For Christmas, Warner Archive has released two new animation collections, and they’re both on sale right now!
Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics Collection
The Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics Collection has three cartoons, each about twenty-four minutes long: A Christmas Story (1971), The Town Santa Forgot (1993), and Casper’s First Christmas (1979).
In A Christmas Story, Timmy’s letter to Santa won’t get delivered unless hounddog Goober (Paul Winchell) and mouse Gumdrop (Daws Butler) get it to the old guy themselves on Christmas Eve. The logic doesn’t make much sense, and the pressure feels artificial, but it’s a way to tie the typical goofy animals hijinks and original songs into some kind of holiday story. The animation is standard for the H-B productions of the era, limited to just moving mouths and heads and blinking eyes in dialogue scenes, but that’s familiar and comforting in its own way. The two pets face off with a gang of alley cats, which provide a fight-and-chase scene, and enlist the help of the neighborhood dogs. Silly, but it’s not too challenging for kids, who should enjoy all the animals running around.
The Town Santa Forgot is narrated by Dick Van Dyke in rhyme (since it’s based on the poem “Jeremy Creek” by Charmaine Severson). It’s about a selfish little boy who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. Due to his greed, Santa skips his house, teaching him an important lesson — but there’s an unexpected positive side effect as well.
Casper’s First Christmas is more traditionally Hanna-Barbera, with lots of guest stars, including Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, and Huckleberry Hound, who get lost on their trip and wind up visiting the friendly ghost. Casper has been wishing for a Christmas visit from Santa Claus, but his house has been condemned. Where will he live? Will he get along with his guests?
Casper’s voice, done by Julie McWhirter, struck me as weird throughout, so I didn’t enjoy this one as much. Plus, ghosts at Christmas are difficult to do well unless you’re Charles Dickens or Tim Burton. At least the reproduction of all three specials is solid, better than you could get on a saved VHS tape.
Rankin/Bass TV Holiday Favorites Collection
The Rankin/Bass TV Holiday Favorites Collection contains four specials.
The Little Drummer Boy Book II (1976, 24 min.) features Aaron, the drummer boy, trying to get silver bells back from the Romans, so they can be rung to celebrate the birth of Christ. The immortal Greer Garson narrates, giving the story the requisite historical heft. Zero Mostel plays the leader of the Roman tax-collecting soldiers (who sings about the invention of money and greed). The picture has some speckles and scratches, reminding us that these discs are made from the best copy available but aren’t remastered. The stop-motion animation is still impressive, once you think about how much time and effort it takes.
The Stingiest Man in Town (1978, 50 min.) is a retelling of A Christmas Carol, done in traditional drawn animated style. It’s narrated by Tom Bosley playing the insect B.A.H. Humbug with Walter Matthau voicing Scrooge. Not a bad version of the classic, with plenty of good songs, a talented cast, and watchable animation with plenty of movement. The high point of this disc, and a fine choice to introduce kids to the story.
Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980, 49 min.) Pinocchio creeps me out, so I skipped this one, but we’re back to stop-motion. It’s about the puppet setting out to get Geppetto a gift after Pinocchio is tricked out of the money he wanted to use to buy his father a present. He winds up having a variety of adventures, which I suspect are all about the true meaning of Christmas.
The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold (1981, 25 min.) stars Art Carney in a weird mashup of the holiday, Irish legend, and a quest to “reclaim the Christmas gold” from a banshee with the help of a sailor boy. In coming up with this, did someone have too much egg nog?