December 22, 2017 posted by Jim Korkis

Christmas Animation Anecdotes 2017

Christmas in Tattertown. In the December 7th, 1986 edition of Variety, Ralph Bakshi talked about “Christmas in Tattertown” that was being previewed at the Western Cable Show in advance of its 8pm appearance on December 21 and 23 on Nick at Nite. “A new holiday special for the whole family. Meet all the characters from the new series coming to Nick at Nite. Christmas is missing! Is it in Tattertown?” The animation was done by the Wang Studio in Korea.

The article pointed out it was “the first family piece Bakshi ever has done and also is Bakshi’s first primetime TV project” and that Bakshi owned all the characters.

Bakshi was quoted as saying, “Tattertown is the place where everything you ever lost ends up. It makes the break with television and says, ‘animation belongs in primetime’. What Nickelodeon has done, which is absolutely amazing and different than network television is buy an original project (without a track record, comic strip, video or book presell). I want to build a company now as opposed to making one-shot productions.”

Romeo Muller. Romeo Muller was 64 years old died when he died of a heart attack after a diagnosis of cancer of the pancreas on December 30th, 1992. In the New York area, he would read his Christmas stories both on the radio (station WGHQ) and during visits to local schools.

Mueller was a tall man with a white beard who bore a slight resemblance to Santa Claus. He wrote many of the Christmas specials animated and produced by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass.

During an interview with Variety in November 1992, he said, “I get a little Christmas bonus every year based on writing done in 1964. I don’t care about the money, though. I’m just so proud of these shows becoming Christmas traditions. It was tough to come up with sequels. Rudolph was tough to write a sequel for. After he shines his nose, all he can do is teach others about confidence which is what Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976) is all about.”

His Christmas special Noel about a magical ornament based on his original story rather than a song aired on NBC December 4th, 1992. Narrated by actor Charlton Heston, it is the story of the life and death of a living Christmas tree ornament who, through spreading happiness, earns resurrection and immortal life. Muller recorded the story around 1986 for station WGHQ which continued to air it each year after his death. A twenty-four page little Golden Book of the story was released in January 1993 with illustrations by Bill A. Langley and written by Muller.

In Christmas of 1993, an animated film called The Twelve Days of Christmas was released by Goodtimes Home Video. Based on a sketchy outline by Romeo Muller, it was completed by another writer, Glenn Leopold. Sir Carolboomer sends his bumbling squire, Hollyberry, to steal the Christmas list of the hard-to-please Princess Silverbelle. But Hollyberry grabs the answers to the king’s crossword puzzle instead.

A Winter Story. How many obscure animated Christmas specials are there? Too many for even me to know. Here is one that I recently discovered that originally was released in the U.K. but apparently was also shown in the United States and got a VHS release.

In December 1986, Siriol Animation, the makers of Superted cartoons, produced a twenty-five minute Christmas special entitled A Winter Story. A wily (but amicable) fox pits his wits against a farmer to steal his Christmas turkey for dinner. The fox is joined by his mate and a cub fox who tries to help. The funny antics of the runaway turkey turns out to save the foxes from the farmer’s shotgun.

Directed by David Edwards who directed the Superted episodes around the same time and who in a speech given at the time to other foreign animators complained about how difficult it was to break into the U.S. market even with a proven track record.

Stop That Drumming. Variety reported in December 1991 that The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee denounced a showing of the 1968 Christmas program, The Little Drummer Boy for containing racist stereotypes of Arabs and urged that show be pulled from its scheduled showing.

“We are particularly concerned that this film feeds the wrong message about Arabs to children,” Sana Macki, the director of the organization’s Detroit office said. The complaint did not stop the special from airing.

Yet Another Christmas Special. The first installment of the Ronald McDonald’s Family Theater, a series “that aims to bring the magic of books to life and encourage kids to read”, was in December 1991 and featured the half hour animated special, The Wish That Changed Christmas.

The special, adapted by writer Romeo Muller, was from the children’s book “The Story of the Holly and the Ivy” written by Rumer Godden. The story is about an orphan girl who gets both a doll and a family at Christmas.

The show began with a live action segment of Ronald McDonald in full costume reading from a story book embossed with the golden arches. Actor Paul Winfield was the narrator for the cartoon with Jonathan Winters contributing the voice of an owl. Animation was by Colossal Pictures.

Dot and Santa Claus. Some Christmas animated features are much odder than others including this one where a live action Aussie swagman (a transient laborer who carried his belongings in a “swag” or bedroll) transforms into an animated Santa Claus and then back again at the end. And don’t get me started on the smoke monsters from the volcano and how that is part of Christmas lore.

Dot and Santa Claus (1981) was the first sequel to the award winning (Best Animated Film at the 1978 Australian Film and Television Awards) Dot and the Kangaroo (1977). It was originally entitled Around the World with Dot.

Dot joins Santa Claus to journey around the world to try to find the lost Joey (baby kangaroo) of her friend a mother kangaroo she met in the first cartoon. Santa’s sleigh is pulled by two kangaroos, Dozeyface and Grumblebones. During the journey, Dot learns how Christmas is celebrated around the world including a story about the origin of the Christmas tree as explained by a Russian bear named Natasha (which is not even close to the real story) and discovering that Japan has a kite festival in place of Christmas.

One character they meet at the United Nations is Walter Q. Mouse who prefers to be called just “Walt” in an obvious reference to Walt Disney and at times slightly resembles Mickey Mouse.

The film was produced and directed by Yoram Gross, who wrote a book on making animated films entitled The First Animated Step (1975) and a biography My Animated Life (2014). Born in Krakow, Poland, to a Jewish family in 1926, Gross grew up during World War II under the Nazis, with the family on Oskar Schindler’s famed list and moving hiding places 72 times as they made their escape.

Animation That Never Was. The Hollywood Reporter announced on February 22nd, 1993 that Amblin Entertainment would be releasing an animated feature at Christmas 1995 called Snowballs, the creation of Cliff Ruby and his wife Elana Lesser who did end up co-writing Balto (1995) that was released December 1995 by Amblin.

Ruby and Lesser also wrote Jingle Bell Rock (1995), an animated ABC Christmas television special done by DIC based on that popular holiday song (partial embed below) as well as a stop motion animated Snowden’s Christmas (1999) about Target’s plush toy characters (led by the stuffed Snowman named Snowden the department chain introduced in 1997 to be their Christmas mascot) who fell off a moving truck and trekking from Ohio to New York to reconnect with their young boy owner on Christmas morning.


  • Decades later, ‘FreeForm’ (formally ABC Family) thankfully still shows The Little Drummer Boy (even though it was heavily edited) – and the same group, The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (the ones responsible for having several of the lyrics from Aladdin’s “Arabian Nights” changed) is still around.

    And on Dot and Santa Claus, I wonder who wrote some of the screenplay? In one scene they show a barefooted Dot without a coat during a heavy snowfall in New York City. As I know of Christmas happens during Summer in the Southern Hemisphere including Australia, but here during Christmas time it’s freezing cold, and in some areas it snows. So whoever wrote that scene didn’t know that it’s colder here at a time when in Australia it’s hot.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Whoever did write the script certainly didn’t seem to have much to work from research-wise, given what was said about the origin of Xmas trees in Russia, let alone the Japanese kite flying festival replacing Christmas alone. I remember watching this decade back on some tape I found it on and recall thinking how rather campy and odd the whole thing seemed. I suppose it didn’t help that they had to throw in a live-action sequence that bookmarks the animated portion with that guy turning into Santa with Dot following him (leaving the other kid behind who is obviously overdubbed as with Dot, since her voice was played by a grown women since the first film). The second sequel “Dot & The Bunny” continues the same live-action bit with Dot somehow reading a book adaptation of “Dot and the Kangaroo” (cross-promotional tie-in?) and then in her sleep she somehow escapes out the window and then becomes her animated self. These films always did seem kinda out of it but I suppose we have to give Mr. Gross credit for wanting to obtain the look of Australia via those photographed backgrounds and some live-action stock footage used.

  • Shame Bakshi never got to get a full-fledged company off the ground. The certainly tried, but the only TV project of his to actually become a series was HBO’s Spicy City, and even then it died a quick death after HBO wanted to replace Bakshi’s writing crew. At least he seems to be content doing his own thing these days, which makes sense given his age.

    As for The Wish that Changed Christmas, I remember reading an article Peter Paltridge did for his website. Needless to say, he hated it.

    • I thought “The Wish That Changed Christmas” was OK personally, though I was probably 14 when I saw it back in ’91, looking back, it does come off like a Xmas special as envisioned through the lens of a fast food giant. I was expecting random McD related stuff during the main special but they hadn’t tried to go there. Not a bad effort from Colossal, but certainly very pedestrian than their usual fare.

  • The overseas animation on ‘Christmas in Tattertown’ was done at Wang’s Cuckoo’s Nest studio in Taipei, Taiwan, not Korea. Approximately five minutes of the footage throughout that special was animated in the USA by the crew members credited at the end. Some of the last animation done by Virgil Ross and Irv Spence is in there.

    • Yeah Tom, I was going to point that out, but I couldn’t get to a PC as I’m away at someone else’s place for the holidays. I’ve read roughly five minutes of this was animated in-house, so it’s not entirely an overseas thing.

  • Wonder what happened with TATTERTOWN that it never became a series? I gather from Bakshi’s comments that the special was supposed to be the precursor to a series. I like the special, and there’s something pleasantly goofy to me about the idea that Bing Crosby’s record of “White Christmas” saves the day.

    Considering it’s not well known, I remember THE WISH THAT CHANGED CHRISTMAS far too well. A niece of mine had it on tape and watched it over and over and over and over.

    Would be nice to have a reference guide to all these specials. THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO PRIME-TIME ANIMATED HOLIDAY SPECIALS or something. One of you guys get busy and write that and I’ll buy a copy.

    • The fact McDonald’s managed to get a tape out at all is testament to how you knew of it! I remember watching it on CBS when it first aired and I don’t think it was played since, unless it was re-aired on a cable channel down the road.

      Certainly a book devoted to this would be a nice idea.

  • One thing about “Dot and Santa Claus” (or “Around the World with Dot” as it was also known as down under), that still amuses me somewhat is in how they apparently had to re-animate a certain scene involving a Japanese citizen telling Dot and her Kangroo buds just what they were happening to be celebrating instead of Christmas (since I guess nobody could research this far enough). Somehow he was depicted in that typical stereotype look of having glasses, buck teeth, and that type of accent with the R/L bit. A recent DVD release I saw appears to have altered his image somehwat to replace his head with that of a Japanese style mask which is oddly crooked and one-sided but I guess they couldn’t figure out a better way to matte out the former head on those cels. The voice is still the same though. Oddly they still kept the squinty-eyed children though.

    Of some interest, here’s an article on Dot and Santa Claus from an Aussie paper, in which a contest was held where 10 lucky kids got an LP that contained music from the first two Dot films, as well as some 30+ “Flickers” (I’m thinking these are 35mm film clippings but I could be wrong).

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