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The Christmas Visit / The New Year Voyage (1959)

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I'm not entirely sure how to label this short animated Russian holiday special from 1959. The New Year Voyage is a more accurate translation of the Russian title, but it was released in the US under the names "The Christmas Visit" and "A Christmas Tree." The version we saw was dubbed into English and explicitly set at Christmas, though the original took place on New Year's. This isn't at all surprising - it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in the Soviet Union when this was produced. Despite that, the special is filled with trappings and elements that would feel at home in American Christmas specials from the same period.

The story follows a Russian boy whose father is stationed in Antarctica. It's Christmas Eve (New Year's Eve), and the child is distraught his father is going to wake to Christmas morning (New Year's Day) without a Christmas Tree (New Year's Tree).

The kid grabs his decorated tree and heads outside in the hopes of find…

Hallmark Channel's 2018 Christmas: A First Look Preview Special

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Back in late July, when only the obsessed started thinking about Christmas, Hallmark aired a program which is perhaps the purest expression of the holiday we’ve seen in some time. It is all anticipation and no substance, and it makes you feel somewhat unsatisfied and nauseated.

It is the Hallmark Channel's 2018 Christmas: A First Look Preview Special.

This is a half-hour program broken up into chunks with their own little intros and outros. It's very similar to the promotions that play in the theater before a movie, and I suspect these are intended to be broken up and used that way.

The host is here to introduce us to a selection of this year’s new Hallmark Christmas movies. She is wearing a Christmas red cold-shoulder dress with rhinestones around the holes and wondering where her career went so wrong.

The first movie they’re teasing is called Christmas Joy.

The premise, so far as we can tell: young woman comes to town to help sick aunt, takes over a cookie competition, fall…

Loose Canon: Santa Claus (2016)

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I stumbled across Lindsay Ellis's YouTube channel somewhat randomly, and it almost immediately became one of my favorites for essays on movies and pop culture. Stylistically, I'd describe it as a blend of a great college lecture and an energized barroom discussion.

Like most successful YouTube channels, it's broken into several ongoing series. One of these, Loose Canon, examines a character or concept as it reoccurs in media. Ellis has made installments on figures as diverse as Starscream and Hades - she's not constraining herself to any specific type of character.

Of course, we're a tad more limited in our focus here, so we'll be looking at her episode on Santa Claus.

It opens with some backstory on the character, summarizing three of the most significant figures who were compiled into the modern day incarnation. She condenses the history and origin of Santa Claus about as succinctly as I've ever seen. Then she moves onto The Night Before Christmas before…

Target: The Toycracker (2016)

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Depending on how generous you're feeling, The Toycracker can either be described as a live-action short film, an extended commercial, or the fourth seal of the apocalypse slowly peeling away to open the floodgates and usher in the end of days.

It's not exactly bad, per se; it's more that it's something that should not be. Its very existence is an affront to the world we know and the already fractured boundary between entertainment and advertisement. It's the final stage in the unnatural evolution that started decades ago when toy companies infected Saturday morning cartoons.

As the name sort of implies, The Toycracker is ostensibly a re-imagined Nutcracker. It starts out that way in a semi-clever scene where a modern Clara sings about losing WiFi on Christmas Eve to Waltz of the Flowers. Then she falls asleep and wakes in a version of the classic "giant Christmas tree" set, where she meets the Nutcracker, played by Chrissy Teigen, who starts singing a so…

2016 Holiday Ads

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I do like a well-done television spot; it’s like a tiny short film trying to get you to like a brand. I appreciate that Britain and other parts of the world really get into impressive Christmas ads, rather than wasting their money and effort on ads for some sporting event.

I’ve seen a lot of Christmas ads making the rounds this year; here are the ones I’ve liked the most so far. And if you haven’t seen these yet, you’re welcome.

Christmas with love from Mrs Claus

This is from Marks and Spencer, a British retailer which sells clothing, home goods and some food items. It’s pretty great, giving Mrs. Claus a Christmas wish to grant and a whole set of shiny secret toys of her own. The story of the family she visits isn’t surprising, but I thought the acting sold it. Also, I laughed out loud at the title of the book she’s pretending to read at the end.



Czego szukasz w Święta? | English for beginners

This one is from Polish online auction website Allegro. You will see the emotional punch comi…

Mr. Christmas (2012)

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Mr. Christmas is a short documentary about Bruce Mertz, a retired electrician in Concord, California who spent more than three decades building elaborate holiday light displays in his yard. At a cursory glance, his display wasn't much more impressive than hundreds of other throughout the country: there were animated displays, a large number of bulbs, and the whole thing was synced to music - we've seen thingslike that.

What set Mertz apart from those wasn't scale - his yard was modest-sized, even if he filled it with lights - it was artistry. The documentary only provides a brief look at how he built and maintained his display, but it's incredible to see. There's no laptop managing the whole thing: it's all done using analog dials and timers. And all the pieces were made by Mertz himself, down to the paint covering the lights (he wasn't satisfied with the longevity of the color on store-bought lights, so he developed his own paint mixture).

The documentary…

The Little Match Girl (2006)

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This Disney short was originally supposed to be part of a 2006 version of Fantasia that Disney abandoned. This segment was produced anyway, and we saw it as part of the Disney Short Film Collection.

It's a surpisingly faithful adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's short story of the same name, even incorporating the original visions of the Match Girl as she freezes to death in the cold. Good times, all around.

The original story makes it clear that the events transpire on New Year's Eve, though the girl hallucinates a Christmas tree. This short seems to have shifted the story to Christmas itself, as evidenced by her watching a family climb into a sleigh with a handful of wrapped gifts.

The story is relatively bare bones: a poor girl fails to sell matches. Ignored by the world around her, she retreats into an alley, where she lights her matches and sees beautiful visions in the fire. The last light to go out is her own, when her grandmother's spirit whisks her away t…

Peace on Earth (1939) and Goodwill to Men (1955)

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"Peace on Earth" is an animated short from 1939. It was made by Hugh Harman, one of the founders of the Warner Bros. animation studios. "Goodwill to Men" is a remake made by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera fourteen years later. The two pieces are extremely similar, so I'll talk about them together.

As works of animation, these are beyond topnotch. "Peace on Earth," in particular, is absolutely breathtaking. If this had been made a half-century later, it would still have been cutting edge. The remake is also great. You can drop every association you have with Hanna-Barbera: this is beautiful work. Both versions were clearly labors of love, stories the animators and directors clearly believed needed to be told.

If you've never seen these, the fact they exist is utterly shocking. In fact, if you've never seen either of these - and especially if you've never heard of them - you owe it to yourself to stop reading and watch the original. It…

The Brain Scoop: The Nondenominational Holiday Botanical Celebration (2013)

Christmas is past, but we're still working our way through a backlog of online holiday shorts. The Brain Scoop is a Youtube series hosted by Emily Graslie, the Field Museum of Natural History's "Chief Curiosity Correspondent," a custom-made title that makes a lot more sense after you watch a few episodes.

The series is sort of a science education show on speed. It delivers everything you loved about shows like Bill Nye, but doesn't dumb down the subject matter. The show feels like it's primarily aimed at adults who grew up watching PBS, though - for the most part - the subject matter's appropriate for kids, as well.

This episode focuses on various decorative Christmas plants, with a focus on toxicity levels and side effects. If that doesn't sound awesome to you, I don't know what you're doing on this blog.

Super Santa in Jingle Bell Justice (1998)

I just came across this 7 minute short on Youtube. Stylistically, it feels a lot like Powerpuff Girls, with some great homages to the Adam West Batman and 60's spy shows. I particularly like the super-spy spin on Mrs. Claus, who isn't stuck at the North Pole this time.

A Krampus Christmas (2013)

This one's short - very short. And that's a shame, because I could really watch hours of this. It features very fantastic character design, beautiful stop-motion animation, and an awesome spin on Krampus. The short is between 50 seconds and five minutes long, depending on how many times you re-watch it. Enjoy!


"A Krampus Christmas" eCard from Screen Novelties on Vimeo.

Simon's Cat Shorts!

Hey, look, two new holiday shorts from Simon's Cat!

WHOO!





Santa Delivers an Urgent Christmas Message from Greenpeace! (2013)

I stumbled across a story for this on CNN and thought it needed to be shared. This is a commercial ostensibly addressing kids. Since that's the intended audience, you should probably call them into the room if they're home. In fact, you should do that NOW, before you've viewed the video yourself to ensure it won't traumatize them for life or ruin this Christmas and future Christmases to come.

I mean, if Greenpeace put this on Youtube where anyone could come across it, it must be appropriate for all ages, right?


I'm going to set questions of morality, politics, and whether or not we're irreparably destroying the planet aside and focus on the video. In particular, I want to focus on this interpretation of Santa Claus.

I've long been a fan of more realistic versions of Saint Nick, and this certainly fits that description. I like the actor's take here - he seems to be taking this seriously, which is a nice change of pace from what we usually get.

With a lit…

M is for Merry Christmas (2013)

Aint it Cool posts a weekly list of short films, which is usually worth glancing through. Like the drug stores around here, they're not waiting for Halloween to wrap up before mixing in some Christmas offerings.

"M is for Merry Christmas" is only about three minutes long. It stars Krampus, a Christmas demon who really needs more exposure. It's a dark, fun little piece that's definitely worth the time. Check it out:


M is for Merry Christmas from Holomax on Vimeo.

Slight Reworking of the Nightmare Before Christmas's "What's This?"

So, this is making it's way around the internet. The lyrics are definitely NSFW, so take that in consideration before hitting play.



I disagree with the claim this improves on the original, but I do think it's clever and surprisingly well executed.

Secret Identity (2011)

I saw this on a weekly list of short films at Ain't it Cool News. I clicked on it because it was about superheroes, but - lo and behold - it turned out it was set at Christmas. It's not what I expected from the premise and title. What it is, beside sweet and well made, is better experienced than explained. So, assuming you've got ten minutes, check it out:


"Secret Identity" (2011) from Tyler MacIntyre on Vimeo.

Marvin the Martian: Yule Be Sorry (2012)

A while back, some test footage for a proposed live-action Marvin the Martian movie appeared online, along with some for Hong Kong Phooey. Unless watching a CG dog voiced by Eddie Murphy drink from a toilet sounds like fun to you, you'll want to skip the Hong Kong Phooey clips.

But the Marvin the Martian footage is a little more interesting. It's a short - and a Christmas-themed one, no less - featuring the character.

I was going to embed it, but it looks like it's been taken down. The good news is that you're not missing too much. A disappointed kid unwraps a Christmas present and discovers Marvin, who's come to Earth to destroy Christmas. He mistakes Marvin for a toy (understandable, as the martian is packaged as such), and goes to put it on Ebay. Things get uncomfortable when he discovers the error, and Marvin breaks free and nearly vaporizes him. The tree gets hit instead, and the clip ends with the kid extremely excited by the possibilities Marvin's gun co…

Dreamworks Holiday Shorts (2005, 2010)

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The Madagascar Penguins In A Christmas Caper (2005)
I didn’t hate this. It wasn’t amazing (and seems to have mixed up the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo) but I laughed a few times.

The dimmest little penguin decides to go out after a last minute gift for a lonely polar bear, and the others have to mobilize to rescue him from an elderly lady who’s mistaken him for a plush toy. The woman is a bit of a hideous stereotype, with her vicious yippy dog and her unrelenting grumpiness and her claustrophobic Manhattan apartment. However, I thought the action was amusing, and it wasn’t long enough to really overstay its welcome.

Your mileage may vary. Erin thought Merry Madagascar was better than this one, and I very much disagree. Either way, though, I think you can safely skip it.


Shrek: Donkey's Caroling Christmas-tacular (2010)
Apparently this started life as a DVD extra, but has since been repackaged to round out the collection of Dreamworks specials appearing on Netflix. It’s terr…

Paddington: Christmas (1975)

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Oh. Oh wow! I forgot all about this show, but it all came rushing back at the first notes of the opening music. This is a holiday-themed short based on the Paddington books. I love Paddington, and I especially love this Paddington. There’s a dry British wit at play here, as well as copious amounts of charm.

The animation is the real star, though. Paddington himself is a three dimensional stop-motion bear, and some of the things he interacts with are three dimensional, but all the people and the backgrounds are two-dimensional cut outs. The use of color is very deliberate, and all the voices are done by the same narrator. In all, it’s very evocative of reading a picture book.

The story of this particular short is just a straightforward account of Paddington’s experience with Christmas, with little jokes about his gifts and special note of all the tasty food.

It’s sweet, and amusing, and well worth tracking down just for the unique style.

Here, it’s only five minutes:
http://www.youtub…

Howdy Doody's Christmas (1957?)

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This eight minute short came as part of a DVD collection I bought cheap on Amazon, but apparently it's easy to find on Youtube, too. Come to think of it, just about everything in that collection appears to be on Youtube.

At any rate, this has to be one of the strangest artifacts we've come across. I've never actually seen an episode of Howdy Doody before, though of course I know what it is. Or at least I thought I knew: now, I'm not so sure.

First off, let's talk about the horror.

See, every character in this thing, with the exception of Buffalo Bob, is outright creepy. Imagine Chucky but not as cute: that's Howdy Doody. And remember the clown from It? yeah, apparently his older brother's name was Clarabell, and he's in this. Then there's Ugly Sam. I guess he wasn't scary, just weird.

This thing starts a few minutes before midnight, with most of the above characters decorating a tree. They hide at midnight, so Santa won't see them (it's…