Tuesday, December 16, 2014

SPECIAL REVIEW: Santa and the Three Bears (1970)

"...and the entrance to the hidden Rebel base is under this point."

I hope you're having a good Christmas season, everyone. Earlier this month, I wasn't. A sinus infection that cropped up on December 5 left me bedridden for five days straight and I was only just strong enough to go back to work on the following Thursday; unfortunately, I was shooting for Tuesday. In an attempt to find rest during this period, I spent a lot of time on my iPad watching old Christmas specials uploaded to YouTube. Some were your standard Rankin-Bass fare and a few were off the beaten path... like this one.

I actually came across this back in either 1998 or 1999 on FOX Family (it's ABC Family nowadays). Like The Mouse on the Mayflower, I recalled only scant details of it and tried to dig it up through a bit of surfing Google. It's called Santa and the Three Bears.



STORY
(SKIP BELOW TO AVOID SPOILERS)

Santa had just finished his run for the year, but was too tuckered out to fly the sleigh back to the North Pole. He stops at a cabin in the woods to find three bowls of porridge on a table. The first is too hot, the second is cold, and the third is just right...

I'm just kidding. The story actually takes place at Yellowstone National Park. 

A mother bear Nana (played by Jean Vander Pyl, the original Wilma Flinstone) and her two cubs, Chinook and Nikomi, are getting ready to hibernate. However, the two youngsters aren't really big on going to sleep and go out and play in the first snowfall of the winter. They crash into the park ranger (played by Hal Smith, from the last review) by accident, who brings the duo along with him to chop down a Christmas tree. This prompts the cubs to start asking questions about Christmas and why they never heard of it (Yes, animals can talk with humans in this special. No questions are raised in the story like last time, though.). 

Nana calls the cubs to the cave. Chinook and Nikomi, still interested in this human holiday, try to ask their mother about it. However, she's extremely tuckered out and low on information. So the twins go off to find "Mr. Ranger".


The cubs reach the cabin to find the ranger's tree decked out in ornaments and the ranger sing a song about bells that jingle. They come inside, get wrapped up in their surroundings, and beg him to tell them more about Christmas. Thus the ranger tells them the origins of Christmas: Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph, Christ, and the peace that tends to occur around that time (despite it being common knowledge that Christ wasn't born on December 25, the New Testament never gives a specific date for it, as certain tinfoil hat types would like to stress). Many legends about Christmas arose over the years as well. The most famous of these was that of Santa Claus.

We know how that goes: North Pole, reindeer, elves, dude in a red suit who delivers toys around the world. The cubs love the story and hoof it back to their cave. After failing to get a Christmas tree of their own, they wake up Nana; she only agrees  to get one if the two stay in the cave for the rest of winter. Once they get said tree, do you think the cubs go into hibernation? NOPE! Their mother gets an earful of "Jingle Bells". She asks what the meaning of all was and the cubs relate what the ranger told them. Despite their enthusiasm, Chinook and Nikomi forgot to ask when Christmas Eve is. Nana takes it upon herself to talk to the ranger and leaves the cave.

"Yes! Santa got me that bear skin rug I wanted for Christmas!"
  
The ranger, having left the cabin to gather firewood, finds Nana passed out on the porch. He wakes her up and she asks about Christmas Eve and Santa Claus. She accuses him of lying to her children when he admits to Santa being a legend, fearing that the cubs would be severely disappointed. The ranger remembers that he still has a costume on hand from the time when he was a department store Santa and suggests visiting them while dressed up in it.

On Christmas Eve night, however, a monstrous blizzard hits Yellowstone. The ranger goes out, regardless. He gets tired and goes to sleep at a bus stop used by the park during the summer.

The cubs start to get tired from waiting from Santa. Nana, feeling that there was no other choice, tells Chinook and Nikomi that "Santa" is just the ranger in a costume; he doesn't really exist. The ranger did this so they could enjoy Christmas, but the storm prevented him from getting to the cave. Naturally, the cubs are devastated.

Later that night, though, a shadowy figure appears in the cave. The bears dismiss him as the ranger and go back to bed. When the ranger eventually does get to the cave, he finds a pair of full stockings already hanging on the cave wall! That can only mean...


DUN-DUN-DUUUUN!!


VERDICT

The sad thing about Christmas specials is that every year, a bunch of new cartoons and live-action shows are produced and in such big amounts sometimes that the older stuff has a hard time finding time slots on TV. Oftentimes, these "hip, new" holiday shows tend to flop and get recalled in contempt (The Night B4 Christmas, anyone?). The miracle of the internet can help most of these neglected older specials find audiences.

Santa and the Three Bears is kind of the rebel of the bunch. In a typical Christmas special, they'll do one of the following:

  • Take over Santa's job that year (due to a kidnapping, injury, illness, etc.).
  • Save the North Pole from something evil.
  • Remake A Christmas Carol.

There is no "Santa's in trouble" plot here. If anything, it's a bit of a fish-out-of-water story about two bear cubs who discover a part of the year that many of their kind never see. Like the children they are, they become engrossed in the Yuletide bliss.

Hal Smith, though, steals the whole show! The ranger character comes off as a really warm person, almost as if he were an uncle or grandfather. In fact, he's the only human in the show. You would think he'd have a little time off during the holidays to see his family, but no. He's at Yellowstone year-round. I'd assume that he's a very lonely person, so it would be no wonder why he'd be so open about Christmas with Chinook and Nikomi.

We do have some funny moments on Nana's part, mostly derived from her sleepiness (in getting the cubs' Christmas tree, she pretty much collapses on it in exhaustion).

If there are any slow parts, it's probably from the songs. They pretty and fit the mood, but if you're groggy or under the weather, they're at just the right tone to put you to sleep. Some of the sound mixing seems a little off at the occasional point; one instance is where a groggy Nana collapses in the cave, asleep -- the cymbal crash used is very hushed.

At first glance, you'd think this show was made by Hanna-Barbara. Not quite, but not misguided too. It had two veteran HB voices and it was directed by Tony Benedict, a man who had worked on Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Adam Ant, and The Flintstones prior to this. This special was actually commissioned by a now-defunct Florida amusement park called Pirates World. Started in 1966, it went bankrupt nine years later with the rise of Walt Disney World.


One thing I didn't realize until I started doing a little research on this special, was that originally there were live-action segments involving the ranger; parts serving as bookends. There are prints of the special that omit these segments, but don't detract from the story proper. Some users claimed that the live-action segments substantially increased the runtime of the show... but from the print I found, those rumors seem to be as reputable as the alternate ending to King Kong vs. Godzilla.

The credit for the live-action version goes to one Barry Mahon. Mahon was porn director whose best-known work was the 1961 Cold War propaganda movie Rocket Attack USA. You may have seen it before.

Oh.

Mahon also had a hand in another special from Pirates World from about two years later called Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Several sources have talked about it.

This is the Manos of Christmas specials.

As for Santa and the Three Bears, give it a watch... but stay clear of the DVD releases. Amazon users report skipping.


I'm DLAbaoaqu. Merry Christmas!

Santa and the Three Bears and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny are owned by... um... whoever picked up the rights after Pirates World folded.

1 comment:

  1. Thus the ranger tells them the origins of Christmas: Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph, Christ, and the peace that tends to occur around that time (despite it being common knowledge that Christ wasn't born on December 25, the New Testament never gives a specific date for it, as certain tinfoil hat types would like to stress).

    To those people I say, get over it! We've been at this for two millenniums, it's not going to stop now!

    Many legends about Christmas arose over the years as well. The most famous of these was that of Santa Claus.

    Now our special's getting into gear!

    There is no "Santa's in trouble" plot here. If anything, it's a bit of a fish-out-of-water story about two bear cubs who discover a part of the year that many of their kind never see. Like the children they are, they become engrossed in the Yuletide bliss.

    The only threat we get is a mother bear who probably wished she told her kids never to bother the ranger at all!

    One thing I didn't realize until I started doing a little research on this special, was that originally there were live-action segments involving the ranger; parts serving as bookends. There are prints of the special that omit these segments, but don't detract from the story proper.

    This was the version I first saw in the 80's, some VHS editions used this type, with a pretty crappy transfer of the film. The other edition often seen on cheap $1 DVD's today was from a 16mm rental release made available at one point, I don't remember their name but it pops up at the end of the film I think.

    Some users claimed that the live-action segments substantially increased the runtime of the show... but from the print I found, those rumors seem to be as reputable as the alternate ending to King Kong vs. Godzilla.

    It was theatrically released this way at one point with shots from the theme park used at the opening. I did spot this French-dubbed version that uses it.
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2da1b3_les-trois-ours-et-le-pere-noel_fun

    As for Santa and the Three Bears, give it a watch... but stay clear of the DVD releases. Amazon users report skipping.

    I do know a remedy for this! Tony Benedict, the kind soul he is, uploaded his copy of the special here, in its original half-hour state!
    https://vimeo.com/194663631

    ReplyDelete