Cartoon Review: Will Vinton’s A Claymation Christmas Celebration

Posted: December 23, 2009 in Cartoon Review, Holiday, Reviews
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A Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987 Dir. Will Vinton)




Ohh, look at me! I’m going to be the source for about a hundred fat jokes before this is done!

This is going to be a little bit tougher than normal because this Will Vinton special is just six unconnected songs linked by a pair of dinosaurs trying to get people to sing “Here we come a wassailing” properly. It’s not as bad as trying to do one of those concert videos like Mannheim Steamroller of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s offerings, but still not as easy as it could be. I’m not going to go through the whole special, because I want this to be short. Instead I’ll just give each song a little bit of a run down and a score. The dinosaurs are a little annoying anyway so best to ignore them. I could talk about them, but it would be mostly complaining and I’m tired of complaining today.


And then the cop shouted “The calls are coming from inside the house!”

The first short is “We Three Kings”, which is sung by the three wise men and their camels. It bounces from a traditional solemn singing by the kings to a more jazzy inspired chorus sung by the camels. They sing separate but come together at the end. It’s a pretty good introduction. The song actually is a pretty cool rendition with the two styles contrasting against each other until the singers all meld at the end. Good song, animation has a sort of “Dina Shore Christmas Special” feel to it, because they never leave the confined set, but that helps ease you in. 5 Points.


Hells Bells

The second is a comic attempt at “Carol of The Bells”. The bells each have hands and hammers to bang against themselves. I like the song, but the one idiot bell that’s the star of this cartoon is annoying. As a result, you keep being yanked from enjoying the song because the one bell can’t manage to do things right, and the comedy isn’t all that funny. It would have been nice if they hadn’t interrupted the music for the comedy, it makes it harder to enjoy. This one fails to bring the smile on my face that I would normally hope to gain. It’s one of the only real misfires though, so we’ll let it go for now. It still only gets 1 point though, because it just fails to hit the mark.


I hate you Suzy. I hate you too Bobby.

Then we get a pretty good version of “O Christmas Tree” sung by children and using a pretty neat effect. They slowly zoom in to some kids decorating a tree, they hang up a house ornament onto the tree. We then zoom into the house through a series of dissolves and see that inside that house there is also a tree being decorated. The gingerbread men dance and then we see that there is a house on that tree. We zoom in again and it’s an elven workshop. After seeing the elves work for a moment we see the tree and the house on it, which takes us to Santa and his tree. This returns us to the first two kids, who have a complete tree with decorations and everything. I really like this one, even if the main thrust is a little simplistic. 4 points.


Oddly not much in the way of fat jokes here.

Then there is a funny bit of some walruses ice dancing to an instrumental version of Angels” We Have Heard on High”. This is funny enough and as it’s also very short it doesn’t have time to become tiresome. There are also some penguins who get spun around a lot by the two. The Penguins get their sweet vengeance on the walruses, proving why they live at opposite ends of the planet. Sadly, walruses and penguins just can’t get along. They only get 2 points, because while I sort of enjoy it, it’s not my favorite one.


No joke, the whole thing is just too gorgeous.

We then get what I think is the highlight of the special. “Joy To The World” is not only given a really good rendition, but the animation is amazing. It’s basically clay that’s been pained on glass so it has the look of a living oil painting. The images keep melting into one another, which swirls and cascades into different colors. The work is genuinely gorgeous to look at and must have taken some time to create at there are sometimes multiple layers in a single shot. 10 Points. No Question. If you watch nothing else from this special, you really need to watch this video. In fact, I’ve found a youtube video of it, I just hope the link is still valid when you read this.


And they were never heard from again.

Then we get what was the advertising highlight. The California Raisins sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. This is back when the California Raisins were a big deal, so they were what got advertised when this was first shown, and it’s why they come last. It’s okay, but with the Raisins not being such a force, they’re not as interesting now as they once were. Now the Raisins are sort of a distraction. Actually, I seem to remember that the raisin thing was sort of over by that point anyway. Odd how an ad campaign got it’s own holiday special, even if it’s only the one segment, they really did base everything around this one. It gets 4 points.


And now they’re boozing it up, how nice.

The special then ends with people singing “Here We Come A Wassailing” properly and explain what wassailing is. They sing the song wrong though and it always bugs me. They sing “Here we come a wassailing along the leaf so green, here we come a wassailing so fair to be seen” The second wassail is supposed to be wandering, and that has always bugged me. They then pull out singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” as the credits roll. This is actually a really good special despite the fact that a few pieces don’t come off as well as others.


I’m also offering another shot from Joy To The World

I’ve got a DVD with an Easter and Halloween Special on it as well. There’s even an commentary on the Christmas special, which is very interesting to listen to. Will Vinton’s claymation work is a lot more widespread than most people realize. I’m pretty sure his group did the Noid commercials for Domino’s Pizza and they’ve worked with Michael Jackson as well as made those M&M characters that are still on TV now. It seems odd that his name isn’t as well known as say Aardman is. Ah well, they did good on this one, so who cares?

Official Score:
21 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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