Thursday, December 15, 2016

Silly Symphonies: "Santa's Workshop" (1932) and "The Night Before Christmas" (1933)

"Santa's Workshop" premiered December 10, 1932.

"The Night Before Christmas" premiered  December 9, 1933.

We're going to depart a bit from our usual summary format, since these two connected cartoons don't have a lot of plot to summarize.

In "Santa's Workshop", we see elves making various toys, including rocking horses...


...and alphabet blocks.

Santa Claus (Allan Watson) goes through his naughty or nice list to see deserves a toy. His secretary (Pinto Colvig) informs him about how good or bad each child has been.

When all the toys are made and packed, Santa takes them to deliver toys to children around the world.

"The Night Before Christmas" picks up where "Santa's Workshop" left off.  It's a loose adaptation of the Clement Moore poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas."  Santa delivers toys, we see him make a stop at a house with nine children, sets up the Christmas tree and leaves gifts.

J.A. Morris says:

On a technical level, both cartoons are great.  Most cartoons at this time existed to say "hey, look what we can do with animation."  "Santa's Workshop" and "The Night Before Christmas" are a great example of this practice.  We get to see lots of details involved in how elves make the toys on an assembly line.

The colors are gorgeous and the  movements are nicely animated, but both shorts are a bit slight. There's not a lot of story in either.  Sure it's great animation, but not the sort of thing I plan to watch every December.

The other problem is that both "Santa's Workshop" and "The Night Before Christmas" feature some ugly ethnic stereotypes.  in the first cartoon, the elves making toys that feature blackface and stereotypical Jewish caricatures.  "The Night Before Christmas" short features a sweet moment when a little boy named Junior gets a puppy for Christmas.

This cute scene is undermined by Junior getting soot on his face, which makes it look like he's corked up in blackface.  I don't believe in censoring such things, but it took me out of the moment and feels odd and out of place, even for a 1933 cartoon.

Prancer receives a grooming.
Santa Claus' characterization is worth noting.  His physical appearance hasn't changed much since 1932.   However, other aspects of Santa were not yet codified when these cartoons were made. Instead of the familiar "ho-ho-ho," his laugh sounds more like "ha-ha-ha."  I guess Santa hadn't been codified when these shorts were produced.

"Santa's Workshop" and "The Night Before Christmas" are visually appealing, but the lack of story and reliance on racial stereotypes keeps me from giving them a higher rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:


2 and a half Candy Canes.

RigbyMel says: 

Although there isn't a complicated story underlying these two shorts, there is a LOT of impressive animation on show.    We get to see the whole toy creation and delivery process across these two shorts.

Check out the gnomes/elves working hard in the reindeer stables! (I like the tooth brushing!)
It's also worth noting that the first of the two, "Santa's Workshop" was the fourth Silly Symphony cartoon to be produced in color.

Technicolor sleigh prep in "Santa's Workshop"
I also enjoy seeing Santa play with all the toys in "The Night Before Christmas."  In my experience, great gift givers tend to retain a sense of wonder and Santa's willingness to engage with the toys illustrates this quality.

Santa gets a pretty good sound out of that toy piano! 
It's interesting to note that -- as was traditional at the time -- Santa not only brings the toys to go under the Christmas tree, but also the tree itself.  There's a cute gag where Santa unfolds the tree like an umbrella and the toys get in on the act to help with decorating it.

Talented toys (and a zeppelin!) decorate the tree in "The Night Before Christmas"
As J.A. Morris mentions above,  these cartoons contain some less pleasant artifacts from the early 20th century in the form of some ugly stereotypical portrayals of blacks, Asians and Jewish folks.   So when these shorts are made available now, they are often edited to leave out the offensive stereotypes.  They definitely drag me right out of enjoying the beautiful animation.

Ugly stereotypes will get you on the naughty list nowadays! (Rightly so!) 
The complete, unedited shorts are available on the Disney Treasures More Silly Symphonies Volume 2 set, if you want to seek them out.

Nine (!!) small children vs. Christmas tree (Junior is not in the frame though ...) 
On a side note, Mickey Mouse himself makes  an appearance in toy form.   Mickey was a popular presence under Christmas trees from the 1930s onward and it's interesting to think about how DisneyCorp is still pushing the envelope with product placement to this very day.

M-I-C-K-E-Y ... 
Both "Santa's Workshop" and "The Night Before Christmas" are worth seeking out for their beautiful animation and general sweetness, but the ugly stereotypes knock my overall rating down a bit.

The puppy is super-cute though!  And Junior wants him to see Santa ... awww! 
RigbyMel's rating: 

3 Candy Canes.

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