Tuesday 18 December 2012

Grampy Plays Santa

Max Fleischer’s Grampy can be a little creepy, but there’s a certain inventiveness in many of his cartoons that’s admirable. Take “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” (1936). Typical Depression yarn. Poor kids won’t have a real Christmas but Santa comes along to save the day. In this case, Santa is Grampy.

As the old man laughs uncontrollably, he comes up with toys for the kids made of stuff found around their orphanage. They’re pretty clever.

A train set is created by a coffee percolator (plugged in), with saucers for wheels and teacups for cars, with a tunnel made from a cheese grater suspended above the tracks by a pair of books.

Another cheese grater creates snowflakes as a fan blows a bar of soap over it. A shame this is a lousy public domain version. I’d love to see what the brush strokes on the wall actually look like.

Grampy puts some green umbrellas into each other to create a Christmas tree.

The opening and closing of the cartoon have those wonderful little Fleischer’s models that add a 3-D effect which is still effective after all these years. The opening the orphanage behind a fence. The scene turns from an angle, and as the setting faces the front of the building, the fence stands out in front. The ending’s even better, as Grampy’s Christmas turns in 3-D. The scene then darkens so just the Christmas tree lights are on, with Grampy being lit from an open side entrance. I’ll bet it looked terrific on the big screen.

Seymour Kneitel and William Henning are the credited animators and there’s even an original song.


  1. Do you have the UCLA version that AMC used to show? It has the original Paramount titles, which VCI couldn't find for their DVD.

  2. As others have noted, the Grampy cartoons' plots fell into the category of "mechanical devices/inventions", which tended to bring out the best in the Fleischer Studio's non-Popeye cartoons in the 1930s (i.e. -- it kept their stories away from the creeping Disneyification that plagued the Betty Boop and Color Classic cartoons).

    Even if most of the orphans look like they've been eating pretty darned well in the months leading up to Christmas (and judging by their face designs, were employed by the Campbell's Soup Company), the inventions the writers come up with, along with the cartoon's title song, keep it away from the forced sentimentality that the Fleischers never did particularly well and pointed in the direction where they did excel.

    1. Yes, I've always liked the Grampy cartoons. I don't find him to be creepy at all. His inventions were inventive.

    2. Grampy is one of the few truly altruistic cartoon characters. He loves to use his inventions to make people happy, and it is clear that the happiness of others brings him joy. This type of premise might get boring, except for the fact that his inventions are quite fascinating to watch.

      I may be wrong, but from what I've seen, this was Grampy's only color cartoon and his only solo cartoon (without Betty Boop). At least, if there were any other Grampy solo cartoons I've never come across one.

      I agree that the 3-D effects add visual interest and charm to this simple but enjoyable Christmas story.

  3. No, just some old public domain DVDs, Jeff.

    1. Sad really, I bet it looked great if I ever see that UCLA copy one day.

  4. This cartoon is 80 years old this year!!! The little orphans are likely in a nursing home or visited or cared for by their own kids and grandkids!

    A great mystery of this cartoon is this. If you notice, you don't see any adult caretakers at that orphanage. I firmly believe their absence and the condition of those trashy toys were related.

    Between the ratty Christmas tree and the doorway to the orphanage bedroom, at the beginning of the film you'll see a picture of a very mean looking old man, and the pictures labeled "our headmaster". Later on, when Grampy is dressed as Santa, and ringing the bell, you'll see that picture has been replaced with one of Santa.

    Given how all the toys broke almost in unison makes me believe that mean looking headmaster and his subordinates had a deliberate hand. I think this was a result of embezzling the better donation toys (that were supposed to go to the orphans), selling them, and putting the most fragile, worn, and unsellable toys in the kids stockings before abandoning them with the stolen money overnight while they slept (explaining why he and the other caretakers weren't there that particular morning to make them food or keep the stoves and fireplaces running). I base this statement on many subtle clues I spotted after watching this many times. I heard the real orphanages of the Depression era often had mean/crooked caretakers and it wouldn't surprise me watching this. Miss Hannigan from Annie is a good example. Grampy breaking into the orphanage later was more than just for making new toys, but he probably saved the little orphans' lives too, namely from freezing to death (while crying on their beds for their toys) with no fires in the fireplace that cold morning.

    As for the orphans looking, acting, and dressed weird, this is likely the caretakers fault. They Probably looked down on all of them like gross little rats that they had to tend to, and they probably dressed them in no other clothes other than those undersized nightgowns they were wearing. Those caretakers might have been abusive too and regularly beat them, locked them in closets, or who knows what else shy of hate crimes for petty infractions or just to bully them cruelly for the reasons I posted earlier.

    If they ever made an animated epilogue to this story, I would like to think that Grampy got a Key to The City, and the story of the orphans plight attracted the attention of loving families that wound up adopting every one of those poor children.

    And I sure as heck hope they busted those wicked caretakers too.