December 14, 2014 posted by

More Christmasy Cartoonz – Part 2: American TV Specials

To repeat last year’s “rules”: these are all animated TV Specials, including TV Specials based on TV cartoon series and movies. It does not include Christmas-themed regular episodes of TV animated series.

I profiled more than a dozen American animated Christmas TV Specials up to 1980 last year (click here), which was more than enough for one column. But I didn’t include them all. “How could you miss How the Grinch Stole Christmas!?”, was the most frequently asked question.

So here are a half-dozen more.


How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, directed by Chuck Jones and Ben Washam. 30 minutes. December 18, 1966.

The arguably most popular Christmas TV Special ever, animated in traditional cartoon animation, of Dr. Seuss’ classic 1957 children’s book; with Boris Karloff as the narrator/the Grinch’s speaking voice, Thurl “Tony the Tiger” Ravenscroft as the Grinch’s singing voice, and June Foray as Cindy Lou Who. Everyone can quote at least the first line of Ravenscroft’s rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”; many can sing the whole first verse.

The Grinch is to the Whos as Gollum is to the Hobbits. He’s big, green, and always miserable. And he wants everyone else to be even more miserable! He has a plot to ruin Whoville’s Christmas celebration, with the help of his cowering dog, Max, and despite the unexpected appearance of cute little Cindy Lou Who. But things don’t go as planned… How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (both Dr. Seuss’ book and the TV Special) has remained such a favorite over fifty years that it has led to a November 2000 live-action theatrical feature film, The Grinch, starring a heavily made-up and costumed Jim Carrey, that Wikipedia says “is the second highest-grossing holiday film of all time with $345,141,403 worldwide”; and a 1994 live-action musical that has played on Broadway in 2006-7 and had a North American tour starting in 2010 and still going.

Frosty the Snowman, directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr. 25 minutes. December 7, 1969.

Here is one of the classic Rankin/Bass Christmas TV Specials that I didn’t cover last year; animated in traditional cel animation for Rankin/Bass Productions and Videocraft International by Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Production Co.

500fullFrosty the Snowman was the first of the Rankin/Bass Christmas TV Specials to be produced in cel animation rather than stop-motion, although R/B still went to Tokyo to have it done. R/B wanted it to look more like a traditional snowy Christmas card than their stop-motion specials had, so they went to a famous greeting card designer, Paul Coker, Jr., who was also a very recognizable Mad magazine contributor, for the character design. The TV Special was planned around the popular 1950 Frosty the Snowman song by Walter “Jack” Rollins & Steve Nelson, first recorded by Gene Autry, with veteran TV animation writer/voice Romeo Muller scripting the story to the required 25-minute length. The voice actors were also very distinctive: actor-comedian Jimmy Durante (in his final performance) as the narrator, and stand-up comedian Jackie Vernon as Frosty.

An elementary-school teacher hires a clumsy stage magician, Professor Hinkle, to give her students a Christmas party. The children are bored. Prof. Hinkle is disgusted and, after the party, he throws away his silk top hat with his “magic rabbit”, Hocus Pocus, inside it. The children play in the snowy schoolyard after class, and they build a snowman that Karen names Frosty. When Hocus Pocus hops out of the school wearing the hat, the children put it on Frosty, who comes to life. Prof. Hinkle sees it and, when the wind blows the hat off Frosty making him just a snowman again, Hinkle grabs and reclaims it. The children are disappointed until Hocus Pocus returns with the hat, and the children use it to bring Frosty back to life. But everyone knows that Hinkle will soon return for the hat; and even worse, the temperature is rising and Frosty is in danger of melting unless he can get to the North Pole. Frosty leads a parade of the children through the town, startling the adults, to the train station. Nobody has enough money for a ticket to the North Pole, so Frosty, Karen, and Hocus Pocus sneak aboard a freight train; while Prof. Hinkle, who has followed them, hides under the caboose. Frosty is safe in a refrigerated car, but it is so cold that Karen is in danger of freezing, so they leave the train in a forest. After eluding Hinkle, Hocus persuades the forest animals to lead them to a greenhouse used for growing poinsettias. Frosty and Hocus realize that the freezing countryside is no place for Karen, so they agree that Hocus will go get Santa Claus while Karen waits in the greenhouse with Frosty just outside. But Hinkle locks the greenhouse with Frosty still inside, melting him. Hocus returns with Santa Claus, who opens the greenhouse and restores Frosty, who is made of magic Christmas snow. When Hinkle demands the top hat, Santa faces him down, promising him a new hat. Santa takes Karen home in his sleigh, and takes Frosty to the North Pole to live, promising that he will return at each Christmastime.

Christmas Comes to Pacland, directed by Ray Patterson. 30 minutes. December 16, 1982.

This was produced by Hanna-Barbera, which also produced the regular Pac-Man animated TV series. Pac-Man began as a video game created by Namco in Japan. It was released in Japan on May 22, 1980, and in the U.S. in October. It was immediately extremely popular in both countries. The Pac-Man weekly animated TV cartoon (also called Pac-Man: The Animated Series) began on September 25, 1982, with 13 episodes in Season 1 to December 18, 1982. The half-hour TV Special, Christmas Comes to Pacland (according to its title card; also spelled Pac-land and PacLand in some information sources), was broadcast two days before the final episode. There was a Season 2 of 8 weekly episodes; September 17 to November 5, 1983.

pac-land-xmasPac-Man’s family in the TV series consists of him; Pepper Pac-Man, his wife; Pac-Baby; Chomp-Chomp, their dog; and Sour Puss, their cat. They are all round balls, as Pac-Man is in the video game; and the buildings in Pacland are all round, too. Their regular enemies are five Ghost Monsters who work for Mezmaron, the main villain, who wants to steal Pacland’s Power Pellets, both Pacland’s primary food and fuel.

Christmas Comes to Pacland takes place when everything is a Winter Wonderland. The Pac-Man family is paying in the snow, making snow ghosts, and so on. They go for a snowmobile ride when they are suddenly chased by their old enemies; the ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Sue, and Clyde. A high-speed chase ensues. The snowmobile is wrecked. Pac-Man throws snowballs at the ghosts, and Inky stupidly retaliates by throwing Power Pellets (that the ghosts had stolen) back at him. The Pacs eat the pellets, become super-powerd, and chomp the ghosts, who become terrified and fly away.

Meanwhile, Santa Claus and his reindeer are flying overhead, on their way to distribute gifts. They crash into the escaping ghosts, and Santa and the reindeer fall into Pacland. The Pac family and the other Paclanders, including Officers Morris and O’Pac, have never heard of Santa Claus, but they agree to help him. Pac-Man goes into the forest to look for the bag of toys from Santa’s sleigh and runs into the ghosts. After an adventure, Pac-Man returns with the toys, but he is severely weakened. He eats a Power Pellet to restore his strength. Meanwhile, Santa has decided that finding the toys is not enough. His sleigh is wrecked, his reindeer are exhausted and injured, and he despairs of going on. Pac-Man theorizes that maybe the Power Pellets can rejuvenate the reindeer, too. But there are not enough Power Pellets available, so Pac-Man with his family and friends lead Santa and the reindeer into the Power Pellet Forest to find a new supply. They are confronted by the Ghost Monsters, but after Pac-Man tells them what Christmas is about, the ghosts agree to a rare truce and let them go on. The reindeer eat the raw Power Pellets, Santa flies off, and Christmas is saved. Even the ghosts have earned presents for their good deed.

For Better or for Worse: The Bestest Present, directed by Sebastian Grunstra. 30 minutes. December 5, 1985.

Lynn Johnston wrote the original story for this TV Special, based on her popular newspaper comic strip.

For Better or for Worse was published from September 1979 to August 2008, and later in reprints. It was a realistic slice-of-life comic strip about John and Elly Patterson, a fictitious couple living in a suburb of Toronto, Canada, in their mid-30s (he was a dentist), and their young children. What made For Better or for Worse stand out was that it progressed in real time. The Pattersons aged; their children grew into adults; Farley, their beloved dog, died of old age. By the time Johnston ended the newspaper strip, the Pattersons had reached retirement age and their adult children had moved out to live their own lives.

For Better or for Worse was not an animated TV series at the time, but Johnston wrote several TV Specials for CTV, starting with this one. It was animated by Atkinson Film-Arts of Ottawa (later another studio), and appeared in the U.S. first on HBO, later on The Disney Channel.

For Better or for Worse: The Bestest Present was first broadcast in 1985, when the Pattersons’ daughter Lizzie was 7 years old. The whole Patterson family goes Christmas shopping. Lizzie brings her favorite stuffed bunny; a unique toy made by her grandmother. She loses it in the department store and is heartbroken. John goes back to look for it but doesn’t find it. Older son Michael suggests they put an adv’t in the local newspaper classifieds for it. The lonely janitor at the department store has found it, and is about to throw it away when he reads the newspaper ad, and mails it back to the Pattersons. Lizzie is overjoyed, and the Pattersons are so grateful that they invite the janitor to Christmas dinner.

Even though not much happens, For Better or for Worse: The Bestest Present has been a Christmas favorite for decades. None of the animated TV Specials were released on commercial home videos, but Johnson has been selling them exclusively on her own For Better or for Worse website catalogue. For Better or for Worse: The Bestest Present was released as a VHS tape, then as a DVD on November 25, 2008 for CAD $12.99. People who don’t know to buy it there and go to have been paying $48.57 for the out-of-print VHS tape.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, directed by Andrew Knight. 72 minutes. November 11, 1997.

beauty-beast-xmasIt is Christmas at the Beast’s castle. Belle is planning to celebrate it, when she is shocked to learn that the Beast hates Christmas and has forbidden any of the enchanted staff to celebrate it. He and the staff were enchanted at Christmastime, and he associates the holiday with his misery. Belle determines to celebrate it deliberately to change his mind, with the help of Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and Chip. Meanwhile, Forte, an evil pipe organ who has taken advantage of the spell to make himself more important to the Beast, has been afraid that Belle will break the spell and that he will sink back into obscurity. He sees Belle’s deliberate disobedience of the Beast’s order as his chance to get rid of Belle. He uses the naïve Fife, a piccolo who has been trying to talk him into writing a solo for himself, in a plot to discredit Belle and her Christmas plans.

The story ideas for Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas were originally planned at the time of Disney’s 1991 theatrical release. They were discussed both as parts of the original feature, and as a theatrical sequel titled Beauty and the Beast 2. It ended up as part of Disney’s plan to make direct-to-video sequels of its most popular theatrical animated releases. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas was produced by Walt Disney Television Animation and the short-lived Walt Disney Animation Canada subsidiary, and released direct-to-video on November 11, 1997; the same day as the TV Special.

Previous animated TV Specials were later released for home video for extra sales. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas was one of the first planned primarily for the home video market, with the TV Special as the afterthought.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas was given the Disney treatment for awards. It won the World Animation Celebration’s “Best Direct to Video Production” and “Best Director of Home Video” awards, and was nominated for six others at ASIFA-Hollywood’s Annie Awards and at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films’ Saturn Awards.

An All Dogs Christmas Carol, directed by Paul Sabella and Gary Selvaggio. 73 minutes. November 17, 1998.

all0dogs-2509At the time that this was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Animation, there was consideration of making it a theatrical release, at least abroad; following MGM Animation’s 1996 theatrical All Dogs Go to Heaven 2. Another proposed title was All Dogs Go to Heaven 3: It’s Christmastime! It ended up as an ABC-TV Special and an immediate direct-to-video release.

An All Dogs Christmas Carol was unlike the first two movies in that they starred Charlie Barkin and his friend, Itchy Ford, whereas the third feature stars their enemy, Carface Caruthers. Annabelle, a heavenly dog nursemaid, tells angelic puppies the story of how Carface saved Christmas despite himself. Charlie, Itchy, Sasha, and their friends are decorating an alley on Earth for Christmas. Carface and Killer break up the party with a mysterious whistle that instantly hypnotizes all the dogs, enabling them to steal all the presents, food, and Timmy’s operation money. Charlie tries to get them back, but the whistle makes it impossible. Carface and Killer got the whistle from Belladonna, Annnabelle’s demonic cousin, who plans to use a giant whistle to hypnotize all the dogs in town and order them to steal their humans’ presents. Charlie tries to scare Carface into giving everything back with Annabelle’s help by turning themselves into the three ghosts from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Itchy becomes the Ghost of Christmas Past; Annabelle the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Charlie the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He tells Carface that, without the operation, Timmy will die, but that his death will cause Carface’s own death, sending the evil dog to Hell. Carface stops Belladonna’s giant whistle, saving everyone’s Christmas. Later, Carface and Killer return the presents, food, and money to the dogs, enabling them to resume their party.

Next week: There’s plenty more Christmasy Cartoonz, but let’s get back to the French animation.


  • Rankin Bass actually did produce one cel-animated special before Frosty: “Cricket on the Hearth”, an hour-long adaptation of the Dickens story of the same name. It probably hasn’t been shown on TV in many years, and while it’s available on DVD, it’s still one of the studio’s most obscure Christmas titles. (It’s also, sad to say, not very good.)

    • I see that special was animated by TCJ (later named Eiken Co., Ltd.). I suppose that was one RB had to go somewhere else for Frosty afterwards, and Mushi Pro did a fine job on that special you forget the kind of trouble they must’ve had behind-the-scenes otherwise.

    • Further trivium: “Cricket” was originally an episode of a Danny Thomas series instead of a stand-alone special. Perhaps that put it on a smaller budget than “real” specials. The earliest ones, like Magoo, weren’t expected to generate much cash beyond the first showing, but as prestige projects with deep-pocketed sponsors they could spend a bit more.

  • Thurl Ravenscroft is the singing voice of the Grinch? Is the Grinch singing about himself in the third person?

    • Presumably. Unless it’s supposed to be the narrator singing.

    • Both the “Mr. Grinch” song and Thurl Ravenscroft’s vocal were intended as a musical commentary on the Grinch’s nature; in other words, it’s a song sung ABOUT the Grinch, not BY him. There are similar song sequences in other shows; Roberta Flack singing “To Love And Be Loved” in De Patie-Freleng’s “The Tiny Tree” is just one example. Boris Karloff served both as the narrator and as the speaking voice of the Grinch.

  • Regarding For Better or Worse, I need to point out that Farley dies as a result of saving the youngest child from drowning.

    • Yes, but if Farley hadn’t been so old — 14? — the strain of saving her wouldn’t have killed him.

    • So if a 70 year old man is chased 3 blocks by a gang of thugs and his heart gives out the cause of death is ‘old age’.
      Got it.
      You just keep thinking, Butch…that’s what you’re good at! 🙂

    • I recall reading where Johnston explained the decision to kill off Farley. With the realistic aging of the other characters, Farley was getting extremely old for a dog. She had already taken to showing him as mostly sleeping, but knew even that was increasingly unrealistic. So she resolved to give him a heroic sendoff.

      Johnston, by the way, worked in animation before becoming a cartoonist. I think the interview mentioned HB Abbott & Costello cartoons being produced in Canada. She didn’t like the quality of that work; her own specials were a chance to revisit animation production on much happier terms.

    • Charles Schulz, a friend of Lynn Johnston’s, never forgave her for killing off Farley. Of course, there were great differences in the basic approaches of their strips; Charlie Brown, Snoopy and company stayed the same age for half a century, as do most comic strip/cartoon characters (Blondie and Dagwood, etc.) I suppose an extreme example in the other direction of playing with time and age in a comic strip would be Tom Batiuk’s “Funky Winkerbean.”

  • The last good US made Christmas special was “Olive, The Other Reindeer”

    • As much as I love Olive, you seem to be overlooking Prep & Landing. The first one is a great Christmas special, balancing warmth and humor in a story of redemption. Its short-length sequel is good, too. It’s unfortunate that the 30-minute follow up, Naughty vs. Nice, gets everything wrong that the first one got right. It’s a cynical, action-oriented mess, and basically brought the whole series down.

  • For Better or for Worse: The Bestest Present was released as a VHS tape, then as a DVD on November 25, 2008 for CAD $12.99. People who don’t know to buy it there and go to have been paying $48.57 for the out-of-print VHS tape.

    I was lucky to have had a copy of a rental copy my mom made for me of this special as a kid. The special was released a year later by Family Home Entertainment in 1986 I believe. So it was possible to find this special out there if you looked hard enough.

    A year after this, Atkinson Film-Arts also produced a holiday special featuring the famous elephant Babar in “Babar and Father Christmas” which aired initially on CBC. I see it’s currently up on Hulu.

    At the time that this was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Animation, there was consideration of making it a theatrical release, at least abroad; following MGM Animation’s 1996 theatrical All Dogs Go to Heaven 2. Another proposed title was All Dogs Go to Heaven 3: It’s Christmastime! It ended up as an ABC-TV Special and an immediate direct-to-video release.

    Watching it right now, I recall how rather patchy this one looked the way they shifted from using physical cels in some scenes to using digital ink & paint in others. It’s almost as if they couldn’t decide which way to go on this or else the money ran out halfway and they had to finish it digitally. At least that’s the impression I get in watching this one.

    Next week: There’s plenty more Christmasy Cartoonz, but let’s get back to the French animation.

    Oh well, this can’t last forever!

  • Of course, like most of you, I recall R.O. Blechman’s “Christmas Birds” that ended with “Season’s Greetings from CBS.” But I’ve also recently seen another version, designed for theatrical showing, which ends with something like “Season’s Greetings from the management of this theatre.” The content is otherwise identical; anyone know which version came first?

  • I’m surprised that you didn’t acknowledge any credit toward character actor Billy DeWolfe – the voice of ‘Professor Hinkle’ in “Frosty The Snowman”. The only other TV credit I can remember him from was as the radio station manager on the mid-1960s sitcom “Good Morning World!” (starring Joby Baker and Ronnie Schell… and a semi-regular appearance from a newcomer named Goldie Hawn). Back then, everybody knew of his two catch-phrases, “Busy! Busy! Busy!” and “Never touch!”

  • It appears I am late to this post. For anyone interested, I have a few pieces of original Grinch artwork posted HERE.

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