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Dec 212016
 

When it comes to old school clay animation, the kind that mainly comes to mind, next to Gumby, is the Claymation works of Will Vinton from such films as The Adventures of Mark Twain and Rip Van Winkle. Here’s a DVD that contains three holiday specials called Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Plus Halloween & Easter Celebrations.

Since Christmas is coming soon, let’s start with A Claymation Christmas Celebration, naturally. I can remember when this first premiered back in 1987 all that was advertised about it was the California Raisins performing. However, that was very misleading because this special wasn’t just about that.

Talking dinosaurs, Rex and Herb, host a variety of segments based on different Christmas carols while other folks walk by and sing Here We Come a Wassailing, but keep getting it wrong because no one really knows what “Wassailing” means. I can’t blame them since that’s not a common word used in simple conversation.

Image result for claymation christmas

The first segment is about We Three Kings. At the time I found the song difficult to understand, but what made it more interesting was when the camels, who were wearing tennis shoes, sang the chorus with a more upbeat tempo. That sure kept my attention.

Next was an instrumental version of Carol of the Bells with Quasimodo as conductor, which is appropriate if you think about it. The main focus is the dopey bell in the corner among all the classy ones. He’s always messing up his parts. Other than that, the music is beautiful.

After that was several slower paced, but very creative, segments based on O’ Christmas Tree, Angels We Have Heard on High, and Joy to the World. By this point all I could think about is where the California Raisins are. It’s just like in Fantasia, when the main highlight you look forward to is Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but you also have to sit through a bunch of other segments that feel long and boring, even if they are short and colorful.

The last segment is about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and finally we get to see the California Raisins sing. I guess they were saving the best for last. The waiting period was unnecessary but it was worth it because those singing raisins were awesome and still are.

The other two specials are about the misadventures of Wilshire Pig, who is always scheming to get rich. In The Claymation Comedy of Horrors (1991), Wilshire finds a diary that leads him to Dr. Frankenswine’s monster at a monster convention.

Then in A Claymation Easter (1992), Wilshire kidnaps the Easter Bunny so he can become the Easter Pig. These specials were good, but I never found Wilshire Pig likable as a protagonist.

Image result for little prince claymation

There were quite a few other Claymation features over the years, many of which were short films. The only other one I know of that’s at least on VHS is The Little Prince (1979). As creative and colorful as it is, the story line is pretty boring. I always prefer the 80s animated series to any other version of The Little Prince.

Though it has been a long time since I have seen these holiday specials, they are still classics. In fact, seeing these again inspired me to look up other Claymation features. Unfortunately, they can only be seen on YouTube. Do you think they’ll ever release them on DVD someday?

Aug 102016
 

Sesame Street – Put Down the Duckie is a feature I remember well long before it was released on DVD. Back in 1988, it was advertised as The Sesame Street Special and premiered on Prime Time. When I first heard about it, I couldn’t wait to see it, despite the fact that the network had a telethon that ran through some of the time slot. Don’t you just hate that?

The special starts with Gladys Knight and the Pips performing the extended version of the Sesame Street theme, then Phil Donohue interviewing the people on the street. Of course everyone wants to speak. It was enough for Phil Donohue to take off. I remember Phil Donohue having a popular talk show back in the day but never understood it.

From here on out, this feature is all songs and segments from previous episodes of that season. The highlights include the Monsterpiece Theater segment The 39 Stairs, Grover as a singing and dancing waiter in a Spanish restaurant, and the Jellyman Kelly song.

Of course the biggest highlight in this feature is Hoots the Owl and his band performing Put Down the Duckie as Ernie struggles to play the saxophone while holding his rubber duckie. As an extension to the catchy song, various celebrities join in like Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Madeline Khan, Paul Simon, Jane Curtain, Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens), and bunch of others I didn’t recognize.

Speaking of celebrity guest stars, in another segment Bob (Bob McGrath) sings People in your Neighborhood, which features Barbara Walters getting the scoop on Bob and Linda’s (Linda Bove) relationship and Ralph Nader practically destroying Bob’s sweater as he inspects it. This segment seems much different compared to past versions of this song because it’s not as innocent as before when comes to describing each person’s job.

I can also remember back in the day when Robert MacNeil was a news correspondent on PBS. He appears on this feature to investigate a missing cookie story by talking to Cookie Monster. Kermit the frog also appears as Cookie’s lawyer.

The final segment is called Pretty Great Performances, which features an all animal orchestra performing Italian Street Song with Placido Flamingo. Who remembers this character? Looking back now, he sounds just like Wayne from The Muppet Show, especially when he sings.

This was certainly a classic Sesame Street feature, especially since it was only on TV once. You still won’t find this feature on cable because it’s now part of Sesame Street Old School. By the way, when do you think they’ll release Sesame Street Old School: Volume 4 on DVD?

Dec 162015
 

The Muppets have been around for ages. Muppets Magic features all of the segments that were done on The Ed Sullivan Show from 1966-1971.

If you’re not familiar with the old series, I’ll give you a quick rundown. The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-1971) was a non-competitive variety series where the biggest stars perform all sorts of acts. Many of them appeared more than once and some up to 25 times. In those days it was a very big deal to be on that show. Nowadays the closest thing to it is competition shows like America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and The Voice.

I admit that it was way before my time. In fact, I first heard about The Ed Sullivan Show when I was in sixth grade in social studies class. The subject was about The Beatles and the lessons included watching footage from old performances. Many of which were their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. The best part was that there were no homework assignments involved.

Now back to the Muppets. They have made a total of 20 appearances and each performance was completely different with a variety of characters. The most common characters were Kermit and Mahna Mahna. Even Big Bird appeared once and I recognized Splurge in another segment.

Among the segments were performances that were later on The Muppet Show like Mahna Mahna, Java, a Frog Eating Worms, Happy Girl Meets a Monster, and The Computer Dinner which featured the first Cookie Monster.

There was also a segment called Scrap Flap that was later remade into Hugga Wugga, which is a classic by the way.

And let’s certainly not forget the Christmas themed segments since the Christmas holiday is coming up. There were two different sketches. One was about funny reindeer concerned about no snow and the other was about thieving monsters arriving at Santa’s (Arthur Godfrey) workshop. I recognized one of the monsters as the first Grover, though he plays a completely different character here.

Ed Sullivan must have really enjoyed having the Muppets on his show since he also hosted the Muppet Christmas special The Great Santa Claus Switch.

This compilation DVD is a great one, a true blast from the past for Muppet fans. The franchise is still as big as ever, but sometimes it’s good to look back on the classics.

Dec 092015
 

The trio of singing chipmunks has been around for a long time. After a long absence, they have made a huge comeback with a live action movie and its many sequels. I think there’s another one coming soon.

But let’s look back on the versions that I remember growing up on, starting with The Alvin Show (1961-1962). This was a variety series that featured the songs and misadventures of Alvin the self-centered schemer, Simon the science whiz, and Theodore the sweet food enthusiast.

Then of course we have David Seville the songwriter, who is the Chipmunks’ adoptive father and manager. Dave cares for them, but tends to lose his temper, especially when Alvin acts up.

You can really tell that the animation is a similar style to what you would see on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends or The 3 Stooges animated series. More importantly I’d like to point out that if you listen closely, the pacing of the Chipmunks’ speaking voices sound a bit delayed compared to the other characters. I believe that it has to do with the Chipmunks’ voices being sped up to sound higher pitched, so the voice actor(s) had to talk slowly to make it sound normal when the dialogue was sped up.

Another common segment on The Alvin Show is about Clyde Crashcup the scientist/inventor. Clyde demonstrates his inventions, which are really items that were already invented, but provides his own personal touches. However, many of these inventions backfire and tend to blow up in his face, literally if not metaphorically.

Clyde’s lab assistant Leonardo is silent but levelheaded. He only communicates by whispering in Clyde’s ear. I never understood why Leonardo never spoke.

Long after that series came Alvin and the Chipmunks (1983-1990), where many of the Chipmunks’ misadventures were about Alvin’s scheming which always gets him and his brothers into trouble. It seems that Alvin will do anything to stay famous, or get out of schoolwork.

These are some collective figurines from this version of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Chipettes

Shortly into this series the Chipettes were introduced into the franchise. They are basically female counterparts of the Chipmunks. First is Brittany who is much like Alvin in the ways of self-centeredness. Second is Janet who is like Simon only clumsier. Then there’s Eleanor who is like Theodore when it comes to food and her sweet nature.

The Chipmunks never seem to grow old. All that really changes is their music style. In the later seasons, Alvin’s schemes become even more intense, which made the series unwatchable in my opinion. However, there was an exception with Chipmunks go to the Movies, which featured the Chipmunks and Chipettes in a series of features based on popular movies.

Those were the Chipmunks shows of the past that still remain classic. Though I should point out that Clyde Crashcup was hardly ever featured again after The Alvin Show. I wonder if he’ll ever make a comeback someday.

Oct 072015
 

Here’s a Sesame Street feature that’s special for Halloween. It’s called Sesame Street: Elmo Says Boo!. Elmo visits the Count at his castle to share some spooky jokes and goes into segments where the theme is spooky stuff.

As the feature goes on, Elmo and the Count keep track of how many spooky jokes they tell. Obviously these jokes are on a children’s level. Sure they’re cute, but not hilarious as they’re portrayed to be.

We also get to see some new additions to the Count’s castle, like the giggling skeleton, Sir Count-a-lot the talking armor, and a laughing portrait of the Countess Groana Lisa. There’s even a cute ghost and the organ plays by itself.

Some of the classic segments include the Count singing about the Bones (Inside of you) and Lillias White performing Transylvania 1-2-3-4-5 while the Count conducts the chorus.

There are also a couple of monster songs and some animated segments like the eight bats fly out of a castle window one by one. Don’t those bats have cute faces?

There’s even an Ernie and Bert segment where they visit an ancient pyramid. Bert is excited to explore, but Ernie is scared. Surprisingly, they find statues that look like the two of them and the one that looks like Ernie comes to life. The statue is friendly, but leaves me wondering who he really was.

The last segment featured is the Count and his bats singing The Batty Bat. It’s a good song, but this was on two other Sesame Street DVDs already.

I enjoyed this feature with its great setup for Elmo visiting the Count. The choice of segments were good too, but it would’ve been nice to also include other songs and skits from the Count back in the 70s, or at least have a Best of Count Von Count on DVD.