Monday, December 24, 2018

Childhood Memories: Christmas Specials Pt. 2

It's that time of year again! So to bring you a little cheer for the season, here we go...

I started Retro Revelations in October 2012. Writing a "blog" then was something that was entirely novel to me, and something I realized I could have and should have been doing years before I finally got the idea to start one. Filled with a ton of enthusiasm, even though I started the blog around mid-October, I still managed to pump out several Halloween-themed articles before Halloween itself hit. And while not nearly as prolific in November, I even wrote two articles that month as well! But when it came to December and Christmas time, I found myself busy packing and preparing to move to a new apartment, and even managed to get pretty sick along the way. So I didn't actually write a Christmas article, or any December article at all, that first holiday season of RR's existence.

As such, the first Christmas article I ever wrote, came in December 2013. It was, appropriately, about some of my most beloved Christmas TV Specials from my childhood. Christmas has always been special to me, especially so as a kid. As I've explained in other articles, for me it wasn't merely the presents, though that was huge to me as it is with almost all kids. It was also just the general feeling and spirit of the Christmas season. I had a fairly poor and lonely childhood, but the Holidays always brightened things up, and I always looked forward to the traditions of the season. I adored putting up Christmas decorations, and decorating the Christmas tree. I loved the idea of stockings (even though we didn't have chimneys of any kind to hang them from), and the tiny toys and candy I would usually find in mine. I loved Christmas carols, and Christmas music in general, and even as I grew into my teens and adulthood, and out of my Christian childhood, I still to this day have a soft spot for many of those old songs, even some of the blatantly religious ones.

And of course, part of all that, especially for a kid who grew up watching a lot of TV, because I often had little else available to do, Christmas TV specials were a big part of all of that. There were ones that would come and go, never to be seen again. And there were others, perennials, like The Grinch, and Frosty the Snowman, and Charlie Brown and Garfield. In my first Christmas Specials article, I covered four fairly well known and universally loved specials. So today, I'm going to dig deeper, and explore a few specials that are perhaps lesser known. But still ones that I love. So let's get to it!

Can he get a hula-hoop?

A Chipmunk Christmas (1981)

The Chipmunks were a pretty huge deal when I was a kid in the 80s. I remember when the Chipmunks movie (which is still pretty awesome) came out in the late 80s, they had a Burger King promotion with dolls of Alvin, Simon and Theodore. And I remember when I was able to get two, but not the third because the one BK in our small town had run out, five or six year old me was pretty devastated. But as Fate would have it, for some reason, we went back to BK one day, and they just so happened to have the third missing Chipmunk I needed, and I was thrilled. I had those dolls for years after, until I was around 14, and then like many other things I wish I still had, in my teenage idiocy I gave them away or something.

The Chipmunks TV show in the 80s was a big part of my childhood, as was that movie. But every so often they would play classic Chipmunk cartoons, and at least once or twice they played this special, which came out the year I was born (AGE SPOILERS). In it, Alvin is being his usual rambunctious self, and like many kids, the thing he cares about most for Christmas, is what Santa is going to bring him. He's obsessed with presents, and thus ignores the larger meanings of the holiday. But then, after hearing of a very sick boy named Tommy, and how a Golden Echo harmonica might make him feel better, he decides to part with his own cherished Golden Echo, giving it to the boy.

But then of course Alvin has a dilemma, as Dave, their father figure, gave him that harmonica as a gift years ago. And it just so happens, that Carnegie Hall calls and wants Alvin to play his harmonica for a Christmas show. The three Chipmunks scramble, trying silly schemes to raise money to buy a new one, but at the final hour, Alvin still doesn't have enough. But then, a nice old lady appears at the mall, and offers to buy him a new Golden Echo, if he will sing her a song. He agrees, gets the harmonica, and then later finds out that Tommy did indeed get better because of his gift. The audience learns at the end, that the nice old lady, just so happens to be Mrs. Clause, Santa's wife, herself. All in all a very good special, embodying what's truly important about the season.

It should be noted that this special debuted several years after the death of Ross Bagdasarian Sr., the creator of the Chipmunks. So it marked the first time that his son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr., would voice Alvin, Simon and Dave, and his wife Janice would voice Theodore. They would continue doing so for many years, and through their work they reinvented and reinvigorated the brand.

"Ah Magoo, you've done it again!"

 Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962) 

Mister Magoo was one of the first big cartoon stars of the early days of television, originally debuting in the early 60s. And he received what would be the first animated Christmas special ever specifically produced for TV, in the form of his own adaptation of Charles' Dickens A Christmas Carol. The story itself is framed by scenes of Magoo as an actor starring in a Broadway play. The adaptation of the story itself is very faithful to the book, ending as many do with him celebrating Christmas with the Cratchit family (some depict him sending them a turkey anonymously, while attending his nephew's dinner instead).

There are of course many adaptations of this quintessential Christmas tale, including many animated ones. And while I'd hardly say this is the best, it deserves all due credit for being the first. And honestly, Magoo makes a pretty good Scrooge. For those who aren't familiar, Magoo was voiced by Jim Backus, who would go on to portray the wealthy Thurstan Howell III in the show Gilligan's Island. Magoo was, of course, way before my time, but I feel kids my age were very fortunate, because we lived in an era when we not only got tons of new cartoons to enjoy, but many older ones, such as Disney shorts, Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, Popeye, the many Hanna-Barbera cartoons, etc., as well as early TV stuff like Magoo and Rocky & Bullwinkle, which all saw re-run showings from time to time. I really feel that helped me develop a fuller appreciation for animation in general, being exposed to cartoons from so many decades growing up.

From comic strip to small screen.

A Family Circus Christmas (1979)

There is a rich history of comic strips, most often featuring in newspapers, being adapted into animated cartoons. This stretches all the way back to Little Nemo and Felix the Cat, and includes such luminaries as Popeye the Sailor, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Garfield, Heathcliff, and more. One of the true classic comic strips, which ran for many years starting in the 60s, was The Family Circus. Created by cartoonist Bil Keane, based largely off of his own family (the mother is based directly on his wife Thelma), this strip was classic "Americana", depicting a fairly wholesome American family, and often centering around the silly/crazy things that kids will say or do (hence the "Circus" in the title). When Bil passed away in 2011, his son Jeff, whom the character "Jeffy" is based on, took over the strip, and he continues to draw and write it to this day.

In this special, which played when I was a kid at least a couple of times, the children Billy, Dolly, and Jeffy (the baby P.J. is too young to really understand Christmas yet), are excited for the holiday to come, and the presents Santa will bring. A recurring gag is the belief that Santa can see everything you're doing, so he "knows when you've been bad or good", leading to the kids trying their best to be good in spite of themselves. Jeffy, the most imaginative of the bunch, even thinks he sees Santa around the house, watching him and taking notes. When the family brings the decorations out to put up the Christmas tree, the dad (Bil) is upset because they can't find the star, a decoration his own father made. Jeffy, being very young and naive, gets the idea in his head to ask Santa Claus to bring grandpa back to life for a visit to make his dad happy, and even has a dream in which he gets to ride in Santa's sleigh, and ol' Kris Kringle agrees to his request.

While his grandpa, who died before Jeffy was born, doesn't literally come back, Jeffy does wake during Christmas Eve night, to find that he can see grandpa's spirit. The spirit leads him to a closet where the star had been hidden away for safe keeping the year before, and dad catches Jeffy just in time, trying to reach it. The rest of the family wakes to see what the commotion is, and they put the star on the tree, and all sit together in awe of it. As a little kid, the bits about Santa and the star and grandpa's ghost really touched me, so I still to this day am somewhat sentimental about this largely forgotten special.

Yogi Bear and the Gang.

Yogi Bear's All-Star Christmas Caper (1982)

While I had two Yogi Bear Christmas specials to choose from, the other being 1980s Yogi's First Christmas, I chose this one because of it's sentimentality. In the other, Yogi and Boo Boo are awakened by their friends Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, and Augie Doggie and his Doggie Daddy showing up to spend Christmas at a lodge in fictional Jellystone National Park. They get to experience their first Christmas, as they typically hibernate through it, and get into all sorts of funny antics, defending the lodge from the grumpy Herman the Hermit etc.

But in the "All-Star Christmas Caper", when Huckleberry and the gang return, this time joined by Hokey Wolf, Quick-Draw McGraw, and detectives Snooper and Blabber, they discover that Yogi and Boo Boo have, for whatever silly reasons, escaped Jellystone (again), and are hiding out in a department store in the big city. They are playing the local store Santa and his elf, because apparently no one realizes or cares that they're bears. Ranger Smith and the others look for Yogi in the city, getting into expected shenanigans. Meanwhile, Yogi and Boo Boo meet a little girl named Judy, whose rich father, she claims, is "too busy for her", so she's lonely on Christmas. They decide to help her rediscover her faith in the season by helping her find her dad, eventually being joined by the others, who have succeeded in tracking them down.

The special features cameos by many other Hanna-Barbera characters, including Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble, Mr. Jinx the cat and Pixie & Dixie the jerkass mice, Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gator, and little Yakky Doodle the duckling. During all of the searching, the gang take Judy back to Jellystone to figure out what to do, as they can't find her dad's office, and in the meantime, her dad being unable to find her, has the police out looking for her. They track Judy to Jellystone, where they try to arrest poor Yogi for "kidnapping" the girl, but her father realizes she ran away because he doesn't spend time with her, the charges are dropped, and everyone ends up singing around a campfire, filled with Christmas spirit.

The pinkest panther in existence.

The Pink Panther in: A Pink Christmas (1978)

Among the many older cartoons before my time that I previously mentioned, was The Pink Panther. Originally part of the animated intro to the film The Pink Panther, in which the titular panther is actually a rare diamond, he proved so popular that he eventually got his own series of theatrical cartoon shorts. That animated sequence was directed by none other than Looney Tunes great Isadore "Friz" Freleng (who originally got his start on early pre-Mickey Disney shorts), and his new production company, DePattie-Freleng Enterprises, produced a long-running series of shorts throughout the 60s and 70s. The notable and unique thing about the vast majority of the Pink Panther cartoons, is that there is usually no dialogue at all, just sound effects, and the ever-present jazz "Pink Panther Theme" by composer Henry Mancini. In the 70s and even 80s, they would show Pink Panther shorts on TV, which of course is how I saw them, and that tune is forever embedded in my consciousness as a result.

In the half-hour Christmas special, Pink is a homeless panther around Christmas-time, cold and hungry, and the story if focused around his quest to find some food. Among other hijinks, he winds up somehow getting a job as a department store Santa, only to quickly lose it after taking a bite of a little girl's gingerbread man. Pink finally finds a donut, mislaid by a cop chasing a robber, but then runs into a dog who tries to take it. At first, Pink takes the donut back, thinking only of himself, but then realizes the stray dog is hungry too, and so feeling bad, he decides to share the donut. He heads back to the cold park, with the dog now following him, only to suddenly find a Christmas tree and a table piled with food. It turns out Santa dropped that stuff off, as a reward for showing kindness to the dog. So feeling that Christmas spirit, Pink and the dog share the meal together.


Gloopstick, the newest sensation!

The Great Santa Claus Caper (1979)

Another great and legendary animator, and Looney Tunes veteran, Chuck Jones, also broke off in the 60s, and found himself beginning to produce content for television. In fact, he was the director of one of the most famous animated Christmas specials of all time, the adaptation of Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. In the late 70s he produced a couple of Raggedy Anne & Andy specials (which ironically happened to coincide with the great late-70s Richard Williams feature film The Raggedy Anne & Andy Musical Adventure). The first, was a Halloween special called The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile, which saw them trying to redeem a fun-hating old grump named Aunt Agatha, and do so by uniting her and her nephew with a sad Pumpkin that no one wanted.

In the Christmas special, also starring veteran voice-acting talents June Foray and Daws Butler, an enterprising character named Alexander Graham Wolf, is scheming to take over Santa's workshop himself. His notion is that children always break their toys, so he has invented a kind of plastic shell to coat toys with, which he calls "Gloopstick", and he intends to seal all of Santa's toys in it, and charge families money for "unbreakable" toys. The reindeer Comet (depicted in this as female and also voiced by June Foray), discovers this plot, and flies off, finding Raggedy Anne and her brother Raggedy Andy. She implores them, and their dog Raggedy Arthur, to come to the North Pole and help end this nefarious scheme. Wolf tries to convince them of the genius of his plan, but they ultimately turn the tables on him, showing that the power of love melts "Gloopstick", and that Christmas is about more than toys and things. In a very Grinch-like way, much like with Aunt Agatha, the Raggedies manage to redeem the antagonist, and ol' Wolfy finds the spirit of Christmas after all!



There are many more old Christmas specials I could bring up, just animated ones alone, like Bugs Bunny's Christmas Tales, A Wish For Wings That Work, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, The He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special, etc. But these are some of my favorites from my childhood (along with Mickey's Christmas Carol), and ones that I felt deserved some spotlight. You can find many of them available to watch for free on sites like Youtube or Dailymotion, so in the spirit of the season, and for the love of great classic animation, I say go for it! I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, and I'll see you all next year!