Saturday, February 15, 2020

Animation Celebration Saturday - Heidi's Song

Paramount/Hanna-Barbara, 1982
Voices of Margary Gray, Lorne Greene, Roger DeWitt, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Directed by Robert Taylor
Music by Burton Lane; Lyrics by Sammy Cahn

Having done relatively well with Charlotte's Web, Hanna-Barbara decided to move ahead with another adaptation of a classic children's novel about a little girl and her animal friends. Heidi's Song began production as early as 1976, but Joseph Barbara wanted to improve the quality, and it kept getting pushed back. By the time it finally made it out, elaborate Disney-esque animated musicals were out of style, and it was a box-office failure. Does this retelling of the story of the Swiss girl who manages to charm almost everyone she comes in contact with deserve better? Let's begin with a trip to the Swiss Alps as Heidi (Gray) and her Aunt Dede (Virginia Gregg) make their way up the mountains and find out...

The Story: Heidi's aunt brings her to live with her grouchy grandfather (Greene) in his cabin in the Alps. He's not fond of her at first, until he hurts his leg when a tree falls on it and she takes care of him. She's easily makes friends with everyone, from the goats on the path to Peter (DeWitt) who attends to them. Aunt Dede eventually returns and takes her to the city to be a companion to a little girl named Klara (Pamela Ferdyn) who can't walk. Klara's servants Frouline Rottemeyer (Joan Gerber) and Sebastian (Fritz Feld) don't understand her simple country ways and often punish her, but Klara thinks she's hilarious. After they lock Heidi in the basement, it's Heidi's friends, new and old, to the rescue. With the help of Klara, they free her and return her home to her grandfather and her beloved mountains.

The Animation: Only slightly ahead of Charlotte's Web. On one hands, there's some lush and colorful backgrounds, especially during the numbers in the Alps. Joseph Barbara's push for quality didn't quite help with some other aspects. A great deal of the animation is obviously reused from shot to shot, especially that of the animals.

The Song and Dance: I remember watching this from time to time on cable when I was a kid and mostly enjoying it. It actually holds up much better than I expected. Greene's a decent gruff old grandfather, and Ferdyn (who also played Fern in Charlotte's Web) is a lovely, lively Klara. Gerber and Feld have a high old time as the villains who think they're above Heidi's country ways. The music in particular is very well done. Sammy Davis Jr. revels in his brief scene-stealing role as the king of the rats.

Favorite Number: The cheer-up ballad "An Armful of Sunshine" turns up twice, first as Grandfather is happily describing his relationship with Heidi, then as Willie the coal delivery man (Michael Bell) describes his feelings for the lovely maid Tinette (Janet Waldo) in the city. Grandfather also gets the title song twice, first as he realizes his feelings for his sweet granddaughter, then in heartbreak when she's taken away. Klara performs "Imagine" during a sequence in a ballroom where she dreams of being able to dance with a handsome prince of her own. Davis Jr. steals the movie wholesale with his brassy "Ode to a Rat" in the basement as he struts his stuff to remind the rats that they're not man's best friend.

What I Don't Like: I wish they hadn't rushed the story so much, especially in the first half. Heidi makes far more friends in city and country alike in the book and other movie versions. Frauline Rottenmeyer was nasty to Heidi in the book (though not quite to this degree), but Sebastian was originally her friend and confidante. Several sequences seem to be there just to show off the animation or the music. "Imagine," Davis Jr.'s number, and a sequence in the beginning where Heidi has a nightmare about all the spirits of the mountains trying to take her away from her grandfather are nicely shot, but have little or nothing to do with the plot. Willie and Tintette are pretty much only there to be the generic young couple and add nothing to the plot, either. And why do only the rats talk? All the other animals in the movie are treated realistically, but the rats are done in a more cartoony style and are the only ones with voices.

The Big Finale: It may not be the best animated film of the 80's, but it's still a sweet little movie with some nice performances and lovely music that deserves to be far better-known.

Home Media: The DVD is available via the Warner Archives. The streaming service Vudu currently has it for free, which is how I saw it.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

My Funny Valentine - Love Me Tonight

Paramount, 1932
Starring Jeanette MacDonald, Maurice Chevalier, Myrna Loy, and Charlie Ruggles
Directed by Rouben Mamoulien
Music by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics by Lorenz Hart

After I reviewed the tragic romance Carmen Jones for Valentine's Day last year, I figured this year's entry called for something much lighter. Rouben Mamoulien's frothy romantic comedy about a princess who falls for a tailor is considered by many critics to be one of the finest musicals of the 30's, if not of all time. Does it deserve those accolades? Let's begin the morning in Paris with the tailor Maurice (Chevalier) and the rhythmic sounds of the city and find out...

The Story: Maurice (Chevalier), tailor from Paris, travels to a country chateau to collect outstanding debts from the Viacomte de Vareze (Ruggles) for tailoring work. On the way, he passes the lovely Princess Jeanette (MacDonald), the Viacomte's niece. Jeanette is a young widow who only lives with her family because there are no eligible men of her station and rank her age in the area. He falls for her the moment he almost knocks her off the road, but she's not nearly so interested in him.

She's a lot more intrigued when the Viacomte claims he's a baron and a friend of his. Now the whole household is beholden to his charms, including the head of the family Duc d'Artelines (C. Aubrey Smith), man-crazy Valentine (Loy), and three aunts who spent most of the movie working on a tapestry. He rescues a fox from a hunt, winning over even Jeanette with his boyish ways. She's not as happy when she finally learns who he really is...but when she realizes how she feels, no matter who he is, she discovers that a modern princess can make her own happy ending.

The Song and Dance: Every book I've read about movie musicals praised this to the skies, calling it one of the best and most cinematic musicals ever made. For once, they were entirely right. Mamoulien sought to break out of the mold of static early musicals by bringing the songs off the stage and into real life. Everything makes music in the opening "The Song of Paree" sequence, taking us from the sounds of the city to Maurice's shop. "There's career-best performances from just about everyone, including Maurice and Jeanette as the lovers; Loy is a riot as Valentine, who is desperate for any kind of male companionship that isn't her family. Rodgers and Hart's songs are probably their best work in Hollywood. "Lover" and "Love Me Tonight" in particular can be heard in the background of many a Paramount movie to this day.

Favorite Number: Every number in this movie is a delight, but "Isn't It Romantic" is a major stand-out. It starts out with Maurice singing about his idea of love in his shop...and we follow the song as it carries from the city to a train to soldiers to the country and Jeanette, who gives a much more traditionally romantic view. It's one of the most exhilarating use of editing in any film musical. Chevalier has a blast with his patter number "Mimi" at the party...and it's just as cute to see various members of the family sing it afterwards in their own way. MacDonald and Chevalier duet on the lovely title song in the garden during the party, and Maurice is sent away to a montage of servants and aristocrats alike whispering that "The Son of a Gun Is Nothing But a Tailor."

Trivia: Censors cut several bits after the movie was re-released in the mid-30's. Among the losses were a few ribald comments from Valentine, Loy's rendition of "Mimi" (supposedly, her breast could be seen through her sheer nightgown) with the rest of the family, and the doctor's number as he examines Jeanette, "A Woman Needs Something Like That." Alas, a full, uncut version of the film has yet to be found.

What I Don't Like: Obviously, if you're not a fan of frothy romantic comedy or the two stars, this won't be your glass of French champagne. It's also not for dance nuts. Here, the cameras and editing do the dancing.

The Big Finale: If any movie musical deserves to be better-known, it's this one. If you love romantic comedy, the two stars, or Mamoulien's other work, you owe to yourself to check this one out.

Home Media: While the movie is currently available through the made-to-order Universal Vault collection, the original Kino International DVD I have is neither expensive,  nor difficult to find.

DVD - Universal Vault
DVD - Kino International

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sweethearts (1938)

MGM, 1938
Starring Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Frank Morgan, and Florence Rice
Directed by W.S Van Dyke
Music by Victor Herbert and others; Lyrics by Bob Wright, Chet Forrest, and others

Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were still riding high as MGM's top musical team in 1938, despite the failure of their Girl of the Golden West earlier that year. Looking for something totally different, they hired legendary writer Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell to transform the original Victor Herbert fairy-tale operetta into a romantic comedy about married Broadway stars who are crazy about each, until Hollywood comes calling and their producer and his crew interfere. Let's go straight to the Melody Theater in New York, where Sweethearts is starting its sixth year on the boards, and find out how well they did...

The Story: Gwen Marlowe (MacDonald) and Ernest Lane (Eddy) are indeed the married stars of Sweethearts, their smash-hit operetta that's run for six years on Broadway. They're crazy about each other, to the point where he sends her love notes every day, but they don't have much time to spend together. Their producer Felix Lehman (Frank Morgan) and press agent Dink (Allyn Joslyn) keeps throwing them into radio shows and publicity stunts, while their families live with them in their home and off their money and their fading theatrical legacies. They're both fed up, enough to listen to Hollywood talent scout Norman Trumpett (Reginald Gardiner) when he encourages them to leave New York and take a contract with his studio. Desperate, Lehman uses the terrible play written by musical playwright Kronk (Mischa Auer) to convince Gwen that Ernest is having an affair with their secretary Kay Jordan (Rice).

The Song and Dance: After the false start of Maytime the year before, this was MGM's first full-length 3-strip Technicolor movie. They couldn't have picked better stars to showcase. MacDonald's warm coppery waves and Eddy's short golden locks were made for Technicolor. The cinematography is absolutely glorious, glowing with a ravishing array of rainbow colors, finishing with a well-done montage of Gwen and Ernest becoming more lonely as they travel with their two road companies. The screenplay's almost as good. You can tell Dorothy Parker had a hand in this one; the dialogue is witty and delightful, with zingers flying fast and furious from just about everyone. MacDonald's having a fine time, and Eddy's far more relaxed here than he was in most of their earlier movies. Morgan and Rice are also up to the script as the flustered producer who wants to keep his golden couple intact and the sarcastic secretary.

Favorite Number: MacDonald joins Ray Bolger for the first big number, the charming Dutch-themed dance routine "Jeanette and Her Wooden Shoes." MacDonald keeps up with Bolger admirably and acquits herself quite well with the choreography to the catchy clip-clop rhythm. She and Eddy get the more dramatic "Every Lover Must Meet His Fate" as they're held back by what I presume to be his guards. The first version of the title song is performed on a massive flowery hill, showing off its romantic couples in a sweeping duet. "Pretty as a Picture," sung at the sixth anniversary party, starts simply with MacDonald and Eddy at the piano, but ends with a chorus bringing out flower garlands and encores for more.

What I Don't Like: At it's core, this is a romantic comedy with operetta sequences. The second half, when the plot contrivances kick in, is considerably less interesting than the first half. Even the movie acknowledges how unlikely it is that Gwen would fall for such a ridiculous plot with the play and love letters. Though Ray Bolger partners MacDonald well in "Wooden Shoes" and gets to announce their "Pretty as a Picture" number, I really wish he had more to do. And frankly, the onstage numbers are so lovely, for all the fun banter and nifty modern costumes, I wonder what would have happened if they'd stuck to a revised version of the original fantasy story about a seamstress' adopted daughter who falls for a prince.

The Big Finale: If you love MacDonald and Eddy or romantic comedy or just want to see them in a different light, give this one a try.

Home Media: Currently DVD only from the Warner Archives.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Musicals On TV - Descendants 3

Disney, 2019
Starring Dove Cameron, China Anne MacLain, Chyanne Jackson, and Sarah Jeffery
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Music and Lyrics by various

Star Wars and The Avengers weren't the only sci-fi/fantasy series popular with teenagers that ended last year. In 2018, Disney announced that the third Descendants film would be the last. How does the final tale of Mal and her friends fare? We start in the Isle of the Lost this time, where the impoverished citizens dance in the street and change is in the air...

The Story: Mal (Cameron) and her friends are thrilled to return to the Isle of the Lost and bring four more villain teens to Auradon Prep. The same day, King Ben (Mitchell Hope) proposes to Mal, insisting that he wants to make her Queen of Auradon. His former girlfriend Audrey (Jeffery), daughter of Sleeping Beauty, is seething with jealousy. She steals Malificent's wand and the Queen's Crown from the Museum of Cultural History. Mal panics and decides that the best way to contain her would be to close the portal between the Isle of the Lost and Auradon. When Audrey attacks Mal, she, her friends, and new Auradon student Ceila (Jadah Marie) return to the Isle of the Lost to find Mal's father, former God of the Underworld Hades (Jackson). He has an Ember, a stone that could boost her powers enough to defeat Audrey.

Meanwhile, Audrey attacks Jane's (Brenna D'Amico) birthday party, putting almost everyone to sleep. Jane manages to escape. Ben's not so lucky and is attacked as well. Back on the Isle of the Lost, Uma (MacLain) and her crew, including Harry Hook (Thomas Dohtery) and Gil (Dylan Playfair), steal the ember and refuse to return it unless Mal agrees to let all the Isle kids attend Auradon. Mal and Uma finally admit it'll take combining powers to defeat this good princess gone bad...and that maybe everyone has a little bit of good and bad in them.

The Song and Dance: An enjoyable finale with a mildly darker undertone. Sexy Jackson absolutely steals the show as the smokin' hot (in all forms of the words) Hades. He's almost as funny as James Woods in the original Hercules, plays beautifully off Cameron, and sounds great in the numbers. McClain and Dohtery are just as much fun here as they were in the previous movie. Also, this is a good place to praise the costumes for the entire series. Disney Channel did some incredible work here. The outfits on adults, kids, Isle and Auradon residents alike are colorful, elaborate, and beautifully represents a modern idea of Disney's classic properties.

Favorite Number: Once again, we kick off with a large-scale group number with the villain kids. Mal and her pals invite the other kids of the Isle of the Lost to come to Auradon in "Good to Be Bad." Jeffery declares that she's the "Queen of Mean" as she breaks into the museum and transforms herself from prom queen to evil sorceress in pink. Jackson and Cameron reveal their frustrations at how their lives have turned out in "Do What You Gotta Do."

Trivia: Tragically, Cameron Boyce, who played Carlos, died in his sleep of an epileptic seizure in July 2019 a month before the premiere of the film. Disney postponed the red-carpet premiere in deference to his death and dedicated the movie in his memory.

What I Don't Like: First of all, the makeup on Ben when he's the Beast looks terrible. Not believable at all (or much like his dad in either animated or live-action film). The kids' acting has improved, and it's nice to see more of the adults...but this is still, at its core, a fantasy-oriented version of the same teen cliches Disney's thrown into every musical they've done for cable starting in the early 2000's. It really doesn't bring much that's new to the table.

The Big Finale: All three films are a lot of fairly harmless fun if you're a fan of the Disney animated films, the other Disney Channel musicals, or are kids between 8 and 14 or their parents.

Home Media: As the most recent release of the three, the DVD will cost you a little more. It just debuted on Disney Plus this past week.

Disney Plus

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Musicals On TV - Descendants 2

Disney, 2017
Starring Dove Cameron, China Ann McClain, Sofia Carson, and Mitchell Hope
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Music and Lyrics by various

Considering the massive success of Descendants, it was probably inevitable that there would be a sequel. Disney tested the waters with young adult novels and an animated series before releasing the second movie in July...and it was just as much of a smash success. So, how does the story of the children of Disney villains who go to school with their heroic counterparts continue? Let's return to Auradon Prep and find out...

The Story: Mal (Cameron) feels constrained by the high expectations for her role as the girlfriend of King Ben (Hope). She uses her spell book to give herself a princess makeover, including blond hair. Her best friend Evie (Carson) admonishes her for using magic as the answer to everything, and Ben's not happy when he finds out, either. Fed up, Mal finally returns to the Isle of the Lost, where she gets Dizzy (Anna Cathcart) to return her hair to purple. Evie, their guy friends Carlos (Cameron Boyce) and Jay (Booboo Stewart) and Ben follow them to convince her to come back. Not only does Mal not want to return, but Uma (McClain), the pirate daughter of Ursula (voice of Whoopi Goldberg), is jealous. She kidnaps Ben and forces Mal to bring her the Fairy Godmother's magic wand. When the Auradon kids manage to fight their way out of that, she makes use of Mal's spell book to take control of Ben himself...and force Mal to find her wicked side.

The Song and Dance: I enjoyed this one slightly more than the first. There's some genuinely interesting numbers, and I liked meeting other residents of the Isle of the Lost. McClain was the standout as Uma, who can belt a tune like a diva and does very well as they sassy pirate who resents anyone having a chance for a better life besides her. I also liked Thomas Dohtery as Harry Hook, son of Captain Hook, who looks like Adam Ant with his own hanger hand and acts like his father on interesting substances. The costumes and sets remain incredible, especially in the Isle of the Lost. I love the semi-grimy waterfront and Uma's boat, and the kids look like they're having a great time during the awesome fencing sequence there.

Favorite Number: The opening number "Ways to Be Wicked" demonstrates how badly Mal wants to revert to her old self as she and her friends use poisoned apples to make Auradon a little bit naughtier (and a lot more dynamic). McClain belts "What's My Name" with aplomb as she and her boys launch their nautical moves at her mother's fish and chips bar. The villain kids attempt to teach Ben to be "Chillin' Like a Villain," but all the hip-swaying moves can't hide Ben's good nature. I'd love to know how they managed some of the amazing splits and kick moves in ankle-deep water during the finale "You and Me."

What I Don't Like: For all the improved numbers and acting, the plot is still chained to the tried and true. The whole "be yourself" thing can be telegraphed from a mile off. Jay telling Mulan's daughter Lonnie (Donna Doan) she can't be on the fencing team because of her gender is a little more interesting (and relevant in this era) than Mal's quandary with her bad and good sides or Carlos' attempts to ask Jane out and what happens to his dog. There's also very few adults around. The only parents we see are Belle, the Beast, and Ursula's tentacle. The parents were among the best things about the first film and are sorely missed.

Speaking of Ursula, the film's television roots definitely shows in the special effects. While better than most fantasy programming you'll see on cable, it's still very obvious that Mal's dragon and Uma in octopus mode are CGI models. That's also likely why we only see Ursula's one tentacle, too. She'd probably be too expensive to render fully in CGI.

The Big Finale: If you loved the first movie, you'll probably get an even bigger kick out of this one.

Home Media: Same deal here - the DVD can be found for cheap, and it's on most streaming services, including free with a subscription to Disney Plus.

Disney Plus

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Musicals On TV - Descendants (2015)

Disney, 2015
Starring Dove Cameron, Sofia Carson, Booboo Stewart, and Cameron Boyce
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Music by various

With Disney Plus adding the third entry in this series this week, I thought this was the perfect time to discuss the entire trilogy. It came out amid huge fanfare during the summer of 2015, with dolls, clothes, toys, and books based around the characters...and proved to just as popular as the original High School Musical. Why was this movie such a huge hit? To find out, we begin at Auradon Prep in a divided fantasy world, where a young man is about to make a decision that will turn two worlds upside-down...

The Story: Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope), son of Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy) and the Beast (Dan Payne), declares that four children from the Isle of the Lost should be allowed to attend Auradon Prep. The Isle of the Lost is where all fairy-tale villains were banished after they were defeated; it's basically a crime-ridden slum where magic is forbidden, cut off from Auradon by a barrier.

The new students chosen are Mal (Cameron), daughter of Malificent (Kristen Chenowith), Carlos (Boyce), son of Cruella Di Ville (Wendy Raquel Robinson), Jay (Stewart), son of Jafar (Maz Jobrani), and Evie (Carson), daughter of the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy). Malificent orders them to retrieve the wand of the Fairy Godmother (Melanie Paxson) so she can take over Auradon. The kids obey her at first, until Evie realizes she has a head for chemistry, Carlos befriends a local dog, and Jay becomes the star of the school's "tourney" (a hockey/lacrosse mix) team. Mal gives Ben a cookie laced with a love potion, then regrets it when she actually falls for him. Now the kids have to decide if they want to follow in their parents' footsteps, or find their own paths.

The Song and Dance: It's pretty obvious that this is another Kenny Ortega production. We once again have a team of young people from two different words jamming in elaborate group dance routines. The difference here is that the kids aren't just from different cliques. They're literally from a whole different world with ways that aren't as pretty and pastel as those at Auradon. And it must be said that while the kids aren't bad, their parents are absolutely having the most fun. Jobram looks the part of Jafar far more than the man who played him in the live-action version, Robinson is a hoot as dog-hating Cruella Di Ville, and Chenowith is having the time of her life as a totally over-the-top Malificent who wants revenge...and expects her daughter to do the same.

Favorite Number: It begins well with "Rotten to the Core," showing off just how terrible life at the Isle of the Lost is...and how much the four kids rule the impoverished citizens as they wreck as much havoc as possible. Chenowith appears in the Museum of Cultural History in Auradon to tell her daughter with many flourishes how she wants her to be "Evil Like Me." All of the kids come together in a big, colorful dance routine in the finale at and around Auradon Prep, "Set It Off."

Trivia: The movie was so huge, it became the most watched movie in cable history at that point. The soundtrack hit #1 on the Billboard 200 charts as well.

What I Don't Like: All of the Disney magic in the world can't hide how paint-by-numbers this one is. Cameron can't conjure a potion that brings life to the syrupy ballad "If Only." Most of the other kids are generic popular preppies or cutesy teens with little personality. Jane (Brenna D'Amico), the daughter of the Fairy Godmother, is supposed to be, well, plain-Jane, but she's too cute to believe that Mal's magic could suddenly make her part of the popular crowd. The kids' more realistic performances clash rather badly with the over-the-top ones from their screen parents. And "Be Our Guest" comes off as ridiculous, with clumsy choreography and a dull performance by Hope.

The Big Finale: Like most of the Disney Channel musicals, I'm the wrong audience for this movie. This one is for older school kids, young teens, and their parents who enjoy the Disney animated movies and the other Disney Channel original films and who will get a kick out of the songs, references to the Disney canon, and the young cast.

Home Media: Along with being available on Disney Plus with a subscription there, it's also on DVD (often for under 10 dollars) and most other streaming services.

Amazon Prime

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Happy Groundhog's Day! - Jack Frost

Rankin-Bass, 1979
Voices of Robert Morse, Buddy Hackett, Debra Clinger, and Paul Frees
Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.
Music by Maury Laws; Lyrics by Jules Bass

Rankin-Bass continued to churn out holiday specials in the late 70's, but as those of you who read my reviews for last month may have noticed, some of them could get more than a little odd. What better character to headline a holiday special than the mythical lad himself who is said to control winter weather? They also had the habit of tying other holidays into their specials, referencing Groundhog's Day here along with Christmas and winter in general. How does this hodgepodge look nowadays? Let's head to the unfortunate town of January Junction, just as winter is about to begin, and find out...

The Story: Weather-forecasting groundhog Pardon-Me-Pete (Hackett) narrates the tale of how he and Jack Frost (Morse) came to make a deal to let him sleep for six weeks longer. Jack is an invisible sprite who creates snow and ice. He's happy with his lot, until he encounters the lovely Elisa (Clinger), the daughter of poor farmers in January Junction. After he rescues her from going over the falls, she calls him a hero. He falls hard for her and begs Father Winter (Frees) to make him human. Father Winter agrees to it for one season, sending fellow sprites Snip (Don Messick) and Holly (Dina Lynn) with him.

Elisa, however, ends up falling in love with the handsome knight Sir Ravenal (Sonny Melendrez). She has another suitor in Kubla Kraus (Frees), the Cossack King who claims all the money and building materials in the area for himself. He takes her hostage on Christmas Day, threatening to send his army of mechanical knights to destroy the town. Jack, his friends, and Sir Ravenal go after him. Sir Ravenal is hurt; Jack and the others are captured. He finally gives up his humanity to create a snowstorm that will keep Kraus from sending his knights, but can't keep sending it if a certainly little groundhog declares that spring is here...

The Animation: The designs here are similar to Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas In July that same year, but even more fantasy-oriented, as appropriate for the setting. They actually rendered the snow quite well, especially the glistening ice. The scenes in Kraus' castle are also pretty nifty, as are those thousand K-Knights, and the ones up in the Kingdom of Winter.

The Song and Dance: There's a lot of charm to be found in this unique hybrid of The Little Mermaid and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. This is my favorite of Morse' several Rankin-Bass roles. He's sweet and adorable as Jack, especially when he first encounters Elisa after becoming human. Frees is hilarious both as the fussy Slip and bellowing Kubla Kraus, one of the better Rankin-Bass villains. Kraus somehow manages to be buffoonish and menacing at the same time, even with him toting a mechanical dummy around. And it's rare to see them try for even a bittersweet ending - this may be their only special where the character doesn't get the girl in the end.

Favorite Number: The opening credits title song is a catchy little tune that shows us Jack at work and how the people on Earth revel in it. "There's the Rub" is a great villain song for Kubla Krous as he describes how he could have been a great ruler in other times and places. The Christmas sequence is set to the chorus routine "It's Just What I Always Wanted" as the residents of January Junction exclaim over the "dream presents" they pretend they have. Hackett performs a nice "Me and My Shadow" in the very beginning as we see just what he does and how important his shadow - and Jack's - will be to the story.

What I Don't Like: While this definitely comes off better than Christmas In July, which came out a few weeks before it, it's still not up to Rankin-Bass' earlier programs. Elisa is cute but is otherwise is a bit dull (though, to give her credit, I think she does figure out who Jack is in the end). Once again, Rankin-Bass tries to needlessly tie a holiday in. The good song aside, the whole Christmas/"dream present" segment seems kind of shoehorned in. In fact, though AMC has run it around Christmas for the past few years, I actually consider this to be more of a Groundhog's Day/general winter special.

The Big Finale: A hidden gem from Rankin-Bass with a catchy score, one of their more interesting villains, and a surprisingly bittersweet tone for them. Whether you watch it on Christmas or Groundhog's Day, it's worth checking out.

Home Media: Quite easy to find on DVD and on streaming.

Amazon Prime