For this week’s Thunderbean Thursday, my good friend Chris Buchman has prepared a nifty article about Christmas on the home screen. Chris is one half of ‘The Blue Mouse Studio’, and a DVD producer in his own right, including ‘Grotesqueries’, ‘Back the Attack’ and ‘A Conversation with Walter Lantz’. Chris, along with Rex Schneider (the other Blue Mouse!) have also been major contributors to Thunderbean’s DVD sets, providing amazing bonus materials for ‘Aesop’s Fables’, ‘The Little King’, and others, including ‘Uncensored Animation’. Take it away, Chris! – Steve Stanchfield
“Santa Claus Is Coming” heralded a list of Christmas movies offered for home exhibition in a 1928 trade pubication. Neither the distributor or animators of this little twenty-five foot 16mm silent novelty is identified, but the sequence is most likely from a 1920s version of “A Night Before Christmas” of which there were many, each with an animated vignette of Santy in his sleigh and reindeer gliding over rooftops and villages.
Also promoted in the December trade is “Five Orphans Of The Storm” a 1923 Van Beuren Aesop’s Fables released by Pathégrams, whose parent company, Pathé, issued the cartoon theatrically. To quote the synopsis: “How Blackie’s unselfish actions brought Christmas cheer to five lonely orphan puppies. A story with a wholesome spirit, very appropriate to show the youngsters on Christmas Eve. They’ll enjoy their own happiness the more for knowing that Blackie and puppies share it!”.
“Five Orphans” became the centerpiece of a 1937 Castle Films release “Christmas Cartoon” with a live introductory sequence featuring Santa Claus. 1937 was a kind of transitional period for Castle Films’ founder, Eugene Winston Castle, from that of producer-distributor of non-theatrical educational and sponsored shorts in the 1920s, often in tandem with co-producer, Don Hancock, to extending that enterprise to the home movie market in 1937.
Long associated with Pathé, it is not surprizing that “Five Orphans” became the premier entry of Castle’s home movie arm under the title, “Christmas Cartoon”. Curiously-enough, it was not promoted in the first Castle Films catalogue (or in any subsequent edition) but only referred to in an advert as “Coming”. Equally curious are the end flaps of the original illustrated box; one reading SANTA CLAUS; the other CHRISTMAS CARTOON. Obviously, a transitional period of decisions, decisions, decisions . . .
The “Five Orphans” scenario was revised for Walt Disney’s “Mickey’s Good Deed” (1932) in which Mickey sells Pluto to play Santa to a home of poor little kittens. The poignant finalé still tugs at the ole heart-strings and brings tears to my eyes. “Mickey’s Good Deed” came to home screens in the late 1940s (albeit silent) as “Mickey Plays Santa” – not to be confused with “Mickey Plays Santa Claus” another abridgement, this time with sound, adapted from “Mickey’s Orphans” (1931). This is an exciting entry featuring the invigorating toe-tapping melody, “The Tin Pan Parade” – the editing of the images in this sequence carefully conforming to the melody, to keep it fairly in tact.
A favorite among the Disney treasures released by Ciné-Art Hollywood Film Enterprises is “Christmas In Toyland” an abridegment of the Silly Symphony, “Midnight In A Toyshop” (1930), sold in the UK by Ensignareel under the title “Toyland”. I ran the print Santy left me to pieces and was delighted when the company issued a sound version.
A trio of popular cartoons by the greatly neglected Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were released to home screens in the 1940s by Pictoreels, its sister company, Pictorials and Sero-Crest, the latter exclusively for Sears & Roebuck customers. For a limited time, Pictoreels sold Harman-Ising titles and George Pal Puppetoons in beautiful color editions on Kodachrome stock as well as in black and white. Incidentally, the long-length Harman-Ising cartoons were issued ‘complete’ by Pictorials and in slightly abridged form by Pictoreels.
“Toyland Broadcast” (1934) with its delicious caricatures of Paul Whiteman, The Boswell Sisters, Kate Smith, The Mills Brothers and other radio stars, never fails to please, as do “Alias St, Nick” (1935) and “The Pup’s Christmas” (1936). Official Films also released “Alias St, Nick” for a brief period around 1949; and, of course, “Christmas Night” (original title “Pals” 1933) featuring Otto Soglow’s redoubtable jester, The Little King, has remained an annual favorite for eighty-one years.
Official Films released “Holiday Land” a 1934 Columbia ‘Scrappy’ while Castle Films issued “The Night Before Christmas”, “Christmas Dream” adapted from “Vánoční sen” (1945) by Czech animators Borivoj and Karel Zeman; the Terrytoons, “Ye Olde Toy Shop” (1935) and “Toyland” (1932) in two live-action holiday treats including “Christmas Cartoon”; and rounding out the 1940s with “Ski For Two” a Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker 1944 cartune under the title, “Woody Plays Santa”.
Santy left me all of the cartoons noted herein under the tree every Christmas before I was ten; and I have enjoyed sharing them with the young in heart for over sixty-three years. Even in silent form, a cartoon like “Mickey Plays Santa” keeps the warm spirit of peace and goodwill alive.