The (Brief) Case of The Snowman (1982)

Happy Thanksgiving, Cassettes!

This month, we talked all about movies that were based on books. Since it’s still November, we’re continuing that theme with a British TV special from 1982. 

In September of 1978, children’s author Raymond Briggs published “The Snowman,” a wordless picture book that detailed the story of a young boy embarking on a wondrous adventure with the snowman he built that day. Before that, Briggs had repulsed critics with a picture book called, “Fungus the Boogeyman,” and before that, he published a bestseller about a grumpy old man that didn’t even want to work one day a year. That book was called, “Father Christmas,” and detailed the life of Santa Claus. 

But when Briggs set out to write “The Snowman,” he wanted a story that was so quiet, he didn’t include any words. The book begins with comic-strip-like illustrations, panels that increase in size as the story unfolds, leading up to beautiful double-page spreads. The illustrations guide the reader through a nostalgic tale, filled with the magic of childhood. 

“The Snowman” is one of Brigg’s best-known books, returning to collective memory every holiday season. It wasn’t long after its release that a half-hour animated special based on the book premiered on Channel 4 in Great Britain in December of 1982. 

The short film received commercial and critical acclaim, and according to “The Snowman” official website, it has aired on Channel 4 in Great Britain every year since 1982. So, come join us from wherever you are, in whatever weather, to talk about this classic that has touched the hearts of millions of people. 

MAKING OF

  • Raymond Briggs went to art school to become a cartoonist but eventually found himself writing his own stories. By the time he published “The Snowman,” he had a successful career as an illustrator for at least twenty years. 
  • Because “The Snowman” relies only on imagery, it was more important than ever for the illustrations to make the viewer feel the action of the story. Briggs said, “That’s the essence of good illustrating I think, where the drawer really feels a feeling that a figure in the picture is feeling. You’ve got to feel what it’s like to fly, feel what it’s like to slow down as you land. And yet you’ve got to be outside observing it. Very difficult! I’m thinking of giving it up.” 
  • Producer John Coates of the animation studio TVC became interested in optioning the story for a short film. TVC was a well-established studio that had created the animated film “Yellow Submarine” in the late 1960s. 
    • Coates had two assistant animators, Hillary Audus and Joanna Harrison, buy a dozen copies of the book and start cutting it up to make a mock-up animation. 
  • John Coates brought the idea to Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the Chief Executive of Channel 4 at the time. The channel was brand new, and The Snowman was actually one of the first things they ever did. Isaacs felt it would be a stark contrast from the other programming they had planned for the channel, but it was so delightful that he gave it the green light. 
    • According to the Animation World Network, Coates mortgaged his own house to help pay for the project. 
  • Director Dianne Jackson, who had worked on TV commercials for several years, took over the project and created the storyboard “bible.” This “bible” was not to be changed by anyone except for the director or producer. The animators and the composer, Howard Blake, timed the storyboard and used it as their guide to finishing the final product.
  • They were a small team of about 8 animators and they were all given their own sequence to animate. 
    • The animators started by creating keyframes of movement, filling in more drawings based on the timing of the scene. Each drawing was sent to a coloring artist that used colored pencils to fill in the detail. Each image takes about 45 minutes to an hour to color. 
    • One of the most unique visual elements of “The Snowman” is the look and texture of the backgrounds. A background artist would layer every scene with pencil shading, resulting in no solid colors. Because of this, the texture of the paper shows through, giving the feel of a picture book. 
    • “The Snowman” used cell animation, meaning that artists would draw the moving elements of the short film on cells, which would then be placed on a static background and photographed one by one. 
  • The animators have said that they feel like the snowman wouldn’t look right if it wasn’t hand-drawn. In 2012, Briggs signed off on an animated sequel to the short film which was also hand-drawn. 
  • When the short film made it to the US in 1984, the American broadcasters wanted a new introduction with a famous person. So, they chose David Bowie. 
    • Bowie had already gotten in touch with the studio to work on an upcoming film, and even though the producers were nervous to ask him, he happily recorded a new intro. 
  • For the 20th anniversary of the short, the original animators created an opening sequence introducing the story with Father Christmas. This was done in the traditional hand-drawn style so it would match the animation.

THE SHORT FILM

  • The short begins with the little boy waking up to a snowy day, and he’s so excited that he forgets to put on his underpants before his trousers. Roger Mainwood, the man that animated the sequence, said that the number one question he got from children was, “why didn’t he put on his pants?” Mainwood said it was simply because there wasn’t enough time in the scene for it. 
  • In Brigg’s book, the boy and the snowman sit in the family car and play with the lights. One of the assistant animators, Hillary Audus, was a motorcyclist at the time and came up with the idea that they go for a ride. This way, the story could interact with the countryside and location of the story. 
    • The number on the motorcycle plate was the animator’s house number.
  • Joanna Harrison animated the scene in the bedroom when the snowman tries on false teeth. Harrison actually asked her grandmother to take out her false teeth so she could draw them.
  • Near the end of the short, the boy and the snowman travel to the North Pole and meet Father Christmas. Harrison and Audus were the ones that came up with the idea to incorporate the character, simply because he was a subject from another of Briggs’ books. 
    • Briggs thought it was a corny idea but later said that he was wrong and that it worked out just fine. 
    • The boy also receives a Christmas present in the film with a tag that says “James.” Joanna Harrison wrote the name on the tag because she was dating a man with that name, and it just stuck. The gift is a blue scarf with the snowman on it. Two props of the scarf were eventually made, one given to David Bowie.  
  • The most iconic part of the short, and possibly what made it stick in the minds of viewers, is the scene where James, the boy, takes off with the snowman. The pair fly across the world to a hauntingly beautiful song by composer Howard Blake. 
    • Blake had originally written the tune over 10 years earlier while walking on a beach. He felt the music held the sensation of innocence. Blake was visiting a friend at the studio when John Coates asked him if he would consider writing a song for the film. Blake reportedly said, “I think I may have something.” 
      • Blake scored the entire short film, using music to convey every moment of animation. Blake could play the music and tell you exactly what is happening with each sound. 
    • Peter Auty was a 13-year-old choir boy when he recorded the song for the special. Coates later blamed his lack of agent on the fact that the production forgot to credit him, so audiences weren’t aware that it was him. He went on to be an operatic tenor. 
    • Many people believe that singer Aled Jones recorded the original version because his cover of the song topped the charts a couple of years later. 
  • Of course, all great things must come to an end. When James wakes up the next morning, the score reminds us of the excitement from the day before as he runs downstairs to find his friend has melted. The scene is incredibly poignant, especially as the music shifts quickly to a minor sound. 
    • But, as James mourns the loss of the snowman, he reaches into his pocket to discover that the scarf that the snowman had given to him was real. 
    • Composer Howard Blake remarked, “I think why it touches so many people is, the friend melts, and it’s something we all experience. We lose somebody we’re really very fond of, and he’s absolutely heartbroken. But then he has the memory, and the memory is symbolized by the scarf.” 
  • Briggs has said that it didn’t occur to him at the time that the snowman is like a friend, and children see him as a real person. He received many letters asking him to bring the snowman back to which he replied, “ghastly idea.” 

RECEPTION

  • When “The Snowman” first hit shelves, it sold fairly well. It wasn’t until the animated film debuted that the book started flying off the shelves. 
  • The short was nominated for an Oscar, which it did not win. However, it did win the BAFTA for best children’s program! 
  • “The Snowman” has been adapted into a stage show and ballet! 
  • This classic will be 40 years old next year, and it continues to delight audiences to this day. 

From the moment that “The Snowman” begins, it evokes a special kind of nostalgia. There are elements to the story and imagery that we all can relate to in some way. The film is a perfect marriage of visuals and music, and it poignantly portrays the magical, beautiful, and fleeting nature of life. 

Thank you for joining us from wherever and whenever you are, this is another *brief* case closed! 


SOURCES: 

https://www.thesnowman.com/about/

https://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.4/articles/mcgreal1.4.html

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/22/how-the-snowman-melted-david-bowies-heart-raymond-briggs

The Case of Rankin(g) and Bass

Well, Christmas is a-coming and bells begin to ring! Wreaths are on front doors, stores are crowded (though they really shouldn’t be) and Christmas music is assaulting our eardrums once more (just kidding…but am I?) But most of all, it’s that time again to watch the Rankin and Bass Christmas specials! 

Back in the 1960’s, the concept of a holiday TV special was brand new. It started with Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol in 1962. The idea was well-received, with advertisers jumping at the opportunity to profit on the undivided attention of families gathered for the holidays. In 1964, an animation studio known as Videocraft International created a Christmas special about a reindeer with a bright red nose. Although previous holiday specials were generally successful, this quirky stop-motion classic changed the game. 

The success of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was undeniable. The off-beat animation perfectly matched the eccentric, yet lovable characters. So, the animators went to work and produced more holiday specials for years to come. Soon Rankin and Bass, as the company was later known, was a fixture of the holiday season. Their work has become a holiday tradition, and some wouldn’t consider it Christmas without it. 

There are so many specials, we couldn’t possibly talk about all of them. So, we have picked our top 5 favorites! It’s time, cassettes, for Rankin(g) and Bass! 

HISTORY OF RANKIN/BASS

Before we get into our favorite specials, let’s talk about the history of Rankin and Bass! 

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  • In the early 1950’s, Arthur Rankin was an art director for ABC. Eventually he left the network to start his own business, making commercials for ad agencies. Through this experience, he met Jules Bass, when he would deliver materials from Gardner Advertising to Rankin’s studio.
    • The two decided to go into business together, combining Rankin’s experience in Art Direction and Bass’s advertising knowledge. Although it was a no-brainer for the two to create TV commercials, Rankin has always wanted to animate. So, the two men decided to create an animation studio called VideoCraft International (and later, Rankin/Bass.)
    • In the late 1950’s, a Japanese Delegation came to New York, and spoke with people in the entertainment business. One of them was Rankin, who decided to travel to the country in 1958. While he was there, he toured various studios, and fell in love with the animation techniques they employed, which he later called “animagic.” He was also impressed by the speed and quantity of animation that came through the studios; and ultimately, Rankin recognized the immense talent of these animators. Therefore, Rankin and Bass outsourced all the animation for their first series to studios in Japan.
    • Rankin and Bass chose Pinocchio first because he was a well-known character, and they wanted to draw in audiences. Their next series was cell animation, based on characters from The Wizard of Oz (since it had lapsed into the public domain.)
    • One company that was impressed by their work, was General Electric. They commissioned some TV commercial work from Rankin and Bass.
      • Due to the success of the advertisements, the men started planning something bigger for GE: an animated Christmas special!
      • Of course, this special would become the holiday staple known as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer–and as they say, the rest is history.
    • For the next 30 years, Rankin and Bass produced stop-motion and cell-animated holiday specials, TV shows, and live-action films. Their careers were so vast, they can be found all throughout American pop-culture, even in places you might not expect. From the 1980’s series Thundercats, to shows about The Osmonds and the Jackson 5, to specials about Easter, Thanksgiving, and Smokey the Bear–Rankin and Bass did so much more than Christmas specials. They were a full-fledged animation studio that influenced and entertained millions. 
  • But of course, it is Christmastime, so today we are talking about their contribution to the holiday. Let’s start Rankin’ our favorite Rankin and Bass Christmas specials! 
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NUMBER 5

  • THE FIRST CHRISTMAS: THE STORY OF THE FIRST CHRISTMAS SNOW
  • The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow was the 8th Christmas special by Rankin and Bass, and first aired December 19th, 1975 on NBC. 
    • Video Link
    • Plot
      • After a young shepherd is left blind from a lightning strike, the nuns of a nearby abbey take him and his animals in. The priest insists that the nuns send the boy, named Lukas, to an orphanage after Christmas. Sister Theresa, the head nun, tells Lukas about the white Christmases she saw growing up. Lukas is fascinated by the idea of snow, since he has never seen it. His one wish for Christmas is for it to snow, and he asks a friend to describe it to him if it comes. 
      • While the abbey performs their nativity play, snow miraculously begins to fall (since they never have snow in their climate.) Lukas suddenly can see again, as the snow has seemed to cure his blindness. The priest and nuns decide to let Lukas stay with them at the abbey.
    • Making of
      • The special was written by Julian P Gardner, which was a pseudonym for Jules Bass! 
      • The music was done by Maury Laws with lyrics by Jules Bass, just like previous Rankin and Bass specials, but with a special appearance of “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin.
      • This special was made with “animagic,” the term coined by Arthur Rankin to describe the stop-motion process used by the studios in Japan.
        • Ichiro Komuro and Akakazu Kono were the production supervisors for the animagic process, which of course included characters made of foam and latex, with ball-in-socket joints. Animagic also used projected imagery on its miniature sets and characters to add a kind of visual magic to some scenes–like the scene where it snows.
    • Starring 
      • Angela Lansbury stars as Sister Theresa, and also narrates the special. This was of course before she was known as the gentle Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast, but after starring as Miss Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
        • Lansbury is a big name actress, but Rankin and Bass had already been known for introducing young audiences to legendary actors like Fred Astaire, and Mickey Rooney.
      • Cyril Ritchard plays Father Thomas, the priest that wants Lukas placed in an orphanage. Ritchard was a seasoned stage actor, well known for his version of Captain Hook in Mary Martin’s Peter Pan! (You know, the version of Peter Pan that every school library had on VHS in the 90s?) 
        • Ritchard appeared in other Rankin and Bass productions, including the animated Hobbit.
      • David Kelley only gave his voice to a couple other TV shorts in his career, but he is most well-known for the role of Lukas the shepherd boy.
      • Dina Lynn as Louisa
      • Iris Rainer as Sister Catherine
      • Joan Gardner as Sister Jean 
      • Sean Manning, Don Messick, Greg Thomas, and Hilary Momberger provided additional voices.
    • Impact/Why we chose it
      • After watching a lot of Rankin and Bass (and we do mean A LOT,) we decided to include this sweet little special as our number 5 choice. When we think of Rankin and Bass, we imagine classic characters like Santa Claus and Frosty, a brightly-colored and non-religious representation of Christmas. But, Rankin and Bass also created specials based on Christian stories, with passages from the bible and the birth of Christ. 
        • Back in the 1960’s, it was frowned upon to use religious messaging in specials, and A Charlie Brown Christmas really paved the way for more religious subject matter in TV entertainment. This is likely why Rankin and Bass’ first special was secular.
      • The most notable of these is possibly The Little Drummer Boy, which takes place in Bethlehem and features biblical characters. But if you’re looking for a special with religious themes that doesn’t also include murder and brief animal violence, The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow is a great choice.
      • This special is short, and features the comforting voice of Angela Lansbury. For any kids that were raised in Christian households, it features familiar components like the annual nativity play, where the main character plays an angel (a rite of passage for every christian child.)
      • But, more than anything, this special isn’t as heavy-handed as other religious material. The story of Christ isn’t the focus, and there is no hard-learned lesson about believing in God. Instead, the focus is on the simple joy of snow on Christmas.
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NUMBER 4

  • SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN
  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town first aired on December 14th, 1970 on ABC.
    • If you’ll notice, these specials appeared on all different networks, and this was because Rankin and Bass created them specifically for brands and companies, while the network then aired it as an ad for that brand. That’s right, your favorite Christmas specials are just very intricate commercials! 
    • Back in the 60’s and 70’s, there were fewer commercials on TV, so the special is often edited for modern TV viewing, to keep the full runtime under an hour. Sometimes songs are removed, or more troubling scenes will be omitted. 
  • Plot
    • Santa Claus is coming to Town follows the origin story of Kris Kingle, a toymaker who eventually becomes Santa Claus. It starts with a train conductor, reading children’s questions about Santa, which then leads into the story. The special explains where Santa comes from, why he brings toys to children, how he met Mrs. Claus, and why he lives at the North Pole.
    • This framing device is similar to the one Rankin and Bass used for Rudolph, with an outside character addressing the audience and narrating the story. It was a popular style for many live-action specials, giving these programs a feeling of legitimacy–they were like any other Christmas specials, but animated.
  • Making of
    • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is their fifth Christmas special made, and unlike the first special on our list, it was one hour long
    • Written by Romeo Muller, the movie was based around the Christmas song with the same name, with music and lyrics by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, and  originally sung by the American comedian and singer Eddie Cantor in 1934.
      • While the film featured the famous song, it was in amongst original songs by Maury Laws who did the music and lyrics by Jules Bass.
        • This team created most of the Rankin and Bass musical catalog, but they counted this soundtrack among their absolute favorites!
          • Maury Laws later said that this was a very enjoyable project for him because the animation and music gelled so nicely. He said that Mickey Rooney, who played Santa, had the perfect voice to animate to.
      • The script was also slightly influenced by the book by L. Frank Baum entitled The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. While they would later adapt this book into a more faithful adaptation in 1985, some details were used for this film.
    • The story is set in Germany, with the name Kris Kringle coming from German folklore. Many people have noted that most of the characters with German accents are villainous, except for Santa’s mother. Because of this, some have made the connection that the German mayor burning the toys of children is a metaphor for the Nazis burning literature and art during WWII.
  • Starring
    • Fred Astaire as the Postman Narrator, SD Kluger
      • Astaire added some star power to the special, as someone who often hosted his own holiday and TV specials.
        • Kluger was a character of Fred Astair himself, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the performer.
      • The character was so popular, Rankin and Bass brought him back for another special: “The Easter Bunny is Comin to Town.”
    • Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle/ Santa Claus
      • Rooney had a long and legendary career in show business before playing Kris Kringle at age 50, and continued working long after until his death.
      • He reprised his role as Santa Claus in a later Rankin and Bass special that we will talk about here shortly! 
    • Keenan Wynn plays the Winter Warlock
      • Keenan Wynn was the son of famous character actor Ed Wynn, and he had a career of his own as a character actor.
      • He played live-action Disney villains in “The Absent-Minded Professor,” “Son of Flubber,” and “Herbie Rides Again.”
      • His full name was Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn.
    • Paul Frees makes several appearances as Burgermeister Meisterburger, Grimsley, Soldiers, Townsmen, and the Doctor.
      • Frees was a legendary comedian and voice actor, who would often provide voices for the Rankin and Bass specials, even after his retirement.
      • The Burgermeister was one of his most well-known roles, and Frees personally loved voicing him. In case anyone was wondering, a Burgermeister is a German mayor–a “City Master.” 
      • Frees was also known for providing the voice of Professor Ludwig Von Drake, Donald Duck’s paternal uncle. This character hosted episodes on the Wonderful World of Disney, as well as the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sing-along tape.
    • Joan Gardner as Tanta Kringle the Matriarch of the Kringle family and Kris’ adoptive mother. 
      • Gardner was a voice actress that lent her voice to many characters, including Tiny Tim in “Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol” and Bonnie in “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”
      • She also played Sister Joan in our number 5 pick! 
    • Robie Lester as Miss Jessica/ Mrs. Claus
      • Lester was a voice actor and musician that often provided singing voices for characters.
      • She was the singing voice of Bianca in The Rescuers, and Duchess in The Aristocats.
  • Impact/Why we chose it
    • There is no doubt that Santa Claus is Coming to Town is one of the most famous of the Rankin and Bass specials. It still airs every year on regular cable, and is included in holiday special collections. But why did we choose it? This special certainly has star power, with Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney, but it also is one of the most consistent in terms of its music. Sure, there are a couple strange-ish songs, like when Mrs. Claus realizes her love for Kris, or when Kris sings about how each child must kiss him to get a gift–but those cannot undo “One Foot in Front of the Other” and “First toy-maker to the king.” 
    • For many children, this was their first exposure to the lore behind Santa Claus. And although some explanations for Santa were written specifically for this special, there is something to be said for introducing children to the more mythical side of the man that brings them presents every Christmas. There are different Santa origin stories from all over the world, and this shows children that he doesn’t belong to one just one culture, but to everyone. 
    • https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x72h9lf?fbclid=IwAR32SSYD1MM4OJPzUQkb1lnEIgObfW4_upYy7jY5_Ir1aoSBdgZM51C-1Ww 
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NUMBER 3

  • FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
    • Rankin and Bass’s most popular cell-animated Christmas special aired on December 7, 1969 on CBS.
    • It was based on the song, “Frosty the Snowman,” written by Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson.
      • The song was originally performed by Gene Autry, but has since been covered by countless artists. Autry and the songwriters were hoping for a hit as big as “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but the song unfortunately didn’t achieve the same level of popularity.
      • We covered the history of the song in last year’s episode, “A Brief Case in the Snow, man!” So please give that a listen if you would like to hear more about how the song came to be. 
      • Just as a refresher, some believe the song was based on a snowman character created by author Ruth Burman. Songwriter Jack Rollins said it was inspired by his step-granddaughter, who cried after her snowman melted overnight.
    • The special follows Frosty, a snowman brought to life by the magical hat of a failing magician named Professor Hinkle. After seeing what the hat is capable of, Hinkle tries to steal it back and pursues Frosty and a young girl named Karen as they attempt to travel to the North Pole, in search of a place where Frosty will never melt.
      • This was not the first time someone animated Frosty, as United Productions of America made a 5 minute animated short to the song 15 years earlier!
    • Making of
      • Rankin and Bass wanted the special to look like a greeting card, so the characters were designed by Paul Coker Jr, an incredibly talented artist whose illustrations appeared in Mad Magazine, and on Hallmark cards. After Frosty, Coker continued to work with Rankin and Bass for years, often designing cover art and promotional material.
        • The animation supervisor was Steve Nakagawa, who had the same role for “The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians” and “The Smokey the Bear Show,” two more Rankin and Bass productions.
      • This was not Rankin and Bass’ first cell-animated special, as they produced Cricket on the Hearth and Mouse on the Mayflower years earlier. Like all their other animation, however, it was produced in Japan.
      • Romeo Muller, the writer known for Rudolph, Santa Claus is coming to town, and many other Rankin and Bass specials and shows, adapted the story from the popular song.
    • Starring
      • This special was narrated and sung by Jimmy Durante, a well-known musician and actor, and this was reportedly his last performance.
        • Durante had covered the song years earlier, but had to re-record it specifically for the special. The original song didn’t mention anything about Christmas, but since this needed to be specifically a Christmas special, the lyrics were changed to say, “He waved Good-bye saying, ‘don’t you cry, I’ll be back on Christmas day.” 
      • Comedian Jackie Vernon voiced Frosty
        • Although Frosty was well-known before the special, Jackie Vernon really gave Frosty his warm and loving personality. Now it’s impossible to think of the character without imagining his jolly voice exclaiming, “Happy Birthday!” 
        • Vernon’s portrayal of Frosty is iconic, and the special would likely not have been nearly as popular without it.
      • Veteran character actor Billy D. Wolfe played Professor Hinkle.
        • Wolfe was a regular on the Doris Day show.
        • Rankin said that his vocal performance was one of the best they ever had, and his vocal patterns were perfect for animation.
      • Additional voices of Paul Frees and June Foray
        • Of course Paul Frees was part of the fun, bringing the voices of the traffic cop and ticket clerk.
        • June Foray played the children’s school teacher, but she also recorded all of Karen’s lines as well. Karen was re-cast and a different voice actress plays her in the special. Foray later said that this disappointed her, but she still loved the special anyway. There is no known reason for the casting change, though perhaps some executive wanted a child to play the role? 
    • Impact/Why we chose it
      • Much of the Charm of Rankin and Bass specials comes from the animation. They are so well-known for stop-motion, audiences often forget that Frosty is one of their creations. Frosty was able to capture the charm of a Christmas card, and the sweet innocence of playing in the snow. It has a killer cast, all delivering incredible performances. The special reminded viewers of their childhood, bringing back a popular Christmas song, sung by a familiar voice. 
      • Frosty’s story is fun, but also succinct and complete. No time is wasted with extra songs, and it leaves viewers satisfied with a happy conclusion.
      • Frosty still airs every Christmas and it deserves a top spot among all Christmas specials, not just those of Rankin and Bass.
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NUMBER 2

  • THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS
    • This special aired on December 10, 1974 on ABC. 
    • Plot
      • Santa has a cold, and doesn’t want to deliver the Christmas presents this year. This attitude is made worse by a grouchy doctor who tells Santa that no one cares about Christmas anyway. Mrs. Claus, concerned for her husband and the fate of Christmas, sends two elves and the baby reindeer Vixen out into the world to find Christmas cheer. The three of them ultimately land in some trouble, after getting caught in the crossfire between the heat and snow misers, two brothers responsible for cold and hot weather. Afraid for their safety, Santa goes out looking for them, and ends up discovering that the world does still care about Christmas.
    • Making of
      • It’s important to note that this is one of the only two specials on this list that wasn’t created around an existing Christmas carol–yet we heavily considered it for our number one spot. 
      • William J Keenan wrote the special, which was based on a book by Phylis McGinley.
      • This was a one-hour animagic special, featuring songs by Jules Bass and Maury Laws.
        • Although there are several songs throughout the special, none of them compare to the sheer greatness of the heat miser and snow miser songs. In fact, no other Rankin and Bass original song is as memorable.
        • Maury Laws said years later, “People knock on my door and ring me up about that song.”
      • Although the animation was done in Japan, storyboard artist Don Duga was responsible for giving animators a mood to follow. He had worked on several Rankin and Bass productions before this one, like Frosty the Snowman, and was often credited as a continuity artist.
      • Ichiro Komuro and Akakazu Kono were the production managers for the project (they lead many of the Rankin and Bass productions) while the production design was done by Paul Coker Jr.
    • Starring
      • Shirley Booth as both the singing narrator and Mrs. Claus
        • Shirley Booth is best known as the title character in the tv show Hazel, a sitcom about the misadventures of a live-in maid.
        • This was her last role before retiring from acting, so she went out on a good one!
      • Mickey Rooney (once again) as Santa Claus
        • A few years after starring in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Mickey Rooney returned to play Santa, cementing his place in the Rankin and Bass Christmas universe. 
      • Dick Shawn as Snow Miser
        • Shawn was an off-the-wall comedian, often described as a counterculture favorite, as he was bit of an acquired taste.
        • He appeared on shows like “The Love Boat” and “Captain Kangaroo” as well as many films like, “The Producers” and “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” 
      • George S. Irving as Heat Miser
        • Irving was an actor that appeared in many projects. Besides this special, he was most well-known as the narrator in Underdog! 
      • Colin Duffy as the little boy Ignatius Thistlewhite or Iggy for short
      • Ron Marshall as Mr Thistlewhite
      • If you look closely, you can see that Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character appears as a citizen of Southtown USA in the Mayor’s song “It’s Going to Snow Right Here in Dixie.”
    • Impact/Why we chose it
      • Why did we choose this special as our number 2? Honestly? The songs. I mean, there are other great aspects to this special, like the unique story and the message that no one is too old to believe in the magic of Christmas, but the songs really seal the deal. Is there anything funnier than the mini heat misers hopping around on pogo sticks as their leader sings about himself? It really is too much. 
      • Rankin and Bass were well-known for the iconic characters they created in their specials, and their depictions of Christmas have had a major impact on the aesthetic of the holiday, and this special was no exception. 
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NUMBER 1

  • RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER
    • The crowned jewel of Rankin and Bass aired December 6, 1964 on NBC, as part of General Electric’s Fantasy Hour. For a few years, Rankin and Bass had been creating commercials for GE, and since they had been well-received, they decided to make a Christmas special as well.
    • Back in the 1930’s, Montgomery Ward would give out free storybooks to children. One of their catalog writers, Robert L May, created the perfect story to include, about an outcast reindeer named Rudolph.  The store printed 2 million copies that Christmas, and they received letters from children and parents all over the country. Rudolph was a hit! Two years later, the store gave the rights to the story to May, who then teamed up with his brother-in-law  to make it into a song. 
    • In 1948, that song was covered by famous country singer Gene Autry, and a Christmas tradition was born. “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” became one of the most played Christmas songs. 
    • So, in the early 1960’s, Arthur Rankin turned his attention to the story for a Christmas special. Johnny Marks, the songwriter and May’s brother-in-law, was very protective of the property. But, it just so happened that Rankin was his next-door neighbor! Rankin finally convinced his neighbor to let him make the special, and the rest was history.
    • Plot
      • Narrated by Sam the snowman, this special follows the life of Rudolph, a reindeer born with a strange nose that glows red. After being made fun of by the other reindeer, he teams up with Hermey the elf. Together they run into characters like Yukon Cornelius and the abominable snowman, and end up on the island of misfit toys.
    • Making of
      • Rankin wanted a particular look to his specials, and he hired talented artists that weren’t well-known. His goal overall was none of his specials to look the same, so that every story had its own feeling. That’s why Rudolph felt so unique, because no one ever made anything like it before or since.
      • This special was written for the screen by Romeo Muller, and this started a long career partnership between him and Rankin and Bass. It was also directed by Larry Roemer, with assistant director Kizo Nagashima.
      • The songs were written, as usual, by Jules Bass and Maury Laws, with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” both written by Johnny Marks.
        • The song ‘Fame and Fortune’ was not featured in the special until the next year, 1965.
      • The special had about $500,000 in production costs, which was immediately covered by the GE when they purchased the rights to the property for two airings.
        • Because of this, during the first airings, the title page said, “GE presents” while on the DVD versions, it says, “Rankin/Bass Present.”
      • This was the biggest premier of stop-motion television so far, with “animagic” created in Japan.
        • Ichiro Komuro created the puppets, while Tadahito (Tad) Mochinaga was the animation supervisor. 
          • The 22 room sized sets which took a year to complete.
          • The figures had ball joints and each one cost $5000 which included multiple lip and eyepieces. 
      • In later years, the special has been released on DVD with minor changes from the original. The biggest change is the ending. The original airing had the end credits immediately after Santa flies to the island of misfit toys. The credits appear on packages being thrown by an elf from the sleigh. 
        • In the later version of the credits, names are spelled incorrectly.
        • They also shortened one scene from the special to make room for a few moments of the misfit toys getting on to Santa’s sleigh. 
    • Starring
      • Narrated by Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman who was recognized for this role for many years afterwards. He even noted that this role overshadowed even his Oscar win in 1958’s The Big Country.
      • Larry D. Mann as Yukon Cornelius the loveable arctic prospector aiding Rudolph and Hermey on their journey.
        • Larry D. Mann was in several things but most notably as the train conductor in “The Sting”and Watkins in “The Heat of the Night.”
      • Billie Mae Richards as Rudolph (you know him.)
        • She is not only known for being the voice of Rudolph but also Tender Heart Bear in the first and second Care Bear Movies.
      • Paul Soles as Hermey the elf that does not want to make toys but be a Dentist!
        • Paul Soles has made appearances in many things but some of his most notable are when he played Danny in the movie “The Score” and Stanley in “The Incredible Hulk.” (The Hulk with Edward Norton in it.) 
      • Stan Francis as Santa Claus
        • Stan Francis only acted in a few things like “Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans” and “The New Adventures of Pinocchio.”
      • Alfie Scopp as Charlie in the Box, Fireball, and some of the Reindeer.
        • Alfie Scopp was Avram the bookseller in “The Fiddler on the Roof” and has also done voice work for several other projects.
      • Janet Orenstein as Clarice, the little doe that fancies Rudolph before he was cool.
      • Paul Kligman as Donner, Clarice’s Father, and Comet the Coach.
        • Paul Kligman is known for the 1955 musical drama series “Folio” and as General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross in the 1966 “Hulk” series.
      • Carl Banas as the Head Elf, Spotted Elephant, and some of the Other Toys.
        • Carl Banas has done voice work on several things, one being the character Sweetums in the 1971 “Tales from Muppetland: The Frog Prince.”
      • Corine Conley as the Doll and others.
        • Corine Conley has many credits. She has been in a range of movies and tv shows including “Days of Our Lives”, the 2019 “Anne With an ‘E,’” and the 2018 movie “A Simple Favor.”
      • Peg Dixon as Mrs. Donner, Mrs. Claus, and other voices.
        • Peg Dixon was in the 1956 tv movie “Anne of Green Gables,” the 1967 “Spider-Man” tv series, and several characters in the 1972 “Festival of Family Classics” tv series.
    • Impact/Why we chose it
      • When Rudolph first aired, it captured 55% of viewers, and those numbers didn’t decrease for over 30 years. It remains to be the longest-running animated Christmas special, and its popularity has never declined. In 1995 it was the highest rated animated program for the entire year. Rudolph wasn’t just a big deal for Rankin and Bass, but for TV in general. It paved the way for more specials. If not for Rudolph, would we have How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Or A Charlie Brown Christmas? This special also highlighted an unpopular type of animation style, and inspired creators like Tim Burton and other stop-motion artists. 
      • Rudolph not only had incredible songs, but it also yielded colorful characters that audiences would not soon forget. 
      • But most of all, Rudolph is about intolerance. It’s the story of a young reindeer whose father is ashamed of him, of an elf ostracized by his coworkers. It’s a timeless story about people in search of acceptance, and that the parts of us that seem to be our weaknesses may be our best qualities 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

So on Twitter, we asked you guys for your favorite Rankin and Bass Christmas specials, and your ranking was: 

4. Frosty the Snowman

3. Santa Claus is Coming to Town

2. Year Without a Santa Claus

  1. Rudolph 

We used your ranking to decide our number one! We had one comment that we would like to read as well, from Andrew Boynton @guthbrand: “The Hobbit! Before you say that’s not a Christmas special, remember the elves. Also Gandolf is basically a low-carb Santa” So The Hobbit is officially an honorable mention. Thank you Andrew!

Our other honorable mentions are: 

  • The Stingiest Man in Town(1978)
  • Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
  • Twas’ the Night Before Christmas
  • Nestor, the Long-eared Christmas Donkey
  • Jack Frost
  • The Leprechaun’s Christmas gold

Rankin and Bass wasn’t just a Christmas special machine, they were a full-fledged animation studio that heavily influenced animation for years to come. But, their contribution to Christmas is incalculable. We encourage everyone to go and watch all the Rankin and Bass specials, and make a ranking of your own–you won’t regret it!


SOURCES:

The Ka-Case of KaBlam!

From the early 90s until the mid 2000s, children gathered around their TV sets at 8pm on Saturday nights to catch a legendary 2-hour block of programming. It ran on the network Nickelodeon, featuring shows meant for older kids, and of course, a big orange couch.

SNICK, named for “Saturday Night Nick,” featured shows like: Clarissa Explains it all, the Adventures of Pete and Pete, Are You Afraid of the Dark, and so many more. We love these shows so much, it’s hard to imagine a time when they were all airing on the same network. So, to honor a few of them, we are doing SNICK-tember! Each week will feature an episode on a SNICK TV show. The first one on our list? Ka-Blam!

Ka-Blam! was billed as “A New Kind of Cartoon Show,” that featured a mixture of different shorts in a variety of mediums. It played as a video comic book, with the animated hosts Henry and June guiding you through the pages. Ka-Blam was unlike any Nicktoon before it, a strange–yet hilarious–show that perfectly harnessed the magic of 90’s Nickelodeon. 

Today we’re covering the history of this often-forgotten gem. So, grab your popcorn, sit back, relax, and let us turn the pages for you. 

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

  • Many people consider Kablam to be a spin-off from All That, the children’s sketch comedy show that started airing two years before Kablam. 
    • Apparently an episode of All That aired the short: Action League Now before Kablam started airing in 1996.
    • I haven’t been able to track down this episode, but it seems to be a widely held belief.
    • Much like All That, Kablam was a sketch comedy show. The key difference is that the show is animated, but the concepts are similar.
  • Kablam! Premiered on October 11, 1996 as part of Nickelodeon’s plan to extend their prime-time block of entertainment past the usual 8 PM cut-off. It came out alongside another brand new Nicktoon: Hey Arnold!
  • It was created by Bob Mittenthal, Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi.
    • Bob Mittenthal was responsible for classic 90’s Nick shows like, Welcome Freshmen, and Family Double Dare.
    • Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi were, of course, responsible for The Adventures of Pete and Pete (Absolute Heroes, honestly.) 
    • The idea of the show was to fill a half hour with brand new cartoons created by artists all over the country. In a Chicago Tribune article, Will McRobb was quoted saying, “Kids love cartoons and that’s a scientific fact. We are just giving kids more cartoons in a half-hour than they are used to getting and we are giving them stories in a way that’s fresh and new.”
      • Fresh and new is right! The show featured a variety of animation styles, from traditional, to clay, to puppetry, to something they liked to call, “Chuckimation.” (Which we will get to in a minute.) 
      • Shorts like, “Life With Loopy” and “Action League Now!” pushed animation boundaries, and provided a type of entertainment alternative to what children were used to seeing.
  • Henry, June, and Mark
    • Henry and June were two cartoon best friends, and the hosts of Kablam! They provided the in-between segments that tied the wildly different animation together. Without them, the show would seem to be a mis-matched hodge-podge of animation styles. These characters provided commentary on the cartoons, and of course, “turned the page” for viewers.
    • Artist Mark Marek was hired to create the two characters specifically for the show. He operated out of a strip mall (and before that, his basement) in New Jersey. He also owned, “Crank! It! Out! Inc,” a small animation studio.
      • The creators didn’t give Marek a lot of direction, except that Henry should look unkempt–as if he had just gotten out of bed. June was a little more organized, and Henry would be the one who was always catching up to her. Marek filled in the blanks from there.
      • Marek’s studio handled all the animation for the Henry and June shorts.
      • Kevin Kay, Nickelodeon’s former Senior Vice President of Production, told a local New Jersey newspaper that Marek’s style and fairly unknown status as an animator, totally fit with the alternative sensibility of Kablam! 
      • He said, “Mark has a unique talent. We’re very anti-`house style,’ and his work looks very different from everything else that is on our air.”
      • In the beginning, Mark animated the segments by himself, and then with one other animator. By the time the show was done airing, he had a team of 14 people. The 5-minutes of Henry and June for each episode took about three weeks to complete.
    • Henry and June were break-out characters on the show, and Nickelodeon used them as hosts for a summer Nicktoons program. 
    • When Kablam! was in its fourth season, Henry and June got their own special! Nickelodeon was hoping that it could become its own spinoff show. Unfortunately, The Henry and June Show did not get picked up. You can watch the original special here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABsVEPk6gDA 

VOICE ACTORS:

  • Henry was played by 13-year-old Noah Segan.
    • Besides voice acting he also was recently in Knives Out as Trooper Wagner, Kid Blue in Looper, and an x-wing pilot in Star Wars Episode VIII-The Last Jedi.
  • Julia McIlvaine played June.
    • She has worked on several things, some live action and some voice. Examples are Netflix’s Dark, The Seven Deadly Sins, Judging Amy, and Pokemon: Twilight Wings.
  • Bert Pence voiced the general announcer.
    • He has done a few other voice acting jobs, one of the most notable being a narrator for the second episode of Documentary Now!

THE SHORTS

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  • ACTION LEAGUE NOW
    • What quickly became the most popular short on Kablam, Action League Now won over audiences with its childish humor and innovative concept. Created by the same three men who created Kablam, this short followed a heroic group of children’s dolls as they humorously saved the day.
    • The show portrayed how children play with their toys. The audience was meant to imagine an unseen child character, moving the dolls and making them talk. That’s why the events of the show are so zany, they’re meant to come from a child’s imagination. This also explains why the dolls are so miss-matched, a funny collection that you would find on the floor of a child’s bedroom.
    • It was the only segment to air every episode(not including the specials.)
      • It proved to be really popular [on All That], but we decided that it needed to be on its own stage so we made it the anchor of KaBlam!.” -Robert Mittenthal
    • Action League Now! had its own special name for its animation. They referred to it as “Chuckimation!”
      • The name came from the action of chucking the dolls around, just as a kid would do. The creators would throw the dolls, run over them with cars, drop them off the roof, and then just layed funny dialog over the footage.
    • One of the dolls, The Flesh, is notable for not having any clothing. Mittenthal said, “When I was a kid, we used to take action figures and dolls’ clothes off and throw them away. They didn’t have genitalia so it wasn’t dirty. It’s just funny. Just saying the word `naked’ makes kids laugh.”
    • The characters that make up the Action League are various modified dolls and action figures.
      • The Flesh is a refashioned Conan the Adventurer.
      • Thundergirl is a mixture of a Barbie and She-Ra.
      • Stinky Diver is a GI Joe “Shipwrecked” doll with the mask on backwards.
      • Meltman is a GI Joe Cobra figure that has been melted.
      • The Chief and The Mayor are both mixtures of different Playschool People Dolls.
    • The villainous Mayor’s voice was modeled after Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy.
    • Voice Actors
      • Scott Paulsen played the announcer and Meltman.
      • Jim Krenn voiced The Flesh, Bill the Lab Guy, Stinky Diver, and The Mayor.
      • Cris Winter played Thundergirl.
      • Collin M. McGee as The Chief.
    • There was one episode of the show called, “Rock a Big Baby” where Kiss members actually voiced their characters https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118551/ and Harry Connick Jr. played Big Baby?!?!
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  • PROMETHEUS AND BOB
    • Created by Cote Zellers, this segment consisted of claymation (although Zellers did not like this term because the characters were mostly made of foam latex).  It centered around two main characters: One is Prometheus, an advanced alien life-form who continually records his progress in trying to teach the second character Bob (a caveman) how to become evolved. It involved a lot of slap-stick humor that kept you coming back for more!
      • Cote Zellers began by directing commercials. Often there would be leftover sets and equipment that was loaned for another day. He got into the practice of taking these items to create little shorts.
      • The Prometheus and Bob sketch was born from the leftover set for a lottery commercial. He thought it would be funny if an alien tried to teach a caveman how to use fire. This would be the unaired pilot where Bob, after the fire is built, he puts Prometheus on the fire to cook and the monkey flies the saucer into the camera.
        • The producers at Kablam! really liked it but said that this original one could not be used or shown to anyone. He even had to sign a contract saying it would not be released, as it was too intense for kids to watch.
      • David Ernst would help to create the models for the following episodes as Cote would be filming the current episode. Daniel Shklair was the sound director for these shorts. It would mostly be these three men that put together this brilliant segment.
      • You can find the full interview with Cote Zellers here:
    • Each time, a script would have to be submitted for approval. Cote Zellers said that he had a rule. If there were more than 4 notes on the script he would scrap it and start a different one. He did not want to work on something that he felt was not his own.
    • There was a full-length movie planned, but it was eventually scrapped.
      • It had been slated to have David Spade and Chris Farley as Prometheus and Bob but was thrown out when Chris Farley passed away and when Cote Zellers disapproved of the script. What was left of the script was worked into “Gulliver’s Travels” starring Jack Black.
      • The final short that Zellers shot was titled “Painting” but was unaired because it was supposed to be a short before the scrapped movie.
    • In one of the most popular episodes, Tape 677 Evolution Chamber, Prometheus and Bob use the chamber to evolve themselves. Bob turns into Prometheus, Prometheus turns into a version of Bob, and the monkey turns into a modern-day human.
      • The theory behind this episode is that both characters are idiots.
      • Apparently the episode was banned in Kansas for portraying evolution.
    • Voice Actors
      • Prometheus was voiced by Cote Zellers.
        • He said a lot of swear words, which they would have to flip around in the audio.
        • Zellers still thought that it sounded like swear words.
      • Bob was also voiced by Cote Zellers.
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  • SNIZ AND FONDUE
    • Sniz and Fondue was created by Michael Pearlstein who is now known as Mike R. Brandon. 
    • Kablam! was not the first time that Sniz and Fondue appeared. It began as a pilot in 1992 with a short called “Psyched for Snuppa.” In this original pilot Snuppa and Bianca were the main focus and Snuppa was voiced by the musician Meatloaf.
    • This segment was in 3 of the 4 seasons and is done with the more traditional form of animation.
      • When the segment returned as a part of Kablam, Mike Brandon was the only one of the crew to return.
        • He would go on to be its writer, storyboard creator, artist, and voice actor for additional characters.
      • It only was on Kablam for 3 seasons because Mike Brandon’s animation studio, Funbag Animation Studios, was facing bankruptcy while they also were planning animation for the TV series, Watership Down.
    • Sniz and Fondue live with their friends Snuppa and Bianca, as the show follows the four ferrets and their adventures. Sniz is full of life and tends to get into sticky situations, and he usually pulls the anxious and reserved Fondue along for the ride.
    • Voice Actors
      • Rick Gomez as Sniz Bronkowski.
        • Those who are Nickelodeon fans may also know him as Endless Mike Hellstrom from The Adventures of Pete and Pete.
        • Among many other roles he was also Klump in Sin City.
      • Oscar Riba as Squeaky Fondue.
      • John Walsh as Snuppa.
      • Monica Lee Gradischek as Bianca.
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  • LIFE WITH LOOPY
    • This short was created by Stephen Holman. Holman began in the world of animation when he got to work in the last two seasons of Peewee’s Playhouse as a designer. Peewee’s show would greatly influence his personal style because of the mixed media approach within it. 
      • After Peewee’s Playhouse he would go on to create the short “Joe Normal” for Liquid Television on MTV. Liquid Television showcased animation, some of which would become bigger and well known like Beavis and Butthead. Joe Normal combined pixelated live action, stop motion animation, and live puppetry. 
      • In 1993 he and his wife, Josephine Huang, would create their own animation studio called (W)holesome Products Inc. 
        • It was then that he would pitch an idea to Nickelodeon called “We Are the Shrimpskins.” While this live action show would not make it far, only one developed episode, it would be the reason that Life with Loopy exists. When signing with Nickelodeon for the Shrimpskins, there was an agreement in the contract that a short of some kind would be included. This short would end up being Life with Loopy. When Shrimpskins did not continue, Life with Loopy found its perfect home within the Kablam! show.
    • The Life with Loopy segment also combined various art forms by utilizing stop motion, puppetry, and live action pieces done by the show’s creators. 
      • The tricky part with using all these forms was that everything had to match the lighting and atmosphere to make it seem as if it all went together. 
      • Stephen Holman said that doing the live action sequences really helped to break up the long hours spent on animation. It kept it fun and silly. He in fact played several of the live action characters, the most recurring ones being Charlie Chicken and the TV host Hank Hankerman who was meant to be like a David Letterman.
    • Life with Loopy was narrated by Loopy’s 12-year-old brother Larry as he took the audience through the daily life of his family–more specifically his little sister. Loopy is an adventurous young girl, who explores the world around her with imagination and wonder. 
    • The heads were made from metal which is why they have a flatter look but also made it really easy to switch out the facial features as they were magnetic.
    • Voice Actors
      • Danielle Judovits played Loopy.
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  • THE OFF-BEATS
    • The Off-Beats is a traditional animation segment created by Mo Willems, of Codename: Kids Next Door fame. 
    • It had a similar feel to that of the Peanuts TV specials and Hanna-Barbera cartoons due to its art style and jazzy soundtrack. The series itself in story and concept pays homage to the classic Peanuts, especially since the majority of the voice cast are child actors. Originally for the pilot episodes this segment was called “The Misfits” and featured a slightly less developed animation style with different voices.
    • Each segment was two to four minutes in length and are about the title group of outcasts dealing with problems from a rival group called The Populars. The ambience was filled by scoring the short with jazz. It was created mostly with just a piano, drums, and a double bass.
    • Voice Actors
      • Betty Anne Bongo voiced by Mischa Barton
        • She is the leader of the outcast of kids who has her own theme song that she herself sings “My name is Betty Anne Bongo, I sing this little song-O, I sing it all day long-O!” 
      • Tommy voiced by Mark Wagner with his yelling voice by Kevin Seal.
        • He is a self-proclaimed outsider of the group who loves his plaid coat.
      • Repunzil voiced by Trisha Hedgecock.
        • Her name makes sense due to her long floor length hair. She is also the youngest and the most naive.
      • August voiced by Dylan Roberts. 
        • August strives the most to be included with the Populars clique but remains in the status quo with his love for technology, even though most times his inventions are failures.
      • September was the only main character voiced by an adult and that was the creator himself, Mo Willems.
        • September is August’s talking dog with a sarcastic attitude. Although he is there he has no motivation to affect the plot-lines that happen. He is intelligent but yet cannot open a simple can of dog food. You may notice he and his owner August have similarities to Peabody and Sherman.
      • The three “Populars” are Tina, Beth and Billy.
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  • ANGELA ANACONDA
    • Angela Anaconda is a cut-out animated short created by Joanna Ferrone and Sue Rose.
      • These two animators were first known for creating the old mascot for the 7-Up commercials. 
        • His name was Fido Dido, a teenager with a triangular face and wavy hair. He began as a sketch that Rose made on a napkin in 1985, then became a cartoon, and finally was licensed as the mascot for 7-Up by PepsiCo.
      • Sue Rose also is known for creating the popular animated show Pepper Ann.
    • This segment only lived for two episodes within Season one of Kablam! It would, however, go on to become its own show on Fox Family Channel for 65 episodes.
    • In the shorts for Kablam! Angela Anaconda finds herself as the unpopular kid in school that is often mocked by the conventionally pretty Nannette Manoir. She then gets “revenge” on her antagonist but it is mostly just revenge that she imagines to happen. 
    • Every aspect of this segment begins as a photo reference.
      • Each object, even things like hair, is taken from three different viewpoints; the front, side, and three quarter view. All of these images are then stored within a computer database that is easily accessed. 
      • Once they had all these images they would use the program Houdini which would load these images together and switch angles to create movement by quickly changing what angle is shown. 
    • Voice Actors
      • Angela Anaconda was voiced by one of her animators Sue Rose.
      • Nannette Manoir who is the original antagonist of the short, (who is not even french) was according to Sue Rose was the name of an actual person that Joanna Ferrone knew as an adult and disliked for her similar attitude to the character. She was voiced by Ruby Smith-Merovitz.
      • Johnny Abatti is Angela’s love interest though she is only 8 years old. He is voiced by Ali Mukaddam.
      • Mrs. Brinks, her teacher that obviously favors, Nannette is voiced by Richard Binsley.
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  • LOUIE AND LOUIE SHOW
    • This short was only in one episode but featured Louie the Chameleon and Louie the Hamster who are desperately trying to get their owners to pay attention to them.
    • The story was written by Gary Baseman who would later go on to write for Disney’s TV animated show Teacher’s Pet.
    • Voice Actors
      • Louie the Chameleon was voiced by Jim Belushi.
      • Louie the Hamster was voiced by Billy West.
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  • JETCAT
    • JetCat began as an actual comic book series which makes it perfect for the Kablam! line-up. It was created by Jay Stephens and did not appear until Season 3. It would be in a total of 4 episodes. 
    • It centers around a young girl, Melanie McCay, who has an alter-ego which is a cat-themed superhero. 
    • Voice Actors
      • Melanie McCay voiced by Ashley Michelle.
      • Tod Johnson who is her best friend is voiced by Grady Larkin.
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  • RACE RABBIT
    • Created by Scott Fellows was featured in the later seasons, 3 and 4. Scott Fellows was also the creator of the popular Nickelodeon show Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.
    • He’s a British Race Rabbit and he’s tearin’ up the tracks, he’s got a need for speed, but he’s always got time for anybody in need.
      • While helping others he also manages to always foil the plans of the Boolies (from the upper crust.)
    • This segment is live-action and uses real animals as the race rabbit. The other characters were:
      • Gabby McSHOUTS-ALOT, the race announcer.
      • The Boolies are aptly named because they are bullies that want to catch and stuff Race Rabbit for their wall.
      • Superchip M.A.X. is always trying to keep Race Rabbit on track to win the race. She never wants him to stop and help others because it could delay their winning.
        • This superchip takes inspiration from Knight Rider’s K.I.T.T.
  • SURPRISING SHORTS
    • This segment of the show would feature one of a kind shorts that would not be recurring. In the first season Henry and June would introduce them by having June pull-down Henry’s pants which would reveal boxer shorts with fun animals or flowers on them. In all the other seasons they were introduced just as any other short was, by saying it was the world premier. 
    • Some of these shorts were; Lava!, Anemia and Iodine, The Brothers Tiki, Randall Flan’s Incredible Big-Top, and Garbage Boy.

Kablam! Captured 90’s Nickelodeon in the most wonderful way. It was strange, a little gross at times, silly, and original. It was made to showcase artists that were under the radar, and bring them to the forefront. Kablam exposed audiences to stories and characters that they would otherwise never have seen. It was ambitious and entertaining–and very funny. 

I have so many fond memories of Kablam, it felt like a show that was meant just for me. And in that way, it made it the perfect show for Nickelodeon: the first kid’s network.


SOURCES:

Power Rangers

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In 1992, cartoons ruled children’s Prime time programming. This was especially true at Fox Kids, with shows like Batman: The Animated Series, and Bobby’s World. So, the head of Fox Children’s Network, Margaret Loesch, started looking for something a little sillier, a little campier than the regular toons. She took a meeting with a man named Haim Saban, a cartoon music producer and composer. Saban had an idea for a children’s show that he had been pitching to anyone who would listen for the last eight years. Loesch was the first person to take him seriously. 

The show was, “The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” and it would go on to become one of the most popular programs on the network. 

Today we are taking a look at the history of The Power Rangers, and the making of the original series that launched the franchise into a phenomenon. 

History

  • Haim Saban first got the idea for the show in 1984, while visiting Japan. While he was in his hotel room, he saw a show about teenagers that fought monsters. The show was “Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger,” and was the 16th installment of the Super Sentai Franchise.
  • Because the kids wore suits and masks, Saban realized that anyone could be fighting the monsters. He knew that action sequences are normally the most expensive part of shooting a show, and came up with the idea for a program that would use this footage and shoot the rest of the story-line in America
    • Saban not only thought that this would be a smart way to make a cheap show, he believed in the project. He knew that the show in Japan was incredibly popular, and that there had never been a similar live-action American show.
      • It must be said however that at the same time in 1984, an animated show had similar visuals and concepts, called Voltron.
    • Saban bought the show immediately and brought his concept back to the US to pitch to studios
    • As we said in the beginning, eight years went by before the head of Fox Kids, Margaret Loesch, saw something that no one else did. 
  • According to an LA Times Article from 1993, Loesch was the only person at Fox that thought The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was a good idea. Her colleagues even asked her what her plan was for damage control once the show would flop.
  • But, Margaret was struck by the similarities the show had to old-school Godzilla movies.
    • Up to that point, everyone that had turned Saban down explained that the show was too cheesy. But this was exactly why Loesch wanted it for Fox. She knew a lot of people loved the old movies with fake-looking monsters, obvious effects, and un-synced lip dubbing. There was something classic about the style that she knew would resonate with audiences and that children would latch onto.
  • After Saban screened a pilot episode for Loesch, she ordered the first season to premiere in 1993. They immediately started shooting 40 episodes for the first season.
  • As shooting began in the US for the live-action sequences of the rangers without their helmets, Saban was involved in every part of the process.
    • According to Saban, once the show had been produced, the CEO of Fox and its affiliates declared that the show was horrible and they weren’t going to air it.
    • So, Loesch decided to air the show in the summer for 8 weeks with 40 episodes (7:30 am time slot). 
    • The show premiered on August 28, 1993 and it was an instant success.
    • By week 2, it was beating Batman for views even though Batman was at the better time slot of 4:30 pm. So she switched it to a better time. 
  • For the 2-11 age group, there was almost no competition from other shows. At its peak, the show reached 4.3 million children, making it as popular at The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Making of

  • Saban wanted kids that other kids could relate to and see themselves in. They wanted an ethnically diverse group. At the end of all the casting calls, they ended up with two groups: One that was the taller model-esque group and the other which is the group they went with.
    • It was also important to Saban that the girls in the show were featured as much as the boys, and just as important character-wise.
    • He felt that young girls didn’t have a lot of action characters to look up to, and he was right .
  • When Fox announced that they were gonna back the show, they didn’t like the original name for the show, which was “Dino Rangers.” So, in 10 minutes, the crew came up with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. 
  • Every script had a theme based around the look of the monster in the stock footage for the week.  For example when the monster was a big pig monster that would eat everything the episode was about a bake-sale.
  • They shot about 4 episodes a week, so it was a very rigorous work week for everyone.
  • The guys would go in about 5 AM but the girls would go in even earlier for hair and makeup.
  • A lot of time was spent in the ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) room to redo audio because of wind, planes, etc.
  • The feel of the show was a Combination of Voltron and Saved by the Bell essentially, which were two of the most popular shows before Power Rangers came around.
  • The theme song was written by Ronald Aaron Wasserman, who also wrote songs for the series

Popularity

They did mall tours, TV shows, etc for publicity. They did lots of promotional materials and were even DARE ambassadors.  This was done in all in different countries too.

They drew a large crowd at Universal Studios filling the studio with about 35,000 people in one day. They were basically the “Beatles” of kids television. 

Toys

  • Bandai America released a series of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers toys to coincide with the new series. As Mighty Morphin’ was carried over from Zyuranger, the result was a mix of re-purposed items and new items.
  • The most popular being the 8” figures of the rangers and villains. They were later re-released during season two as “auto-morphin’” figures where the characters head would flip from their face to the helmet with the press of a button. 
  • The multiple Zords were also extremely popular and were by far the largest toys produced for the series. There are versions that are one piece and ones that come as their smaller form but can be combined to create the Megazord. 

Synopsis

  • The LA Times described the show as: a live-action superhero series that bears a distinct kinship to old, low-tech “Godzilla” movies: Cheesy alien costumes, mismatched lip movements and dialogue, and clumsy battles between the monster army of Rita Repulsa, Empress of Evil, and dinosaur robots controlled by the Power Rangers, who are teen-age karate experts in crayon-colored space suits.
  • Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is about five average teenagers (with attitude) who were chosen by an inter-dimensional being named Zordon to fight against the evils of the universe. The villainous Rita Repulsa has escaped a space dumpster on the moon, and intends to destroy the Earth with her horde of putty patrollers. 
  • As the show progresses, the rangers pass on their powers to new people, and meet more villains such as Lord Zedd.
  • In the original show, each ranger had their own “Dino Zord” and together it made up one Megazord.

Starring

Original Rangers:

  • Thuy (pronounced Twee) Trang (Yellow Ranger)- Trini
    • Her family came over to America to escape from the Vietnam war. She died at 27 from a car crash.
  • David Yost (Blue Ranger) – Billy
    • He was 24 at the time he was cast on the show, so he was the oldest ranger.
    • Years later he revealed that he was bullied on the set for being gay. 
  • Walter Emanuel Jones (Black Ranger) – Zach 
    • Originally cast as the Billy the blue ranger.
    • He is missing the middle finger on his left hand.
  • Austin St John (Red Ranger) – Jason
    • He was a regular high school student that taught martial arts on the side. Even though he disliked cameras and was uninterested in acting he was bet by a friend for $20 that he would not be wasting his time to try out.
  • Amy Jo Johnson (Pink Ranger) – Kimberly
    • After sharing the pilot with friends they said “Well, you know, your next job will be bigger or better.”
  • Jason David Frank (Green Ranger that came later) – Tommy 
    • The green ranger was originally meant to only be a temporary character, but became highly popular with audiences.
    • Tommy transitions to be the group leader and Jason David Frank ended up being on the show longer than any other ranger.
    • He also became the White Ranger.

Other characters

  • Paul Schrier as Bulk
  • Jason Narvy as Skull
  • David Fielding as Zordon
  • Richard Horvitz as Alpha 5- He loved playing evil Alpha
  • Machiko Soga as Rita Repulsa (and voiced by Barbara Goodson)
  • Ed Neil as a recurring Putty Patroller
  • Bryan Cranston
    • It’s worth noting that Bryan Cranston got a lot of voice work playing villains on Power Rangers before he made it big. This was why he was cast as Zordon in the 2017 reboot film 

Sources:

Avatar The Last Airbender

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Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, well, 15 years ago, Nickelodeon premiered a TV show that is still considered to be one of the best animated shows of all time: Avatar the Last Airbender. In the era of Spongebob, Fairly Odd Parents, and Drake and Josh, this show stood out for its animation style, intense storyline, and unique characters. 

Although it aired on a children’s network and is widely considered to be a children’s show, Avatar appeals to many different audiences and age groups. It’s a series of breathtaking animation and detail, funny quips, and heart-felt moments. 

 

How it came to be

  • In the early 2000s, Nickelodeon was shifting its focus to include shows that explored more mythical and legendary storylines. Eric Coleman, the Vice President of Animation Development approached Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and asked them for a show pitch. The men returned one month later with the early concepts that would become Avatar: The Last Airbender. 
  • The original Aang was a bald kid with no arrow, though he was drawn with a robot cyclops and and polar bear that both had arrows. The robot monkey was the first inspiration for Momo, while the polar bear became Appa. 
  • Inspired by documentaries about antarctic exploration, the team developed a show concept about nations of people, based on the four elements. One of the key pieces of the puzzle was how to create an action show without too much violence. So, they created the idea of bending elements instead of weaponry. They pitched the story to Eric Coleman two weeks later, and the team started working on a pilot. Bryan went to Korea for a few months to work with artists there on the initial eleven minute episode. 
  • The characters were complex, and animators would sometimes spend as much as 15 hours in the studio, trying to complete the pilot in time. Once the pilot tested well, the show was greenlit for 13 episodes!
  • The tricky part about the show being picked up meant that they now had more work to do with pretty much the same deadline. Bryan and Mike put together a large team of writers, animators, and musicians to get the job done. 

 

The Making of Avatar

  • The martial arts
    • The team was dedicated to learning traditional Chinese martial arts styles, so they sought out Sifu Kisu, a martial arts teacher who helped them develop the individual fighting styles of the four nations.
    • Another martial arts teacher, Sifu Manny, came in to help develop a different style for Toph. Because Toph is a blind character, her fighting style would be different than other characters in the show. Sifu Manny’s method was rumored to have been created by blind warriors on a remote island. 
      • The style worked for Toph because it could be achieved without having to look at an opponent. 
    • Brian and the director would take the script for each episode and choreograph the fight scenes with live actors as reference for the animators.
  • The Animation
    • The creators wanted an expansive view of the universe, with wide shots of beautiful landscapes.
    • The variety of imagery made the show much more dynamic than many other animated children’s shows at the time; with wide, medium, tight, and detail compositions that gave the viewer a strong sense of the universe
      • They wanted it to be cinematic.
  • The Music
    • Jeremy Zuckerman and Ben Wynn were the track team that created the music for the show.
  • The story
    • In a world of elemental magic, there are four elemental nations: The Northern and Southern Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. The Avatar, the one person who can control all elements, upholds the balance of the nations. The Avatar is reincarnated into a young boy named Aang, who is reawakened after being frozen in ice for 100 years, to embark on a dangerous journey to fulfill his destiny. With the help of friends he meets along the way, he will have to fight to bring peace to the world.
    • The success of the show came from how well it was made, but what truly connected with fans was the story and characters.
    • The story was meant from the beginning to have a finite ending, with three seasons and 61 episodes.
      • No matter how upset it made creators and fans, Bryan and Mike were consistently clear that the show would end, and building toward that ending was what made the story so solid.
    • Aang
      • Played by Zach Tyler, Aang is a young monk from 100 years in the past.
        • Michael and Bryan initially imagined Aang to be from 1000 years before the events of the show, from a more advanced civilization. In early drawings, he had a futuristic staff and robot sidekick.
        • The air nation, which Aang is from, was inspired by Buddhist and Tibetan societies. 
        • Aang is a cute, fun-loving 12-year-old kid that was thrust into an impossible situation with immense responsibility. He is a skilled martial artist, and as the Avatar he is the most powerful bender in the world. But, because of his nature and upbringing, he is hesitant to use that power to hurt others.
        • Aang goes through a lot of change in the series, though he never abandons his beliefs, even when everyone tells him he should.
    • Appa
      • Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, Appa is Aang’s best friend and flying bison. The artists were inspired by manatees and bison to draw Appa. His six legs were a direct reference to the Catbus in My Neighbor Totoro from Hayao Miyazaki.
      • Originally there were going to be 20 bison, which was broken down to just a small family of two adult bison and their calves. Eventually they settled on only one.
    • Momo
      • As we said before, Momo was originally a robot! But, his name was Momo-3. The show slowly became less sci-fi and the creators transformed a talking robot to a cross between a ring-tailed lemur and spotted bat.
      • Momo was almost dropped from the story, but instead Aang finds him at the deserted air temple as a symbol of hope for the future.
      • Momo was also voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.
    • Katara
      • Voiced by Mae Whitman, the creators considered Katara to be the heart of the show. In a parody episode called “The Ember Island Players,” the show jokes about Katara’s infatuation with hope. But, this was a big part of her character.
      • To the creators, it was important that there would be a strong female lead to appeal to young girls watching the show. The show itself was targeted to boys, but Bryan and Mike always knew that young girls would also be interested in an action-adventure epic as well.
      • Katara’s original name was Kya, but there was a video game character named Kya and it had to be changed. Her second name was Kanna before they settled on Katara. Kya is Katara’s mother’s name and Kanna is her Gran Gran.
    • Sokka
      • Played by Jack De Sena from the All That reboot, Sokka was very clearly the comic relief of the show. He was created with Katara to have a sibling rivalry, and was meant to appeal to the audience as an everyman.
      • Sokka has one of the best character arcs in the show, as he transforms from a brash kid that hides his insecurities with humor, to a confident leader of Team Avatar.
    • Toph
      • Voiced by Jessie Flower, Toph is the toughest character and one of the most powerful benders on the show. Toph comes from a rich, pampered background where she was forced to be someone she wasn’t. Although she was born blind, she learned earthbending from blind badger moles. 
      • Toph was originally a male character, until one of the head writers, Aaron Ehaz of Dragon Prince fame, suggested they make her female. Aaron argued for a long time until finally he won over the creators. The idea of taking such a huge, brash personality and placing it in a cute young girl really worked with the character.
      • Jessie Flower originally voiced a character in one episode of season one, and the creators liked her so much that they asked her back to play Toph.
      • Even though they thought including another female lead would connect to girls, the most comments about Toph came from young men who cited her as their favorite character.
        • Seugn Hyun Oh, a supervising director was quoted in saying, “She is blind, but I don’t know how to express in English, she just won.
    • Zuko
      • Voiced by Dante Bosco (Hook) Zuko is a fan favorite. He undergoes possibly the most change of any character in the show, and introduces the audience to the concept of a villain you can root for. Zuko has a complicated past that the show reveals over time, and acts with a sense of purpose. The show begins with him knowing exactly who he is, and we watch him become more and more unsure over time.
      • Originally, the show only had one villain: the Firelord. Zuko came about when Eric Coleman asked about a character that actively pursued the avatar and Zuko was born.
    • Uncle Iroh
      • Another fan favorite, Uncle Iroh was voiced by Mako and later Greg Baldwin. 
      • The creators initially thought Iroh would just be a teacher, but then they decided it would be more interesting if he were related. Aaron Ehaz described him as a man trying to enjoy his retirement but was forced to watch his nephew instead. It was Mako though, the original voice actor, who gave uncle the level of wisdom and personality that made fans fall in love with Iroh. 

 Also Starring

  • Jennie Kwan as Suki
  • Grey Griffin as Azula
    • Azula is one of the most complicated and layered characters in the show. She is a villain audiences loved to hate, and she shoots blue fire to stand out against Zuko’s orange fire. 
  • James Garrett as Avatar Roku
  • Mark Hamill as Fire Lord Ozai

The finale is a rare accomplishment, ennobling the characters and bringing a satisfying conclusion to both its world and Aang’s spiritual struggle between his beliefs and the violence the world wants from him as the Avatar.

Awards

  • Primetime-Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Animation in 2007
  • Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Cartoon in 2008
  • Peabody Award in 2009

Drink of the week:  The Jasmine Dragon

Here’s a link to the documentary:

Sources:

The Case of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Picture it: You’re in second grade, coming off a rigorous school week. You open your eyes to a quiet house on a Saturday morning, and sneak downstairs. No one else is awake, and the TV is all yours. You have a seat with a bowl of cereal and turn on your favorite Saturday Morning Cartoon…

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If you grew up in the 1960s, maybe you watched Magilla Gorilla, the Flintstones, or Johnny Quest. If you were a 90s kid, maybe you watched Captain Planet, Recess, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No matter the programming, Saturday Morning Cartoons was a tradition that spanned nearly 6 decades. It’s a shared experience had by children of multiple generations, which makes it pretty special. Today, we will discuss the history of the Saturday Morning Cartoon, and highlight some of our favorites from our childhood. We will not be able to cover many shows from other decades, but maybe we will do another episode down the line!

What do we mean by Saturday Morning Cartoon? Pretty self explanatory. Cartoons that aired on Saturday mornings, usually during time slot of 8am to 12pm. This tradition would flourish from the late 1950’s to the late 1990’s. There are still a few remaining cartoon shows on the major networks on Saturday mornings, but not many.

 

History:

  • The first cartoon produced for television aired in 1950 and was called Crusader Rabbit. It consisted of 5 minute long episodes and ran for three seasons. Created by Alexander Anderson and Jay Ward, its main characters were Crusader Rabbit and his sidekick Ragland T. Tiger, or “Rags”
    • In the late 1940’s, a producer named Jerry Fairbanks sold NBC on a new concept: a TV show meant solely for TV. Networks were looking for kid-friendly content to show on Saturday mornings, but no cartoons had been created specifically for this purpose
    • Since the days of radio broadcasts, the peak time for children to tune in, was between 10am and noon on Saturdays.
    • Even though Crusader Rabbit was moderately successful, many networks stuck with kid-friendly live-action programs instead.

  • The success of Crusader Rabbit inspired many more television cartoon character packages. And Jay Ward would even go on to produce The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
  • Until the late 1960s, a number of Saturday-morning cartoons were reruns of animated series originally made for prime time. The first true “Saturday morning cartoon” was Mighty Mouse Playhouse. We all know who Mighty Mouse is, a cartoon version of Super Man (was even originally called Super Mouse)
    • Mighty Mouse was a gamble for CBS back when they brought it to their Saturday Morning line-up in 1955, but it was the incredible success of this show that ushered in a new era of made-for-TV cartoons.
  • The character first appeared in 1942 in many theatrical films, however,  what really brought the character into the mainstream was television. Mighty Mouse Playhouse ran on CBS for 12 very successful seasons.

In order to cut costs, animators made sure to use cost-cutting techniques that would also save a lot of time. Hanna-Barbara was well-known for these techniques. They would often use similar character models for shows.  They designed characters with wide collars so they could easily animate them turning their heads, would only move characters’ mouths when they were talking and nothing else in the frame, and so on. The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and Johnny Quest all come to mind when we think about these techniques. 

Where animation might have been lacking, the shows would make up for with wit! The shows were well-written with some adult humor to appeal to the whole family. 

The Shows:

  • Pepper Ann (ABC, 1997-2001)
    • Created by Sue Rose and aired on Disney’s One Saturday Morning on ABC. New episodes ran until 2000 and reruns ran for another year after.
    • Pepper Ann was the very first animated television series for Disney to be created by a woman and would be until 2015!!
    • Tom Warburton served as lead character designer for the series. He would later go one to create Codename: Kids Next Door.
    • The show is a comedy about a 12-year-old Pepper Ann who manages to put other kids off by her slightly-nerdy behavior, constant bad timing, and insistence on trying to be cool. And to make matters worse, she’s just started middle school. Which we all know is a nightmare!
      • Pepper Ann voiced by Kathleen Wilhoite.
        • Twin Peaks
        • Family Guy
        • 24
        • Gilmore Girls
  • Recess (ABC, 1997-2001)
    • The show was created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.
    • Recess premiered in 1997 on ABC, as part of the One Saturday Morning block, and ran for 6 seasons. The show was successful enough to be syndicated to other channels including Toon Disney (now Disney XD) and the Disney Channel.
    • Recess follows the lives of six fourth graders, Theodore Jasper “T.J.” Detweiler, Vince LaSalle, Ashley Spinelli, Mikey Blumberg, Gretchen Grundler, and Gus Griswald, as they go about their days at Third Street Elementary School.
      • TJ voiced by Andrew Lawrence
      • Vince voiced by Rickey D’Shon Collins         
      • Spinelli voiced by Pamela Adlon
      • Mikey voiced by Jason Davis
      • Gretchen voiced by Ashley Johnson
      • Gus voiced by Courtland Mead
    • A major point of the show is that the students at school represent a microcosm of our society complete with its own government, class system, and even a monarchy. They are ruled by a sixth grader named King Bob, and the society has a long list of rigid values and social norms.
  • Animaniacs (Fox, 1993-1995; The WB, 1995-1999)
    • Animaniacs was created by Tom Ruegger. It is the second animated series produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Animation, after Tiny Toon Adventures.
    • The show first aired on Fox as part of its Fox Kids before moving to The WB. It initially ran a total of 99 episodes and one movie.
    • Most episodes were composed of three short mini-episodes, each starring a different set of characters. (Think Saturday Night Live style).
    • Hallmarks of the series included its music, memorable catchphrases, celebrity caricatures, and humor directed at an adult audience.
    • A reboot of the series was announced by Hulu in January 2018, with two seasons to be produced and are expected to air starting in 2020.
      • Yakko voiced by Rob Paulsen
      • Wakko voiced by Jess Harnell
      • Dot voiced by  Tress MacNeille
  • The Bugs Bunny Show (CBS, 1978-1985) AKA Looney Tunes
    • This went by many names over the years
      • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour
      • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show
      • The Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes Comedy Hour
      • The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show
    • The show was originally broadcast as a primetime half-hour on ABC in 1960, featuring theatrical Looney Tunes cartoons with new linking sequences hosted by Bugs Bunny, produced by Warner Bros.
    • After two seasons, The Bugs Bunny Show moved to Saturday mornings, where it remained for nearly forty years.
    • In 2000, the series at the time (The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show) was canceled after the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies television rights became exclusive to Cartoon Network.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (syndication, 1987-1990; CBS, 1987-1996)
    • The initial motivation behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series came from wanting to make toys based on the characters. However, because the comic-book characters only had a small following, the company Playmates Toys was uneasy about moving forward. They requested that a television deal be acquired first, and after the initial five-episode series debuted, the toy company released their first series of Ninja Turtles action figures 1988.
    • The show was in Saturday morning syndication from 1988 to 1989 and became an instant hit. The show was expanded to five days a week and aired weekday afternoons until 1991. Starting in 1990 (with a different opening sequence), the show began its secondary run on CBS’s Saturday morning lineup. The full series ran until 1996, when it aired its final episode.
    • The show helped skyrocket the characters into the mainstream and became one of the most popular animated series in television history. By 1990, the cartoon series was being shown daily on more than 125 television stations, and the comic books sold 125,000 copies a month.
  • Captain Planet (TBS 1990)
    • Captain Planet and the Planeteers is an animated television program created by Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle that focuses on friendship and environmentalism. 
    • The show aired on TBS in 1990 and ran for two years, then came back under the title, “The New Adventures of Captain Planet”. This version aired from 1993 to 1996. 
    • Pyle cites that the inspiration for the five Planeteers came from real people that she met during the show’s pre-production. 
    • The show’s intro theme was composed by Tom Worrall. “Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero!”
    • The show may have only lasted 6 years, but the impact it had on society has lasted much longer. The Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was founded in 1991, when series producer Barbara Pyle negotiated a percentage of the show’s merchandising revenue to empower young people.
      • Captain Planet voiced by David Coburn
      • Kwame voiced by LeVar Burton (earth)
      • Wheeler voiced by Joey Dedio (fire)
      • Linka voiced by Kath Soucie (wind)
      • Gi voiced by Janice Kawaye
      • Ma-Ti voiced by Scott Menville

Honorable Mentions:

Proud Family

Little Bear

Babar

Berenstain Bears- Michael Cera voiced Brother bear

Voltron

Sources:

IMDB

History of Saturday Morning Cartoons

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/30/saturday-morning-cartoons-are-no-more/

https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/the-greatest-saturday-morning-cartoons/

Hey Arnold Christmas

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to The Christmas Case Diaries 😉 Today is an extra exciting  episode because not only are we continuing with our theme or Christmas TV specials, we are also joined by a VERY special guest: Brett Wilson!

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(The beautiful art done by none other than Brett Wilson for this episode!)

Brett is an incredibly talented artist, and somewhat of an expert on classic Nickelodeon. So, we called him in to help us this week as we discuss the 1996 Hey Arnold holiday special: Arnold’s Christmas!

Tune in as we talk the brief history of Hey Arnold and why this special still brings tears to our eyes every Christmas. 

Hey Arnold History

  • The character Arnold was created by Craig Bartlett in the late 1980’s, first as a stop-motion character made from Plasticine (a clay-like material)
  • He and his wife Lisa Groening came up with the name together, and Lisa helped with other concepts of the show as well.
    • If the name Groening sounds familiar, Lisa’s brother is Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons.
  • Bartlett created three shorts in this medium, one was called, “Arnold Rides a Chair” which aired on Sesame Street! 
  • After these shorts and a run of comics in Simpson’s Illustrated magazine, Bartlett was able to sell the idea of an animated TV show about Arnold and his friends to Nickelodeon.
  • In October of 1996, Hey Arnold premiered on Nickelodeon.
    • The original pilot was a short that aired in theaters before the movie, “Harriet the Spy” and was later reworked into an episode called “24 Hours to Live” 
    • The show focused on Arnold, a 9-year-old boy growing up in the city of Hillwood, a nondescript urban setting that was a conglomerate of Seattle, Portland, and Brooklyn.
    • Arnold lives in a boarding house filled with unique and hilarious tenants, including his two loving grandparents Phil and Gertie. Arnold is a loving soul who sees the best in everyone, even his constant bully Helga Pataki. He navigates problems of everyday life with his best friend Gerald at his side, along with a cast of wonderfully strange characters. 
    • The show was a perfect blend of the relatable and the surreal; with realistic issues and settings mixed with cartoonish action and characters.
  • Later that year, the first half hour episode of the show came in the form of a holiday special called, “Arnold’s Christmas.”
    • Before the special aired, the show tended to be more light-hearted. This episode covered serious concepts that brought a new level of emotion for the show. 

Starring: 

  • Lane Toran (credited as Toran Caudell) as Arnold
    • He is an actor and musician who also voiced King Bob in the TV show “Recess” 
    • He returned for the Hey Arnold Jungle movie as Che, a handsome young man that falls for Olga (Helga’s older sister). 
    • He is also directing and starring in an upcoming film called “Getaway Girls” 
  • Francesca Marie Smith as Helga
    • She also voiced characters in “Recess” including Ashley B, and did various voices for the VeggieTales TV series.
    • Francesca voiced Helga all the way through Hey Arnold’s initial run and even reprises her role in 2017 for The Jungle Movie.
  • Jamil Walker Smith as Gerald
    • After playing Gerald for the run of the show, he went on to have a recurring role in Stargate Universe. He has found steady work as an actor and will also be in the movie “Getaway Girls”
  • Tress MacNeille as Grandma Gertie
    • An incredibly talented voice actor, Tress MacNeille is known for playing Dot in the animaniacs, and has provided voices for The Simpsons and Futurama. She has a recurring role as Daisy Duck in many Disney projects.
  • Dan Castellaneta as Grandpa Phil 
    • Hey Arnold has a lot of ties to the Simpsons, and Dan Castellaneta is one of them. He has been voicing Homer Simpson since 1989
  • Baoan Coleman as Mr. Hyunh
    • He played Mr. Hyunh for 28 episodes of the show
    • He also had a supporting role in Rambo: First Blood Part II, but Hey Arnold was his last acting credit
    • According to IMDB, Baoan Coleman was at the actual fall of Saigon, which is depicted in the episode when Mr. Hyunh hands Mai to a soldier on a helicopter. I can’t find other sources to back this up, but I thought it was interesting to mention
  • Hiep Thi Le as Mai
    • She acted in a few things since Hey Arnold, including the TV movie “Cruel Intentions”
    • She was born in Vietnam and was separated from her family during the war, similar to her character Mai in the show.
  • Vincent Schiavelli as Mr. Bailey
    • A well-known and respected character actor, he also voiced Pigeon Man in another popular episode of Hey Arnold.
    • He played Lazarus in “Bride of Boogedy” which we talked about earlier this year, he was a teacher in the John Cusack movie, “Better of Dead” 

Arnold’s Christmas: The Story

  • The story for Arnold’s Christmas was created by Craig Bartlett, Steve Viksten, and Joe Ansolabehere. Steve Viksten wrote the episode.
  • After names have been drawn for the boarding house Secret Santa, Arnold is distraught to find that he has been given Mr. Hyunh, a member of the boarding house that he knows very little about
    • In this scene, Grandma wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving. This started the gag in the show that Grandma always mixes up the holidays. Watching this with Marci, it confused her about the timeline and made her think that the episode jumped ahead to Christmas shortly after.
  • Desperate to figure out the right gift, Arnold visits Mr. Hyunh and asks him about his life. Mr. Hyunh tells Arnold a harrowing tale about his life in another country, and a war that separated him and his infant daughter. Mr. Hyunh came to the US in search of her, but has yet to find her. 
    • This episode was the first of the show to feature a real life event: the Vietnam. They never explicitly say which war or Mr Hyunh is referring to, but images and key phrases would indicate Vietnam. For example, Mr Hyunh says, “there was a war in the north,” and we see images of him running past a ripped American flag. The war was between North and South Vietnam, and involved the US as we were a principal ally of south Vietnam. 
    • When Saigon fell, helicopters did in fact take refugees out of the city, just like in the show. The government wasn’t liberated until 1995, about 20 years later and Mr Hyunh says it took him 20 years to get out of the country. 
    • This episode is often lauded for “giving kids credit” and focusing on serious subject matter in a children’s TV show, and later on the show mentions Vietnam again when we find out that Gerald’s dad fought in the war as well.
  • Arnold is now inspired to make Mr. Hyunh’s dream of seeing his daughter a reality, and springs into action. Arnold heads to the federal office of information, and he and Gerald beg a man named Mr. Bailey to locate Mr Hyunh’s daughter. Mr. Bailey tells the boys that he would do so, if they finish his Christmas Eve shopping. So, the boys set out to get everything on the list.
    • Mr. Bailey is very likely a reference to George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the famous character played by Jimmy Stewart  
  • Somewhere else in Hillwood, we see Helga trying to find a gift for her secret crush: Arnold. She eavesdrops on the boys and discovers what they are trying to do. The last item on their list is a pair of incredibly rare Nancy Spumoni snow boots that Helga also wants for Christmas. 
    • In the Hey Arnold universe, there’s a character named Dino Spumoni who is their version of Frank Sinatra. In real life, Frank Sinatra had a daughter named Nancy who sang the song, “These Boots are Made for Walking.” The snow boots are an obvious reference to Nancy Sinatra. 
  • After Arnold and Gerald return to Mr. Bailey with all the items except the snow boots, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them (what a terrible person). The boys walk away, feeling dejected.
  • Helga heads home to her own family’s Christmas, and her mother gives her a Christmas gift. They are the Nancy Spumoni snow boots! Helga thanks her mom and runs out into the snow with joy and excitement. She dances around in happiness until she remembers that Arnold needs the snow boots as well. 
    • Up until this point in the episode, Helga has repeatedly said that Christmas is all about presents and that she hopes her parents “didn’t screw up” her gift. When her mom hands her the boots, she tells her that she stood in line for hours to get them. This is especially poignant because Helga has a troubled home life, with parents that are somewhat neglectful and much more caring toward her sister.
  • Helga brings Mr. Bailey the boots and begs him to stay and find Mai. She gives a speech about the true meaning of Christmas, and points out that not only would Mr Hyunh and his daughter not be reunited, but his actions would destroy Arnold’s faith in miracles.
  • On Christmas morning, Arnold is about to apologize to Mr Hyunh for not having a gift, when the doorbell rings and Grandpa lets in Mai. Arnold is blown away, confused as to how this happened and Gerald tells him it must’ve been a Christmas angel.
  • The episode ends with Helga, standing alone in the snow after leading Mai to the boarding house. The image drives home the concept of giving for the sake of giving, and the audience could never question how much Helga cares for Arnold. Never once in the show does she ever mention what she did for Arnold, Mr. Hyunh, and Mai. She thought Arnold was naive to believe in miracles, until she became the miracle herself. 

Questions/Opinions

  • Even though the subject matter is intense, the episode still makes room for laughs. What’s your favorite part of the special? 
  • This special deals with very serious subject matter for a children’s TV show. Do we think that a show today would cover something so intense? 
  • What do we think was the benefit of talking about these issues? 
  • This is an emotional episode for a lot of people! What part hits you in the feels the most?

Thank you Brett Wilson for joining us!  You can see some of his work here; https://www.instagram.com/brettwilsonart/?hl=en

https://www.redbubble.com/people/BrettWilsonArt

Sources

IMDB

How the Grinch(es) Stole the Case

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to the Christmas Case Diaries! This month we’re focusing on Christmas TV specials, but this episode is EXTRA special because we will be talking about movies as well. The 1960’s was a decade that brought us a lot of classic Christmas specials. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman (1969), and tonight’s topic: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)!

 

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The Origin of Grinch

  • Theodor Suess Geisel, AKA the beloved Dr Suess, first used the word Grinch to describe a bird in his 1953 book Scrambled Eggs Super! The bird was called a Beagle-Beaked-Bald-Headed Grinch.  
  • In 1955 he published a short 32 line illustrated poem in Redbook, which was a woman’s magazine at the time.  The poem was entitled “The Hoobub and the Grinch.” Although this poem does not contain the same Grinch we know and love it, brings about the same issue of commercialism. In the poem the Grinch is able to sell the Hoobub a simple green string by making it sound like it is needed and thus goes on to say that the Grinch is able to sell the Hoobub similar items every day.
  • Finally Suess used Grinch in his hit Christmas book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” which was released in 1957.

Many believe that the Grinch was Dr Suess’s alter ego, even Suess himself.  There were many reasons for this. In a 1957 interview with Redbook he stated “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noticed a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! So I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”

  • To add to this Suess was 53 when the book was released, the same age as the Grinch and he was also quirky and disliked large crowds.
  • And finally to show favor to the character he even had a Grinch vanity license plate!

Making of

The director of this special was Chuck Jones. You may know Jones because he is a famous  animator, filmmaker, cartoonist, author, artist, and screenwriter.  Most well known for his work in Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, and Tom and Jerry.  He and Suess knew each other due to working together during WWII on the animated propaganda called  Private Snafu. Suess was a writer and Jones an animator. Jones was the one to convince Suess into making an animated short for his How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

Story drawing by Irv Spector.

*During production however, Phil Roman (one of the animators) said that Suess was only there 3 or 4 times but that he had been there for the storyboard beforehand.

  • In the original book, there are only three colors: black, white, and pink/red. So, where did the iconic green Grinch color come from? Apparently Chuck Jones was inspired to use it after renting cars that were that color. 
  • Dr. Suess felt like the main character more closely resembled a Chuck Jones character than the original Grinch drawings.

Time magazine in 2013 named it one of the top 10 greatest Christmas specials from your childhood, along with a movie we just discussed last episode called A Charlie Brown Christmas from 1965. While both of these masterpieces took a lot of money to make, Charlie Brown pales in comparison. It took a little less than $100,000 to create Charlie Brown but Grinch was finally able to garner  $300,000 from an organization called The Foundation for Commercial Banks after pitching to companies such as Kellogg’s and Nestle.  

Not only did Grinch receive funding to make the 30 minute special happen, but CBS paid $315,000 for the right to air it twice on their network; once in 1966 and once in 1967.

The music for the special was done by Albert Hague.

  • Dr. Suess wrote the lyrics to all the songs, including “Fahoo Foraze” which was meant to sound like classical Latin. Apparently it tricked some viewers, and people called to find out the translation. It turns out it was just classic Suessical Gibberish 
  • When Hague later recalled his audition for being able to compose for the special he said, “Afterward, Seuss looked up and said, ‘Anyone who slides an octave on the word Grinch gets the job.’ The whole thing took three minutes,”

Voice Actors

  • Boris Karloff as the Narrator and the Grinch
    • Dr. Suess was concerned that casting Boris Karloff would make the character too scary. But, Chuck Jones chose him after hearing him narrate other works. 
    • Originally, there was no difference between the narration and the speaking voices in the special, so sound editors removed the higher pitches from his voice in post. That is why when The Grinch speaks, he sounds different from the narrator. 
  • June Foray (uncredited) as Cindy Lou Who
  • Dal McKennon (uncredited) as Max
  • Thurl Ravenscroft (uncredited) as the singer of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
    • AKA Tony the Tiger!
    • He was also the voice of Kirby in the Brave Little Toaster!
    • Dr. Suess attempted to fix the fact that he was uncredited by sending letters to every major columnist in America! Well, we know now. 

Grinch (2000)

  • The original special aired on December 15th, 1966! So, why did it take so long for it to get remade? Dr. Suess himself was reluctant to bring his works to the big screen. But after his death, the rights to his stories went to his widow. 
  • This was the first time a Dr. Suess story was turned into a full length feature film
  • Before she signed off on Jim Carrey playing the role of The Grinch, she had to visit him on the set of another movie to see if he was right for the part. 
    • The movie was “Man on the Moon” and Jim Carey was so deep into character that he had to do an impression of himself playing the Grinch
  • Directed by Ron Howard, he not only wanted it to be an adaptation of the book, but an adaptation of the original special as well. This is why he kept The Grinch’s green color, even though the character is white in the book. 
  • The movie did not receive a lot of critical acclaim, some believed the story and themes were too adult for a movie marketed to kids.
    • Jim Carey himself seemed to regret the amount of adult jokes in the script and wished that he had done more to stop them.
    • He maintains that all of his jokes were age-appropriate, and Ron Howard even removed some even raunchier jokes from the script.
  • What the critics did like was Jim Carey’s performance as The Grinch as well as the beautiful film score by the late James Horner.

Starring

This movie included many stars but here are just a few…

  • Jim Carrey as the Grinch
    • His costume was incredibly uncomfortable, including the yellow contacts that he was forced to wear. Apparently he even spoke with a former CIA agent about coping mechanisms for torture, as the suit was THAT uncomfortable and took an hour to take off.
    • He improvised a lot of lines in the movie, “Dinner with me, I can’t cancel that again!” 
  • Josh Ryan Evans as the young Grinch
  • Christine Baranski as Martha May
  • Jeffrey Tambor as Mayor Augustus Maywho
  • Molly Shannon as the mother Betty Lou Who
  • Bill Irwin as father Lou Lou Who
  • Taylor Momsen as the little girl Cindy Lou Who
  • With Anthony Hopkins as the Narrator

Grinch (2018)

Where the 2000 Grinch was too adult for children, the 2018 film fixed that issue. This movie is meant to appeal to children, with some older jokes and references. 

Voices of

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Grinch
  • Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who
  • Rashida Jones as Donna Who
  • Tristan O’Hare as Groopert
  • Keenan Thompson as Mr. Bricklebaum
  • Sam Lavagnino as Ozzy
  • Ramone Hamilton as Axl
  • Angela Lansbury as Mayor McGerkle
  • Scarlett Estevez as Izzy
  • With Pharrell Williams as the Narrator

Sources:

IMDB

https://magazine.uc.edu/famousalumni/tv/grinch.html

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/12/24/ccm-grad-wrote-iconic-music-grinch/2287627002/

http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/12/10-greatest-christmas-tv-specials-from-your-childhood/

This one has great pre-production and production artwork

https://www.cartoonbrew.com/classic/grinch-stole-christmas-50-years-old-today-still-great-146646.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvujUS8xfDk

https://seussblog.wordpress.com/tag/grinch-and-the-hoobub/

https://groovyhistory.com/story-behind-grinch-stole-christmas

The Case of a Charlie Brown Christmas

 Hey Cassettes, welcome to season 3! We’re starting the season off strong with episodes about some of our favorite Christmas specials. So for our first episode, we are going to focus on one of the oldest TV specials airing today: A Charlie Brown Christmas! Now, we say ONE of the first, because Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol was THE first animated Christmas special in 1962. 

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Charles Shultz and The Peanuts

  • Before we discuss this special, we have to talk about the history of Charlie Brown, and where The Peanuts came from. 
  • The Peanuts comic strip was first published in the late 1940’s, and was originally called “Li’l Folks” 
  • It was created by Charles Shultz, and starred Charlie Brown. The original strip included a random cast of unnamed characters. It wasn’t until the strip was renamed in 1950, that Shultz created a gang of regular characters. 
  • After Shultz’s comic strip was picked up by the United Feature Syndicate, an editor changed the name to, “Peanuts” because “Li’l Folks” was too similar to two other comic strips at the time.
    • Shultz hated the name, and wanted to keep the original. He felt that calling it “Peanuts” made it seem insignificant. He told TIME magazine this 15 years later.
    • Although Shultz hated the name, he worked on it until his death in 2000. 
  • At first, the strip ran in only 7 newspapers and wasn’t an instant hit. By the end of the 1950’s, it appeared in hundreds of papers across America, and The Peanuts were internationally known. It was in the 1960’s, however, when Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang peaked in popularity. 
    • Charlie Brown is an every-man character, facing easily relatable problems. Shultz modeled him after himself, and because of that, the rest of the world could see themselves in Charlie Brown too. 
    • The 1960’s was a tumultuous decade, filled with change. Not only did The Peanuts leave their mark on the world, but the comic strip changed with the times. The character Franklin was added after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and the bird Woodstock was named after the famous music festival.
  • At the height of its popularity in 1965, CBS gave The Peanuts their very own TV special.

Plot

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas follows the Peanuts gang as they prepare for Christmas. Charlie Brown finds himself depressed. At the suggestions of Lucy, he decides to get involved in the festivities by directing the school play. Bothered by the commercialism of the holiday, Charlie Brown is determined to find the true meaning of Christmas. 

Making A Charlie Brown Christmas

  • We already know that The Peanuts were very popular in the 1960’s, so much so, that a TV producer named Lee Mendelson wanted to make a documentary about the success of the comic strip.
  • Charles Shultz agreed to work on the project, and he asked an animator named Bill Melendez to help out with the brief animated segments of the special. The rest of the documentary would be live-action. 
  • A talented and well-respected jazz musician named Vince Guaraldi wrote original music for the documentary as well. 
  • At the time, the special was rejected, but it brought together the team that would later make A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was called, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” 
  • In April of 1965, the McCann Erickson Agency called Mendelson, wondering if they had any ideas for a Peanuts Christmas special. Mendelson said yes, even though he had no special in mind. The thing was, Coca-Cola was interested in buying such a special if it existed, and they needed to see a draft of it in just a few days. Lee Mendelson called Charles Shultz and told him that he just sold “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Shultz responded with, “What is that?” And then the men had an outline done in one day.
      • When Coca-Cola agreed to buy the special, they asked for an early December release. The men had only 6 months to put a special together. 
  • Shultz wanted the special to focus on “The True Meaning of Christmas,” and added elements from Christmases he spent as a child in Minnesota. For example, there are lots of scenes that feature snow and even ice skating.
    • He also came up with the idea for the iconic tree in the special after reading “The Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Anderson. Schultz thought it would be interesting if there was a tree in the special that embodied the spirit of Charlie Brown. 
  • As animation began, it was clear that Charlie Brown and the gang were very limited in their movement. Animating flat characters can be very challenging, but Snoopy was the exception. If you notice during the special, Snoopy has the most action, and it’s because he was much more fun to animate. 
    • When you consider how the animation was done, it’s impressive that Melendez and his team got it done in so little time. It required a pencil drawing, followed by an inking and painting process onto a cell. The cell was then placed onto a painted backdrop. The drawings totaled to 13,000.
  • Lee Mendelson, the producer, invited Vince Guaraldi back to score the special. They were able to include the jazzy, “Linus and Lucy” written for the documentary previously mentioned, and Guaraldi wrote new songs that were performed by his jazz trio.
    • The most famous of these is, “Christmas Time is Here.” Mendelson ended up writing the lyrics to the song himself, after he had trouble finding a lyricist. The song is now considered a Christmas staple, and is often played on the radio during the holiday season.
    • Mendelson’s son and his 6th grade class performed the song.
    • The song is a perfect blend of melancholy music and joyful lyrics. It captures the sad spirit that Charlie Brown holds throughout most of the special, mixed with the excitement of being a child at Christmas 
    • The team also brought in a children’s choir to perform, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” for a pivotal scene in the special. The mixture of traditional Christmas carols and jazz is one of the aspects of the special that made it so interesting. 

Starring

  • Peter Robbins was the eight-year-old boy chosen to play Charlie Brown. His casting was one of the most difficult, because they needed to find a child’s voice that sounded “blah” 
    • At the time, he was a child actor who had done parts in The Munsters, Rawhide, and The Joey Bishop Show
    • He went on to play Charlie Brown for several years afterward in 6 other specials and has since retired from acting
  • Christopher Shea played Linus, whose voice was meant to sound sophisticated, yet innocent. 
    • This was his first acting role at age 7, and he continued to play Linus in four more specials. Shea also had a recurring role on the TV series Shane (1966) 
    • He passed away at the age of 52 in 2010.
  • Kathy Steinburg played Sally, Charlie’s younger sister. She was the youngest member of the cast, and did not know how to read. So, producers fed her one line at a time for her to deliver. 
  • Tracy Stratford played Lucy and was 10 years old at the time. Producers were impressed by her professionalism.
    • She had a role in two episodes of The Twilight Zone, one of them being “Living Doll,” which is one of the most famous episodes of the series. It features a murderous doll named “Talky Tina” 
    • This was her only appearance as Lucy Van Pelt, because her voice changed shortly after the animation was finished on the project.
  • Karen Mendelson played Patty. Patty was an original member of the Peanuts gang, but was later phased out after the introduction of “Peppermint Patty.” 
  • The rest of the cast was played by children in Mendelson’s own neighborhood, and he recalled the recording session to be chaotic. 

Reception 

  • Early on in the writing process, Lee Mendelson tried to convince Charles Schultz to leave out the religious references in the special. Schultz reportedly replied, “If we don’t do it, who will?” 
    • They went as far as to make Linus’ speech the climax of the special, making it impossible to cut out, so the special had to air with the religious message in tact.
  • No laugh track, authentic child voices, and a religious message meant that this special broke a lot of 1960’s TV rules. 
  • Mendelson, Melendez, and the CBS executives viewed the special days before its release and thought it was boring. They thought the jazz music seemed out of place, and the animation was underwhelming. But, there was one thing working for it: it was scheduled to premier in just a few days and they had to deliver on what they promised. If they had finished the special any sooner, CBS may have made the decision to cut it completely. 
    • I read that one of the animators, Ed Levitt (who had worked on Bambi and Fantasia) tried to cheer Melendez up by saying that it was the best special he would ever make, and that people would be watching it in 100 years
  • CBS aired the special on December 9th, 1965 to an estimated 15 million viewers. As reviews came in, it received unanimous critical acclaim! The network contacted the producers and ordered more specials immediately. 
    • Just think, if they hadn’t aired this or if it did fail, we wouldn’t have any of the other Charlie Brown specials that we have today. Imagine a world without It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
    • The special won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program and the prestigious Peabody award.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas is considered to be an American Christmas tradition, being one of the most popular specials to air every year. Today, it is the second longest-running Christmas special on US network TV. Was Ed Levitt correct? Will people still be watching it in 2065? All we know is that it’s been 54 years, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. 

Resources

https://web.archive.org/web/20120828024707/http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/10584

http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,2022745,00.html

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3g6vrk

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Peanuts

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059026/

A Disney Halloween Case

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Back in 1982, The Wonderful World of Disney aired a Halloween special comprised of animated clips from some of their spookiest works. With about a 60 minute run-time, Disney’s Halloween Treat was hosted by Hal Douglas, an unseen narrator, with a few appearances from a talking foam pumpkin. 

  • Hal Douglas is known for narrating thousands of movie trailers. You’ve heard his voice so many times, and this performance is incredible.
  • One year later, Disney premiered a newer version of the special, this time 90 minutes long. It omitted parts from the original special, but included pieces from a 1977 special called, “Disney’s Greatest Villains” 
    • This version excluded a clip from Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and the skeletons in the beginning were green instead of orange. 
  • Some versions also include an opening with Michael Eisner, the then chair-man of Walt Disney Studios. This opening was most likely added for the VHS release of the special. 
  • Throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, Disney ran this special on its channel every Halloween season. A Disney Halloween was released on VHS in 1985, though the original Disney’s Halloween Treat was never officially released (of course, Robin has a version taped off TV).

Segments of the Special

In this episode we talk about both specials. We cover clips from both, where they are from, and what we love about them. 

So buckle up! It’s gonna be a REAL treat 😉 

Part 1

  • The opening sequence
    • As we said before, the original special, “Disney’s Halloween Treat,” came out in 1982. It opens with clips from Disney cartoons, most prominently “The Skeleton Dance” (1929)
      • The Skeleton Dance was a “Silly Symphony.” Silly Symphonies were animated short films set to music, that Disney released over a 10 year period. The Skeleton Dance is one of the most popular, along with “The Three Little Pigs” 
      • In this version, the skeletons have been colored orange. In the original short they were black and white. 
    • The theme song for this special was written specifically for it! The music was by John Debney, a well-known film composer. Debney wrote the music for Hocus Pocus, which we talked about earlier this month! 
      • The lyrics were written by Galen R Brandt 
    • In A Disney Halloween, the skeletons are green, and this is how we could tell which special we were watching from the beginning.

Part 2

  • Night on Bald Mountain 
    • The narrator (Hal Douglas) wastes no time leading us into the first clip, a piece from Fantasia (1940). This image is very familiar to many, as the horrifying Chernabog ascends from the mountain to summon his minions. 
    • This piece of classical music was written by Mussorgsky, and this is one of the most famous animations from Fantasia 

Part 3

  • In A Disney Halloween, we get a clip from “The Sword in the Stone” (1963) with an emphasis on Mad Madam Mim. This particular scene features the wizard duel and the death of Mim.
  • Mim was voiced by Martha Wentworth, who also voiced the nanny in 101 Dalmatians (1961). This was her last acting credit. 

Part 4

  • The Old Mill 1937
    • Another silly symphony, this short is anything but silly. 
  • This clip comes from a 9 minute short about various animals: such as owls, mice, and bats that move into an old windmill.  Nearby the songs of frogs, crickets, and fireflies can be heard. The climax comes when a storm puts in peril all the creatures in and around the mill.
    • The beautiful thing is that even though the creatures do not speak you feel for them though the music and their actions.
    • This is one of the saddest and most touching pieces in the special.

Part 5

  • Mickey Mouse 
    • Pluto’s Sweater (1949)
      • We get a very short clip from this short film, but the transition is pretty seamless!
    • Mickey’s Parrot 1938
      • This clip comes from a 7 minute short where an escaped parrot comes into Mickey’s home just as he learns that the dangerous convict Machine-Gun Butch has shot his way out of jail. Thinking that the parrot is Butch, Mickey and Pluto cautiously try to find him.
  • Donald Duck
    • Donald Duck and the Gorilla 1944
      • This clip comes from a 7 minute short about Ajax, the killer gorilla who has escaped from the zoo! Donald Duck and his three nephews prank each other, making them think that Ajax is in their house. 
      • There’s a twist, when the real Ajax appears and tries to attack Donald! 

Part 6

  • Heffalumps and Woozils 
    • Next, we get a segment on nightmares! This clip is another part added to the new special, taken from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” (1977).
    • In the film, Winnie the Pooh goes to sleep on a stormy night and dreams of the infamous Heffalumps and Woozils! Evil creatures out to steal his honey (or whatever else he wants).

Part 7

  • Pluto’s Judgement Day

    • This part is very interesting! For this section, animators cut three different Pluto adventures together to create one cohesive story. Those stories are: 
      • Puss Cafe 1950
      • Cat Nap Pluto 1948
      • Judgement Day 1935 (notice the 15 year difference between two of the shorts) 

Part 8

  • This segment is a wonderful piece, that really adds to the creepy atmosphere of the special. It comes from another Wonderful World of Disney episode called, “The Great Cat Family”! It came out in 1956. 
  • This part educates the audience on the beginning of superstitions, and also uses some imagery from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which Disney cut from the second version of this special. 

Part 9 

  • To continue the theme of cats, we have a clip from “Lady and the Tramp” (1955)
    • Here we have Si and Am, the trouble-making cats from the film. The song was originally sung by Peggy Lee. 
    • The song is widely considered problematic,and in the 2019 version, this song will be “rewritten” and performed by Janelle Monáe

Part 10

  • The next segment of “A Disney Halloween” was taken from yet another Wonderful World of Disney episode called “Disney’s Greatest Villains” from 1977
    • This was an updated special following another version called, “Our Unsung Villains” in 1956.
    • It featured Hans Conried as The Magic Mirror. Conried had died when this segment was added to A Disney Halloween, but the footage was used anyway. 
    • Conried was a prolific actor whose voice was used in the animated “Hobbit” (1977), as the Grinch in “Halloween is Grinch Night,” but he was also the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan.
  • Disney’s Greatest Villains 1977
    • Peter Pan (1953) – Hook
      • This scene with Captain Hook was included in the original Disney’s Halloween Treat, and is the first clip introduced by The Magic Mirror.
      • It shows the defeat of  Hook.
    • The Aristocasts (1970) – Edgar
      • Shows when Edgar drops the kittens while he is being chased by the dogs Lafayette and Napoleon.
    • Mickey and the Beanstalk – The Giant
      • This piece is from “Fun and Fancy Free” (1947)
    • The Jungle Book (1967) – Kaa
      • Voiced by the talented Sterling Halloway 
      • Kaa is interrupted during his hypnosis of Mowgli by Shere Khan.
    • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – The Evil Queen
      • In Disney’s Halloween Treat, we get a full look at the evil queen, from her transformation to the moment she poisons Snow White. We also see her meet her doom at the edge of a cliff! 
    • Sleeping Beauty (1959) – Maleficent 
      • We get to see Maleficent in all her glory!
  • After Maleficent, the magic mirror briefly mentions:
    • Cinderella – Lady Tremaine 
    • 101 Dalmatians (1961)- Cruella De Vil
      • In Disney’s Halloween Treat, Cruella gets the full treatment, with a clip from the movie showing her ultimate defeat.
    • Alice in Wonderland (1951) – The Queen of Hearts
    • The Rescuers (1977)
      • At the time of “Disney’s Greatest Villains,” Medusa was the newest villain in Disney’s catalog. For this reason, this is the final villain featured by the magic mirror before he says, “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting out of here!” 

Part 11

  • The narrator uses the mirror’s disappearance to bring us into “Lonesome Ghosts” (1937)
    • This short film was originally released 3 days after Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
    • It features four bored ghosts that play pranks on Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. In this episode, the trio are ghost exterminators from AJAX, the fictional Disney company equivalent to ACME in the Looney Toon Universe.
    • Features Clarence Nash as Donald, Pinto Colvig as Goofy, and Walt Disney as Mickey Mouse.

Part 12

  • Trick or Treat (1952)
    • The final piece of “A Disney Halloween” is a piece from “Trick Or Treat” in 1952.
    • This short features the wonderful June Foray as “Witch Hazel” and an uncredited appearance by Thurl Ravenscroft as the Jack-O-Lantern!
    • Clarence Nash is the voice of Donald and his three nephews.
    • The music was written by Paul J Smith! A well-known Disney Composer (Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella).

Part 13 

  • Ichabod Crane and Mr Toad
    • In the original Disney’s Halloween Treat, it ended with a clip from “Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (1949).
      • This film covered two stories: The Wind and the Willows, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.
    • In this clip, we see the thrilling end of Ichabod Crane. It starts with an edited version of the ghost story scene, narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. It then cuts to Ichabod cautiously riding home in the dark before being attacked by the Headless Horseman. It ends just as the story does, with the image of a shattered pumpkin on the bridge of souls. 

This is how the original special ended, and it’s how we will end our Halloween special as well! Happy Halloween, everyone! 

See you tomorrow. Maybe.