It is my favorite time of year again. The time of silly Holiday sweaters, cookies baking by the dozens, houses decorated with sparkling lights, trees glittering with beloved family ornaments, and children dreaming of magic and fun. I have always thought Christmas was a time for children. When my Niece and Nephew were younger the whole family always went all out to make sure they enjoyed the Holidays. We went Christmas Light Hunting (a family tradition), baked cookies together, shopped for gifts together, picked names off the local “Angel Tree” and bought gifts for those children, and, of course, visited Santa Claus at the mall at least once. Unfortunately they are both grown now, off at college, and with full time jobs. They may not come home for the Holidays this year. But that is OK. I already have some cookies baked and ready to be mailed and I am still buying them gifts – nothing serious or necessary, I buy the fun stuff they want but can not spend money on. So the kids are all grown up and other family members and friends are forever gone. Christmas will be quieter this year. Or maybe not. I do have two new kids in the family – of the four legged variety. Former stray cat Georgie and Baby Stormy have never experienced the lights and ornaments of a Christmas tree before. My first two cats, Nixie and Sugar, like to take down small trees. Last year I put up a slightly bigger tree, about four foot, and they pulled off ornaments but did not kill the tree itself. Lucky Kitty was new last year. She likes to sit right next to the tree and stare at it. But Georgie and Stormy are brand new. Georgie is still shy but Stormy has proven herself to be a master thief – stealing anything she can get her little paws on and dragging her prizes all over the house. It will be really interesting to see if our Christmas tree survives the season. The Holidays will definitely be different this year, quieter in a lot of ways, but still fun and still magical, and a lot more furry.
My first offering of this Holiday Season is Santa and the Three Bears. This is a color, 46 minute long, animated feature that first premiered in theaters on November 7, 1970. Santa and the Three Bears was originally pitched for television but the major networks at the time all rejected it supposedly because it “lacked a villain”. When Santa and the Three Bears later appeared on television, it proved so popular that it was a regular Holiday favorite for several years. Cartoon fans who saw this feature on TV may remember that there were originally very short live-action scenes at the very beginning and end. When Santa and the Three Bears was released for home theaters in 1992, those live action scenes of a grandfather and two children were edited out. Neither of the two versions of this animated feature available on the Internet Archive have the live action scenes, both versions just dive right in to the cartoon story.
Santa and the Three Bears is an adorably sweet and gentle tale of two little bear cubs who know nothing at all about Christmas until a Park Ranger tells them some Holiday tales. The two little cubs then become curious and determined to wait up until Santa arrives. Mr. Ranger decides to dress up as Santa and give the cubs a fun surprise but a bad blizzard may derail everyone’s Holiday plans. Santa and the Three Bears is just so sweet even the most tender-hearted cartoon fan will enjoy it. Mr. Ranger does make a brief mention of a “little child who brought a gift to the world of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men and even to this day people still give presents on this child’s birthday”. But this is mostly a secular Holiday film and Mr. Ranger tells the bear cubs all about the “legend” of Santa Claus through the fun device of drawing his own pictures of the North Pole and elves and reindeer. The film uses other interesting visual devices throughout the story. There are times when the story is shown in a montage of various sized boxes so different elements, like the different animals in the park, can be focused on. Santa and the Three Bears also has lots of songs. But this is definitely a mixed blessing. Some of the songs are sweet but nothing that will stick in a viewer’s memory. But there are a couple of songs, sung by an unknown female singer, that just sounded almost painfully shrill. The animated visuals are also definitely showing their age. There is some damage to the film such as occasional scratches. And the art is often blurry or fuzzy. Internet Archive has two versions available for FREE online viewing or downloading and there is a vast difference in the visuals between the two of them. The original version, and so far the post popular with more than 55,000 views, is much lighter in color if a bit more fuzzy. The newer version, which declares itself a “better quality copy”, is actually not better in my mind. It may not be quite as fuzzy but it is lots darker and that darkness makes it much harder to see some details. Take a look at the comparison. The trees in the background may be a bit sharper in the “better quality copy” but the whole picture is so much darker that the detail in the two bear cubs is totally lost. The darkness does not make this version unwatchable (I actually watched it first) but I liked the original (and much lighter) version better. Audio quality is very good on both versions (except for the occasional shrill singing).
Television fans may recognize the voice of Mr. Ranger. It is Hal Smith. He has a huge resume going back to 1946 but he is probably best known as Otis Campbell the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show. Click here for the original (and lighter) version of Santa and the Three Bears. Click here for the “better quality” but much darker version. I hope everyone has Happy Holidays and, if you get a chance, drop me a note and tell me how you enjoy the Holidays with your furry, feathery, or scaly family members.