Do you remember the Claymation Christmas special? It was aired in 1987 and won an Emmy. In celebration of Epiphany, here is their version of the hymn “We Three Kings.”
This Tiny Toon Adventures short pairs Plucky Duck and Hamton J. Pig together as Plucky stars as Captain Pluck who vows to prove to the Explorer’s Club that when his ancestors migrated to Salinas, they did not fly, but sailed. He and his side-kick Koom-Bye-Ya, which is portrayed as Hamton J. Pig. And for comic relief, there is Sweetie Bird. Just as the original Looney Tunes shorts were often parodies of movies, Kon Ducki is a parody of the 1950 film Kon Tiki.
Captain Pluck and his small crew carry with them everything that his ancestors would have taken when migrating in 1977, complete with hamburger helper and cheese wiz. When things on the voyage get a little too shaking, in a classic Daffy Duck move, Plucky no longer wants to be the leader. He instead allows Hamton to be the leader. This way, if something goes wrong, it is Hamton’s fault, not Plucky’s. Instead, Hamton makes good decisions and realizes that he is good at being a leader. Plucky grabs his hat back from Hamton, the symbol of leadership, and resumes commands.
Plucky’s style of leadership tends to be consumed with opening a bottle of mango juice while the others do all the work. Hamton is more of a servant, doing what no one else is willing to do. When Hamton is given the chance to lead, he does so without cracking under the pressure, makes solid decisions, and in this short, even gains a profit.
What is great about this short is that Tiny Toon writers Sherri Stoner, Peter Hastings, and Stephen Hibbert capture the essence of Chuck Jones‘ Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. Jones wrote in his book Chuck Amuck, “Daffy Duck is simply trying to get ahead; Porky in his adult life is simply a bemused spectator of the human scene.” This was true in the endless shorts that the two characters were paired in, especially Jones’ Robin Hood Daffy, and Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century. Plucky and Hamton do the same here in this short. Plucky trying to prove himself as an explorer, and Hamton grateful for the life experience.
Chuck Jones has said that “Within all of us dwells a Daffy Duck.” And a Plucky Duck, and a Hamton J. Pig. Which are you? Are you Plucky striving to get ahead and make a name for yourself? Or are you Hamton making the best of each moment and willingly serving others?
This animated short was released in Los Angeles on July 1, 1939, just a few days before the celebration of the 4th of July. The animation is realist, which was director Chuck Jones’ style at this time of his career. It was often described as a Disney-like style, which is why the Studio asked him to work on this project. And with good reason. The studio did not want this short to be looney, but to be a message to the American people.
As Old Glory opens, a wide-eyed, child-like Porky Pig is learning the Pledge of Alliance. “I don’t see why I have to learn that,” he muses. Porky falls asleep there in the school yard, with his text book wide open. Uncle Sam, the iconic symbol of patriotism, appears to Porky in a dream. Uncle Sam moves Porky through early American history, from Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty”, to Paul Revere’s call to arms. As the short moves into the signing of the Constitution, there is an emphasis on freedom of religion, freedom of press, and freedom of speech. Uncle Sam’s history lesson covers the American Revolutionary War to the expansion of the American old west. The short highlights two great Americans, George Washington who “laid the foundation of a great democracy ” and Abraham Lincoln who gave a “new birth of freedom.”
When Porky wakes up from his dream, he is convinced that learning the Pledge is important because it represents the great history of the country. He has been converted by Uncle Sam to the civil religion. But we’re not talking the Sarah Palin-moose-hunting-while-putting-on-lipstick-while-reciting-the-pledge kind of civil religion.
In 1939 lives were disrupted and families faced separation. Hitler was rising in power and influence in Germany. On September 1st of that year, Hitler’s troops conquered Poland in the Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war.” This would be the spark for the second World War, that would send many young men overseas. In the meantime, the United States was still suffering under the effects of the Great Depression. In 1939, close to 10 million people were unemployed.
Following this short, there would be dozens and dozens of shorts made by Warner Bros. and Disney to raise awareness and support for the government during war time. Why? To encourage unity among the country. The country needed to work together to rise out of the grips of the Great Depression and the country would need to do the same as it faced some of her greatest enemies.
Charlie Brown and the team are back on the baseball field in this twenty-four minute short. But, the team is having problems. A toddler named Leland decides that t-ball is no longer his style, and joins Charlie Brown’s “big kids” team. Meanwhile, Lucy has pointed out that they are the only team without uniforms. Charlie Brown goes to the local hardware store to ask the owner if they will sponsor the team. The owner says he will, if they win the first game of the season. With the uniforms as a motivator, the team works hard during their practices.
The team they play looks like a rough bunch of kids. They are serious about the game and plan to win. They ask about the National Anthem, and Charlie Brown and the team lead them in arousing version of “Hokey Pokey”. Franklin jumps in with his boombox and channels Fresh Prince of Bel Air as he raps, “That’s what’s it all about.” Which is slightly awkward, because it seems so out of place in the story about baseball.
Here is some of it:
And the practice pays off, the team wins 27 to 26! And, Leland, the toddler, gets the winning run!
As promised, the hardware store gives the team their uniforms. Filled with excitement, the team heads to their next game. But, poor Leland’s uniform is too big, and he decides to head back to t-ball, where the uniforms fit. The game doesn’t go as well as the previous game. Disappointed that they lost the game, Linus says, “Gosh, Charlie Brown, I thought when we got new uniforms, it would change everything.” To which, Charlie Brown replies, “It’s not how you look, it’s how you play the game.”
When God sends Samuel to Jesse’s home to anoint the king of Israel, God tells him:
Have no regard for his appearance or stature . . . .God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart. (1 Samuel 16:5, Common English Bible)
Samuel was passing judgement based on the appearance of Jesse’s sons, including David. What is on the outside is not nearly as important as what’s on the inside. It’s the old “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Charlie Brown gets that its not the uniforms that make the team great, it is the way they play the game. How quickly we forget that in the Church. We put so much time, effort, and resources into the “uniforms,” but neglect the way we play – how we proclaim the good news. What’s up with that?
Even though this Peanuts special provides us with a solid message at the end, it is not the best of the Peanuts. This may be why the special was made in 1992 to air in prime time, but was cancelled and reached on DVD in 1996, and released in 2012.
In this Chuck Jones directed Warner Bros. theatrical animated short, Sniffles the mouse makes his second appearance on the big screen. Sniffles is ahead in the mouse community’s scavenger hunt. As the short begins, Sniffles has just gotten a cat’s whisker. The only remaining object to be found is an owl’s egg. Sniffles quickly rises to the challenge.
The task, however, proofs to be difficult. Sniffles slips out into the night to find an owl’s egg. Upon finding an egg, Sniffles quietly picks it up and heads out of the barn. The Parent Owl is quick to not let this happen. Sniffles returns the egg back to its nest. But, the unexpected happens, the egg hatches.
Sniffles does what he can to get the baby owl back into the egg shell. When he finally does, Sniffles ties a piece of string around the cracked egg shell and sets out to return to the party. But, the baby owl slips out before Sniffles knows it. Sniffles is ready to walk away from it all, when it notices the cat!
The cat sets is yellow eyes on the baby owl. Sniffles has to make a split-second decision, will he continue to walk away or will he help the newly hatched owl? Sniffles decides to help the little owl. He runs and grabs the owl. They are chased by the cat, but Sniffles is able to keep the baby owl safe. The Parent Owl soon sweeps in and carries the cat away. In gratefulness to Sniffles for rescuing the baby owl, Parent Owl gives him the egg shell.
Paul writes in Philippians 2:4:
Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Common English Bible)
Sniffles contemplates this in that split-second he has to decide if he will do what is best for himself or for the baby owl. Paul continues in Philippians 2 with what has become known as the “Christ Hymn.” Paul quotes an ancient hymn, possibly one of the first that the Christian community used, to articulate who Jesus is: “he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave” (2:7).
Sniffles’ act is one in which we as Christians are encouraged (even called) to do as well. Paul says that we are to “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). If Jesus emptied himself to become a slave, or servant, than we are to have that same attitude as well. In other words,everything from our actions to our decisions have an affect on others. What a difference would we make in our lives, in our communities, in the world, if we followed Philippians 2 to “watch out for what is better for others”? Sniffles provides for us a model for watching out for the good of others.
The new DVD/Blu-ray Green Eggs and Ham and Other Stories gives us the TV short Dr. Seuss on the Loose. This DVD/Blu-ray combo brings to a new generation the rhyming Seuss-parables. The Cat in the Hat serves as the host for this 1973 TV special, a short 25 minutes in total length. It features three Seuss stories, “The Sneetches,” “The Zax,” and “Green Eggs and Ham.”
The animation has been remastered for this new medium. It is classic in every sense of the word. The animation seems to jump right out of the Dr. Seuss books (who was involved in the making of this short). The simplicity of the animation, unlike the animation in a lot of current cartoons, is not so overwhelming that it is distracting from the story. The creators managed to squeeze into these short 24 minutes, musical numbers to reinforce the stories being told. It’s almost as if the produces sat down with Dr. Seuss and gave him the opportunity to add more to his classic tales. While the animation and the music is clever, unique, and distinctly Seuss, it is the parable is the focal point.
Dr. Seuss has always managed to tell parables for the 20th century. While his characters appear to be kid-friendly (and they are), his stories and morals are very much adult-needed. Dr. Seuss knew how to tell a story, and knew how to preach a sermon.
In “The Sneetches,” there are Sneetches with stars on their bellies and those without. The Sneetches without stars feel different and they long to be like the Sneetches with stars. We can relate. There are those of us to appear to have it all and walk around with our noses in the air and teach our children to do the same. Then there are those of us who long day after day to be like those others. Wouldn’t life be so much better if we were? Then, there are those in society who capitalize on our desires to be like others. Our media is filled with advertisements for things that will change our bodies, change our minds, change our wardrobe, and so forth. The lesson of “The Sneetches” is that you do not have to change yourself to be like everyone else, nor do you have to treat others poorly because they are not like you.
In “The Zax,” the North-bound Zax and the South-bound Zax bump into each other and neither will budge for the other. This parable ends with roads being built around them. Here in this parable, change is necessary. As Eric Erickson implies in his work, change happens. The world is changing constantly. Are we going to be a part of that change, or are we going to dig our heels in the sand and not budge?
In “Green Eggs and Ham”, Sam I Am is endlessly trying to get the man to try his dish. He refuses because he does not like it, though he’s never tried it. How often we claim that we do not like something – a new style of worship, a new way of preaching, a new ministry – and yet, we haven’t tried it. Once the green eggs and ham are tried, they are loved. You don’t know if you like, till you try it.
For those of us who claim the Christian faith, we claim a Savior who advocated for change. The societal attitude that you must change to be like me, Jesus said needed to change. Because of Jesus, we no longer need to dig our heels into the religious rites and traditions that are empty and without meaning. Through the Holy Spirit, we can experience a change and new life in our traditions and transform ourselves and the world around us.
Team Snoopy is a moderate collection of Peanuts cartoons that focus on sports, mainly baseball. The DVD features the 2003 TV short “Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown,” where Charlie Brown painstaking has to decide what to do with Lucy, his committed yet dreadful right-fielder. The DVD also includes an episode from the shortly-lived Saturday morning cartoon show The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show from the mid-1980s. The episode includes Charlie Brown getting stuck as the mascot for Peppermint Patty’s baseball team… as a pelican. While Linus waits for the Great Pumpkin, the rest of the gang visit a bowling alley where Charlie Brown learns a new sport, and finally a cat from the neighborhood meets his match when Spike, Snoopy’s older brother, comes into town.
If ever there was a character from pop culture that embodies the struggles of humanity, it is Charlie Brown. We have all had moments where we felt like Charlie Brown. We can never quite seem to kick that football. We are walking in the shadow of someone else’s charisma. When we feel like a win is coming, the game gets rained out.
In the beginning of the Book of Habakkuk in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament), the prophet cries out to God about all the bad things that are happening. His cries are with a certain level of expectation. As in Habakkuk expects God to do something about it. In essence what he is saying is, “If you are God, you should be able to handle this.” With each crying out from Habakkuk, God responses that Habakkuk needs to wait. “I am doing something,” God says, “it might not be in your time, but it’ll be in my time.” Habakkuk was having a Charlie Brown moment.
In this DVD collection we learn from Charlie Brown the importance of staying in the game. Poor Charlie Brown never seems to get a win. In “Lucy Must be Traded, Charlie Brown,” he does his best to form a winning team, even going so far as to trade Snoopy! But at the end he realizes that winning isn’t that important. We see a Charlie Brown who recognizes that playing the game is more important than winning the game. Charlie Brown seems to adopt the attitude that Habakkuk does at the end of his Book.
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. (3:17-18)
The lesson of Charlie Brown is that no matter what happens, even though it rains on your ball game; even though you wear an awful pelican costume; even though you… fill in the blank…; even though all of that stuff happens, we can still rejoice and exult and praise God. Why? Because no matter what we’re going through God is still there working in the midst of our struggles in God’s time.
If you’re having a rough day, remember Habakkuk, remember Charlie Brown. Hang in there, stay in the game, rejoice in God’s glory.
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