A Captain & the Kids cartoon in Technicolor, The Captain's Christmas (1938) brings Rudolph Dirks' comic strip characters to motion picture.
The Captain has gotten dressed up like Santa & hooked up a cow to a sled, putting gloves on the cow's horns to make her look like she has reindeer antlers.
He's being observed through a spyglass by some ship's swabbies, one of whom, Pegleg John, decides he'd make a better Santa Claus than the Captain.
The swabbies rob the Captain of his Santa outfit & begin at once to screw up Christmas, while the cow-reinder says "Moooooo-ry Christmas."
Down the chimney goes John in the Santa outfit, banging his head so that he forgets who he is, but thinks he really is Santa.
One of the kids has gotten a racist-caricature wind-up toy that tapdances in blackface, & John pulls his gun while shouting, "I'll make 'im dance for ya!" & begins shooting at the wind-up figure's feet.
Pegleg John's Santa antics become wilder & more menacing, while his three pals watch from a window. When everything is wrecked, John is overwhelmed by guilt. A peg-legged representation of himself as a child appears in a thought-balloon & shames him.
To make amends, he & his sailor cohorts sing a carol "Hang Up the Holly in the Window" to earn some spare change to buy replacement toys. No one will toss money from the windows, so they try being extra annoying bad singers, & all sorts of useful things are thrown at them, much of it fine gifts for the Captain's kids.
An MGM Happy Harmonies "Harman-Ising" Technicolor cartoon, Alias St. Nick (1935) opens with a scowly scary cat forging his way through the snow storm. He peaks in at the window of a hollow tree wherein lives a mouse-mother with a whole lot of baby mice.
One might suppose the Christmas spirit would suffuse a cartoon like this, & the cat suffering in the cold would somehow come to terms with eating something other than mice, & everyone forgiven. But not this time. This is one bad-ass cat we're not supposed to like one bit.
"It's a cat!" exclaims one of the little mice from the warmth of a cozy home, & the mice set off a simple boxing-glove device that keeps predators off the stoop. Freezing, & now beaten up, the cat isn't ready to give up.
The smallest mouse doesn't believe in Santa. Though unnamed in this cartoon, this is the first appearance of the smallest mouse, who is given a name in Little Cheeser (1936) & Little Buck Cheeser (1937).
The cat overhears the argument about whether Santa's real, & he forms a plan. Breaking into a toyshop down the road, he takes the Santa outfit off a doll & wears it as his own, then packs up some toys, & heads back to the mouse home.
Once again I expected some Christmas spirit, as the cat might just have found some reward in bringing lots of real presents, even if stolen, to the mousie children. But nahhhh.
The mice are in their beds singing "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Santa's on his way," while the smallest insists, "There ain't no Santy Claus!"
Santa Cat knocks on the door & is allowed in. The smallest mouse looks totally shocked. Fake Santa unloads toys, but in his thought-balloon, he pictures a wonderful mouse sandwich.
The mice are playing with the toys, some very cute bits with toy steam shovel, toy piano & other little musical instruments, a train set, & a tiny dollhouse which Cat-Santa has turned into a mouse trap trying to convince one or another mouse to go inside.
When the unbelieving mouse catches on that it's a disguise, the plot begins to go badly for the cat. Toys become weapons for the mice to defend their lives, including firecrackers in his britches. At last he flees the home into the cold without so much as a cookie to eat, while the tiny unbeliever gets dressed up like Santa.
A Rankin/Bass cartoon begins like so many with a partial narration of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974), with special focus on "not even a mouse."
It's one of the more attractively designed half-hour holiday cartoons of the '70s, with a rarther original story to boot. The animators were Japanese, so this could qualify as anime despite that it was always scripted in English.
Rankin-Bass produced many animated Christmas specials for the era, some of them regarded as classics, though my preferences tend to be for animation from the 1940s & before. Their holiday specials included Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970), The Year Without Santa Claus (1974), The First Christmas (1975), Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976), Nestor, the Long-eared Christmas Donkey (1977), Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July (1979), Jack Frost (1980), Pinnochio's Christmas (1980), The Leprechan's Christmas Gold (1981), & others, not to mention a couple Easter cartoon specials.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas used to show annually on CBS throughout the 1970s, but is not so commonly seen anymore.
The house without a creature stirring is that of a clockmaker named Joshua & his partner, the clock-repairing Father Mouse, & these two are like reflections of one another. So too their mutual families close parallels.
It includes three fairly decent songs by Maury Laws & Jules Bass, "Calling Santa" sung by the a children's choir the Wee Winter Singers; "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand" sung first behind the credits by the Wee Winter Singers & in the film proper by the human lead Joshua Trundel (Joel Grey) in a duet with Albert Mouse (Tammy Grimes); & "Give Your Heart a Try" sung by Father Mouse (George Gobel). The latter is deleted from some copies of this cartoon, a defacing done for later television showings, to make room for more commercials.
"Well, I'm stirring," says Father Mouse in his bed. "If only I could sleep!" He puts aside his copy of the famous poem, climbs out of bed, paces the floor, then looking at the audience says he'll start from the top. "The trouble began two months ago," & with flashback he tells the story.
Santa felt slighted by the entire population of Junctionville, so has returned all letters received at the North Pole from that town of mice & people, without opening any of them. All the human children & the mouse children are worried sick that there's not going to be any Christmas in Junctionville.
Father Mouse has to track down the source of the slight, which turns out to have been a letter in the town newspaper calling Santa an unconscionable myth & a lie.
The author of this insulting letter was none other than Father Mouse's intellectually advanced, thick-glasses, nurdiest son, Albert Mouse, who believes his letter is true so won't apologize. He'll have to undergo a Scrooge-like transformation before the tale is done.
Joshua Trundel has planned, with town government support, to build a clock tower that plays "Calling Santa" at midnight on Christmas, as an apology to Santa. But due to an accident perpetrated by Albert, Joshua's clock on its initial test malfunctions & the town loses faith in Joshua as a clockmaker. It'll be up to Albert to repair the clock by means of his superior scientific knowledge, making up for the troubles he has caused.
It all works out fine of course, the clock in the town square calling down Santa & his mouse-like tiny reindeer.
Cat & mouse duo Tom & Jerry's third cartoon, The Night Before Christmas (1941), has a rendition of "Deck the Halls" followed by "Noel" behind the openign credits.
We enter the beautiful wintry house where Tom & Jerry live, as the narrator gives us a piece of the famous poem.
At the line "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse," we see Jerry poking his head out of his mouse-hole in the wall, where there's a piece of cheese with a Christmas ribbon about it. But the gift is not actually a friendly one, since it is on a mouse trap.
Jerry slips around the trap & ignores the cheese, going instead to the Christmas tree, cimbing up to where he is startled by his enlarged reflection in the concave surface of a tree decoration. He licks the stripe off a candy cane, climbs about on various toys, getting his head momentarily stuck in the mouth of a stuffed lion.
It gets livelier when Tom enters the story, & numerous can't-catch-Jerry gags proceed amidst Christmas toys & decorations. As this was early in Tom & Jerry's career, Tom has a few more traits of a real cat, though Jerry's already fully developed as a smart-aleck.
It's interesting that the Itchy & Scratchy style excesses of violence are already in place with the original models: Jerry electrocutes Tom, then seduces him with mistletoe for a kiss only to kick him in the rear end.
Tom locks Jerry out of the house, then goes to nap by the fireplace. As he hears the storm, however, he begins to feel sorry for the suffering cold mouse. He props the mail-slot open so Jerry can sneak back in. When Jerry fails to do so, Tom realizes the mouse is frozen, & has to go get him & thaw him out by the fireplace.
Tom gives the revived Jerry a candy cane, & Jerry reciprocates by revealing a terrible trap he'd set for Tom. He then fetches the cheese from the trap, & discovers it was never a real mousetrap, as the "snap" mechanism closes slowly & is a music box. Sweet, but for an Academy Award nominee, rather standard fare over all.
A later Tom & Jerry cartoon has much more limited animation & simplified design for the stars. Snowbody Loves Me (1964) begins with Jerry wandering through the snow.
Jerry trips down a hillside, rolling up into a snowball which continues into a village into an alpine valley. Dizzily struggling through the village street in the freezing cold, he encounters a cheese shop!
There's no overt statement about Christmas in this cartoon, but it's a winter tale in which the cheese shop seems to be closed for the holiday, leaving only a shop cat to guard the place.
Jerry pounds on the door until the shop cat opens it to see who is there, & Jerry manages to lock Tom out, with some coldness gags followed by Tom attempting to regain access to the shop through the chimney, but Jerry has just lit a fire.
Eventually Tom gets back in & thaws out, while Jerry has virtually moved into a large block of cheese. Tom begins to fill the cheese holes with corks, then uses the fireplace bellows to inflate the cheese wheel until it explodes.
Jerry, wearing a slice of cheese like a skirt, plays ballerina, which Tom really enjoys, but then slaps Jerry unconconscious & tosses him out into the cold.
Curled up in an easy chair, the surprisingly soft-hearted Tom begins to experience terrible guilt. He goes out & fetches the frozen Jerry, thaws him in a scarf for a blanket & revives him with Schnapps.
For happy conclusion in full Christmas spirit, Jerry dresses up like a Swiss mountaineer & dances gaily for Tom, while Tom plays the piano accompaniment to Jerry's dance.
A Famous Studios cartoon, Hector's Hectic Life; aka, Hector's Christmas (1948) stars an abused dog named Hector (according to the title) but the only name he's called by his owner is Princie.
The idea of his abuse may not have been intentional, but more the product of what in the 1940s would've seemed a normal way of treating animals. In the first scene he's sound asleep on the bed when he's awakened by a screaming harridan whose face we never see, who wacks him with a broom.
He's so frightened he rushes down the staircase (sliding the banister) landing hard in the Christmas tree. Then he's snatched up by the scruff of the neck while the yelling continues in a Scandinavian accent, with a threat that he'll spend the rest of Christmas outside in the cold if he makes another mess. Definate abuse.
"But if you're a good dog, Santa Claus might leave you a nice present," the harridan concludes in a kinder tone, & Hector is exceedingly cheered, with every intent to be absolutely good.
When the harridan has left the room, Hector tries to take a nap, but there's a knock at the door. He thinks it might be Santa! Opening the dog-door, he finds a picnic basket, drags it into the living room, & hopes for picnic treats in the basket.
But the basket contains three puppies who look a great deal like Hector, who is clearly their pappy. He observes they, like himself, each have one dark ear & one light ear, & he's delighted, except that moments later they have knocked the goldfish bowl over.
"What's that noise out there!" screams the harridan, & so begins Hector's attempt to hide the existence of the three puppies from his short-tempered owner, while cleaning up after their acts of destruction.
They mess up the presents under the tree then destroy an easychair's pillow. Hector decides he doesn't like these hellions after all & tosses them into the snow outside, nailing the dog-door shut.
He lies down beside the fireplace glad of peace & calm. But then a winged miniature of himself appears from out of his head, the dog-angel Conscience, & offers the rhyme, "Your soul to the devil you have sold/ By throwing those puppies out into the cold."
A red devil-dog in a rather clever bit of animation appears from out of a snapping firepalce coal, to argue in favor of tossing the pups out.
The angel-dog wins the argument & Hector hurries to save the pups from freezing, but they've already gotten in (we don't know how) & have just destroyed the Christmas tree.
"By yimminy! You've done it for the last time! Out you go!" screams the harridan. But then the three pups rush out to protect their dad. The harridan's heart melts to see them, & she praises them for their extdreme beauty, since they look just like their dad.
She puts the pups into the stockings over the mantel & says, "It's going to be a wonderful Christmas for the children!" Hooray!
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl