Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Year Without A Santa Claus

Premiered December 10, 1974.

Today, “Oscar Takes A Holiday” pays tribute to Shirley Booth, who voices Mrs. Claus, narrates this special and sing its theme song.  While her name may not be familiar to younger audiences, Booth was a highly-acclaimed performer during her lifetime.  She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1952 for her role in Come Back, Little Sheba, which was also her film debut.  Booth previously won a Tony award for playing the same role on Broadway.

In addition to Sheba, was best known for playing the title role in the TV series Hazel, which earned booth two Emmy awards.  The Year Without A Santa Claus was Booth’s final performance.  She retired from acting afterwards and lived until 1992.  Let's get to our review:

Santa Claus (Mickey Rooney) is feeling sick, tired, and sore all over.  His doctor tells him he shouldn’t bother delivering toys this Christmas because no one believes in him and Christmas spirit is dying.  Santa takes this to heart, says Christmas is cancelled and decides to stay home to take a holiday.  Mrs. Claus  (Shirley Booth) thinks this is terrible idea, but she can’t change his mind.

However, Mrs. Claus isn’t ready to give up hope.  She sends two elves named Jingle (Bob McFadden) and Jangle (Bradley Bolke) on a mission to search for Christmas spirit and believers in Santa Claus, hoping evidence of it will convince Santa to deliver toys on Christmas Eve.

Mrs. Claus and her husband worry that the elves will run into trouble with Heat Miser (George S. Irving), who controls the weather in the southern portion of the world...

 ...and Snow Miser (Dick Shawn) who controls the weather in the north.  They're known collectively as the Miser Brothers.

While riding their reindeer Vixen, the elves are zapped by Heat Miser’s sun ray and they land in South Town, USA.

Their problems get worse when Vixen is mistaken for a dog and taken to the pound.  Jingle and Jangle go to mayor (Ron Marshall) and ask him to release Vixen.  The mayor will do this if the elves use their elf magic to make it snow in South Town, where it never snows.

In order to make it snow, they'll have to get permission from Heat Miser to let his brother make it snow in the south.  This won't be easy, since the brothers don't get along.

Compounding matters, Vixen is sick because she's not used to the warmer climate of South Town.  Santa learns of this and decides to rescue Vixen himself.

In South Town, Santa, using the name Klaus (rhymes with "mouse") meets a boy named Ignatius “Iggy” Thistlewhite (Colin Duffy) and his parents.  Iggy initially expresses skepticism about Santa’s existence.

Iggy's father (Ron Marshall) and Santa tell the boy that they still believe in Santa, just like they believe in love.  Iggy figures if adults aren’t too old to still believe in Santa Claus, then he also believes Santa exists.

Will Santa really skip Christmas?  Can Mrs. Claus and the elves convince the Miser Brothers to set aside their differences and help them?

J.A. Morris says:
When I was a kid, A Year Without A Santa Claus was my favorite Rankin-Bass special.  I still love it, but I no longer consider it to be R-B's best offering.  Mainly because there’s A LOT going on in this special.  There’s Santa’s desire for time off, the elves trip to South Town, the Miser Brothers, the Mayor’s song about getting snow in South Town, a sick reindeer, Mother Nature…, etc.  There’s a bit too much going on.

However, it’s very enjoyable in spite of being a bit overstuffed.  One reason I loved the special as a kid was because the Miser Brothers are so much fun.  Their songs are very catchy and memorable, and the brothers are likable and interesting characters.  I find myself humming the Misers' songs year-round.

Speaking of songs, “I Believe In Santa Claus Is” is very touching and it’s one of the best songs written for Rankin-Bass specials.  It gets to the heart of what Santa and Christmas mean to us as we grow up and grow older.  Jules Bass and Maury Laws really hit home runs on all the songs they wrote for this special.

Booth is great as Mrs. Claus.  Building a special around Mrs. Claus was a great idea.  She's a character that has lots of potential that is rarely utilized.  While Santa’s name is in the title, Mrs. Claus is definitely the hero and protagonist of this special.

Mickey Rooney previously played a younger Santa in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.  He makes a great Santa and would go on to voice the character in three animated specials and also played him in a live action short.

Some background on the Miser Brothers' voice actors:
Snow Miser is voiced by character actor Dick Shawn.  He’s best remembered today for playing Lorenzo St. Dubois (“Hitler” in “Springtime For Hitler”) in The Producers.  Shawn appeared on dozens of TV shows and also worked as a stand-up comic and toured in a one-man show until his death in 1987.

George S. Irving plays Heat Miser.  Irving was primarily a stage actor, he won a Tony award in 1973 for his role in a revival of Irene.  His career began in 1945 and Irving continued to act until 2008.  He passed away in 2016 at age 94.

A Year Without A Santa Claus is very entertaining and features great songs and interesting characters.  This special was also a nice bookend to Shirley Booth's distinguished career.

J.A. Morris’ rating:


3 and a half candy canes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What's New, Scooby-Doo: "A Scooby Doo Valentine"

Premiered February 11, 2005.

Note from your trusted holiday reviewers:
2019 marks the 50th “birthday” of the world’s favorite mystery-solving Great Dane, Scooby-Doo.  Scooby and the "meddling kids" of Mystery Inc. have appeared in lots of holiday specials and episodes.  Throughout the year, we’ll be reviewing several of these.  We start with this Valentine’s Day offering!:

Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) and the Mystery Inc. gang return to their hometown of Coolsville after a long road trip.  It's almost Valentine's Day, which excites Daphne (Grey Griffin), who says it's her favorite holiday.  The next day, they all them receive Valentine cards signed “your secret admirer.”  

The gang learns that teenagers have been disappearing from the local Lover's Lane hangout.  Velma (Mindy Cohn) finds an adhesive at the hangout and thinks it may be a clue.  

Shaggy  (Casey Kasem) runs into his old girlfriend Rachel (Joey Lauren Adams), who is covering the missing teens for the local paper.  

Shaggy and Scooby run into their respective ex-girlfriends, Rachel and Roxanne.
She tells Shaggy that she has a new boyfriend, singer JC Chasez (himself) of the group NSYNC.  Rachel’s relationship with Chasez makes Shaggy jealous and makes Velma and Daphne very envious.  

The Scooby gang's attempt to solve the mystery of the missing teens gets complicated when Sheila (Rachael MacFarlane), who was attacked the night before, identifies them as the culprits who menaced her and kidnapped her boyfriend.  They’re shocked and confused by this accusation.  

Later, Mystery Inc. gets more Valentines, which ask them to show up at Lover's Lane at midnight.  They believe there’s a connection between the kidnapped teens and their secret admirer.    

Upon arrival, they’re ambushed by...themselves!  Or some sort of clones Mystery Inc. that also posses super-strength.  

Coolsville police officer McBride (Dan Castellaneta), who isn't crazy about the gang to begin with, gladly arrests Mystery Inc. and sends them all to jail!

Can Scooby and the gang clear their names and solve the mystery of the missing teenagers?  Or will they spend Valentine’s Day in the Coolsville Jail?

J.A. Morris says: 

I’ve been a fan of Scooby-Doo and his friends for a long time, and this Valentine episode was deliberately meant to remind us of Scooby’s earlier series.  It’s a fun episode and since Valentine’s Day doesn’t have nearly as many episodes as the “bigger” holidays, it’s always nice to have more Valentine-themed programming.  However, there are problems with “A Scooby-Doo Valentine.”

The “fake” versions of the Scooby gang display super-strength and the ability to jump long distances.  This is never explained during the reveal of the villain.  I admit it’s silly to look for “logic” in a Scooby-Doo cartoon, but I wanted to know where they got their enhanced abilities.  

The New Scooby-Doo Movies, an earlier series from the 70s, usually featured celebrity guests who often provided their own voice.  In the tradition of that series, this episode features a guest appearance of JC Chasez.  Many of you might not know who that is and will wonder why everyone is shocked when they hear he’s dating Rachel.  I’m thinking that Chasez’ group NSYNC had already peaked when this episode first aired in 2005, since they hadn’t recorded anything for several years.  

In addition to Chasez, “A Scooby-Doo Valentine” also features a guest voice appearance by actor/director Joey Lauren Adams.  She does a nice job as Rachel.  When she screams “GET OUT!” at Shaggy during the flashback sequence, viewers will likely be reminded of Adams’ performance in Chasing Amy.

I enjoyed the gang’s misadventures in this episodes and the “secret admirer” letters were a nice storytelling device for a Valentine’s Day episode.  We also get a funny flashback scene where we see younger versions of Shaggy and Scooby.   

“A Scooby-Doo Valentine” features a very strong cast of voice actors.  Frank Welker and Casey Kasem were the original voices of Fred and Shaggy.  They give great performances of their old characters and Welker also performs Scooby’s voice (Don Messick, Scooby-Doo’s original voice actor had passed away by this time).  Velma is voiced by Mindy Cohn, who my generation will remember as Natalie Green on The Facts Of Life.  

I enjoyed “A Scooby-Doo Valentine” but its dated pop culture references and plot holes keep me from giving it a higher rating.

J.A. Morris’ rating:

2 and a half Valentine hearts.

RigbyMel says: 

This Valentine’s episode is from the third season of What’s New, Scooby-Doo?, a 21st century update on the Scooby Gang featuring new adventures.    Interestingly,  “A Scooby-Doo Valentine” was written by Nahnatchka Khan, who is probably best known as the producer of shows like Fresh Off The Boat.  

Khan includes a lot of fun meta-references for longtime Scooby-philes, like Daphne’s mention of Sarah Michelle Gellar (who played the character in the live action Scooby-Doo from 2002 and its 2004 sequel) or the inclusion of a “celebrity guest star”.  She also works in a good red herring or two as to who the culprit for the kidnappings might be.    

As J.A. Morris says above, it’s nice to have another addition to the Valentine’s Day TV canon and there are secret admirer messages aplenty, plus it’s always fun to hang out with Scooby and his friends. However, there are also some holes in the plot that bugged me, such as the whole Scooby-doppelgangers' “super-strength without explanation” thing.   

Also, the motivation of the culprit seems a bit … thin considering the elaborateness of the kidnappings.  Then again, maybe that wouldn’t bother the intended audience of kids (whose nostalgic parents or aunties or suchlike might be looking in with a more critical eye than we did when we were watching older iterations of the series).  

Maybe it's that weird mix of nostalgia plus aiming at an audience that is too really young to have nostalgia for earlier iterations of Scooby-Doo that doesn't entirely work for me?    Meaning that in my estimation, “A Scooby-Doo Valentine” is enjoyable all-ages silly fun, but not a classic.

Valentine's Day reminds Scooby and Shaggy of their first love:Food!
RigbyMel’s rating: 

2 Valentine hearts

Monday, February 11, 2019

Tom and Jerry: "The Night Before Christmas" (1941)

Premiered December 6, 1941.

This edition of “Oscar Takes A Holiday” focuses on Fred Quimby and Rudolf Ising, who co-produced this Tom and Jerry cartoon.  Quimby won eight Academy Awards for Best Animated Short.  

Fred Quimby with his collection of Oscars!
Seven of Quimby’s Oscars were for producing Tom and Jerry shorts, including four in a row from 1944 to 1947.  Quimby’s other Academy Award win was for “The Milky Way”, which he shared with Ising.  It’s worth noting that Ising and Quimby’s win marked the first time the animation Oscar went to someone other than Walt Disney, who won the first eight animated short Academy Awards. 

The Night Before Christmas was written and directed by Tom and Jerry's creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

On to our review:

On Christmas Eve, Jerry the mouse leaves his hole in the wall and makes his way to the Christmas tree.  He plays with some of the toys and gifts that surround the tree.  

Jerry’s Yuletide fun comes to an end when he stumbles on Tom the cat, who is sleeping under the tree, a chase around the tree ensues.  The mouse manages to escape Tom.

However, Tom eventually chases Jerry outside through the mail slot... 

...and barricades the mouse outside on a frigid, snowing night.  

While the cat settles on a pillow by the fireside, it looks like Jerry is doomed to freeze, unless Tom finds some Christmas spirit and lets him back inside.  

J.A. Morris says:

I watched lots of classic Tom and Jerry shorts when they were shown in syndication during my childhood.  However I didn’t see The Night Before Christmas until the early-2000s when it aired as part of the Christmas episode of ToonHeads.  

This is basically a typical Tom and Jerry cartoon except it’s takes place at Christmas.  You know the drill: Tom chases Jerry, the mouse survives and gives the cat his comeuppance.  The Night Before Christmas is beautifully animated and features some nice scenes, such as Jerry seeing his reflection in an ornament…

...and disguising as a Christmas light:

What makes this different from other shorts is that (SPOILER ALERT) Tom does the right thing when he rescues Jerry from the snow and puts his never-ending pursuit of Jerry on hold in honor of Christmas.  

It’s a sweet moment.  At Christmas, we often have to spend time with people we’re not necessarily crazy about.  I guess if Tom and Jerry can do that, we can all make an effort to the same during the holiday season.  

The Night Before Christmas is a great cartoon and is recommended to Yuletide fans of all ages. 

J.A. Morris’ rating:

4 candy canes!

RigbyMel says: 

The Night Before Christmas is a delightful, festive Tom & Jerry short.    Like J.A.,  I grew up watching classic Tom & Jerry cartoons in syndication, but this particular short is relatively new to me.  

Somewhat atypically for a Tom & Jerry cartoon, this short has a  touching “peace on earth goodwill to all” denouement, but as it’s Christmas-themed, it makes sense that the holiday spirit catches up with them.  

I was also struck by the fact that several of the gags are pretty popular in several Christmas shorts from around the same time period.  Disney & Warner Brothers also played with the notion of a character enjoying their funhouse-like reflection in an ornament,  hiding from an antagonist by pretending to be a toy or a decoration of some sort or slapping a “Do Not Open Until Xmas” sticker on someone’s mouth.    

This makes sense from a cartoon comedy standpoint, but the personalities of characters created by different studios helps to put different spins on similar gags.   

I did wonder who would  have set out the kinder, gentler holiday mousetrap outside of Jerry’s mousehole though?  Was it Tom? Or was it the humans that live in the house?  Or maybe Santa?  A puzzlement! 

It’s also interesting to note that this was only the third Tom & Jerry short to be released in theaters - the first two are "Puss Gets The Boot" (1940) and "The Midnight Snack" (1941). 

The Night Before Christmas is a fun, holiday short and is definitely recommended for all ages. 

RigbyMel’s rating: 

4 candy canes.