Saturday, December 3, 2011

If Cinema Siren’s alter ego Leslie Combemale knows about one thing, it’s animation. She’s been selling animation art and teaching about its history at her gallery ArtInsights, in Reston, for over 18 years, so she knows a little something about holiday cartoons.


Whittling down the best to a top 10 wasn’t easy. Further, it is hoped arguments about the top three positions won’t lead any friends to fisticuffs (as Cinema Siren witnessed between two holiday shoppers in the parking lot of Walmart…ho ho ho). These entries are chosen because of their importance to animation history, the advancements they represent in the art of animation, and the warm fuzzy holiday feelings they elicit in their viewership. There’s nothing like these cartoons to get us all in a good mood from the very beginning of December!

10. Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol – 1962:
With songs written by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, who collaborated on the famous musical Funny Girl, the talents of Jim Bacchus as Magoo, and with additional vocal greats Morey Amsterdam and Paul Frees contributing, this Scrooge is still considered by many fans as the best of the season, including the stars of the live action interpretations! It’s believed to be the first holiday animated TV program ever created for Christmas.

9. Mickey’s Christmas Carol – 1983:
The first appearance of Mickey Mouse in a theatrical release since The Simple Things in 1953, and the last time Clarence Nash voiced Donald Duck, this Disney retelling of the Dickens classic was nominated for an Oscar for best animated short, the first for Mickey since 1948. There are lots of Disney extras (from Toon Town, no doubt) like the Big Bad Wolf collecting for charity, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Skippy Bunny and Toby Turtle, and the Three Little Pigs. Mark Henn, Mike Peraza and James Coleman, all friends of the Siren, worked as animator, layout artist and background artist respectively. These great artists who should be proud to have worked on this fun version of a classic tale. Great for fans of Disney’s fab five.

8. The Night Before Christmas – 1941:
This Tom and Jerry cartoon directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera for MGM was nominated for an Oscar, and was released the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. These earlier cartoons, while quite violent, have a level of kindness to them absent from later Tom and Jerry cartoons. The backgrounds are exquisite, and there’s a great deal of playful experimentation with animation visible throughout the cartoon, as is a very sweet and wonderful representation of friendship. There’s good reason the HB team won seven Oscars between 1943 and 1952!

7. Pluto’s Christmas Tree – 1952:
Everyone’s favorite cartoon with Chip and Dale. There are such beautifully painted close up scenes of the duo on the tree, it really captures the romance and artistry of classic Disney. The bulbs and the tree are very 1950s! The folks at Disney used the style in which Mickey was drawn for this classic when creating Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983. I LOVE hearing Chip and Dale and Pluto all singing “Deck the Halls” at the end of the cartoon.

6. The Night Before Christmas – 1933:
This Silly Symphonies tidbit of lovely vintage sweetness was like a test lab for artistic experimentation for Disney greats like Hamilton Luske, Les Clark, and Ben Sharpsteen (all of whom went on to amazing work on Disney feature films of the Golden Age of Animation). The bright vintage color palate, the backgrounds created are like a candy store of visual creativity! When Santa continually finds his job as bringer of cheer worthy of a belly laugh, it’s infectious! It is the joy and innocence of the holidays captured in cartoon, and in the style of early animation. An honorable mention goes to the later 1938 Fleischer short Christmas Comes But Once A Year, which also has a lovely vintage look and feel.

5. Fantasia – 1940:
There’s something about the intensity and grandeur of Fantasia, originally called Concert Feature, which includes sequences featuring the Nutcracker Suite, Ave Maria, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, that places it on many favorites lists for holiday viewing. The movie as a whole featured more than 500 characters and over 1,000 artists, and was Disney’s grand statement about animation being equal in artistry to other popular art forms. Famed animator Freddie Moore redesigned Mickey for the Apprentice cartoon by adding pupils in his eyes for more expression, re-popularizing him as a character. It is considered by some to be the best of all Disney animated features.

4. Peace on Earth – 1939:
This cartoon from MGM is a story in a post apocalyptic world populated only by animals, and takes place after a violent end to humanity. Creepy and beautiful, somehow finds a way to be a warm Christmas cartoon and a cautionary tale about war at the same time. While the Nobel Peace prize nomination remains unconfirmed, it was most certainly nominated for an Oscar, and was redone as Goodwill Towards Men in 1955 by Hanna & Barbera, which was also Oscar nominated.

3. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – 1964:
Rankin-Bass offers up the Burl Ives narrated stop-motion TV special of the misfit reindeer and the island of toys, his friend Hermey who wants to be a dentist, and the abominable snow monster (a.k.a. Bumble), all of whom we now know and love. This was the first great success for the studio and inspired many other great classics of stop motion like Santa Claus is Coming to Town (narrated by Fred Astaire), The Little Drummer Boy (narrated by the luminous Greer Garson), and Frosty the Snowman. It has been telecast every year since its release.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas – 1966:
We should all be eternally thankful for the determination and passion of director Chuck Jones getting this story interpreted into cartoon. He had worked with Theodore Geisel on Private SNAFU during WW2 and had fallen in love with the Grinch story at its release. No one wanted to make it. They didn’t believe it would be seen as a classic, nor that it’d make any money. Millions of dollars and fans later, Grinch, Max, and Cindy Lou, and the voices of Boris Karloff and June Foray, all help us get into the holiday spirit like few other movies, whether live action or animation, can. Thanks, Chuck!

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – 1965:
Need I say anything about this classic? The music. The blanket. The tree… We’ve all seen this Peabody- and Emmy-award winning special, and will see it again. There are charming scenes of skating, Snoopy playing just a dog, Linus telling the story of Bethlehem, and a lesson about loving a sad, lopsided tree. Bill Melendez, who also provided the “voice” for Snoopy, does a wonderful job of interpreting Schulz’s characters in cartoon form in his first Peanuts TV special. During its premiere in 1965, half the TVs in the nation were tuned to it! Many of the kids voicing characters in the show couldn’t read yet, so they were fed their lines one at a time, giving rise to the now familiar Peanuts style of vocal delivery.

So there they are. There are certainly some harder edged specials like Ren and Stimpy that might have their fandom, but for getting us all in a mood for drinking eggnog and decorating the tree, you can’t beat these cartoons. If you are looking to get in the spirit, watch any one or all of these, and before long you’ll feel your heart grow to three times its size. Don’t call the doctor, be grateful… You’ll smile through even the worst holiday traffic.