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.
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.
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?
When I was a kid, I remembered seeing the Strawberry Shortcake characters on different kinds of merchandise, especially stickers. However, it wasn’t until I saw some of the straight-to-video specials when I came to understand what they were about.
The small garden world of Strawberry Land is populated by a group of young folk called berry people and they have berry food names like; Huckleberry Pie, Blueberry Muffin, Plum Pudding, Raspberry Tart, Apple Dumpling, and of course Strawberry Shortcake.
These features were among those that could only be found as VHS rentals at the grocery store back in the 80s when they were new. It’s so good that now you can find at least the first two specials on DVD in Strawberry Shortcake – Double Feature: The Wonderful World of Strawberry Shortcake / Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City.
The first feature is The World of Strawberry Shortcake (1980). It’s Strawberry’s birthday and her friends got her a magic watering can that ends up flooding all of Strawberry Land, thanks to their arch nemesis the Purple Pie Man of Porcupine Peak.
The Pie Man is always intent on scheming against Strawberry and her friends with the help of his berry birds. In a way, this pie chef is like what Gargamel is to the Smurfs, and you’ve got to admire his evil lair on Porcupine Peak. It’s so creative how it’s made entirely out of giant baking supplies. Some of which are magical.
The second feature is Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City (1981). In this one, Strawberry goes to Big Apple City to participate in a televised bake-off and the Purple Pie Man is her opponent trying to cheat his way to victory. Along the way, Strawberry meets new friends, Orange Blossom, Lemon Meringue, T.N. Honey, and Apricot.
The only other feature I remember well that’s not on this DVD is Strawberry Shortcake Meets the Berrykins (1985). The animation style was much different than any of the previous specials, and even Strawberry changed her look.
There are also new characters that live in Strawberry Land, which include Lime Chiffon, Peach Blush, and Banana Twirl.
As for the story line, the Purple Pie Man is up to his old tricks again. This time he creates a rain cloud that changes the scents of all the berries merely to make the world’s most wonderful perfume. Now it’s a race against time for Strawberry and her friends to stop the cloud at the source before it bursts wide open.
In addition, the Pie Man has a new partner named Sour Grapes. She’s a snobbish woman that wears a live snake called Dreggs like a shawl and loves to yodel, despite how the Pie Man hates it.
I should point out that both the Purple Pie Man and Sour Grapes were featured in later versions of the franchise like Strawberry Shortcake – The Sweet Dreams Movie. However, I sometimes wonder if these two villains have become underrated because they don’t appear in the latest series, Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Bitty Adventures (2010-present). There’s no explanation on why that is.
These were among the cartoon classics I grew up on. One last thing: The talking sun doesn’t appear in later Strawberry Shortcake features either. I guess there was no need for a narrator anymore after the franchise updated.
Normally I don’t do follow-ups from previous top 10 lists, but I recently found other pop culture villains I’d like to add. Feel free to check my other list of Top 10 Underrated Villains for a comparison. So here’s another group of favorites.
#10) Spell Binder from The Electric Company (70s version): He is the arch nemesis of Letterman in the reoccurring Letterman animated segments. Spell Binder likes to cause chaos by magically changing letters in words, thus also changes the object, only to be defeated by Letterman who uses letters to change the words and object back to normal. Spell Binder does appear lame compared to other villains, but if you think about it, the chaos he causes is pretty effective in the long run.
#9) Scorpina from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Let’s face it. She was a standout villainess when she fought alongside Goldar. However, Scorpina was removed from the show due to lack of footage, which is understandable. On a side note, Lamy from Super Sentai Zyuranger, who was later known as Scorpina, was just as interesting after seeing what footage had not been used on Power Rangers. My only real concern was that Scorpina wasn’t written out of the show gradually. She just suddenly vanished with no explanation of what became of her.
#8) Mezmeron from PAC-Man the Animated Series: Normally, PAC-Man’s enemies are the ghosts. In this version, the ghosts have a master who appears more intimidating. As powerful as Mezmeron is, he never fights his own battles. More importantly, this is the only version of PAC-Man he’s ever been featured and even then he hardly ever appeared. It would’ve been nice to see this villain more often, possibly as a final boss in the video game. That already sounds awesome.
#7) Lorena (Mariana Klaveno) from True Blood: Of all the vampires on this show, I find Lorena the most incredible. When it comes to love, she is very possessive and can be short tempered from time to time, especially if anyone speaks against her. Even though Lorena was slayed, I might have expected her to return later on in the series. I mean, if slayed vampires can return on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, why not on True Blood? Of course, that never happened.
#6) Lord Maliss from Happily Ever After: He’s the brother of the Wicked Queen from Snow White that’s even more dangerous. This dark wizard can turn into a dragon and has a cape that can turn anyone into stone. On top of that, no other version of Snow White has such a character. So Maliss truly stands out, even though his only true goal is revenge.
#5) Taminella Grinderfall from Muppets franchise: This classic wicked witch character is an oldie but a goodie. Whether her evil plots are scary or goofy, Taminella was what helped make the classic Muppet Fairytale specials so magical and exciting as part of the fantasy genre, next to King Goshposh and Featherstone. With the Muppets still hugely popular, Taminella has never made an attempt for a comeback. It would be nice if she did. That is, whenever the Muppets decide to make a new fantasy film someday.
#4) Vam-Mi from Ninja Turtles: the Next Mutation: When it comes to vampire women, it seems like Vam-Mi is one of the least likely to come to mind. However, this 2000-year-old Chinese vampire is both dangerous and powerful despite that she can also be a total drama queen when things don’t go right. I find Vam-Mi as interesting as she is unique. Too bad she only appeared in the four-part episode “Unchain My Heart” and was never featured in the franchise again afterward.
#3) Cracklin from The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy: I’ll admit that it can be hard to take this dark wizard seriously as a villain because of his intense allergies to animal hair. As the arch nemesis of the Raggedys, Cracklin is very fearsome and powerful when it comes to using magic and will do anything to become even more powerful. His reasons are unknown as well as his background, but one thing is for certain. Cracklin is not one to take lightly, even if his sneezing is strong like the wind.
#2) Zira from The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride: Most of the Disney villains are hugely popular, even the ones that were only in one movie. Zira is one of few who are often overlooked. Sure, Scar was an interesting villain, but Zira is even more ruthless. Even though she was never mentioned in the first movie, Zira knew Scar before his demise and seeks revenge on Simba. She’ll do anything to kill Simba, including training her own cubs to hate and kill. Now that’s just low.
#1) False Face from Batman franchise: Of all the villains Batman has gone up against, this is the creepiest and most mysterious. He’s a master of disguise and commits crimes by leaving his calling card, a false quote. False Face has appeared in several different versions of Batman, which includes Batman Beyond, but the one I remember best is his appearance in Batman (60s version). As one of the most difficult criminals to catch, False Face isn’t featured often. He’s also not on the same level of popularity as Joker, Penguin, Riddler, etc., but I think he ought to be, despite that his origin story isn’t revealed.