Following up from the previous post, here I am back on the Channel KRT podcast to discuss the little-known Frosty sequel “Frosty Returns”! What happens when a studio that isn’t Rankin-Bass tries to build their own snowman with blackjack and hookers John Goodman, Elisabeth Moss, and the Flying Dutchman? You get an odd, not-quite Christmas special with environmental overtones that furthers the divide between snow lovers and snow haters. Come listen to us discuss the inexplicable reappearance of everyone’s favorite snow golem on Apple Podcasts, Podcasts Online, and now on YouTube!
Ah, Garfield, bastion of feline laziness and gluttony. Forty years after his his first newspaper comic appearance, he’s living proof that a little cynicism is welcome now and then; that inside all of us, there’s a cat who hates Mondays, loves sleeping in and eating whatever he wants whenever he wants. Thanks to that relatability, Garfield’s popularity peaked to the point where he received no less than twelve television specials throughout the 80s and 90s. The two most popular based on my observations are the Halloween one, and today’s entry, A Garfield Christmas.
Funny enough, I was unaware of its existence until a certain critic of nostalgia included it in his follow-up list of favorite Christmas specials. It premiered a full year before Garfield and Friends, the series that introduced me to the cantankerous cat, yet it has a lot in common with it: the same voice actors, the animation studio, and much of the humor is directly adapted from Jim Davis’ comic strips. But does it hold up on rewatch or is it as flabby as our feline’s physique?
Greetings, all! Hope you’re enjoying this spooky season! It’s often around this time I open the blog to vote for multiple Christmas-related specials and films for me to review, but things will be going a little differently this year.
In September I began a new job as an Assistant After-School Tutor at the largest library in my district. It started simple enough, just helping out kids with homework and doing activities with them twice a week. The staff and clientele are great and the pay is decent, no complaints. In fact, I did well enough flying solo in my first weeks there that I got promoted! As of October 24th I will officially be the Lead Tutor, with all the raises, responsibilities, and extra workdays the position entails.
How does this bode for the blog? Well, the holidays are a busy time for me, as some of you already know. Writing three lengthy posts on top of the Faerie Tale Theatre reviews is pretty stressful even before taking the new job into account. That’s why I’m limiting myself to just two Christmas reviews – and I already have one of them picked out.
What can I say, it’s a stone-cold classic that’s hitting a milestone this year and I don’t want to pass up the chance to talk about it.
“So what do I get to vote for?” you may ask. The answer is simple, dear friends: anything on the Christmas Shelf that’s under the category “Very Special Specials”. Let me know the special you want me to look at in the comments or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty to choose from.
Thanks, happy voting, and I’ll see you on October 20th with the next Faerie Tale Theatre review!
While I remember the hype for the FOX Christmas special Olive The Other Reindeer back in 1999 –
…Excuse me, I was suddenly struck by the realization that I’m old.
Anyway, while I remember the promotions for it before it premiered, I’m ashamed to say I never got around to watching it until several years ago. Shame, really, because it’s been among my personal favorites since. Olive The Other Reindeer is loosely based on a children’s book by Vivian Walsh and award-winning artist J. Otto Seibold, the main conceit being “Hey, doesn’t that one line from the Rudolph song sound like they’re saying Olive The Other Reindeer instead of ‘all of the other reindeer’? Wouldn’t it be funny if someone named Olive got confused over it and tried to become a reindeer?” The book is fairly straightforward with little-to-no stakes, though it has some wonderfully stylized and colorful artwork. Naturally the leap from page to screen meant the story had to be significantly fleshed out, but who could possibly step up to the task?
Eh, how about the guy behind the biggest animated adult show of all time?
To this day I have no idea why Matt Groening took the job but I sure as hell am grateful for it. He, along with Futurama co-creator David X. Cohen, took what could have been another simple Christmas special and injected it with the sly modern wit and cheeky sense of humor they’re known for (the fact that Olive premiered on the same night Futurama did couldn’t have been a coincidence either). They spice up the proceedings with wonderful touches exclusive to this adaptation: the other characters with mondegreen names; the snappy dialogue; the background sight gags that you have to watch multiple times to catch; the running joke with the cordless drill; the self-depreciating jabs at Fox, and more. The smart writing in addition to the unique animation gives this outing a strong sense of identity without losing the heart and charm that’s inherent to the story. It also marks Olive as the only “family-friendly” thing Groening’s made to date; an interesting designation to have, but not a bad one at all.
My introduction to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Little Match Girl was through a picture book with beautiful illustrations by Rachel Isadora which I discovered in second grade. I was instantly endeared to the poor protagonist and enchanted by the wonders she experienced – though the ending left me in a state of shock. I didn’t know what to make of it. The story fell out of sight and out of mind until the Platinum Edition DVD of The Little Mermaid came out. Packaged with it was a new animated short from Disney retelling the Match Girl’s tale.
There’s an odd bit of animated symmetry this shares with The Little Mermaid: both mark the finale of a time-honored animation method. The Little Mermaid was the last film from Disney to use traditionally inked cels before switching over to the CAPS system. The Little Match Girl, meanwhile, was the final Disney product to use CAPS. While the artistry on display left me in awe each time, I rarely revisited this short on account of how it stayed true to the story. And since Andersen had a penchant for downer endings…you get the idea.
This short is brought to us by Don Hahn and Roger Allers, the producer and director of The Lion King respectively, and anyone who’s seen that movie can verify their ability to leave you a sobbing wreck. The Little Match Girl was supposed to be a part of a Fantasia continuation that was tragically canceled; as such, the story is told solely through the visuals and set to the emotional strains of Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No.2 in D Minor (my fellow theater nerds will also recognize this as the music behind Kismet’s “And This is My Beloved”).
So, are you ready to start off your holidays as a tear-streaked mess on the floor?
November’s just getting started but you know what that means – the floor is once again open to voting for Christmas-themed reviews! Visit the Christmas Shelf to see what shorts, specials and movies you can vote for. Pick one of each and let me know in the comments or by emailing me at email@example.com before November 25th. The winners with the most votes will be reviewed all throughout December (never fear, the next Faerie Tale Theatre review will still be up on December 6th).
I don’t think it’s a big secret that Gravity Falls is my favorite series from Disney. Not just animated series, I mean out of everything the channel ever churned out. It was mysterious, funny and occasionally frightening, with deep themes of family and growing up and some of the most well-written television characters to come from the 2010s. When it bowed out after two near-perfect seasons, it left some enormous shoes to fill. What show could possibly live up to the standards it set?
Well, it turns out the answer was one no one asked for, but we’re sure as hell thankful we got anyway.
Hot take for y’all, especially from someone who grew up in the 90’s and enjoyed the hell out of the original DuckTales: the 2017 reboot blows its predecessor out of the water. It takes the fun, creative adventures from the first series, adds a much-needed measure of character arcs and development (Huey, Dewey and Louie have actual distinct personalities now!) and amps it up with a huge dose of heart and enough lore borrowed from the Carl Barks and Don Rosa comics to win over even the most jaded fans. Also, as opposed to his unceremonious draft into the navy in the first series, Donald Duck finally has a part to play in the new adventures! (Well, in 13 out of the 65 of them anyway…way to get my hopes up, Disney.) By the time I was halfway through the first season I thought to myself, “Yes, this is it. This is the successor to Gravity Falls,” (though The Owl House definitely ties with that sentiment as well, and Amphibia isn’t too far behind).
I’m woefully behind on Season 3, but am well aware that they’re bringing in more characters and plots from the other classic Disney Afternoon series that were hinted at since the very start, and I can’t wait to see how they’re re-interpreted. On a similar note, since this episode deals with some major revelations from the tail end of Season One that have ramifications for the rest of the series, I must warn you that this review will have spoilers.
Surprise, we had a tie in the shorts category! As my way of making up for the lack of reviews this year, here’s a little Christmas bonus for you all.
Last year we said goodbye to a giant in the field of animation, the one and only Richard Williams. In honor of his memory, I added some of his work to the Shelf, including this, a retelling of A Christmas Carol produced by fellow legend Chuck Jones with animation by Abe Levitow, Ken Harris, Grim Natwick and Richard Purdum among others. Adding to this auspicious company is Allistair Sim and Michael Hordern returning to voice Scrooge and Marley twenty years after playing them in the iconic 1951 film adaptation; it’s not Christmas in my household until I watch it with my father, the tree glowing in the corner as we huddle together in the dark in front of the TV, so hearing these voices again is a special treat.
Of course, since this is a Richard Williams’ production, there was no shortage of drama behind the scenes. Williams was a man who expected nothing less than perfection from his employees, and his stringent standards nearly proved to be his downfall (not for the last time either, if you know what happened to The Thief and the Cobbler). Work fell so behind schedule that the animators were forced to pull 7-day 14-hour workweeks with unpaid overtime, and the final product still wasn’t ready until one hour before the deadline! The results, however, speak for themselves. This is a beautifully crafted feature. Though Williams and crew had to resort to some rotoscoping to finish the job, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where they did.
This short was originally made for television, but the high praise it received emboldened ABC to distribute it theatrically. It would go on to be nominated for and win the Oscar for Best Animated Short the following year. This also gives it the distinct honor of being the only version of A Christmas Carol to win an Academy Award. Imagine, 200+ versions of the same story made over a period of nearly a hundred years yet only one gets that kind of recognition! Members of the Academy chafed at the idea that a short first shown on television took home the gold, and would quickly change the rules so that any future works that premiered on TV would not qualify for a nomination.
Despite its accolades and the high-profile names attached, Richard Williams’ Christmas Carol is surprisingly hard to find on home video. The version I watched for this review came from Youtube via TheThiefArchive, where you can find all things related to Williams uploaded for posterity.
So, classic story, some of the greatest animators of the twentieth century, all brought together by a man whom I consider the definitive Mad Genius of animation. What’s the worst that could happen?
When I made my list of favorite Mickey Mouse shorts, I had a hell of a time combing through his filmography for what I considered “real” Mickey cartoons. This is because a good many films in the mouse’s oeuvre have the supporting characters like Donald Duck and Goofy quickly steal the spotlight from him. And that’s not the only thing they took: as more characters were ingrained into the Disney canon and Mickey was reduced to being a bit player in his own features, the scrappy traits that once endeared him to the public were siphoned away to his costars. And what was left for him once the childlike curiosity, playfulness, brash temper, big heart and fierce determination were gone? What kind of personality could Mickey cultivate for himself into when there was no personality left?
By the late 40s and early 50s, everything that made Mickey enjoyable was scrubbed away into a bland, neighborly squeaky-clean corporate-friendly icon. He was good for selling merch, but his cartoons suffered severely for it. Mickey was paired up with his faithful dog Pluto to keep things more interesting, though that resulted in him getting far more to do than his master. I always thought Pluto worked better as a supporting role rather than the main star, so I’ve never been crazy about the Pluto shorts or these in particular because…well, let’s look at a comedic dog and master duo done right:
Wallace, for all his mechanical ingenuity and good nature, is more than a bit of an idiot. Gromit is vastly smarter and is capable of expressing a variety of relatable emotions despite never uttering a word (though that has less to do with him being a dog and more due to the fact that he has no mouth). Whenever there’s trouble (usually of Wallace’s own making), Gromit steps up to the plate and the two always manage to work past their shortcomings together to save the day. They may not always be on the same level as each other, but their camaraderie and the situations they get into certainly make for an entertaining time.
As for Mickey, he may have been a lot of things in his prime, but he certainly wasn’t stupid. So seeing the resilient rodent who sailed steamships, conducted his way through storms, battled giants, saved kingdoms, slayed dragons and controlled the very cosmos have his IQ substantially lowered just so he could play second fiddle to his pet…well, it feels downright insulting. Pluto’s Christmas Tree was the second-to-last short made before Mickey’s thirty year-long retirement, and it’s a prime showcase for all the problems that come with his extreme flanderization, right down to the fact that his name isn’t even the one that’s in the title.
The Little Drummer Boy began as a Christmas carol written under the title “Carol of the Drum” and was first recorded in 1951 by the Von Trapp Family Singers. Maybe you’ve heard of ’em. It was inspired by a long-lost Czech carol, and the French legend of a poor juggler who performs for a statue of the Virgin Mary. The idea of a performer humbly offering their own talents as a gift to a holy figure has been revised and retold in many ways throughout the years (the Tomie De Paola book The Clown Of God is a beautiful example), and has resonated so much in its current form that it’s brought together singers as diverse as Bing Crosby and David Bowie.
I’m willing to bet the song’s popularity is what attracted Rankin-Bass to it, but it still strikes me as an unusual choice for their first stop-motion special made following Rudolph. The R-B roster mainly consists of secular Christmas stories. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and Cricket On The Hearth barely touched on the Nativity in their tales. Little Drummer Boy, though? He doesn’t give a figgy pudding for Santa and wholly embraces the biblical side of Christmas. It’s only one of a handful Rankin-Bass specials that do – which means it’s buried beneath the more popular non-Jesusy Rudolph and Frosty outings. Heck, just look at the cover for Little Drummer Boy. Compare the covers for the other Rankin-Bass specials which advertise its celebrity narrator, or that they’re based on some “classic” story by a beloved author. There are TWO Academy-Award winning actors in the cast of Little Drummer Boy, and it’s partly based on what millions of people consider a true story, but instead of playing on that, there’s a cute tagline. Now I may be a tad prejudiced, but I find this to deliberate slighting of this particular Rankin-Bass special a bit unfair. Allow me to elucidate: