Hey, Santa’s little helpers! Did you wake up this morning and discover your favorite Christmastime toon has been taken off the airwaves because 4 Twitter snowflakes found it “problematic?” No problemo—the “Season’s Bleatings” goon squads haven’t erased every offending DVD out there (yet), so let our cheery, slightly inebriated Drunk TV staff recommend some fun Christmas cartoon DVDs you can still order online. Hurry, though—your betters are watching you!
By Paul Mavis
Warner Bros.’ Archive Collection, the online manufactured-on-demand DVD/streaming service that has been a boon to resurrecting all those hard-to-find Hanna-Barbera artifacts we oldsters grew up on, released A Flintstone Christmas Collection a few years ago, which gathered together the 1977 NBC effort, A Flintstone Christmas, and the 1993 ABC entry, A Flintstone Family Christmas. Definitely a schizo combo, the bright, charming A Flintstone Christmas is worth the price of the disc…but A Flintstone Family Christmas is a lump of coal in your stocking.
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A FLINTSTONE CHRISTMAS (1977)
Construction worker Fred Flintstone (voice talent of Henry Corden) won’t play Santy Claus at his wife Wilma’s (voice talent of Jean Vander Pyl) charity dinner for underprivileged kids because he’s basically an overweight grouch. Fred even begrudges his friend Barney (voice talent of Mel Blanc) throwing in a few coins for the sidewalk Santys.
However, once Fred’s boss, Mr. Slate’s (voice talent of John Stephenson), demands that Fred play Santy Claus for his wife’s charity dinner for underprivileged children―the exact same dinner event―why…Fred couldn’t agree faster to donning the red suit. Unfortunately, the real Santy Claus (voice talent of Hal Smith), sprains his ankle on Fred’s roof that Christmas Eve night, and it’s up to Fred and Barney to deliver his toys to all the world’s children.
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A Flintstone Christmas, which NBC premiered on December 7th, 1977, was the first network broadcast Flintstones animated special (1973’s The Flintstones on Ice was live-action, while Hanna-Barbera’s special, Energy: A National Issue, featuring the Flintstones and, um…Charlton Heston (???) was syndicated a few weeks before A Flintstone Christmas aired). With the original 1960s The Flintstones series still running strong in syndication, and newer spin-offs like The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show and The Flintstone Comedy Show proving popular on early-to-mid 70s Saturday morning television, it’s not surprising that Hanna-Barbera would mine its most famous, successful property for a series of primetime network specials.
Directed by Charles August Nichols (Disney’s Pinocchio, The Jetsons, 1973’s Charlotte’s Web), and written by Duane Poole (everything from Hart to Hart and C.H.O.M.P.S to The Smurfs and Surviving Gilligan’s Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History) and Dick Robbins (Big Shamus, Little Shamus, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, and Scooby’s Laff-A Lympics, to name a few), A Flintstone Christmas is a rather sweet effort from the days when H-B ruled the networks’ animation roosts with unchallenged authority.
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Playing off that old wheeze of having a “civilian” help out Santa by delivering his toys, A Flintstone Christmas has that recognizable, solid underpinning to its Christmas story, built on the welcome, familiar conventions of the original series (Fred’s still a blowhard crouch, Mr. Slate’s still a bullying boss, Wilma’s still a dismissive but loving wife, Barney’s still a goofy, loyal friend). A Flintstone Christmas was also the first time actor Henry Corden performed Fred Flintstone’s voice (aside from a singing bit in the big-screen spin-off, A Man Called Flintstone, and some Flintstone records, apparently), after the death of Fred’s original voice talent, actor Alan Reed. For me, having grown up on endless reruns of the original The Flintstones series, it’s always a little disconcerting to hear someone other than Reed do the voice…Corden, especially, since that actor’s distinctive face comes so immediately to mind when I hear him speak.
As later Flintstones efforts go, A Flintstone Christmas is bright and fast-moving (at a mere 48 minutes). A couple of the songs are quite pleasing, including the opener, Which One is the Real Santa Claus?, and the lovely Hope (which is re-purposed in Yogi’s First Christmas), while the gags are solid (of course there’s a classic Flintstones bit where an exhausted bird, acting as Mr. Slate’s intercom, looks at the audience and shrugs, “Eh…it’s a living.”).
70s pop culture enthusiasts will laugh at the inclusion of the brief CB phenomenon here (Santy apparently does have his ears on), while H-B fans will like the elaborate—for H-B, at least—design of Santa’s workshop. Best of all, there’s a charming, well-designed final image where Wilma and Betty chastise the boys for their childish imagination (so what else is new in Bedrock?) while Fred and Barney run to the window to watch, along with Pebble and Bamm-Bamm, the flyover of the real Santa as he heads back home. A Flintstone Christmas is a perfect little stocking stuffer for those nostalgic for vintage H-B specials.
A FLINTSTONE FAMILY CHRISTMAS (1993)
As Fred Flintstone (voice talent of Henry Corden) and his wife Wilma (voice talent of Jean Vander Pyl) await the arrival of their grown children Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm for Christmas, Fred and neighbor Barney Rubble (voice talent of Frank Welker) are mugged by a street corner Santa (nice…see where this is going already?). Arrested by the police, Santy turns out to be punk kid Stoney (Christine Cavanaugh), a “caveless” youth in and out of foster care (cripes).
When the Flintstones are told Stoney will go back to jail, Wilma decides to spread a little Christmas cheer and have Stoney stay with them. But trouble starts immediately as Stoney tries to acclimate to his new surroundings, with Fred winding up in jail for his foster parenting efforts.
Simply put: A Flintstone Family Christmas is off-putting junk…and worse, it’s not even funny. By 1993, as Soviet-style “political correctness” was first making inroads into destroying our national popular culture, it was at least even money that anytime you tuned into some “nostalgia” special like A Flintstone Family Christmas, where an old franchise was revisited and helpfully “rejuvenated” for a new, younger audience, a cynical, mocking, sardonic tone would be found among the phony moral lessons and groan-inducing social commentary. And sure enough, that’s the vibe here with this unfunny exercise. Granted, that could have been partially forgotten or forgiven if A Flintstone Family Christmas had at least been funny.
However, with a paucity of gags and some inappropriate one-liners, this Flintstones special just lays there, entertaining no one and offending parents who don’t appreciate the lame stabs at humor. Directed, shockingly, by veteran animator/director Ray Patterson (Dumbo, Fantasia, Tom and Jerry, Spider-Man), and written, not so shockingly, by hacks Sean Roche (Yo Yogi!, The Real Ghostbusters) and David Ehrman (Lie To Me, Captain Planet and the Planeteers), A Flintstone Family Christmas gets into the spirit of an old-fashioned Griswald Christmas by throwing out jokes about gang violence (“Another drive-by stoning last night….”), serial killers (“Oh, sure…and maybe we can see if Charlie Mansonstone wants to come for New Year’s”), and, believe it or not…prison rape (“Never slow dance with a guy named Bubba”), without hesitation. Nothing says a child’s wonderment with Christmas like prison sodomy! Why in the world did anyone at ABC—think such material was appropriate for a little kid’s Christmas special? Oh, that’s right…it’s ABC. Never mind. And never mind A Flintstone Family Christmas; just watch A Flintstone Christmas.
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s TV reviews here. Read Paul’s film reviews at our sister website, Movies & Drinks.