Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Christmas Comes But Once a Year" (1936)

During the Golden Age of Animation there several theatrical shorts with Christmas themes were made. Among the most remarkable was one made by Fleischer Studios in 1936, "Christmas Comes But Once a Year".

"Christmas Comes But Once a Year" was part of Fleischer Studios' Colour Classics series. The Colour Classics were so named because they were shot in colour at a time when many animated shorts were still shot in black and white. That having been said, the colour processes used for the Colour Classics would vary over time. The first cartoon in the series, "Poor Cinderella", was shot in the two-colour Cinecolor process. Following "Poor Cinderella" the Colour Classics from 1934 and 1935 were shot in two-strip Technicolor, as Disney  had an exclusive contract with Technicolor for their three-strip process. It was in 1936 that Disney's contract with Technicolor expired and the remaining films in the Colour Classics series (including "Christmas Comes But Once a Year") were shot in three-strip Technicolor. The Colour Classics series ended in 1941.

"Christmas Comes But Once a Year" centred upon an orphanage on Christmas Day. While the orphans are initially happy that Christmas Day has arrived, they are soon disappointed when their presents all turn out to be defective. Fortunately for the orphans Professor Grampy happens to be passing by the orphanage, and takes note of their sadness. As might be expected, Grampy comes up with his own solution.  By the time of "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" Grampy was already an established character in Fleischer Studios cartoons. A spry older man, Grampy was an eccentric inventor with a knack for Rube Goldberg devices. He first appeared in "Betty Boop and Grampy" in 1935 and spent the majority of his career appearing in Betty Boop cartoons. Although he started out as a supporting character in Betty's cartoons, there were a few times when his role was actually bigger than that of Betty. Regardless, "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" marks the only animated short in which Grampy appeared without Betty Boop.

"Christmas Comes But Once a Year" was shot using Max Fleischer's patented stereo-optical process. The stereo-optical process involved the construction of three-dimensional, live-action sets over which the cartoon characters were animated. This gave the cartoons shot using the process a look of depth lacking in cartoons shot using standard methods.

"Christmas Comes But Once a Year" was produced by Max Fleischer and directed by Dave Fleischer. It was released on 4 December 1936. "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" was later remade by Fleischer Studios' successor Famous Studios as "True Boo", a cartoon starring Casper the Friendly Ghost. In "True Boo" Casper makes presents for a little boy in essentially the same way Grampy did for the orphans in "Christmas Comes But Once a Year".

Like the other Colour Classics, "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" would pass through various hands over the years. The Colour Classics were originally produced by Fleischer Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures. In 1955 Paramount sold the Colour Classics and all of the other Fleischer cartoons, except for the "Superman" and "Popeye" series, to television distributor U.M. & M. TV Corporation. U.M. & M. TV Corporation was bought out by National Telefilm Associates (better known by its initials NTA) in 1956. Since that time many of the Colour Classics, including "Christmas Comes But Once a Year", have entered the public domain.

For those who would like to watch "Christmas Comes But Once a Year", here it is:

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