FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
December 22, 2013 posted by Fred Patten

Christmasy Cartoonz, Part 5: Foreign Animation, A – I

I would get lost if I tried to include all of the foreign (non-U.S., Canadian, or British, which are often shown on American TV) Christmas animated features and shorts. Here are some samples. (To repeat: Christmas-themed episodes of regular TV programs are not included.)

Australia. Blinky Bill’s White Christmas. December 24, 2005. An 80-minute TV movie animated by Yoram Gross EM-TV Pty. Ltd. The seasons are reversed in Australia, and most of the animals are used to Christmas in summer; but Blinky Bill the koala boy is determined to have a European-style Christmas with lots of snow.



Australia. Santa’s Apprentice. November 24, 2010. An 80-minute Australian-French theatrical co-production directed by Luc Vinciguerra and produced by Gaumont Animation in cel animation. It has not yet been released in America, but the Weinstein Company has just acquired North American and U.K. distribution rights. IMDb’s synopsis is: “Santa doesn’t want to retire, but rules are rules and he must train someone to replace him. The lucky winner, to be chosen from among millions of children, must be named Nicholas, be an orphan and have a pure heart. On the other side of the planet, there is a little boy who is a perfect match, but his lack of self-confidence and fear of heights make him a poor contestant. Will Santa agree to step down, and help his apprentice take his place?” The French release was titled L’Apprenti Père Noël. See under France for the sequel.



Czechoslovakia. Vánoční sen. (The Christmas Dream). 1945. An 11-minute theatrical short (the American dub is only 8 minutes), directed by Karel Zeman and his brother Bořivoj. Zeman’s first entertainment film, not counting animated commercials. A combination of live action and stop-motion animation. A little girl and her parents enter a room decorated for Christmas. The little girl immediately throws away her crude hand-made doll and starts playing with the factory-made new toys under the Christmas tree. That night while she sleeps, Santa Claus is unhappy with her for discarding her old doll. He sends her a dream about her old doll and some of the new toys coming to life (stop-motion). The old doll is clever while the new toys are not; a toy giraffe does nothing but try to eat the Christmas tree. Finally the old doll turns on an electric fan that blows a gale knocking over most things in the room, including blowing a painting of an old ship out of sight in a stormy sea. The doll pleads with the girl not to be discarded again, and the girl cuddles her as her favorite toy.



Finland. Joulupukki ja Noitarumpu (Santa Claus and the Magic Drum). December 24, 1996. A 51-minute TV cartoon movie directed by Mauri Kunnas and produced by Yleisradio and five other Scandinavian studios. Blurb: “Odd things are happening in Santa’s village with Christmas just around the corner. Who peppered the cookies? Who switched off the Northern Lights? And why has the computer come down with a virus just when Santa Claus was about to solve his most vexing Christmas gift problem? The last of the Christmas list letters have just arrived by plane at Santa’s village. Among them is an odd doodle on strangely yellowed paper. It’s signed “Rascal,” but what is it supposed to depict? Santa and the elves simply can’t make it out. So Santa asks all the master elves to create their own versions of Rascal’s wish. Preparations for Christmas Eve are progressing apace, but not everything is as it should be. Someone is pestering Santa Claus. Who can it be? And what in the world for?” (Click image below to see trailer)

christmas-wish

Finland. Niko – Lentäjän poika. (Niko – The Way to the Stars.) October 10, 2008. 81 minutes. This is one of those foreign animated movies that has been a direct-to-DVD release in America (although CBS broadcast a 45-minute version), co-animated by Cinemaker Oy and Anima Vitae in Finland and A. Film in Denmark, with animation help in Germany and post-production in Ireland, and distributed in the U.S. by the Weinstein Company under the title of The Flight Before Christmas.

IMDb’s synopsis: “A young reindeer who suffers from vertigo learns to overcome his fear, takes flying lessons from a clumsy flying squirrel and heads to the North Pole to save a troubled Santa and his fleet of flying reindeer.”

My synopsis: Niko, a fatherless child reindeer, is told that he is the result of a one-night-stand between his mother and one of Santa Claus’ “Flying Forces”. He goes with Julius, a flying squirrel, to the North Pole to find which of Santa’s eight flying reindeer is his father, and gets involved with the villainous Black Wolf and his ferocious pack’s plot to kill Santa and take over Christmas, to bring death rather than toys to children. Santa’s macho reindeer are skeptical that Niko is the son of one of them (though all admit that it’s a possibility), and will only believe it if he can fly like them. Eventually, the wolves are defeated, Niko learns to fly, and he turns out to be Prancer’s son.

From online comments, there are separate U.S. and U.K. dubs and edits, and the U.S. version is considerably more censored. There is a fairly risqué scene in the flying reindeers’ private bar with Wilma, an erotic ermine singer/dancer:

IMDb notes: “At the end of the credits: 21.858 liters of beer were consumed during the making of this movie!”


Finland. Niko 2: Lentäjäveljekset. (Niko 2: The Flying Brothers.) October 12, 2012. 79 minutes. This is the sequel to the above, co-animated by Cinemaker Oy and Anima Vitae in Finland and A. Film in Denmark, and distributed in the U.S. by Lionsgate under the title of Little Brother, Big Trouble: A Christmas Adventure. Lionsgate’s synopsis: “On Christmas Eve, Niko the young reindeer must find his little brother [Jonni] who has gone missing. But in order to save Christmas, it’s going to take a lot of help from Niko’s friends in order to save the day. While on his epic journey to save his brother, Niko learns the importance of friendship and family, in this heartwarming Holiday tale that all ages will enjoy.” IMDb’s synopsis: “Set right before Christmas, Niko the reindeer must deal with his mom getting re-married and his being tasked with looking after his little stepbrother.” Re-married? I suspect that’s a bowdlerization.



France. L’Aventure du Père Noël. 1956. An 8-minute 14-second theatrical short in a wordless UPAish ultra-modern art style, directed by Jean Image. A passenger in an Air France jet flying to New York looks out a window and sees Santa Claus and his reindeer flying alongside the plane. He radios ahead that Santa Claus is coming with their plane, which will arrive tomorrow. NYC goes wild, preparing to welcome him with a red carpet, dignitaries & parades. Santa flies into a cloud and disappears. Officialdom cannot disappoint the public, so the man in the plane is ordered to disguise himself as Santa Claus and impersonate him.



France. Merlin Contre le Père Noël. December 31, 2003. A 28-minute cartoon TV special, directed by Serge Elissalde and produced by Les Films de l’Arlequin, Belvision France, & RTBF. An adaptation of the bande dessinée Merlin, t.2, by Joann Sfar & José-Luis Munuera. On Christmas, Merlin and his friends Jambon the pig and Tartine the ogre decide to see who looks most like Santa Claus. They get the real Santa to swallow Merlin’s potion that turns him into a horrible evil ogre, but he kidnaps all the children in town and flees.



France. Spike. June 20, 2008. A 70-minute CG feature, directed by David Alaux & Éric Tosti, produced by TAT Productions in Toulouse. Spike the elf, the youngest in Santa’s workshop, volunteers to carry the sack with all the letters from children to Santa naming the toys that they want. When the sack is accidentally taken by penguin guards to the fish-bank of Ping Ville, Spike and Raymond, the old elf inventor, must break into the bank’s vault to get it back. Unfortunately Tony and Vito, two polar bear thieves, have picked the same night to rob the bank.



France. Au Pays du Père Noël (The World of Santa Claus). December 1-24, 2008. 24 1-minute CGI TV episodes directed by David Alaux & Éric Tosti, produced by TAT Productions; designed to be edited into a half-hour TV special. A sensation-seeking journalist investigates Santa Claus’ workshop. Featuring the cast of Spike. Here’s a sample:



France. Spike 2. October 23, 2012. A 35-minute 42-second CG featurette directed by David Alaux & Éric Tosti, produced by TAT Productions. Tony the polar bear, who was arrested by Spike the elf and sentenced to community-service work in Santa’s workshop, has escaped and kidnapped Santa’s flying reindeer. Spike the elf, his cousin Dorothy, and their friend Paco the penguin must face multiple hardships to find them and save Christmas. Shown at the 2013 Anima Mundi (Rio de Janeiro), 2013 Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival, and ReAnimania ’13 (Yerevan) international animation festivals.



France. L’Apprenti Père Noël et le Flocon Magique (Santa’s Apprentice and the Magic Snowflake). November 20, 2013. An 82-minute cartoon feature directed by Luc Vinciguerra and produced by Gaumont Animation. The Weinstein Co. has just acquired North American and U.K. distribution rights as The Magic Snowflake, but there has not been time for release beyond France yet. The sequel to Santa’s Apprentice (see Australia). The old Santa has finally resigned in favor of 7-year-old Nicholas, but he performs poorly on his first Christmas and is replaced by a more experienced Santa. Nicholas must earn the position back.



Italy. La Freccia Azzurra (The Blue Arrow). December 5, 1996 in Germany as Der Blaue Pfeil; no Italian release listed. 93 minutes. An adaptation directed by Enzo d’Alò of the 1964 children’s book by Gianni Rodari. IMDb’s synopsis, revised: “When Santa’s helper La Befana (an Italian traditional good witch who delivers the presents on Epiphany, January 5th; Granny Rose in the American dub) falls ill and must take off on Christmas Eve, she recruits Dr. Scarafoni (Mr. Grimm) to help deliver all the toys. What no one but the toys knows is that Scarafoni plans to auction off the toys to the highest bidder! His plan means that the toys won’t make it to the children who are their destinies. The toys decide to deliver themselves, and the story follows them as they struggle to avoid the heartless Scarafoni and to find their true homes.” In a subplot, the poor young orphan Francesco (Christopher Winter) wishes for the Blue Arrow, an expensive toy train, for Christmas. Available in the U.S. by Buena Vista Home Video with voices by Mary Tyler Moore as Granny Rose, Tony Randall as Mr. Grimm, and Michael Caloz as Christopher Winter; titled How the Toys Saved Christmas, but with some scenes deleted and some new music. This should not be confused with the 2001 half-hour Christian video The Toys That Rescued Christmas.

Next week: Japan to the Soviet Union.

12 Comments

  • Note in the French “Spike” movies and “The World of Santa Claus” how “the North Pole” is a mashup of the North and South Poles, with Santa Claus’ secret workshop amidst a frozen community of both polar bears and penguins.

    • That almost seems typical of those that don’t do the research in time to realize such gaffes or else they just liked the idea of putting penguins and polar bears in the same spot.

    • To Chris Sobieniak: Hey, it worked for Walter Lantz…

    • That’s true, and we you’re 6 years old you thought that was the coolest pairing ever!

  • Recently found a bizarre item titled “My Santa”. It’s a two-episode anime (with a gag preview of an unmade third episode) about a Christmas-hating teenage boy and perky girl Santa who tries to cheer him up.

    Mightily strange, since it’s never clear who the audience is or what tone they’re going for: While the story is fairly innocent (if barely coherent), My Santa does a Sailor Moon-style transformation from schoolgirl to statuesque anime pinup (with wildly inappropriate closeups). There’s a lot of implied backstory and foreshadowing, although as close as I can discover nothing ever existed beyond these two episodes. And while each episode ends on an emotional note, both times there’s a comic epilogue that explicitly cancels it out.

    • When it comes to Japan, Christmas is almost like a joke taken to the extreme. While I’m sure someone will correct me on this, Christmas in Japan still seem more like a kid’s thing or a lover’s holiday as some anime tend to make it be, a “Hallmark Holiday” probably to coin it better. This shouldn’t be apparent given the limited number of those into Christianity at all in the country (or none at all).

      “There’s a lot of implied backstory and foreshadowing, although as close as I can discover nothing ever existed beyond these two episodes. And while each episode ends on an emotional note, both times there’s a comic epilogue that explicitly cancels it out.:

      You probably saw an “OAV” (Original Animation Video), these differ from regular TV anime in that they aren’t always produced quite the same way as a TV series is, and can vary from production to production whether they are seen as half-hour episodes to full-length features. A close equivalent we have for this is the “Direct-to-Video” releases like the “cheap’quels” Disney churned out in the last decade.

    • It’s not Christmasy, but one of the C/FO’s first contacts with the Tokyo anime studios, around 1978 or ’79, was when Tatsunoko Production Co. wrote to me that “we understand that you are showing video tapes of our cartoons without permission at your meetings, and we cannot officially allow this; but as long as you have videos of our animation, would you show them to some television executives who might want to buy them for American TV?” Needless to say, we were all thrilled to become part of trying to get more Japanese animation on American TV. Tatsunoko even sent me some professional-quality video tapes that were sharper than our fan-copied videos. One that Tatsunoko had the highest hopes for was “Pinocchio”, “because we know that ‘Pinocchio’ is very popular with Americans.” Tatsunoko’s “Pinocchio” featured the little wooden puppet in all original stories. The sample episode that Tatsunoko sent me was “I Am Pinocchio, the Son of God”, in which Pinocchio impersonates Jesus Christ! Tatsonoko had tried to make it respectful and in good taste, but what came through most clearly was that the Japanese producers had no idea of what Christianity was except that it had a lot to do with a bearded man nailed to a cross.

      By ten years later, the Japanese had learned a lot more about Christianity and Christmas, especially the secular gift-buying holiday. But they were still making TV cartoon series like “St. Tail”, where a preadolescent Catholic girl prays to God in each episode for the power to right wrongs, and is turned into St.Tail, a 12-year-old super-ninja girl dressed like a Las Vegas magician’s assistant, to fight criminals.

    • “It’s not Christmasy,”

      Doesn’t always have to be.

      “but one of the C/FO’s first contacts with the Tokyo anime studios, around 1978 or ’79, was when Tatsunoko Production Co. wrote to me that “we understand that you are showing video tapes of our cartoons without permission at your meetings, and we cannot officially allow this;”

      Oh noes!

      “but as long as you have videos of our animation, would you show them to some television executives who might want to buy them for American TV?” Needless to say, we were all thrilled to become part of trying to get more Japanese animation on American TV. Tatsunoko even sent me some professional-quality video tapes that were sharper than our fan-copied videos.”

      Well that was luck!

      “One that Tatsunoko had the highest hopes for was “Pinocchio”, “because we know that ‘Pinocchio’ is very popular with Americans.” Tatsunoko’s “Pinocchio” featured the little wooden puppet in all original stories. The sample episode that Tatsunoko sent me was “I Am Pinocchio, the Son of God”, in which Pinocchio impersonates Jesus Christ! Tatsonoko had tried to make it respectful and in good taste, but what came through most clearly was that the Japanese producers had no idea of what Christianity was except that it had a lot to do with a bearded man nailed to a cross.”

      Sure did. I’ve often heard stores of Japanese shops that have Santa nailed to the cross and all that.
      http://static.fjcdn.com/pictures/Anime+Santa+Claus_2d0c9b_3631375.jpg

      That Pinocchio series would see an English version outside the US courtesy of Saban International. I’m sure they probably didn’t air that episode.

      “By ten years later, the Japanese had learned a lot more about Christianity and Christmas, especially the secular gift-buying holiday. But they were still making TV cartoon series like “St. Tail”, where a preadolescent Catholic girl prays to God in each episode for the power to right wrongs, and is turned into St.Tail, a 12-year-old super-ninja girl dressed like a Las Vegas magician’s assistant, to fight criminals.”

      Again, the kind of thing that gives us the notion of how weird Japan is simply by the anime we watch.

      Oh, and I was right about that “My Santa” thing being an OVA…
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itsudatte_My_Santa!

    • I’ve often heard stores of Japanese shops that have Santa nailed to the cross and all that.
      On a recent trip to India, I noticed the hotel lobby had a nativity scene with Santa Claus present during the birth of Jesus in the manger next to some palm trees. It’s always fun to see how little Asian countries care about Christianity yet pretend to do so for the holidays to please the tourists with very humorous results.

  • “Next week: Japan to the Soviet Union.”

    Speaking of Japan (though related to Australia), Yoram Gross’ studio made a “Dot” movie in 1981 where she rides in a sleigh with “Santa” (pulled by two kangaroo) that make a stop in Japan, sadly to the dismay that the stereotypically-caricatured Japanese didn’t celebrate Christmas and were having a kite-flying festival that they crashed through.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzGkf0pLz1I&t=22m35s

    • No sooner did I link to that film when I noticed something different this time. Unlike the release I saw on VHS way back, I guess the more recent Australian R4 DVD releases feature an altered version of the one character explaining the kite festival to Dot & Co. in Japan. Originally he was depicted as a man with glasses, buck teeth and the thin, pointy mustache with the usual accent we come to know and love/loathe on these people. This character got re-animated with what appears to be a kabuki-style mask placed over his head that isn’t convincing enough to work as a censor on it’s own, but it’s pretty obvious what went on here (they didn’t even change the voice).
      http://i.imgur.com/UTQyVnR.jpg

  • Does anyone know the actual title of an Australian-made Christmas cartoon that appears on Steve Stanchfield’s old Snappy Video Christmas tape? It’s taken from a Krazytoons print re-titled Christmas Daze. A real shortie, about 3 1/2 minutes, with a toy soldier and ballerina doll going for a sleigh ride with an old toymaker. Very Disneylike. Music score is a medley of Jingle Bells and Silent Night. Has end credits, “A Tune-Cartoon, animation by Rowl Greenhalgh Productions, music by Australian Broadcasting Commission, distributed by International Television Service.”

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