Tag Archives: santa claus

Naughty or Nice Classic Santa and Cyborg Santa

“What’s this?!”

It was looking like we were in for a photo finish this year. Last year, toymaker Fresh Monkey Fiction partnered with online retailer Big Bad Toy Store to launch the Naughty or Nice collection. Structured similar to a Kickstarter campaign, FMF posted several action figures for preorder with a minimum order quantity needed for the figure to go into production. The only difference was, since it was through BBTS there was no real obligation to buy. Payment wasn’t required until the product shipped, which was going to take about a year, so it felt like a pretty significant gamble on the part of FMF and BBTS. Essentially, they were banking on a line of Santa Claus themed action figures to be a big enough hit to take the risk, and so far it looks like it’s worked out.

The latest in Christmas action figures are here!

The goal from the get-go was to get these figures into the hands of collectors in time for Christmas 2022. That was looking a bit dicey going into November, but FMF came through as the figures arrived on Tuesday the 13th and BBTS began shipping them out the next day. I received my order on the 18th, a week before Christmas, ensuring at least 14 days or so of holiday display. As for what I ordered, that ended up being just two figures plus the accessory set. The line is essentially a series of Santa Claus figures. There’s a classic one, a black one, an army one, robot, pirate, and zombie. In addition to that, there were two versions of Krampus on the same buck and a bunch of elves and nutcrackers done in a five-points style. The main Santa body, which is used for every figure, is basically a 1:12 Santa. Some have described it as a “Marvel Legends” styled Santa, but it’s simpler than that as far as construction goes. The articulation setup is more like a Mythic Legions release, but the sculpt less ambitious. There’s also more paint than a typical Hasbro offering and, ultimately, they are their own thing. I ordered just the Classic Santa and the Cyborg Santa. I do like some of the others, but at $37 a piece I’m not sure I need any of the others. What attracted me to the Classic Santa should be pretty self-explanatory, while the Cyborg one just looked pretty cool. In what is planned to be my final Christmas themed action figure review of 2022, we’re going to take a look at both.

Some Figura Obscura and Fresh Monkey Fiction. Plus a clock.

The Naughty or Nice collection comes packaged in a window box with a hanger on the top. It’s pretty similar to a Hasbro window box or the old DC Direct boxes. The cardstock is a little thin, but it seems durable enough to protect the figure. It just may be difficult to get a mint one through the mail. The figure can be removed from either side, or the bottom, but not the top unless you want to destroy the box. Both figures are identical with the exception of the heads and hands, which is why I feel fine reviewing them together. The figures stand at about 6.5″ to the top of the head and close to 7″ with the hat on. The hat is removable and it plugs on just fine. It looks like FMF did not apply any paint to the inside of the hats so there should not be a cause for concern with paint rub, unless it comes from the head to the hat.

The figures present pretty well. The heads are fully painted as they were sculpted in white plastic while much of the body appears to be sculpted in red. My Classic Santa has a tiny chip on the tip of his nose and a small blob of flesh-tone on his moustache which is unfortunate, while Cyborg Santa’s default portrait looks terrific. The beard on Santa has some dry brushing over it with a light brown. This is different from the solicitation and even the cross-sell on the boxes where it was all white with some gray shading like Cyborg Santa. I’m guessing they wanted to differentiate the figure more from the others, but I definitely prefer the all-white approach to this one. It’s almost cream colored as a result and it takes some getting used to. The suit is also shaded which looks nice and helps to reduce the plastic look. I like the shading applied to the white portions of the suit as it gives this Santa a more hearty presence like he’s been going up and down chimneys all night. The paint is cleanly applied in most places. It’s not super crisp around the beard of Santa, but it’s good enough. The only issue I have with the paint is the choice to sculpt the boots in red and paint black over them. There’s a couple of small chipped areas where red shows through and the hinge down there seems to pick up pieces of red plastic which flake out. The foot is done in black so the hinge is black as well which is nice, but if I could make one suggestion going forward it would be for FMF to make the entire boot a separate mold that pegs into the lower leg which would also add a boot cut. The hands on both figures are ungloved and the sculpt for the Cyborg Kringle is wonderful. There’s some nice paint wash there as well and they just look great. The regular Santa has hands molded in a flesh color and it looks like they were paint too to give them a warm presence and not a plastic one.

These guys look nice at a stand still, but the one thing that I was really curious about was how these guys would move. They feel really nice and sturdy in hand and out of the box all of the joints were nice and tight. Some maybe a touch too tight, but I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything while I was breaking them in nor did I need to apply any heat. The head is just on a big ball peg, which again, makes it feel like a Mythic Legions release as it’s the same setup as the Father Christmas figure. Because Santa has a beard and a coat, he really can’t do anything except turn his head as far as the beard will let him. There’s no down, and barely any up rotation. At the shoulder, we have a ball-hinge setup which can raise out to the side almost to a fully horizontal position. It can also rotate around, but you have to avoid rubbing the edge of the torso when doing so as it’s cut at a slight angle. The elbows are just single hinges and do not reach a 90 degree bend. There is a swivel point there as well which is okay, but these arms are pretty limited. The wrists rotate and hinge and I’m happy to report that Cyborg Santa’s trigger hand hinges vertically instead of horizontal which is a nice attention to detail. There’s a ball joint at the waist that mostly allows for rotation with barely anything forward or back. The hips are ball and socket joints and because the lower part of the coat and belt are one piece and done in a soft plastic, the legs can go out to the side way farther than they need to. They kick forward a decent amount, but nothing really back. The knees are like the elbows, a single hinge with a swivel, and also can’t hit a 90 degree bend. At the ankle, there’s a hinge and a rocker which works pretty well..

The overall articulation is merely functional. These guys aren’t going to get into any sort of exotic pose, which is probably expected of a Santa figure. The problem though is they struggle with basic stuff. Santa can’t really get his hands to his head for cookie eating or a finger by the nose pose. You can fudge some of these with perspective shots, but that’s it. Santa also can’t present one of the gifts with both hands under it which is unfortunate. Worst of all though, is Cyborg Santa can’t hold his shotgun in a convincing two-handed fashion. I can get two hands onto it, but not with one on the trigger. I would like to see some improvements for next year’s batch. I think the biggest addition they could make is a biceps swivel. I don’t know if it would solve all of the problems, but it could help. An upper torso joint would be a nice addition too, but I don’t see that happening. I also wouldn’t expect, or even ask for, something like a butterfly joint to help get the hands closer together. And anything that could improve the range of the elbow bend would be welcomed. I think the overall aesthetic of the figure base is good so I get not wanting to mess with it too much. A biceps swivel wouldn’t harm the look, as far as I’m concerned, while I can see some not wanting an upper torso joint. Mostly, I hope they don’t just rest on their laurels and do nothing to improve what was released here.

Both figures also feature some accessories, and some are shared. Both Santas come with a second head. For Classic Santa, it’s a winking face and it looks okay. The winking eye is just a straight, black, line and I feel like it could better. It’s not bad enough that I’ll never use it, but not the slam dunk I expected. For Cyborg Santa, the alternate head is a half Santa half robot look as we’re definitely going for a T-800 thing here. It’s awesome and I’m really torn on which head to go with for this guy. Classic Santa also comes with extra hands. His default ones are gripping hands and he also has a set of relaxed hands and a pointing right hand. The pegs on the hands are basically the same diameter as a Marvel Legends, just shorter, so one could conceivably swap hands with other figure lines. Both figures come with “The List” which is sculpted like a scroll of paper. It’s fine, but I wish the printing on the list itself was different. Santa should have a nice list and Cyborg Santa a naughty list, for instance. Both figures have a red gift box with a painted green ribbon and bow on it. It opens from the top and it’s fine. Both figures also come with a white display stand that is pretty unnecessary since they stand fine and it’s not attractive enough to force its way into the display.

“Merry Christmas, Morph!” “Wow! Thank you, Santa!”

Both figures also have their own unique additions. For Cyborg Santa, it’s a police style pump shotgun. It’s all black and it looks fine, but the problem is it’s too thin. He doesn’t get a good grip on it as a result and it’s a balancing act to pose it. Maybe they were worried about paint rub and thus overcompensated on the thickness of the weapon? It’s too bad and I already mentioned the posing issues with it. For Santa, we get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. Everything is it’s own piece so the plate is separate from the cookies so you can place them on it or put one in Santa’s gripping hand. He can also grip the plate just fine, and if you’re persistent, you could probably balance it on one of the relaxed hands. The glass of milk is also two parts as it’s a transparent glass with the milk a separate piece of plastic so it can be empty or full. The only problem is, the gripping hands are too tight to grasp the glass while the relaxed hands are too loose. I wish one of the relaxed hands had been replaced with a hand designed specifically for holding the glass. It is possible to position it in such a way that will stay in Santa’s hand, but in an unnatural way. I suppose with enough heat, the gripping hand could be softened to the point where it could hold the glass, but I didn’t want to risk the paint transfer from the hand to the glass. My solution? Blue sticky tack.

“What the Hell is this?!”

We also have one more thing to talk about and that’s the accessory set. FMF sold a separate pack for about 22 bucks that contains the following: a cloak, a sack, an extra red present, a set of green presents, two stockings, two pieces of coal, a candy cane, another list, and another set of milk and cookies. I grabbed this mostly for the cloak and sack, but I’m having a bit of buyer’s remorse. The soft goods cloak has a real cheap feel to it. It’s thin, the white trim is like what you would find on a 3 dollar stocking, and the tie is done with cheap ribbon. It just doesn’t look great on Santa. I think it needs to be heavier and maybe the trim should be a shorter “fur” to add a touch of class. Santa can wear it with or without his hat, but I don’t know that I like it enough to use. The sack is basically the same deal as it’s done in the same style and there is a ribbon for the drawstring which I just don’t like the look of and it’s much too long. Santa needs a sack though, so I can see myself using this, but it could have better. The rest of the stuff is just “meh.” The stockings are solid plastic so you can’t fill them with anything. The Santas both have trouble gripping the candy cane, and the coal is just coal. The green presents are molded together and they add something to the display. The repeat items are unnecessary though – why do I need another set of milk and cookies or list? I guess I like being able to fill out the plate a bit more with the cookies, but how about some toys instead? I like the presents and stockings just to fill out a display, but this set could have been better and I don’t think it’s something I can recommend.

I’m not here to pick favorites, I’m just happy to have multiple representations of Santa Claus in my display.

The Naughty or Nice collection isn’t without its issues, but the total package of the Santa figures I purchased are still good enough to merit inclusion in a holiday toy display. I like the look of both figures and my only nitpick there is that I wish Santa’s beard was whiter. The sculpt is great and there’s enough paint to add a touch of class to both figures. These don’t look or feel cheap (provided you’re not using those soft goods in the accessory set) and can stand beside the Figura Obscura Father Christmas and not look out of place. Ultimately, I recommend these based on your own personal preferences. If you want a classic, Coca-Cola, styled Santa then the Classic Santa should be more than sufficient. The other figures are just about what amuses you. I thought Cyborg Santa looked cool so I bought him. If the gun situation was better, I might have talked myself into Sgt. Santa too. I can definitely see a lot of folks liking the look of Pirate and Zombie Santa and it would be easy to just go all-in to amass a larger, Santa, display. I personally wanted to like Krampus, but him being on the same Santa body just doesn’t do it for me. I want a naked, furry, Krampus and not one dressed like Santa, but the head sculpt looks pretty rad. He does have a tail, and there’s a plug on the Santa figures to cover-up the peg hole for that tail, though it’s not visible so I don’t consider it an eyesore.

Blue sticky-tack is your friend.

If you would like to add these or any of the other figures in the collection to your holiday display then head over to Big Bad Toy Store. Some of the figures have been going in and out of stock, but have since been re-stocked it would seem. Fresh Monkey Fiction also plans to make some of this collection available for preorder again when and if they do sell out, but those won’t be delivered until next year. Wave 2 is also up for pre-order and it looks like the major new addition from a sculpting perspective is a shirtless Santa which will also be used for a shirtless Krampus. I am probably going to order a figure or two from the second wave, so check back next year to see how those turned out!

Need some more Christmas toys?

Figura Obscura – Father Christmas

It was just last year that Four Horsemen launched a subline of its popular Mythic Legions brand of action figures called Figura Obscura. Practically speaking, there’s little difference between the two lines as Mythic Legions seeks to serve as a modular line of toys based on myth and legend and that doesn’t feature licensed characters.…

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Figura Obscura – Krampus

Over the years, I’ve acquired quite a few action figures designed by the good people over at Four Horsemen LLC. They’ve been designing figures for companies for awhile now. My first exposure to the company was via NECA’s inaugural line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on their appearance in the Mirage Studios comics. Lately,…

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Transformers Generations Holiday Optimus Prime

We interrupt our regularly scheduled holiday posts with something very familiar to this blog: a toy review! Yes, we have ourselves another Christmas toy to talk about and it too comes from Hasbro. We already looked at a Star Wars toy at the end of November, and now we’re turning to what I suppose is…

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Dec. 19 – American Dad! – “Minstrel Krampus”

“Minstrel Krampus” originally aired December 15, 2013.

I’m quite surprised to have made it all the way to December 19 without resorting to The Simpsons, American Dad!, Bob’s Burgers, or some other animated sitcom that has an annual, or near annual, Christmas episode. Not that I have been avoiding such shows, and I may turn to one again before this is all over, it’s just worked out that way. American Dad! is the animated sitcom that might have the best claim to possessing the highest quality Christmas specials. They’re not an annual guarantee anymore, but the library the show has accumulated is quite good. Bob’s Burgers might be the runner-up at this point, but The Simpsons have a solid claim due largely to just having such a vast library of Christmas episodes at this point (and it could have been a lot more if not for the fact that the show was reluctant to go back to the holiday following the first, aired, episode).

“Minstrel Krampus” just might be my second favorite of the American Dad! Christmas episodes, but even that’s a tough battle. Last year, we looked at my favorite such episode and rather than go to the next in-line we’re doing Krampus. I suppose it’s slightly redundant given we already looked at a Christmas special this year featuring the beast, but if we can fit Santa into multiple specials then why not Krampus? This Christmas episode, like so many others, does tie-in with previous ones via The Smith family’s relationship with Santa Claus so it makes sense to look at this one this year. There was a Christmas episode released in between “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” and this one (“Season’s Beatings” which is excellent and likely to be looked at later), but it didn’t contain Santa so we’re not really missing anything continuity wise.

We have ourselves a festive framing device for this one.

This episode foregoes the opening credits and begins on the title screen with the sound of sleigh bells in the background. They should have brought back the candy cane font, but I’ll forgive them. The absence of an intro would seem to indicate we’re in for a slightly longer episode than usual. Normally, that’s a good thing, but when you’re writing a blog entry that has to cover the whole of an episode it’s less thrilling. Once the title is removed we’re presented with an ornate looking storybook that lets us know this is an American Dad! Christmas episode. A narrator, who is clearly Stan’s father Jack (Daran Norris), chimes in to set the mood. It’s Christmas, the time of year when children are the worst! They’ve figured out they’re getting stuff whether they’re bad or good and that just sucks.

In order for this episode to work, Steve has to be a giant brat. Just go with it.

We then find ourselves at a toy store. To apparently illustrate this point, we see Stan (Seth MacFarlane) and Francine (Wendy Schaal) pushing a cart filled with toys while their teenaged son Steve (Scott Grimes) rides in the basket. He grabs an RC car from the shelf and tosses it into the cart, which Francine removes and places back on the shelf. He immediately protests and when Francine tells him it’s too expensive he throws a tantrum. Stan reminds him he only gets what he wants if he’s good, and Steve responds by slapping his father in the face. Stan doesn’t understand what’s gotten into their son while Francine just refers to him as a mystery. This is apparently an inspirational quote for Steve who hops out of the cart and breaks into song, the first line of which is “I’m the one they call a mystery.”

This is the first of a handful of musical numbers in this one, most of which are really well done and catchy.

I think this is around the time of the show where the writers fell in love with Scott Grimes and his singing ability. And with good reason – he sounds great! Steve sings his song, which I assume is titled “Bad Bad Boy” or something to that effect, with a simple, synthesized, backing track. His vocal inflections remind me of Bad era Michael Jackson, and considering the song’s premise, that’s probably intentional. Steve basically just dances around the store plucking items from the shelf and tossing them, which Francine has to pick up. It cuts into segments of Steve dancing in hip hop attire with background dancers on top of a giant, green, red-ribboned, present with flames in the background. It’s absurd, but quite entertaining. It goes on for a half minute or so before Francine demands an end to this song and dance. Stan then laments that he can’t just beat Steve like his father used to beat him, which actually gives him an idea as he tells Steve he’s going to show him what happens to bad boys when they grow up.

Jack Smith has a little story to tell his grandson.

We switch scenes to a penitentiary. Stan’s dad, Jack, is locked-up here and Stan wants Steve to speak with his grandfather and hopefully get scared straight. When the two sit-down with Jack, divided by the usual security features of a prison, Stan demands Jack tell Steve how awful prison is, but Jack just reminisces about Krampus. Neither Steve nor Stan have any idea who Krampus is, but Jack says Steve is lucky he’s not around anymore because when he was a kid Krampus would punish the naughty. He then tells the tale of Krampus which is displayed via still images as if they’re from an old storybook. He covers the usual stuff, like how Krampus rode with Santa and beat on bad kids, but when Steve calls it a bunch of bull-jizzle (eww) Jack explains he’s not around anymore because he trapped him! One Christmas Eve night, little Jack got out of bed to get more of his mother’s strudel, but he found Krampus with his head buried in the copper pot full of the stuff. Jack slammed the lid on him trapping him forever!

You have to feel for a kid who walks in on some goat-man going to town on his mother’s strudel.

Stan and Steve don’t believe the old man’s story which is when Jack tells him to check his basement. It would seem all of Jack’s stuff is stored there, on account of him being in prison and all, and that includes the copper pot containing Krampus. He urges Stan to investigate, but the two get up and leave forcing a guard to enter to drag Jack back to his cell all the while with him screaming for Stan to check his basement (he also mentions some really fast skis he’s keeping down there too).

This feels like the setup for a B plot, but it really doesn’t go anywhere.

Back in town, Main Street is all decorated for Christmas and Hayley (Rachel MacFarlane) is out doing some window-shopping with Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), the fish. Klaus is comically riding around in a hamster ball full of water while wearing a festive Santa hat. He asks Hayley if she’s decided what she’s getting the family for Christmas and she indicates she has not. This is her opportunity to break into song. It’s not particularly funny or anything as she just needs money for Christmas (to just buy popcorn?) which leads her to Roger (MacFarlane) who demands she stop singing and just tell him what she wants. It’s a job she wants and she’s hoping she can work in Roger’s attic bar, but he gestures to the open area that he has plenty of help since he hired some collegiate water polo team. A bunch of physically fit men in red speedos are serving drinks and Roger remarks suggestively he has “more hands than jobs.”

Oh my!

Roger tosses Hayley a newspaper and tells her to check the want ads. She finds an ad for airport work and puts a circle around that. One of Roger’s waiters then walks over and he inspects the young man’s…area. He’s not satisfied with the fit of the speedo and complains that it’s too loose and that you could fit two men in it! He demonstrates by squeezing himself into the garment and the poor waiter looks rightly uncomfortable with the situation. Roger complains it’s still too loose and calls over another waiter to get in.

What are the Smiths going to do with this boy?

Later at the Smith residence, Steve is ripping open his Christmas presents and finding them not up to his standards. He pulls out what looks like a futuristic looking RC car and questions if his parents bought the floor model before emphatically smashing it on the floor. Francine comes over demanding to know, “By the power of Grayskull,” just what Steve thinks he’s doing. Stan gathers up the remaining unopened gifts and says he’s going to hide these ones until Christmas. This takes him down into the basement while muttering how Steve has him “…talking like Bernie Mac.” He tries to place the gifts on the top shelf of some wall unit, but he ends up knocking down a whole bunch of boxes which reveals his father’s copper pot.

A Krampus moon shot! Now there’s something you don’t see in most Christmas specials.

Stan approaches the pot with trepidation, but soon hears a voice calling from inside. It’s Krampus (Danny Glover), and he wants to be let out! He mistakes Stan for Jack, but Stan corrects him by telling the demon that Jack is his father. The beast continues urging Stan to free him, but he’s apprehensive about unleashing a literal demon upon the world. Then he hears Steve screaming at his mother upstairs about his Mickey Mouse towel and it gives him an idea. He offers Krampus a deal: he’ll let him out, but he has to scare Steve straight. Krampus is more than willing to do so as he reminds Stan that’s basically his thing, so Stan removes the lid. Immediately, a black, wraith-like, being comes flying out and past Stan! We cut to Steve sleeping in his bed when his window smashes in and Krampus appears. He picks Steve up by the neck and shoves him in his sack. Stan comes bursting in just in-time to see Krampus fly out of the window riding his sack like a witch rides a broom. Before he leaves, he tells Stan to bring him Jack if he ever wants to see his kid again. On the way out, we get to see Krampus fly past the full moon – a new holiday tradition!

That’s one way to do it.

We cut to the prison and Jack is flipping out at the news that Stan freed Krampus. When he incredulously asks upon hearing the news, “You did what?!” Stan replies that he just wanted Krampus to scare Steve straight which causes Jack to scream, “Sexual orientation is not a choice!” For as shitty a person as Jack is, at least he isn’t a homophobe. Stan ignores him and just lays out his proposal: Krampus has Steve and will only return him if Jack takes his place. Stan informs his father that he can use his CIA connections to have him released if he’s willing to switch places with Steve. Jack flips up his eye patch exposing a hole where his eye once was and pulls a cigarette out from it that he must have been stashing. He inserts the filter end of the cigarette into the hole and lights it, takes a drag somehow, and then takes it out and smokes it in a more conventional sense. He then agrees to Stan’s proposal.

You just can’t trust that Jack.

We cut to Stan and Jack leaving the prison. As they do, Jack reasons that Krampus must have taken Steve to Bavaria where his castle is. He tells Stan to give him his keys, which Stan does only for Jack to punch him out and steal his car. As he does so, he shouts “See ya, sucker!” in Stan’s direction who is left sitting on the ground. He just chuckles to himself between mutterings of “Yup,” indicating he should have probably seen that coming.

They can’t all be teapots and candelabras.

At the castle of Krampus, Steve is being dragged by the leg to a holding cell. As he gets dragged by a large wooden door, it opens and some normally inanimate objects emerge and note their surprise at seeing Krampus. They are a toilet brush, bidet, plunger, and beer stein. It would seem Krampus’ castle is not unlike that of the Beast from Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast. Krampus then chucks Steve into a caged area all the while Steve is insisting he can’t be treated like this because he’s an American child. He even refers to himself as a treasure. He then spits in the face of Krampus and tries to threaten him, but Krampus checks him to remind him who he’s dealing with.

You get the rod!

This is Krampus’ turn to break out into song (singing voice provided by Charles Bradley) and illustrate to Steve why he’s a creature to be feared. It’s a funky little R&B number and probably the highlight of the musical component to this episode. Krampus basically dances around torturing Steve with the climax of each verse being “You get the rod!” followed by him wailing on Steve’s ass with his birch sticks. There’s a break in the middle where Krampus explains to Steve that he doesn’t know real pain like he does which leads to a quick story about Krampus being dumped by a girl named Sheila in the middle of downtown Baltimore to go with a guy named Dennis. When he goes back into his song, he sings about Sheila presenting him with a baby she claimed was is, but looked just like Dennis. That damn, Dennis! This guy has some real trauma in his past. The song closes with him holding Steve by the ankles as he spanks his bottom with the birch sticks. He leaves the boy sobbing in a fetal position in the cage telling him that’s where he’ll stay until he gets Jack.

Roger seems like he’s actually a good bartender. Terrible boss, but good bartender.

At the Smith home, Stan is nursing a beer at Roger’s bar. Roger, being the ever attentive bartender, asks Stan to tell him what he did, or who he did, was it another boy?! Stan tells him what happened and Roger surprises him by actually knowing who Krampus is. He suggests that Santa would know where to find him, but Stan reminds Roger that Santa hates him and we get a brief flashback to their confrontation from before. Plus, Stan adds, he has no way to get to the North Pole, but Roger informs him he’s wrong about that assumption and calls for his “boys.”

If you’re feeling bad for the one dead one, I’m guessing the others aren’t far behind so at least he won’t be alone.

We cut to Stan and Roger on a floating sleigh with the water polo team pulling it through the arctic waters. One of them is clearly dead while the others jump and swim like dolphins. They arrive at a frozen island with a massive, 100 foot wall of ice in front of them. Roger just asks Stan to give him a boost so he does and the scene just cuts to Roger effortlessly climbing over the edge. He then calls out for Stan to grab his hand and the shot is positioned over Roger’s shoulder so that Stan is comically too far away to reach. The scene cuts back to Stan and Roger’s hand is in-frame. I don’t know if this is a reference to anything or just something the writers thought was funny, but it is! Stan is then jumped by a group of elves obviously working for Santa. The ice beneath Roger’s feet breaks away from the side of the wall causing him to fall and crash through the ice. An elf reaches into the newly formed crater with a snare to wrap around Roger’s throat. He pops up and commands the elf, “Harder.” He tightens the snare only for Roger to respond with, “Way harder!”

Roger’s just making the best of a bad situation.

At Santa’s workshop, Stan is tied to a chair with holly and a coat-less Santa comes strutting in to smash his face with a revolver featuring a candy cane pattern. Santa (Matt McKenna) is not happy to see Stan and seems ready to kill him, but Stan mentions Krampus. Santa is really not happy to hear about the return of Krampus as he hates sharing the spotlight with the demon, plus he used to nibble on his list. He then makes Stan an offer: help him kill Krampus, and he’ll help get Steve returned safely. Stan agrees and says “Come on, Roger,” and as the camera pulls back we see Roger is tied to a chair nearby and the elves are still choking him. He tells Stan he’s “Almost there,” indicating they can leave once he…finishes.

I see nothing wrong here.

Back at Krampus’ castle, the objects come to cheer up Steve. First he’s approached by a roll of toilet paper who offers to dry his tears, then the others appear. Bidet offers Steve a drink of water from his “spout” which Steve is happy to partake in. Steve uses the opportunity to complain about how mean Krampus is, but the others disagree and tell him he has Krampus all wrong. They let him out to illustrate their point and the group finds Krampus at a piano singing his heart out.

Yeah, Krampus, sing your heart out! I am here for it!

Krampus is in pain, and it hurts him to punish children, but it’s something he must do! Steve is touched and joins Krampus for a duet where he explains that he understands the demon now. The song is very soulful, and Charles Bradley sings his ass off. The song does devolve into Krampus singing about his love life again and brings up his ex, Sheila, once more. It gets dark when Krampus vows to kill her, but then ends by professing his love for her. He’s got some stuff to work out. When the song ends, the two have a heart-to-heart and reach an understanding about the role Krampus plays and Steve seems to have turned over a new leaf. Krampus tells Steve he just wants to see Jack so he can apologize for failing him as he blames himself for Jack turning out so rotten.

Another atypical moon shot, this one is really spoiling us!

At the North Pole, Stan, Roger, and Santa are ready to set out for Krampus. The three of them are in Santa’s sleigh which is only being pulled by six reindeer – but wait! Tagging along behind them are three additional reindeer being ridden by elves. Do we grant credit for the proper number of reindeer to this scene as a result? It’s inconclusive, but maybe. The sleigh takes off and they pass by a full moon once again and Stan even makes a comment about it. Roger adds that once you’re above the clouds the moon always looks full, but when Stans asks if that’s true Roger just blows him off. And if you’re wondering, the answer is “No,” that is not true. Santa then adds that Stan will be on the permanent Good List for helping him kill Krampus, right alongside Jesus. When Roger points out that Jesus is a Jew, Santa reacts with an incredulous, “What?!”

Ugh, let’s just forget this happened.

As the sleigh group passes over an airport, we pan down to check-in with Jack again who is trying to board a plane to Jamaica, but his flight has been delayed. He gets in a little tiff with an airline employee named Mary-Ann (Marissa Jaret Winokur) who refers him to customer service. There he finds Hayley (remember her arc?) working a customer service kiosk. She’s being accosted by a group of Jamaican men (all voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) who seem rather upset about their flight. Jack is surprised to find Hayley here and when he asks her what she’s doing she says she needs money to buy presents for her family. When Jack expresses that he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to do something for their family, she breaks into a Calypso/Rastafarian number about how family gets you high and it is just awful. It’s not even funny bad, it just sucks. It’s apparently all the convincing Jack needs though as when the song ends he’s convinced he needs to help his family so he changes his flight to Bavaria to go after Krampus.

They just couldn’t help themselves.

It’s morning at Castle Krampus and Steve comes walking into the kitchen in an oversized dress shirt to find Krampus cooking breakfast. Are we supposed to read this like the classic setup of a woman wearing a man’s shirt the next morning after a night of sex? Normally, I’d say no, but with this show I’m betting they want us to think of it in that way. Krampus serves him his breakfast and Steve is basically still apologizing for being a bad kid, but Krampus wants to thank him for reminding him how good it feels to convert bad kids to good ones. He’s made blueberry crepes, and Plunger asks Steve if he wants homemade chocolate sauce. After he asks, he drags his body across a plate of the dish leaving a brown trail behind. Yes, this is definitely a poop joke.

You’ve sauced your last crepe, Plunger.

Outside, Santa’s sleigh has been parked and we find the assault team roaming the halls of the castle. Santa signals for all to stop when he hears the sound of a toilet flushing. We see plunger using the bathroom and finishing up before the door flies open. Stan angrily storms in and grabs Plunger and drowns him in the toilet. In the kitchen, Steve is helping Krampus with the dishes. Krampus scrapes the contents of a plate into a trash bag which is a living bag that begins hopping towards the door to take itself out. Stan, Santa, and the elves burst in and one of the elves grabs the trash bag and cuts it open. Blood appears as the contents of the trash bag spill on the floor indicating it has died while Steve cries out “Trashy!”

If you smash a bidet, does it bleed? Yes.

They begin laying waste to the various objects in the kitchen. Santa chucks the toilet paper onto an open flame while Stan wrestles with the bidet. He ends up tossing it out the window where it smashes into a pile of porcelain and blood on the ground. A living table stands up on its end for Krampus and Steve to duck behind while the boy cries out for them to stop their assault. He also cries out as his friends are slaughtered and this is clearly going to scar the boy for a long time. During this sequence, we see Jack has arrived and is skiing towards the castle as the sound of gunfire filters out. The table gets shot and dies leaving Krampus exposed. Santa fires off a round and nails him in the chest. As Krampus lays on the ground bleeding out, Steve comforts him, but Santa just comes over and puts one foot on his chest. Declaring himself “Big man on Krampus,” he blasts the demon in the forehead ending his existence.

Avert your eyes, Steve!

With Krampus dead, Santa turns his attention to Stan. Drawing his gun on him, Stan tries to reason with him, but Santa lays it out in plain terms that he’s the bad guy! Steve chimes in to tell his dad that’s what he was trying to tell him, that Krampus was good and Santa evil. Santa laughs and confirms as much saying he’s in bed with “Big Toy” to make sure all kids get what they want on Christmas so that he can profit. When Roger tries to point out that this doesn’t make any sense since Santa gives toys away, he tells him to shut up and not to think about it too hard.

You were a fool to trust him, Stan. That’s twice you’ve failed!

Santa then fires off a round at Stan, but through the window comes Jack! He’s able to soar in front of his son in slow motion to take a bullet for him while simultaneously sending one of his skis to plunge into Santa’s chest. The act causes Santa to lose his revolver and Stan is able to grab it. Santa still tries to throw a knife that was on the floor at Stan, but he misses and hits the wall which we find out was alive. Santa then runs for it shouting “Every man for himself,” with his trio of elves trailing behind. With Stan kneeling over his dad, Jack takes the opportunity to tell Stan he’s a good guy and to apologize for being a bad father, but Stan corrects him and says his abuse made him what he is today. That’s the message of the episode folks, kids need to be beaten into goodness. Jack expresses regret for sealing Krampus away for all these years feeling that, if he hadn’t, the world wouldn’t suck so bad.

At least they got to have one touching moment before he died.

On the floor, the blood pooling from Krampus mingles with the blood of Jack. The body of Krampus turns to a blue apparition and gets absorbed into Jack. His lifeless body begins to float and blasts of light shoot out of him and a new Krampus is born! This new Jack-Krampus basically looks as you would expect and is quite thrilled at the idea of being alive again. Steve points out the obvious, while Stan asks him if he’s going to be Krampus all the time or just on Christmas. Jack rightly doesn’t know, but he declares it’s Christmas Eve and he has some bottoms to blister! He turns into the wraith form and flies out the window. Outside, he flies right up to the screen to break the fourth wall to tell us “You better be good, boys and girls, or I’ll beat you until blood’s comin’ from your ears and your eyes and your mouth. Merry Christmas! …and from your ass!” The scene turns into another image from the storybook that started it all. It zooms out and closes signaling that’s the end.

Behold! The new Krampus!

“Minstrel Krampus” is a thoroughly wacky tale that only American Dad! could tell. In order for it to take place, Steve needs to act like a petulant child and do things he normally never would, like slap his father. And for his part, Stan needs to act in a way he normally would not for if Steve ever struck him in another episode he probably would beat the child or inflict some kind of psychological torture on the boy. It’s also dependent upon Santa being a bad guy in this universe and that part is played up. It’s not exactly a perversion of Christmas to view Krampus in a somewhat favorable light if his punishment is deemed corrective discipline. And the observation that basically all kids get toys on Christmas, be they good or bad, isn’t exactly wrong.

Unlike the old Krampus, this one doesn’t seem to be transferring his own trauma onto bad kids. I think he’s just going to like wailing on children.

Where the episode takes it further is by introducing the message that capital punishment is the best form of punishment for children. That’s obviously made in jest and I don’t think the show intends for us to take it literally, it’s just there for the sake of humor. Steve encountering a group of magic, talking, objects is a direct parody of Beauty and the Beast and the episode makes certain to select the most unsanitary of objects for its characters. Most of these wouldn’t have existed in the Beast’s castle, but imagine if Belle encountered a magic, talking, chamber pot? I’m actually a little surprised they went with the comparatively less disgusting bidet, but they got their poop joke in via the plunger so it’s not as if the episode didn’t “go there.”

The only weakness I find with this one is in the B plot, if you can even call it that. We get a very brief scene at the beginning of Hayley looking for a job which only happens so that Jack can encounter her at the airport and have a terrible song come from her that changes his perception of family. For this to work, we basically have to ignore Hayley’s usual character as she’s not likely to feel this kind of pressure to get her family anything for Christmas. In that, it’s similar to Steve acting as horrible as he does which is just as out of character for him. It’s just not a rewarding plot and the whole scene at the airport is easily the weakest moment. They could have cut the whole thing and just had Jack witness something at the airport that changed his heart. Maybe a parody of Home Alone with Kevin’s mom declaring she’s getting home to her son for Christmas could have provided a comedic way to turn things around. Basically anything would have been better than the scene we got.

The storybook pages are a lot of fun, and I’m always down for more Krampus stories!

Aside from that one song, the others are quite entertaining. This episode is almost a musical. I don’t think there’s enough music to really call it that, but it doesn’t matter as it’s just semantics anyway. The songs are pretty great though and I really loved the opening number with Steve at the store and both songs involving Krampus. Scott Grimes and Charles Bradley give terrific performances and the delivery of their songs are very earnest, with the lyrics sometimes being ridiculous. This is the type of episode I recommend watching with subtitles on at least once so you can get all of the jokes. That last song with Krampus sure takes things to some dark places by the time it’s over.

Ultimately, this is just a funny Christmas episode. It’s not as bloodthirsty as the previous one we looked at, so some that found the battle between the Smiths and Santa’s minions distasteful might actually prefer this one. It certainly has that American Dad! spirit as the show was well into its life at this point to know how to do a proper Christmas episode to the point where it feels automatic. And if you’re wondering, yes both Santa and Jack-Krampus return in future Christmas episodes so you might not want to stop here. And if you do want to watch it, and any other American Dad! Christmas episode, Hulu has you covered. Cartoon Network is also sure to show it and the rest all month long, though by now the number of viewings are likely dwindling so act fast!

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 19 – Krazy Kat – “Krazy’s Krismas”

One of the most celebrated comic strips of all time is Krazy Kat by George Herriman. Krazy Kat debuted in the New York Evening Journal in 1913 and concluded its run in 1944. It contained a fairly simply premise where a cat named Krazy pined for a mouse named Ignatz, only the mouse hated the…

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Dec. 19 – Christopher the Christmas Tree

We look at a lot of Christmas stuff pulled from every day cartoons, for the most part. On occasion though, I suppose we should throw the Christians a bone and look at something a bit more secular. Yes, I think most people know Christmas was basically co-opted by the church many years ago, but it’s…

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Dec. 19 – The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives

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,…

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Figura Obscura – Father Christmas

“Father Christmas, give us some money…”

It was just last year that Four Horsemen launched a subline of its popular Mythic Legions brand of action figures called Figura Obscura. Practically speaking, there’s little difference between the two lines as Mythic Legions seeks to serve as a modular line of toys based on myth and legend and that doesn’t feature licensed characters. Figura Obscura uses the same tools and approach, it’s just the character selection will apparently trend towards popular characters of folklore that don’t necessarily conform to the Mythic Legions aesthetic. The first figure was Krampus, and I loved him. The second was the Headless Horseman, and while I didn’t purchase that one, I do admit it looked awfully cool and I was tempted by it. Now, we have the third figure in the line and for it we’ve gone back to Christmas as Four Horsemen have delivered a character to pair with Krampus in the form of Father Christmas.

They sure know how to package a figure over at Four Horsemen.

Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas – whatever you want to call him, he’s certainly a known character. And he’s a character that has had some different looks and interpretations over the years and is a natural pick for such a line. And Four Horsemen delivered. The figure was announced and solicited basically within 24 hours as it was December 2nd when the figure was teased and it was made available on the Four Horsemen website the next day. I know of some who had more of a Mythic Legions mindset when the thought of a Santa was floated that included armor, battle axes, or maybe a look that resembled a wizard or something. After all, this being just the third figure in the line, expectations could be allowed to go a little wild. For me, I was just hoping for a classic, European, take on the character: robes, a satchel, a ring of holly as a crown. I’m happy to say that I basically got what I wanted. After placing an order that Saturday morning, I had to wait a mere six days to have the figure in-hand and, spoiler alert, he’s a great addition to my Christmas display.

He’s got a hood for when it gets really cold.

Father Christmas comes in the same style of box as Krampus. It’s a window box, but it’s wrapped with a thick, magnetized, cover that covers three sides of the box. Once removed, it can be used as a backdrop or just put back on the box. It has some lovely illustrations on it with a depiction of the character on the front and a quiet, snow-covered, village on the reverse. The figure itself is presented well in the box, but he’s not long for it! Once removed, Santa stands right around the 6″ mark. He’s pretty much eye-to-eye with Krampus and looks resplendent in his red robes. The tailoring on the soft goods coat is impeccable. It fits the figure well and the trim-work on it looks as good as any garment one would buy. Underneath the robe is another purple robe which is secured via Velcro on the figure’s rear. It’s basically just a thin, filler, robe to help hide the ordinary Mythic Legions body underneath which is garbed in leather armor and devoid of paint. That’s fine since he’s meant to be displayed with the soft goods. The headsculpt looks terrific though and he has this massive beard that goes all the way to his belt. The paintwork on the head is well done and I like that 4H used a wash on the hair. And I swear the right eye is shinier than the left to give it a “twinkle” effect. The only other part of the actual figure visible are the hands and feet. The hands are brown while the feet are more of a grayish, gun-metal, color which extends to the greaves that aren’t visible. He has a belt that fastens around the waist rather tight and mine was unfastened in the box, but it goes together painlessly. It’s just prone to popping off when handling the figure which can get a little annoying, but it does fit the figure well.

So are these guys friends? Enemies?

Let’s bust out the articulation on this guy now since it’s going to be the biggest weakness. The head sits on just a big ball so the only movement you get is just the head sliding around on that ball. And since this guy has a massive beard, it means he can’t look down. Range to the side is minimal as well, and looking up is hindered by the soft goods. The shoulders are just ball-hinges and they’re ball-hinges, nothing special. The elbows are single-hinged and swivel while there’s also a gauntlet swivel and a wrist swivel with horizontal hinges. Santa just has two gripping hands and I do wish he had some vertical hinges instead. There is a diaphragm joint, but it’s going to be limited by the robes, but you get some twist there. The hip articulation is fine and Santa can basically do a split if the robes are moved out of the way. He kicks forward just fine, back a little, and has some thigh rotation. The knees are single-hinged and can hit a 90 degree bend and there is a swivel there as well, but the shape of the greaves limit how far they’ll twist. The ankles rotate, hinge up and down, and also have a nice rocker. Lastly, the robe is wired so you can play around with that to create a windswept look and such. This articulation is purely basic and the soft goods hinder most of it, which is fine and expected, as far as I’m concerned. I wish the head worked better, but short of hinging the beard or something I don’t know how it could have been done much better. A joint in the lower neck would have helped, and even though I typically don’t love it, a hinge there would let him look up better. Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal. The only change I really would have preferred is to have vertical hinges on the gripping hands, but that’s it.

He has a lot of stuff, but he can also store it all which is pretty cool. Well, except for the tree.

The articulation may not impress, but this guy is designed to “wow” with the soft goods and the stuff. And this guy has a lot of stuff. For starters, we have a separate soft goods hood that can hook under the chin. You pretty much have to pull the head off to get in there, but once in place it looks solid. As a hood, it can be tough to get it just right, but 4H included a wire in it so it can be laid down flat very easily and looks great. And if you prefer the hood down look, there’s a pair of holly crowns to put on the figure’s head. As far as I can tell, they’re identical to one another so one is basically just an extra, but it’s well-sculpted and well-painted. You also get a second head and this one has a shorter beard and a fuller face. I suppose this makes him look more like a modern Santa, but I do prefer the shorter beard look and will probably display this one. Mine does have a minor paint blemish near the right temple which is unfortunate, but not something that will be visible from the shelf. Father Christmas also needs a staff and he has this long, gnarly, one that looks like old oak. It ends with a hook and from that a lantern can dangle which also looks fantastic. It’s done with transparent plastic for the glass and paint job on the weathered, “metal,” portion is great. There’s a candle inside designed to look lit, and the only thing missing is an actual light source. There’s also a small evergreen tree that’s basically flocked, which makes it a tad messy to handle. It’s mostly made of green wire and slots into a piece of sculpted, plastic, wood which in turn pegs into a snowy base. It’s not terribly convincing as a small tree, it looks like something one might find with a model train display, but it’s nice for ambience.

He’s got a sack full of toys for all the good girls and boys.

What would Santa be without toys? Not much of a Santa! This guy has quite a few to deliver this year. For starters, there’s a doll that looks like an elf. The red coat has a deep pocket on each side and the elf fits rather nicely into one. For the other, we have a trumpet which looks lovely as well, or he could just hold it. There’s a satchel that can either be hung off a shoulder or over the neck. It’s full of stuff including a bear, nutcracker, book, candy cane, drumsticks, and more. And speaking of drumsticks, they pair nicely with the drum that Santa comes with. It has a chain affixed to it with a plastic hook on the end of it which clips right onto his belt. It’s so well done too that it looks like it should produce sound like an actual drum, but it’s all plastic. Lastly, we have a sack of goodies and some of them are meant to be a surprise so I won’t spoil them. Basically, you have two toys in there and two accessories. The accessories seem like they’re geared more towards the Mythic Legions enthusiast, but that’s all I’ll say on the matter. The sack itself is more soft goods with a rope around the top. The rope is held onto the sack via some brown thread which I like as it makes it easy to secure it. I wish NECA did something similar with the Santa figures I’ve purchased from them as manipulating the bags can be frustrating.

This drum looks incredible, I just wanted to slip in another shot of it.

With the Figura Obscura Father Christmas, I do think we have ourselves a case of “What you see is what you get.” The soft goods means he’s not going to pose all that dynamically, so if you like how the figure looks in pictures here or on Four Horsemen’s website then chances are you’ll like the figure in person as well. And if you do like it, you’ll want to head over there to secure one. Last year’s Krampus did get a re-release in red which was sold elsewhere so it’s possible this figure will follow a similar path, possibly in a green robe. This version though will likely be a Store Horsemen exclusive and once it’s gone that could be it. It presently retails for $60 which is steep, but I think it’s worth it given the quality of the soft goods and the abundance of stuff in the box. I also really get excited for Christmas so your mileage may vary. Personally, I am thrilled to add this one to my collection and I’m already wondering what next year may bring.

Looking for more holiday themed toys?

Figura Obscura – Krampus

Over the years, I’ve acquired quite a few action figures designed by the good people over at Four Horsemen LLC. They’ve been designing figures for companies for awhile now. My first exposure to the company was via NECA’s inaugural line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on their appearance in the Mirage Studios comics. Lately,…

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Transformers Generations Holiday Optimus Prime

We interrupt our regularly scheduled holiday posts with something very familiar to this blog: a toy review! Yes, we have ourselves another Christmas toy to talk about and it too comes from Hasbro. We already looked at a Star Wars toy at the end of November, and now we’re turning to what I suppose is…

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NECA Gremlins Santa Stripe and Gizmo

The Christmas Spot is just around the corner, but before we can get to there we have a new Christmas action figure release from NECA Toys to talk about: Santa Stripe! NECA has done an admirable job of mining material from the film Gremlins and it’s sequel Gremlins 2: The New Breed, and Santa Stripe…

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Dec. 8 – The Soulmates in The Gift of Light

This one aired sometime in 1991 and probably only in Canada.

It was around Labor Day of this year that Will Sloan (@WillSloanEsq) took to Twitter to uncover the origins of an image that had confounded his girlfriend and him for the past five years. It was actually a return plea as he had posted the same image 3 years prior. The image in question was a grainy, animated, elf character. It’s origins were only that it appeared in a photograph on a television set of an acquaintance of his girlfriend. It was basically an image of just a random moment in the lives of those involved with the image. Three children embracing, a giant console TV in the background, a Super Nintendo on the floor beside it dated it to be the early 90s. The only other clue was the setting of Ontario.

Like virtually all who came across the picture, I had no idea where it was from. It looked to be of its era and the character did look to be a Christmas elf of some kind. It was not recognizable as being a Christmas episode from a more famous show and I had to snicker to myself at every suggestion of The Littles. I suspected it was a one-off special, possibly one only shown in Canada, or even perhaps a commercial that featured original animation. The fact that it had been out there on the internet for multiple years without a satisfactory conclusion was the most incredible part of it all. How did the collective hive mind of the internet not know where this came from?

Apparently, a new plea for help is all it took. Sloan reposted the image on September 2nd and come the weekend the mystery had been solved. It’s all detailed in this piece he wrote for the New Yorker because this thing had become so popular so fast that even the New Yorker needed to address it. Our faith in the internet was restored, and the general public was able to be re-introduced to a forgotten Christmas classic: The Soulmates in “The Gift of Light.”

Or not. I don’t get too many chances to be topical with The Christmas Spot, so I had to check this thing out and do a post on it for this year. It’s also known as The Christmas Gift of Light and was indeed a one-off Canadian production that few remember. It is not, unfortunately, a forgotten classic. It is a rightly forgotten piece of animation that many folks undoubtedly worked very hard to produce, but despite the special’s central theme of remaining positive can allow one to do almost anything, their collective efforts produced this. The special is directed by Chris Schouten who is credited as working on more famous productions like Anastasia and Heavy Metal, but is someone who IMDB has very little info on. The writer and credited creator of this special, Gabrielle St. George, has a similarly slim profile. The special itself does not have much in the way of credits, as in, people are listed, but the roles are unspecified. Some of the voice talent is recognizable for folks who consumed a lot of animation during the same era, but to the average person they are not. Since they’re not attributed to individual characters, I’ll just list them here in the same order as the actual credits: Al Waxman, Sheila McCarthy, Gema Zamprogna, Wayne Robson, John Stocker, Ray Landry, Robert Cait, Kurt Reis. The theme song, “Soulmates,” is sung by Shawne Jackson with the animation done by Schouten Animation and Jade Animation Productions. The production company is listed as Soulmates Productions indicating to me that it’s likely those involved hoped to launch a franchise from this, but that obviously did not happen.

Just a friendly reminder before we start this thing.

This being The Christmas Spot, we have to do this, so let’s do it. Right up front I will say I am watching this on YouTube since the only other way to do so is to track down an old VHS copy. The video quality is fine, but the audio sounds poorly mixed. Is it the transfer or is it just how this thing sounds? I don’t know. The actual special is essentially about the power of positivity. It didn’t even need to include Christmas, but by doing so it probably helped to make it more marketable so they could get as many eyes on this thing as possible. That strategy obviously didn’t pan out, but the reasoning seems sound. We basically saw the same thing with another failed IP last year with Christmas in Tattertown. That one did at least see rebroadcast on a major cable network for several years before fading into obscurity.

This one begins with a reminder of its source right off the bat as there’s a disclaimer about adjusting the tracking on your VCR for the best quality picture. This was apparently distributed by Questar Home Video which isn’t a brand I recall, and I had a bunch of various VHS tapes as a kid. The color combo looks familiar though so maybe this was a Canadian offshoot of another brand? We then fade to a dark and snowy evening as a narrator comes in to tell us it’s the night before the night before Christmas. Yes, you read that right, so it’s December 23rd and they just found the most awkward way to say it. That type of repetition is going to be repeated in a bit so maybe they thought that could be a running thing.

These are the bad guys of this special in case the moustache and cigar didn’t give it away.

Two sketchy looking characters are sneaking around the town. One looks like some Dick Dastardly type merged with Jack Frost and with him is just some little fellow who looks like he’s had a rough life. He has a cigar hanging out of his mouth surrounded by a five o’clock shadow and just looks like an all around bad seed while the big guy is decked out in a fur-trimmed coat and a black cowboy hat. He’s armed with a staff that’s apparently magical and he’s blasting something from it that looks like lightning, but isn’t destructive on its own. He takes aim at the star atop the town’s Christmas tree and it just puts it out. Meanwhile, the little guy is eye-balling a snowman with evil in his eyes (leave Frosty alone) until the big guy grabs him by the collar and refers to him as Thomas. The real striking part of the scene is every time the big guy uses the wand we get this loud guitar sting. It sounds like they paid a hair metal guitarist to just react to what he sees on the screen and he only had one reaction. I keep going back and forth on if I love it or if I’m annoyed by it.

They’re very amused by their minor pranks. Homer Simpson caused more mischief on that college campus than these two.

Big guy, who I’ll just tell you now is named McBragg since I’m already tired of calling him big guy, uses his wand to make energy hands that pluck a stray cat off of some garbage and put it up in a tree – that bastard! The cat cries over and over and we stay with that cat way too long. A kid takes notice, and what’s he doing out so late, and McBragg uses the same trick to pull his hat over his eyes. This guy’s a menace! The kid falls over into a snow bank and McBragg and Thomas have a laugh and run off into the night boasting about spreading negative energy or something. The music is so loud that it’s hard to hear.

The car is cool and all, but I question the use of a convertible in the snow.

We then move to a brick house and a white dog walks out of the front door to stand on the top of the stairs. He looks like a poor man’s Pongo, but without spots, and he has some kind of harness on. We then see a girl of indeterminate age inside humming “Jingle Bells” as she puts on a red coat and hat. She then walks over to a nearby table and we see her hand feeling the table’s surface in search of her scarf. It’s a nice touch for if you didn’t realize the dog was wearing a guide dog harness, this extra little animation would definitely alert you to the situation. So far this thing actually looks fine and is of better quality than I anticipated.

Where is this blind kid going at night? And is she deaf too? She probably should have heard the car coming.

Outside, McBragg and Thomas are still creeping about and they take aim at the dog. The weird, energy, hands zap the dog in the eyes and I’m not really sure what the implication is here, but they start flashing yellow. They’re then shown seated in a black convertible, very appropriate for a snowstorm, that sits on sleigh runners. It lifts off of the ground like a harrier jet and the skis retract leaving just a black, flying, car that looks like a cross between the 1960’s Batmobile and one of those cars driven by the Neutrinos from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The girl then comes outside, but the dog has its head down, and she just walks down the stairs. I guess she thinks the dog is waiting for her at street level? Either way, a car coming down the road has to lock-up the brakes to avoid hitting her before the dog is able to get to her side. Like nothing happened, the two just walk off, but the dog is bothered by what just occurred. He talks aloud to himself and ponders if he’s getting too old to be a guide dog. I can’t tell if this is one of those situations where people can’t understand animals or not since no one reacts to the dog talking.

Look! It’s everyone’s favorite icon of Christmas: Depressed Santa.

We then move to another snowy climate: The North Pole. A defeated looking Santa is seated in a very futuristic setting flipping through a newspaper that features headlines like “Hostage Taking” and “War Breaks Out.” He sets the paper aside and starts musing about how the Nice List gets shorter and shorter each year. He questions why he does what he does and it sure seems like old Saint Nick is ready to give up on Christmas. He turns on his giant television (this setting looks like a dim version of The Jetsons) and watches some guy run by a bell-ringing Santa and shove him over so another guy can come along and steal the money he’s collected for charity. Santa then moans about no one believing in him anymore and adds that he doesn’t even believe in himself. He then demonstrates that his recliner can drive and steers the thing off camera. We cut to an exterior shot of his work shop to see him blasting off in a sleigh, sans reindeer. This is one high tech Santa.

Now we have our stakes, and our main characters. These two need to “liberate” Christmas!

The narrator returns to tell us we’re now on the other side of the other side of the universe. See? I told you that confusing wordplay would return. There’s some little guy just chilling out in the vacuum of space on what looks like a knee board. His name is Orion and he has a sister? Friend? Lover? Whatever she is, she shows up and is named Orillia. These two are the Soulmates the title of this special refers to and some moon with a face comes along to tell us they’re needed on Earth. He shows a video, or something, of Comet the reindeer calling out for help because Santa has gone missing and it’s almost Christmas. It’s at this point the Soulmates song comes on. It’s upbeat, the vocalist is nice, but it’s also corny and distracting. This special has a pretty thin plot and music is going to be relied upon to pad this thing.

Orillia and Orion are Soulmates. What that means for them, I don’t know.

As the song plays, these two bounce around as balls of light with their moon boss as they make for Earth. The universe is apparently pretty small as it doesn’t take them long to cross it. Once outside Earth, the song cuts out and moon guy gives the two a pep talk. This is their first mission and they don’t seem daunted at all. They just need to spread positivity and their magic will take care of it. They seem to get the message as they’re about as positive as can be, even though they bump heads before flying down to the surface.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just a humble, ordinary, cigar-chomping, elf.

Back at the North Pole, Comet is instructing the other reindeer on what to do. Each one is assigned his own “sector” and they soon disperse. I will say, each reindeer appears to have a unique design and there are indeed eight of them. I’m not sure why Comet is the de-facto leader of reindeer, maybe someone just felt like it was his time? Can’t let Prancer hog the spotlight. As the reindeer fly off, an elf encourages them to “break a leg” and Comet is horrified by the suggestion. I’d call him a dope, but he is a reindeer and maybe I shouldn’t expect him to be familiar with such a common expression? He reprimands the elf who said it, Thomas, and it is the same Thomas we saw sneaking around with McBragg only now he’s dressed like an elf. He’s still got that cigar in his mouth and seems to realize it’s not very becoming of him and swallows it – gross! Comet expresses some uneasiness about this newly hired elf to a larger elf named Pops. Pops is the guy from the picture and the whole reason why we’re even talking about this thing. Pops assures him he came highly recommended before Comet takes off to search his assigned sector.

Because of one incident, the dog apparently thinks it can’t serve as a guide dog for this girl. Rather than stay onboard and train a successor, he’s just going to bail. I guess he really is a bad dog.

We then cut to a book written in brail. It’s obviously the blind girl from before and she’s reading A Visit from Saint Nicholas as she says the final line of the poem out loud. The funny thing is she’s clearly in the middle of the book as drawn despite being at the end of the story. Maybe it’s a compilation? She sets the book aside and we see the dog is laying on her bed with her. She gives the dog a hug and tells him she loves him and says something about him being a great friend. Again, the music is so loud it’s hard to hear what she’s saying. She lays down to sleep and another song comes on as the dog looks at her. He’s sad and hops off of the bed and sticks his head under it to pull out a little blue bag. The shape of it reminds me of those toy doctor bags. He then heads downstairs and grabs a picture of he and the girl off of a shelf and heads outside. He’s apparently a talented enough dog to be able to open the front door, but he’s an asshole and leaves it open as he walks off. We then hear the voice of the narrator, who is the moon guy, bemoan the presence of negative energy in the air and suggests the Soulmates have their work cut out for them.

Too bad Comet didn’t accidentally swallow them then this thing would be over.

It’s dawn and Orion and Orillia are flying through the clouds on their surfboard things. They encounter Comet and are pumped at their good fortune, while Comet is thoroughly confused by their presence. At first he thinks they’re bugs, but they correct him by telling him they’re Soulmates here to liberate Christmas! That’s a weird way of phrasing it. Comet is feeling profoundly negative about the situation and the Soulmates encourage him to be positive. They basically say that’s all he has to do to find Santa. Suddenly, McBragg comes flying by and nearly hits the trio. Comet complains about the air traffic control in the area (I doubt he logged a flight plan) while Orion notices that Orillia is missing. They soon abandon concern for the girl because they spy Santa’s wacky looking rocket sleigh in a tree below.

“Hmm, I guess we could share this bench…”

At surface level, Santa is walking through the park and so is the dog from earlier. They both come to rest on the same bench and try to lay claim to it. Santa, being the sensible one, suggests they share it which seems quite fair since it’s plenty big enough for the two of them. Santa can clearly understand the dog, who introduces himself as Truman, and I don’t know if that’s because he’s Santa and he’s magic or if all dogs can talk in this universe. If it’s because he’s Santa you would think Truman would be amazed a human can understand him. At any rate, Truman says he looks familiar and asks if he knows him from before. Santa plays dumb, but when he introduces himself he uses the name Santa Claus. I was expecting an alias of some kind. Truman is one dumb pup though and doesn’t think anything of it. Apparently no one believes in Santa just as he said. Truman then offers to share his newspaper with Santa who wants nothing to do with the front page saying the headlines are too depressing.

Comet actually calls Santa a bum – what a jerk!

Comet and Orion watch from above as Truman and Claus take naps on the bench using the newspaper like a blanket. I am profoundly confused by what Santa is doing here. I get him being depressed and all, but where was he going? He left the warm confines of his work shop to sleep on a bench in an unnamed city? Okay, solid plan, Claus. Comet refers to him as an “old bum on a bench,” real nice, Comet, before flying down to inspect him. He’s surprised to see it is Santa and tells the old man he needs to head north. Santa confesses it’s hopeless, Christmas is over, and Truman looks disturbed to hear this.

Thomas’s full name is actually D. Thomas, and the D stands for Doubting. His parents really set him up for success.

In the North Pole, Thomas has rallied the other elves and is explaining how Santa is gone, but they must continue with a new leader. Pops is practically mortified at the suggestion of replacing Santa, and that image that started it all appears to originate from this scene. Thomas gets in his face to tell him he’s wrong, but the two are interrupted by some jolly laughter. Pops thinks Santa has returned, but we pan to the fireplace to see a sack of toys appear and it’s handled by the magic arms of McBragg. He follows and Thomas introduces the replacement for Santa. He thanks Thomas for handling things up north, and Thomas now feels secure enough in his position to resume smoking. McBragg then produces something from his sack – a Soulmate in a cage. He apparently snatched Orillia right out of the sky when he buzzed them earlier. What he intends to do with her we don’t know, but she’s apparently been running her mouth since he knows what she is and what her intentions are.

And considering Doubting Thomas is set to be the hot, new, toy this Christmas I guess his parents really did know what they were doing!

There’s a cut for a commercial break and when we come back McBragg is hanging the cage with Orillia in it while she insists they’re going to find Santa and save Christmas. Thomas doubts her claim, but she insists that with her Soulmate powers they won’t fail. McBragg sticks his finger in her mouth to silence her, then informs the elves they’re to take orders from Thomas. He then shows them what they’re going to make: a Doubting Thomas doll! The doll looks exactly like Thomas and there’s no attempt to actually make it look like a toy, it’s just a tiny Thomas. McBragg says it’s going to make children doubt themselves, and when Pops explains that’s not what Christmas is all about, McBragg corrects him to say it is now. He then threatens Pops by saying he’ll use the doll on him if he doesn’t fall in line then orders the elves back to work. Thomas starts to sing “Heigh-ho,” but doesn’t get far enough apparently to trigger a copyright claim as he hands out instructions to the elves as Orillia looks on with concern.

Truman just keeps making the same joke, but no one laughs. The writers were cruel to this dog.

In the park, Truman and Santa are playing Checkers on the same bench while Comet whines about Christmas being ruined. He asks Orion for help who cheerfully tells him not to worry because he has “awesome Soulmates powers!” That sure sounds convenient. He then reveals his head is some sort of magic telephone that can call his soulmate Orillia. Truman thinks it’s hilarious that his head is a phone (Head…phone…get it?!) and makes a comment about it twice, but no one laughs. Dumb dog.

They’re really taking advantage of a blind person here.

At the work shop, the elves are building the Thomas dolls as Orillia gets a “call” from Orion. They exchange information, but the mounting negativity around Orillia causes the signal to get blocked. Orillia doesn’t let this get her down though, she has to be positive! She calls on her power, referred to as “Magic Imagining.” She believes she can help, so she basically wills that ability into existence. It’s all very convenient. A bolt of light leaves her body and soars through the air and finds Ella. Who is Ella? The blind girl from before. She was in the middle of typing a letter to Santa, but her mother calls up to tell her it’s time to rest. It’s the middle of the day, and the poor girl just climbs into bed. She looks far too old for a nap and I’m forced to assume her mom is just messing with her since she can’t tell the sun is still out, which is just plain cruel of her. The ball of light finds the letter though and pulls it out of the typewriter and whisks it away out the window.

That is one sophisticated doll. I think I want one?

At the work shop, McBragg is feeling mighty positive for a guy promoting negativity. He then demonstrates how the doll works by yanking on a pull string and pointing it in Orillia’s direction. It basically hypnotizes her and the negative effects of the doll actually break the Soulmate. In the park, Orion stars slapping his own head as a phone operator voice can be heard saying “The soul you are trying to reach is currently under a spell.” Pretty cute there. Orion declares the situation “Bogus,” and implores the others to help him do some Magic Imagining. Comet is down and Orion tells him to “See it, believe it, and it will come true.” There’s also something about putting his thought into a pink bubble which shockingly doesn’t confuse the reindeer. A saxophone then comes in as we get another loud song as the two float above the park. Another blast of light emerges and it goes all the way up into space to the moon guy. He absorbs it and gets all giddy and then sends it back to Earth. I guess this guy needs to amplify the power or something? I don’t know.

I like her better this way.

The positive energy heads to the North Pole where Thomas is having fun with this new, negative, Orillia. She actually looks ready to kick his ass and even punches him in the nose so he’s probably lucky the magic energy comes flying in and strikes the both of them. Now imbued with the power of positive energy, the two can focus on what’s needed to save Christmas. And Thomas stopped smoking and his chin stubble disappeared, because everyone knows facial hair is caused by negativity. Orion can apparently sense this and he’s pumped and attempts to rally the troops, but Santa still isn’t feeling it. He tells them to go away, but before Comet and Orion fly off Orion reminds Santa that anyone can do Magic Imagining as long as they truly believe! Hear that, kids? When bad things happen it’s because you didn’t believe hard enough!

This might be the dumbest part of this whole, dumb, special.

McBragg is then shown yelling at the elves as he emerges from the factory. Thomas comes strolling along and asks him what’s in his hand. Apparently, getting full of positive energy made him forget about stuff because he doesn’t recognize the Doubting Thomas doll in McBragg’s hand. McBragg is confused, and he’s even more confused when Thomas complains about the doll’s “scowly” face. Orillia then enters the picture and McBragg is not pleased to see her out of her cage. When he inquires why she isn’t under his spell any longer she boasts about her Soulmates magic! It’s all pointless, and rather stupid, because he just threatens to use the doll again and the two put their hands up as he marches them inside. What were they doing? Just sticking it to McBragg that they beat his spell? Again, very pointless.

Good thing we have a talking dog that can read or else Christmas would be doomed.

Back at the park, Ella’s letter comes floating on by. Truman and Santa come into possession of it, but Santa can’t read it without his glasses which he lost. Truman reads it for him and it’s a letter to Santa asking for him to bring their friend back. The letter is unfinished and Truman has no idea it’s about him, but just this one letter is enough to reinvigorate Santa! He tells Truman they can use some reverse letter looker upper thing at his work shop to find out who wrote it and the two set off. Truman is skeptical that Santa can find his way back to the North Pole in time without his glasses, but Santa reminds him he’s a guide dog and he can guide him. Truman is still full of self doubt and Santa wishes Orion was there to use his Magic Imagining. I swear they had a quota in mind they were trying to hit with that phrase. Santa then remembers anyone can use it, but they have to believe! I guess that’s all it’s going to take to repair his sleigh and get it out of the tree?

It’s Santa! Back in his old threads!

The elves are shown being held up by McBragg and his Thomas doll. Pops comes running in with a box and informs McBragg his evil toys are ready. McBragg instructs him to harness up the reindeer, but when Pops reminds him there are no reindeer he just laughs and orders him to harness up some elves! The elves seem horrified by this suggestion so apparently this is a death sentence. Orillia gets in his face to say she won’t let him as Orion and Comet arrive. McBragg hits his head (again) on the low ceiling and informs the Soulmates that they’re “A real pain in the a…”

And the dolls are now vessels of positivity! Christmas is saved!

Before McBragg can finish his line, Santa enters the workshop! He’s back in his Santa gear and dishing out a hearty laugh. McBragg turns to “fire” the Thomas doll at him, but when he pulls the string back Santa’s magic converts the doll into a being of positivity. The scowl fades and it says “Believe in yourself and you can do anything!” McBragg looks at the doll with a befuddled expression and when he questions how that happened Santa laughs and says “It’s Soulmate power!” Pops then tells everyone that all of the evil dolls have been converted and the elves let out a hearty cheer.

That is one sturdy chimney. It doesn’t even budge! My compliments to the builder.

McBragg decides to make his exit. The Soulmates fly after him, but it’s not like they’re going to actually do anything. McBragg repeatedly bumps his head as he leaves then slips and falls down some stairs. For good measure, he even crashes his flying car into Santa’s chimney. All indirect violence. And he sure gives up easily. The elves and Santa emerge from the workshop apparently pleased to see all of this.

Looks like we’re in for a merry Christmas now! I wonder if they only have these dolls to give out?

We then cut to Santa and Truman flying in his sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. Truman tells Santa that he hopes he gives Ella what she wants for Christmas and Santa assures him that he intends to. He then asks Truman if he remembers the letter and it finally dawns on him that it was from Ella. The Soulmates then chime in with some positive reinforcement for Truman: if he can guide Santa to the North Pole then he can guide Ella through life. I hate to be a downer, but I doubt Truman will live long enough to pull that off. Maybe he can guide her through middle school?

Truman gets to go on a sleigh ride.

The sleigh lands on Ella’s roof and she awakens to the sound. Santa wishes Truman a merry Christmas and thanks him for his help. We then see Truman jump into Ella’s bed and lick the girl who returns the affection with a hug. Outside the house, we see the two in the window (Ella turned on a light for some reason) and they appear to be looking up. Above the house, the sleigh takes off and soars past a full moon. The moon rotates and it’s moon guy! He gets the last line as he states that “It’s positively a merry Christmas.” We then cut to an image of the Soulmates from earlier just so that our lasting image is of the main characters as “Everybody Needs a Soulmate” returns for the credits.

At least the kid got her dog back.

Well, that was pretty bad. Actually, bad might be too strong a word. It was a thing. For a show with the word “Soulmate” in the title, it was pretty soulless. The premise of a guy perverting Christmas with negativity isn’t terrible on the surface, but the counter being two beings that just will positivity into existence sucks. Negativity for the sake of negativity is bland and awful and the same is true of positivity for the sake of positivity. I get so irritated when people complain about a lack of positivity in a conversation, on social media, or wherever. You can’t make bad things, or feelings, just go away with sheer positivity. It doesn’t work like that. It’s about as useful as telling someone who is depressed to just stop being depressed.

They at least knew enough when making this one that you have to include a shot of Santa flying past a full moon. The moon is always full on Christmas.

Perhaps that is why nothing came of the Soulmates. That was their premise, their function, to just be positive and positivity would follow. That’s their magic and it’s a terrible message to give anyone, especially children, because it goes right back to my depression analogy. And this episode takes a depressed character in Santa and magics away his depression. How convenient? Terrible storytelling and a poor message. I’m sure everyone’s heart was in the right place who worked on this, they just needed to workshop the idea more and complicate the process the characters go through, but there’s only so much you can do in 24 minutes. Because of the approach, Orion and Orillia really have no personality. There’s nothing about them to like, and if anything, they teeter on being annoying. These definitely weren’t characters designed for the 90s. They were dead in the water. Maybe they could have worked in a preschool show, but not here.

As a Christmas special, there’s not much this special does for me. As I mentioned at the start, this thing takes place at Christmas and utilizes Santa, but it didn’t need to. The characters and situations feel very plug and play. Santa could have been anyone, McBragg could have inserted negativity into the water supply, or radio waves, or really anything a lot of people come into contact with. It’s easy to see how this format could work for a series because it’s easy to write, just as it’s easy to see how it wouldn’t work as entertainment. Still, it does do some things right by including eight reindeer and giving us the classic Santa in front of the moon thing. Some of the scenery in the North Pole is interesting, if a bit limited. On the whole, there aren’t a lot of backgrounds in use which is where one can see how the budget may have been limited, but the animation is fine. It’s no better or worse than most early 90’s television specials. Again, it’s a thing that exists.

“The Gift of Light” will be remembered for the circumstances that brought it to our attention. That’s its legacy. Few will remember the special itself because it’s so forgettable. There’s a reason why it took years to finally track it down. If you’re curious and wish to see this one yourself, I already linked to the YouTube source I watched it from. It’s also available on VHS, but I have no idea how easy that will be to track down. It’s really not worth the effort, but that’s up to you to decide. I am curious if Will Sloan and his girlfriend are watching it this holiday season though.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 8 – TV Funhouse – “Christmas Day”

When someone hears the title TV Funhouse they probably first go to Saturday Night Live and The Ambiguously Gay Duo, a cartoon Batman and Robin parody that hypothesizes the relationship between the two heroes is more than just friendship. What many aren’t aware of is that the comedic short starring Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert…

Keep reading

Dec. 7 – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)

Original air date December 13, 1970.

In 1964, Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass unleashed a Christmas Classic upon the world in the form of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The special basically put the company on the map and put it on the path to holiday domination for decades to come. Despite that, few of the specials that followed Rudolph truly hit the same highs and it’s likely due to a case of diminishing returns. Still, that didn’t stop the company from trying to replicate its original success with Christmas and today’s subject feels very much like a retread of Rudolph only with a different protagonist.

As popular as the character Rudolph is these days, he’s still in the shadow of the main man himself: Santa Claus. Maybe it was a bit odd to target Rudolph first with a Christmas special, but in 1964 the character wasn’t as explored as Santa. From that perspective, it makes sense to come back with Santa as the main character for a subsequent special which is likely how we ended up with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Just like Rudolph, this special takes a popular song and uses it as the basis for a television special. It’s also going to bring in a celebrity narrator like Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman to basically push the story along and that’s a tactic the company loved returning to in the years to follow. Unlike Frosty, this one uses the “Animagic” stop-motion process so it looks more like Rudolph. That look is basically synonymous with the company now making specials like Frosty the exception, but in 1970 it wasn’t quite established that the Christmas specials from Rankin/Bass would all be animated with stop-motion techniques.

These two are responsible for a lot of Christmas memories. We lost Arthur Rankin in 2014 at the ripe old age of 89 while Bass recently passed away in October at the age of 87. R.I.P.

As a kid, I grew up with Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town as part of my cherished Christmas Tape. Despite that, it’s one of the handful of specials from that tape that I don’t count among the greatest ever produced. Santa Claus had the unfortunate placement of coming after Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and right before Rudolph. Grinch has long been my favorite, but when I was a kid it was pretty much neck and neck with Rudolph. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is basically the comedown special on my old tape, but since it’s an hour long, that comedown had a tendency to overstay its welcome. My sister and I often just endured this one to get to Rudolph. It’s basically the same length and the structure is similar as we’re hearing a story we basically know, but having a lot of it filled in. There are songs to break up the narrative, but I think with this one they’re just not as good. And even though there’s a clear cut villain to root against in the form of the Burgermeister, he’s almost too ridiculous and the film also doesn’t really deliver a comeuppance for him. We’ll have time for it all, but basically I’ve been putting an entry like this one off for years because it’s not a favorite and it’s an hour long. I’ve got some work ahead of me.

Because I am celebrating my own personal Christmas Tape this year, all of the images in this post are ripped from that 35 year old tape. Above is what was used as the TV bumper in 1987.

We’ll probably be making several comparisons to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and here’s another. This one begins with a fake news reel. Narrated by Paul Frees (who is going to do a lot of heavy lifting in this one), it’s presented in black and white and uses what I assume is just stock footage of kids. He says in a rather stern voice that children are reminded not to cry and not to pout as he’s basically just introducing the theme of the song, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” As a kid, this always felt a bit ominous and thus unsettling. It’s a bit of a weird note to start on, but maybe the idea was to present Santa as a bit of an authority figure when it comes to Christmas and what follows will soften his image?

Here is the most enduring part of this special, the often parodied Special Deliver Kluger.

As the news reel comes to an end we’re taken to a winter setting where an interesting looking mail truck is driving over the snow. It looks like a conventional mail truck, except with tank treads. I always thought it was pretty cool. It’s marked Special Delivery, and our humble driver goes by the name Special Delivery Kluger. Fred Astaire provides the voice, and the lanky, long-chinned, fellow is a bit of a caricature of Astaire in the same way that there was a little bit of Burl Ives in the look of Sam Snowman and certainly a lot of Jimmy Durante in the narrator of Frosty the Snowman. His neat looking truck breaks down and he gets out of it to seemingly notice us, the viewer. We soon find out that old SD here is heading to the North Pole because he has some letters to deliver. He’s talking to us and breaking the fourth wall, but also, the disembodied voices of children can be heard asking questions about Santa Claus, most of which strike me as unimportant (“Why does he have a beard?”), but they are the questions kids ask. And these questions are coming from the letters that SD here is supposed to be delivering, not opening and reading. Seriously bud, that’s a federal offense! Well folks, we’re in for a treat because SD here is going to answer all of those questions and sing us the song for good measure.

Our setting is the always gray Somber Town.

Special Delivery begins the song we all know which takes us into the opening credits. As it goes through, the melody changes and we basically get a sampling of the songs that will follow while Kluger dances around and mishandles the mail which serve as title cards. You would think this guy is in a hurry to get these deliveries out of the way, but I guess not. It’s story time! We’re going to a place called Somber Town which is at the base of the Whispering Mountains. It’s very dreary looking and we’re taken to the home of the Burgermeister (Paul Frees). I guess he’s sort of a mayor or something? His full name is Burgermeister Meisterburger and he’s busy eating. He’s eating some massive hunk of meat with a bib – how cute?

This asshole is known as the Burgermeister.

The head of the guard or something, Grimsley (Frees), enters with something to show his boss. It’s a baby and there’s a note requesting they take care of it from his mother. The only identifying information on the child is a tag that says Claus. The Burgermeister wants nothing to do with a “brat” like this and tells Grimsley to take it away. He does as he’s told and apparently to get to an orphanage you have to pass through some pretty rough terrain. It’s also dark, and it’s snowing, and he’s dragging the baby behind him in a cradle/sled. The wind picks up in intensity and the rope snaps. As Grimsley calls out for Baby Claus to come back (a lot of good that will do), we see it literally lifted by the wind and taken into the forest. No more baby.

There’s a baby under that pile of sticks.

The forest is apparently home to a being known as the Winter Warlock. He’s someone not to be trifled with, so when some animals come upon the baby (the cradle somewhat comically smashed into a tree and the baby just tumbled out) and hear the warlock approaching, they quickly hide him under branches and leaves. The warlock just strolls on by and all we see are his robes. Once that danger has passed, the animals know what to do as they take the baby the rest of the way over the Whispering Mountains to Rainbow River Valley where a family of toymakers reside: the Kringles.

These Kringles are confirmed as elves and the animals just leave the baby on their doorstep and get the hell out of there. The door is answered by an elf named Dingle. He looks like a smaller version of Santa, though not particularly elf like, though he does speak in a voice that’s pitched up. He calls for his four other brothers: Ringle, Tingle, Wingle, and Zingle. They’re all voiced by, you guessed it, Paul Frees. They’re all pretty happy to find a baby and immediately take ownership by declaring “Our baby is the best baby of them all.” One of them rather comically just says “I like babies.” He’s the original “I like turtles,” kid.

Meet the Kringles, the only elves I know that don’t have pointed ears.

The elves take the baby in to see their matriarch, Tanta Kringle (Joan Gardner), who seems to be in agreement that the baby is now theirs. She declares they will call him Kris, and raise him as a Kringle. And then we get a time-jump and see Kris as a boy while our story-teller informs us that the elves taught him everything he needed to know, and stuff he didn’t, like how to make toys. Apparently, the Kringles make toys, but have no children to sell them to so they just pile up. They’re too afraid to take them over the mountain and past the Winter Warlock. Apparently, there are no other towns worth exploring except for Somber Town. Kris then vows that he’ll deliver toys to Somber Town when he’s big enough, and Tanta reminisces how that will be the day that will restore the Kringle name. She then goes into the first song of the special, “The First Toymaker to the King.” It’s fine, but it pays off in a little bit for another reason. The thing I like about the song most though is they present a lot of it like a storybook so we get some illustrated versions of the Kringle characters. It almost makes me wish the whole special looked like that.

The song concludes with some disembodied children pointing out that’s how Santa learned to make toys. Yeah, no kidding. This is a running thing throughout the special where Special Delivery says something, and some children comment on it, usually just to reenforce what SD just said. When the song is done, SD goes on to say that Kris also learned a lot from the animals nearby, and most importantly, it was a seal that taught him how to laugh. As he goes “Ho ho ho,” we get another time jump and find an adult Kris (now voiced by Mickey Rooney) who declares to Tanta he’s a man now! Did they just finish doing something?! At any rate, he can take those toys over the mountain and the elves are pretty excited by the thought.

Everyone’s favorite character: Topper.

Later that night, Kris is packing for his journey when Tanta comes barging in. She’s got a present for him: a red suit. He’s overjoyed to receive a real Kringle suit which looks just like the traditional Santa outfit. We jump to morning and Kris is shown saying goodbye to everyone and sets off up the mountain. It only takes a moment before a penguin comes slamming into him. He questions the penguin on what he’s doing out there and deduces he’s looking for the South Pole, which is pretty damn far from where they are. Kris invites the penguin along, and decides to call him Topper who seems to like the name though we don’t know for sure because he’s a penguin and can’t talk. As they resume their march, a booming voice fills the air. It’s the Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn) who basically tells them to beat it and never come back or they’ll be sorry. Kris encourages Topper to follow and the two race off.

This guy’s job is to take toys away from children. His mother must be so proud.

It’s the next day, and the Burgermeister is heading outside when he stumbles down some steps. The culprit? A toy was carelessly left out. He had to get his foot wrapped and he’s back in his estate where he vows to outlaw all toys! I’m doing this part from memory because my source for this special, The Christmas Tape, is missing a chunk of the special because someone failed to resume recording after the commercial break. It picks up when Burgermeister is singing his version of “The First Toymaker to the King,” which is now enforcing a message of “There will be no more toymakers to the king!” It’s a horrible message, but the song is kind of cute as it uses the same storybook technique as Tanta’s version, only now the ballerina’s are being arrested and the toy soldiers melted down. When the song is over, we see a soldier collecting toys throughout the town and chucking them into a wagon pulled by a fairly evil looking horse. Vicious!

It’s this toyless world that Kris stumbles into. He’s got his sack of toys over one shoulder and goofy red suit which everyone stares at. The people of Somber Town are depicted almost exclusively in black and white. Even their flesh seems to lack much color. One old woman even admonishes Kris for his clothes and he seems both hurt and confused by this. When he says he’s there to just give away some toys everyone freaks out and runs into their house leaving Kris even more confused.

Pictured: life without toys.

Kris continues on his way and comes across two kids washing their socks in a fountain. They explain to Kris that’s basically how children are judged in this town: by how clean their stockings are. He tells them they don’t have to look so sour and when they ask why he just says “I don’t like sour faces.” He then recites some of the song, the whole you better not pout or cry part, and when they keep asking why he says, “Because I came to town!” He then reveals what he brought and the kids perk up. They’re a bit apprehensive, but when they mention the Burgermeister Kris says he’ll just give him a big, red, yo-yo. The kids then dig in, but are soon interrupted by their school teacher Miss Jessica (Robie Lester) who dismisses toys as frivolous. She tries to further malign them, but Kris just sticks a china doll in her face and she immediately melts. Apparently she always wanted one and when she hugs it she even squirts out a tear.

We then go into our next song, “Be Prepared to Pay,” which states that kids must sit on Kris’ lap and give him a kiss to get a toy. Umm, suddenly it makes sense why people seem to eye this character suspiciously. When that’s done with, we see the Burgermeister being wheeled through the streets in a wheelchair. This is the same guy who was singing and dancing not that long ago on his bum foot, but now needs a wheelchair. What a fraud! He remarks to himself how nice it is to see the children all playing with their toys, which is to setup a “Guffah!” kind of joke where he realizes the kids are doing exactly what he doesn’t want them to do. He then demands that all of the kids are under arrest for playing with toys!

He’s breaking his own law!

Kris comes running in to take the blame. He explains that he gave them the toys and it’s he who should be arrested. The Burgermeister appears to be taken aback by the Kringle’s clothes, as so many others were earlier, but agrees that he needs to be arrested. Kris stops him in his tracks though when he presents that yo-yo he mentioned earlier to him. Now it’s the Burgermeister’s turn to be disarmed by a toy as he clutches it and tells Kris he loves yo-yos. He goes back to his childhood and talks about all of the tricks he knew while he, sort of, demonstrates that by playing with it. He’s having a pretty good time, but if you thought he would be turned as quickly as Miss Jessica you’re sorely mistaken, as Grimsley reminds him that he’s breaking his own law. This seems to snap the Burgermeister out of his toy-induced trance and he tosses the yo-yo and demands that Kringle be arrested!

Well he looks like a happy guy.

Kris isn’t going to just surrender though as he takes off knocking the soldiers down in the process. The Burgermeister then comments on his fleeing abilities remarking he climbs like a squirrel, leaps like a deer, and is as slippery as a seal. These are all animals you can apparently compare Santa Claus to. Kris demonstrates all of these qualities by scaling the wall surrounding the town and escaping. The soldiers give chase, but once Kris and Topper head into the woods they decide to back off. They claim they’ll never find him, but I think they’re just scared of the warlock as they rightly should be for Kris and Topper don’t get very far until they’re grabbed by trees. Yes, trees, and the Warlock shows himself! He’s basically all white, even his face, and he has a long robe, pointy hat, and big, white, beard. He gestures to Kringle and informs him that he has disturbed him for the last time and that he’ll never get away!

Come on, you weird old hermit, walk through the door that just appeared.

Kris figures he can talk his way out of this, so he requests that the Winter Warlock release him for a moment so he can give him a toy. The Warlock is pretty surprised by this, but immediately cheers up. He orders Willy Willow and Peter Pine, the trees, to release the Kringle so he can receive his toy. Kris presents him with a toy train, which the warlock refers to as a choo-choo. He starts to cry, and when Kris asks what’s happening he explains that his icy heart is melting. Once it does, his face goes from white to a natural flesh color and his mouth is no longer full of sharp teeth. He then wonders how he can go on and describes himself as a wicked creature at heart. It would seem this is Kris’ opportunity to stab him or something, but instead he laughs and insists that the warlock, who now wishes to go by Winter, can change. He reasons that turning from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step, which leads into the next song “Put One Foot in Front of the Other.” It’s an okay tune, but the animation that goes with it is weird as it seems to imply that Winter doesn’t really know how to walk. He looks rather awkward, and must have been difficult to animate a robe in stop-motion, but by the end he’s walking and feeling pretty damn good about himself.

That won’t be the only ball he shows her.

When the song is done we find Winter and Kris seated by a tree in the snow. It can’t be very comfortable, but I don’t think this Winter fellow actually has a proper house though Special Delivery claimed he had an ice palace. He has a proposition for Kris in that they can help each other. In exchange for more toys, he can show Kris some of his magic. He demonstrates this by making a large snowball and tells Kris to gaze into his magic, crystal, snowball. Someone is looking for him – Miss Jessica. It would seem she’s wandered into the woods to find him, and when Winter tells him to go to her he basically just falls from the sky beside her. Was that more magic? Either way, she informs him the kids are looking for more toys and Kris agrees to provide said toys so long as they’re good. When she asks how he’ll know, he shows her the snowball trick that Winter just demonstrated. This is apparently how he spies on children and he and Miss Jessica basically recite some more of the song through their dialogue which feels rather forced. Kris explains that he can’t just walk in and hand them out like last time, so he tells Miss Jessica to inform the kids to leave their doors unlocked and that he’ll deliver them under cover of darkness. And for being so nice, he even gets a kiss from Miss Jessica – golly!

Back at casa de Kringle, Kris is preparing for his toy delivery. Winter is there too as he apparently doesn’t want to hang out on a cold mountain anymore now that his heart is unfrozen. Kris is making his list, and checking it twice, but seems to determine that all of the kids are nice. I’m not sure if he takes this all that seriously, kids. He heads into Somber Town and basically just enters every unlocked house and leaves toys behind. The next morning, Burgermeister is royally pissed off to see the kids outside playing with their toys and makes a new law on the spot: all doors and windows must be locked at night!

Tanta is gonna be pissed when she sees that suit.

Kris returns the next night, but can’t get into the houses since they’re all locked. It’s pointed out he really needs to deliver a toy for a sick kid and is determined not to let her down. Topper is the one who points out the chimney, though it takes Kris a minute to figure out what he’s getting at. Kris thinks it’s a great idea and absolutely loves going down the chimneys. He visits all of the houses, but the next morning we find the toys all confiscated by the Burgermeister. Are the kids still playing with them outside? Seems pretty dumb. He mentions he knows they were left by the hearth of each house so he orders that every building will be inspected at dawn for toys. Talk about government overreach. After he makes his declaration, he accidentally sits on a tin solider and stabs himself in the ass. Good for him.

All right, we’ve explained elves, toys, chimneys, and now stockings. I guess next is reindeer?

Kris keeps getting letters for toys delivered by animals, but he doesn’t know how to deliver them. He soon figures out that the stockings are a solution and sends a letter to Miss Jessica via the animals. We cut to the next morning and the Burgermeister, now with a bandaged ass, is inspecting a house. He’s pleased to find nothing but drying stockings by the fireplace and takes his leave. The father of the house breaths a sigh of relief, while the kids run for the stockings to uncover their toys. The Burgermeister really is an idiot since empty, drying, socks look a lot different than socks filled with toys. The kids though are arguably dumber because they, once again, take to the streets with their toys and the Burgermeister remains furious (somewhere along the way he apparently decided against arresting children). He then tells Grimsley he’s going to do what he should have done from the start: set a trap for the Kringle!

Busted!

Miss Jessica overhears this declaration and tries to warn Kris, but once she gets to the Kringle home it’s nighttime and Kris is gone. She asks Winter for help via his magic, but he explains he’s all out of magic and seems pretty down about it. Then Grimsley shows up with a small assortment of men to arrest the Kringles. It would seem rendering Winter nice backfired as there’s no way they would have braved the mountain beforehand. We then see Kris getting bagged by the Burgermeister who arrests him on the spot. To make a spectacle of the whole thing, he burns all of the toys in the town square as the children look on with tears in their eyes.

That is definitely not the way to do a reflection in stop motion.

The next day, Jessica approaches the Burgermeister and pleads with him to free Kris and the Kringles. He laughs her off and it’s not explained why they didn’t round her up with the other Kringles since she’s an obvious accessory to their toy delivery scheme. As the Burgermeister takes his leave, Jessica claims her eyes are now open for the first time. I thought they were before? Whatever, she goes into the worst and shortest song of the special, “My World is Beginning Today,” which features the amusing shot of Jessica looking at a reflection of herself in the fountain, but it’s clearly a paper print-out of her puppet and not an actual reflection. She lets her hair down for the song though and looks lovely.

Reindeer! We’ve got reindeer!

When the song is over, Miss Jessica is seen lurking outside the town’s prison. She finds the cell containing Winter and once again calls to him about using his magic to get them out. He’s pretty despondent about the loss of his magic and shows her the collection of useless stuff the jailer apparently let him keep: a short-circuited wand, dried up magic potion, stubs from old candles, and some magic feed corn. Jessica asks about the corn and he says it’s only use is to make reindeer fly. Jessica thinks that’s their answer and she takes the corn and rounds up some reindeer. This is apparently a pretty easy feat. Like most Christmas specials, the reindeer look like white-tailed deer and not actual reindeer, but she feeds them the corn and suddenly they can fly! The kids listening to Special Delivery’s story very much like this part, and one kid even says “don’t forget…” when the reindeer are introduced and we get a glimpse of Rudolph, but Special Delivery insists that’s another story.

A different sort of moon shot than we’re used to.

The reindeer are just what they need for an escape though. Well, we’re never told how they actually broke out of their cells, but I guess that was deemed unessential. They all fly off and Winter is especially happy to see he had a little magic left after all. It’s easily the most triumphant moment of the special as we get an instrumental version of the title song in the background as the whole crew flies in front of a crescent moon. I guess it can’t be a full moon until he’s finished his transformation into Santa.

I guess we need an explanation for the beard too.

With the Kringles free, the Burgermeister vows to hunt them down. The crew returns to their home, but it’s been burned to the ground. Kris determines it’s no longer safe and that they need to run further north, so they do. There’s wanted posters (dead or alive, which seems extreme) put up for them, so Kris does the smart thing and grows a beard (probably should ditch the identifiable threads). It’s at this point that Tanta raises the idea of changing his name and shows him the Claus tag he was found with. Some kid chimes in “I knew it! I knew it! That’s where he got his name!” the kid’s a real rocket scientist. They don’t explain the Santa part. Jessica and Kris are then shown getting married under the first Christmas tree. Winter lights it up with a last bit of magic.

So…are the animals planning on sticking around to watch them consummate this thing?

The crew is then shown heading further north until they hit the North Pole where Kris giddily announces it’s here they’ll build a new home to make toys. How they did so is not explained, but they do it. The animals deliver the letters and time just keeps marching forward. Kris and Jessica get rather “comfortable” with married life though he wonders how he can keep up with the orders. We’re then told that the Burgermeisters have fallen out of power and that Kris is no longer perceived as an outlaw. He’s old now, and realizes he can’t just keep delivering toys all of the time so he decides to do it on just one night a year and he settles on the holiest night of the year: Christmas Eve.

The North Pole is apparently a far more comfortable place to live than I’ve been lead to believe.

Santa Claus is then shown exiting his home to hop in his sleigh. Winter is there and apparently his magic is just fine now as he promises a nice, white, Christmas. Santa is pleased and he gets in his sleigh and takes off. Special Delivery comes back to tell us that’s the end of the story. He also takes a moment to mention how there’s still people who don’t like Santa and Christmas and we cut to a Scrooge-like character and some other adults that dislike the holiday. SD wishes everyone could be more like Santa, but there’s no time for moralizing here. He quickly remembers he has a ton of letters to deliver, and he also owes us a rather important song. Special Delivery then, delivers, on the promise of the special’s title and sings us the full version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” as he makes his way north. The song ends with him pulling up on Santa’s workshop and the old dude comes outside to wave at the camera while the children shout “Merry Christmas!”

And that’s how Santa Claus came to be. Or one way, there’s a bunch of others at this point, but when I was a kid this was definitely the one that framed my idea of Santa the most. I don’t think I necessarily thought the guy who brought me presents was also once harassed by some guy with “burger” in his name, but I definitely rolled with the magic feed corn makes reindeer fly and thought of him as adopted by elves. The magic snowball also resonated with me, but I also grew up being told that the birds spied on me for Santa. Both seem equally plausible at this point. Well, it would be hard for Santa to actually watch every kid in the world with his snowball. Maybe they should have added something at the end with Winter and his magic to try to explain how he could pull off bringing toys to the whole world. We only see him do it for one town, after all.

This one will always live in the shadow of the more famous one about the reindeer with a blinking nose.

I guess that’s a story for another day. As for this one, it’s all right. It maybe longer than many specials out there, but it moves fast. If anything, it’s the songs that drag it down and help make it feel long when I think they’re supposed to have the opposite effect. And it’s not that they’re bad, they’re just not nearly as good as the songs in Rudolph. None of these songs are worth listening to outside of this special except for Fred Astaire’s rendition of the title track. And even then, I’d rather hear another version if it was up to me, but his is fine and it’s utilized well. It’s also a bit of a bummer that we never see the Burgermeister get his comeuppance. He does get hurt throughout the special, and he’s basically the cause of it, but maybe we should have actually seen the people overthrow him or something. Instead, we just see one kid tossing his portrait in the trash.

The animation is obviously a tremendous source of charm for this as well. The special definitely attempts some ambitious shots, but few of them really land. Some things are just funny when they probably shouldn’t be, like the baby at the beginning just floating around and smashing into a tree. That Santa must have one hard head! Winter is very awkwardly animated to the point where I almost feel anxious when watching him because he moves so slow. The reindeer flying in front of the moon are also pretty goofy looking, but the closeup shots of them flying look nice. And a credit to the animators for getting that sleigh off the ground with eight reindeer at the end. That could not have been easy.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

The legacy of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is that it’s the spiritual sequel to a special that’s more beloved in Rudolph. Because it is old and tells an important story to the Christmas holiday, it’s hung around and likely will for a long time. It’s also the start of Mickey Rooney’s long run as Santa for the Rankin/Bass company and it’s basically the role I associate him with the most at this point, but I also didn’t grow up watching The Little Rascals. As a once a year viewing, this one is all right. I think I just saw it too much as a kid so at this stage of my life I literally never desire to watch it. I’ll watch it usually once out of habit and out of stubbornness as I refuse to skip specials on my Christmas Tape. Once I get through that initial viewing though, this one becomes the point I often check-out. I guess that’s its legacy in my house.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 7 – Bedtime for Sniffles

Not every Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies star had to be inherently funny. Sure, most of them were and that’s often what many cartoon enthusiasts will point to the Warner catalog of cartoons as having over Disney, but it wasn’t some hard and fast rule. That’s why when a guy by the name of Chuck…

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Dec. 7 – SuperTed Meets Father Christmas

When it comes to British imports and the subject of bears is brought up, most probably immediately think of Paddington or Winnie the Pooh. Few probably recall SuperTed, the Welsh teddy bear brought to life by a spotted alien and given super powers by Mother Nature. SuperTed is similar to Mighty Mouse in that he…

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Dec. 7 – Bob’s Burgers – “Father of the Bob”

  Bob’s Burgers has somewhat quietly become the best animated show on the Fox Network. Better than the modern version of The Simpsons, and better than Family Guy. It might be the ugliest of the three, but it more than makes up for that with its characters and plots. Bob’s Burgers looks like just another…

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Dec. 6 – Silly Symphony – “Santa’s Workshop” (1932)

Original release date December 10, 1932.

Back in 1929 Walt Disney launched the Silly Symphonies series of cartoon shorts. Unlike the Mickey Mouse shorts that were growing popular at the time, Silly Symphonies did not center on just one character or even a group of characters, but rather were fairly self-contained. Some shorts that became popular, like The Three Little Pigs, would receive sequels, but mostly the series was designed to be a testing ground for the animators working for Disney in the 1930s. Techniques with sound and color were first tested in Silly Symphonies as was the famed multiplane camera.

Despite the name, there often wasn’t a ton of “silly” to be found in a given Silly Symphony. Not that it stopped them from being popular or critically acclaimed for a large amount of Disney’s Academy Award wins came from the series. And had the series not been a success we probably wouldn’t have Looney Tunes, which is basically a synonym for Silly Symphony. Warner Bros. Studios would be better at incorporating the “looney” into their Looney Tunes and today those shorts are more fondly recalled and often more celebrated while many associate the Silly Symphonies with noodle-armed characters that just smile and dance around. Not that there aren’t some that are genuinely funny or even scary, and Donald Duck famously debuted in a Silly Symphony short, but the vast majority tend to be more whimsical than anything.

The subject of today’s Christmas post is one of those more gentle and whimsical shorts. Santa’s Workshop was released in December of 1932 and depicts what the famed workshop might look like on Christmas Eve. Understandably, there’s a lot of work to be done and Santa has to rely on his elves to get the bulk of it completed in time for his big flight. The short was directed by Wilfred Jackson and was just the fourth Silly Symphony to utilize Technicolor while also serving as a testing ground for a new audio synchronization technique crafted by RCA. A couple of years ago, we actually looked at the short’s sequel The Night Before Christmas. At the time, I was trying my best not to duplicate specials and shorts already covered by the unaffiliated website, A Cartoon Christmas, but that blog has since gone dormant and most of the old posts are no long accessible so I no longer feel such an obligation.

These must be the guys who empty the mailboxes at Macy’s.

The short begins with an original song by Frank Churchill. I couldn’t find a credit for the song’s name, but the words are “In the North North Pole in a distant land lives Santa Claus with a merry band of jolly elves who sing and dance making toys for girls and boys.” It’s sung with a choir and it just brings us into the picture which begins with an exterior shot of Santa’s Workshop and an elf can be seen hauling a sack of mail in its direction. In the background are more elves with more sacks as there’s apparently a lot of late arrivals this year.

Always important to get that establishing shot or line letting the viewer know how close to Christmas we are.

We then see a group of four elves working on Santa’s sleigh. One is scrubbing, one dusting, one touching up the paint and the fourth is shining the runners. They pause in their work to continue singing to the same melody telling us they’re “Merry, merry, men of the midnight sun,” which makes them sound a lot more intriguing than they really are. The painter elf punctuates their little song in a baritone that tomorrow is Christmas Day, implying they have some urgency in their work despite having time to stop and sing.

The guy on the right definitely has the worst job of the four.

We then cut to another group of four elves taking care of one of Santa’s reindeer. In the background we can see the name Prancer above a stall so I suppose this one is indeed Prancer. Prancer looks like an actual reindeer so I applaud Disney for its attempt at realism since many cartoons seems to model the reindeer after white tail deer and not actual reindeer. The elves in this shot are taking care of Prancer by brushing the fur, polishing the hooves and antlers, and the fourth unlucky elf gets to clean the deer’s butthole. He literally lifts up Prancer’s tail and wipes the deer’s ass with a brush. He seems happy to be doing it though as they’re all whistling to the same melody. We then cut to another elf brushing Donner’s teeth and yet another giving Dancer a rub down before the scene shifts to an interior shot.

That’s a lot of last minute letters or the big man has been slacking this year.

Here we get our first look at the big man himself, Santa Claus (Allan Watson), as he sits among a mountain of letters and goes through each one with a smile on his face. He reads them aloud and as he does his secretary to his left (Pinto Colvig) consults a ledger and lets Santa know if the kid has been good or not. Little Molly asks Santa for a dolly (everyone is going to speak in rhyme so the requests from the kids need to rhyme too) and his secretary informs him that Molly is okay because she eats her spinach every day. Santa gives a belly laugh in response and tells another elf to get her a doll. The next kid, little Billy, wants a whole bunch of stuff including various animals which prompts Santa to laugh to himself as he suggests he just get the kid Noah’s Ark. We then find out little Billy hasn’t washed behind his ears in seven years, but Santa just instructs an elf to toss in a cake of soap and resumes his laughter. The helper elf says, “Okay, a cake of soap!” and he’s clearly voiced by Walt Disney since he sounds almost exactly like Mickey Mouse from that era.

I know it says “Factory,” but every time I see this shot I read it as “Fartory” and wonder what a “Fartory” would look like. I’m pretty sure I know what it would smell like.

The little elf runs off with Billy’s massive list into another room and we get to see the actual workshop in action. The elves are banging away at all manner of toys and we get to see how they build a rocking horse. First is a shot of a massive log getting cut to size so an elf can shove a horse head onto it. We then see an assembly line of elves inserting the runners into the bottom via hammer. Then we get to see an elf very cheerfully drill holes into the backside of each horse which moves along to the tail elf who grabs a tuft of straw, or fur, dabs it in glue and then tosses into the newly drilled hole. Lastly, we see the elf who applies some black spots to each side of the horse. Pretty conventional stuff here which leaves me wondering, “Where’s the gag?”

The secret to perfect curls is terror.

Now that we know how to assemble a rocking horse we move on to see a group of painter elves coloring up some blocks and doll heads. It’s at this point it feels like we’re seeing a lot of this just so Disney can show off its Technicolor exclusive license it held at the time. The next elf is painting checkerboards and the gag here is he has checkered paint that does all of the work for him since it goes on as a checkerboard. It’s a gag that I’ve seen used a fair amount in cartoons over the years, though for all I know, this was its origin (but probably not). We then see some elves sewing doll clothes before moving onto an assembly line for doll hair. A shaggy looking doll comes down the conveyor belt and an elf dangles a spider in front of its face. This frightens the doll so its hair stands up on end and a bunch of curlers fall from the ceiling to do its hair up nice and pretty. A second doll comes through and there’s a quick animation error as the color of its dress changes from blue to pink as the gag with the hair is repeated.

No, it very much is not okay.

We then rejoin Santa Claus and it’s here we have ourselves a bit of controversy. If you’re watching this short on Disney+, Santa will appear to just be fiddling with a toy airplane which amuses him greatly. He comes off as a goof who is just playing with the toys while the elves do all of the work. If you’re watching the uncensored version though, then you know he’s actually testing the products. A doll comes down a chute and he asks her to say “Mama.” She says “Mom,” at first and Santa has to correct her until she says it right, then laughing heartily once more, he stamps an “OK” on her backside. As the doll walks off another one comes down the chute and this is the offensive one. We’re talking about a 1930s cartoon so you can probably imagine what the doll looks like, but in case you can’t it’s a blackface doll. It pops up on its two feet and in a raspy voice says “Mammy!” which makes Santa laugh. It does a “butt stomp” on Santa’s stamp and struts off and Santa doesn’t stop it so he apparently approves of this racist doll. After that, the airplane comes down the chute and the edited version picks up with Santa testing that one out. Should Disney have cut it? Eh, I don’t know. It’s been released so many times by the company uncut that it feels like it’s trying to hide something by not putting it on their service. They already have a disclaimer before the short, so might as well leave it, I guess. Or just put both up. The gag is definitely dated and doesn’t exactly add much, I just don’t like how it’s edited because the new version doesn’t make it obvious that Santa is testing product and actually doing something.

The is the only way to get him to stop laughing.

Anyway, with Santa laughing at the airplane the thing flies into his mouth and he pulls it out and sends it off into the workshop where it just starts knocking a bunch of toys off various shelves (see why the edit makes him look like an unhelpful boob?). The toys land on the floor properly arranged and we basically go into a parade of toys segment. Here we get more racist depictions of toys, these ones are left in the Disney+ cut, as a blackface marching band leads some white toy soldiers in a march. They’re followed by some penguins, a clown, an elephant, and a donkey. Behind the donkey comes some “China dolls” that look at the camera and have their hair shoot up for some reason. Is it racist? Maybe, they definitely shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt. Behind those dolls comes a Charlie Chaplin inspired toy with a police officer chasing after him. I’m guessing that was a pretty big hit in 1932.

This job really doesn’t look that hard.

The toys all march into Santa’s sack while their overlord/creator looks on approvingly. The racist band is slightly less racist now since the red lips have been removed basically leaving them looking like Bosko. We cut to another Bosko-like toy steering a carriage pulled by a donkey towards Santa’s sack and the donkey pauses to kick the carriage every few seconds to bounce the black-face toy into the air. Some wooden ducks go by in the background and we then see Billy’s Noah’s Ark go “sailing” past on wheels with various animals poking their heads out. More mechanical toys continue their march which include some flamingo-like birds, a rolling teddy bear, and some wind-up pigs. Santa stands the now overflowing sack up and the last toy to jump in is a Jack-in-the-Box because every Christmas cartoon from this era requires one be present. Santa laughs and then lets his elves do all of the work in carrying the sack outside to place in his sleigh.

The second that sleigh takes off these elves are busting out the eggnog.

All of the elves are waiting for them outside and they cheer at the sight of Santa Claus. He takes a stand in the sleigh and a rare, serious expression, is painted on his face. If you look closely, an off-model Mickey Mouse toy is present in the sack of toys. Santa then bobs and sways as he sings “Goodbye, my merry little gnomes,” and the elves respond in kind with “Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye!” Santa then boasts that he’s bringing joy to a million homes and after the elves respond with their goodbye cheer once again he sits down and cracks his whip over Dasher’s rear. The reindeer are lined up single-file in front of the sleigh and there are actually 9 of them. They take off to thunderous applause and we get to see Santa and his sleigh pass in front of the screen a few times before they head off towards a really creepy moon. It’s our first moon shot of 2022, and it’s certainly memorable and might haunt your dreams later.

They were even doing hidden Mickeys back in ’32.

That’s all she wrote as this one is a tidy 6:40, and even shorter if you’re watching on Disney+ due to the removed content. This one is a fairly conventional Silly Symphony as it’s all set to music and there’s basically no conflict. It’s just a bunch of characters cheerfully doing stuff, in this scenario making toys and getting ready for Christmas. It’s fine, and I do like this very jolly depiction of Santa as a guy who is just tickled by his profession. He does come across as a bit of an overlord since we don’t see him do much. He’s basically king of the elves and they just do his bidding, but the song makes sure to tells us that they’re very happy with their lot in life. Does that make it better? No, not really, but whatever.

There it is, the first animated “Moon Shot” to appear in color. Many have followed and many have been less unsettling. Where’s Piccolo when you need him?

Obviously, the censorship present provides for some talking points and it might be the most interesting aspect about the short. That type of racial depiction was unfortunately very common during this time period. It’s so common that I’m actually surprised when one of these “parade of toys” cartoons doesn’t include some type of blackface gag. Apparently white audiences just loved that stuff in the 30s. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. If not for that, this would just be a fairly benign Christmas cartoon that’s also forgettable. It doesn’t really add anything to the Santa lore and the gags are fairly pedestrian. Still, of all of the shorts that are like this, I might like this one the most? I don’t love it, but the music isn’t tiresome and the visuals are pretty nice. The elves are a bit more noodle-armed than I like, but the character designs are pleasant and I really like this rounded Santa.

Being that this one is on Disney+, Santa’s Workshop should be a fairly easy cartoon to find if you wish to view it this year. It’s been released on Christmas DVDs and was included in the Walt Disney Treasures line of DVD releases that are now long out of print and quite expensive. I actually don’t have that set as I really couldn’t see myself sitting down to watch a marathon of Silly Symphony shorts, but if you fancy yourself a cartoon historian then it might be worth tracking down. And if you don’t have access to any of those things there’s always YouTube which is where you’re most likely to encounter the uncut version. Disney is a pretty litigious company when it comes to protecting its brand, but when it comes to the old shorts it’s surprisingly lax with YouTube.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 6 – Christmas in Tattertown

Nickelodeon in the late 1980s was a network on the rise. Cable was expanding to more and more households each and every day and Nick was able to seize the youth market almost from the get-go. Prior to that, broadcast networks dominated children’s programming, but restricted it to certain parts of the broadcast schedule. And…

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Dec. 6 – Christmas Flintstone

The Flintstones have a well-established relationship with Christmas at this point. There have been a few specials, some even prime time, and plenty of home video releases. For that reason it’s a bit interesting that the show actually waited until its fifth season for its first Christmas episode. At that point, the show had been…

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Dec. 6 – Pokémon – “Holiday Hi-Jynx”

Yesterday, we took a look at the so-called Pokémon killer, The Weekenders, so today we’re going to look at Pokémon itself. The Weekenders earned that nickname because it was the first to knock Pokémon off the top of the ratings charts for Saturday morning television after it had reigned for a year. The victory was…

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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!


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