Saturday, December 8, 2007

Frosty the Snowman and Frosty's Winter Wonderland

Frosty The Snowman (1969)

JA Morris says:

'Frosty The Snowman'(1969) was an annual tv event when I was a kid. Maybe it wasn't as good as 'Rudolph' or 'Charlie Brown', but it was fun, with memorable characters, quotable lines, etc.
I hadn't seen it in a few years, so I thought it was a good time to revist 'Frosty'.

Quick summary for those unfamiliar:
Magician Professor Hinkle throws out his useless magic hat. School children find the hat and place it on top of a snowman, who comes to life. He quickly befriends the children(especially a girl named Karen), who christen him "Frosty" and leads them through town in an informal parade. Prof. Hinkle suddenly wants his hat back and pursues Frosty. Warm weather threatens Frosty's existance, so he & Karen flee to the North Pole, followed by Hinkle.
Like most Rankin-Bass specials, the villain is redeemed at the end, and Frosty finds a home in the North Pole.
First off, Jackie Vernon nails the voice of Frosty. He's got the perfect combination of comedy & sentiment that the role demands. Jimmy Durante is great as the narrator and also delivers a great rendition of the title song. June Foray creates a believable (not precocious) little girl in Karen, and Paul Frees is a great Santa Claus.

The story is a pretty good extension of the title song, not the best story ever but still entertaining in its 39th Christmas.

JA Morris's rating:

‘Frosty The Snowman’


Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976)

JA Morris says:

'Frosty' was popular enough to merit a sequel in 1976 called 'Frosty's Winter Wonderland'.

As the song says, Frosty would "be back again someday". And so he returns and once again the children love him and his wintry antics (I should mention none of the children, including Karen, from the first special appear in the sequel; I guess they’ve already grown up). This time, the villain is Jack Frost, who grows jealous of Frosty’s popularity and plots to steal the magic hat.

Frosty has another problem: loneliness. When the children go home at sundown, he’s left by himself. The children decide Frosty needs a wife, so they build a snowwoman. She comes to life when Frosty places a bouquet of “frost flowers” in her hand. They decide to marry, but Jack Frost shows up at the wedding. As this special isn't as well known as its predecessor, I won't spoil the ending, other than to say, it ends happily.

Jackie Vernon reprises his role as Frosty here and is just as good, Shelly Winters is very sweet as the voice of Crystal. Durante must have either been sick or unavailable, so Andy Griffith takes over as narrator. Griffith is fine, but I’ve always thought his cartoon caricature is a little, well, wrong.

‘Winter Wonderland’ is not as good as ‘Frosty’, but is certainly a worthy sequel. Sadly, is somewhat overlooked today. This special has been relegated to cable, replaced by ‘Frosty Returns’ as the “official” sequel shown on CBS every Christmas as a companion to ‘Frosty The Snowman.'

JA Morris's rating:

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fred Claus

And now an actual, current holiday movie, in theaters as we speak!

Fred Claus stars Vince Vaughan as the title character and Paul Giamatti as his kid brother Saint Nicholas, better known as Santa Claus.

RigbyMel says:

I was not expecting much from this movie to be honest.   Generally speaking, I am not a huge Vince Vaughan fan, but I do have respect for Paul Giamatti and was intrigued at his casting as the big S.   At best, I figured it would be mildly tolerable.   At worst as steaming pile of ... reindeer poop.  Well, the movie turned out to be rather more enjoyable than I'd anticipated, which was a pleasant surprise.

The story centers on Fred Claus, big brother of Santa Claus, and how he feels overshadowed by the big S for most of his life.  Apparently, saints as well as their families and significant others enjoy the fringe benefit of eternal youth.  Fred gets into a scrape and needs to ask his brother for a loan for bail plus $50K extra so he can open an off track betting parlor across the street from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.  In exchange, he must come up to the North Pole and help Santa out.  All does not go according to plan and Santa is having troubles of his own when an efficiency expert named Clyde (Kevin Spacey) shows up and threatens to shut the whole Santa's workshop operation down. (My question to this is WHO would have authorized this efficieny expert in the first place? To whom does S. Claus answer?)

Sounds like a formula for disaster, right?  Well, it's not perfect, but it definitely has enough amusing bits and a bit of a sweet (but not saccharine) streak to make it work somehow.  The scene involving the support group for siblings of famous people is worth the price of admission in and of itself.   And the movie does have a nice heart to it really.   I could have done without the elf in love with a normal sized person subplot but basically I enjoyed this one.  It is nice to be surprised in one's expectations upon occasion.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 candy canes.

J.A. Morris says: 
I agree with most of what RigbyMel wrote.
I'll add that my favorite scenes are the ones involving arguments between Santa and Fred.  Giamatti is the main reason I went to see Fred Claus and he plays a great Santa.  I'm not the biggest Vaughn fan either, but I thought he was fine too.   Some of his dialog feels like it was improvised (though it probably wasn't), which makes his character sound more realistic.

And I also thought it was nice that Mrs. Claus was given a first name (Annette) in this film.
I laughed out loud a few times, but 'Fred Claus' is better described as "fun and entertaining" than "hilarious".
My biggest gripe (like RigbyMel) is this business of Santa answering to "the board".  The movie never tells us who sits on this board. God? Other saints? A little explanation would have helped.

Otherwise, Fred Claus is a fun enough movie, but not a future holiday classic.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 candy canes.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wonder Pets: "Save The Reindeer"

The Wonder Pets - Save The Reindeer

RigbyMel says:

This sweet little holiday special aired last holiday season on Nick Jr. and I was upset that I missed it then. Well, it is now out on DVD and being the overgrown Wonder Pets fans that we are, we now own a copy. It is a bit longer than the usual episode and the disc contains several other eps of the show as well. Through the magic of photo puppetry, Linny the guinea pig, Tuck the turtle and Ming Ming the duckling are settling down to enjoy Christmas but must journey to the North Pole to save a baby reindeer and by extension Christmas. As with other episodes of the series, this one is mostly sung and the Wonder Pets must use teamwork to solve the problem. Be warned that this show is technically aimed at preschoolers, so some may not enjoy it particularly, but us childless 30somethings thought it was quite charming. (Then again, I've already established that we already like the series ...) Can't go wrong with a message like "Christmas isn't about presents. It's about being together and helping others," in my humble opinion.

RigbyMel's rating:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Family Circus Christmas

A Family Circus Christmas

RigbyMel says:

This 1979 special is based upon the comic strip that many of us like to make fun of. (Full disclosure, I am not someone who hates the strip unequivocally, I just find that it was more amusing when I was 9 than it seems to be now.)
The story centers on the family not being able to find the star for the top of the Christmas tree that was made by Grandpa. Daddy is depressed about this and little Jeffy decides to ask Santa to bring his Granpa back from the grave as a special Christmas present for Daddy. This doesn't quite work out the way Jeffy expects it will, but does work out in typical borderline saccharine Family Circus fashion. Features a depressingly bad song by Sarah Vaughan, who is honestly better than what you hear! It wasn't as dreadful as I had feared it would be, but it wasn't all that wonderful either. Probably a good one to skip.

RigbyMel's rating:

J A Morris says:
I'll start by saying I'm not someone who loathes 'The Family Circus' comic strip. I liked it more when I was a kid than I do now. I don't know if it's because I'm more mature or the Bill Keane has gotten more saccharine over the years.

But anyway, 'A Family Circus Christmas' is not a very good special. I concur with Rigby Mel's sentiments. I'll add that I found the special somewhat creepy, with a ghostly Santa stalking Jeffy around the house. I know the song says "he knows if you've been bad or good" but I don't think this is what they had in mind.

One good moment I'll mention:Jeffy asks the shopping mall Santa to bring Grandpa back from the dead for Christmas. "Santa" gets nervous & doesn't quite know what to say. That was the most realistic, memorable moment of the special for me.
Skip this special.

J A Morris's rating:

Monday, December 3, 2007

Shrek the Halls

Shrek the Halls is a brand spanking new Holiday special that had its first airing on ABC at the end of November.

RigbyMel says:

I have mixed feelings about the Shrek franchise generally.  I really liked the first two movies, but I thought Shrek The Third, while still fun was decidedly an illustration of the law of diminishing returns.  Based on my feelings about Shrek The Third, I just rolled my eyes and sighed when I learned that a FOURTH Shrek movie is already in production.

That being said, I think that Shrek the Halls was on a par with the first two movies, which is a good thing.

The Shrek characters all put their own spin on the Christmas holidays with amusing results and points of view.  For example, Donkey pictures Santa as being made of waffles, while the Gingerbread Man has a decidedly different (and funny, if you're not a cookie) take on the Claus.  Shrek himself has never experienced Christmas before ("Ogres don't celebrate Christmas!") and is trying to make Fiona and the baby Shreks happy with a perfect holiday and no interference from Donkey, Puss, et al. (Obviously that doesn't quite go according to plan!)

Overall, the message of the show, if there really was one, seemed to be that family can include friends as well as the traditional "nuclear family".  There were several bits that made me laugh out loud even, which is also a good thing. Puss in Boots becoming distracted batting at the puffball on the end of the Santa hat was priceless, as a for instance.

The anachronistic music still bothers me - as it has in all of the Shrek series, but really there are so
many anachronisms and it's not really of a particular real time and place anyway that I guess I should get over that.

I am not yet convinced that this show constitutes a "Christmas classic", but it was a lot of fun and better than I expected it to be.  Only time will tell re. the "classic" status (or lack thereof).

RigbyMel's rating:

3 Candy Canes.

JA Morris says:

I generally agree with what RigbyMel said, it’s a good Christmas special, but not up there with the classics.  I also appreciated the different versions of Twas The Night Before Christmas told by Shrek, Donkey & Puss.  And the Three Little Pigs were especially funny!

One other thing I appreciated: You could watch this back-to-back with any of the Shrek movies and there wouldn’t be a big fall-off in terms of animation, production values, etc.  Most straight-to-tv sequels usually have a cheaper appearance, more like “Saturday Morning Cartoons" than big screen movies.

A 36 year old is not the target audience for Shrek The Halls but I enjoyed it and it didn’t seem dumbed down in any way.

JA Morris's rating:

3 Candy Canes.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Family Ties: "A Christmas Story"

RigbyMel says:

Family Ties: A Christmas Story which is from the first season of the show, first aired December 15, 1982 and is episode # 11 according to IMDB. It centers around the Keatons being unable to go on their Christmas skiing trip and instead sitting around the living room and reminiscing about the births of Alex, Mallory and Jennifer.

It was interesting, not wonderful, but interesting. I spent much of the episode being distracted and appalled by how terrible 80s clothing was and how relatively low budget the production values were. I definitely didn't remember this aspect of the show - then again, I was less critical about such things in the 80s. This episode is not a "classic" by any stretch of the imagination, but if you enjoyed Family Ties, it is a good way to get your nostalgia on.

RigbyMel's rating:

J.A. Morris says:

We're in agreement on this episode.

'Family Ties' was one of my favorite shows of the 80s, but it's been several years since I watched the series. I found most of the jokes fell flat in this episode. Not due to outdated references, but just weak writing.
On a more positive note,the flashback sequences served as a nice "origin story"(as they say in comics) of the Keatons. And it was nice to learn more about Steven and Elyse's backstory(such as their time in the Peace Corps).

J.A. Morris' rating:

A Very Merry Cricket

RigbyMel says:

A Very Merry Cricket is a Chuck Jones animated special from 1973. It's a sequel to A Cricket In Times Square - which we also watched the same night and which was better overall, but still not as good as the book of the same name upon which both specials were based. It was cute and the theme centering on the need to slow down and enjoy little things amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays was most definitely a good thing to be reminded of this time of year. I also liked the violin music used and was amused by Mel Blanc's voice characterizations, but this special is not really a classic in my opinion.

RigbyMel's rating:

J.A. Morris says:

I’m rating this one a little higher than RigbyMel.

Sure, the “let’s slow down, remember Christmas isn’t about shopping” message has been put out there before. But the presence of voice acting legend Mel Blanc makes this special more enjoyable than other middle-of-the pack holiday fare.

Another thing I like is the friendship between the Tucker the mouse Harry the cat. When they go to out to the country, the cat has to save the mouse from a “country” cat who still eats mice. Nice touch!

J.A. Morris' rating:

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Why review Christmas specials?

First off, both of us grew up during the 70s and 80s, remembered by some as a “golden age” of Holiday specials.

This was before the days of cable, vcrs, dvds and multiple airings of the same show each season.
When Rudolph, or the Grinch was on tv in the 70s and 80s, it was an event. Everyone at school would be talking about it the day before and the day after. “Are you gonna watch the Grinch tonight??” Miss it and you had to wait ‘til next year.

Now we have the luxury of dvds and pretty much on-demand viewing. When we were getting out our Christmas stuff this year, we counted more than 20 holiday dvds, to say nothing of holiday episodes contained in tv show season box sets and a couple of additional dvds purchased within the past couple of weeks. As certifiable Christmas geeks, we thought that posting reviews would help remind us of the “special-ness” of the holiday specials.

We will be reviewing tv specials, holiday-themed episodes of tv series and theatrically released holiday films. Some will be familiar to everyone (‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’) and some will be obscure to all but the completists (‘A Family Circus Christmas’, ‘A Very Merry Cricket’).

We will be primarily covering Christmas shows, but we’re using the term “holiday film” so we can leave the door open for reviews of movies & specials dedicated to other holidays (Easter, Valentine’s Day,etc.)

We hope our reviews will help you remember how much you enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy, in some cases) watching these shows & movies.

Thanks for reading,

J.A. Morris
December 2007

Our rating system:

4 candy canes = Holiday Classic - not to be missed

3 candy canes = Very good but not quite essential yearly viewing

2 candy canes = Not awful, but not all that great either

1 candy cane = Skip it unless you're a hard core fan of the characters

Lump of coal = Thirty (or so) minutes of your life that you'll never get back

(Half a candy cane, obviously, will mean that something falls somewhere between categories!)