A TOM & JERRY CHRISTMAS (tbs, 1987)

Why was it such a misfit?

Do Tom and Jerry have a Christmas special? Actually, they don't. So what is this, then?

This is what you call "quickly thrown together, Ted Turner style." At this point in history, Turner was a cable tyrant with the MGM and Hanna-Barbera libraries under his control, as well as TV rights to a good chunk of WB's Looney Tunes library, and a few other things. He was stocking up for the prospect of launching an entire channel devoted to animation, which he would pull off in 1992. At the moment, though, he was just using what he had to fill time on the TBS network. "A Tom & Jerry Christmas" is a product of that.

An actual Tom & Jerry Christmas special was never made. There is ONE Christmas-themed short starring the cat and mouse, which Ted had the rights to show, but it is seven minutes long and an hour was cleared for this special. So to pad time, they threw in EVERY holiday cartoon short they had, from Popeye to the Katzenjammer Kids. Then they grabbed two Atlanta residents off the street, set them in front of a fireplace and had them recite bridging material. Walla-bing-bang, you got A Tom & Jerry Christmas.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to meet....

I don't think I can put into words how off-putting these two kids are, so I've taken the extra step of uploading most of their bumper material to YouTube. Audra Lee and Josh Jarboe have the most unnatural performances of any hosts I've ever seen. They act not only like they've never taken an acting or speaking class in their lives, but that the director is aiming a cannon at them and will fire if they ever break their smiles. There are worse examples ahead.

The Tom & Jerry short that kicks off the special, 1941's Night Before Christmas, is entertaining enough. Being a Christmas short, it has the twist of Tom and Jerry being kind to each other at the end. Jerry gets locked outside, and turns into a literal popsicle, and Tom starts to have guilt about it. So he takes the popsicle inside and warms it by the fire until it thaws into Jerry again. Jerry is so touched by the gesture, he takes a candy cane and springs the trap he left in Tom's milk saucer. They've reached a truce, for this cartoon anyway.

After Audra and Josh's Martin Luther story comes Pup's Christmas, a Harman & Ising short from 1936. On Christmas morning, two kids clamber downstairs to tear the wrapping off their Christmas presents and reveal the toys inside. The family puppies watch the ritual curiously, not knowing what to make of it. They're especially confused by the polka-dotted Pluto knockoff wrapped with a bow in the corner; I'm a bit puzzled by it too.

Eventually these toys start becoming outright harmful, like the miniature tank that starts SHOOTING at one pup. It makes you wonder if the toys are doing it on purpose somehow, and as the short goes on it becomes clear they have a mind of their own and they REALLY have it out for dogs. The short ends with the pups hiding in a toy doghouse, terrified of what could happen next to them. Savage!

The Stepford Children come back to explain what Hannukah is. Audra says something, then her expression remains frozen in a pained grin while Josh says his lines, then vice-versa, and they swap places like that until the cameraman says "cut." Audra amd Josh are less "Christmas warmth" and more the kind of thing you find while riding a tricycle down a hotel hallway.

Next up is Bedtime For Sniffles, from 1939. You wouldn't know from the sight of him, but Sniffles is technically a Looney Tune. The tone of the whole series was still up in the air...Porky existed, but Bugs wouldn't be invented until the following year. Irreverent comedy wasn't the rule at Termite Terrace yet, so you could still get cutesy shorts like this, and characters like Sniffles, who got sidelined and forgotten eventually.

OR DID HE? Sniffles wound up having an unexpected second life in comic books. Dell Comics teamed the character with a little girl named Mary Jane, who could shrink to Sniffles' size using magic dust and a couple spoken rhymes. Then they would journey to Wonderland-type worlds of lollipops and rainbows, which had nothing to do with any actual Sniffles cartoon in existence. "Mary Jane And Sniffles" was a surprise hit for Dell and it ran for many years, with most of its child fans having no idea where Sniffles actually came from.

The entire short is about Sniffles trying to stay awake so he can meet Santa Claus. He turns on the radio (with an unlicensed use of the NBC Chimes), he drinks a lot of coffee, and he even tries shoving his head into a bowl full of ice water. But it's a losing battle, because every time he so much as GLANCES at his own bed, he becomes drowsy. And he lives in a studio mousehole, so there aren't a lot of angles at which he can avoid seeing it. Eventually his spirit detatches from his body and forces him to get in bed under penalty of death, and he falls under....just in time to miss Santa's sleigh streaking across the sky. Better luck next time, Sniffles...if you have a career in a year, that is.

"THAT WAS CUTE! DID YOU KNOW THAT CARTOON IS NEARLY FIFTY YEARS OLD?" Audra projects forcefully.
"AND JUST AS GOOD AS EVER! SOMETHING LIKE -- ERROR 4575 DIALOGUE BOX NOT FOUND!!" agrees Josh.

The next cartoon is 1955's Mr. & Mistletoe starring Popeye. It starts out with Popeye and Olive Oyl staring across the room at three small children with Popeye's face -- are they married in this short? No, the kids refer to him as "Uncle Popeye" -- evidently he has a brother or sister who looks just like him. Popeye tells them to rush to bed so Santa will visit them, and they do so. Popeye and Olive then start decorating the tree while remarking, "It's too bad there ain't no Santy for grown-ups." Bluto, walking by at the moment, happens to hear Popeye's words and gets an idea.

One transition later, he's on Popeye's roof dressed as Santa Claus. Landing down their chimney, he completely fools the Sailor Man at first: "I can't believes my eyes! It's really Santy!" But after a while, he begins to notice that not only is Santa physically abusive to him, he keeps trying to get close to Olive Oyl. It never completely connects, however, nntil a Christmas candle burns Bluto's fake beard off (while leaving his real beard intact). "Why....you're not Santa! POPEYE, HELP!!" Olive squeals as she is chased around the living room.

Good thing Popeye's nephews left him a can of spinach for Christmas. Popeye eats it, his limb turns into a sledgehammer, and he socks Bluto into the next county. You might say that's not a very Christmassy ending, but Bluto crossed so many consent lines in this one cartoon alone that he really had it coming.

Audra and Josh's fourth bumper is their longest and includes a cameo from Santa Claus. "WE're BACK with the TOM and Jerry CHRIStmas special! We HOPE you're haVING a good TIME!" Audra enunciates.
They awkwardly inform us of Santa's varied means of transportation around the world. In Hawaii he comes by boat, and in Australia he arrives on waterskis. Any Australian readers want to back up that one?

When Santa shows up, he airs his grievances about Mrs. Claus putting him on a diet, and then mentions some kind of contest TBS is holding on their regular Tom & Jerry show. Waaaait a minute...would the real Santa be shilling for TBS? And are Audra and Josh REALLY a pair of human kids?

Captain's Christmas, from 1939, is the Katzenjammer cartoon. No kid watching in 1987 would know who they were, though their comic strip was actually still running. Being unfamiliar with that strip, I'm kind of lost as to what's going on, but I have a feeling it would be a weird experience no matter what. Some guy with an extremely fake Cockney British accent is watching the Katzenjammers through a window as they celebrate Christmas. Somebody arrives in a Santa suit and the peeper guy says "OI I BET I COULD BE A BETTUH SANTA THAN THAT MATE OI RIGHT GUVNOR," then he and his three children rob the man at gumpoint and steal his clothes.

He climbs up to the roof as Santa. Yes, Bluto just did this, but it goes in a different direction. This time, when the guy jumps down the chimney, the fall scrambles his brains and makes him think he actually IS Santa. And this guy happens to also think Santa is a maniac who jumps around and shoots a live firearm inside someone else's house. This is the most interesting cartoon yet, by a mile.

After the British man ends his rampage, he looks around to see the Katzenjammers weeping, surrounded by a pile of broken trash that used to be their Christmas presents. "OI DAT AIN'T RIGHT GOVNOR WHAT KINDA SANTA AM I" he thinks out loud, and then tells the family to stay there until he gets back. He marches out into the town square and tells his kids they can get the money to repay the Katzenjammers by singing carols. They start singing, but only earn a lugnut that looks like a coin when thrown at a distance. So they sing even louder and longer, and the villagers hate them so much they start throwing things at them. (They're actually not that bad an act; they can even play the flute on a trio of cooked turkeys -- see above). Soon they have so many things they're able to fill Santa's bag to the brim. They run back to the Katzenjammers and everybody has a Merry Christmas.

The last cartoon is going to have to work pretty hard to top THAT.

There are two more Audra and Josh bumpers and they're pretty short, so instead I want to focus on the advertising. Most of it is nothing special...promos for record compilations of 50s hits and mail-order encyclopedias (they were really hitting their demographic with THIS show). The exception is this. There was no way I wasn't uploading this ad.

1987 was the first holiday season where the Nintendo Entertainment System was picking up serious steam. The established tech boys looked at the Japanese interloper and thought "you know, we're already in this market...if we play our cards right, we can yank the customers out from under them." This extremely loud Commodore 64 spot was the result. "Why ask for an NES when you can get THIS RAD THING?" The C64 wasn't a BAD option, and it could do things the NES couldn't like let you program your own games. But any crowd drawn in by a C64 would disperse immediately the moment ONE kid in the neighborhood got an NES. We all knew this. Commodore's efforts were in vain.

Audra and Josh's final cartoon is Peace On Earth, another Harman and Ising short. After what I saw in the previous cartoon, it was quite a comedown to see a cutesy animal village and a chrous of chipmunk carolers singing "Peace on Earth, goodwill to men." A grandpa squirrel walks by on a cane and compliments them. Insane violent British Santa impostor, you are not.

The squirrel hobbles home and sits down before a crackling fireplace, holding his three grand-squirrels in his arms. "What are men, Grandpa?" they ask him, referring to the song outside.
"Ah yes...men! I ran into one of those critters once! I suppose it's time I told you the story..." And the scene dissolves to...

....Um.....whoa.

The next few minutes of the short are devoted entirely to dark, bloody conflict and scenes of intense war. This is still a Christmas cartoon, right?

"They fought and fought and fought! Until there were only TWO of 'em left!" The two soldiers take aim and fire, both hitting each other, and they collapse into the mud, sinking completely.
"And THAT was the end of the LAST MAN ON EARTH."

After a couple seconds, a lot of forest critters slowly emerge from their hiding places. They gather in a battle-scarred ruin of a church, where they find a Bible open to a page that says in gold letters, "THOU SHALT NOT KILL."
"Looks like a mighty good set of rules," says the owl. "But those men didn't pay much attention to 'em." He flips the pages and finds another passage, "YE SHALL REBUILD THE OLD WASTES." They agree to do this, and devote their new society to avoiding the mistakes of the previous one.

So guess what? You've been hit with an Adventure Time twist. We've been watching an apocalyptic short. This cute, cuddly animal society was built on the rubble of human remains. And this is the story we're ending the special on. I didn't think they'd pull it off, but they did: consider the maniac British Santa TOPPED.

By the way, before you assume it's a wartime short: this came out in 1939, two years before the start of WWII.

That's A Tom & Jerry Christmas, everybody! It's the only Christmas special I know of that ends with the complete destruction of the human race. Or do you know of any others?

Why didn't it fit in?
I.....don't.....think it had much of a chance. Between the freaky hosts, the bizarre selections for cartoons, and the fact that you never saw Tom & Jerry again after minute 7, there was just no way. It sure left an impression on ME, though.