Written by Larz Bourne, I. Klein, Robert May, Larry Riley, Joe Stultz, Paul Wing
Directed by Dave Fleischer, Ub Iwerks, Seymour Kneitel, Izzy Sparber, Bill Tytla
Released by: Delta.
Rating: NR, safe for all audiences.
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My advice: Rent this for Christmas.
Classic Christmas Cartoons collects seven of the titular short subjects from the early period of American animation, often created and directed by the wonderful Max Fleischer. In “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” an inventor passes an orphanage and resolves to give them more than the broken toys they got from Santa. “Jack Frost” relates the tale of a wayward baby bear who, resenting the need to hibernate, sets out alone into the wintry woods. “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” gives us another look at the familiar Christmas favorite about the little deer who rises above the teasing of his fellows and saves Christmas. “Somewhere in Dreamland” shows two good-hearted waifs dreaming of food and toys, and the reality to which they awake on Christmas morning. In “Santa’s Surprise,” the animators relate the story of a group of young children who determine to give Santa a treat in return for the gifts he brought to them. “Hector’s Hectic Life” shows the adventures of a hound on Christmas, and “Snow Foolin'” shows winter games and sports as played by forest creatures.
[ad#longpost]The animation is uneven in style and quality, though they are all quite good. The older style of animation, less influenced by Japanese anime or the realism so popular in the 1960s and 70s is charming in its own right and fun to look at. The animators even showed off a few times, displaying their ability to create multiple dimensions with layered cells–cutting edge at the time. For example, admire the opening shot of “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” where the “camera” seems to swing around, shifting the perspective of the orphanage and the front gate, even swinging the shadows and breaking them up on the snow–very nice, and all done without a computer to do it for you.
The video and audio quality suffer a bit from age and were not restored digitally. Some cartoons are worse than others, but all of them bore signs of streaking, dirt on the film, or minor distortions. Generally, though, if you are fond of this period’s animation, you’re probably used to seeing it this way when you get to see it at all, but would have appreciated a bit of clean-up.
Each cartoon seems to teach viewers a specific moral or virtue. For example, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” teaches charity and industry, while “Jack Frost” teaches obedience and respect for one’s parents. These morals aren’t quite as heavy-handed as you might fear, and given that most children’s literature has the same subliminal purpose, we can hardly balk at these.
Overall, Classic Christmas Cartoons are just that–cartoons that are justifiably “classic” and deserve a new generation of fans to love them. People who do not celebrate Christmas might still enjoy this collection as the cartoons are all considerably secular. The most religious element is the occasional star atop a tree in the backgrounds. If you have children, you’ll want to have this for them, but even if you’re just an animation fan, at least rent this one to help you celebrate the Christmas season.