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?