Showing posts with the label Stop Motion

Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen (2006)

Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen is a Christmas special you haven't heard of that features fantastic designs, gorgeously animated stop-motion, and an impressive cast. So why haven't you heard of it? Let me check my notes... Oh. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. I wrote, "Writing matters."

The premise is that a reindeer named Rusty is depressed and unable to find his place at the North Pole. See, he has this famous brother with a glowing red-nose, and... yeah. Hold on. I need to check my notes again - I think I remember... Here it is. I wrote, "This has been done way better in the same medium." Like Robbie, this special isn't able to say Rudolph's name outright, but it implies it and alludes to the classic to a degree I was genuinely disappointed when I failed to find a reference to this being sued.

Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't have the worst name I've ever seen on a holiday special starts with Rusty trying to …

Robbie the Reindeer: Legend of the Lost Tribe (2002)

The 2002 sequel to Hooves of Fire is, at least in my opinion, an improvement over the original. The story is no longer tethered to that of an 80's sports movie, and the new elements feel much more inspired and original.

The story this time centers around a "lost tribe" of Vikings, who are essentially dwarves in this world. In a backstory relayed by Old Jingle, we learn the last of their kind were supposedly killed off in a civil war waged when all the Vikings got bored.

Robbie's the only one who's seen any of the Vikings, and no one really believes him. They're more concerned with their failing resort, anyway. Why are reindeer running a tourist resort? Because Santa gives the toys away, so he's got nothing to pay them, obviously.

Meanwhile, Blitzen, who's been in prison since the end of Hooves of Fire, is released and returns to the lodge. Initially, the others throw him out, but he convinces them to let him stay when he promises he can turn the busi…

Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire (1999)

Hooves of Fire is a BBC claymation special about the son of Rudolph joining Santa's team. Rudolph's name is never explicitly spoken due to copyright issues, but there's no ambiguity about Robbie's heritage. The same can be said about Aardman animation - their name isn't on this, but their style permeates the special. Also, this was directed by Richard Starzak, who'd later go on to create Shaun the Sheep.

Overall, I enjoyed this, thanks to some clever jokes and fun designs. That said, the concept was a bit one-note, there were some unfortunate character directions, and the tone needed work. In short, it was good but not amazing.
The special starts with Robbie arriving at the lodge where Santa's reindeer live and train. Instead of glowing, Robbie's nose functions as a sort of navigator. Also, he later learns to bounce off it, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The nose is basically all Robbie has going for him - he's lazy, out of shape, and self-ob…

The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town (1977)

Shockingly, this stop-motion Rankin-Bass special is not the same as the 1971 Here Comes Peter Cottontail. However, it is essentially identical to the 1970 special, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The plots and setups are basically the same - they've just changed the character names and lowered the quality to make them distinct.
In this version of the Easter Bunny's origin, he's a baby rabbit located and adopted by a town of orphaned kids called "Kidville," because contrary to what the special's narrator would have us believe, there is clearly no God. He's discovered in the woods on Easter, so the kids call him, "Sunny," after the Easter Sun, which is not a thing. I'm pretty sure they're thinking of the Winter Solstice, which is (for all intents and purposes) Christmas.

Within a year, the bunny has enslaved the children of Kidville (at least that was my reading). For some reason, he convinces them they need to introduce capitalism and trad…

Revisiting Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

First of all, we've covered this already, over here. Lindsay wrote up a pretty glowing review for this and slapped on a "Highly Recommended" label, mainly because it managed to coalesce nearly the entire Rankin/Bass catalog into a single coherent Christmaverse and rebuild Rudolph's backstory using a mythic structure.

I'm not writing this as some sort of retraction, though upon rewatching, I do want to roll back the unconditional love we showered on it the first time around. While it accomplished everything listed above, that accounts for around fifteen minutes of its hour and thirty-seven minute run time. The rest oscillates between a series of mediocre love songs and a holiday-themed stop-motion circus show.

Obviously the main reason I want to revisit this now is to focus in on the "Christmas in July" elements we more or less skipped over the first time. Also, there are 31 days in July, we're doing our best to hold to our post-a-day commitment, an…

A Miser Brothers' Christmas (2008)

There's a lot of resentment in the air tonight.

I resent the executives who decided to try to squeeze more money out of an existing property. I resent the people who spent months making this. I resent this cheap DVD for existing, and I resent this blog for making me sit through it when I absolutely have better things, even CHRISTMASSIER things, to do with my time.

What I'm trying to be clear about is that there could have been a kinder, gentler version of me that would cut this special some slack.

She is not here today.

The worst thing, beyond the horrible plot and the terrible music (seriously, did they hire a committee of failed third-grade teachers to slap this together?), about sitting through this is that I like A Year Without a Santa Claus.

Erin wasn't very nice to it in his review, but I'm fond of it. I like Mrs. Claus, I like the story, I love the music.

This new special isn't fun, and it sucks most of the fun out of the world of the original.

Fact the fir…

The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold (1981)

At some point, Rankin-Bass must have had a committee pawing through lists of holiday songs: "Has anyone made a special out of this one? This one? Oh, how about Christmas in Killarney? What do you mean the song has no story? We'll write something. Ireland is all about leprechauns, right?"

And so, we have this odd little half-hour of mediocre stop-motion. When a company famous for holiday specials has some you've never heard of, you know they’re going to be weirdly awesome or boring and dated. Guess which coin flip we lost today.

The story starts with Dinty Doyle, a cabin boy on a ship bound home to Ireland, sent to a strange island to dig up a tree for the ship’s Christmas celebration. In doing so, he releases a trapped banshee, who causes a storm, stranding Dinty, and subjecting the rest of us to incoming backstory. Instead of having much of any plot in the present, much of the special is taken up with the patriarch of a leprechaun clan (Blarney Kilakilarney, yes, r…

The Little Drummer Boy Book II (1976)

Somehow, in year six, there are still Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas specials that we hadn't seen. I don't know how this happened either.

This one is just as boring as its predecessor, but it does have nicer animation.

It picks up where the first left off, Baby Jesus suitably entertained by Aaron and his magic drum. Aaron wants to do something more (further undermining the message of the original song) and Melchior drags him off to town to help look for some bellmaker.

Melchior looks a bit more Middle-Ages-Europe king than first-century-Damascus king to my eye. Just saying.

The bellmaker, Simeon, has been telling people that Jesus is coming, and while they haven't believed him, he has cast a set of giant silver bells in preparation.

At this point, Erin can attest that I gave the screen some incredible side-eye at the idea that they would co-opt, even just by reference, one of my favorite holiday songs for this dreck, but it never went further than that reference.


Nutcracker Fantasy (1979)

Before I start, I want to take a moment and discuss what I find utterly incomprehensible - it is likely not what you think it is. For example, as strange as it is that Sanrio, the Japanese company best known for Hello Kitty, produced a 1979 stop-motion fantasy movie re-imagining the Nutcracker as a dark fantasy in the vein of Oz and Wonderland, it's not incomprehensible. What my rational mind cannot accept is the idea that this was made, shown in America with an audio track starring Christopher Lee as Drosselmeyer, and then was inexplicably forgotten. Why isn't this at least as well knows as Rudolph's Shiny New Year? It's ten times as batshit crazy.

The plot stays relatively close to the original story; closer, in some respects, than Tchaikovsky. That said, there are some major deviations. For example, neither E.T.A. Hoffmann's Nutcracker or Tchaikovsky's involved time-travel. However, it's worth noting the addition actually cleans up the narrative a bit.

Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)

Lindsay unearthed three Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas specials we'd never reviewed (or heard of, for that matter), all of which were available on a single DVD. Naturally, we ordered the damn thing.

Not surprisingly, there's a reason we've never heard of it.
Pinocchio's Christmas is a bizarrely warped mashup of several early scenes from the Adventures of Pinocchio and the usual Rankin/Bass Christmas tropes.
The story starts out with Pinocchio learning about Christmas from Geppetto, who sells his boots to buy his son a math book. Pinocchio promptly sells the math book, planning to use the money partly on himself and partly to buy his dad a Christmas present. But first he comes across the Fox and the Cat, who convince him the coins will grow into a tree of gold if he buries them. Naturally, he falls for this, and they steal the money.
With the exception of the Christmas elements, this section is actually pretty accurate to the original, at least according to Wikipedi…

Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas (2014)

The stop motion characters were capably animated, and the minimalist theatrical backgrounds served as a strong connection to the special's Broadway connections. Likewise, the cast was good - it was great hearing Ed Asner reprise his role as Santa, and (as is so often the case) I didn't even realize I was listening to Mark Hamill as Buddy's father. The music, while somewhat mixed, included at least one great song, which opened the special.

Yes, this was made by talented people. And that's the tragedy. Because they wasted their goddamn time on a soulless special that systematically guts everything substantive from a great Christmas movie.

Buddy's Musical Christmas seems to be primarily based on the Broadway musical, which I've never seen. Based on the fact it was well received, I have to believe it was better than this. The music was pulled from the show, though I'm guessing most of the songs were truncated.

The best of the songs was aforementioned opening nu…

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.

Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)



We just watched the epitome of stop-motion Christmas specials. I know, I know, you don’t believe me yet. Just give me a minute.

You know Rudolph, and Frosty, and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, and Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. But did you know that every last one of these takes place in a vast shared universe, which involves still more epic figures deserving of winter myth-making? No? Then you haven’t seen this one.

For me, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July retroactively improves all the specials that came before it.

The premise is straightforward on the surface. An evil wizard who used to rule the Arctic wants to destroy Santa’s hold on winter, and to do so, he decides to take down Rudolph, using his friendship with Frosty as a lever against the young reindeer.

Oh, and we happen to establish the source and purpose of Rudolph’s magic, which I don’t want to spoil for you. What? You didn’t think Rudolph…

Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)

I'm pretty sure Here Comes Peter Cottontail represents Rankin-Bass's first attempt to push into a holiday other than Christmas. This largely forgotten artifact features Danny Kaye as the narrator (as well as a handful of other voices) and Casey Kasem as the title character, which means you'll spend most of the special expecting Peter to ask for a Scooby snack. No, that's not quite right: you'll probably spend most of the special looking for a ledge to jump off of. But you'll also notice that the main character has Shaggy's voice.

The special, which is based on some book called "The Easter Bunny That Overslept," starts in the magical land of April Valley, which I'm assuming is a reference to Baum's "Laughing Valley." Either that, or it's just stupid. Regardless, all the Easter Bunnies live in April Valley, where they color eggs using paints brought to them by Seymour S. Sassafrass, who grows the plants to... you know what? Le…

Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976)

When we last left Rudolph, Christmas had been narrowly saved from destruction, and he was returning to the North Pole along with Santa and the other reindeer. Of course, when we last left Rudolph he also had a full set of antlers and was more or less grown up. Rudolph's Shiny New Year opens on the same Christmas Eve but with a younger version of Rudolph, presumably because the producers thought kids would have an easier time associating with a talking deer closer to their age.

Well, it turns out all is not right. Christmas may be saved, but they hear Santa's old friend, Father Time, is in trouble. That's right: now New Year's Day is in trouble. For some reason I can't fathom, they care. See, I get wanting to save Christmas: it's when we get presents. But New Year's? Who gives a damn? What's next? Are they going to risk their lives to make sure Arbor Day isn't ruined?

Okay, there's some lip service about how it'll be New Year's Eve forev…

It’s a SpongeBob Christmas (2012)

We got a tip (thanks, Mom!) that this new special was going to be airing on network TV, so we sat down to check it out.

Now, I’m only passing familiar with Spongebob, although that’s more than Erin is. My takeaway from this is mostly that I respect the attempt, but don’t think it fully came together. Maybe it’s funnier if you know the show better.

This episode was entirely filmed in stop-motion, and the effort is appreciated, although it’s not an unusual choice these days when one wants to evoke the feeling of Christmas specials past. (See Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas for a better example.) However, I’m not sure all the character designs really make sense in three dimensions, particularly when they tried to replicate some visual tropes of the usual animation. The sets were neat, though, and while I didn’t ever think the voices completely matched the fuzzy little dolls, the aesthetic of the thing overall was kind of cool.

The story follows the villain Plankton trying to get on San…

Paddington: Christmas (1975)

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:

Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy (1995)

I can't remember ever hearing of "Bump in the Night," but Lindsay swears it was popular in its day. It was a stop motion series from the mid-90's about a monster named Bumpy and his friends. We wound up getting the hour-long Christmas special on the "Christmas Cartoon Collection" DVD Lindsay found for six bucks at Toys R Us.

Calling this bizarre is an understatement: it's one of the strangest Christmas specials I've ever seen... and that's saying something. Bumpy sets out on a quest to steal Santa's sack of gifts from the North Pole. On the way he manipulates others into assisting him by promising them presents.

The animation is impressive. It's warped and twisted, as is the writing. The jokes are farther apart than I'd have liked, but most are clever (some were exceptionally so). Ultimately, we're left with something mixed. It has an amazing tone thanks to a shockingly dark sense of humor, but the pace is way too slow.

The thir…

Community Christmas Episodes (2009, 2010, and 2011)

To date, Lindsay and I have actually only watched four episodes of Community, three of which were about Christmas. To give you a sense of where this is going, we just bought the season one and two DVD sets on the strength of two of the Christmas episodes.

The episodes in question are completely different - in fact, each of the three is fundamentally in a different genre - but they're absolutely fantastic, both as Christmas episodes and as comedy. I'm going to look at them starting with the oldest, which is completely different from the order we actually watched them in.

Season One: Comparative Religion

This was actually the last one we watched, because we didn't even realize it existed until we bought the DVD sets. Unlike the other two, it doesn't have a major hook or gimmick - ostensibly, it's just an episode of a sitcom. However, it's also just about the funniest goddamn half-hour of television I've ever seen in my life. As much as I enjoyed the other two …

Nestor: the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

I'm not sure whether I'll be able to coherently describe what happened in the special, but I know I can explain how it came to be. There was a meeting, quite possibly in a studio boardroom, where someone said, "Hey. You know what we need? Another Rudolph." To which someone else added, "And we need something that's religious, really puts the Christ in Christmas." And fifteen minutes later the storyboard for Nestor: the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey was born.
I don't think I've ever seen this before, probably because it doesn't have the same exposure most of the other specials have. This is kind of a shame, because it's just about the most screwed-up thing I've ever seen, and I feel like more people should be familiar with it.

This is narrated by Nestor's descendant, whose name escapes me and I don't care enough to look up. I should probably add that Nestor's descendant works for Santa Claus at the North Pole. This isn't…