Christmas Classics Countdown Past – #2 (2012)

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #1 – “Holidays Are Coming”

Yes, friends and neighbors, the BTMN Christmas Classic Countdown is back…and off to a late start from day 1. I hope you can overlook my tardiness and still enjoy the month to come, as I feature 25 songs and poems from Christmas films and television specials throughout the years. From the classic, to the kitsch, to the almost forgotten, join me as Brian Terrill Movie Night embarks on its second annual Christmas Classic Countdown.

To get us started, today’s entry is “Holidays are Coming,” the jingle from the iconic Coca-Cola Christmas commercials. That is, the iconic Coca-Cola Christmas commercials featuring brightly-lit red trucks, not the iconic Coca-Cola Christmas commercials featuring Coke-drinking polar bear cubs. I realize including either basically nullifies my claim to any degree of indie cred, because of how mainstream they are. But have no fear! To make up for this post’s lateness, as well as the ubiquity of this advertisement, here’s a special bonus video that’s a bit more obscure:

It’s a Coke Christmas commercial from the Philippines! It celebrates positive aspects of life to bear in mind this holiday season, like the fact that a lot of people’s Facebooks list them as “in a relationship.” I’m sorry my singleness has the potential to depress the Philippines. I never knew.

There you have it. The Christmas Classic Countdown covering Coca-Cola Christmas Commercials. Once again, I’m glad to have you back on board for another rollicking, musical month of holiday festivities. Day 2’s post to follow momentarily.

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #2 – “A Muppet Family Christmas”

Another late post. I’ll be caught up today, with entry #3 coming out sometime this afternoon.

A shout-out to my good friend Ben Tuben is in order. Today’s clip comes from “A Muppet Family Christmas,” a special he had hoped would make an appearance in last year’s Countdown. So now here it is, and you have Ben to thank. “A Muppet Family Christmas” was first broadcast in 1987, and is virtually unique among Muppet media in that it features members of all three of the major franchises of the “Muppet Family” (“The Muppets,” Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock) interacting with one another. Over the course of the special, the three groups gradually gather for a party at the home of Emily Bear, Fozzie’s mother. With the gathering of this multiverse-spanning trifecta, the result is without a doubt one of the most comprehensive celebration of all things Muppet ever made.

In this scene, the Sesame Street Muppets come a-caroling to the regular garden variety Muppets’ doorstep. The scene deserves special kudos for including so many Sesame Street characters, including many who, while relatively prominent into the early 90s era I remember, have all but disappeared in subsequent years, including detective Sherlock Hemlock, memory-challenged cowboy Forgetful Jones, construction worker duo Biff and Sully, and my personal favorite Muppet of all, game show host Guy Smiley. Guy even gets to sing a bar of the song. It is therefore perfect.

The special’s definitely worth a watch, but be sure to watch an uncut version (due to changes in ownership since the first broadcast of the special, scenes featuring recently-released songs had to be cut, leaving several minutes of the original runtime on the proverbial cutting room floor).

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #3 – “Walking in the Air”

Finally, we’re caught up and on schedule…at least for now. Here’s Post #3 on Day #3.

Today’s clip comes to us from across the pond. It’s “Walking in the Air” from the 1982 British TV special, “The Snowman.” In the spirit of giving shout-outs to page followers (see yesterday’s Muppet post), I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Sophie Hay, our sole subscriber from Merry Old England. Sophie, you make the “statistics” section of my page data so much more diverse and interesting, and for that I thank you. Also, please call out any misinformation you find in this post.

“The Snowman” is an adaptation of the children’s book of the same title by illustrator Raymond Briggs, published in 1978. It tells the story of a young British boy who awakens one snowy day and builds a snowman. That night, the snowman comes to life and takes the boy flying through the dark sky to visit Father Christmas at the North Pole. They frolic at a snowman ball and eventually return home. Waking the next morning, the boy finds the snowman melted to a puddle. Fearing the adventures of the previous night had all been a dream, the boy realizes he still has the scarf given to him by Father Christmas as the party.

True to the spirit of the book, which contains no words, the television special also features a near-complete lack of dialogue. The exceptions are this song and a short introduction to the special which has been redone several times, with different versions featuring Raymond Briggs, David Bowie, and an animated Father Christmas.

“Walking in the Air,” performed by 13-year-old chorister Peter Auty, is a haunting melody, with Auty’s high, crisp voice really conveying a feeling of flying through an icy sky. The fact that it’s one of the only instances of a human voice in the film makes the song stand out all the more. It’s a chilly, ethereal song unlike anything you’re likely to see in most American Christmas specials.

“The Snowman” is a staple of British Christmas programming each year, but I can only recall ever seeing it on American television once. Give it a watch here if you’re in the mood for something beautiful, musical, and far removed from the often garish and boisterous tone of the contemporary Christmas season:

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #4 – “(I’d Like to Have) An Elephant for Christmas”

Day 4, and it feels good to be on track time-wise. Today’s song features Goofy expressing how much he’d like “An Elephant for Christmas.” The clip comes from “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the twelfth entry in Disney’s “Sing Along Songs” series, released on video in 1993. While most of the videos in the “Sing Along Songs” series are comprised largely of clips taken from earlier animated Disney films and television programs, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is one of several which feature newly-produced live-action footage, with the classic Disney characters being portrayed by people in suits (another example of this is the installment “Disneyland Fun,” a clip from which was featured in October’s Creepy Classic Countdown).

That’s really all I have to say about this clip. I hope your Decembers are off to a very merry start. Check back tomorrow for Day 5!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #5: “Jack Frost”

Day 5, and this post’s getting in close to the wire. Today’s clip fits into the “old cartoon which is predominately musical, and as such warrants inclusion” category of the Countdown, which was well established in October. It’s “Jack Frost,” a 1934 installment in the ComiColor series created by animator Ub Iwerks. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Iwerks was one of Walt Disney’s earliest and most important collaborators. Ub and Walt co-created the character of Mickey Mouse, and much of the early animation released under the Disney label was done by Iwerks himself. After doing the lion’s share of the work and receiving little of the credit (there’s no Ub World in Orlando), Iwerks broke it off with Disney and established his own animation enterprise. The ComiColor series was the result. These cartoons turned out not to be as popular as those put out by Disney or Fleischer studios, however, and Iwerks eventually returned to work for Disney. Although there’s no Iwerks Channel or Ub Magic Cruise Line, at least he’s remembered here, in a bespectacled film geek’s pseudo-blog. That has to count for something.

As for the short itself, it features a smug bear cub who is saved from the clutches of “Old Man Winter” by the elfin Jack Frost. There’s also a weird sense of menace throughout (up until said rescue in the last minute or so). The scene which transitions from a row of jack-o-lanterns coming to life, to a manic, scat-singing scarecrow, to the appearance of Old Man Winter himself is a masterwork in escalating creepiness, and really stuck with me when I first saw it (I was 3). Don’t worry, I’m fairly sure this is the creepiest thing I’ll be sharing this month.

Probably.

Come back tomorrow for Day 6!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #6: “The Town Santa Forgot”

Day 6, friends and neighbors! Today’s video may stretch the criteria for inclusion a bit, but I think it works. It’s “The Town Santa Forgot,” a TV special from 1993. And since the entire narrative is a poem (read by Dick Van Dyke, no less), I’ve just gone ahead and linked to the full half-hour special. If you won’t acknowledge the legitimacy of any non-song entrant…here.

There. Are you happy now?

At any rate, “The Town Santa Forgot” is something of a lesser known special. It tells the story of young Jeremy Creek, a hyperbolically greedy boy who sends Santa a whopping Christmas list, asking for “a store-full or more.” Taken aback by the massive list, Santa and his elves assume it must represent the amalgamated Christmas wishes of the “2,000 girls and 2,000 boys” living in a previously neglected town also named Jeremy Creek. What will Jeremy do when he awakens to find the floor beneath the tree bereft of presents? Watch and find out! And if you see the twist at the very end coming, you’re cleverer than I. Of course, this is another one that I first saw when I was about 3, so if perchance you aren’t floored by the last-minute revelation, you can pride yourself on being more intuitive and plot-savvy than my 3-year-old self. Congratulations!

Hope you enjoy “The Town Santa Forgot.” And provided the videos stay up, there’s some more full-length specials to come over the course of the month! Huzzah for flagrant disregard of copyright law!

Huzzah!

See you tomorrow for Day 7!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #7: “Let There Be Snow”

Already off-schedule again by Post 7. I’m a slovenly layabout. Hopefully subsequent posts will be more timely. “Today’s” song is “Let There Be Snow” from the 1992 TV special “Frosty Returns.” Though often paired in an hour-long block with the original 1968 “Frosty the Snowman” special produced by Rankin/Bass, “Frosty Returns” was produced for CBS by a group entirely unaffiliated with the earlier program. In fact, the latter Frosty’s claim to be a “sequel” is dubious at best: Aside from Frosty himself, none of the original characters appear. What’s more, no explicit references are made to Santa or even to Christmas. Additionally, the tone of the special is staunchly environmentalist. The drastic changes from the supposed “source material” as well as the program’s ham-handed political message have led it to be widely panned.

Then you might ask, why did I choose to link to it, if it’s so terrible? Well, I find the core conflict of the film intriguing, and something I’ve often wondered about in day-to-day life. The story poses the question: If you could instantly eliminate all snow, would you do it? The “villainous” Mr. Twitchell is an entrepreneur who develops a spray which evaporates snow on contact. Overnight, he nullifies the need to compromise productivity due to cancellation of school or work for “snow days,” and his community lauds him as a hero. Of course, the fact that snow’s days are numbered is bad news to our favorite sentient, perambulating snowman. Frosty and his children friends must convince the townsfolk of the wonders of winter and keep the megalomaniacal businessman from abolishing snow permanently. And yet, much as I love snow, what would be the effects of Twitchell’s invention if it existed in the real world? The clearing of snow (much as I despised it in my school career) is important to facilitate things like shipping and providing access to medical care, in addition to simply getting to one’s place of business. Additionally, the plows, sand, and man-hours
needed to clear the snow cost money. Twitchell’s spray stands to eliminate the expenditure of time, money, and productivity previously necessitated by inclement winter weather. I love snow, but I honestly think it would be difficult to turn the world against the use of real-world snow-banishing spray, due to its many benefits. However, I hope to cling to the wonder and beauty of winter weather as long as it’s still around. If you are similarly inclined, enjoy the dulcet tones of John Goodman’s “Frosty” as he extols the virtues of frozen precipitation in “Let There Be Snow.”

Interesting tidbits:

-“Frosty Returns” was directed by Bill Melendez, director of all the classic “Peanuts” TV specials. This may partly explain why some of the characters in “Frosty Returns” are drawn in a particularly Peanuts-esque fashion.

-That’s Brian Doyle-Murray voicing the villain, Mr. Twitchell. The less-famous older brother of Bill Murray, you may recognize him best as the voice of the Flying Dutchman on Spongebob Squarepants, as well as voicing a number of other recent cartoon roles.

See you later today for Day 8’s proper post!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #8: “Christmas at Ground Zero”

Late again! If it’s any consolation, I finally got my Christmas tree up today. That probably isn’t any consolation. Well, here’s the post all the same.

Today’s entry is probably my favorite in the Countdown. It’s the music video for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 1986 song “Christmas at Ground Zero.” I am an unabashed fan of both Weird Al and kitschy imaginings of a nuclear holocaust, so this video seems tailor-made to appeal to me. The video is composed almost entirely of stock footage, alternating back and forth from clips of atomic blasts and nuclear attack “safety” films to snippets from early Christmas-themed programs. As such, it perfectly suits the simultaneously wacky and bleak premise of the song: Celebrating the Yuletide while preparing for Armageddon.

While the song’s lyrics might make us think back to the 50s (especially since much of the stock footage used in the video comes from that decade), it’s interesting to note that when Yankovic wrote and performed the song in 1985-86, the Cold War was still underway. Heck, that’s the same time “Watchmen” was written. So while the “duck-and-cover” approach to nuclear safety (as espoused by Bert the turtle in the 1952 safety film of that name, which is sampled liberally throughout this music video) seemed laughable by the 80s, the prospect that both the world’s superpowers stood ready to annihilate one another, should the need arise, did not.

This video is especially fitting to include in this particular Countdown, as it just might be our last. December 21st, 2012 is just 12 days away. So duck-and-cover with your Yuletide lover underneath the mistletoe while you still can. If we don’t make it, I hope you’ve had a good run. Make these last few days count.

If we do somehow manage to pull through, I’ll go out with you and see all the new mutations on New Year’s Day.

Be back later today (yes, really) for Day 9!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #9: “White Christmas”

Consider this post the equivalent of sneaking into work late hungover and wearing sunglasses. It’s stumbling in awkwardly, and considerably late, but I think we should just…ignore that.

Today’s clip is “White Christmas.” I know what you’re thinking: “White Christmas” is pretty much the most mainstream, well-known Christmas song of all time (though I’d rank it behind “Jingle Bells” and “The Christmas Song” in that regard). However, if I were to ask any given man-on-the-street where the song originated, he’d likely cite the film “White Christmas,” which stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and was released in 1954. But he’d be wrong! You see, rather than the song being composed for that film, the film was named after the song, which was already quite popular by 1954.

The song was actually written by Irving Berlin in 1940, and received its first widespread notice in the 1942 film “Holiday Inn.” In that film, starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds, a group of musical friends and sometimes lovers purchases a hotel resort, intending to use a gimmick to garner publicity: this new “Holiday Inn” will only be open for business on federal holidays. Each holiday serves as an opportunity to showcase the singing and dancing of Crosby and Astaire, as well as the music of Irving Berlin. “White Christmas,” as you could probably guess, is the number for the inn’s Christmas performance (though I’d say the best sequence overall would have to be Astaire’s 4th of July dance “Say It with Firecrackers).

“White Christmas” received the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1942, and its popularity only climbed in the years to follow. In addition to inspiring 1954’s “White Christmas” film, the Bing Crosby version of the song has become the best-selling single of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

So it’s mainstream, yes, but also classic. Here’s the first performance of “White Christmas” in 1942’s “Holiday Inn.”

Oh, P.S.: Yes, the chain of real life Holiday Inn hotels is named after the film. The first location opened in 1952.

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC #10: “Baxter Day”

And now for the first timely post in a bit. It’s Day 10, and today’s clip is “Baxter Day” from the 2000 special “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.”

Some background: While much of the 90’s-philia rampant on the internet is based around cable programming (specifically Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network), I never had cable as a child. Which isn’t to say I didn’t watch TV, I did. But I watched PBS. A lot of PBS. My favorite programs were “Wishbone,” “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” and “The Magic School Bus,” but I followed “Arthur” from its 1996 debut. The first music CD I ever owned was “Arthur’s First Almost Real Not Live CD,” featuring the glorious “Jekyll, Jekyll, Hyde”:

So suffice it to say I was an Arthur fan from the beginning. As such, I regard “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” with mixed emotions. It was the first hour-long Arthur special, which was good, but it also featured the debut of several new voice actors for some of the main characters, including Arthur himself. These were (in my opinion) universally inferior changes. Arthur was given a significantly higher-pitched, whiny-sounding voice. In subsequent years, it would only seem to get progressively higher. After having heard the same voices for three-and-a-half years, the change was jarring, and if the producers thought they could pull a switcheroo like that without kids noticing,well, I’m here to tell you something, PBS producers circa 2000 AD: YOU WERE WRONG.

As for the special itself, “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” depicts the residents of Elwood City preparing for the holiday season. It’s pretty all-inclusive: While Arthur and the Reads prepare for Christmas, Francine’s family is getting ready for Hanukkah, and the Brain’s family “decides” to celebrate Kwanzaa. Yes, apparently Brain is black. It’s kind of hard to differentiate between racial groups when a population is composed of similarly-hued anthropomorphic aardvarks, monkeys, dogs, moose and other animals, but Brain is black I guess.

In the spirit of such inclusiveness, Buster Baxter is unsure of just how he wants to celebrate the season. Arthur suggests he could just create his own holiday, Baxter Day. So here you have it: Baxter Day, the Yule as celebrated by a lover of food and aliens. I may have to put some of Buster’s ideas into practice.

P.S. Believe it or not, “Arthur” is still airing…as in new episodes are still being produced. The show is now in its 16th season, and if that doesn’t make you feel old, then you’re either considerably younger than me or you’re in denial.

 

Come back tomorrow for Day 11!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #11: “Suzy Snowflake”

Day 11! There’s two weeks left til Christmas, so if you haven’t started shopping yet, now might be a good time. Today’s clip is a stop-motion animation of the song “Suzy Snowflake.” The song was first popularized by Rosemary Clooney’s 1951 recording. This animation, produced by Centaur Productions in 1953, was aired annually on local TV stations in the Chicago area, and continues to air on Chicago-based WGN.

This song has special significance to me because (and this is how I remember it, so if other TJ kids remember differently please let me know) they used to play this over the intercom at TJ when it would start snowing. Maybe not EVERY time, but I definitely remember it happening at least twice. I had never heard the song prior to TJ, but it’s stuck with me since. Last year I discovered there was a video to go along with the song, and I knew it was a Countdown candidate.

Bonus: Here’s another stop-motion Christmas short produced by the same studio around the same time, also shown on Chicago stations for many years. It’s “Hardrock, Coco, & Joe“.

Be back tomorrow for 12/12/12!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #12: “Marley & Marley”

It’s Day 12, and…wait. Halfway to Christmas Eve and we haven’t had an “A Christmas Carol” adaptation yet? For shame! To rectify this yawning lack of Dickens, today’s clip is “Marley & Marley” from “The Muppet Christmas Carol.”

Released in 1992, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” was the fourth Muppet movie, and the first to be based on a work of literature. It was also the first Muppet film released after the deaths of franchise creator Jim Henson (in 1990) and Muppeteer Richard Hunt (in January of 1992). While Hunt may be best remembered performance-wise as the voice of Scooter, and Henson as Kermit the frog, the two also voiced the elderly heckler duo Statler and Waldorf, respectively. Thus, this song is the first appearance of Statler and Waldorf following the deaths of their original actors. Having them appear here as ghosts is quite possibly meant as a tribute to the two departed Muppeteers. (FYI, the new performers are Jerry Nelson [best remembered as Count von Count] as Statler and Dave Goelz [Gonzo] as Waldorf).

Much like “Link by Link” in last year’s Countdown, “Marley & Marley” is a musical adaptation of the scene in which the ghost of Marley accosts Scrooge and warns him to change his ways, lest he be fettered with the chains of sin and ill will for all eternity. But here you get two times the Marley! In order to work in both Statler and Waldorf, a second “Marley brother” was added: Robert Marley, an allusion to Reggae pioneer Bob Marley. One more aspect that puts this version above last year’s Jason Alexander performance? The way Statler and Waldorf’s iconic “DOHOHO” laugh dissolves into woeful moaning each time they recount one of their past misdeeds is simultaneously morbidly funny and chilling.

Overall, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is a great adaptation of Dickens’ story. Actual text from the book is used throughout the film, and Michael Caine makes an admirable Scrooge, even if I buy him more as end-of-the-story nice Scrooge than start-of-the-story mean Scrooge. That’s a bit of a nitpick: I leave judgement of this film to those of you who grew up with it. Having only actually seen it for the first time in recent years, it’s affected me less than a number of other “Christmas Carol” adaptations. That being said, the “Thankful Heart” ending number from “Muppets” is incredibly heartwarming and a standout among the sea of adaptations.

This won’t be the last you’ll see of “A Christmas Carol” before the month is out! Come back tomorrow for Day 13!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #13: “What’s This?”

Welcome to Day 13! Slipping in just under the deadline with today’s clip. It’s “What’s This?” from the 1993 film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

True, “Nightmare” is super-mainstream, though perhaps not always considered a Christmas movie, despite “Christmas” being in the title. Hopefully the high definition of the clip will make up for any qualms you may have with its mainstream popularity.

This scene features Jack Skellington (whose singing voice is provided by oft-used Burton score composer Danny Elfman) first discovering the wonders of Christmas Town, a place where “children throw snowballs instead of throwing heads.” In addition to celebrating the warm, cheery spirit of Christmas, the song is colorful, upbeat, and I haven’t used it yet, so it’s perfect for this year’s Countdown.

It’s weird to think “Nightmare Before Christmas” was released more than 19 years ago already. A word to my contemporaries: We are getting old.

Fun fact: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” originated as a poem Tim Burton wrote in 1982 while working as a Disney animator. The poem came to the attention of the studio after the success of Burton’s short film “Vincent” in that same year, but it took years to decide on a feature film format for the story, to say nothing of the lengthy stop-motion production process once that began.

P.S.: I’ll link to the poem once I have access to a proper keyboard (I’m plunking along slowly on an iPad at the moment.)

 

See you tomorrow, Day 14!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #14: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

You know the song, you know the 1964 Rankin/Bass special, but do you recall, the first “Rudolph” adaptation of them all?

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is among the most recognized Christmas songs in existence. And whether you shout Columbus or George Washington after the last line, you probably know the “official” lyrics by heart. But the history of Rudolph’s origins is less well known. In 1939, a man named Robert L. May wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” as a poem in a coloring book distributed that year by Montgomery Ward. It wouldn’t become a song until 1949, when May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks adapted it. An early recording by Gene Autry shot to the top of the charts in December of that year.

And Rudolph’s film debut came shortly thereafter, right?

Wrong.

May’s poem was first brought to the screen in a theatrical cartoon short by the Fleischer animation studio, familiar to any long-time B.T.M.N. followers. The cartoon was released in 1944, five years before the release of the song (and twenty years before the more widely-known Rankin/Bass TV adaptation). The Fleischer short was later re-released following the popularity of the Johnny Marks song, which was added in over the opening credits. And here it is, for your viewing pleasure and historical edification. Thrill once again to the iconic tale of an outcast ostracized for physical abnormality, then welcomed back into society when this abnormality proved useful to other people. That’s the moral of the story, kids: It’s okay to be different, just as long as that difference can be exploited by others to their benefit. You’ll go down in history!

Be back tomorrow for Day 15! Only 10 days til Christmas Eve!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #15: “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”

10 Days til Christmas! Today’s clip is pretty mainstream again, so… hipsters beware, I guess. It’s a good song anyway, so I‘m including it. It’s “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” from the 1970 Rankin/Bass special “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

The special, as you likely know, tells the story of how an abandoned human baby is raised by a family of toy-making elves, the Kringles. Kris Kringle, a master toymaker, begins delivering his wares to the children of nearby Sombertown, running afoul of both Burgermeister Meisterburger, the town’s toy-hating mayor, and the Winter Warlock, an ice wizard dwelling in the surrounding mountains. Kris finds increasingly more ingenious ways to deliver the toys despite the Burgermeister’s best efforts (by sneaking in down the chimney and hiding toys in children’s stockings, you see), and in the end is able to bring the joy of Christmas to Sombertown, becoming the full-fledged Santa Claus we know and love in the process.

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” features voice work by Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle / Santa Claus (a role he would reprise in the later Rankin/Bass special “The Year Without a Santa Claus”), Fred Astaire as the tale’s narrator, and Keenan Wynn (the son of Ed Wynn) as the Winter Warlock. Prolific voice actor Paul Frees (perhaps best known as Rocky & Bullwinkle’s nemesis Boris Badenov, and mentioned in October’s Countdown as the Haunted Mansion’s “Ghost Host”) pulls double duty here as both Burgermeister Meisterburger and his long-suffering lackey Grimsby. Actually, he voices a good seven or eight other minor background parts as well. He did good work, and he did a lot of it. Props, Paul Frees.

“Put One Foot in Front of the Other” comes at a crucial turning point in the story, when Kris’ gift of a toy train melts the Winter Warlock’s icy heart. Watch and learn some valuable tips for turning an ice wizard into a nice wizard.

I’m especially fond of the Warlock’s verse:

“If I want to change the reflection,
I see in the mirror each morn,
You mean that it’s just my election
To vote for a chance to be reborn?”

It’s never too late to make a change for the better. You just have to take that first step.

See you tomorrow for day 16!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #16: “O Little City of New York (Michelangelo’s Christmas Opera)”

“Oh, no! He’s turning into that opera guy again!”

So begins perhaps the strangest clip in this month’s Countdown. It’s “O Little City of New York” from the 1994 video release “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas.”

In the early 90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was doing brisk business. Turtles were cropping up in every possible media format people might buy. Some of it was good, like the original 80s-90s animated series and the first two feature films. Some of it…was not. 1990’s “Coming Out of Their Shells Tour,” for instance, was a traveling musical production featuring the turtles “live” (in costumes vastly inferior to those used in the feature films). The tour was widely derided for its low production values and schlocky soundtrack. But, undeterred, the Turtle powers that be pushed forward, determined to see just how bad a TMNT special could be. “We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” was the result. And the costumes are even worse, as the turtles’ permanent, unwavering rictus grins can attest.

In the program, Mikey, Raph, Don and Leo are trying to decide what to get their sensei, Master Splinter, for Christmas. They head above ground to shop…and sing! Enchanted for no apparent reason by the sight of a random Christmas tree, Michelangelo “becomes that opera guy again,” something which, as far as I have been able to discern, had never happened previously. The four then continue on in their gift-quest, as though nothing had happened.

And the gift that they ultimately decide to give Splinter? A plastic pizza lovingly displayed in a picture frame. I would say this is a pretty lousy gift, especially for an old and wise ninja master, but Splinter seems pleased enough with it. Actually, I think I’d enjoy receiving a framed pizza for Christmas myself, just for the novelty value…especially if it was the one used in this special.

Hm.

First person who finds the framed plastic pizza used in “We Wish You a Turtles Christmas” and presents it to me will be a Christmas hero. You all want to be Christmas heroes, right?

Right?

Come back tomorrow for Day 17! Just 9 more days til Christmas!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #17: “Santa’s Surprise”

I’m late with yet another post. And so close to Christmas! I hope Santa isn’t watching. I try to be good, honest.

Today’s video is “Santa’s Surprise,” a 1947 cartoon produced by “Famous Studios.” It’s not a song or poem, per se, but there is a song prominently featured at the beginning, and there’s music throughout, with dialogue being fairly minimal. So it counts. Maybe.

In 1942, Paramount bought out Fleischer studios (mentioned in these Countdowns several times before) and ousted the founding Fleischer brothers. Paramount re-named their new animation branch Famous Studios.

Famous Studios continued several pre-established Fleischer series, including the Popeye cartoons, but they also produced original fare. One newly established series followed the adventures of “Little Audrey,” a young girl character many claim was based on comic strip character “Little Lulu,” though the two share little physical resemblance.

Little Audrey had her debut in “Santa’s Surprise” (she’s the American girl who’s not blatantly a racist stereotype). The cartoon depicts Santa Claus completing his round-the-world Christmas Eve trip, then retiring to the North Pole for some well-deserved rest. Unbeknownst to him, children from many nations have all surreptitiously stowed away aboard his sleigh. Upon seeing the ramshackle condition of Santa’s house, Little Audrey opines that it’s a shame Santa should be so generous to the world’s children and not have time to care for his home and himself. The children decide to work together to tidy up while Santa sleeps. Upon waking, Santa is pleasantly surprised by his now spic-and-span home and a Christmas present from the children.

It’s interesting that the short encourages co-operation among the world’s cultures, and yet does so whilst employing outlandish stereotypes. When aired on television, the cartoon is usually censored: The large-lipped black character is almost entirely excluded from this edit. The shot of him polishing boots is cut, and also gone is the entire scene of the stereotype children agreeing to help clean for Santa Claus (a rather important plot point). Little Audrey simply says “I betcha he’s asleep now, I betcha,” and the children proceed to enter the house and clean it without discussion. I guess you could argue that the children planned to help Santa out from the beginning, and that’s why they stowed away on the sleigh, but I think that’s a stretch.

In the ensuing decades, ownership of early Famous Studios cartoons has changed hands several times. Eventually, many of the shorts’ copyrights lapsed without being renewed by their respective owners, and thus they fell into the Public Domain. This is the case with virtually all of the cartoons produced pre-1950. “Santa’s Surprise” is among them. So do with the film what you will, and take this opportunity to think about how great the Public Domain is. It is really great. I like it a lot.

Today’s real post (#18) will be up soon. See you then!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #18: “I Like Life”

Day 18 (provided I hit “Post” by midnight). One week til the big day, and I had to be sure to include at least one more “A Christmas Carol” adaptation before the month was out. Today’s clip is “I Like Life” from the 1970 musical “Scrooge,” starring Albert Finney in the titular role. This version is often praised by people whose hobby is comparing and contrasting various “A Christmas Carol” adaptations, and it does have some strong points:

1. The film was actually a British production.
2. It stars a real British Scrooge.
3. The production values are high, with “Thank You Very Much” (a dual musical number in which crowds dance in the streets to celebrate first Scrooge’s death, then later his redemption) being a particular standout among the many “Christmas Carol”-inspired songs.

However (and any Brits reading this feel free to lambaste me), I’m not especially fond of Albert Finney as Scrooge. He’s got a weird, somewhat loopy-sounding high-pitched voice I don’t feel fits well with the character’s grim and gruff persona.

“I Like Life” comes at the point in the story when Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost encourages Scrooge to quaff the “milk of human kindness,” then commands him to sing along as the Ghost extols the virtues of being alive. Gradually, the “milk” warms Scrooge’s spirits and he actually begins to make merry.

Much like “Put One Foot in Front of the Other,” I find this song especially inspirational. It’s an anthem to finding and celebrating the good things in life (even if a lot of it might seem pretty lousy sometimes). Every day we have a chance to start anew if we only seize it:

“I like life,
Here and now,
Life and I make a mutual vow:
Til I die,
Life and I,
We’ll both try to be better somehow.”

There you have it. Strive to better yourself and your life, and every day can be better than the last. Unless of course the world ends on Friday. Then we’re screwed.

See you tomorrow!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #19: “Gimme a Sprig of Mistletoe”

Slight delay again. No real excuse, but I thank you for sticking with me all the same. Clip #19 is “Gimme a Sprig of Mistletoe” (at least that’s the title I’ve given it) taken from the 1980 Hanna-Barbera television movie “Yogi’s First Christmas.”

The song is performed by Cindy Bear, the occasional love interest of Yogi Bear. Cindy first appeared in a string of Yogi shorts in 1961 (Yogi himself originated as a minor character in “The Huckleberry Hound Show” in 1958, before gaining his own show in ’61).

In this clip, Cindy expresses, in no uncertain terms, her intention to get her ursine freak on with that renowned snatcher of pick-a-nick baskets. She claims she is typically shy, timid, and demure, but she embraces the opportunity represented by mistletoe and lets her pent-up bear passion shine.

So seize the day and let your passions out. Spend some time with loved ones and steal a kiss from that special somebody if you get the chance. After all, if the Mayans knew their stuff we’ve got around 24 hours or so left to do anything. So make it count.

Today’s real post (#20) up soon!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #20: “Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy”

Day 20! Five days til Christmas. Or somewhere between 10 and 34 hours until the end of the world, depending on how you’re counting.

I’ll admit, today’s clip is one which is fairly well known, and yet I had no knowledge of it until my Sophomore year at William & Mary, when Olivia Walch included on our first Christmas compilation album. It’s “Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy,” a duet performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

The song was recorded September 11th, 1977, for “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas,” which was to air that Christmas season. It represents a rather surreal joining of the old and the new: The 74-year-old Crosby, known for “White Christmas” and tasteful sweaters, and 30-year-old David Bowie, known as the androgynous glam-rocker Ziggy Stardust. By 1977, Bowie was trying to “normalize” his image and broaden his appeal, particularly stateside. Bowie’s said to have stated that his reason for appearing with Crosby was because “my mother liked him.”

The clip is also something of a “lightning in a bottle” moment. It’s debatable whether Crosby even knew who Bowie was, and the pair supposedly rehearsed the duet for only about an hour. And yet, combined with a brief “explanatory” skit for why the two vastly different musicians find themselves suddenly thrust together, the song is a charming and memorable 4 1/2 minutes of television. It’s also significant because 5 weeks later Bing Crosby would be dead, still over a month before the Christmas special aired. It was his last television appearance.

I must admit, though, what I find most compelling about this piece is the untold story of the characters Hansen and Sir Percival. Mentioned only in passing in the introductory skit, Sir Percival is supposedly the owner of opulent home where the scene takes place, and Hansen his “old butler,” whom David Bowie initially believes Crosby has come to replace. The only other tidbit we get regarding these characters is that Hansen “changes a lot.” What is the story behind these unseen, mercurial characters? I see potential for an existentialist, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead”-style play depicting the journeys of Hansen and Percival as they attempt to make meaning in their lives. I’m looking at you, Tom Stoppard.

Be back tomorrow for Day 21!

That is, if you’re still here.

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #21: “Jimmy the Elf”

Late again. I was pretty sure the world was going to end, so I was concerned with slightly more important things than linking to a song about a sneezing elf.

That said, here’s a song about a sneezing elf.

It’s “Jimmy the Elf,” from 2001’s “Yule Be Wiggling,” a Christmas-themed video released by Australian children’s group The Wiggles. For any diehard Wiggles fans or somewhat attentive BTMN readers out there, you may have noticed this is my first instance of “double-dipping” this month. Last year’s Christmas Classic Countdown included “Curoo Curoo,” another song featured on “Yule Be Wiggling.” I tried to avoid using any of the same sources twice this go-round, but even though I eventually came up with enough possibilities to fill a double-dip-free month, I kept coming back to “Jimmy the Elf.” Come on! It’s 90 seconds of horrifyingly awful computer animation accompanying a song about the tribulations of a sneezing elf and his long-suffering coworkers. I just couldn’t pass it by. Also…expect one more double-dip by Christmas. That one’s good too. Sorry. No I’m not.

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #22: “Ernest Saves Christmas”

3 days til Christmas! Today’s “clip” comes from the 1988 film “Ernest Saves Christmas.” Specifically, I wanted to share the opening credits, which end at the 2:14 mark. But by all means, feel free to watch the whole movie if you feel so inclined.

As anyone who followed October’s Countdown will know, I’m a pretty big fan of Ernest P. Worrell, and “Saves Christmas” might just be my favorite Ernest installment. It was the second film to feature Ernest as a central figure, following 1987’s “Ernest Goes to Camp” (though his first feature film appearance was in the 1986 film “Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam”).

In “Ernest Saves Christmas,” an aged Santa Claus travels to Orlando to “pass the torch” to Joe Caruthers, a local children’s TV host whom the current Santa deems worthy of being his successor. Ernest, a bumbling taxi driver, picks Santa up at the airport and, quickly believing him, vows to aid Santa in his quest. This proves to be more difficult than expected, as they must contend with obstacles such as Joe’s agent, who has been urging Joe to shed his child-friendly image to gain more notice on the movie scene, as well as Santa’s arrest for vagrancy. Additionally, a cynical teenage girl steals Santa’s magic sack, and Ernest must retrieve the sleigh and reindeer, which, despite being able to fly, have inexplicably been shipped in the mail. In the end, all the pieces come together just in time. Santa passes the torch and Joe assumes the role of the new Santa, taking off into the night sky with “Ernest P. Worrell, Air Taxi” at the reins.

The opening credits consist of a medley of carols accompanying a slideshow of Santa art by Haddon Sundblom, including several images from his long series of iconic Coca-Cola Christmas advertisements, which he produced from the 30s through the 60s, and which still appear in Coca-Cola advertising to this day. Inspired by Clement Moore’s description in “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and modeled after his friend, salesman Lou Prentiss, Sundblom’s Santa art has had a huge role in defining the modern image of Santa. Interestingly, Sundblom also produced advertising art for many other companies in his long career – he even created the iconic image of the Quaker Oats man.

Fun fact: Douglas Seale, the actor who plays Santa Claus in the film, was also the voice of the Sultan in Aladdin.

Be back tomorrow for Day 23! We’re almost to the big day!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #23: The Very First Noel

Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve! I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful holiday season so far, and that you get the chance to celebrate the Yuletide with friends and loved ones. Oh, and I’d also like to extend a somewhat belated congratulations on surviving the apocalypse. Good show, everyone.

Today’s video is a special entitled “The Very First Noel.” The company that produced it is pretty strict with its copyright enforcement, so this particular video might not be up very long. So what I’m saying is watch it as soon as you can.

“The Very First Noel” is an animated adaptation of the biblical Christmas story, released in 2006 by Exclaim Entertainment, a Christian video publisher. Now as stodgy and potentially boring as that might sound, I highly, highly, recommend this film. While adhering to the biblical narrative, it keeps the Christmas story fresh, incorporating beautiful stylistic animation and a great soundtrack featuring music by The Brothers Cazimero. Andy Griffith narrates the story in the role of Melchior, one of the three Wise Men. It’s a spirited, inspiring retelling of the Nativity, and I honestly consider it a strong contender for the title of best Christmas special ever.

Also, the whole thing’s presented as a rhyming poem, so that qualifies it for Countdown inclusion. Hooray!

And remember:

Just above your sleepy town
With all the blinking lights aglow
Shine millions of reminders
Of a Christmas long ago
So find yourself a special star
And take time to recall
That glorious first Christmas.
That’s the reason for them all!

See you tomorrow, Christmas Eve!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #24: “The Night Before Christmas”

It’s Christmas Eve! Thanks to all of you who have been following along thus far. I hope I’ve made your month a little bit merrier.

Today’s clip, rather fittingly, is “The Night Before Christmas.” Specifically, it’s the 1933 “Silly Symphonies” installment from 1933. As followers of the Creepy Countdown in October will remember, “Silly Symphonies” was a series of 75 short, stand-alone musical cartoons released by Disney between 1929 and 1939. “The Night Before Christmas” was the fortieth short in the series. Though it shares the title of the iconic poem, the cartoon borrows only sparsely from author Clement Moore’s original words. Instead, the short is bookended with approximations of the poem’s opening and closing stanzas, with the bulk of the film consisting of scenes of Santa and a parade of toys festooning a house with Yuletide trappings on Christmas Eve.

A word of caution: This is a cartoon from the 30s, so it’s virtually a mathematical certainty that it would contain at least one blackface gag. It’s brief and doesn’t detract too much from the spirit of the short, but if you absolutely can’t stomach roughly 10 seconds of political incorrectness, here’s “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” from the Disney “Sing-Along Songs” tape “Very Merry Christmas Songs”:

The song is accompanied by footage taken from “The Night Before Christmas,” as well as from the earlier Silly Symphony “Santa’s Workshop,” which, yes, also included blackface gags in its original form. It was a regrettable American institution but ubiquitous nonetheless.

All the same, I wish you a very merry Christmas in the here and now. All the best to you and yours! Come back tomorrow for the finale Christmas post. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to complete this month’s video yet, so while it may be finished by New Year’s, I have a rather different finale surprise planned for tomorrow. Don’t miss it!

Now, jump in bed and cover up your head, cuz’ Santa Claus comes tonight!

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC COUNTDOWN #25: “Peace on Earth”

Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope you’ve all had a great Christmas morning, and that the rest of the day is equally joyous. Today’s clip, the last one in our Countdown this year, is “Peace on Earth,” the final song from the 1991 video release “Baby Songs Christmas.” Yes, this is the second instance of “double-dipping,” re-using a source from last year’s Countdown. But I hope you can look past that, because it’s a good song, especially for today. It expresses a Christmas wish for “a simple gift no one can buy, but everyone can give,” peace on Earth. This season of giving is the perfect time to reflect that, though there will always be conflict, we can each do our part to make the world a better place. And I hope that, at least in your own little corner of Earth, you can experience a bit of calm and peace today.

Heads-up: I’m going to be posting a Christmas surprise of my own composition later today.

CHRISTMAS CLASSIC 2012 FINALE SPECTACULAR: “Christmas at 25”

Here we are, everybody! The special Christmas post I promised. I know it’s not the traditional mashup video, but I hope you’ll like it anyway.

Over the past two years, you’ve given me the chance to share some of my favorite offbeat films with you. Since I was a seven year old camped out in front of the TV late at night watching “The Hideous Sun Demon” on a local PBS station, I’d always thought of watching weird movies as something of a solo pursuit, as an interest few others would share. Being asked by the brothers of PMA to show these movies at an official event bearing my name was a dream come true, and at 56 fans as of this writing, that event has attracted far more of a following than I could have expected.

In addition to being Christmas, this is also an anniversary of sorts: Count the entries in this group’s “Brian Terrill Movie Nights Past & Present” album, and you’ll see we’ve reached a whopping total of 25 films shown at Brian Terrill Movie Night events. True, this includes the 6 or so shorts I watched with Erik Michel before the most recent BTMN, but hey, an audience of one is still an audience. As such, I present my latest poetic composition, in honor both of the end of this year’s Christmas Classic Countdown and the 25 films shown at Brian Terrill Movie Nights thus far.

Without further ado, here’s “Christmas at 25”

Christmas at 25

As I prepared my Christmas post
While watching chestnuts gaily roast
I paused a moment to take count
And gauge the accurate amount

Of films I’ve shown, and, sake’s alive!
I found we’ve tallied twenty-five!
From short to documentary,
Our silver anniversary.

And Yule’s the time to recognize
The things and people that we prize
So Bomars, Girmars, gather near
And hear my Christmas wish this year:

From shore to shore, from pole to pole,
May joy fill every pumpkin soul
And to the meek, the bold, the scary,
May you all be very merry.

May music fill your days, and song,
Beloved tunes, all season long.
With canons, rounds and symphonies
Plunked out upon 5,000 keys.

And may you keep your Manos warm
Through each and every winter storm.
While favorite shows play in hi-def
On cable, dish, and UHF.

If traveling by car or bike
May you unite with folks you like
But though ‘tis time to rest your brains
Be careful around speeding trains.

May any shopping trips this week
Reward you with the goods you seek
May you retain complete control
From superstores who’d steal your soul.

‘Round turkey, pie, and gelatin
May monkey, mutant, skeleton
Join, share feasts, and all of that,
And may not one, but all, grow fat.

Yes, may your season be replete
With ALL the things that make it sweet:
Carol singers, sleigh-bell ringers,
Liam Neeson breaking fingers.

While Droppo, soaring ‘neath the stars
Brings yuletide joy to kids on Mars
May Earthling households gleam with light
Like windows when they’re cleaned just right.

And if, this year, just for a lark
You greet your friends with “Oh hi, Mark”
I’ll know I’ve made some small imprint
To shape your Christmas merriment.

Now as this New Year’s Eve draws nearer,
May you look into the mirror
And see the person you could be
And strive to be them, fervently.

And so, if dentist is your trade,
Or making soap’s how you get paid,
Or if you drive a big fork-lift
Or work Blockbuster’s evening shift.

If young or poor or rich or old
If you prefer drinks hot or cold,
I’m offering this simple prayer
Be you a human or were-bear.

From Nilbog to the depths of space,
To haunted houses everyplace,
To all the strange, strange human race
I wish you peace, and joy, and grace.

From Doctors Lao, and Phibes, and T,
From Creedence, Grandpa Seth, and Me
To you and yours inside your homes,
Goodwill and cheer, my fellow Oms!

May all your Christmases be bright,
From Brian Terrill Movie Night

Brian T.

Brian T.

Brian is the host of the TV show Count Gauntly's Horrors from the Public Domain and the creator of Brian Terrill Movie Night. He joined Earn This in 2013.

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