Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales (1979)

Part of me thinks it's odd this slipped through the cracks for so long. As far as I can tell, it's the first Looney Tunes TV Christmas special, and it features some huge names in animation (Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Mel Blanc). On that level, it feels like this is something that should be important. Or at least it does until you watch it.

It's not that this is bad - I'd describe two of the three segments as "fine" and the third as "pretty good" - but there's nothing in here that makes it feel bigger or more memorable than three random Looney Tunes shorts. And the one segment that might have left an impact, Bugs Bunny's Christmas Carol, was supplanted four years later by the far superior Disney film with a similar premise.

After a brief (though maybe not brief enough) intro sequence with Looney Tunes characters caroling, the special moves on to its spin on A Christmas Carol. This does actually feel like a transition between Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and Mickey's, in that it still establishes it's a play, but it does so as more of an afterthought. It's as if they're almost at the point they realize they don't need to explain why an established character is suddenly Scrooge, but they still want to cover their bases. The role of Scrooge is taken by Yosemite Sam, Porky plays Bob, and Bugs is... well... kind of a composite character replacing Fred, the charity collectors, Marley, and all three spirits.

Scrooge/Sam fires Bob after a mishap involving coal, then forecloses on his former clerk's house. Bugs informs the viewer this means war, puts on a sheet, and pretends to be "The Ghost of Christmas" (what is it with 1970s television deciding three ghosts is two too many?). There are no trips, real or fake, to the past, future, or even around town. Instead Bugs threatens to drag Scrooge to Satan (not by name, but the special is pretty clear) in punishment. Sam then starts handing out piles of cash and other gifts to prove he's changed. Soon, everyone's in Bob's house enjoying dinner.

There are a few good jokes in this, but as a Dickens parody/homage, it mostly feels by the numbers. As I said above, comparisons to Mickey's Christmas Carol don't do this any favors: the animation here isn't on the same level. This isn't on par with the classic Warner Bros. cartoons, either: despite the talent involved, you can tell the budget was limited.

The next short is a Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon called "Freeze Frame" in which Wile E. researches roadrunners and discovers they're easy to catch in the snow, leading to several winter-themed attempts to capture the roadrunner. After a snow machine inexplicably always hits Wile E, he tricks the roadrunner into heading into the mountains, only to find that the bird is no easier to catch, and physics are no more forgiving. 

This is the portion I think is pretty good, incidentally. That said, the bump in quality is more a reflection of the fact the Roadrunner shorts almost always hold up better than other Looney Tunes. I don't really think this is anywhere near the best of those, but compared to the Bugs Bunny shorts here it stands out.

I will note that it's by far the least Christmasy of the three. Overall, this is really more winter than holiday themed. There are a few musical references, along with a Santa joke and "Merry Christmas" sign at the end, but these come off as throwaway gags justifying the short's inclusion. That's not really a good or bad thing, but I think it's worth noting.

The final short again focuses on Bugs, this time facing off against the Tasmanian Devil, in "The Fright Before Christmas." As the title implies, the reference here is Moore's A Visit from Saint Nicholas, with the complication Santa Claus is actually Taz, having inadvertently stolen Nick's suit and sleigh. Bugs is on to him from the start, but he feigns ignorance for his nephew's benefit (as well as comedic effect). The short mainly involves a series of pranks Bugs pulls on the Devil, culminating in tricking him into swallowing an inflatable raft which causes Taz to float away. At first Bug's nephew is distraught until Bugs points out the real Santa Claus will certainly reward them when they return his sleigh.

If I were only grading on premise, this would be the best of the bunch: Taz as fake Santa is great as an idea. I also love the series of absurd events that culminate in him dressed as Claus and driving the sleigh. However, the actual follow-through just doesn't feel inspired enough. The jokes mostly land flat, making the short a bit underwhelming.

That's more or less the overall takeaway in general: this is fine for what it is, but it's nothing special. And, at the risk of invoking a pun, shouldn't Christmas specials be a little special? These are decent but unremarkable Looney Tunes shorts, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that (the Looney Tunes are almost always watchable). Just don't expect more than that.