December 24, 2020 posted by Steve Stanchfield

“Christmas Comes But Once a Year” (1936)

On Thunderbean:

The pandemic has slowed everything down for sure, but we’re still plugging along and getting things done.

After weeks of working to catch up with all the special orders,  I’m happy to be devoting some time to the finishing touches on the More Stop Motion Marvels set. I hope to have a master by this time next week on the title- and will talk about here of course! There’s always a point on each of these projects where I’m looking for little issues only- and this project is in that stage. Then, onto the final tweaking on the Rainbow Parade V1 set. Two of the long termers down- and I couldn’t be happier.

Moving as many things forward on this break is the main goal right now. I’ll be doing some traveling in the coming month during the break, waiting outside of production houses as they scan various 35mm films since I’m unable to do them here in Michigan at the moment. There’s also lots of 16mm to do— those are in progress in Michigan on a Lasergraphics scanner. The Tom and Jerry series has been moving forward especially, and Vintage Education 2 is all scanned and in cleanup. There’s a bunch of ‘Special’ sets that are getting done at the same time.

The thing I’m most excited about is seeing the Iwerks’ Comi-Colors and the Technicolor Rainbow Parades as they’re getting scanned at Blackhawk Films in Burbank. It’s dependent on when they are able to pull them for scanning- there’s little windows that open up —and those are opportunities to get them out of the archives during this period. We’re trying at the same time to get the Lou Bunin Alice materials all finished (on the other side of the country).


Now — onto this week’s cartoon:

The holidays should always bring a few special things— so here is a good one for everyone. I think this particular film has been on everyone’s “I want to see a good print” list for many years. Film collector and animation aficionado David Locke provided a beautiful original release 35mm Technicolor print of Christmas Comes But Once a Year (1936) this year. He was even nice enough to scan it for us (even in these pandemic times) and we used the print on this year’s Christmas ‘Special’ disc, Ghosts of Christmas Cartoons. We owe him a great debt of gratatude.

One of the biggest thrills for me was not only seeing a print from the original release, but also seeing the original title sequence, missing from the film since the original release. Sadly, the print was missing a small section near the opening; we’ve put this section back in for now, but hope to scan this section from the best print we’re able to find sometime in the near future.

It’s sort of sad that this is the only Color Classic with Grampy; He’s a big favorite of many cartoon fans— and even though he’s a somewhat limited character, I think his presence is just right for a one-reel short. There’s a handful of Christmas cartoons that seem to have lived in a lot of people’s memories, and this particular film is one of them – whether you had seen it on TV as a kid or on a public domain VHS or DVD in the 80s into the 2000s.

There’s something disarming about this particular short, from the simple but sweet story to the clever ideas that Grampy comes up with to make new toys. The beautiful setback model at the end is so simple, but a wonderful ending for this charming cartoon. Sammy Timburg’s music is just right as well throughout, including the catchy theme song (reused a little later in the Fleischer Popeye Let’s Celebrake (1938).

I do hope some day that all the Color Classics are released from the negs. Until then, here is another that can join the short list of ones available from pretty decent prints. Share it with someone that has never seen it if you can.

So, as a holiday present to everyone, here is Christmas Comes but Once a Year. Enjoy- and Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.


  • Happy Holidays to you, Steve and to all at both Thunderbean and at Cartoon Research.

  • What a beautiful print! I’d love to see all the Color Classics looking this good.

    I couldn’t help but notice Wiffle Piffle in the Christmas stocking alongside all the other Fleischer cartoon stars. I guess the studio still had high hopes for him as of Xmas 1936. Too bad he never got to appear in a Color Classic; that weird walk cycle of his would have been something to see in Technicolor.

  • This is the same sort of “wow” as the first time seeing the Popeye color two-reelers restored. Thanks for the upload, Steve.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Steve! This is the best version of “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” I’ve seen so far! I have loved this cartoon since I was little. My grandma had this on a VHS of Christmas cartoons. Hopefully, someday this cartoon will be restored and remastered from the original negative. Merry Christmas!

  • Merry Christmas Eve, and the original titles serve as a great present for this year! May another year of film collecting be with you, Steve!
    My Christmas wish for next year? Maybe an opportunity to collect some of the silent Terry Fables or at least see them scanned for release. GEH’s preservation scan of Happy Go Luckies gives wonder to how much can be restored.

  • Utterly brilliant! Aside from the couple of shots substituted at the opening (which are still amazingly good compared to currently available sources), easily the equal to UCLA’s master positive nitrate, which I haven’t seen since a Moviola screening in the 1970’s. And if anything, even more complete than the UCLA print, due to the inclusion of the British censorship board certificate. You can really tell you’ve moved into the true Technicolor universe when even the bleak boarding house shot adds the subtle textures of a rainbow of different colored blankets on the beds, never properly portrayed by the television prints.. And seeing Grampy in that interesting (and uncharacteristic for the Paramount paint department) vermillion-toned Santa suit, instead of the usual beet red from UM&M processing. By the way, not only was this Grampy’s only Technicolor – but Pudgy’s as well (a the cream-color doggie-in-the-clock). If Boop had joined the fun, wonder whether Fleischer would have made her a carrot-top again or settled for a natural brunette? I also liked the Santa’s stockings promotional art featured in your post, and thought it notable that Whiffle Piffle had joined the ranks of the other Fleischer “stars” depicted. (Why not Hunky and Spunky?) Anyway, this might be the most memorable film event of 2020, so at least we go out of this chaotic year on a positive note, Now find “The Cobweb Hotel”!

  • Ooh, this is stunning!! Yet, I have to say that I’m glad this year is coming to an end, although lockdown has allowed me to enjoy disks that I’d not given enough attention to, or disks that I enjoy so often and come back to, and that is where I lump your disks–in the latter category. Among these is that second ANIMATED COMMERCIALS collection and the UNFINISHED PROJECTS disk that opens with a couple of half hours of “LINUS THE LION-HEARTED”. I’d enjoyed some of the You Tube playlist on this and “TOM TERRIFIC”, always in hopes of seeing full restoration. There is something so wonderful about the entire “LINUS” theme and sad but hopeful ending…oh, I’ve bored you with this so often. This GRAMPY short never sounded so good. There is always so much to rediscover in a restoration of a Fleischer cartoon, something that you missed the first time, even if it is a mumbled bit of dialogue. You did so much terrific assistance work on so many releases and, as far as I’m concerned, your tireless restoration efforts are second to none!! I still can’t believe the tone and clarity you squeezed from available prints of the “PRIVATE S.N.A.F.U.” cartoons, and that is why I look forward to your RAINBOW PARADE and VAN BUREN’S TOM AND JERRY bluray sets…and I understand that the news on FLIP THE FROG is good. I hope those missing puzzle pieces prove to be useful. PUPPETOONS 2 is beyond royalty now! I wish you and Arnold Leibovit so much good luck for all your hard work on a proposed third volume….have a very safe and wonderful Holiday, and I am really hoping that 2021 brings us all back to daily realities–good ones not bad, with work resuming and plodding along, although I am sure that you and others are anxious to get back to the usual rough and easy tasks ahead. Quiet time, however, as I said above, allows us time to enjoy what we’ve acquired…or just take solace in the hopes for better days ahead!

  • My favorite Grampy cartoon!
    Thanks for sharing this and I hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

  • That is a great cartoon fully restored with original titles. I would love to see other Color Classics shorts with original titles fully restored as well.:
    Greedy Humpty Dumpty
    Small Fry
    Hunky & Spunky
    The Barnyard Brat
    Little Lambkins
    Ants in the Plants
    and Bunny Mooning

  • This was a fun cartoon with a wonderful animation! Thanks for sharing this. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Kwanzaa!

  • How much better off we’d be if Grampy had been made head of the Covid Response Team a year ago.

    Great print, thanks Steve!

    Happy Holidays all.

  • Happy Holidays and Merry New Year to all of y’all cartoon enthusiasts and aficionados here at Cartoon Research. Stay safe and mask up!!!

  • GDX: LOL. You said it!

  • Merry Chanukahmas, Steve!
    That’s the best print of Christmas Comes But Once A Year I’ve ever seen. The colors were actually very subdued and towards pastel shades for the most part, typical of early Technicolor. What a great Holiday treat, I found myself laughing with delight at the end shot, even though I’ve seen this cartoon many times. Thanks again!

  • Nice work, Steve!

  • It’s a wonderful little film and a big treat for me too!! I would have loved to have been a kid in the 30s seeing the end shot… it’s really beautiful. The look of the film reminds me a lot of the first year of Technicolor Silly Symphonies. David Locke was wonderful to share this beautiful print.

    Merry Chanukahmas back! Thank you so much Mark for all the wonderful films you’ve shared with me and so many other people- you’ve kept so many of these films alive and enjoyed as they should be!

  • Missing section near the beginning aside, that print’s remarkably intact, not even having any scratched-in cue marks or much footage loss at the end as seems common with old theatrical prints. And as Mark noted, the warm and subdued look of early 3-color Technicolor, which seems befitting in a way of a cartoon of this nature. Always good to see another ’30s cartoon from great original material like this; kudos to Mr. Locke and Steve for sharing this treasure. Looking forward to receiving my copy of the “Ghosts of Christmas Toons” Blu-ray (and others) once the USPS logjam has sufficiently cleared up!

    A sneak-peek image Steve shared previously shows a less-cropped view of the British censor certificate: It looks as if the certificate was printed on tinted B&W stock and spliced to the beginning of the Technicolor print; is this correct, Steve?

  • Actually, the original titles *weren’t* missing since the original release. In the last years when AMC was still commercial-free, they sometimes ran Fleischer cartoons as filler between movies, and one of the ones they showed was “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” with the original titles, I assume from the NTA holdings at UCLA. know because I have the titles recorded on VHS (but not the actual cartoon, go figure).

    I don’t know if he posts here, but Peter Neski on the Steve Hoffman and Blu-ray forums at least had a VHS copy of the short from AMC once upon a time, because he showed me screencaps once and they looked more vibrant than any other copy I’d seen. (Ironically, I think he told me his recording didn’t have the titles!)

  • Appropriate to wish a Happy (belated) Hanukkah given that between Fleischer, de-facto director Kneitel, and Timberg and Rothberg on music this film has one of the most heavily Jewish crews to ever work on a Christmas cartoon (Freleng, Davis and Blanc on “Gift Wrapped” come in a close second).

  • Wow! And crazy to find out that this one has a different Paramount logo than was thought for years.

    Let’s hope all of these Color Classics get restored and remastered someday, or at least surface with original titles…

  • Until now, I had never seen a forgotten Color Classic in its original theatrical form, complete with the Paramount front-and-end credits. Over the insuing decades, all we have known are the UM&M/NTA prints with replacement titles, although some of us in this generation have seen the VCI print with recreated titles.

    Seeing this version is a vast improvement over what we have seen on TV, and is probably the best quality we will ever see until Paramount issues an official release off the original negative.

    An animated holiday classic that deserves a re-assessment.

  • It took three men to write that song? And those kids must have had the same father. Still, no Christmas cartoon collection is complete without it:
    Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (Jam Handy)
    Christmas Comes But Once a Year
    The Night Before Christmas (Tom and Jerry)
    Gift Wrapped
    Seasin’s Greetinks
    The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives
    Santa’s Workshop
    The Night Before Christmas (Silly Symphony)
    Mickey’s Good Deed
    Gifts From the Air
    Bedtime for Sniffles
    The Juggler
    Peace On Earth
    The Little Match Girl
    The Christmas Visitor
    The Great Toy Robbery
    The Chipmunk Song

  • Many thanks Steve, to you and David Locke. Stunning, and everything that’s great about 30s cartoons with their intricate details, breathless set-pieces like Grampy’s sudden toy making ability coming to life, and overall inventiveness all set to those great 1930s musical beats. This again enforces my belief that many so-called also-ran cartoons are always enormously plussed up when seen in their original 35mm first gen quality. Everything from the subtleties of animation to background details to the richness of the music and soundtracks is enhanced tenfold. I still think Columbia and Paramount are missing a bet in this era of Blu-ray by not doing something with their 1930s cartoon libraries…several of those Color Rhapsodies and Color Classics, themed and curated by experts in the field such as your good self, would make desirable releases in stunning original Technicolor. Meanwhile thank our stars for Thunderbean.

  • The quality of the animation is remarkable. No one has said anything about the 3-D rotation around the house entrance at the beginning. This didn’t happen via a multi-plane camera, so that was a lot of work by hand.

    Based on this, I really would like to hear more. What caused the quality to be so elevated, say compared to a simple Felix cartoon. Was it simply a matter of money, meaning the sponsorship of a major studio (Paramount)?

  • We’re still waiting on the promised reissue of Yuletide Flickers

  • Made my year. Thanks. Great with LET’S CELEBRAKE with Popeye.

  • That tree sequence at the end, with its combination of cel and models, is so 1936, so Holiday, so evocative of the time, and just such a work of art.

  • Definitely agree

  • I do have the AMC UCLA version – this new version is Better!

  • I remember seeing this cartoon on the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special.

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