Thursday, December 25, 2008

Review Of A CHRISTMAS STORY By John Rose

It's the 25th! Today we wish all of our readers a most happy and Merry Christmas, and our final post for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas is a review of the popular holiday film A Christmas Story, based on the Jean Shepard novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Director Bob Clark was inspired by radio personality Shephard's stories of growing up in northwest Indiana, and was allowed to make the film after the success of the first two Porky's films.

Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a boy growing up in 1940's Indiana, is obsessed with receiving one thing, and only one thing, for Christmas, "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range-model air rifle." A large part of the film is devoted to the various ways and means of alerting his parents (Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon) to this fact, despite constant admonitions of "you'll shoot your eye out" from his mother, his teacher (Tedde Moore), who writes this on an essay about the air rifle just below Ralphie's grade of C+, and the Higbee's department store Santa (Jeff Gillen) who is Ralphie's final avenue of hope for his wish. Meanwhile, Ralphie and younger brother Randy (Ian Petrella) and his friends Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R.D. Robb) must deal with the usual trials of childhood, including the classic triple dog dare between Flick and Schwartz over whether or not a person's tongue will stick to a frozen flagpole, and neighborhood bullies Scott Farkas (Zack Ward) and Grover Dill (Yano Anaya) who finally receive a brutal beating at the hands of Ralphie after a particularly rough day on the road to BB glory. There are also the Old Man's daily battles with the house's recalcitrant furnace and the neighbors' bothersome hound dogs, Ralphie's unfortunate use of the dreaded F-dash-dash-dash word and the receiving of the Old Man's Major Award (the infamous Leg Lamp, which the Old Man loves and the Mother loathes). All of these vignettes together add up to a mad Christmas punch of Norman Rockwell and Mad Magazine that is now regarded as nothing less than a perennial of the holiday season. The film has now been immortalized as a holiday perennial, and is often aired in 24-hour marathons on the TBS station, beginning on Christmas Eve.

Much of the film's perfection is derived from its mixture of holiday sentimentality and good-natured satire that
manages to stay mature without sliding into gross humor. Billingsley, Dillon and McGavin (who is, and perhaps will always be, The Old Man for all time) shine in their roles, and their supporting cast brings a sense of realism to the holiday madness that occurs throughout the movie. If you watch one Christmas film during the season, it should be this one.

We hope that you all enjoyed The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you, and all of us here in the Monster Shop wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Stick
around, because there's no telling what we'll do next...

The world is full of beautiful things
Butterfly wings, fairytale kings
And each new day undoubtedly brings
Still more beautiful things...
--Bobby Darin, "Beautiful Things"


Petronella "Punkin" Nightshade
Francesca "Frankie" Franken
Bethany Ruthven
Harriet Von Lupin

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

ACROSS FIVE CAROLS: Five Staves On Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL By Bethany Ruthven

Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. It is Christmas Eve, and as I write this I am in my chambers at Castle Ruthven with a splendid and delicious bottle of Lithuanian Greengrocer 1865, type AB-negative. (A lovely year, too.) Christmas Eve, for me, is the best time of Christmas, full of anticipation. The bunting is down, most of the various fetes and parties are done, and we are only twenty-four hours away from beginning the walk to the New Year. On Christmas Eve my thoughts often turn to what is perhaps my favorite Christmas story, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Dickens first published his "Ghost Story For Christmas" on December 19, 1843. The 'little Christmas book' was instantly successful, selling over 6000 copies in just one week. This wonderful tale of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his redemption has endured through the ages to become a true classic of Christmas, and in its time was judged by his contemporaries as crucial to redefining the role of the Christmas season and its traditions. A Christmas Carol has been adapted countless times for nearly every performing medium imaginable, and tonight, as we pass the hours to Christmas Day, I shall share with you our five favorite adaptations.

Stave 1: Patrick Stewart's Christmas Carol
Stewart, known by all Star Trek fans everywhere as the unflappable Captain
Jean-Luc Picard, has performed a one-man stage production of A Christmas Carol since 1991. In this 1994 Hallmark Entertainment production, which neither skimps on nor romanticizes the squalor of the Victorian period, Stewart turns in a delightful performance as Ebenezer Scrooge, with Richard E. Grant appearing as a particularly beleaguered Bob Cratchit and Joel Grey as a kindly but firm-handed Ghost of Christmas Past. The ghost-story aspects of Dickens' tale are played to maximum effect, and the film's production values are unusually high for a television adaptation, similar to Masterpiece Theatre. This film has become a holiday perennial in the Monster Shop; we must see this every Christmas. Watch for appearances by Trevor Peacock and Liz Smith, both alumni of Dawn French's acclaimed Vicar Of Dibley series.

Stave 2: A Christmas Carol: The Musical
We were a bit skeptical of a musical version of A Christmas Carol at first, and equally skeptical of the rather warm and genial Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, but this version surprised us. Hallmark Entertainment produced this television film in 2004, based on a 1994 Madison Square Garden stage musical. Grammer's performance as Scrooge does come across as more grumpy than bitter and anguished, but again, the production values are very high, and we find the music pleasant. There seems to be little downtime between the songs. This musical also features a scene in which Scrooge's father is sent away to debtors' prison, a scene inspired by the life of Dickens himself.

Stave 3: Scrooged
This 1988 comedy film featuring Bill Murray is noted for its many star roles and cameos, its satire of the media and its Carol-within-a-Carol storyline of a heartless and cruel TV executive who is assigned the task of producing a live TV all-star version of the Dickens tale, and finds his life inexplicably mirroring the story. Produced by Richard Donner and adapted from Dickens by Mitch Glazer and black-comedy master Michael O'Donoghue, this film is unusually faithful to the Dickens tale, modernized though it may be. Many dark moments and images abound in this film, and according to those in the know, O'Donoghue had a much darker vision in mind than what ultimately went to theatres.

Stave 4: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

Quincy Magoo, the popular UPA cartoon character voiced by Jim Backus, appears as Ebenezer Scrooge in this much-lauded animated musical from 1962. Despite being aimed at children and rather shortened to fit an hour-long time slot, much of the dialogue is directly quoted from Dickens with little to no simplification. It also contains a rich and excellent musical score and songs by Walter Scharf, Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.

Stave 5: The Stingiest Man In Town
Rankin-Bass Studios makes up for its poor rendering of Dickens' The Cricket On The Hearth with this fine 1978 adaptation of the Carol, featuring Walter Matthau and Broadway legend Robert Morse in vocal talents for old and young Scrooge, and Tom Bosley as ubitiquous narrator B.A.H. Humbug. The animation style is somewhat similar to the style that would appear in their productions of Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Return Of The King, and the story is relatively faithful to Dickens' original work. This special is now available on the Classic Christmas Favorites DVD set, which is available at (as are the other films shown here).

So in these last hours of the Eve, I take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a most pleasant and wonderful Merry Christmas from myself, the other MonsterGrrls (Frankie, Punkin and Harriet) and our Mad Doctor. I have delighted in being a part of this holiday soiree, and hope your New Year is prosperous and peaceful. Do keep Christmas in your heart, as Scrooge came to do, and God bless us every one.

Our final post for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas is up tomorrow. I shall see you then, and once more, Merry Christmas to all.

Warmest regards for the season,
Bethany Ruthven

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Merry Grinchmas to all! For our final segment of Grinchwatch for this Christmas season, we're going to take a look at the 2000 film Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey and directed by Ron Howard. This movie was the first-ever Dr. Seuss tale to be made into a live-action film.

Drawing directly from the original story and Seuss' canon (down to the Who world being microscopic and contained deep inside a snowflake), this movie is fleshed out to include some of the Grinch's own backstory. Whoville has begun its usual outrageous and extravagant Christmas celebration, but Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) is confused by all the excess and feels that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. Meanwhile, the jealous and angry Grinch (Jim Carrey), a social outcast who lives next to the city dump at the top of Mount Crumpit, is visiting Whoville in disguise and attempting sabotage among the Whos. Through a series of circumstances, these two encounter each other, and the Grinch uncharacteristically saves Cindy Lou from being squashed in the mail-sorting machine at the Who post office. At that point, the film takes off.

Receiving little information from her parents about the Grinch, and deciding that perhaps he is not as bad as rumor has it, Cindy Lou begins to canvas the town, and discovers from various Whos (including Jeffrey Tambor's scheming Mayor Maywho and Christine Baranski's befuddled Martha May Whovier) that the Grinch was indeed a Who at one point, adopted by a kindly couple of maiden aunts. Teased at school for his odd appearance and green fur, Grinch, upon discovering that Martha May likes him, uses his developing engineering skills and builds her a Christmas angel for a present. Attempting to fit in, he tries to shave himself and does such a terrible job that even the teacher cannot help laughing, leading to a destructive tantrum that destroys the classroom and his present and sends Grinch running away to the top of Mount Crumpit, where he has been living ever since.

Cindy Lou decides that bringing the Grinch back to Whoville and involving him in the Whobilation may help her own misgivings about the holiday, and undertakes a brave quest to meet the Grinch and elect him as Holiday Cheermeister. Mayor Maywho, feeling threatened by the Grinch, deviously gives him "the gift of a Christmas Shave," which results in another tantrum and more destruction. As the Whos rebuild their Whobilation, the canonical story is set in motion as the Grinch gets his Wonderful, Awful Idea and begins his plot to steal Christmas.

Seuss' tale of the Grinch has always had a theme of redemption to it, and the added backstory in this film throws this theme into sharp focus. The excesses of the film's sets, costumes and special effects (as well as the excesses
of Jim Carrey, who eschews Boris Karloff's original reading for one of his usual manic performances, which becomes tempered somewhat by his scenes with Momsen) almost ensure that this film will have none of the charm of Chuck Jones' original cartoon, or of Seuss's original story. But director Ron Howard and the cast (which also includes Anthony Hopkins as narrator, Howard's brother Clint as Maywho's toady Whobris, and master clown Bill Irwin and comedienne Molly Shannon as Cindy Lou's parents) treat Seuss's story with love, grace and deep respect for its source, creating an original production of a well-known holiday classic without stealing its thunder and acknowledging Seuss as its undisputed master. We in the Monster Shop do recommend this film for the holidays, but only if you also show the original Chuck Jones cartoon and/or read the original Seuss book.

And so we end our Grinchwatch for this season. There's just two days left to Christmas, so hang with us for tomorrow's Ghoul-tide news on The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008


Jingle jingle to all, and today for our 25 Days Of Christmas celebration we're looking at Charles Schulz's A Charlie Brown Christmas. Like Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch, Christmas with the Peanuts gang is something we look forward to during the holiday season, and a recent brand-new DVD release from Warner Bros has just arrived, with remastering and extra features.

Originally airing in 1965, Charles Schulz and producer Bill Mendelez (who also voices Snoopy for this production) brought the idea for an animated Peanuts special to CBS with sponsoring from the Coca-Cola company. Created on a shoestring budget, this production was originally considered a bust by CBS network execs, due to the use of untrained child actors (Kathy Steinberg, who voiced Sally, was too young at the time to read her lines and had to be cued line by line during the soundtrack recording), Vince Guaraldi's now-classic jazz soundtrack and Linus's reading of the Gospel Of Luke in the pre-climax. Both Schulz and Melendez valiantly fought for their vision, and the resulting critical and commercial success of the show proved the network execs wrong and created a holiday classic. Also, Linus' telling of the Nativity drew whopping critical praise and turned out to be the highlight of the 1965 holiday season.

The story has Charlie Brown unhappy and uncertain (as usual) about the coming of Christmas. Put off by the commercialism he sees around him (such as Snoopy's participation in a house decorating contest and his sister Sally's desire for "tens and twenties" for Christmas), he turns to Lucy for advice. She asks him to direct the school Christmas play, but he cannot get control of the other kids, who are more interested in a modern version of Christmas than the simplicity and traditionalism Charlie wants. When Charlie chooses a small but very real baby tree for the play over a lot full of fake aluminum Christmas trees, he is castigated by everyone except Linus, who answers his anguished question of "what is Christmas all about" by a quiet center-stage recitation of the Nativity story. Touching on themes of overcommercialization of Christmas, as well as reminding viewers of the real Christmas story, A Charlie Brown Christmas has carried on to become a perennial of the season, and also won Emmy and Peabody Awards.

The new DVD includes remastering and special features including the special It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown and an all-new featurette on the making of the original special. Like its predecessor It's The Great Pumkpin, Charlie Brown, some free music downloads from iTunes are also included. But whether you prefer the special features or not, this is a must-have for anyone assembling a collection of holiday DVDs, and should be at the top of everyone's list. We in the Monster Shop cannot stress enough the importance of seeing this tale, whether through broadcast, ownership, or even a rental. God bless and keep Charlie Schulz in our hearts, and Merry Christmas to all our readers of The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas!

POST-MORTEM: Click the DVD cover picture above for an ordering link from Amazon, and click here to read more about this fantastic Christmas special from a column at PopMatters by Brian Heater.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

SANTA CLAUS AND MAD SCIENCE: Text by Frankie Franken, A.M.S., H.D.

Transcription Of Francesca 'Frankie' Franken's 2007 Solstice Festival Address to the Mad Scientists' Guild of Morlock Heights' Annual Guild Dinner, delivered on what is known to humankind as Christmas Eve:

(Slight feedback from microphone. Sound of Frankie clearing her throat.)

Distinguished Council of The Mad Scientists' Guild and Honored Fellows, M.D., In.Ph.D, D.M.S.
, C.O.N., and G.B., I thank you for letting me speak to you this evening. In the spirit of the holidays I have recently been attempting to complete a thesis on the science behind the annual world-wide trip and subsequent delivery of gifts and other items by one Kristopher Nicholas Kringle, also known to all denizens of the human world and those in the Unknown World as Santa Claus. (Applause with some murmurs.) I believed this subject worthy of study due to its abnormally high success rate each year. Being a highly distinguished Junior Member of the Mad Scientists' Guild, I had access to much research on this subject. Our Distinguished Fellows Dr. Klang and Dr. Rhesus have been extremely busy. (Laughter, applause.)

Now, the basic idea here is that Santa Claus has to go around the world and deliver toys to every child in just one night on a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, or nine reindeer if you count Rudolph. We shall look at the reindeer first. No known species of reindeer can fly, but the key word here is known. The
re are at least 300,000 species of organisms yet to be discovered by conventional science, let alone Mad Science, so therefore it is impossible to completely rule out flying reindeer, which Santa may be the only individual to have ever seen. I submit to the Council of The Mad Scientists' Guild the hypothesis that Santa, through conventional means of cross-breeding and genetic splicing, has managed to develop a singularly mutated strain of reindeer to which only he and his elves are privy. There is also the question of whether Santa may use a special corn-feed for reindeer that allows them to fly, and this could also be manufactured by the means mentioned above. This is also submitted to the Council as well. (Murmurs of acceptance.) By the legendary presence of Rudolph, who possesses a glowing nose that can light the way through dense fog, it is my belief that both theories may be true. (More murmurs of acceptance, sound of pages turning.)

Now let's look at the children factor. There are 2 billion children, or persons under 18, in the world. It is thought that because of Santa's Christian origins, he does not appear to handle Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Monsterkind children, but I personally do not believe that this is true, due to my own experience of having received at least one gift distinctly labeled "From Santa" each Solstice Festival since my Creation. Therefore, some allowances are most likely made for these children. (Murmurs.) However, for the sake of scientific argument, if Santa were to handle only Christian-faith children, then the workload is reduced to 15% of the total, or 378 million according to the Population Reference Bureau. At the average census rate of 3.5 children per household, this adds up to 91.9 million homes, assuming there is one good child per house. (Murmurs of agreement.)

Due to different time zones across the globe and the rotation of the earth, and assuming Santa is moving from east to west, there are 31 hours of Christmas Eve to work with. Therefore, Santa makes 822.6 visits per second, with 1/1000th of a second to complete the following tasks on each visit: land the sleigh, get out, go down the chimney, fill all stockings, distribute other gifts under each house's Christmas tree, eat the thoughtfully provided traditional snack of milk and cookies, return up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each stop is evenly distributed, the calculations reveal a rate of .75 miles per household, adding up to a 75-1/2-billion-mile-trip. This does not count for rest stops and periodic feeding of reindeer.

This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, which is 3000 times the speed of sound. The payload on the sleigh is another element: assuming that each child receives one gift weighing not more than 2 pounds, the sleigh is carrying a total of 321,300 tons without Santa. (Murmurs of surprise) Conventional scientific research has proven that a team of nine reindeer cannot pull this payload, due to the fact that the average reindeer cannot pull more than 300 pounds. Instead a team of 214,200 reindeer is needed, which increases our payload to 353,400 tons. (Murmurs from audience.)

A total of only 353,000 tons at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance, which would heat up the sleigh and its team in the same manner as a spaceship re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. The consequences of such conditions have been included in my written thesis, and I will not disclose them at this time as they are too gruesome for the holiday. (Disappointed noises from audience.) However, I submit the hypothesis that the entire trip, with all conditions described above, is entirely possible with an advanced knowledge of electromagnetic waves and the space/time continnum. With such knowledge, Kristopher N. Kringle, a.k.a. Santa Claus, would be able to create "relativity clouds," or rips in the fabric of time and space, which would allow him entire months to deliver presents while only a few minutes pass on Earth! (Consternation.) And I also submit that presents are not delivered under the conditions I have described here today, but that they are created, atom by atom, at each home using advanced nanotechnology, which is not dissimilar to the very Mad Science we use in the lab to grow body parts from a single strand of DNA! (More consternation.) Therefore, I submit to the Mad Scientists' Guild that under these conditions, only one inevitable conclusion can be reached--Santa Claus is one of us!!

(Silence. Then thunderous applause and uproar. The last is delivered with an obvious smile in her voice.)

Distinguished Council Members and Honored Fellows, in the manner of our human neighbors on the other side of the Barrier, I take this opportunity to wish you not only a happy Solstice Festival, but also a very Merry Christmas. Thank you and good night. (Wild cheers and applause.)

POST-MORTEM: Appellations of educational degrees are as follows:
A.M.S., H.D.--Apprenticing Mad Scientist, Highly Distinguished.
M.D.--Mad Doctorate.
In.D.Ph.D--Doctorate in Indecipherable Philosophy.
D.M.S.--Distinguished Mad Scientist.
C.O.N.--Crazed Old Nutter (Appellation of Dr. Herman Von Kranker and certain other Guild members).
G.B.--Good Boy (Appellation of Dr. Emile Jojo, Guild Librarian/Archivist, a doglike genetic anomaly of Nature who spent time in the human world working in a carnival freakshow before completing his M.D. through a mail-order course).

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Well, howdy! This here is Punkin Nightshade speakin to you for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas, and today I am goin to talk with you about old Santy Claus. Now there is a whole bunch of movin pictures and whatnot that has been made about Santy Claus, but I am not talkin about them. Today I am talkin about the man himself.

Santy Claus as folks know him today growed out of a real-life feller named Saint Nicholas of Myra, who was a Christian bishop from the 4th century. This feller was real generous to folks, and was all time givin gifts of money in secret to the poor. The most famous story told about old Saint Nicholas is that there was a feller who had him three daughters, but was too poor to buy them a proper dowry so they could get married up on someone. The way things was in them days, this sort of thing meant that they was goin to be what we will call naughty ladies for the sake of little ones who might be readin this, cause there wasn't no one to take care of them no other way. Well, Saint Nick heard about this feller and decides he's gonna help him, but of course he don't want to embarrass him no more than he probly already was, seein as how it was lookin like his daughters was goin to be naughty ladies. So Saint Nick snuck round to the feller's house at night and threw three bags of gold through the window, one for each girl, and so they was set with a dowry and that was all right. Now there's a whole bunch of ways this story is told, but to show what Frankie would call an interestin parallel, one of them versions got him droppin the gold bags down the feller's chimbley, and the girls had all hung up their stockins to dry by the fireplace, and what does the gold do but fall into the stockins. So it is from this interestin parallel that we can see how folks started hangin up stockins for Santy Claus to fill.

Because he was such a generous feller, Saint Nick became a patron saint of folks what needed help. Durin the night of December 6th, back in the medieval times when all them knights and kings and such was runnin around, there was nuns who would get up together and sneak round to houses of poor folk and leave them baskets of food and such, and one can see how this caught on with folks since it was much more interestin to have somebody sneakin round leavin somethin rather than takin it. Another story about Saint Nick and younguns has to do with this island what had them a terrible famine goin on, and this evil old butcher stole him three younguns and tried to cure them up, goin to sell them as meat. Well, Saint Nick happened on this island takin care of hungry folk and not only figured out what the butcher was doin but performed him a miracle and resurrected them poor little younguns by prayin for them. So the Church went on and made him the patron saint of children too.

Now, no doubt you are wondrin now we got us a jolly old feller in a white beard and a red suit out of this. Well, the Christian faith had a strong influence over the world, so a lot of traditions among folks got changed up some when Christianity came on. This is not really nothin new, as folks are usually showin their faith and beliefs through some kind of action or ritual. But when people started regular celebratin the birth of the Christ child at the end of the year, a lot of these rituals got all mixed together into a kind of symbol for the good cheer and generosity of Christmas, and that symbol was what become Santy Claus. In England, the English had them a feller called Father Christmas, and this feller was wrote into Mr. Charles Dickens' book A Christmas Carol as the Ghost Of Christmas Present what appears to old Scrooge. Here in America, most of them early colonists what come over from Europe was Dutch, and the Dutch had them a feller like old Saint Nick called Sinterklaas. But the thing what really got Santy Claus started as we know it today was a poem by Clement C. Moore, called "A Visit From Saint Nicholas." Mr. Moore must have read up on a lot of these old ways, cause a lot of em made their way into today's Santy Claus.

Nowadays folks has sometimes been critical of Old Saint Nick. Some folks say that too much of the Christmas season is about Santy Claus, and that we don't spend much time on the Christ child no more, which was what got the whole holiday goin. But I say that Santy Claus is natural a reflection of what the Christ child come down from above to tell us about, and that is love. The legend of Santy Claus is based on a feller what works hard all the year to make gifts for folks on a holiday that comes at the darkest time of the year, all out of love for mankind and younguns, and don't charge nothin for it, and don't expect nothin in return. And from all I have heard and seen, that Christ child growed up to do somethin like that: to tell us that we ought to be generous and kind to each other, and love and forgive each other. Not just on Christmas, but all year round, cause that is a right smart. But of course that is natural just my opinion.

So anyway, this here is about Santy Claus, and I am done for this time. We hope you have a holiday of much good cheer, and that you will come round next time for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas. Blessings be on all of you!

Petronella Nightshade

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review Of THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH By Bethany Ruthven

Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. For today's post on The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas we are examining The Cricket On The Hearth, a Christmas tale by Charles Dickens that was transformed into an animated special by the Rankin-Bass studios in 1967, in association with comedian/singer Danny Thomas's Thomas/Spelling Productions. Thomas was also on hand to host this special, and worked alongside his daughter Marlo Thomas as voice talent for the production.

The Cricket On The Hearth, while being a huge commercial success for Dickens, received mixed critical reviews upon its release in 1845. The original tale concerns a man named John Peerybingle, whose life and family become involved with the fate of Caleb Plummer, a toymaker with a blind daughter and a missing son, who is in thrall to the miserly Mr. Tackleton. The son, Edward, has traveled to South America and apparently never returned; subsequently, Tackleton plans to marry Edward's sweetheart May. The cricket of the title lives on the hearth of Peerybingle's home and acts as a sort of guardian angel to his family, bringing them luck. As the story puts it, "To find a cricket on the hearth is the luckiest thing of all." One must observe, of course, that Dickens' era possessed not a shred of pest control.

The animated version is much simplified, removing John Peerybingle and his family and centering solely on Caleb Plummer (Danny Thomas), his daughter Bertha (Marlo Thomas), Bertha's sweetheart Edward (Ed Ames), the miser Tackleton (Hans Conried) and our cricket, here named Crockett (Roddy MacDowall). Caleb, a successful self-employed toymaker, takes in Crockett as a good-luck charm, while Bertha pines for her Edward, here in employ of the Queen's Royal Navy and going off to sea for two years. At the end of two years, on Christmas Eve, an agent of the Queen arrives with a letter saying Edward has been lost at sea. Bertha (for reasons unknown, perhaps shock) goes blind upon hearing this news, and Caleb drops everything to take care of his daughter, losing all his business in the process. While Crockett pledges to stay with the Plummers through thick and thin, Caleb is forced to work for miserly Tackleton, who has in his employ an evil crow named Uriah Caw (voiced by Rankin-Bass mainstay Paul Frees) who instantly dislikes Crockett and plots to get rid of him. Poor Caleb begins to lie to Bertha about their situation, until one night when a mysterious stranger arrives and takes up lodgings with the Plummers. You can probably guess what's going to happen now, but you do get thrown a bit by the sudden decision of Bertha to marry Tarkleton first.

This special is unfortunately not one of Rankin-Bass's better specials: the animation is very poor compared to what came along with such specials as Frosty the Snowman and their excellent productions of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Return Of The King. While
reducing the number of characters is an excellent move, the story, which was rather convoluted to start with, seems unfortunately to become more so as the show wears on. Crockett becomes reduced to a passive observer, and the subplot of Tarkleton's marriage to Bertha, when one sees their character designs of a rather warty, jowly old man and a pert young girl, is rather improbable, making the whole become more farcical than heartwarming. Many songs are included to both stretch the air time and show off the singing talents of the Thomases, but the musical theme of the special flies off the rails during an odd burlesque number, "Fish And Chips," sung by a rather overweight femme fatale cat in a scene where Uriah Caw goes to an animal-festooned ginmill to solicit assistance in getting rid of Crockett. The song does not particularly add to the story, and becomes more a distraction than a plot device. The cat is voiced by Abbe Lane, and the inclusion appears, to these eyes, very much like nepotism among the voice talent. And speaking of the voice talent, all involved perform their parts well, though the very refined McDowall's Cockney accent for Crockett leaves much to be desired. (The Thomases, New Yorkers to the core, thankfully do not attempt British accents.)

There is also a scene that I believe should have been edited from the final cut, as I found it especially disquieting for a Christmas production. In the scene, Crockett is kidnapped by Uriah Caw and his henchmen from the ginmill and taken to a ship, where they bargain with the cruel captain of the ship to take Crockett away and remind him of his promise to pay them. The captain "rewards" Uriah and the henchmen by taking out a gun and shooting them on the spot. Though this scene cuts away to the exterior of the ship, and only a gunflash from the window is seen, I do not believe that such a thing should have been included in a television special for young children at Christmas. Despite Dickens' penchant for true readings of the squalor and cruelty in the Victorian England of his times, this, in my opinion, is a grave misstep from Thomas and company in their attempts to present a Christmas special.

I advise a rental of this special rather than buying if you must see it. While it is available in single-disc form, it is also included on a recent DVD set release entitled The Original Christmas Classics (which several of our reviews this month have come from; click the picture at left for ordering information from The purchase of the set will allow you to view the special on your own if you wish to screen for children, plus there is the added luxury of other more interesting items to view, so if you are a Rankin-Bass completist looking to buy, I recommend a set purchase rather than the single disc. I also suggest that perhaps this might be viewed after Christmas if you have nothing else pressing.

We send greetings to our faithful readers and do hope you shall return for tomorrow's rendition of The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas! Cheers to all!

Warmest regards,
Bethany Ruthven

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Merry Christmas to all our readers, and today for our 25 Days Of Christmas segment I'm going to expand on Bethany's Twelve Days Of Christmas piece by examining January 6, or the Twelfth Day Of Christmas. This is also known as the Epiphany.

The Epiphany is a feast day of Christmas, celebrating the revelation of God in human form through the birth of Jesus Christ and the visitation of the Magi, or the three Wise Men. In some churches, the childhood events of Jesus and His subsequent baptism at Jordan and the first miracle of the wedding at Cana are also celebrated. This day was established very early on January 6; there are ancient liturgies existing today that speak of Illuminato, Manifesto, Declarato, or Illumination, Manifestation and Declaration. The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian celebration was in the year 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus. By the year 534 the Western Church had separated the celebration of the Nativity into the feast of Christmas and set its date as December 25, reserving January 6 as a commemoration of the coming of the Magi. The Eastern Church continued celebrating January 6 for both occurrences, but later adopted December 25 to commemorate both Jesus' birth and the coming of the Magi, and leaving January 6 as a commemoration of His Baptism.

In many European cultures, Epiphany is a day of celebration, and bears some traditions that are much like our usual Christmas traditions. In the Netherlands and Belgium, children in groups of three, in costumes of the Wise Men, go door to door singing carols and usually receive gifts of coins or sweets. Many Spanish-speaking peoples leave their shoes out on Epiphany, along with drinks such as sweet wine and milk, small nibbles and fruits, and sometimes hay or grass for the camels of the Three Kings, who usually respond by leaving gifts or toys in the shoes. In France, a kind of king cake called a gateau Des Rios or gallete Des Rios is served, usually with a trinket or bean inside. The person who finds the bean is made King for the day. This same tradition is found in Spanish countries, who bake a roscon or sweet bread with both a trinket and a bean inside (the person getting the trinket is made king, while the person getting the bean is responsible for paying for the roscon). Both these traditions are similar to the King Cake tradition of Mardi Gras, which the Epiphany begins.

The Twelfth Night is also sometimes thought to fall on Epiphany, but it is actually the day before Epiphany, January 5. Twelfth Night celebrations sometimes last through Epiphany, and involve food and drink such as wassail (though typically consumed throughout Christmas, this is especially consumed on Twelfth Night) and king cakes. This began in Tudor England, and usually marked the end of a winter festival that began on All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween. On this day, roles were reversed between peasants and kings, and a special cake containing a bean was eaten. The person finding the bean was named the Lord Of Misrule, and ran the feast until midnight, when his 'reign' ended. The tradition can be traced back to pre-Christian festivals such as the Celtic Samhain and the Romans' Saturnalia feast. Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night was written especially for one of these celebrations and first performed in 1602 at Middle Temple Hall in England.

As you can see, the celebration of Christmas is long and enduring. The holidays arrive in winter, usually a dark and cold time of the year, but despite this, a holiday of hope has managed to endure to cheer the hearts of all people. Celebrate it well, and and Dickens said, keep it in your heart.

We wish all our readers only the best this holiday season, and we'll be back tomorrow for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas. See you then!

"Wherefore are these things hid? Wherefore have these gifts a curtain before 'em?" --from William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Wow, guys, it's getting really close to Christmastime! This is Harriet Von Lupin for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas, and today I'm talking about one of the best-known parts of Christmas--the Christmas tree!
Everybody likes a Christmas tree, especially at this time of year, when everything is so gray and cold. A Christmas tree is usually an evergreen tree, one that stays green all year around. But the Christmas tree is a very old tradition, one that's even older than the holiday of Christmas!

A lot of the older civilizations used a tree for celebrations in their holidays.
The Vikings of Northern Europe used an evergreen tree as a reminder that winter would eventually end and spring would come back. Druids decorated oak trees with fruit and candles to honor their gods at harvests, and the Romans would have a tree with trinkets and candles at their feast of Saturnalia. So this is a tradition that's been around a while!

There's a lot of cool stories circling around the Christmas tree, too. One of them is about an English monk named Saint Boniface, who found a group of pagans trying to sacrifice a child on an oak tree. So to save the kid, Saint Boniface just flattens the oak tree with a hard punch, and a small fir pops up in its place! Saint Boniface told the pagans that the fir was the Tree Of Life, and represented the life of Christ.

Another one is about a guy named Martin Luther, who founded the Protestant faith and was responsible for a lot of reforms in the Catholic Church. Martin Luther was walking home late one night through the woods and saw all the stars shining through the branches of the trees. It was so beautiful to him that he cut down a little evergreen and took it home and decorated it. He used little candles to recreate the stars that he saw. Isn't that cool?

But it was in Germany that people started bringing trees indoors to decorate. This idea eventually spread throughout Europe, because people liked seeing the green trees in winter. The first Christmas tree that was ever at the Royal Palace in England was in 1841. Prince Albert, who was Queen Victoria's husband, decorated it with candles, fruit, candies and gingerbread!

When German immigrants came to America, they brought the idea of the Christmas tree along with them as one of their traditions. This was a little weird to other Americans, who still thought of it as a pagan symbol, but it was eventually accepted around the late 1800's.
Early Christmas trees were decorated with food, because people made decorations out of cookies, apples, nuts, and even popcorn! And the candle idea was still used until electricity was invented, which meant that people started using Christmas lights! This helped to spread the idea of the Christmas tree, and these days, they're everywhere!

Wow, when you think about it, the Christmas tree's really come a long way! So be sure you treat yours kindly and well, and let it inspire you to be merry! See you guys soon, and Merry Christmas! OWW-WOOOOOO!!!

Feliz Navidad,
Harriet Von Lupin

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Review of FROSTY THE SNOWMAN By Punkin Nightshade

Hey, y'all, this here is Punkin Nightshade doin another postin for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas, and today I am reviewin another of the Rankin-Bass holiday movin pictures, Frosty The Snowman. Now before I get started, I am goin to tell you that Frosty has three movin pictures of his own just like that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but I am wantin the other Grrls to have space on this here blog so I am reviewin just the one. This picture was made in 1969, and was based on a song what was wrote by Walter Rollins and Steve Nelson, which was first made into a record by the singin cowboy feller Gene Autry, who had already sung Rudolph and was wantin to do another Christmas tune. It was also the first time that the Rankin-Bass folks had ever done cartoon animatin instead of them little puppets.

This picture starts out with a bunch of younguns waitin to get out of school for Christmas, and there is a magician what has come to the school, Professor Hinkle, and his rabbit named Hocus Pocus. The younguns put up with him cause he ain't much of a magician and it is right to be polite, but when the bell rings they just about run him over gettin out the door, and this makes him so mad that he throws his top hat away. The younguns start buildin a snowman in the schoolyard, and talk about what they're goin to name him before a little girl named Karen comes up with Frosty. They put Professor Hinkle's old hat on Frosty, and next thing you know Frosty's come to life. Old Hinkle says if his hat's really magic, then he's takin it back, but old Hocus Pocus the rabbit knows that ain't right and takes the hat back to the younguns, and soon Frosty is alive again and able to play with the younguns. But Frosty starts meltin, and somethin has to be done. The younguns all march with him down to the train station, where Frosty meets up with a traffic cop because it has to be like in the song, and they try to get him a train ticket, but of course bein younguns they cannot pay for it. So they sneak him around and put him on a train goin to the North Pole, in a boxcar that's got that refrigeration in it and so is like a big old icebox. Karen and Hocus allow they'll go with him for a little while, but Karen cannot stand all that cold, so they got to get off the train and figure out what to do next. Hocus figures out that Santa Claus is the only feller what can help Frosty, so he starts tryin to find him, but that old Professor Hinkle's chasin all of em tryin to get that hat back, and there is an endin that looks like it's goin to be sad for a little bit, but it turns out to be happy so that is all right.

All these Rankin-Bass pictures has somebody famous narratin them, and Jimmy Durante, who is famous for bein a piano-playin comedian with a big nose, is narratin this one. Jackie Vernon is playin Frosty, and Billy DeWolfe is playin Professor Hinkle, and Paul Frees is playin Santa, and Hocus don't talk so there ain't nobody playin him. The little girl Karen was played by a lady named June Foray, what had done some voices for Rocky And Bullwinkle, when this picture was first shown. Then they took it back and got someone else to do redubbin for Karen and never did say who it was, and that's who's been doin it ever since, but they still left June Foray's name on the credits at the end of the picture. I was thinkin that we were not goin to look at this one at first, but it is that Frosty is what they call a Christmas icon and so we should be doin it, and so that is all right. It is a nice Christmas picture and somethin good for everbody to watch durin the season.

So I am done here, and blessings be to you. Y'all come on back tomorrow for more of our 25 Days Of Christmas, and I am a bit wore out from all this reviewin so I am goin and have some cocoa.

Petronella Nightshade

Monday, December 15, 2008


Hello, everybody! Welcome to The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas, and today I'm bringing you our weekly Holiday GrinchWatch! This time we're talking about the perennial animated special of Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas, created by famed Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones and featuring the great Boris Karloff as narrator and voice of the Grinch.

During World War II, Jones met Dr. Seuss, or Ted Geisel as he was known, when they both worked on the Warner Bros. Private Snafu cartoons for the military. When Seuss wrote and released How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Jones eventually convinced his friend to let him animate the Grinch for television. In 1966 the special premiered on CBS and became a holiday favorite, being repeated every year.

Expanding the book into a half-hour television show meant that several things had to be added. Songs such as "Welcome Christmas," or "Fah-Who-For-Aze" as you might know it, and the celebrated "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" were brought in to heighten aspects of the story that were only hinted at in the original book, such as the Whos' Christmas celebration and the Grinch's plans to steal their Christmas. Also, the sleigh ride sequence, which is one of the show's most hilarious moments, was added to lengthen the show to 30 minutes.

Another important move was to expand the character of Max, the Grinch's dog. Max only appears in the book for a couple of pages, but in the show he takes on a new role as a faithful companion to the bitter and lonely Grinch. Despite the Grinch's meanness, Max still loves him, and ends up becoming the point of view for the audience, showing that deep down, everyone is the same, and needs love and acceptance. (That's a really important thing to keep in mind, especially around Christmas!)

And of course, the show just wouldn't be the same without Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft! Karloff, for years a horror icon and the celebrated star of Universal's Frankenstein films, was the perfect narrator and Grinch voice for Seuss's funny but wonderful story. Ravenscroft, whose name was unfortunately left off the credits by accident, sang the now-classic "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," with lyrics by Seuss himself, and his rich delivery is what makes the song so great. The resulting collaboration between all these great minds is why we keep coming back year after year to watch this cool Christmas special--truly, it's a Christmas-themed triumph of the best that Mad Science has to offer!

Hey, next week is Christmas week! We'll be back then for the final part of our Holiday GrinchWatch with a review of the live-action Grinch film with Jim Carrey, so make sure you check back for more of The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas! See you then!

Merry Christmas To All,
Frankie Franken