Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: "Happy Hanukkah, Howard Weinerman"

Premiered December 3, 2014

"It is On-akkah like Hanukkah!"
-Randy Cunningham

Randy Cunningham (Ben Schwartz) and his friend Howard Weinerman (Andrew Caldwell) are hanging out at the Game Hole, a local arcade.  Howard, whose family celebrates Hanukkah, is complaining about the Hanukkah gifts he's received: socks.

Suddenly, a giant robot breaks into the Game Hole and trashes it.  Randy dons his ninja gear and battles the robot.  He defeats it, but not before the arcade suffers considerable damage and all the games are destroyed.

When the dust settles, local business-creep Hannibal McFist (John DiMaggio) arrives on the scene. He's ready to tear down the arcade and build a shoe store in its place.

McFist has brought along a city building inspector who cites an ordinance that says an arcade must have at least one game in operation at all times to maintain its status.  With no games working, McFist declares the Game Hole condemned and starts planning where to display shoes.

Thankfully, Howard notices one game, called "Fight Knight" is still working.  The Ninja provides Howard with game tokens and tells him to keep playing until he and Greg (Keith Ferguson), the arcade's owner, can go to a storage unit and get another video game.  If Howard loses, the Game Hole will become McFist's property.

Greg is not being overly helpful. 
The Ninja and Greg head for the storage unit and encounter McFist's robot gorillas (on snowmobiles!) and...a yeti!

All are bent upon preventing the Ninja from completing his mission.

The Yeti bot uses Greg's truck like a boom box. 
Can Howard play the game on one token long enough?  Can the Game Hole be saved?

J.A. Morris says:

There's not many Hanukkah-themed specials or episodes, and this one is an interesting "retelling" of the Hanukkah story.  Instead of the Menorah burning for eight night on only one night's worth of oil, Howard saves the Game Hole by fighting for eight rounds of a video game on only one token.

If you're looking for a thorough introduction to what Hanukkah's all about, you won't find it here. However, it's humorous and filled with lots of fun action scenes.  McFist is a good villain and his mechanical minions make entertaining adversaries for the Ninja.  There are also some funny asides about McFist's previous efforts to please his wife with Christmas presents.  The voice acting cast is also very good.

"Happy Hanukkah, Howard Weinerman", like every episode of the show is only eleven minutes long, so it's a bit thin on plot.  Otherwise, there's not much to criticize here.

This episode is currently available for streaming on Amazon.

If you're looking for some light superhero fun during the holiday season, "Happy Hanukkah, Howard Weinerman" will provide it.  The shortness of the episode and lack of plot keeps me from giving it a higher rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 dreidels.

RigbyMel says:

This is a silly, fast paced animated superhero adventure with a clever Hanukkah veneer.   There are some nice touches like the game token stretching long enough to fight eight knights and the robot yeti's head bearing a resemblance to a dreidel.

I also found it interesting that Greg -- the proprietor of the Game Hole -- seems to look like Wooderson -- Matthew McConaughey's character in the 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused.   Which is rather a nice little inside joke for older viewers looking in.

Cartoon Greg -- owner of the Game Hole
Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey)  -- the resemblance is truly striking! 
As J.A. Morris says, this short isn't really a great introduction to the "true meaning of Hanukkah" or anything, but it's certainly amusing and as there are relatively few filmed entertainments dealing with the holiday at all, it's nice to see some inclusiveness.

RigbyMel's rating: 


2 and a half Dreidels.

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.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Looney Tunes: "Gift Wrapped"

Premiered February 16, 1952.

On Christmas morning, Sylvester (Mel Blanc) wakes up and sneaks a peek at his Christmas present.  It's a rubber mouse, which doesn't satisfy him.

He hears the song "Jingle Bells" emanating from a present for Granny (Bea Benadaret).  Sylvester looks inside and sees Tweety (Blanc).

He switches the gift tags and when Granny hands him the present which now has his name on it, proceeds to swallow the bird!  Granny quickly knocks the bird out of the cat.

Sylvester tries to get Tweety several more times, always coming up empty.

Tweety points to a giant box and tells the cat it's his present.  Inside is Hector the bulldog (Blanc again), who swallows Sylvester.

Granny forces Hector to "drop him!"

It appears that Granny will spend Christmas day disciplining her pets!  Will any heavenly peace be found in the house this Christmas?

J.A. Morris says:

This short can be summed up in one sentence: It's like most other Sylvester & Tweety shorts, except it takes place at Christmas.  If you enjoy their cartoon battles, you'll like "Gift Wrapped." There's lots of great gags, involving fishing rods and pop guns.  And because it's a Warner Brothers cartoon, we get the obligatory stick of dynamite.  Sylvester tries to catch Tweety in many clever ways, my favorite is directing a toy train into his mouth!

The character Granny is usually associated with voice actress June Foray, who voiced Granny for sixty years.  However, in Gift Wrapped, she's voiced Bea Benaderet, who originated the role.

Benaderet was a veteran of many film, TV and radio programs.  She's somewhat forgotten today, but she performed on radio shows like The Jack Benny Show, Fibber McGee and Molly and The Mel Blanc Show.  Benaderet also provided the original voices for Miss Priss (Foghorn Leghorn's love interest) and Betty Rubble in the original Flintstones series.

Bea Benaderet poses with her "alter ego," Betty Rubble.
Her most prominent "live action" role was Kate Bradley in Petticoat Junction.

Gift Wrapped is available on DVD, it can be found on volume 2 of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection.  

I've been a fan of Sylvester and Tweety shorts for as long as I can remember.  Placing these characters in a Christmas setting makes them even more enjoyable!

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 candy canes!

RigbyMel says: 

I remember seeing and enjoying this short when I was younger,  whether on Saturday mornings or as part of some sort of holiday programming, I am not certain.   It's still pretty darned funny and the Christmas-ness of it lends itself well to cartoon gags and mayhem around the tree in classic Warner Brothers style.

Don't know that mistletoe will go over well in this scenario ... ! 
Fun fact:  the "Night Before Christmas" narration at the beginning of this short was performed by Daws Butler who is probably best known for his work in various Hanna Barbera cartoons.  He voiced Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Elroy Jetson among other characters.

Shish-kebab!  (Oh dear!) 
This is a great Looney Tunes short wrapped up with Christmas packaging to excellent effect.

Plus we get gorgeous background paintings like this one! 
If you're a fan of Warner Brothers cartoons, this one is well worth adding to your annual viewing.

RigbyMel's rating: 

4 candy canes!