It's A Very Special Cel Bloc Xmas... "The Unwrap-pening"

So, did you get everything that you wanted for Christmas?

What I wanted was a little reconciliation with a holiday with which I have increasingly lost touch, and perhaps to hide myself a bit from the rest of this truly substandard year. So I decided to dig into some old holiday Christmas cartoon "classics," some which I love, and some for which I run hot and cold depending on when I watch them.

In getting my animation blog, the Cinema 4: Cel Bloc, restarted over the past three months (at the same time as The Cinema 4 Pylon, my main site), part of the reason was for me to really dive back into getting reacquainted with many of these cartoons after concentrating so deeply on feature films for the past few years. Cinematically, animation -- especially the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons of Warner Bros. and Donald Duck shorts -- was my first love, not surprisingly, since cartoons are how many kids first get a notion of popular entertainment. And honestly, when I was a kid, I thought Bugs Bunny cartoons were just made for seeing on television, until my parents explained to me that they used to see them in theatres when they were kids.

It wasn't until I started discovering, mostly under my own volition, the films of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, the Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye, Ray Harryhausen, Orson Welles, and Hammer and Universal horror flicks (for example) that I really started getting a sense of the true expanse of the history of cinema. And in gaining that sense, I began to learn more about animation, and how so many of the characters that I was seeing on Saturday morning television, as a wee child in the late '60s and through my true growing up period in the '70s, had their roots in movie theatres. I always kind of knew that about the Disney films. since some of my earliest movie-going experiences were Pinocchio and The Jungle Book, and in watching episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney (a mainstay of my youth) where they often had old intros by Walt himself, I was able to ascertain the connection between his film work and the television world into which he expanded his empire.


But apart from Disney, so many of the characters that I knew only from TV: Bugs, Daffy, the Road Runner, Popeye, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Woody Woodpecker, Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse, the Pink Panther, Tom and Jerry, Droopy, etc., had all been created initially to be seen on the big screen, not just by children in a ghettoized set of hours on a single day on the weekend, but in theatres on any day, with any showing, and by adults as well as children. I found books on animation at the local library and even in my school library, and also read biographies on Walt Disney (a book by Bob Thomas, which I know now was a suck-up job to the Disney family, but loved then) and Tex Avery (Joe Adamson's Tex Avery: King of Cartoons... find one). I was drawing a lot then, and made my own stupid attempts at animation, though not with using a camera. Finding flip animation too dull and having limited resources (i.e., no movie camera), I did have a very beloved and well-used typewriter at my disposal, and I got deep into writing screenplays for cartoons that would never get made.

And that was pretty much the deepest I got into animation as my teens came along. I became a bit of a lost cause to most people, my studies suffered greatly, and I concentrated more on the history of film in general rather than solely on animation. Through the early VHS years, I became a horror fanatic, though I still purchased nearly any cartoon collection that came along. Years later, with a massive stack of cartoons at my disposal, I would organize a couple of animation marathon sleepovers, where a passel of friends would crash on my living room floor and attempt to stay up all night watching hours and hours of cartoons. The fact that Anchorage, Alaska at that time had the world's first 24-hour cartoon channel on UHF also played a large part in the resurgence of animation in my life.

And through all of this, I always had a bit of a fascination -- almost like a sub-genre of fascination -- with cartoons that had a Christmas theme. There weren't a lot of them, surprisingly; most of what we tend to consider as the classics of Christmas animation, justifiably, were specials created directly for television, such as the Rankin-Bass multitude of shows, and the Charlie Brown special. But as for theatrical cartoons with holiday themes, they mostly tended to just get mixed in with the rest of the cartoons. Take the Warner Bros.' output as an example. With over a thousand theatrical released from 1930 through the late '60s when they ceased production, there are only a handful of Warner Bros. shorts that have a holiday theme, even in a light way. You'd think that with such a long run and success, that there would be annual Christmas shorts from their studio, but such was not the case. (Were they operating as such capacity today, they would undoubtedly do such a thing; the holidays are just too, too big a business now.)

VHS was a good place to find a concentration of these cartoons, as I mentioned in one of my posts this month (the one on Snow Foolin'). However, these tapes were usually rather cheap and contained often terrible prints of the same public domain cartoons over and over again. But as the only way to see many of these shorts consistently, you took what you could get. (The same situation with cheap PD cartoons continues on DVD today; they are all over the Amazon site. Anyone can put one out and sell it.)

As for the cartoons that I selected for this month of Christmas/winter celebration, I tried to mix things up a bit, and not go too heavy on one studio or director. I also tried to mix a bit of the more obscure in here as well. Did I succeed in allaying my blues of the past year, and in reconnecting with Christmas? A bit of both, I suppose. Posting these articles allowed me to lose myself in the creative process as I prepared myself for the coming year. I got to put each of these cartoons under my microscope and get to know them more fully. The ones that I loved going in I now probably love a little more, and the ones that were on the fence mostly got off it in either direction, but I at least have a more definite opinion as to how I feel about each one.

Most of all, I came out of the experience still loving the holiday. And still loving cartoons. So if that is the best present that I will get this year (though the 50" Smart TV Jen's mom surprised us with last night is definitely in the running), then that is just fine.

Here are the holiday cartoons that I reviewed over the past month as part of this theme. Each photo and title are linked to the article for that cartoon:

Tom Turk and Daffy (1944)
The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives (1933)
Toyland Premiere (1934)
Jack Frost (1934)
Santa's Surprise (1947)
Hector's Hectic Life (1949)
Snow Foolin' (1949)
Broken Toys (1935)
Ginger Nutt's Christmas Circus (1949)
Gift Wrapped (1952)
Bedtime for Sniffles (1940)

And if you are still in the mood for more Christmas cartoon goodness:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1948)

And finally, here is a Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse cartoon without a Christmas or winter theme, but has a pretty good Santa Claus gag right smack in the middle of it:

L'il Ainjil (1936)


Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope you have been enjoying these cartoons as I did.

RTJ

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