Ink and Paint Corner #24: Top 10 Personal Favorite Disney Characters

Today at the Ink and Paint Corner, I’m going to be making another Top 10 List.  I don’t normally do lists but, having recently watched Frozen, I have had an urge to watch and discuss more Disney movies.  It’s a curse, really.  I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my favorite characters from the animated Disney canon.  Please keep in mind that, aside from the top three, these are in no particular order, just a collection of characters that I, for one reason or another, really enjoy.  In fact, I probably won’t even agree with the order come tomorrow.  Ever changing mind, I suppose.  I love these characters and I hope that you do as well, here’s my Top 10 Personal Favorite Disney Characters.

Number 10:  King Triton and Sebastian, The Little Mermaid

First up is a duo, King Triton and his loyal servant Sebastian.  These two are in the same boat (no pun intended) on this one because they both go through a very similar character arc.  Both are loving guardians of Ariel (and I’m assuming Triton’s other daughters as well) and both learn to let go and allow her to make her own choices in her own life.  I also love how both of these characters go out of their way to help and protect Ariel.  And even though I have my own problems with Ariel as a character (seriously, does she even say thank you to everyone who’s helped her?) I can’t deny that she has one of my favorite fathers in Disney’s roster.  Plus, I’m a total sucker for a good father figure.

Number 9:  Tod and Copper, The Fox and the Hound

Another “tie” entry, I felt that I couldn’t separate Tod and Copper (ironic, no?) because it’s truly their relationship that I admire the most.  As stand alone characters, neither of them are remarkably memorable, but together they form one of Disney’s most famous and heartbreaking duos.  The classic tale of two friends who are torn apart by societal norms is such a poignant one that I almost forget that  their movie succumbs to the horrors of comedic padding and fear of killing off characters that, story-wise, should have undoubtedly died.  Give Disney credit, though, it had to have taken a lot of guts for a company with a very specific demographic to end the film on such a heavy, somber note.  Props, Disney, for making a wonderfully crafted friendship that to this day is being made into unsettling artwork on the internet.

Number 8:  Tarzan and Jane, Tarzan 

Okay, ANOTHER pair but I promise that there will be more singular character entries.  As for Tarzan and Jane, I’ve always been a fan of the story of Tarzan.  I’ve always thought that, at the very least, it was a very creative story with the feeling of a “modern day fairy tale”.  And then Disney adapted it to film.  Among the numerous things that Disney actually improved from the source material was the characterization of the two leads.  They did a wonderful job at exploring the curiosity each of them garnered for the other and made Jane a wonderful example of how to write a “damsel in distress”.  She’s not a super tough or even competent person but she’s not devoid of personality, either.  Tarzan is extremely well done, too, and Disney did a great job with his progression through realizing who he truly is.  And they get a major thumbs up from me for not having Tarzan find buried pirate’s treasure, explore an aboriginal African village, and learn French and English as he treks through Northern Africa in order to reconnect with Jane.  On second thought, that book was kind of goofy.

Number 7:  Lilo and Stitch, Lilo and Stitch

Okay, last one, I swear.  Both Lilo and Stitch are on my list for one reason.  I adore stories about outcasts who become friends with other outcasts.  I can’t explain it.  I’m just very attracted to that sort of story.  On top of that, both characters go through trials and tribulations that allow them to connect with one another.  Lilo is a lovable oddball with a broken family who desperately wants to reconnect with her sister and Stitch is a lovable oddball who happens to be an alien experiment hellbent on havoc and destruction.  It’s the perfect pairing.  Both are lovable misfits within a very touching story.  Also, Nani was a close contender for this list but I wanted to keep it down to one entry per film.  Sorry, Nani fans.

Number 6:  Megara, Hercules

Megara is an interesting one in the Disney heroine line-up.  You see, in the nineties, Disney was desperately trying to subvert their princess trope with mixed results.  They were either having the women participate more in the overall story, as with Ariel and Belle, or they were shoving the character’s independence down our throats to the point where they just came off as trying to hard (*cough* Mulan *cough*).  But Megara is different.  She has a realistic (or as realistic as you can get in a Disney movie based on ancient Greek mythology) history in which she sold her soul to Hades in order to revive her recently deceased lover.  Said lover immediately ran off with another woman as soon as he returned to life.  Fantasy elements aside, there’s something very relate-able about being scorned by someone you once held dear to you.  She then, believably, is hesitant to connect with the titular Hercules and even sings the best song in the film, I Won’t Say I’m In Love.  Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the movie, Meg is one of Disney’s crowning achievements in female characterization.

Number 5:  Judge Claude Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame  

Okay, you probably new this was coming.  A very predictable choice, to be sure, but Frollo is the most despicable, cruel, and amazingly complex villains in the entire Disney canon.  Sure Scar killed his own brother for the throne, but Frollo had an unwarranted, racist, hatred for all of the gypsies and orders their genocide.  Maleficent attempts murder over nothing more than not being invited to a party, but Frollo attempts murder because of his corrupted faith and blind morality leading him to either have Esmeralda pledge herself to him for the rest of their lives or burn her alive for being attractive.  Ursula wants to rule a kingdom, but Frollo NEEDS to rule his.  There is no want with Frollo, whatever it is he does, he wholeheartedly believes that he NEEDS to do it for the greater good and that is what makes him such a compelling villain.  He is mentally unsound in a Batman villain-esque way.  His way is correct, therefore he is correct and nobody is going to convince him otherwise.  Also, Hellfire.

Number 4:  Aladdin, Aladdin  

Aladdin was one of my favorite movies as a kid, which is probably why I’ve placed him so high on this list.  As I’ve gotten older, however, Aladdin appeals to me in more and more ways.  The first is that Disney really worked their ass off to make Aladdin work as a character.  He lies, he steals, he cheats so why do we root for him?  Is it just because his name is in the title?  Is it because of that one scene where he gives his ill-gotten food to starving children?  Maybe.  But I think that it’s because he’s human.  Obviously, he’s not REALLY human, but he’s written as one.  He can be selfish, he can be deceitful, and he can be kind of an ass sometimes.  That’s good.  Disney has also been subverting their, often forgotten, trope of incredibly boring and dull male leads.  Disney has gotten much better a characterization of both genders over the years and I believe that Aladdin is proof of that.  Also, I’ve always admired the fact that Aladdin doesn’t win in the end because of his physical strength or overpowering might, he has to use his intelligence in order to trick Jafar into imprisoning himself.  That’s always a welcome change in my book.

Number 3:  Tinker Bell, Peter Pan

Tinker Bell is one of Disney’s best.  Her character incorporates real emotion and real passion and she is definitely one of the best female characters that Disney has ever produced.  Even though she remained silent throughout the entire movie, her personality, motivations, and emotions are clear.  On top of it all, she’s very human.  You know, for a cartoon fairy.  Just like Aladdin, she isn’t the perfect Disney character that had plagued the studio for so long.  She was jealous, she was vindictive, she attempted murder.  Okay, that last one IS a bit harsh but she’s so well-written that you forgive her.  You understand why she sells out Peter Pan and you can easily relate to her character.  And aside from all of that, she’s funny.  She is one of the only Disney sidekicks that I find genuinely humorous.  In fact, she’d be my favorite female Disney character if it weren’t for…

Number 2:  Queen Elsa of Arendelle, Frozen 

As I have recently stated, I am a huge fan of Elsa’s character from Frozen.  Her, mostly internal, struggle is very unique and mature for Disney.  Having to deal with anxiety, social pressure, and overwhelming responsibilities make Elsa very easy to relate to and her magic powers are just the icing on the proverbial cake.  Get it?  ICE-ing.  Sorry, I’ll stop now.  Elsa really works as a character and Disney did a great job at making sure that she didn’t devolve into their archetypal villain.  She’s sympathetic yet threatening, at least to the residents of Arendelle.  If you care enough, I went into much more detail on her character in my Frozen review which you can find here: https://inkandpaintcorner.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/a-not-so-brief-discussion-of-frozen/

Number 1:  The Beast/ Prince Adam, Beauty and the Beast

As you’ve probably already guessed, as I’ve stated before that the Beast is one of my favorite Disney characters, he’s on this list.  Upon revising my list, however, the Beast inched his way up to becoming my absolute favorite Disney character.  Maybe it’s the way that they made his, surprisingly cruel and malicious, character sympathetic and like-able, or maybe it’s because of his ingenious design and brilliant animation.  Whatever the case, the Beast is a hugely appealing contender.  His progression throughout the film from someone who was, understandably, distraught and violent into someone that you actually might want to be around was one of Disney’s biggest accomplishments within the Disney Renaissance of the early nineties.  His eventual kind nature is present, albeit subtly, at his introduction as he has the weight of not only his own cursed and disfigured existence resting upon his shoulders, but also those of the servants that loved and presumably raised him, as we never see or hear of his parents within the film.  So, all around, a complex, well executed, and memorable character and my personal favorite Disney character of all time.

I hope that you enjoyed my list of some of Disney’s greatest characters to date.  If you have a favorite Disney character that I didn’t mention, or even one that I did that deserves more attention, feel free to leave a comment.  I’ll see you all next time on the Ink and Paint Corner!

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A Special Thank You

While my next entry is in the works and nearing completion, I’d like to take a brief moment to say thank you to all of those following this blog for helping to make my review of Frozen my most viewed blog entry to date.

Thank you all a great deal and I appreciate you guys for putting up with me for this long.

A (Not So) Brief Discussion of Frozen

So, I had the pleasure of seeing Disney’s 53rd animated feature, Frozen.

SPOILER WARNING:  This entry contains plot spoilers for Disney’s Frozen

First and foremost, I have not read the original Hans Christian Andersen story, The Snow Queen, upon which this film is based and, personally, I couldn’t care less about how much Disney veered from the source material.  It’s Disney.  I’m used to it.

Secondly, if I haven’t made this abundantly clear yet on this blog, I am a HUGE Disney fan.  I love Disney more than most things.  Since I was about thirteen or so, I have been watching and analytically dissecting Disney movies in my free time.  For fun.  I’m a loser.  So, please keep that in mind while reading this.  Criticism does not mean that I dislike something.  In fact, I love this movie.  I love most Disney movies.  I just enjoy talking about them, flaws included.

The first thing I want to touch upon is the characters.  The main character is Anna who is the younger sister of the somewhat titular Snow Queen.  She’s essentially the default Disney heroine; she’s quirky, charming, a little awkward, a little clumsy and, unfortunately, she doesn’t have too much of a personality aside from that.  She has a deep-rooted love of her sister and shows concern for her, sure, but she just doesn’t seem that interesting to me.  I do enjoy, however, that they use her character to poke fun of the Disney trope of getting married immediately after meeting someone in your age group who is attractive.  But Disney has been subverting that trope for years now and in much subtler ways, so I’m not sure how well that resonates.  The character of Anna does get a major boost by being played by the always-wonderful Kristen Bell who does a fantastic job and I’m glad that she’s finally gotten to be in a Disney film as I’m a huge fan.

In juxtaposition to the bubbly, love-obsessed Anna, we have the eldest sister and heir to the throne after the king and queen’s sudden and tragic death, Elsa.  Elsa is wonderful.  In every way.  So wonderful, in fact, that I think that she should have been the main character.  She’s already the main focus of the film and, awful as it makes me sound, I care more about her plight than Anna finding love and reconnecting with her sister.  I know that that’s not very fair as Anna’s conflict is very serious and very touching.  She’s lost the sister she was once so close to and longs to reconnect with her.  But, to me, Elsa feels like the better character and is my personal favorite in the movie.  She’s emotionally distant and constantly worries about accidentally hurting others because of an incident when she was young when she hurt her sister with her ice magic.  Oh yeah, Elsa has ice magic.  You see, she can’t control her cryokinesis well and has to wear gloves because her hands will occasionally produce an uncontrollable amount of ice and snow.  This, accompanied by her parents isolating her until she could better control her powers (great parenting, by the way) resulted in the damaged and emotionally broken character of Elsa.  Also, does anybody else feel that Elsa’s story arc is a metaphor for severe Social Anxiety Disorder.  What with her emotional distance, constant isolation, and frequent worries about what others will say or think about her.  No?  Just me?

Next we have Kristoff who is the obviously not obvious love interest.  I adore his character and his relationship with his pet reindeer, Sven.  He is a much better character than Anna, in my opinion, and seems a bit more relate-able.  His quirks are more unique, such as his habit of talking for Sven and changing his voice to do so as opposed to Anna’s quirks of just being kind of clumsy.  He’s given a “down-on-his-luck” type of persona with the fact that he lives off the land as an ice salesman when Elsa accidentally causes an eternal winter and is written as a bit of a smart alack which works to the movie’s advantage.

Olaf is the character that I wanted to talk about the least.  I don’t like Olaf.  I’m sorry.  The general consensus of reviews that I’ve read mention that they thought that they would hate Olaf a lot more than they actually did.  I didn’t have the same experience.  Olaf appears to me to be an attempt to shove a purely comedic character into an already comedic movie.  He does get something to do which is more than I can say for most Disney “sidekicks” but I just don’t find him very funny.  He made me chuckle a few times and his characteristic of being a snowman who dreams of experiencing summer definitely has the intent for humor but he tends to interject into conversations when he isn’t needed and often changes the tone or flow of a scene.  He’s also pretty annoying.

Hans is the last character that I want to talk about.  You see, when I first heard praises about this movie I was told that it didn’t have a villain.  Then when I watched the movie I noticed that it totally does.  Hans is obviously the bad guy.  He tries to trick Anna into marriage and then attempts to murder Elsa so he can rule the kingdom because he has twelve older brothers so the chances of him inheriting his own kingdom are practically nonexistent.  That sounds like a Disney villain to me.  He isn’t the main focus nor is he particularly memorable but he is still the antagonist with a clear motivation.

Next up I wish to discuss the soundtrack.  Frozen feels like Disney is hearkening back to the days when legendary duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken created the fluid, Broadway style musical numbers for the first movies of the Disney Renaissance.  The first two acts of the film are lousy with incredible song after incredible song, however the last third of the movie is notably lacking in any musical numbers which has been a complaint of mine with a lot of Disney films since the nineties.

The opening song is entitled Frozen Heart and showcases the excellent animation with images of workers cutting ice out of a frozen lake.  This doesn’t have anything to do with the main story except to show us Kristoff and Sven as children and doesn’t introduce the setting much either.  We’re only shown a small portion of day laborers doing their job until the sun sets.  Nothing terribly relevant there.  The song is wonderful, though, and reminds me a lot of the Roundabouts song from Dumbo, with both tunes being very low, almost like a chant, and being matched up with visuals of working men getting in their daily dose of physical labor.

Do You Want To Build A Snowman is undoubtedly my favorite song in the entire picture.  It flawlessly portrays the reclusive Elsa staying locked up in her room after accidentally hurting Anna while Anna, having no memory of the event, consistently coaxes Elsa to come out and play with the promise of building a snowman.  It’s a wonderfully orchestrated, delightfully simple song that really shows both Anna and Elsa’s situation with Elsa afraid of what could happen if she were to ever venture into the outside world and Anna simply wanting her sister to play with her.  Also Anna is the cutest child that I’ve ever seen in a Disney movie.

For The First Time In Forever is sung by Anna as she anxiously awaits her sister’s coronation as it’s the first time anyone’s been allowed into the castle since the death of her parents and she longs for social interaction.  It’s a cute song that gets the point across, not one of the best songs in the film but still fun to listen to.

Love Is An Open Door, aside from reminding me of the opening song from The Muppets with Jason Segal, is a fun duet between Anna and her new found love, Hans.  It’s a bit goofy, for sure, but is cute and catchy enough to warrant multiple plays.

Let It Go is the big, show-stopping number.  The one that the filmmakers want you to remember.  It’s the Whole New World, it’s the Tale As Old As Time, it’s the one song that you’re supposed to be humming when you leave the theater.  And it is.  Really, all of those film reviewers who are saying that this is one of the crowning moments of the film aren’t wrong.  This is a wonderful song with gorgeous animation and a beautiful moment for Elsa’s character.  She has finally run away after being accused of sorcery and has chosen to live in exile on a snow-covered mountain in the far north.  This is the song she sings while constructing her castle entirely out of ice with her own magic and it is phenomenal.  Every note, every movement, every background, just works.  I noticed that whenever she sings the line “The cold never bothered me anyway” Elsa makes a “sexy” face.  Like the ones you see on Dreamworks advertisements with one eyebrow raised and a suggestive smirk.  Maybe its just me but I thought that was a bit strange.  I also think that it was adorable how the first thing that Elsa does after running away is build a snowman.  It’s just a great little nod to the audience saying that Elsa always wanted to play with Anna but was too scared of the trouble could potentially cause.

In Summer is Olaf’s song.  Because the goofy little side characters always have to get a song.  In it, he sings about his curiosity for the season of summer and doesn’t know that snow melts when it’s hot out.  I don’t care for this song too horribly much.  It just doesn’t do anything for me.  I can’t see any particular reason for it’s inclusion in the film other than to have the wacky snowman do a silly little dance for the kiddies.

The reprise of For The First Time In Forever, on the other hand, is fantastically done.  Anna tries reasoning with Elsa and Elsa tries to shoo Anna away.  The Broadway inspiration for the music really shines here as the back and forth between the two sisters is masterfully executed and it really felt like something that you would hear on a stage.

Ugh.  And now we come to Fixer Upper, the worst and most unnecessary song in the entire movie.  It’s sung by the trolls, a group of forest dwelling creatures who raised Kristoff and Sven in an attempt to get Anna and Kristoff to marry.  The main problem with this is that the protagonists came to the trolls for help because Anna was accidentally hit in the heart by Elsa’s ice magic.  Do you see my problem?  There is no reason that these trolls are singing about the relationship between the two lead characters.  None whatsoever.  To make matters worse, it’s the final song of the film.  After this, the music just sort of stops.  There are no more songs for the last third of the movie.  This song comes out of nowhere, has nothing to do with the plot, noting to do with the SCENE.  It’s, dare I say, this movie’s A Guy Like You.  The gargoyles’ song from The Hunchback of Notre Dame that has no bearing on the plot and completely ruins the tone of the scene.  The only difference is that at least A Guy Like You had a catchy tune and some clever lyrics.  Fixer Upper has neither of those things.  It’s just a bad song that totally ruins the scene because, seriously, why are they singing about what a cute couple Anna and Kristoff would be when Anna JUST GOT SHOT IN THE HEART?

Anyway, the first half of the movie is, in my opinion, significantly better than the second half.  Not that the second half is bad, mind you, but because the filmmakers did such a wonderful job setting up this story.  We feel for Elsa and her “curse”, so to speak, but we also understand what Anna is going through.  I really love that the film didn’t just outright villain-ize one of them, as it would have been easy for them to write Elsa off as this scarred and mentally damaged monster that was hell-bent on ruining the kingdom as revenge for what her parents did to her but instead they opted for Elsa to behave more like an actual person and not a movie villain.  I definitely respect that.

The humor in the movie is, for the most part, really good.  Anna actually gets the funniest lines in the film, such as when she first meets Hans and she nervously interjects “You’re gorgeous” into the middle of their conversation.  Anna as child is even funnier as she is much more active and energized.  One of my favorite lines is when Anna, as a young child, points to a painting of Joan of Arc and says “Hang in there, Joan”.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it makes me laugh each time I hear it.  Kristoff and Sven are also incredibly funny and there buddy comedy-esque relationship proves hilarious throughout the film.

Unfortunately, not all of the humor does it for me.  I’ve already mentioned Olaf and the trolls, but I also don’t care for the Duke of Weselton whose name is constantly mispronounced as Weasel-ton because ha ha they made his name sound like a word that’s commonly used as an insult.  There are also instances where we’re meant to find the Duke funny but I don’t really find it so.  I mean, the jokes are just that his toupee’s falling off and that he does a silly dance.  Maybe I just don’t have a soul or something but I didn’t find his character that humorous.

Disney’s still using their recent formula of Male Protagonist=Physical Comedy and Female Protagonist=Very Tame, Generic Comedy.  What I mean by that is that Disney tends to have a problem with putting their female characters in humorous, slapstick situations.  For example, throughout the course of the film Kristoff gets hit on the head at least twice, runs into a pole, and gets physically thrown out of a shop.  Anna trips in a river and gets her dress wet.  And when I thought it was the perfect opportunity for Anna to do something that was physically humorous, falling a short distance after attempting to scale a steep mountain, Kristoff catches her.  I’ve noticed this a lot with Disney and this was one of my main gripes with Tangled.  I’m sorry if I’m rambling a bit here, I just wish that Disney would let their female characters be genuinely funny instead of seeming afraid that having a woman get dirty or hurt for comedic effect would soil their image or something.

Moving on, the ending of the movie is a bit muddled and a bit rushed but it still felt satisfying.  I enjoyed that the “act of true love” that will help heal Anna was actually sisterly love and not the love of a romantic relationship.  As her saving Elsa from Hans, who was trying to kill her, inadvertently turned Anna into a statue of some kind.  I think.  She freezes up and turns blue so I assumed she was turned to ice but then Hans strikes her with a sword and it bounces off of her, so did she get turned into some sort of crystal or something?  This was the only element of the story that I didn’t fully understand and couldn’t easily ignore.  I was fine when Elsa changed her clothes with her ice powers and the ice dress somehow had the consistency of silk because that wasn’t responsible for the two main characters not dying.  Maybe it was ice with the consistency of diamond.  Maybe I’m just thinking too hard about this.  Yeah, let’s go with that.

Anyway, seeing how much Anna was willing to go through to save her, Elsa returns her sister and the kingdom back to normal.  Hans gets arrested, Kristoff and Sven get a new sled because theirs broke earlier in the movie, and even Olaf gets some sort of miniature “eternal winter” spell cast on him so he can annoy us all year long.

Despite my criticisms and incoherent ramblings, I really loved Frozen.  It feels as if Disney is headed back on the right track with this one.  I was iffy on both The Princess and the Frog and Tangled but this one has officially won me over.  I’ve heard people stating that this was the new Beauty and the Beast and… I kind of see where they’re coming from.  Both films have a likable, if bland, female lead and both involve the other main character having to go through a curse-like ordeal and cope with serious issues, most of which are psychological and surprisingly mature for a children’s film.  And both Elsa and the Beast are two of my favorite characters in the entire Disney canon.  In fact, they should be together.  Screw Belle.  You belong with Elsa, Beast.  This must be a thing.  To DeviantArt!

 

 

Ink and Paint Corner #23: Character Study: Goofy

Hello and welcome to the Ink and Paint Corner!  I hope all of my readers had a fantastic holiday and a wonderful New Year’s Day.  I know that I was absent for a good portion of December and I apologize for that, but I’m back and better than ever.

I thought that I’d start the new year off with a section of this blog that I haven’t done in a while, a Character Study.  My last Character Study was all the way back in 2012 where I discussed a character from the popular manga and anime, One Piece.  Today, I’m going to be talking about a much more well-known and culturally prominent character, Walt Disney Studios’ slapstick masterpiece, Goofy.

Goofy started out as an inconsequential side character who had little screen time but was so compelling and funny that Walt brought him back again and again.  At first, he was Dippy Dawg, a yokel with an obnoxious laugh that aggravated those around him.  It was a fairly standard gag that launched Dippy’s popularity and therefore he was cast in more productions, typically as the familiar klutz that has cemented itself in people’s minds.

During the mid to late thirties, Goofy was renamed and given a co-starring role alongside Mickey and Donald and in 1939, he got his own series of Goofy Cartoons in which he flew solo and frequently failed in doing simple tasks.  He continues to be one of the most recognizable cartoon characters today and is one of Disney Animation’s crowning achievements.

However, I have noticed something happening with Goofy for a long time now, and that’s that the writers responsible for bringing his character to life tend to forget that clumsiness and incompetence is not Goofy’s only trait.

Bear with me now, in numerous interviews Art Babbit, the Disney animator credited with developing Goofy’s personality, has stated that in order to make Goofy, well, goofy he had to have him think long and hard about how to solve whatever problem he was presented with, and then proceed to do everything wrong anyway.  And quickly after Babbit left the productions of the Goofy cartoons, all of the other writers and animators shifted towards Goofy being nothing more than an uncoordinated buffoon.

I’m not saying that Goofy being clumsy and messing everything up isn’t funny, he’s lasted this long for a reason, after all.  I just wanted to bring to light the Goofy that I believe was the funniest.  Because it isn’t simply slapstick that makes Goofy goofy; it’s the build-up to that slapstick and Art Babbit perfected the comedy of Goofy’s character, even if today, it’s a bit different.

Ink and Paint Corner #22: Casper’s First Christmas

What could be better than spending the holidays with your favorite cartoon characters?  Probably having a social life and a healthy relationship with your family but who has time for that crap, it’s Christmas!

The Christmas special I’ll be looking at today was released in 1979 on the NBC and stars some the most popular characters from Hanna-Barbera’s line-up.  Casper’s First Christmas stars Casper the Friendly Ghost, obviously, but also Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, Quick Draw McGraw, Huckleberry Hound, and the often overlooked Snagglepuss.  Doggie Daddy and Augie Doggie are also along for the ride but who cares about them, really?

The special’s premise is very simple, Casper and his friend and roommate Hairy Scary live in an abandoned house (what else?) and on this particular Christmas Eve, Casper wants to decorate and wait up for Santa Claus instead of going out with Hairy to find themselves a new home to haunt because theirs is being demolished sometime in the near future.

At the same time, Yogi and company are driving to the lodge were they’ll be spending their Christmas Eve.  They take a wrong turn a of course end up at at the dwelling of Casper and Hairy.  They decide that this place is as good as any and begin to clean the house and throw up Christmas decorations that they were carrying with them for some unexplained reason.

Casper wants to associate with their new-found house guests but Hairy Scary advises against it.  Casper goes against his friend’s warnings and approaches the Yogi and the like anyway.  We get Casper’s usual shtick of frightening everyone he meets even though he’s a friendly ghost (har har) until Yogi Bear convinces the others that Casper’s not going to harm them and seems to believe that Casper is just a kid in a costume.  Because walking, talking animals are perfectly normal but not ghosts.  Even cartoon characters can’t escape prejudice and stereotypes.  Its sad really.

We get a brief bit where Hairy Scary goes around destroying the decorations a la the Grinch and realizes the error of his ways when everyone, with the help of a surprise visit from Santa Claus, teach him of the joys of Christmas and they agree to buy the house so that Casper and himself can keep their home.

So the ending’s a bit sappy, that gets a pass because, you know, Christmas and nobody does anything that’s exceptionally memorable or funny.  Though the Hanna Barbera humor is still there, in the sense that none of the gags are really that funny but there’s just something about them that makes them worth it, that makes them stand the test of time.  The actors are all great providing the voices that they do best and everything flows very well.

The odd thing about this, though, is that Hairy Scary is really the focus of this cartoon, not Casper.  Hairy gets the character arc, Hairy gets the plot developments, and Hairy gets the lesson in the end.  I suppose Hairy Scary’s First Christmas wouldn’t have made a lot of viewers tune in, but its still a little nitpick I have with this.

Other than that, this is a wholly enjoyable holiday special and is a wonderful treat around this time of year.

Ink and Paint Corner #21: The Wish That Changed Christmas

Our next Christmas cartoon was adapted from a children’s book entitled The Story of Holly and Ivy.  Written by Rumer Godden in 1958 and worked into a thirty-minute television special in 1991, the story chronicles two days in the life of a small orphan girl who desperately wants a grandmother.

The little orphan girl is the titular Ivy and after getting sent away from her orphanage for Christmas due to no one being there over the holidays, she gets off her train a stop early and searches the town of Mill Valley (changed from Appleton in the book) for a grandmother.

Curiously, she constantly speaks as if she knows, definitively, that she has a grandmother when, in fact, she has no family whatsoever.  It’s a bit strange and makes Ivy seem just a touch out of it and I don’t think that that was what the author or filmmakers intended.

Aside from Ivy wandering around this snow covered town, we also get the story of two others.  The first is Mrs. Jones who desperately wants to decorate for Christmas but her husband, a local police officer, is against it because of their limited budget and the fact that they don’t have any children to enjoy it.  Gee, I wonder if these two kind, elder folks will adopt Ivy by the end of the story.

As you can probably tell, this thing is extremely predictable.  There isn’t any suspense nor is there any surprises.  And you know what, that’s perfect.  That is the quintessential rule for all Christmas specials:  lay on the cheese.  These guys know that its going to have a happy ending, the audience knows that its going to have a happy ending so there is no point in hiding the fact that this cartoon has a happy ending.

Speaking of cheesiness, the second character we cut away to is a Christmas doll named Holly who longingly wishes to be bought and loved by a little girl on Christmas Day.  You can probably guess the end by the five minute mark.  I know I did.

A little tension is built up when Mrs. Jones buys Christmas decorations behind her husband’s back but that plot thread goes nowhere.  Her husband just seems to forgive her in the next scene that the two share.  More tension is built when the assistant at the toy store accidentally drops the key after locking up for the night but its okay, because Ivy finds the key soon after and gives it back to him the next morning.  There’s another bit where Ivy misses the last train out of town and needs a place to sleep.  She solves this by going to sleep behind the toy store.  Crisis averted.

The main plot comes in when Holly is scared by Abracadabra, a stuffed owl played by Jonathan Winters, when he explains that after Christmas, any unsold toys will be put into storage and, seeing how Holly’s a Christmas doll, she’ll be the first to go.  The owl seems to be mean just for the sake of being mean.  We get a throwaway line by one of the other toys stating that he only likes to cause others trouble but that’s a bit weak as far as villain motivations go.  I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t for the fact that Abracadabra physically tries to stop the assistant when he attempts to give Holly to Ivy for returning the shop key.  He seems as if he maliciously wants Holly to go into inventory and it’s never really explained why.

Well, after the boy fights off a toy owl that miraculously came to life in front of him and walks away far too nonchalantly, he presents Ivy with Holly as a reward/Christmas present.  The police officer finds Ivy and brings her home and the Jones’ adopt Ivy into their household.  Or at least that’s what the epilogue tells us.

This cartoon is full of cliches smacking you in the face, which is exactly what I want at Christmas time.  The characters aren’t spectacular and the story is a collections of coincidences but I feel that it works well in spite, or possibly because, of that.  I have a bit of a gripe with the animation as none of the characters, save for the owl, have many facial expressions; in fact, half the time their faces don’t even move.  I’ve always taken issue with animators and directors who seem afraid of emoting with their main characters.  I suppose that we’ve got to keep them plain and relate-able but I can’t say that I’m a fan of it.

All in all, a wonderful Christmas special that deserves at least one watch this holiday season.  Even if the wish did not, in fact, change Christmas.

Ink and Paint Corner #20: Somewhere in Dreamland

“I’ll see you somewhere in dreamland,

Somewhere in dreamland tonight,

Over a bridge made of moonbeams,

We’ll find our clouds are silver lined,

Each little star in the cosmos,

Shining our welcome so bright,

Dreams will come true for me and you,

Somewhere in dreamland tonight”

***

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, another year of arguing with family members and pretending to care about professional football, and now everything that I had planned is on the back-burner so I can focus on one thing.  Christmas.  Nothing brings me more joy than watching some Christmas cartoons every December and there is a plethora of amazing ones to look at.

The first of said plethora is an old cartoon from the Golden Age of Animation by our good friends the Fleischer Brothers.  It was released under their Color Classics collection and was the studio’s first short filmed in three-strip Technicolor.  Starring an uncredited Mae Questel (voice of Betty Boop) and directed by Dave Fleischer himself, this is 1936’s Somewhere in Dreamland.

The short begins with two small, nameless children pulling a cart full of firewood through a snow covered street.  They pass by several shops as they trudge along and at the end of the street they peer into a bakery and Oh My God, the pathos.  They lick the window and pretend to taste the cakes inside.  My heartstrings are being tugged upon right now.

The store-owners collaborate, worrying about the kids that just passed by.  The children arrive at their home where their mother (whose character model bears a strong resemblance to Olive Oyl) has prepared them dinner.  Their dinner is stale bread and water.  Pathos.

The children make it known to their mother that they are still hungry, causing her to break down in tears.  The kids convince her that they didn’t mean it and OW.  This cartoon is now viciously pulling at my heartstrings.

The children are sent to bed and they sing the titular song.  I would describe them as adorably awful singers.  What follows is a dream sequence with a standard array of gags involving the children wandering through a land made of toys and sweets.  The animation, while not spectacular, is still very well done.  I particularly love the look and movement of the carousel made out of cake and animal crackers.

When the children awake the next morning they find that the owners of the three shops they passed in the beginning have brought them toys and food.  As the kids start to eat, one of them humorously pokes himself with a fork to make sure he isn’t still dreaming.

This short is a bit different than the Fleischers’ usual portfolio of cartoons.  It isn’t extremely surreal (though I may just be desensitized to their work) and the characters don’t move in that odd way that most of their other roster (at least their main one) does.  It’s cute, it’s cheesy, it’s heartfelt, and it has the perfect ending to put you in the mood for Christmas.