plane crash and everyone rushes outside to find the remains of Santa’s plane. Apparently, no one questions why Santa was in a plane and not a sleigh. Popeye finds a black, vulture’s feather amongst the wreckage and no Santa. It’s enough to alert him to the Sea Hag’s involvement though.

Get used to seeing this one on loop.

We’re then shown a castle on top of a mountain and I am lead to believe this is the home of the Sea Hag. Pretty nice for a hag, I expected a creaky cottage in a swamp. Inside the castle, Santa still looks defeated while the Sea Hag has started tossing toys into her lit fireplace. Popeye creeps over to a window to confirm his suspicions, then silently slips in. As he unties Santa, the vulture spots him. The hag commands her minion to stop him and he flies over and wallops the sailor man across the room.

That vulture has a mean right hook…or wing…or whatever.

Declaring that the spirit of Christmas must be saved, Popeye busts out his trusty spinach! Recognizing what is about to happen, the hag tells the vulture to stop him before he eats the spinach, but the vulture is too late. No matter, for he grabs Popeye by the shoulders and flies him out the door high into the air. The hag returns to burning toys (we’ve seen this same shot recycled 3 times now) and then Popeye pops back through the door only now he has a roasted turkey…vulture. It would seem he not only found a way out of that predicament that seemed to have indicated certain death, but he also managed to cook a vulture too.

Popeye is pretty ruthless.

Popeye taunts the hag by asking if she wants her bird with or without stuffing. She doesn’t bother to respond, nor does she seem too broken up over the loss of her companion, but rather pulls a lever that opens up a trap door underneath Popeye. He grabs onto the edge of the floor and looks down to see two alligators staring up at him. The hag comes over and stomps on his hands ensuring that he falls to his death. Only he doesn’t die. Instead, he pops right back up with a new set of luggage! Once again, Popeye did something rather neat, but we don’t get to see it actually happen on camera.

There’s the jolly, old, elf we’re used to!

Santa smiles when he sees Popeye return while the hag lays on the floor and starts crying and throwing a temper tantrum. As she pounds on the floor, it looks like her arms were reversed in the animation or her head wasn’t placed on the proper cel layer for her hands are clearly backwards. At any rate, the image just dissolves to bring us back to Popeye’s house. Apparently they just left the hag to her own devices. The tree has been properly trimmed, there are gifts packed under it, and all of the stockings are full as well. Wimpy, who’s stocking was missing a toe, has a bucket full of gifts underneath it. Even the mouse has a wedge of cheese stuffed into his tiny sock. He runs out onto the mantel to fetch his gift and races back to his hole.

What is going on here?!

Outside, Santa climbs back into his completely repaired airplane. I suppose Christmas magic is to blame. Popeye and his clan look on cheerfully. Santa waves as he takes off and Popeye and friends return the wave and shout “Merry Christmas, Santa!” Santa (I’m assuming he is voiced by Jack Mercer since he and Mae Questel are the only credited voice actors) returns their wishes and adds the customary “…and to all a good night,” bringing this one full circle back to the poem that began it. He adds in some laughter as he flies away. An iris shot ends it on Santa without having him pass in front of a full moon – fail!

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad the mouse got his cheese.

“Spinach Greetings” was certainly an interesting Christmas cartoon. The story was rather basic as Popeye, a heroic character in most cartoons he’s featured in, is tasked with saving Santa from his nemesis who is simply motivated by a dislike of Christmas. What was bizarre was the lore the short crafted for Santa. I do want to know if this refers to another Popeye Christmas, but at the same time, I don’t really want to look it up. I feel this one will be more memorable if I remember it for just being bizarre.

It’s been a Christmas they’ll never forget.

The animation is terrible though. Shots are looped numerous times and characters move as little as possible. The backgrounds are sparse, and there was that weird shot of the hag having backwards arms. It does make her seem more creepy, though there’s nothing fearful about her. Popeye’s toppling of her obstacles is really just brushed aside. It’s almost amusing in that sense, but I think it’s just done to keep costs down. Santa is surprisingly passive, not even saying a word until the closing seconds, so he’s definitely not interested in defending Christmas.

I hate this thing. GET A DAMN SLEIGH!

This is just an all together weird, little, Christmas special. And emphasis on little as it’s not even six minutes long. It is quite accessible though as multiple YouTube channels have uploaded it, including the official Popeye channel, and it’s also available on DVD with the rest of the Popeye the Sailor show. Should you watch it? Well, I guess if you like Popeye you will and you’ve probably already watched this. If not, well, it’s so odd that I think it’s worth a look since it’s only going to cost you 6 minutes of your life.


Dec. 10 – It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!

Original air date November 23, 2012.

For December 10, we are returning to the theme of this year which is to revisit the best of the best. When I originally ranked my favorite Christmas specials, I had the recently released It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! ranked at #19. The years have been kind to this throwback Christmas special as last year I bumped SpongeBob and the residents of Bikini Bottom all the way up to #11! And from where I sit, it’s not in any danger of dropping back to 19, if anything, it’s a threat to move up into the Top 10 because this is a pretty fantastic way to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas returns to Bikini Bottom, but in a cool, new, old, way!

SpongeBob Squarepants is a show, and character, that I missed. I wasn’t watching Nickelodeon when he premiered and I’ve never made it a point in my life to see what all the fuss is about. I’ve seen episodes here and there, enough to know how the show works, but the only appointment viewing this show has ever produced for me is this Christmas special. When I saw the promos for this special I immediately was interested because the show had made the decision to produce a stop-motion Christmas special in the same vein as the old Rankin/Bass specials. If you’re going to enter the crowded world of Christmas specials and you’re looking to stand out, nostalgia is a recipe for success! Now, not everyone can just up and decide they want to do something like this and it helps that SpongeBob appeared to have the backing of Nickelodeon and the Viacom company since this sucker was ticketed for a CBS premiere. Sadly, CBS hasn’t turned this one into an annual tradition, but at least for one night there was an air of importance attached.

SpongeBob has the right DNA for a Christmas protagonist.

The animation for this episode was produced by Screen Novelties and directed by two of the studio’s founders: Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh. Screen Novelties is a modern producer of stop-motion and has worked with yesterday’s feature, Robot Chicken, as well as famed visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, so SpongeBob found himself in good company for this one. Screen Novelties also participated in the restoration of some of the puppets from the original special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, so they have significant Christmas cred. A collective of writers worked on this story, and it was partially inspired by the song featured in the episode, “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas),” which was recorded by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley in 2009. It’s a semi-conventional plot, where a bad guy and naughty list regular tries to trick Santa into giving him a present for Christmas. The unconventional part is the method utilized to get on Santa’s famed nice list.

Patchy and Potty are back for another Christmas episode!

The special begins with old friend Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny) and his parrot sidekick, Potty (Paul Tibbitt). We met both in the original Christmas special from SpongeBob Squarepants, and when we catch up with them here we find Patchy driving a mail truck. It’s design, and Patchy’s, is reminiscent of Special Delivery from Santa Claus is Coming to Town, though it has conventional tires. Patchy informs us he’s giving the mailman some time off, by tying him up in the back of the truck. He wants to get to Santa so he can ask him to introduce him to his hero, SpongeBob, and Potty seems to be just along for the ride. Unfortunately, they’re about to hit a literal fork in the road which causes the vehicle to spin out of control. While the truck is spinning, Patchy suggests we peek in on old SpongeBob and see what he’s up to this Christmas.

SpongeBob has a rather festive pineapple.

We then head under the sea, after a modestly festive rendition of the credits, and the stop-motion set looks gorgeous. SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) emerges from his bed singing a festive tune, “Santa Has His Eye on Me,” as he decorates his home. He spins his entire pineapple house to wrap lights around it, and there is an animation cheat when it’s done as the lights that wrapped around his door have vanished. He sprouts a Santa hat and hops his way over to Squidward’s (Rodger Bumpass) house to find his crotchety neighbor decorating as well. This seems like a change of heart since we last saw Squidward at Christmas, but he lets us know his decorations serve a purpose: to tell Santa to go away! SpongeBob then checks in on his buddy Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) who appears to be setting up a traditional box trap. It’s baited with a Christmas cookie, and Patrick explains to the tune of “The Nutcracker Suite” that he intends to catch Santa so he can have Christmas every day! He then sees his cookie and promptly traps himself. Also, an image of Santa dominates the “sky” momentarily while SpongeBob sings about Santa having his eye on him and it’s super creepy. Santa is some sort of sea elf. He looks like an old doll that was left to soak in the ocean and then dried out.

Squidward’s home is considerably less festive.

SpongeBob then pays a visit to his pal Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) in her dome. She’s deconstructing the Christmas spirit or something via alchemy and seems to be having a good time. At the Krusty Krab, Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) is decorating the restaurant in anticipation of the “Season of getting.” When SpongeBob tries to correct him, he further corrects SpongeBob because he’s a greedy prick.

Plankton has a plan to get on Santa’s nice list.

At the Chum Bucket, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) continues our song as he sings about Santa watching him too. He punctuates the song by announcing that every year he gets a stocking full of coal! His computer A.I., Karen (Jill Talley), chimes in that he’d probably get presents if he wasn’t the biggest jerk in Bikini Bottom, and that’s when we find out Plankton has a plan. Since it would be too hard for him to just be nice, he’s going to make everyone in Bikini Bottom a bigger jerk than even he so that he looks nice by comparison. And just how is he going to do that? By lacing the most innocent of holiday treats, the fruit cake, with the substance Jerktonium. Apparently, just one speck of the stuff will turn an ordinary person into a colossal jerk!

Fruit Cake jokes are a pet peeve of mine when it comes to Christmas specials. Here, it works because the special has you bracing for such a joke, but it never comes. Instead, everyone loves the stuff, especially SpongeBob.

Plankton prepares his fruit cake and then loads up a special dispenser he created that’s part oven and part go-kart. He takes it for a spin outside and immediately encounters SpongeBob. Upon seeing the little fruit cake cart, SpongeBob gets excited and asks if he can try some of his fruit cake. Plankton is happy to oblige and SpongeBob devours a slice. When Plankton inquires to see how SpongeBob is feeling, he finds he’s his usual cheerful, annoying, self and won’t stop raving about the fruit cake. Plankton gives him some more, but the result remains the same. Plankton then goes into a mini rage and starts firing fruit cake at SpongeBob who continues to devour it. Defeated, Plankton decides to retreat into the Chum Bucket, but before he does he hands SpongeBob the keys to his fruit cake cart since he’s so eager to share it with the rest of the town.

This idyllic Christmas setting is about to be poisoned by fruit cake.

SpongeBob pilots the cart over to a trio of carolers (Kenny, Fagerbakke, Lawrence) and offers them some fruit cake. They’re all happy to be offered the most foul of holiday “treats” and eat a slice each as SpongeBob looks on. After they’re done eating, a change comes over the carolers and each ends up with angry eyes and a five-o-clock shadow. They bicker about what song to sing and argue over which “bells” song is superior: “Jingle Bells” or “Silver Bells.” The third chimes in about wanting to sing “Randolph the Red-Nosed Seahorse” and they start to fight. SpongeBob drives away content that they enjoyed the fruit cake, seemingly oblivious to the violence that has commenced, while Plankton emerges from the Chum Bucket pleased to see the Jerktonium working on these “jerks.”

SpongeBob is so hopped-up on Christmas spirit that he’s oblivious to the chaos all around him.

SpongeBob then happens upon a festive, Christmas, parade. He decides that this would be a wonderful place to spread Christmas joy via Plankton’s fruit cake and hops right into the fray. SpongeBob goes into a new song about spreading holiday cheer as he fires off volley after volley of fruit cake towards the onlookers. They all eat their fruit cake and immediately turn into jerks. We see some minor stuff like a kid popping a balloon and another smashing a present. We also get to see Mr. Krab’s whale daughter, Pearl, get angry and start blasting others with her blowhole (that’s a weird sentence to type). Soon the town is in flames as fish grapple in the street while a kid (Carolyn Lawrence) seated on a fake Santa (Brown) details the stuff he wants for Christmas. SpongeBob gives him some fruit cake and the Santa turns into a jerk and tells the kid to get a job. SpongeBob then gives the driver of the float some fruit cake causing him to abandon his responsibilities sending the float to drive off a cliff. The kid seems happy about it though as he starts bouncing on the semi-conscious Santa like a trampoline.

Plankton has a pretty solid Plan B.

Plankton then returns to the Chum Bucket pleased with how things are going. He just has one problem: SpongeBob. Karen refers to the sponge as a fatal flaw pointing out that he’s immune to the effects of Jerktonium. Plankton assures her he has an answer to that problem and unveils his latest creation: Robot SpongeBob! The robot looks just like SpongeBob, only he’s all steel and probably twice as big. A reasonable person wouldn’t confuse the two, but that’s the joke! Plankton winds him up and commands his creation to go ruin SpongeBob’s good name as it blasts a stream of fire from its nose. He then heads for the Krusty Krab, smashing a boat along the way. Mr. Krabs meets the mechanical sponge at the door and immediately mistakes him for SpongeBob, but seems to assume he’s not the one responsible for the commotion since he’s SpongeBob and all. The robot then knocks over the Krusty Krab sign which lands on the restauranteur while Plankton looks on with glee.

It’s so cold Patchy’s signature eyewear is cracking.

We then hop back to check-in on Patchy and Potty. Their mail truck is still spinning but it eventually crashes into a snowbank allowing the mailman to escape. The hogtied mail carrier hops away while Patchy inspects the damaged tire which still has the fork stuck in it. He tells the viewers to go make some coco while Potty builds him a fire. When we return, the duo are freezing around a fire in the middle of the night. Patchy laments he hasn’t eaten anything for 20 minutes and could really go for a plate of Buffalo wings. He then hallucinates Potty as a plate of just that and tries to eat the bird, but gets a mouth full of log instead. When he comes to his senses, he apologizes to Potty who then in turn hallucinates Patchy as some sort of pizza slice covered in bird seed. He hops onto Patchy’s head and starts pecking at him as we dissolve back into the undersea world.

Squidward, a regular jerk, is about to have a splitting headache.

SpongeBob is driving around in Plankton’s fruit cake buggy and is surprised to find everyone acting like jerks. Mr. Krabs sees him and lets him know he’ll be garnishing his wages to pay for repairs to the restaurant. SpongeBob then comes across Patrick who is setting up a more elaborate trap for Santa. He’s also stuffing his face with fruit cake and acts like a jerk towards SpongeBob. Dismayed, SpongeBob heads home in confusion. He wakes up the next morning, Christmas Eve morning, hopeful things will be better, but when he heads out the door he sees two fish fighting in the street. He decides to check-in with Squidward who won’t even answer the door. He tells him to go bother Sandy and SpongeBob remarks he’ll have to thank Squidward for the advice when Squidward gets home – stupid sponge. As he bounds away, robo-SpongeBob shows up and knocks on the door. When Squidward won’t answer, the robot simply rips the door off of its hinges. Squidward shows up now, and I feel like I should point out he isn’t under the effects of Jerktonium – he’s just a regular jerk, and demands SpongeBob put his door down. The robot does as it’s told by smashing it over Squidward’s head and leaves.

SpongeBob makes an important discovery!

SpongeBob then goes to bother Sandy, as Squidward instructed, about how everyone is acting like jerks. He then finds the squirrel also under the effects of Jerktonium, but she’s at least lucid. Still, she’s a jerk towards SpongeBob and he frets he needs to go find someone who isn’t a raging jerk. As he goes to leave, he slips on an acorn and a piece of fruit cake he was holding goes flying into Sandy’s Christmas analyzer thing-a-ma-jig. She gets pissed at him for getting fruit cake in the machine, but then pauses her anger when the machine reveals the cake is laced with Jerktonium. She then asks where SpongeBob got the cake, and he says from Plankton. When she questions in an incredulous manner that he fed everyone fruit cake made by Plankton he just blankly says “uh huh,” prompting her to call him an idiot. SpongeBob then panics for a moment because he’s eaten a ton of the fruit cake, but Sandy points out the combination of SpongeBob’s pure heart and tiny brain have rendered him immune. She then turns to her machine for an antidote and it spits out sheet music. Sandy gets angry, but SpongeBob (rather surprisingly) recognizes the tune for what it is and can even read it. As he hums it aloud, the Jerktonium affecting Sandy wares off leaving SpongeBob overjoyed. He then sets out to spread the antidote around town.

Just sit back and enjoy the song.

SpongeBob arrives with an “Ahoy everybody!” and goes into the flagship song of the special: “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas).” It’s a plenty delightful little song that will definitely stow away in your brain and pop up at the drop of a hat. It’s a real banger in my household. As SpongeBob sings, he does good deeds around town and and we see everyone shaking off the Jerktonium. By the end of it, the whole town is singing and dancing along!

That is one unpleasant looking Santa.

Sandy congratulates SpongeBob for saving the town from Plankton, and just in time, because Santa is here! Despite being under the sea, he arrives via conventional means though only sporting six reindeer. As SpongeBob races over to welcome him to Bikini Bottom he finds a rather sullen Santa. He has the unfortunate responsibility of informing everyone they’re getting coal this year because they’ve all been a bunch of jerks. And much to his surprise, only Plankton is on the nice list! Plankton shows up to get his gift: the secret formula for the Krabby Patty. Delighted, he takes his prize while Mr. Krabs asks Santa how he got that. When he informs the crab that he has his ways, we see an ugly little elf pick his pocket.

I don’t think this is going to be an even match-up.

SpongeBob then pleads their case with Santa, but he’s not interested in hearing an explanation from the naughtiest person in town. He then points out that SpongeBob is being naughty right now and gestures to the robot which is wreaking havoc still. It smashes through a crowd of people then begins to target Santa. SpongeBob jumps in front of his hero willing to defend him with his life, which he may need to expend. The robot SpongeBob doubles in size, apparently going into assault mode or something, and karate chops SpongeBob right between the eyes. The dazed and disfigured SpongeBob still stands ready and the robot picks him up and flings him off into the distance.

Who will save Santa?!

Santa then beats a hasty retreat, but rather than fly away, he tries hiding in the Krusty Krab. The robot simply lifts the restaurant up and pulls Santa out. When all hope appears lost, SpongeBob returns! Now driving the fruit cake cart once again, he whirls and fires away at the robot with sticky fruit cake. It appears to gum up the exhaust ports and the robot soon explodes!

It’s SpongeBob! With a cool, motion-blurring, background!

Santa shakes SpongeBob’s hand and thanks him for saving his hide. He’s now convinced that SpongeBob is indeed a very good boy, but frets over how his list could be so wrong. The elves then bring something to his attention: the wind-up crank leftover from the exploding SpongeBob robot. Santa inspects it and finds a message stamped onto it, “If found please return to the Chum Bucket.” He then shouts out for Plankton in an angry tone, who sheepishly tries to duck away still clutching onto the bottle that contains the secret formula. Mr. Krabs gets to him and orders him to hand it over. When he initially refuses, Mr. Krabs pinches his head with his claws and takes it away then flings him up against the Chum Bucket like a freshly picked booger.

SpongeBob just got onto the nice list for life.

Back in his sleigh, Santa is ready to take off. He wishes everyone in Bikini Bottom a merry Christmas as the reindeer take flight, or swim, or whatever. As Santa flies off, we see Patrick has stowed away on the back of the sleigh armed with a net. As they fly in front of the full moon, Patrick strikes! If he is successful at catching Santa, we don’t know, but he sure gave it a good try.

Stupid Plankton.

We then check-in with Patchy and Potty once again. Patchy appears to have stumbled onto Santa’s workshop which is in a snowy cave. He races inside to find the fat man seated on a throne. Patchy immediately whips out a list and tells Santa that what he wants for Christmas is to meet his hero: SpongeBob Squarepants! When he finishes his request, he finds Santa is pouring salt over his head. The screen then dissolves and we find out that Patchy is hallucinating again and the creature gently salting him isn’t Santa, but a very hungry polar bear! He runs out of the cave with the polar bear chasing after him The real Santa and Potty are standing outside the real workshop while Santa checks his list. Noting that stealing a mail truck definitely counts as naughty, he adds Patchy to his list as he and Potty share a laugh. They then turn to the camera and wave wishing us all a merry Christmas!

Even under the sea, we still get a moon shot!

And so ends the very special It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Many Christmas episodes feel just like that, an episode that just happens to feature Christmas. Few are worthy of the term Christmas Special, and this one certainly qualifies. The music and festive scenery go a long way in conveying that special Christmas magic, but it’s the animation that really takes this one to another level. Stop-motion lends itself very well to Bikini Bottom. When your main character is an actual sponge, that certainly helps because it’s wonderful to see this character have actual texture. It works for the other characters as well and the ones who shouldn’t be squishy or furry are done in a different style. Mr. Krabs is a good example there as he has a smooth texture befitting an actual crab and the robot SpongeBob looks like an actual wind-up toy. The only character I wasn’t enamored with is Santa himself, who just features a weird design. He looks like he’s falling apart or something and is kind of gross, but he’s not in it that much in the end.

Patchy probably getting what he deserved.

The interesting thing about this special is if you strip away what makes it so special it would still work. If this were traditionally animated and without songs it would be a fun Christmas episode. It works as just a soundtrack, and I would totally buy a set of figurines made to look like the puppets in this special and make a Christmas display out of them. It’s a rare example of a show going all-out for Christmas and totally nailing it. It’s one I recommend to fans of SpongeBob and to people who have never watched a second of the show. It’s easily one of the best Christmas specials of the past decade and deserves to stand alongside the classics as well.

Is Patchy responsible for all of those infractions on Santa’s list? No wonder why they’re apparently letting the polar bear have his way.

If you want to catch It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! this year, and I obviously recommend that you do, then tune into Nickelodeon and its various offshoot channels all month long as it’s guaranteed to air multiple times. The entire show is also streaming on Paramount’s streaming platform and this episode can be found in Season 8. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if a special holiday channel is also featured on the network that makes finding this one even easier. If neither option works for you, then you can also buy the special on physical media or rent it via other streaming platforms. However you choose to view it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Dec. 8 – American Dad! – “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls”

Original air date December 12, 2010.

It was just last year that we finally broke the seal on American Dad!. It surprised me how long I was able to avoid American Dad! year in and year out since it has a wealth of Christmas episodes at its disposal. Last year, the featured Christmas episode was the very first one the show did, “The Best Christmas Story Never Told.” This year, I’m skipping ahead to Season 7 (or 6, it’s confusing) and the fourth Christmas episode the show has done, “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls.” This episode had the distinction of being the only numbered entry in my Top 25 Christmas Specials from last year that had not been covered in some capacity on this blog. This year, I am rectifying that even if it means skipping over a couple of others, but that’s not a big deal because like most sitcoms there is no continuity from one episode to the next.

Except for this one! Actually, this episode is the beginning of a continuity in American Dad! that really only matters at Christmas. And that continuity concerns the Smith’s relationship with the big man in charge of the holiday. No, not Jesus, but Santa. This episode will show why Santa has a hatred for the Smith family and it’s a subject that will be revisited in subsequent Christmas episodes covering the old man’s death and even his resurrection. I think the last Christmas episode the show featured Santa in, “Santa Schmanta,” had him back to his old self at the end. The show doesn’t always do a Christmas special every year since it’s a TBS property that doesn’t always have anything airing around the holiday. Last year, the show was able to return to Christmas with “Yule. Tide. Repeat.,” and that was because they simply delayed airing the season finale three months so it would air in December.

I can’t believe this episode is more than 10 years old.

This Christmas episode happens to be my favorite from the show because it’s just over-the-top and ridiculous in a way that only American Dad! can get away with. Writer Erik Durbin wanted to make it bloody and referenced the movie 300, and he’s pretty much going to realize that dream. We’ve seen plenty of violent Christmas specials from places like Robot Chicken, but the violence is often used for just sheer shock value. Sure, there is definitely an element of that present in this episode as well, but it’s setup and earned over the duration of the show and most of the violence is reserved for the end. Plus, this show dares to imagine Santa as kind of a bad guy. He’s mostly just vengeful here (and with good reason), but the bad guy persona will be explored in greater detail and reinforced in the Christmas specials to come.

It cannot be overstated how much Stan hates Jeff.

The episode opens with the usual intro, only the title of the show is displayed in a candy cane font at the close and dissolved into a snowy sky. Stan (Seth MacFarlane) is in his living room and Jeff (Jeff Fischer) comes running downstairs to express his joy at the imminent arrival of Christmas. He expresses hope that Santa will bring him a polar bear helmet from the movie The Golden Compass and races outside to mail his letter to Santa. Stan is intensely annoyed with Jeff’s presence and thinks he’s an idiot for still believing in Santa Claus. Haley (Rachael MacFarlane) stands up for her husband and says his childlike innocence is one of the things that charms her, but she’s not winning Stan over who insists he will never accept Jeff as part of their family.

Nice clog, Francine.

When they leave they’re replaced by Francine (Wendy Schaal) who comes in carrying clogs. She is in search of a new family tradition and she thought the custom of filling clogs with presents was a good idea since Barbara Walters recommended it and she slept with a married, black, senator (“She doesn’t drive in the slow lane”). Stan doesn’t care as he’s excited about giving Steve his Christmas present this year: a gun. Francine is strongly against the idea of Steve having a gun, despite Stan’s protests that they’ve been unable to bond over anything else, and makes Stan promise not to give Steve a gun for Christmas.

Merry Wednesday!

We hard cut to Stan shouting “Merry Wednesday!” and presenting Steve (Scott Grimes) with a machinegun. Steve is a bit unsure if he’s ready for such an item, but his father’s insistence seems to be working. Jeff then pops into Steve’s room to enthusiastically declare that he’ll go shooting with Stan and Steve, much to Stan’s annoyance. He tells Jeff he can’t come since this is a father-son bonding thing and punctuates it by telling Jeff he’s not a part of their family. He closes his eyes and tells Jeff he wants him gone when he opens them. The camera shifts to Stan’s point-of-view as he opens his eyes and we see Jeff still standing there smiling like a dope.

Roger must go to great lengths to get drunk this Christmas.

The family alien Roger (MacFarlane) is out shopping for booze. He expresses to the clerk at a liquor store (Clancy Brown) that he needs something strong for his eggnog. When the clerk tells him most people use bourbon, Roger snaps at him with desperation in his voice that he can’t get drunk and needs something stronger. The clerk says he merely was checking to make sure and then leads Roger to the side of the counter and the two huddle down. He begins to tell Roger a tale about a legendary four-armed, nine foot tall, blind man who lives at the top of a nearby mountain, but has to stop his story when another patron interrupts them inquiring about seasonal beers. Roger tells him he’s ruining the story, and the guy goes away allowing the clerk to finish the story and present Roger with a special map leading to this man’s location. The customer then interrupts again to ask if the store sells watch batteries causing Roger to leap in the air, in slow motion, and slap the guy telling him to “Get out.”

Time to be a man, Steve.

Stan and Steve head off to try out Steve’s new gun. Stan gives him a lesson in handling a firearm describing it like making love to a woman, “First you inspect it to make sure she’s clean. Then, you grab her by the butt and jam the magazine in. If it doesn’t fit, make it!” Steve sets up to fire his new “toy” at some tin cans. When he fires the gun, he has little control over it and hits a nearby road sign causing a bullet to ricochet and strike Steve’s glasses, just like in A Christmas Story. He pleads with his dad that this isn’t safe, and Stan surprisingly agrees with him as he picks up the shot glasses.

Whoops…

We hard cut to a store parking lot, and Stan has just bought Steve safety goggles. Now they’re safe! He instructs Steve to take aim at a nearby snowman and Steve riddles the snow being with bullets. The snowman then starts to gush blood before falling apart to reveal a Santa had been standing behind it smoking a cigar and drinking a coffee. He’s filled with bullet holes and falls over face first into the bloody snow at his feet. Stan and Steve rush over with Steve freaking out about shooting a mall Santa. He then asks his dad, “Is he…?” and Stan interrupts him by finishing the question, “Is he dead?” by deadpanning that, yes, this guy is very dead. Stan casually loads the corpse into his car, while Steve continues to freak out. He assures him everything will be fine, they’ll just take him home and use Stan’s CIA resources to check his prints.

That won’t be necessary, Roger.

Roger reaches the top of the mountain the clerk instructed him to climb and finds an old, downed, airplane and a stereotypical redneck sitting on a porch outside the plane. Roger introduces himself and explains he’s looking for a nine foot tall, blind, moonshiner with four arms. When the man says he is the one he’s seeking, Roger is confused as he’s definitely not any of those things he expected him to be. The man has Roger take a sip of his shine and then Roger hallucinates the man into the creature he expected. He then introduces himself as Bob Todd (Erik Durbin) and goes into a long explanation of what people refer to him as. Roger politely endures this explanation from Robert Toddford Williams, then humbly requests to purchase some of his shine. When Bob Todd tells him he has no use for his money, Roger gets down on all fours preparing to pay for his booze in another fashion. When Bob Todd explains that he’ll teach Roger how to make it, he cheerfully hops back to his feet remarking “You had me in the palm of your hand there. In another second, it would have been the other way around!”

She’s right to be mad, Stan really should have put down some trash bags first or something.

At the Smith residence, Stan and Steve are preparing to head inside to check the fingerprints of the corpse when Francine arrives home. Stan instructs his son to act casual and compliments his wife on her appearance and Steve awkwardly follows suit. She’s flattered though, and the two head inside to check the CIA database. Stan can’t find anything on the guy, which puzzles him, and then gives an “Uh oh” as they look outside to see Francine has found the bloody mess of a Santa in the back of the family SUV.

Francine acts like someone who has done this before.

The family convenes in the living room and Francine expresses her displeasure with Stan. Steve starts crying about a boy shooting a man and his hysterics get Haley’s attention. She’s shocked to find out what happened and asks if anyone has called the police. It’s then Francine who says this isn’t going to ruin their Christmas and they’re all heading out to the woods to bury the corpse. We then cut to the family doing just that, and Francine is angry with the family for not letting her smash the guy’s teeth and cut off his hands. When they look at her with shock, she asks “Well you want to get away with murder or not?!”

Donkey Todd.

On top of the Chimdale mountains, Roger is ready to make some shine. He’s dressed like a hick in overalls and a crooked, bowl cut, wig and even has some janky teeth to go along with it. Bob Todd gives him a hit of the shine, and he morphs back into the mythical nine foot tall creature. The sequence of preparing moonshine is done-up like a game of Donkey Kong. Bob Todd chucks barrels and amusingly provides all of the sound effects, while Roger has to leap over them and get to the woman at the top of the still. He does, and gives her a big kiss only for the effects of the hallucination to ware off and reveal he’s smooching a raccoon. Bob Todd proclaims his training complete, for he has smooched the raccoon, and hands over some jugs and tells Roger to get to it.

Maybe that wasn’t your garden variety mall Santa.

Back at the Smith home, Stan is wrapping gifts in his study when he finds an elegant looking scroll with a message written on it, “I noel what you did in the woods.” We then see Francine preparing a turkey and she finds a scroll too, this one reads “Your goose is cooked.” Steve finds one by the fireplace that says “Your nuts will roast on an open fire,” while Haley has one stuffed in her bong that says, “THC you in Hell.” The family race to convene in the living room to show off what they found. As they wonder if they have a snitch in their midst, the television interrupts the family to provide some important plot details. A calendar salesman, who makes calendars featuring cats for lesbians, is asked what month it feels like and he says October as the Christmas cheer appears to have been sapped from the population. The reporter, Terry (Mike Barker), even punctuates it by suggesting it feels like someone killed Santa Claus.

They’re cute when they’re armed.

The family, now in a bit of a panic, decide they need to dig up the corpse and confirm if it’s Santa or not. They exhume it, only to find it’s empty except for the bloody remains of Santa’s suit. A note, not unlike the ones the Smiths already received, is left behind letting them know that Santa is pissed. As they stare in shock, an arrow whizzes past Stan’s head to lodge in a nearby tree. As they look up, they see an elf riding a reindeer armed with a bow and arrow. He laughs (Dee Bradley Baker) in a comical voice and tells them Santa can’t be killed. He’s home in the north pole recuperating, but he’ll have his revenge before dawn of Christmas morning. He then beckons to his reindeer, Mimsy, and the two fly off leaving the Smiths to comprehend what they just saw. We then see a quick scene from The North Pole of Mrs. Claus casually knitting while Santa is shown recuperating in a rejuvenation chamber of sorts.

Hick Roger is here to save the day!

Stan tries to dismiss the elf as the antics of a “midge,” but then the family uses the correct term of “little people” which is nice since they used the hurtful term in the prior special. The arrow dissolves into light though confirming once and for all that Steve did indeed fire upon the real Santa. As they wonder what to do, Roger appears still in his hick attire. He carries on the persona for a bit, then drops it as everyone seems confused. He tells them they can hide out in the mountains with him, then cracks a Deliverance joke at Ned Beatty’s (R.I.P.) expense.

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas Eve here?!

Atop the mountain, the family is introduced to Bob Todd who is happy to have guests for Christmas. As the sun goes down, the family heads inside to sing carols. The group looks setup to play carols jug-band style, and even seem excited about it, but the sound of sleigh bells startles them before they can begin. They open the door to see it’s just Jeff, driving up in his van. Stan is pissed at the sight of his hated son-in-law and Haley says she told him where they would be so they could spend Christmas together. Jeff enters the house and Stan angrily tells him to shut off the sleigh bell sounds coming from his van. When Jeff says his van isn’t making that noise, the family looks to the sky and sees Santa and his army descending upon them! As they fly towards the mountain summit, a metal version of “Carol of the Bells” by August Burns Red serves as the herald for Santa’s army.

He’s here!

Stan is now even more pissed at Jeff because it was he who wrote a letter to Santa telling him where they’d be so he knew where to deliver his present. Stan tells him to leave in hurtful terms insisting that Jeff is not, and will never be, a part of this family. The family doesn’t have time to get angry with Stan though as Bob Todd opens up a weapon’s locker and arms everyone. Steve is handed a gun and is unsure if he can ever touch one again, but it’s Francine who slaps him around and orders him to go outside and commit murder. He does as he’s told and takes the weapon, jamming the magazine into it as his father showed him earlier while referring to it as Linda. Stan, Steve, and Bob Todd then go out to defend the homestead while Haley and Francine are left to fire from the windows.

The Smith men finally found a way to bond.

Outside, the battle commences and Bob Todd apparently hates Santa. He calls him a butt licker, which is a strange insult coming from him because Bob Todd looks like the kind of guy plenty willing to go ass-to-mouth (probably with a raccoon), and starts blasting elves from the sky. Stan and Steve fire from behind a bunker and Steve questions his dad if it’s weird that he has a boner? Stan replies “It would be weird if you didn’t,” as the two, pretty cheerfully, lay waste to the reindeer and elves in a perverted bonding experience.

The perfect setting for some mother-daughter time.

Inside the hull of the downed plane that Bob Todd calls a home, Francine and Haley have a similar heart-to-heart about Jeff in between machinegun fire. Francine assures her daughter that her father will come around, eventually, it will just take some time. She references how long it took for him to adapt to Roger and adds “And the other one.” We hard cut to Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), the fish, in his fish bowl at home to basically acknowledge his lack of a part in this episode.

He told you that he’d be back again some day!

Outside, Bob Todd is chucking molotov cocktails and Santa’s minions unleash a behemoth snowman. Bob Todd blows it up with a full barrel of flaming moonshine, only for presents to burst from the corpse each one containing a miniature snowman ready to attack. Inside, the girls are out of ammo and Roger suggests they use these oversized candy canes he has as weapons, they just need to sharpen them with their mouth first. All three suck the end of the candy cane, and Haley is the first to produce a pointy tip. Roger compliments her on her ability to do so while Francine struggles, but insists she can do it!

Nice to see Rudy make an appearance.

Jeff shows up behind Stan and Steve and asks if he can help. Stan tells him he can shield him from the arrows and die. Santa (Matt Mckenna) emerges from his sleigh and lights a cigar on Rudolph’s nose as he surveys the battlefield. He then calls out to Jeff telling him that he’s been a good boy and that he doesn’t need to die with the Smiths. Everything stops as everyone turns their attention to Jeff. Santa tells him he has the present he requested, the polar bear helmet from The Golden Compass, and urges Jeff to come stand by his side. Jeff quietly leaves Stan and Steve and walks towards Santa as Haley calls out to him urging him not to side with Santa. Stan tells her to let him go, using this act as a way to illustrate how Jeff was never a part of their family.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Jeff receives his gift and happily puts it on his head as an elf smashes Stan in the back of the head with a club knocking him unconscious. Santa then grabs an ornate looking rifle and sets his sights on the unconscious Stan. Jeff, wearing the spiked helmet he just received as a gift, apologizes to Santa for what he’s about to do and then rams his head into Santa’s kidney area. The fat man howls in pain and doubles over as Jeff races over to Stan and drags him into the house. Santa calls to his elves who immediately bandage his wounds with wrapping paper.

Now he’s bonding with his son-in-law, Stan is on a roll!

Inside the plane, Jeff takes Stan into the cockpit to tend to his wound. When Stan comes to with his head bandaged, he expresses his surprise at Jeff’s actions. He’s shocked that Jeff would do something like that for him, but Jeff corrects him that he didn’t do it for him, but Haley. He then tells Stan that he actually thinks he’s an ass, and Stan is impressed with him for the first time ever. He then tells Jeff that they should go out there and die as a family. They open the door to the cockpit and survey the carnage as their family tries to fight off a horde of tiny elves with a wholesome score behind them to celebrate this moment as a magical Christmas one. The two then join the fray as it appears the family will soon be overcome by Santa’s minions.

Now there’s a festive image!

Outside, Santa is puffing on his cigar when he notices the sun rising. He curses, then calls off the troops. They all retreat and fade away into Christmas dust as they apparently only had until dawn of Christmas Day to do the deed (I wonder who filled in for Santa all night with his regular job?). The family emerges, battered and bloody, from the home. Jeff remarks that this means he probably won’t be getting any more Christmas presents, and we hear the voice of Santa chime in, “You’re damn right you jerk!” Francine catches a note from Santa which contains a threat for next year. She’s actually delighted since it looks like her family has found a new Christmas tradition! We then hear from Bob Todd who survived the massacre. He drags over the corpse of a reindeer explaining how it tried to turn into dust, but he was having none of that. When Stan remarks he’ll get some nice venison out of that deer, Bob Todd tells the family he’s going to prepare a Christmas feast for them, but first he’s going to make sweet love to this reindeer corpse. He and the family wish us a “Merry Christmas!” as the camera zooms out to show the bloody aftermath.

The aftermath.

“For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” lives up to its promise of being a bloody, violent, Christmas special to the point that I’m surprised they didn’t opt for a pun with the title and use “slay” instead of “sleigh.” It’s almost an anti-special, since the family kills Santa and all, but it’s conclusion is pretty standard holiday fare as the Smiths learn the meaning of family. Family isn’t just blood, it can also be who you choose, and Stan finally accepts the fact that Jeff is married to his daughter and is indeed part of his family. And it does put an end to some of the venom from Stan that he reserved for Jeff previously, though he’s still allowed to think of him as an idiot. I like the natural setup of the episode with Stan attempting a last ditch effort to bond with his son over guns, and that leading to the tragedy of Steve accidentally murdering Santa (though I described it as an accident, I can’t overlook that he did willingly fire a machinegun in a crowded parking lot and chances are he was going to kill or wound someone in the process). There’s some great misdirection, from the reveal of Santa being shot, to Francine’s insistence on covering up the crime, and Jeff’s turn that are all quite funny. Another joke is rarely far away with this show as it’s often line after line of funny.

A new family tradition is born.

The violence is the star though as the last several minutes of the episode are devoted to a bloody battle of man and elf. There are numerous shots of reindeer getting shot out of the sky intercut with the expected Saving Private Ryan moments of limbless elves wandering among the fallen in a daze. Their search for their limb ended by another relentless volley of machinegun fire. The violence is juxtaposed with casual conversation from the family as they sort out their business adding to the humor, while Bob Todd is mostly allowed to just be a homicidal maniac. The portrayal of Santa as a vengeful blowhard is entertaining, but as I mentioned in the lead-in, we won’t really see a full-on villainous turn for years to come. Here he’s justified in hating Stan, and the whole family played a role in covering up their crime. You just wouldn’t expect the classic interpretation of Santa to be so bloodthirsty.

Merry Christmas from the Smiths!

The violence contained in this one obviously means it’s not a Christmas special for everyone. It’s not something I’d show my young kids at this juncture, but it is one that I get a laugh out of! Even though I’ve seen this one probably more times than any other American Dad! Christmas episode, it’s still the one I look forward to returning to each year the most. These days there are a lot of anti-Christmas specials, but this one might be the best.

If you’re looking forward to spending Christmas with the Smiths this year then you should have a few options at your disposal. The show is shown daily on Cartoon Network during its Adult Swim block and it will certainly air this, and a bunch of other Christmas episodes, this month. The show is also available to stream on Hulu and available to rent or own in various places. My advice is if you have a cable subscription just load-up the DVR with American Dad! Christmas episodes and have yourself a nice, festive, binge. It’s what I’ll be doing all month!


Dec. 25 – Sonic Christmas Blast

Original air date November 24, 1996

It’s Christmas morning, and if you woke up to a tree packed full of presents you have only one person to thank for that – Sonic the Hedgehog! What? You didn’t know that Sonic took over for Santa back in 1996? Oh, well find yourself a comfy chair and a plate of chili dogs while I tell you the tale of An X-Tremely Sonic Christmas Sonic Christmas Blast!

Back in 1993, Sonic the Hedgehog was so popular that he warranted two separate cartoon series: The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and the more plainly named Sonic the Hedgehog. Adventures was the direct-to-syndication cartoon and aired on weekday afternoons, while the other cartoon aired on Saturday mornings as part of ABC’s block of cartoons and came to be known as Sonic SatAM. Both cartoons were produced by DiC and both featured everyone’s favorite nerd (at the time), Jaleel White, as the voice of Sonic. The executive producer on both was Andy Heyward, who you may recall was also the executive producer for The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. He may be the first person to work on official productions of both Mario and Sonic, which I guess is pretty cool. While the Saturday morning program had a more serious tone, the afternoon Adventures was more of a typical screwball comedy where the wily Sonic outsmarted and outwitted his nemesis, Dr. Robotnik (Long John Baldry), on the regular.

Sonic has arguably never been as popular as he was in 1993. That’s because he had a host of games on the Sega Genesis that were well received. In 1996, Sega was promoting the Sega Saturn console and looking to unleash its mega-popular hedgehog on that machine. The game was to be called Sonic X-treme, and in order to market it, someone got the bright idea to commission a Christmas special. It would be in the style of Adventures and would be produced by DiC, though it would no longer be in conjunction with Bohbot Entertainment. The problem was, the game was never released. Sonic X-treme was cancelled, but Sega still had a cartoon it paid money for and intended to air. The solution: simply change the title!

This one is like a regular episode of the show, but it’s Christmas!

Sonic wasn’t leaving the 16-bit world in the dust just yet as Sega was prepping a title for the Genesis: Sonic 3D Blast. It was an experimental game that attempted 3D on the aging Genesis hardware via an isometric perspective. If you do not remember it there’s a good reason: it was terrible. Bad game or not, it was still worthy of promotion so the Christmas special was re-named Sonic Christmas Blast and released on VHS and aired on the USA network.

A few days ago we did Mario Christmas, so it only felt right to do Sonic as well. Plus, Sonic has the distinction of being the best movie I saw in a theater in 2020. No, it’s not a fantastic film, but it got to win that coveted crown by simply being the only film I saw in a theater in 2020! Thanks, COVID!

Meet today’s audience surrogate: Ugly Kid. He has no name, but an ugly character model, therefore we shall call him Ugly Kid.

This one starts off with a festive remix of the traditional intro, except most of the footage has been removed and just replaced with clips from the special to come. Boring. It then picks up in the city of Robotropolis, a city from Sonic SatAM that I do not believe was ever depicted in Adventures. At any rate, it doesn’t resemble the city from the other show, it just shares a name.

Something’s not right with this Santa…

Citizens are gathering to view a giant television that is apparently about to broadcast a message from Santa (do they not have malls here?). The camera is rather focused on an ugly little boy with no name (Eric Pospisil). I don’t mean he’s ugly as far as Sonic Society is concerned, just that his character design is rather offensive to the eyes. Santa (Jay Brazeau) appears on the big television screen with a rather important announcement. For one, he’s clearly a robot as he has pins in his elbows and he doesn’t appear to move very well so I am rather suspect of this forthcoming announcement.

Robotnik has somehow become even more insane looking.

And that announcement is that he is retiring! Yes, the unthinkable is happening at Christmas! Not to worry though, for Santa has already named a replacement. And that man is: Robotnik Claus! Yes, the evil Dr. Robotnik is set to take over for Santa and he is introduced to a stunned audience. For some reason, he looks like a homeless Santa as his suit fits rather poorly exposing his hairy gut and his shoes are torn. Robotnik’s first announcement as Santa is that this year things will be different. Rather than Robotnik Claus delivering presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world, they are to deliver presents to him! The madness!

Judging by that smile on Ugly Kid’s face, it would seem he was initially hopeful about this whole Robotnik Claus thing.

Scratch (Phil Hayes), the robotic chicken with the incredibly annoying voice, and Grounder (Garry Chalk) are positioned as cheer leaders for Robotnik Claus, but they annoy him more than support him. We then have it confirmed that this world does indeed possess malls as we see Robotnik Claus seated in a chair with a line of children waiting to see him. Ugly kid from earlier hops on his lap and Robotnik rather enthusiastically asks the child what he’ll be giving him for Christmas. The kid responds by punching him in the gut and informs him that he will do no such thing. Robotnik is rather pissed, but apparently he is still only cartoonishly evil as he doesn’t kill the little squirt, but he does order him imprisoned in his robot factory.

Hey! Look! It’s Princess Sal, in her original pilot colors! She looks like she has something to say in this image, but she actually has nothing to say. Absolutely nothing.

Elsewhere, Sonic is gearing up for Christmas with Princess Sally Acorn (Tabitha St. Germain is credited, but the character has zero lines). Apparently Sally gave Sonic a fancy ring last Christmas and he gave her squat, so he’s dead-set on getting her a bunch of stuff this year, even though she apparently wants nothing. Before she can utter a word of rebuttal, Sonic takes off with his buddy Tails (Chris Turner) to go do some shopping. While he runs, he decides to jump up and grab onto a tree branch for no particular reason and just dangle there. A bird in its nest takes notice of Sonic’s ring that Sally gave him which features an unusual marking. Ah, he grabbed the tree as a plot device since this ring is going to be important. Logical.

These two clowns are up to no good, but at least they’re well dressed.

In town, Scratch and Grounder are going door-to-door Sheriff of Nottingham style to collect presents for Robotnik Claus. They confront one poor sap who claims he has nothing to give, so they tell him they’ll be taking his house. And not in a way a bank would, but by literally using an excavator to take the man’s house while he begs them not to. Vicious.

Oh, good. Ugly Kid made it out of Robotnik’s factory unharmed. I was real worried for a sec.

Sonic and Tails arrive at a mall to find it completely barren. Someone has taken all of the wares and Sonic is apparently out of the loop. Outside, they run across Ugly Kid who tells them that he escaped from Robotnik Claus and informs Sonic of what’s going on. Scratch and Grounder then appear and like good, ineffective, hench-robots, inform Sonic of Robotnik’s plan to take over Christmas and get lots of presents for himself. They also tell him that they kidnapped Santa and used a robot to transfer his role over to Robotnik without a hitch. They even brought the robot with them as proof of their misdeed. They also brought some giant tank too.

Well, at least they seemed to have come prepared. Not that it will make any difference.

Scratch then wishes Sonic and his pals a “Merry Crush-mas!” as he tries dropping a big, spiky, block on the trio. Sonic is too fast for it though, and he goes all buzz-saw and lands in their cockpit. He then controls the giant arm of the tank to position a magnet over them sucking up the three robots and then dropping them to the ground in a heap of parts.

Nothing puts me in the Christmas mood like a pile of broken body parts.

As Scratch and Grounder begin reassembling themselves, while mostly ignoring the destroyed Santa robot, Sonic comes waltzing by dressed as a janitor. He’s a bit like Bugs Bunny in this show in that he can always produce a not-so-clever disguise that fools the bad guy every time. He plays friendly and gets the two to spill the beans on where Robotnik is keeping Santa before splitting, but not first without revealing his identity to Scratch and Grounder and smashing them to bits again with a garbage can.

Why does he have a butt?

Scratch and Grounder head to the home of Robotnik which is currently being outfitted with many, many, chimneys. Robotnik is even demanding more of his robot minions for he wants enough chimneys on his home so that every citizen in the city can enter his home at once with big sacks of presents. The brainless duo flags down Robotnik with the bad news, and they’re informed that they can no longer expect a Christmas card this year. Robotnik then orders his defenses be increased while also informing the duo that they are to bring him the most important of Christmas presents this year: Sonic the Hedgehog! Hey, that’s the same thing my kid asked for!

Some “scary” looking robots.

Sonic and Tails are shown in a cold environment heading to the location of the kidnapped Santa. It’s surrounded by Swatbots, but they do not at all resemble the Swatbots from Sonic SatAM. They just look dumb. Sonic gets past them rather easily and finds Santa in a frozen cell. He tells Sonic they need to get to his workshop fast if they intend to save Christmas.

A clever use of exponents.

At Santa’s workshop (apparently titled Ho cubed), the heroes find out that Robotnik Claus has already paid a visit to the workshop and stolen everything! Santa is rather despondent, but Sonic thinks there’s still time to recapture the presents and save Christmas! As they sit and think, Santa notices Sonic’s ring. He recognizes the marking on it from the cave Robotnik had kept him at (how convenient!) and they return to consult some glyphs. Apparently, Sonic needs to complete a series of trials to unlock the secret of ultimate velocity. I don’t know how Santa got that much out of the wall, but it should fill some time.

Well, that was hardly a challenge.

They head to the location of the first trial: Ice Pick Peak. Sonic merely has to race up a mountain – no problem. Trial number two is to snowboard down Calamity Cliffs. This is amusing since the Mario Christmas special rather prominently featured a snowboard as well, and it too was orange!

Nothing’s more “X-Treme” than snowboarding, man!

As Sonic snowboards, Scratch and Grounder spy him and place a giant bear trap in his way. Sonic sees it, and just swerves out of the way spraying a bunch of snow in their face which buries them with the bear trap. Sonic then grasps a hang-glider and soars over the pair and dumps his snowboard on them.

This Santa is a real buzz kill. I think I like Robotnik Claus better.

The last piece of the trial is a bike ride. Sonic rides over the frozen tundra dodging moving icebergs. The animation is offensively bad and little of interest occurs during Sonic’s ride. When all is said and done, they’re back at Santa’s workshop and Sonic has apparently attained super speed. He didn’t physically receive anything, there was no flash of light, he just is faster, I guess. Santa still thinks all is for naught though, but Sonic is ever the optimist!

I am legitimately shocked at the absence of exposed butt-crack.

Sonic speeds off to Robotnik’s home where the jolly, fat, man is rummaging through the presents under his tree. He’s in an impossibly good mood, so it’s the perfect time for Sonic to swipe everything! He moves as a blue blur taking not just the presents and ornaments, but Robotnik’s clothes as well, leaving him to stew in his underwear proclaiming his hatred for that hedgehog.

Well, looks like he’s happy. I don’t know what I would have done if Ugly Kid didn’t get to have a merry Christmas.

We then check in on Ugly Kid, who is in his living room with a naked Christmas tree. The blue blur whizzes inside and decorates the tree while depositing a large amount of gifts under the tree. The kid can’t believe it, but he knows who to thank. He opens his window and shouts out thanks to Sonic.

Once again, you would think she’d have something to say.

Alone on a snowy hill by a campfire, Sally does her best Karen impression from Frosty the Snowman as she looks cold and lonely. Sonic then pops in with an arm full of presents he promptly buries her under. She says nothing, just looks surprised, while Sonic rambles on about wanting to give her a merry Christmas. He removes a present to expose her head, waves some mistletoe over her, and smooches her forehead before re-burying her. He then runs off before she can even react to his gesture. Honestly, I don’t know why they bothered including her if she wasn’t even going to say a word.

And now Sonic is Santa, how’s that for a resolution?!

Sonic returns to Santa’s workshop to celebrate a Christmas well done. There he receives some rather shocking news: Santa does indeed intend to retire! Sonic can’t believe it, but Santa informs him there’s no need to worry, for he has found a suitable replacement: Sonic! Tails slaps a hat on his head proclaiming him Sonic Claus. He seems unsure at first, but one look in a mirror seems to convince Sonic that this is the way. He and Tails then stand and wave at the camera while Sonic wishes us an “X-tremely Merry Christmas,” the one relic of the original title, as the credits roll.

And that’s the story about how Sonic came to be Santa Claus! If your tree is looking rather bare and has been for years, that’s likely because you’ve been leaving out a plate of milk and cookies as opposed to chili dogs and Mountain Dew (I just assume Sonic would do the Dew). I suppose I should have filled you in on that important piece of information prior to today, but there’s always next year!

Sonic Christmas Blast is a terrible Christmas special. Things just happen to advance the plot, and almost everyone is dumb and annoying. Sonic is fine, and I have no issue with Tails, but all of the other characters are just too stupid to even be funny. I’ll give it credit for coming up with an original plot. It’s sort of like The Grinch, except Robotnik is direct and open about his thievery, with a dash of unconvincing trickery too. It’s still not entertaining, and the resolution of Sonic becoming Santa is rather preposterous. I guess it’s the kind of thing you can do when you know there are no more episodes of this particular show coming.

I will say, as ridiculous as he is, I do mostly like this take on Robotnik.

Adding further insult to the special is the fact that it looks pretty bad. It’s definitely in style with Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, but it was also handled by a different animation studio. Believe it or not, this actually looks slightly better than a typical episode as far as character animation goes. The backgrounds though are terrible, and the non-regular characters (like the ugly kid and various robots) look like they were designed in five minutes, and drawn just as quickly. There isn’t any one scene or piece of animation that I’d call fun to look at while the audio is basically what you would expect of any episode from the show.

If you wish to ignore my warnings and spend Christmas with Sonic, Sonic Christmas Blast is X-tremely easy to come by. It’s currently included with a subscription to Amazon Prime so you can freely stream it there. It’s also available for free on YouTube along with apparently every other episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and in great quality at that. It also was released on DVD and will probably be in discount racks tomorrow for five bucks, but the only folks who should own this one are Sonic diehards and they probably already have it.

This concludes the 2020 edition of The Christmas Spot! It was a truly bizarre and eventful year and I’ll be happy to kiss it good by in a week, but hopefully these past 25 days have helped bring you a little Christmas joy. Thanks for reading, and merry Christmas!


Dec. 4 – A Christmas Story (1972)

Original broadcast date December 9, 1972

For today’s Christmas post, we’re going to take a look at A Christmas Story. No, not that Christmas Story, the first one. Way before Ralphie started obsessing over a BB gun, the duo of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought us a story about a mouse and a dog trying to get a last-minute letter to Santa Claus. Not familiar with this one? That’s not surprising as it didn’t have much staying power. Sure, it was still shown on television from time to time as late as the 1990s, but it feels like even Hanna-Barbera wrote this one off as a bunch of the original music created for it would be repurposed just fives years later for the more popular Christmas special A Flintstone Christmas.

Hanna-Barbera produced numerous Christmas specials over the years. The company is often a punching bag in the animation community because of the low quality that became representative of television animation, which is unfortunate as the duo from which the company gets its name were hugely important contributors to animation in general. It just so happens their greatest contribution to the world of animation occurred before the founding of their company when the team created Tom and Jerry. For television, yeah, it’s true the output wasn’t great. Some stuff is better than others, but little is truly celebrated.

The most memorable aspect of this special is going to be the original music written for it. It was apparently so good, most of the songs would be reused in more popular Christmas specials to come.

I do give the company credit though for being big on Christmas. I need a lot of material to do this year in and year out and I can usually count on Hanna-Barbera to fill a day or two each year. A Christmas Story might be our deepest pull yet though when it comes to the company. It was directed by the duo of Hanna and Barbera and was written by the pair Ken Spears and Joe Ruby, who would follow in their boss’ footsteps and found their own studio, Ruby-Spears, in 1977. They were big contributors at Hanna-Barbera for creating Scooby Doo and their company would handle the likes of Thundarr the Barbarian as well as Alvin and the Chipmunks. The company was eventually acquired by Hanna-Barbera through its parent company, Taft Entertainment, and was part of the sale to Turner Broadcasting in 1991 so both Ruby and Spears weren’t really away from Hanna-Barbera for very long.

This special is so basic it even features a “little Timmy.”

A Christmas Story is about as simple as its title implies. We’re going to be introduced to little Timmy (Walter Tetley) and his family at the start. It’s an idyllic Christmas setting as mom (Janet Waldo) decorates the tree while dad (Don Messick) sits on his ass reading a newspaper. It’s hard to say what time period this story is set in, possibly the 30s or maybe even 40s, but certainly not present day for 1972. Timmy needs to get to bed, but he reminds his father that he owes him a Christmas story so he breaks out A Visit from St. Nicholas and even refers to it by the correct title, though he does botch the end by saying “Merry Christmas,” as opposed to “Happy Christmas.”

Your stars for this one: Goober and Gumdrop. They won’t be memorable.

Once Timmy is in bed, we’re properly introduced to the real stars of the short, a basset hound named Goober (Paul Winchell basically doing his Tigger voice) and a mouse named Gumdrop (Daws Butler, basically doing his Elroy Jetson voice, which he used on many characters). Goober and Gumdrop obey the standard animation rule that animals can converse with one another, but not humans. Goober helps Gumdrop hang his stocking beside the stockings for the rest of the family before retiring for the evening. As he heads to his mouse hole, he notices something under a table: Timmy’s letter to Santa. Gumdrop panics and informs Goober it’s up to them to save Christmas for Timmy by making sure Santa gets his letter.

Oh no! Someone forgot to mail Timmy’s letter to Santa!

How do a mouse and dog get a letter to Santa on Christmas Eve? Well, they simply head outside and start looking. At first, Goober (who is sporting a cute, little, green, hat) has some trouble with a slippery walk and does the Charlie Brown-sliding-into-a-tree gag complete with snow falling from the tree to cover him. It’s not particularly well animated, which is true for the special as a whole. Get ready to see a lot of repeating images as Goober and Gumdrop journey through the night.

Dumb mouse looking for Santa in a mailbox.

As the search for Santa begins, the first of three musical montages begin. The song for this one, “Where Do You Look for Santa?” is unique in that it won’t be repurposed down the road for a new Hanna-Barbera Christmas special. The song is utilitarian in nature, and strongly resembles a song we’ll hear later. As it plays, Goober and Gumdrop look all over town, ride a sleigh, and try to be cute as animation is recycled quite liberally throughout.

If you want to put a mouse in peril, simply add cats.

As the two search for Santa, Gumdrop runs afoul of a gang of cats. They’re apparently lead by a cat named Sleezer (Winchell) who is accompanied by the likes of Polecat (John Stephenson) and Fatcat (Hal Smith), among others. Cats obviously don’t take too kindly to mice out on their own and they give him some trouble. It’s basically the show’s only section of comedic violence as Gumdrop avoids catastrophe while the cats do not. The only worthwhile gag is Fatcat deploying a claw like a switchblade before getting it caught in a fence panel.

Clumsy, but effective.

Eventually, Gumdrop wisens up and simply hollars for Goober to come save him (I’m not really sure what he was doing this whole time). Goober, being a dog, basically just has to run into the alley where this is all going down to scare the cats away. He’s a bit of an oaf though as he falls over and takes on the form of a snowball and crashes into some garbage cans, along with the cat gang which soon scatters. As Gumdrop asks him if he’s all right, he replies he’s fine save for the bells ringing in his ears. Gumdrop can hear the bells too, and the two turn their gaze towards the heavens where Santa (Hal Smith again who was apparently charged with only voicing fat characters) can be seen flying overhead with a mere six reindeer. He even starts to call them out by name, but stops after listing only four so as to avoid shouting the names of two reindeer clearly not present.

Pictured: Santa. Not pictured: Donner and Blitzen.

Gumdrop and Goober then basically chase after Santa hoping to catch him as he enters a house. There, they hope to simply give him Timmy’s letter. How he will provide toys without the aid of his workshop is not something this special appears concerned with. As the two run from house to house they have little luck, as they keep missing him.

Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.

Gumdrop decides they’re going about this all wrong and need to think like Santa, whatever that means. They decide to go to a house with a bunch of kids and settle on the home of the Andersons. When they arrive, they see Santa has yet to visit and there’s a ladder conveniently left out in the snow. Gumdrop and Goober head up to the roof, with Goober demonstrating a fear of heights. When he goes to hand Gumdrop Timmy’s letter, it gets blown away. As Goober reaches for it, the ladder splits forcing him to use the remaining pieces like stilts as he chases after the letter eventually securing it in his jaws, before falling into the snow.

This guy has a shitty job.

It’s there a postman, who for some reason is out delivering mail on Christmas Eve, finds Goober. Not seeing this as a solution to their problem (who better to deliver Santa a letter than a mail carrier), the postman actually becomes a hindrance when he assumes Goober got locked out of his house. He puts the dog in his old timey mail truck and locks the doors before heading off to deliver more mail.

That mail man’s job just got a whole lot worse.

Gumdrop sees Goober’s plight and hops onto the truck. He instructs Goober how to open the door, but the dog accidentally knocks the car into gear and they start rolling along. Gumdrop tries to direct the dog, but in a surprising bit of realism Goober has no idea which way is left or right. The two eventually crash into a tree which frees Goober from the truck and the two have improbably escaped the crash injury-free.

The concussion dreams of a dog high on Christmas.

It’s at this point Goober starts to have doubts, but Gumdrop reminds him to have hope, which ushers in a musical number of the same name. If you’ve seen A Flintstone Christmas, then you’ve heard this song as it’s the same one used after Wilma tells Pebbles to do the same. It’s actually a sweet little number capped off with the line “Hope believes in Santa Claus.” I don’t know who sings it though as it’s absent from the credits. Hoyt Curtin handled the musical direction of the program and presumably wrote the song. Susie McCune and Judi Richards are both credited as part of the voice cast without a corresponding character so I’m left to assume one of them sang on this one.

This special is starting to feel like one, long, musical montage.

The montage, which features a goofy visual of Gumdrop riding atop Goober as he flies through the air via flapping his ears, ends with Goober now feeling full of hope. Unfortunately though, their little ride in the car took them away from Santa so now they need to find him. Gumdrop urges Goober to use the animal relay, which is basically the same as The Twilight Bark from One-Hundred and One Dalmatians. Goober barks out that they’re looking for Santa, and some other dogs (two males sharing a dog house, animation’s first gay canines?) pick up on it and spring into action. Surprisingly, this sequence isn’t utilized to bring in some more famous Hanna-Barbera canines for a cameo, but we do see a dog bossing the gang of cats from earlier around.

Surely, this will work!

This then ushers in another familiar musical montage, “Which One is the Real Santa Claus?” The sequence will be remade for A Flintstone Christmas as Gumdrop and Goober look for the real Santa amongst a sea of fake ones. It’s a cute song, but at this point feels like padding (which it is). It also doesn’t help that it sounds an awful lot like “Where Do You Look for Santa?” They eventually spot the real Santa as he’s heading into another house. Gumdrop then folds Timmy’s letter into a paper airplane and fires away. As the two prematurely celebrate, the paper airplane misses the mark and comes to rest in the cold snow. Santa is leaving, our heroes have failed, and Timmy is surely doomed.

Never trust a dog and mouse to save Christmas.

Gumdrop and Goober mope their way back home upset they couldn’t get the letter to Santa. As they head inside, Gumdrop reasons that maybe there’s still a chance and they can give Santa the letter when he visits their house. Goober though immediately falls asleep despite Gumdrop’s urging against doing such a thing, and he too falls asleep. As they sleep together by the fire, a hand reaches down to snatch Timmy’s letter!

Great, so you mean this whole time they’ve been trying to make sure Timmy gets his stupid, racist, presents?

The next morning, the two are woken up by the cries of Timmy. They are not sad cries though, for Timmy finds the underside of the family tree full of toys and presents. The little racist even got the Native American headdress he wanted! Goober and Gumdrop are shocked to see that Timmy got what he wanted, and Gumdrop then notices Timmy’s letter on the floor. It’s been opened, and the only explanation is that Santa did come and found the letter. They then take note of their own stockings, which Gumdrop’s has grown in size considerably, which are overflowing with goodies.

Well, at least he didn’t go straight for the headdress.

Timmy takes time out from his revelry to ask his parents if they got what they asked for. Timmy’s mom then informs him they asked for peace on Earth (so they get extra presents). Timmy then runs to the window and tells his parents that’s what Santa wants too! As the family looks out the window, Santa has written “Peace on Earth” in pixie dust or whatever in the sky. His “ho ho ho” signals that this is the end for A Christmas Story.

I guess they’re cool with sharing their house with a mouse?

A Christmas Story is a pretty safe, conventional, little tale. The animal protagonists give it a cutesy quality as the two just want to make a little boy’s Christmas wish come true. There are no real stakes though, had they failed Timmy just doesn’t get any presents. He’s not ill or anything, just a kid who wants some toys. Goober and Gumdrop are just good-hearted characters with no real personality to speak of. Goober, I suppose, is a bit clumsy, but that’s basically it as far as character traits go. The cat gang was also full of very generic characters all basically characterized by their appearance. There must have been some desire by the studio to keep its usual cast away from this one, but it’s fair to wonder if it would have been better suited to just use Augie Doggy or make it a Mr. Jinks cartoon with the mouse duo of Pixie and Dixie.

This one actually doesn’t feature the image of Santa passing in front of a full moon, despite being a super basic Christmas special.

Easily the best part of this special is the music. “Sounds of Christmas Day” opens the cartoon and it’s a nice little tune. It’s perfectly cast as a song created for a Christmas special; it’s nice to hear in the short, but probably not a song one would request on the radio. I do think “Hope” is a bit better, though it’s definitely more melancholly. It’s sweet though, and the other songs are fine as well. I think a special should be commended for not simply relying on public domain songs. There is a bit of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” but it’s being sung by carolers so that makes perfect sense given the use. Considering these original songs are the most memorable aspect of the short, it’s no surprise it fell into obscurity since they were all recycled for A Flintstone Christmas. If you’re a network executive choosing between two Hanna-Barbera Christmas specials to air, you’re going to side with The Flintstones nine times out ten given the choice. And that special, despite featuring an unnecessary amount of padding as well, is superior to this one and one I unironically enjoy.

Considering it’s hard to find even The Flintstones in this day and age on television, the chances of any network airing A Christmas Story in 2020 are nil. The special was released on VHS in 1989 and reissued in the 90s after the Turner acquisition. It’s currently available as part of the Warner Home Video burn-on-demand service under the title Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics. Buying it there also gets you the specials The Town Santa Forgot and Casper’s First Christmas. And since seemingly no one gives a shit about it, it’s also pretty easy to find streaming online for free. Watch it if you’re sick of A Flintstone Christmas or just plain never liked that one, but enjoyed the songs.


Dec. 24 – Silly Symphony – “The Night Before Christmas”

night before poster

Originally released December 9, 1933.

We have reached a day of great, holiday, release – Christmas Eve. And what better way to mark the occasion than with a holiday short titled The Night Before Christmas. A lot of cartoons have made use of this title, but today’s subject is the Silly Symphony short that falls under that heading. It felt right to tackle this one in the wake of the Merrie Melodies short we looked at a few days ago. Those two brands are forever linked by their similar titles and the competition that existed at the time between the Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. Studios, a competition that still exists today.

The Silly Symphony collection was essentially Walt Disney Production’s play area. The Mickey Mouse shorts the studio was famous for were more straight-forward, while the Silly Symphony shorts could be just as narratively tight or could be more experimental in nature. In some respects, the shorts were a testing ground for techniques the studio would employ for its feature-length theatrical productions, like the multi-plane camera used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Technicolor debuted here as well before making the jump to Mickey Mouse and even the studio’s greatest creation, Donald Duck, debuted in a Silly Symphony short (I may be a touch biased there). The shorts could be funny, whimsical, scary, whatever they needed to be. And sure, a bunch of them did just end up being characters largely dancing to some music, but there was also some great stuff in there.

night before title card

Note the top, in case you forgot who the real star is.

This short, The Night Before Christmas, is the 1933 sequel to the 1932 short Santa’s Workshop. In that cartoon, we watched Santa and his elves prepare for Christmas at the North Pole and it ends with the big guy saying “goodbye” to his loyal workers and heading off to deliver the presents. Well, this one is going to show us Santa on his journey that night through at least one house. This one was directed by Wilfred Jackson with Dick Huemer getting the credit for the animation. And as you would expect, it’s an adaptation of the famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore. And since this is a 1933 short, it’s in Technicolor unlike the Merrie Melodies short we looked at earlier.

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The cozy confines for today’s short.

Like so many cartoons, this one also begins with a rendition of “Silent Night” as the title card is shown. Lest we forget who the real star is, this is credited as Mickey Mouse presents…, in case you had no idea what Walt Disney Productions was famous for. After the title card is removed the cartoon begins. A narrator is singing the poem from which this short takes its name. Leigh Harline is credited with the music on this short, but I do not know who the vocalist is that’s singing the song. The visuals show us a cozy home covered with snow. Everything is quiet, as the poem demands, and the home’s children are snug in a rather large bed – all 8 of them.

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That was a close one, boys.

The vocals end with the sound of sleigh bells as we see Santa flying high overhead with his team of eight not-so-tiny reindeer out in front single-file. They barely fit onto the roof of the house, which is maybe why Santa’s reindeer are often in a two-across formation, but the lead reindeer is able to keep from sliding off and Santa seems ignorant to the near miss. He climbs out of the sleigh and makes his way down the chimney. He’s a fairly large Santa and certainly a round one. He has a permanent smile affixed to his face and he is prone to frequent bouts of laughter. He’s not exactly the quiet kind of Santa.

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Fire just loves Santa’s ass.

When he emerges from the chimney he’s all covered in soot, but doesn’t seem to mind. Somewhat surprising for a 1930’s short, his sootiness isn’t in the form of a blackface gag which is nice to see. He shakes the soot off and seems to notice the hot coals in the fireplace, a near miss for Santa’s rump. When he turns his back on the hot coals they grow into tall flames which reach out and caress Santa on the bum. He jumps and spins around waving a finger at the fire. He then laughs and the flames go out making me wonder if he has this sort of playful relationship with all of the fireplaces he’ll visit this evening.

mickey silly cameo

There’s something familiar about that toy in front, and something odd about that sheep one.

Santa then gets to work. He first pulls out a modest tree from his sack which isn’t quite as tall as he is. He opens it like an umbrella and places it on the floor. He then pulls out a toy bugle and uses it to summon the toys to work. A marching band comprised of toy clowns emerge first from the sack as they lead the rest of the toys which soon includes dolls and even a toy Mickey Mouse riding on a scooter. The animation with Mickey repeats several times almost as if they wanted to make sure everyone noticed the rather hard to miss cameo. One toy squeezing a sheep is a bit curious looking. I don’t want to say it’s definitely blackface, but it’s close.

The toys then begin decorating the tree which includes some lit candles (there must have been countless Christmas tree related fires over the years). My favorite gag, if you can call it that, would be the team of toy soldiers firing ornaments out of a toy canon at the tree. A plane flies around leaving a trail of garland on the tree while toy firemen coat the tree with artificial snow.

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Santa pretty much thinks anything he does is hilarious.

While the toys take care of what is apparently their job, Santa starts filling stockings. Some are a bit shabby looking, but all have a little note in them detailing what the kid wants for Christmas. One stocking is actually a diaper, which Santa puts a doll in. Another appears to be three socks stitched together which is the perfect size for a baseball bat, which forces a laugh out of Santa. When he comes to one with a hole in the toe, he improvises by first sticking an umbrella in it upside down and then dumps a bunch of toys into it laughing all the while.

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That’s a mighty fine tree there, toys.

Horns sound to apparently announce that the tree has been decorated. All that is left is for a toy zeppelin to fly to the top with the star-shaped tree topper. Once it’s placed where it belongs a small cheer goes up and the clown band starts playing “Jingle Bells.” The other toys dance merrily while Santa gets in on the act via a toy piano. If you’re thinking this must be noisy as hell, then you would be right. Soon, the kids perk up due to all of the commotion, and a patch on the comforter even flips open to reveal a ninth kid had been sleeping underneath it. The kids race to the top of the stairs for a look, with our ninth kid apparently the focal point as he’s the straggler and the seat of his pajamas is unbuttoned revealing his naked bottom. As the kids look on, it’s this little guy who tries to hold back a sneeze, and fails, alerting Santa down below.

Santa hastily orders the toys back to their places. They all head for their spot under the tree with some toys returning to their packaging. As the kids descend the stairs, Santa squeezes himself into the fireplace with his empty sack, places a finger beside his nose, and vanishes up the chimney.

junior blackface

And we almost made it to the end…

The kids then attack the tree as they all reach for the toys that stand out most to them. Our little straggler, who is apparently named Junior, is the only one who apparently noticed a disturbance by the fire place and he heads for that first. Looking up the chimney, a blast of soot falls on his face and there we have it – a blackface gag (sigh). Our attention is soon directed to an unopened present under the tree addressed to Junior and he heads over and opens it. Inside is a little, black, Scottish Terrier which licks the soot off of his face. All of the kids then run to the window when they hear the sound of sleigh bells and they watch as Santa and his team of reindeer fly off into the creepiest looking moon I’ve ever seen. It has an unpleasant grin, and this is basically the same shot that ended the previous short, Santa’s Workshop. The vocalist from earlier returns as well to sing the final stanza of the poem with the short ending on the now famous line “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

junior and dog

Having an adorable puppy erase the blackface is probably the best outcome we could have asked for.

The Night Before Christmas is a fairly tame piece of animation, that one instance of blackface excluded. It has a simple premise and follows the Silly Symphony formula of showing a bunch of characters acting out a mundane process, but with a touch of fantasy. There’s no spoken dialogue in this one, aside from the narration of the poem, as Santa just laughs a bunch and never actually says a word to the reindeer or the toys. He doesn’t even get to belt out that closing line. The kids also don’t really say anything, they just cheer or make a noise of surprise or delight. I like that they never actually see Santa until they get to the window, as even from atop the stairs they couldn’t see anything since the room Santa was in is blocked by a door.

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I expected an ending in which Santa flies in front of the moon. What I did not expect was for that moon to wear a maniacal grin.

What this short does have some fun with is merely the process Santa goes through at each house. It’s a bit surprising to see so many toys bestowed upon these children since this was released during The Great Depression. I suppose we get some sense of that via the shabby stockings and the fact that all of the kids share a single bed. Santa bringing the tree and decorating seems to be a relic of the old days. I know my dad’s family never decorated their tree, that was Santa’s job, though I think they at least put it up first. I think some families did decorate it together on Christmas Eve before going to bed, as I’m sure some probably do that now. I think for many homes though the customary thing to do now is to get a tree and then decorate it as soon as possible. The only matter up for debate is how soon is too soon. I like getting as much visual enjoyment as possible from a tree so I’m more of the sooner the better camp. However, I have my limits. My neighbors literally put their tree (an artificial one) up the weekend after Halloween which is something I thought only happened in Bob’s Burgers. If you want my advice, even though it’s pretty useless advice coming on Christmas Eve, I say cut down your own tree if you can that way you can put it up in early December and it will still be relatively fresh come the end of the month. Those lot trees are often cut in October which is why they often don’t last very long. And if you do have a tree, don’t put lit candles on it or leave it plugged in when you’re not home or asleep. Lets avoid those Christmas tree fires, everyone.

If you want to check out this short this year then it would be rather helpful to have the collection of Silly Symphony shorts, More Silly Symphonies, which was released in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Treasures line. It’s since gone out of print, and as of this writing it wasn’t on Disney+ and if you’re reading that then it wasn’t added before this went up, which is a shame, but that blackface gag could be to blame. There’s still hope though as Disney is not very protective of these shorts so if you just punch it into your preferred search engine you’ll probably find it no problem. And if you can’t, maybe that too is a bit of a good thing as it likely means Disney is prepping this for a future release on Disney+ or via some other method. We’re still waiting on an HD release of all of the classic shorts, so come on Disney, what are you waiting for? Needless to say, have a Merry Christmas Eve and hopefully you can find some time to check back tomorrow for the final entry in this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot.


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.

shanty_bells

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.


Dec. 12 – Teen Titans Go! – “Halloween vs. Christmas”

 

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Original air date October 27, 2016.

It’s a battle for the hearts of children around the world! What is the superior holiday:  Halloween or Christmas? Today’s entrant is founded on the premise that Halloween is the only holiday to rival Christmas as far as what children look forward to most. This feels more or less on point as a kid I definitely had strong affection for both, with Thanksgiving serving as the necessary evil standing in between the two of them. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that Christmas was indeed my preferred holiday of the two, but Halloween was not without its charm. As for second best? Yes, I suppose that title went to Halloween though Easter was pretty close. It included candy as well plus I always got a toy from the Easter Bunny to go along with that candy. And as a kid, I much preferred toys to candy. Still, I’d probably go with Halloween because the whole costuming and going out at night was pretty charming. And as I got older it became a chance for mischief when parents no longer supervised the trick and/or treating that took place.

Even though I’m in agreement that Halloween is quite popular, I’d never put it on equal footing with Christmas. Especially not as a kid. As an adult, there are things that come with Halloween that I enjoy more now. And as a parent, dressing my kids up and unleashing them on the neighborhood is its own unique brand of joy. It doesn’t rival Christmas morning though, and I’m big on the whole build-up thing. Yes, Halloween is great, but don’t make me choose between the two because Halloween just can’t win that one.

And that’s partly what makes this episode of Teen Titans Go! so interesting. One would think if Halloween was to be pitted against Christmas the challenge would come from Halloween or a being associated with Halloween. It does not. Rather, this episode comes at things from the opposite perspective, but it creates a character that makes it work

mummy santaThe episode begins on Halloween night. Everyone is getting ready for trick or treating, but a group of individuals dressed as mummies are up to no good. There are four of them, one much larger than the others, and they’re swiping everything Halloween related from town:  candy, decorations, even costumes right off of the children! The Teen Titans happen to be in the area as Robin (Scott Menville) instructs the other Titans that they must secure provisions for the evening’s festivities. As they do so they come to find there’s nothing in town to purchase. Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) tells them to fear not, for he has saved some candy from last year that they can hand out to trick or treaters. He reaches into his pants and pulls out a greasy looking jack-o-lantern bag of treats and the others do not seem repulsed enough by this.

After Beast Boy produces the candy, the mummy group arrives to request it. They offer a “Trick or treat,” when prompted and Beast Boy is ready to hand over the candy, but then they notice something is off with these trick or treaters. One seems too old for the activity, while the others are really small. They wield Christmas stockings instead of Halloween bags or buckets and the big one even has what appears to be a white beard sticking out through his bandages. Robin correctly realizes that this group is really Santa Claus (Robert Morse) and his elves in disguise and he orders the Titans to the car.

The Teen Titans speed off as Santa gives chase in his sleigh. Rudolf leads the way firing lasers from his eyes that eventually pop one of the tires of the escape vehicle. Robin converts it into a nifty hover jet and it flies off into the Titans’ headquarters. Once inside, the Teen Titans regroup and all wonder what’s going on. Robin has it figured out though when he hypothesizes that Santa views Halloween as the only threat to Christmas so he’s seeking to gain control of it by seizing all of the candy and decorations. The other Titans are horrified, and then Santa shows up to basically confirm that Robin is correct.

santa megaphoneSanta hovers outside the armored HQ in his sleigh pulled by three reindeer. He demands they hand over the last bag of candy, but the Titans refuse. He then offers them bribes in the form of gifts, which nearly tempt Starfire (Hynden Walch) into handing over the candy. Robin instructs her to remain strong and the Titans are able to resist. This forces Santa to try a new tactic:  Christmas music! The music is supposed to infect the group with so much Christmas cheer that they cannot resist the demands of Santa. Cyborg (Khary Payton) is the first to crack as he attempts to run and grab a tree, but he’s stopped by his team members. They all confess that it’s too hard to resist the Christmas spirit with even the dour Raven (Tara Strong) affected by it. Robin concedes they must agree to meet Santa and make a deal.

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That treacherous Santa came armed.

The Titans let down their guard and allow Santa access to their roof where they all meet. Santa isn’t alone for he has two large grunts and three elves with him. Robin is outraged that they brought weapons and demands they lay them down. Santa does as Robin requests, but he asks that his little elves be allowed to keep their candy cane snacks. Robin allows it and the group begins to barter. Robin offers up other holidays in hopes of appeasing Santa, starting with President’s Day. He tosses a bound George Washington at Santa’s feet, but the fat man isn’t having any of it. Robin counters with a tandem of St. Patrick’s Day and a baby that’s either representing Baby New Year or maybe it’s a cupid. Either way, Santa brushes aside the offering of “trash holidays” and demands Halloween. The elves then turn their candy canes on the Titans revealing they’re actually guns forcing the group to retreat back inside their base.

With the negotiations failed, Robin turns to Raven and her dark arts for help. She requests a pumpkin, but Beast Boy offers up a gourd. In a throwback to the candy sack gag from earlier, the gourd comes from his pants. When asked why he would have a gourd in his pants he offers the same reason, suggesting you never know when you’ll need it. I choose to believe he’s using it to enhance his “package” and the little mugging he does for the camera makes me think I’m right.

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Behold! A new icon for Halloween!

With the gourd in her possession, Raven begins an incantation. She summons the Spirt of Halloween (Payton) who strongly resembles Samhain from The Real Ghostbusters, only with a gourd for a head instead of a pumpkin. The spirit is not alone though, as the Titans return to the roof to unleash their new team on Santa’s minions:  Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolf Man! Together with the Titans, they put up quite a fight, but Santa ends up getting his claws on the Halloween Spirit and the Titans are forced to surrender.

santa vs halloweenWith defeat pulling their chins towards the ground, the Titans hand over the last sack of candy rather than see Santa kill the Spirit of Halloween. Santa is delighted to have the candy in his possession, but when he opens the sack he finds it’s full of dynamite. Cyborg detonates it with a remote blasting Santa all the way back to the North Pole where’s shown with his head stuck in the snow. The Titans all celebrate, and in what is a parody of many Christmas specials, the Halloween Spirit uses his magic to bring Halloween to the town. He even creates a sleigh with skeletal reindeer not unlike what Jack Skellington rode in The Nightmare Before Christmas. As Robin wishes everyone a Happy Halloween, the Titans and Halloween Sprit ride off into the night with the full moon serving as the perfect backdrop.

“Halloween vs Christmas” serves as an offbeat Christmas special. Or is it a Halloween special? It features both so I think it counts as both, similar to the previously mentioned The Nightmare Before Christmas. Where that movie leans more towards Christmas, this one definitely leans more towards Halloween, which is fine. It doesn’t really settle the premise implied by the title, but together with the Spirit of Halloween, the Teen Titans are able to preserve Halloween by fending off St. Nick. It features the usual Teen Titans Go! brand of humor. The villainous Santa the episode came up with is pretty amusing. He gets by with a touch of shock humor since it’s a surprise to see Santa behave in such a manner, but American Dad has been running with an adversarial Santa for quite awhile now too. I really like the performance of Robert Morse as Santa and his affinity for referring to the Titans as “garbage children” kept making me chuckle.

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Happy Halloween everyone! Or, Merry Christmas?

The look of this show is something you either like or do not like. It’s very flat as it’s a modern 2D animated show, but it’s also colorful and the actual animation is pretty good. There’s an obvious anime influence to the action shots and in how the characters emote. I find it charming, but I also wasn’t a viewer of the more traditional Teen Titans show that came before this. Some fans of that show seem resigned to hating this one for being a comedy show, but that’s their loss, I suppose. I don’t think this show is going to be remembered as one of the best of its era, but it’s fine and it’s not something I mind watching. It knows when to leave a joke behind and the episodes are too short to really get stale, though I do wish Cartoon Network didn’t show massive blocks of this show seemingly every day when it has plenty of other quality shows it could boost.

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It’s more of a Halloween special, but it still knows to end on a moon shot after a flying sleigh just went by.

This is the second Teen Titans Go! episode to appear in one of the countdowns, the other being “Second Christmas.” Neither is a traditional Christmas episode, which feels appropriate for the brand. I found both entertaining, but the holiday mash-up gimmick utilized here makes me appreciate this one just a bit more. Regardless, Cartoon Network is likely to show both more than once this December so keep an eye out if it’s something you want to check out. You can also buy the episode digitally and may even be able to stream it on Cartoon Network’s app. It should be one of the easier specials to find this year should you choose to seek it out.


Dec. 10 – Merry Christmas, Super Dave!

 

img_0265There are a lot of cartoons that have come and gone in my lifetime, many I forgot even existed until something jars my memory. Earlier this year we lost comedian Bob Einstein. Einstein is probably best known for his role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but twenty years ago he was best known for his character Super Dave. Super Dave was essentially an Evel Knievel parody, a daredevil who is really bad at his profession. He would attempt wild stunts and wind up getting hurt quite frequently. He would show up on late night shows and in television specials and he even made appearances on WWF’s Monday Night Raw.

In 1992 Super Dave was given an animated series on the upstart Fox Kids Network. Titled Super Dave:  Daredevil for Hire, it captured the character’s follies in animated form with an added plot device of Super Dave being a hero as well. It was produced by DiC and Bob Einstein was onboard to both voice his character and to end each episode with a live-action segment which usually recycled one of his old stunts. The show only lasted 13 episodes and I mostly remember it as just being the show that came on after X-Men, which basically spelled the end of my cartoon viewing on a Saturday morning. Sometimes I watched it, sometimes I went on to do something else. I never got attached to it, and the most memorable aspect of the show for me was the opening credits as I probably sat through them before turning the TV off. The show premiered on September 12, 1992 and blew through its episodes rather quickly. Fox still kept it on the air though through August of 1993.

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Bob Einstein’s self-absorbed Super Dave Osborne had a pretty nice run for himself.

The penultimate episode of the cartoon series was dedicated to Christmas. I could not find an original air date for “Merry Christmas, Super Dave!” but I would assume it likely aired in November or December of 1992. If the episodes aired in order, then it would have premiered on December 5, and may have been shown again on the 19th or 26th. It’s a bit surprising to see a show of only 13 episodes get a Christmas episode, but I’m not complaining. The episode is going to have Super Dave save Santa, a rather conventional and predictable plot, but since Santa flies high over the world there is certainly a chance for our hero to suffer a terrible fall and experience tremendous pain. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

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Gotta toss in the obligatory episode title image.

The episode begins with Super Dave (Bob Einstein) testing out his latest stunt with his stunt coordinator/sidekick Fuji Hakayito(Art Irizawa). He’s going to be shot out of a canon dressed up as Santa with a sack of toys, apparently to deliver them to some kids as part of the stunt. It’s to take place that night, making this stunt feel like a “Fireworks Factory” kind of thing. Fuji fires Dave out of the canon and he misses the target, which was an oversized chimney. He lands harmlessly on a net though and he informs us that he never uses nets, but this practice run is important. He then tries to remember how to get off a net and then recalls his training. He basically does a tuck and roll to get off of it, only to find out the net is probably 100 feet off the ground. He takes a terrible fall, and the sack of toys follow to add some additional pain. A large robotic Santa basically laughs at him, annoying Dave and prompting him to demand Fuji shut it off. He questions Fuji why the net wasn’t the standard 6 feet off the ground, and Fuji replies he just didn’t have time to set it up. Then he whips out a controller and hits a button producing the proper net. It appears under Dave and bounces him in the air (they call it a net, but it and the other net are more like a trampoline) into the higher net. He then ping pongs off the two apparently stuck in a loop while the robot Santa remains active to continue its mocking laughter.

 

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That seems like a bit of an overreaction at the sight of a grown man dressed as a baby.

Super Dave and Fuji are then shown at the mall. Fuji is disguised as a baby and Dave is pushing him in a stroller because Fuji wants to meet Santa, but they think he won’t want to meet an adult man. Dave is embarrassed to be doing this and tells Fuji there’s no way anyone will think he’s a kid. A woman then, basically on cue, stops to comment on the cute baby and informs Dave that he looks just like him. Dave then removes the woman’s glasses and buffs and polishes them before returning them to her face. She then looks at Fuji and screams in what ends up being a pretty solid gag.

 

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Santa is a bit confused by this apparent child.

Dave and Fuji then approach Santa. First they’re inspected by an elf (possibly voiced by Kath Soucie, the credits aren’t great on this show) who mispronounces Fuji’s name as Fooey, but it sounds like a baby’s name I suppose. They then meet Santa and “Fooey” hops on his lap and starts reading from a rather long list. Dave then reminds Fuji that Christmas isn’t a time for selfishness, and Fuji remarks to Santa the secret password that he just wants peace and junk. Santa (Frank Welker) is so taken by Fuji’s selflessness that he reaches into his sack and pulls out some special Super Dave high-bounce sneakers. Dave himself then lodges a protest at Santa giving away his merch for free. A guy’s got to watch out for his bottom line, you know?

 

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The characters enjoy breaking the fourth wall in this show, something I did not remember.

Dave and Fuji return to the Super Dave compound to continue preparations for the night’s festivities when they receive a phone call. The call is concluded quickly with the phone exploding, and Fuji and Dave explain the phone was Fuji’s invention made to speed-up calls. They also remark it serves as a convenient way for them to explain the plot of the episode to the audience, as they both turn and mug for the camera.

 

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That sure looks painful.

Dave then heads to a payphone, as he was apparently instructed during the call. Santa has been kidnapped, and Dave needs to deliver the ransom of 10 million dollars which he apparently has with him in a briefcase. On the other end of the phone is the kidnapper (Welker) and he’s going to send Dave all over the place to I guess make it harder for any law enforcement to track him. First, he needs to head to the docks and find Alphonso and compliment him on his pretty, pink, dress. Dave heads to the docks and finds a large ship and calls up to a guy on the deck. He assumes this man is Alphonso and compliments the dress. The problem is the guy isn’t Alphonso and he’s not wearing a dress and as thanks for the compliment he drops a giant anchor on Dave’s spine. While he’s on the dock in pain, Dave looks up to see the real Alphonso staring over him. Rather than compliment him on his dress, he gives him some advice on how to improve his appearance (focusing primarily on the man’s hairy feet). Alphonso tells him he needs to head to a junkyard to find little Willy with a gold tooth before departing. Dave says he’ll do that once feeling returns to his legs before the dock gives out and he falls into the water.

 

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Now feels like an appropriate time to point out that Super Dave is not terribly smart.

Dave does indeed head for the junkyard and there he’s confronted by a rather nasty looking Doberman. He assumes the growling beast is Willy and he reaches into the beast’s mouth in search of a gold tooth. As he’s doing so, the real Willy (Charlie Adler) emerges from behind. Dave at first pays him no mind, but then he notices the gold tooth. He then grabs the ID on the dog’s collar to see his name is William. The dog yanks him offscreen to inflict violence upon old Dave and Dave narrates that the dog is chewing his bones and burying him. Ouch.

 

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Our villains of the episode.

After recovering from his dog bites, Dave heads to his next destination which is a warehouse or hangar of some kind. There he’s confronts by the main kidnapper, Alphonso, and Little Willy who display a bound Santa for Dave. They demand to see the “dough” while Dave demands to see Santa and this goes on for a bit. Dave finally opens the briefcase though after confirming via his radio set with Fuji that there’s a tracking device inside. When he shows the contents of the briefcase to the crooks though, he finds that Fuji only placed a tracking device inside. When Dave demands to know where the money is, Fuji remarks he thought it would be safer with him at the compound. Dave ducks into his shirt to chew him out some, but our surprisingly patient kidnappers aren’t too pleased and take Dave prisoner as well.

 

img_0258Dave and Santa are then bound together inside the warehouse. We get a brief look at a pair of reindeer also tied up as the crooks rig the place with explosives via a trail of gunpowder to a large stockpile of the stuff. Fuji shows up with the money to free them, and the crooks take the money and run, but not before first setting the gun powder on fire (to a festive holiday song sung by Willy “We wish you a big explosion!”). Fuji tries to put it out as it slowly burns its way towards the explosives, but he has no luck. Dave demands Fuji just untie them first, and then the three set to trying to think of a way to get out of this mess. Dave asks Santa if anything in his sleigh could put out the fuse, but Santa says no and lists stuff in his sleigh that wouldn’t work like dolls, toys, and some weird device a kid named Fooey wanted. Fuji then asks if it’s the hydraulic, attenuated, nuclear, super-charged, magno-rectifier he wanted. Santa just says “Whatever,” before informing him that it took his elves a year to build. When Fuji is asked what the thing does he says it’s for putting out explosions. How convenient?

 

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The device that will save us all. I question the need for it to be nuclear powered.

Fuji retrieves his gift from the sack on Santa’s sleigh and turns it on. It’s a boxy thing that has two cartoonish hands that extend from it. They simply put the spark out by pressing down on it with a finger, and Super Dave looks at the camera with a “Really?!” expression. Super Dave then informs Santa he can go deliver the presents now, while he goes after the crooks. Fuji tells Dave not to worry and that he already took care of the crooks. We then see them being loaded into a police wagon outside a car lot called Tricky Dick’s. When Willy asks the cop how he knew the money was stolen he informs them because they’ve never had a President Fuji and displays a bill which has Fuji’s likeness on it.

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It just wouldn’t be Christmas without more pain.

Dave is happy with his sidekick for once, and once again tells Santa to get a move on. Santa tells him that he’ll need their help since he’s getting a late start as he heads for his sleigh. Dave says they’ll never get anywhere fast enough in that old thing, when Fuji tells him his wacky Christmas gift has another function. It apparently transforms into a rocket sleigh and Dave excitedly jumps in to pilot it. He fires it up and the thing shoots straight up in the air before crashing back down to earth leaving Dave a charred mess.

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Of course Fuji and Dave are getting a ride in Santa’s sleigh!

Santa then informs them that his sleigh is more than adequate, and the trio board it and take off. As they fly through the air, we have it confirmed that this Santa is the same as the mall Santa from earlier (which the viewer probably knew, but apparently Dave and Fuji did not). Dave had previously told Fuji the mall Santa was just a helper and probably a pool man, which the crooks even repeated before they left, so he feels a bit stupid. Santa then gifts Dave a pair of Super Dave high-bounce sneakers which Dave is surprisingly quite happy to receive. Santa then demands payment for them which catches Dave off-guard, but he’s reminded that he’s just doing what Dave instructed him to do. We’re then wished a merry Christmas and as the trio fly away Dave lists off all of the injuries he incurred during this adventure.

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The shot that ends most Christmas specials.

We’re then taken to a special Christmas greeting card. It’s a Christmas song sung by Super Dave set to the Twelve Days of Christmas that mostly just lists off misfortunes incurred by Dave throughout the show. It features clips from past episodes and lasts about a minute. It’s cute. We’re then taken to the live-action segment of the show, which involves a gag where Super Dave tries to hold onto a pickup truck and keep it from driving off for thirty seconds. He can only manage to do it for 15. When the announcer instructs the crew to get that truck out of there it takes off and Dave’s arms, which were still bound to the bumper, stretch to a comical length. And that’s the end.

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An actual “stunt” is included as well.

Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire is not a particularly well-animated show. It’s one of DiC’s lesser productions, but I wouldn’t call it ugly. It’s just fairly simple, which isn’t surprising since it’s pretty weird that it even exists. The daredevil craze was well past its expiration date come the 1990s and Super Dave was known, but not exactly a household name. The show has some laughs to offer, though they’re not found where I expected them to be. The physical comedy bits are what I recalled most from the show, and they’re fine, but I mostly found the show amusing when it breaks the fourth wall or when Dave is shown being pragmatic. Though the joke of Fuji essentially being a deus ex machina might have been overused.

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This show has its moments, like this Santa robot that basically mock’s Dave during his practice run.

As a Christmas episode, this is pretty by the numbers. Super Dave is a hero, so having him save Santa is expected. The actual rescue was a bit weird with a lot of padding by having Dave need to go on a scavenger hunt of sorts. It was not at all surprising to find the real Santa was the same as the mall one, which Dave had dismissed. Visually, there’s not a ton of Christmas to be found outside of the opening stunt sequence and the mall. And speaking of that opening stunt, I was shocked the episode didn’t return to it. I figured it was going to be a bookend and we’d see Dave’s actual Santa stunt go comically wrong in front of an audience. I feel cheated! It really was a “Fireworks Factory” after all!

 

Interestingly, there appears to be two versions of this episode: the original and an edited one. The edited one features changes to the Fuji character to de-emphasize his more racial features, namely his eyes and even a re-recording of his speech. The skin tone may have been altered as well, or that could just be a difference in quality between the two videos I found. Most of my images come from the edited one as it was of a better quality, but you can see the changes in the images above. Art Irizawa, who is Japanese-Canadian, played the character in live-action and voiced him here in both versions. Apparently, an Asian-American Child Psychologist by the name of Kenyon S. Chan voiced complaints about the character. I found a story on the subject from the LA Times. It mentions the character will be changed for Season Two, but that never came to exist. I’m guessing they went back and made these changes for the summer rebroadcasts and maybe in anticipation of making it appear the same as the next season.

In the end there isn’t much of a Christmas message or lesson to impart. Santa even took Dave’s advice and decided to charge for the special sneakers. I’m fine with it though, not everything needs a moral. The additional song at the end is appreciated as it does inject a bit more Christmas spirit into the thing. The live-action finale though feels out of place since it didn’t involve Christmas at all. Maybe they should have just ended this episode with the song and a merry Christmas from the real Super Dave?

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Not a lot of people remember this cartoon which means it’s easy to find for free online, but in poor quality.

If you want to watch this one this year it probably won’t surprise you to hear it’s not readily available anywhere. No DVD release was ever done and streaming platforms don’t see any value in paying for it. Plus with Einstein no longer with us there’s likely even less reason for anyone to attempt to profit off of this cartoon. The good news is since no one cares about it then no one is punishing piracy. If you want to watch it, just google it. You’ll even find it on YouTube with a few bumpers and commercials as well. And honestly, sometimes those are better than the actual show.


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