Category Archives: Christmas

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002) Movie Review

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: A Peanuts Movie
Starring: Wesley Singerman, Serena Berman, Corey Padnos, Megan Taylor Harvey, Chrystopher Ryan Johnson
Director: Larry Leichliter
Release Date: 8 December 2002
Language: English
Length: 18 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Online Streaming
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

The Peanuts gang is ready to celebrate Christmastime again in this new holiday special.  Lucy (voice by Serena Berman) tries to persuade Schroeder (voice by Chrystopher Ryan Johnson)  to go ice skating.  Snoopy gathers money for charity while dressed as Santa Claus.  Linus (voice by Corey Padnos) doesn’t know what he wants for Christmas and struggles to write a letter to Santa Claus.  Sally (voice by Megan Taylor Harvey) decides to make everyone a gift this year.  Charlie Brown (voice by Wesley Singerman) attempts to make a Christmas card for the cute little red-haired girl in his class.  Join your favorite Peanuts characters as they prepare for Christmas.

Review:

This Christmas special was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I enjoyed it, but it was very abrupt and quite brief.  It clocks in at app. 17 minutes (you can watch the whole video above!) so it couldn’t even be broadcast on TV as a half-hour Linus Writes a Letter to Santaspecial unless they padded it with a lot of commercials!  They had some really funny ideas to present in the cartoon, but they were all so short!  Instead of trying to come up with some longer plot lines to thread through the smaller vignettes, they just kind of lump them all together and jump from character to character and idea to idea without any link between them.  It felt like I was watching all of Charles Schultz’s Christmas comic strips in an animated form.  Each thought could have been rather easily adapted to a Sunday comic strip format, which works great in a newspaper, but is not quite as entertaining in a cartoon.

All of the main characters have an opportunity to participate in several brief sequences.  Charlie Brown (voice by Wesley Singerman) pops up quite frequently, but he is not really the star in this special.  He is mainly the foil for other characters as they need his help with other activities.  Charlie Brown is Snoopy as Santa Clausembarrassed to walk Snoopy (voice by Bill Melendez) to the corner where he plays Santa Claus to gather funds for charity.  He also wants to know why Lucy (voice by Serena Berman) cannot agree to be nice to him all year long when Lucy approaches him to say that one of her holiday resolutions is to treat him more kindly.  Lucy seems to be the star here and she and her brothers, Linus (voice by Corey Padnos) and Rerun (voice by Timmy Deters), appear in most of the cartoon.  In the beginning, Lucy ignores Snoopy, a wonderful ice skater, to try to persuade Shroeder (voice by Chrystopher Ryan Lucy Watching Snoopy SkateJohnson) to partner her in the skating show, but Shroeder is a hockey player and refuses to join her.  Rerun asks Snoopy (thinking he is Santa Claus) why Santa didn’t bring him everything on the list the previous year, only be scared off by Snoopy.  Linus tries several times to write a letter to Santa Claus – including giving Santa permission to skip their house! – until he finally gives up and just tells Santa to bring him a surprise.  Linus then tries to send a Christmas card to a girl that he likes in his class who sits behind him, but the little girl changes her name every day and he doesn’t know who to address it to!

Sally (voice by Megan Taylor Harvey) provides some of the funniest sequences as she is young enough to not really understand everything that is going on.  She decides to make paper airplanes for everyone as a Christmas gift this year.  Sally then proceeds to write a letter to Samantha Claus and, rather than correcting Sally's Treeher, Charlie Brown just lets her go on believing what she wants to believe.  It is the other children at school who set her straight!  Sally also tries to get a Christmas tree for her family, but she doesn’t know how to cut down a tree.  She decides that she will just stare at a tree until it falls down and then bring it home.  However, the owners of the tree do not quite agree that the tree belongs to Sally.  This was one of the longer stories and it was quite entertaining.  I feel that the writers of this Christmas special could have done a bit more to extend any and/or all of these subplots into a 2 – 5 minute sequence instead of a 30 seconds – 1 minute sequence.  It just felt like all of the stories were so rushed!  I didn’t even have a chance to do more than smile in reaction before the next story was up on the screen!

This Christmas special will appeal to little children most of all as I am sure that they will appreciate the brevity.  The Peanuts gang is also given a face-lift and the colors are brighter with a slightly different style of animation than the Charlie's Christmas Cardoriginal Peanuts specials.  The characters are all still recognizable, however, and the vocal talents are similar enough to the originals that none of the new voices jumped out at me in a negative way.  Even though this is not my favorite Peanuts special, there is still a great deal to enjoy.  This special is so short and moves so rapidly that there is always time to squeeze it into my holiday viewing, which is a definite plus.  If you are a fan of the Peanuts gang or looking for a fun cartoon to share with some little kids around the holidays, this is a nice little filler.

Content:

This cartoon features some mild violence and rather stunning verbal put downs.  Appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2008) Movie Review

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2008)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Henry Winkler, Brooke Burns, Warren Christie, Connor Christopher Levins, Woody Jeffreys
Director: Michael Scott
Release Date: 13 December 2008
Language: English
Length: 88 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Retired policeman, Ralph (Henry Winkler), is on his way to his niece’s house for Christmas when he makes friends with a stranger, Morgan (Warren Christie), at the airport.  Morgan has no place to go for Christmas and is ready to sleep on the airport floor while he waits for a flight to Colorado and his new job, but Ralph has other ideas.  He persuades his niece, Jennifer (Brooke Burns), to let Morgan stay with them for a few days.  Jennifer isn’t happy about it, but she desperately needs help cooking her first Christmas turkey and Morgan is a chef so she lets Ralph talk her into it.  Morgan isn’t in Jennifer’s home for long before he realizes that she doesn’t seem to have much of a Christmas spirit.  Morgan, Ralph and Brian (Connor Christopher Levins), Jennifer’s son, band together to make this Christmas one that Jennifer will never forget.

Review:

I always enjoy watching the Hallmark Christmas movies during the holidays, but Henry Winklermost of them are just average.  The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is one of the better ones.  I tuned in to watch it because Henry Winkler is the movie.  It was so fun to see him in a movie again!  Henry Winkler  plays Uncle Ralph and is a real character.  He is a retired policeman, so he is tough, but he definitely has a soft, squishy center.  Honestly, Ralph’s character seemed to be a grown-up Fonz from Happy Days, which is probably why I liked him so much!  I also appreciated that Henry Winkler was not afraid to act silly and have fun with his role.  No sense in resting on your dignity at an old age, I say!

The main plot deals with the romance developing between Morgan (Warren Christie) and Jennifer (Brooke Burns), who are polar opposites.  Morgan is a free spirit who has worked all over the world and has no permanent address.  He loves the Christmas season and quizzes Jennifer down on why she doesn’t enjoy Jennifer and Morganthe holiday as much.  Jennifer is a hardworking single mom who doesn’t have time for Christmas.  She sees no point in opening Christmas cards when the person’s name is on the outside of the envelope, has been sending Christmas cards to people she can’t remember for years and has the only undecorated house on the block.  Jennifer is seriously involved with a jeweler, Richard (Woody Jeffreys), but, of course, we all know that Jennifer and Morgan will end up together somehow.  Before the movie starts, you know how it will begin and it doesn’t take long before you know how it will end, but that doesn’t mean you know what happens in between.  It was a lot of fun to see these two characters interact and argue.  Jennifer creatively manages to locate the hot Hanging the LightsChristmas toy for the season for her son, Brian, but it is Morgan’s quick-thinking that enables them to actually get the toy in time for Christmas.  My particular favorite was the Christmas decorating.  Jennifer’s next-door neighbor is extremely upset that Jennifer’s house is the only one that is not decorated on the block.  Morgan gets drafted to hang the lights and very carefully inserts a single red bulb into the strand of white lights to drive the woman crazy – love it!

Morgan makes several good points about the holidays in this movie and it reminded me of how much I love the Christmas season.  I look forward to December for weeks and then, when Christmastime is upon me, it is so stressful that I can’t wait for it to be over.  This is such a horrible attitude to have and the Most Wonderful Time of the Yearwriters of this movie totally called me on it!  Watching this movie reminded me of all of the crazy things that I do not enjoy about the holiday like the pressure to decorate because your neighbors are, the huge feast that we force ourselves to make for guests we don’t even like, the eternal debate between real and fake Christmas trees, sending countless Christmas cards to people who don’t remember you and don’t care, and spending countless hours shopping for the perfect gift.  What I loved about the movie was Morgan and Ralph’s handling of the stress and pressure of the holidays.  Yes you can look at it as a huge list of things to do, but there are so many wonderful things that happen around Christmastime that it is totally worth it and this movie reminded me of that.  There are ways to have fun while performing all of these chores and Brian’s character, played by an adorable Connor Christopher Levins, helped me remember why it is all worth it.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is one of the better made-for-TV movies made in recent years and I am confident that your family will enjoy watching it Most Wonderful Time of the Year 2together.  There are plenty of little laughs and funny sequences for the younger children to get a giggle in, a handsome hero and beautiful girl who fall in love for the teens and a little bit of everything for the adults.  The DVD is very inexpensive for this movie, but I recommend catching it on TV around Christmastime so that it is something special to look forward to.  If you need a bit of a boost to feel the Christmas spirit and are looking for something new and different, this movie will be sure to fit the bill.

Content:

This movie contains a scene with partial nudity, but the actress is completely wrapped up in a towel so nothing is really shown.  There are some verbal arguments and disagreements, but nothing violent.  There is some drinking of alcohol and very mild swearing.  Recommended for viewers ages 5 and up.

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The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) Movie Review

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: a Rankin Bass Christmas Classic
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Shirley Booth, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden
Director: Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.
Release Date: 10 December 1974
Language: English
Length: 51 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb86_thumb1_thumb[4]

Synopsis:

Santa (voice by Mickey Rooney) wakes up one morning and decides he is too old, too tired and too sore to deliver Christmas presents this year.  Even his doctor assures him that no one will miss him if he doesn’t go out on his yearly sleigh ride to deliver presents.  But Mrs. Claus (voice by Shirley Booth) knows that the children around the world will miss Santa!  So she sends two elves (voice by Bob McFadden & Bradley Bolke) on a baby reindeer to find some holiday spirit.  Will Mrs. Claus and the elves be able to save Christmas?

Review:

This is one of my favorite Christmas specials to watch.  I look forward to seeing it every year around the holiday season and never tire of watching it.  I believe Sick Santa Clausthat these old Rankin-Bass Productions are the best Christmas shows to watch for children young and old.  This special has the old-fashioned stop-motion animation and it is the animation style that I equate with the best Christmas specials.  They make the motion look pretty dang good for claymation figurines!  It is a little jerky, but I think that it only adds to the charm.

The vocal talents are top-notch.  Mickey Rooney spoiled every other holiday special for me as it is just not the same to hear a Santa speaking that does not 00302291have his voice.  I am not very familiar with the woman who plays Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth).  She narrates and sings in the special and has the perfect voice for Mrs. Claus – old, but spritely and a little mischievous.  The other characters were chosen for their memorable, unique sound.  Jingle (Bob McFadden) & Jangle (Bradley Bolke) are very distinct and I feel like their voices added to the charm and character of the film.  And who can forget Heat Miser (George S. Irving) & Snow Miser (Dick Shawn)?!  They are simply perfectly cast, as are all the speaking parts in this film.  Even the children’s voices add that special touch of charm and distinctive sound.

The best part of the Rankin-Bass specials is the music.  There are 8 distinctive songs in this 41-minute special, plus 1 reprise and they are all fantastic!  The special begins and ends with “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” a peppy little number that has some talky/singy action to explain what is going to happen in the special.  Mrs. Claus shines in “I Could Be Santa Claus,” where she sings about Heat Miser, Snow Miser & Mother Naturehow anyone can be Santa if their hearts are in the right place.  She is concerned that Santa won’t get up to deliver presents and is considering doing his job for him, but gives up on the idea after the elves think it’s a bad idea.  “I Believe in Santa Claus” is a beautiful, heartfelt number that I did not appreciate when I was a kid.  It is a ballad that talks about believing in Santa Claus like believing in love – as more of a feeling than a real person.  “It’s Gonna Snow Right Here in Dixie” is a fun, upbeat song that helps move the plot along as well as pick up the pace and make you tap your toe along.  The mayor is making fun of the fact that the elves promised them snow in Southtown, which is in Heat Miser’s territory and has never had a white Christmas.  “The Snow Miser Song” and “The Heat Miser Song” are probably the most famous songs that came out 00323473of this special.  They are such a fun addition to the show and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get a smile on their face while these two stepbrothers are singing about their hatred of each other.  The last two songs are not written by Rankin & Bass, but they are some holiday classics that I never tire of hearing.  “Blue Christmas” gives the children of the world a chance to let Santa know that, while they understand him wanting to take a year off, they are going to have a sadder Christmas without him.  “Here Comes Santa Claus” was the perfect ending to this special as Santa Claus comes sailing into Southtown and all of the children cheer as they realize that Santa didn’t let them down after all.

The story is absolutely wonderful and has a positive message as well as plenty of silly moments.  By thinking about Santa Claus taking a year off, we realize that presents are not the most important part of the holiday.  In fact, when the children realize that Santa is serious, they all send Santa gifts and let him know that they understand, which I thought was really cute.  Of course, Santa saves the day in the end, but he also brings about some extra subplots that kept me Children Giving Presents to Santa Claussmiling throughout the special.  Mrs. Claus sends Jingle and Jangle, two of their dimmest elves, to find some examples of the holiday spirit, but they get into all kinds of trouble.  Their baby reindeer, Vixen, ends up in the pound, where she gets really sick, and they try to ask the mayor for help, but he doesn’t believe they are really elves.  To convince him, they have to make it snow in the southern US, where it never snows.  So Mrs. Claus, Jingle and Jangle travel to the Miser brothers and from there to Mother Nature (voice by Rhoda Mann) to make that happen.  Meanwhile, Santa Claus is trying to find the elves and the reindeer in Southtown, where he meets Ignatious Thistlewhite (voice by Colin Duffy), who is too old and too cool to believe in Santa.  Bottom line is, this special touches on one of the hot spots of Christmas: are you ever too old to believe in Christmas and Santa Claus?

If you have not seen this Christmas special, you are really missing out on a special holiday treat.  It is on TV every year on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas event and is also available on DVD.  Even though it was made in the ‘70s, it is still a classic and has held its age very well.  A must see for the December Christmas holiday!

Content:

There are a few scenes of mild peril.  Recommended for viewers of all ages.

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Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land! / Hook on Ice! (2011) Movie Review

Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land! / Hook on Ice! (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: David Arquette, Colin Ford, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Loren Hoskins, Madison Pettis
Director: Kelly Ward, Howy Parkins, Mickey Corcoran
Series: Jake and the Never Land Pirates Season 1, Episode 24
Release Date: 2 December 2011
Language: English
Length: 25 minutes
Movie Rating: TV-G
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

“It’s a Winter Never Land” – Hook and his pirates don’t want to go to all of the work to decorate a tree and get presents for Merry Winter Treasure Day so they steal everything from the Lost Boys.  Jake and his pals track the pirates through icy conditions, but are unable to recover all of their decorations and gifts.  Can they all remember what is really important about Winter Treasure Day?  Will the pirates learn the true meaning of Winter Treasure Day?

“Hook on Ice!” – In the spirit of the holiday, Captain Hook asks Jake and the Lost Boys to join the pirates on the hunt for the Snow Day Treasure.  Bring your slippery, slidey things (sleds, skis and more!) and get ready for adventure!  With Jake and his team helping out, can the pirates travel down the snowy slope, trick their way past the ice ogre, and save Hook (multiple times) so they can claim the treasure?

Review:

This is a popular and fun Disney Jr. show for toddlers and preschoolers.  It is a learning show and they teach counting, critical thinking skills and other lessons in a fun and interactive way.  I typically find something in the Disney shows that entertains me as an adult and I have tried to watch this show a few times, but it is solidly made for young children and does not really have anything in it for older kids or adults.  That said, it is beautifully made and my little nephews look forward to watching it every morning.  My favorite characters are the two real-Bones and Sharkeylife pirates (Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson) who sing all of the songs for the show.  If there is anything for adults in this series, it is these two and the funny songs they sing.  Typically the songs are at the beginning and end of the episodes, however, so there is dead space in between.  If you have little boys or girls at home, this is a great show for them to enjoy watching in the mornings before they go to school.  The main character is Jake, a little devil-may-care boy who is a lot like Peter Pan, but his crew has girls, boys and animals so everyone is covered and has someone to root for.  The adult pirates are bumblers and never seem to do anything right so it is easy for the children to defeat them all the time.  Good times for kids.

This particular episode is as close to Christmas as you get with this series.  Disney has been trying really hard to make some of their children’s shows non-Hook on Icedenominational holiday celebrations and this one is no exception.  The “c” word (Christmas) is not mentioned, it is all about treasure days.  Now, children who celebrate Christmas will recognize the decorated Christmas tree and presents that Hook stole from the kids, but for those who celebrate another holiday, it is just a decoration in the series.  The spirit of the holidays is found in this show, however, and I think that it offers a great lesson about valuing friends and family and being a better person around the holidays.  Captain Hook in particular did a great job illustrating this point as he is never willing to share with anyone and is much more likely to steal.  In “It’s a Winter Never Land!,” Hook regrets stealing the presents and cannot It's a Winter Never Landeven enjoy his ill-gotten gains.  Instead, he gives them back and then Jake and his crew invite the pirates to celebrate with them.  In “Hook on Ice!,” Captain Hook asks Jake if they can help him find the treasure so that they can borrow all of their snow gear (snowboard, sled, etc.).  Then he shares the treasure with the kids at the end.  Even though it seems like every Christmas show talks about sharing and the value of giving, I don’t think that you can show your children too many examples of this in action, especially for little kids who focus so much on the getting around this time of year.

With bright, friendly colors and simple storylines, Jake and the Never Land Pirates is definitely a show that is welcome in my home for young children.  They speak slowly and clearly and have some fun, piratey songs that kids will 122428_0026enjoy.  The characters try to encourage the children watching to participate by doing motions and cheering/talking in appropriate places.  I always encourage the kids watching to follow along (usually by doing it myself) as I love that they are trying to make shows interactive.  This is a great choice to watch around the holidays, especially if you are looking for something without Santa in it (Peter Pan sent the gifts).

Content:

Appropriate for children of ages, recommended for ages 2 and up.

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A Christmas Carol (1994) Movie Review

A Christmas Carol (1994)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Tony Ail, Nathan Aswell, Chera Bailey, Kathleen Barr, Lillian Carlson
Director: Toshiyuki Hiruma Takashi
Release Date: 1994
Language: English
Length: 49 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb80_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

A Christmas Carol, produced by Jetlag Productions in the year 1994 and released on DVD format by Goodtimes Entertainment in 2003, is based on Charles Dickens’s timeless Christmas story, “A Christmas Carol“.  This animated tale relays the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s experiences with three ghosts on Christmas Eve that transformed his life from a mean, miserly man to a man of generous spirit.

Review:

I am a huge fan of A Christmas Carol and make an effort to watch as many different versions of the story every Christmas season.  I found this one available to watch online on Hulu.com and gave it a go.  I confess that I was disappointed with this version.  I am accustomed to watching full-length movie versions of A Christmas Carol and this animated version is about half of the Three Ghosts in a Christmas Caroltime, but with almost all of the story.  Needless to say, the story is quite rushed and a lot of details and character development are left out.  Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is introduced at the beginning of the story and then we don’t see him again until the end, when Scrooge attends Christmas dinner there.  Scrooge does not visit Fred’s part with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Also, during the Ghost of Christmas Present segment, we are barely introduced to Tiny Tim and it does not really make sense when we are shown his grave at the end of the film.  The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Ebenezer breaking up with his long-time fiancé, Belle, but we do not meet her at Fezziwig’s party and we never even learn her name in this version.  The story is strung together with the same familiar quotes and scenes that you will enjoy in other versions of A Christmas Carol, but they are so abbreviated here that I did not find myself caring about Scrooge’s transformation at all.  There was no depth and no real emotion contained in this version.

I was a bit disappointed with the animation and vocal talents, as well.  The colors are flat and there are many dark scenes, as suits Victorian London, but there are no interesting details and shading to make it visually appealing.  Most characters and backgrounds are flat, solid colors and do not really seem alive.  I also did not enjoy the vocal Ebenezer Scroogestylings of this animated feature.  Ebenezer Scrooge’s voice is particularly grating.  There was just something about the way he talked that really bothered me.  Also, they wrote in a lot of whiney lines for Scrooge’s character and he sounds like a spoiled 2-year-old at times.  “I don’t want to go,” and “you can’t make me” actually feature into the dialogue, which I felt was going a bit too far.  The Ghost of Christmas Past has a deep, lovely voice, but he is this short little old guy in the cartoon and I didn’t think that the voice fit the character.  And don’t even get me started on the younger Ebenezer Scrooge!  I don’t know if they had the main vocal try to “sound younger,” but it was as high-pitched as a girl’s and did nothing to aid the scene between Scrooge and his younger sister.

There are three songs included, but they are more of a detraction than a help.  I enjoyed the first song more than the other, rather sickly sweet efforts, but it is because it was so strange that I liked it!  The singer reminded me of David Bowie in one of his earlier songs and, as this is sung during Marley’s appearances, it really didn’t fit the setting at all.  The other songs were so inconsequential as to be completely forgettable.  Unfortunately, the music did not do anything to add to the quality of this production.

I feel that the creators of this version were trying to introduce this familiar classic to a younger audience and so they purposefully kept it short and to the point, but I did not enjoy it as much.  This particular version is created with a Christmas Carol CharactersChristian background in mind, but I did not notice anything that they changed or added to make it more appealing to a Christian audience.  If you are looking for an animated version of A Christmas Carol for a younger audience, Mickey’s Christmas Carol gives a nice introduction in less than 30 minutes that is entertaining, well-animated and has lovely music.  If you have children that are a little older, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol has some very funny scenes and some excellent music and still comes in at under an hour.  Both of these versions are crowd pleasers for old and young alike and tell the entire story of Scrooge’s transformation in a much more appealing way.

Content:

This cartoon features ghosts in chains, graveyard scenes and a ghost that looks like a skeleton.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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Special Agent Oso: The Living Holiday Lights Special (2010) Movie Review

Special Agent Oso: The Living Holiday Lights Special (2010)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Special Agent Oso Season 2, Episode 11
Starring: Sean Astin, Michael P. Greco, Madison Moellers, Raymond Ochoa, Meghan Strange
Director: various
Release Date: 6 December 2010
Language: English
Length: app. 40 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Special Agent Oso (voice by Sean Astin) is a little miffed that his friends would rather race off and spend time with their friends and family than to include him Advent Wreathin their holiday celebrations.  Luckily, he has some special quests to take his mind off of things!  First, he stops off at Celeste’s house in France to help her set up a Christmas advent wreath before her grandparents arrive.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: get the advent wreath, Step 2: put the candles in the wreath and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Learn about the unique colors and meanings of the candles that go into the wreath, as well as the fact that Santa Claus is called Pere Noel in French.

After that, Special Agent Oso travels to Israel to help Noah (voice by Raymond MenorahOchoa) set up the Menorah so it is ready when the family arrives to celebrate Hanukkah.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: find the Menorah, Step 2: put the candles in the Menorah and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Oso remarks that the set up is very similar to Christmas and asks to understand what the difference is.  They include a special musical number explaining a little bit more about what you do on the Jewish holiday.

Finally, Oso is off to the USA where Braden wants to set up the kinara for kinaraKwanzaa, but he is not sure what to do.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: find the kinara, Step 2: put the candles in the kinara and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Now that we are on the third celebration with the same routine, we should realize that, though the holiday trappings are a little different, we all celebrate in similar ways.  We also all value the family at this special time of year.

Review:

This special begins with Oso blasting ornaments onto trees as he boards down a snowy slope so you might be fooled into thinking this is just another Christmas special.  If so, you would be sadly mistaken.  Sure, the show begins with helping with a Christmas decoration, but the emphasis is on an advent wreath, which is Celestenot something commonly seen in the US.  Also, Celeste is a cute little girl who really understands the spirit of Christmas.  When her grandparents arrive, Oso asks where the presents are and she replies that being with her family is enough of a gift for her.  When she discovers that Oso doesn’t have any family to spend Christmas with, she invites him to stay and spend the holidays with her family.  Unfortunately, Oso has other people to help so he takes the gift of a Christmas tree from Celeste’s backyard and is on his way!  As he travels to his next destination, Oso ponders what a family is.  He decides that is formed of people you love and care about.  He tries reaching out to his friends, but they are always brushing him off, or at least they seem to be – but there is a fun surprise for him in the end!

I have never celebrated Hanukkah or Kwanzaa so this special included some good basics to explain a little about how they celebrate.  There is less focus on why they celebrate and what they celebrate, but if you start with the decorations, you can kind of begin a conversation about the other points from Oso's Menorahthere.  In Israel, Noah gives Oso a dreidel, a special top with symbols on it.  You play a fun game with it and, while it is not really discussed, it is shown as Noah and his little sister play with it.  In the USA, Braden is pretty sparing with his explanation of what Kwanzaa is.  I confess that this is the holiday I know the least about and, being a whiter than white person, I doubt if I am going to be celebrating it anytime soon.  I wish that they had included a bit more information about this celebration as I feel that most people in the US could stand to get a bit more knowledge about this holiday and why it is so important to those who celebrate it.  I left the special knowing that there are seven candles in the kinara and that there are multiple colors, but that is about it.  Still, it was nice to see the whole family gathering together to light the candles and to hear a bit about the day’s principal (just the first day).  We also get to hear the traditional holiday greeting, meaning “What’s the news?”  Braden then gives Oso a unity cup, but it just makes Oso realize that he doesn’t have a family to celebrate with.

While Oso helps children who celebrate the holidays in different ways, this special ultimately is trying to convey the message that the most important part of the holiday is the family you spend it with.  Whether you are spending time Oso on His Sledwith the family you are related to by blood, by adoption or creating your own family with close friends, that is the most important part of this holiday season.  This is a very important message for little kids to receive as it seems like most of them are focused on what they are going to get this year.  I confess that I was exactly the same when I was younger so I try to cut the kids some slack, but I also know that I was not wishing for iPads and cell phones when I was little.  My gifts cost a lot less money!  It is really easy to get carried away at this time of year and to forget what is important.  I would encourage parents as well as children to think about what message they want to give at this season.  If you can afford to buy your children whatever they want, should you?  Or should you focus on family activities and learning to appreciate and value the holiday that you celebrate for what it is?

Make sure that, if you watch this holiday special, you stick around to the end.  Oso has his three holiday presents that he received from the children he helped, but he has no one to share the cup with (no one to dine with), no one to play the dreidel with and no one to help him decorate the tree.  And, as we all know, there Christmas Trainsis nothing worse than a lonely holiday!  Luckily, there was a special surprise waiting for Oso at the end of the episode and it should bring a smile to your face.  With bright, cheerful colors and blocky CGI-animation, this show is perfect for toddlers and little kids.  I highly recommend this special for little ones who are trying to understand why everyone celebrates in a different way.  With simple, basic instructions to follow for each holiday celebration, little ones should be more likely to be tolerant and to ask questions.  Unfortunately, there is not a lot in the Oso series for older children and adults to enjoy, which would give this special  a higher rating.  Still, the message is great and this is definitely one of the best Oso episodes I have seen and appropriate for children of all races and religions to watch because of its handling of three different holidays.

Content:

Recommended for children of all ages.

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Magic Gift of the Snowman (1995) Movie Review

Magic Gift of the Snowman (1995)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Tony Ail, Nathan Aswell, Chera Bailey, Kathleen Barr, Garry Chalk
Director: Toshiyuki Hiruma Takashi
Release Date: 9 November 1995
Language: English
Length: 47 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

When Landon finds out that his younger sister, Emery Elizabeth, is so ill that she might not live to see another Christmas, he comes up with a plan to help her get better.  Landon encourages Emery Elizabeth to eat regularly, take her naps and her medicine and take better care of herself.  If she does, Landon will share the story of Snowden, a really cool snowman who lives in the magical kingdom far, far away.  Magic Gift of the Snowman, produced by Jetlag Productions in 1995 and released on DVD by Goodtimes Entertainment, is an original story from Jetlag Productions.

Review:

I stumbled across this animated tale on Hulu.com during the Christmas season and, while not a great movie, it is definitely cute and will appeal to younger viewers, especially to preschoolers.  The animation is simple, but bright and Magical Gift of the Snowmancolorful.  Emery Elizabeth and all of the girls in the movie were shown with pale pink lips that almost didn’t even look real so there was something off about the animation of the faces, but that is a minor detail.  Landon reminded me visually of Henry in The Littles, but he and all of the other children are animated in a very cute, borderline anime-fashion (no big eyes).  There are some original songs included, none of which I felt was good enough for me to remember what they were about when the movie was over, but I am sure that children will enjoy the music nonetheless.

The best part about the movie, however, is the sweet storyline.  It was so wonderful to see an animated special where siblings not only got along, but they love each other and encourage each other.  Landon loves his little sister very much.  Rather than be upset that she is getting a lot of care and attention due to her prolonged illness, Landon is determined to do all he can to help Emery Elizabeth get better.  He spends a chilly afternoon in the yard creating Snowden, Snowdena snowman that reminded me quite a bit of Frosty the Snowman, but in sunglasses and a trenchcoat.  Snowden’s slang may be dated now, but little kids will not know that and will get a kick out of the way Snowden talks.   Landon and Emery Elizabeth must help Snowden recover Princess Electra’s smile from an evil villain who is determined to make all of the children take candy, rainbows and their dreams and turn them into a bunch of slimy yuk.  Emery Elizabeth is critical to defeat the villain as she can use the power of her inner self to turn her wheelchair into any object with wheels.  I loved that the writers chose to make Emery Elizabeth, the handicapped one, the heroine of the story.  Instead of having her wheelchair be a weakness, Emery Elizabeth was able to turn this disability into a great strength that eventually saved all of the children!

This movie is definitely created with children in mind.  I felt like Landon or Emery Elizabeth on a Magnificent Steedanother young boy or girl would have imagined a story like this and chosen to share it with their siblings.  The magical kingdom where everything takes place only has children who live there.  They dance, play and sing all day, powered by Princess Electra’s magical smile.  The beds are shaped like cream puffs and ice cream cones.  Every toy and game imaginable is available for the children to play with and they have no cares or worries.  The only limit on what you can do in this magical kingdom is your own imagination.

While I think children will really enjoy this tale, I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  There is not a lot there for older children or for adults to want to sit through it with younger viewers.  Many view this DVD as a Christmas Emery Elizabeth & Landon to the Rescuemovie, but there is nothing really Christmasy about it.  Emery Elizabeth needs to live past the holiday to have any hope of recovering from her illness, but over half of the action takes place in a magical kingdom.  There is one scene at the end that shows Emery Elizabeth opening a Christmas present near the Christmas tree, but that is the only Christmas scene in the movie.  Still, if you are looking for a movie to share with your children around the winter holidays, this is a good cartoon to buy.  You can usually find it for $2 – $5 online or in stores so it is very affordable and worth the cost if you have little ones at home who will watch it a few times in a row.

Content:

This movie contains an evil villain who looks like a zombie with big bug eyes, but he is not too scary.  There is also a scene that contains a lot of fire that the children have to escape.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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Scooby-Doo: Winter Wonder Dog (2002) Movie Review

Scooby-Doo: Winter Wonder Dog (2002)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

 

 

Starring: Various
Director: Various
Series: a Scooby Doo DVD
Release Date: 8 October 2002
Language: English
Length: 90 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Scooby Doo fans will warm up to this collection of four episodes set in wintry conditions, which contains material from as early as 1970 and as recent as the 1994 “New Scooby-Doo Mysteries.” Two of the meddling kids’ most formidable villains, Snow Beast and Snow Ghost, are featured in this compilation, which includes the episodes “The Nutcracker Scoob,” “Alaskan King Coward,” “A Scary Night with a Snow Beast Fright” and “That’s Snow Ghost.” — Netflix.com

“The Nutcracker Scoob” – Scooby and the gang are helping with the Christmas pageant at a nearby orphanage when they get caught up in another mystery!  A mean old miser is threatening to shut down the orphanage so that he can search for the priceless emerald hidden somewhere inside.  There is also a Christmas ghost that seems determined to find the emerald first.  Are they working together or is there an unexpected villain in this mystery?

“Alaskan King Coward” – Scooby, Shaggy and Scrappy are ready to start prospecting for gold when they encounter a frozen fanged beast.  The beast thaws and come back to life.  Shaggy and Scooby are fleeing in terror, but Scrappy is trying to chase off this claim jumper whom he is convinced is there to steal all of their gold!

“A Scary Night with a Snow Beast Fright” – Scooby and the gang are heading up to the North Pole to help their friend, the Professor.  Sadly, the professor is kidnapped by a huge snow dinosaur before they arrive.  Can the gang find the Professor and follow the clues to solve the mystery?  They will need to endure a frightening chase through the ice caves, climb totem poles and keep their wits about them if they want to survive!

“That’s Snow Ghost” – Scooby and the gang are looking forward to a ski vacation when they book into a deserted lodge.  Unfortunately, there is a Yeti-like monster that is running around the woods scaring everyone and destroying all the fun.  Determined to have a good vacation, the gang decides to solve the mystery and unmask this monster once and for all!

Review:

“The Nutcracker Scoob” is one of those Scooby cartoons that was split into 10 minute Scooby Shaggy & Scrappy as Elvesincrements so it is actually Part I and Part II of this cartoon.  This one features Scrappy Doo, but no Velma, and I have never seen it other than on this DVD.  I am not sure which series it came from, but I had a fun time watching this Christmas-themed Scooby Doo cartoon.  I am not sure why they don’t show this around the holidays on the children’s stations as it has some lovely Christmas-themed music, a Christmas pageant that goes completely haywire, a spooky Christmas ghost, a hint of the Christmas Carol story, nutcrackers, sugarplum fairies, Scooby in a Santa suit and more!  This first episode makes this DVD a great one to have around the winter months when your little ones will be looking for something with a bit of atmosphere and theme.  Unfortunately, this is the only episode that has anything Christmas related in it, but all of the episodes have plenty of snow and ice!

“Alaskan King Coward” is another of those short 10 minute cartoons.  It only has Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy in it and is not a real mystery.  They are getting ready to pan for gold and Scooby in Alaskan King Cowardaccidentally uncovered a dinosaur-like beast who is frozen in the snow.  There are lots of chase sequences and funny antics until they manage to refreeze the sabretooth-fanged creature in another block of snow.  I have never seen this episode out of this DVD before and really wasn’t missing out on anything.  This is a rather forgettable episode and must have been one of those little fillers that they used in tandem with other, longer cartoons.

“A Scary Night with a Snow Beast Fright” is one of the classic episodes that can be found on the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: The Complete First and Second Seasons DVD collection. Snow Beast There are some classic moments like when Scooby gets scared skiing and ends up snowshoeing.  I love the original animation and the original voices that are contained in these episodes and had a fun time remembering this one.  The villain is not that hard to spot, but, as always, they seem to go to great lengths to hide their crime.  This particular villain kidnapped 2 people, created a giant T-Rex machine, disguised oil pipelines with massive totem poles and more!  Wouldn’t it have been easier to just tunnel underground or something…?  These ridiculous scenarios make the cartoon so much more fun!

“That’s Snow Ghost” is another of the original, classic episodes with the best animation and the original voices.  Again, plenty of snow-related mishaps as Shaggy and Scooby end up Snow Ghostencased in blocks of ice, losing control on their skis and more.  This time, the gang uncovers a group of jewel thieves who are smuggling items out by placing them in hollow logs at the saw mill and then floating them downstream.  Seems kind of risky, doesn’t it?  Anyway, love the Velma explanation at the end where she explains that the Snow Ghost used clear plastic skis to look like he was floating a little above the snow.  Why can’t criminals these days come up with good ideas like these?

Ultimately, this DVD is a bit of a mixed bag, but I enjoyed myself.  I picked it up to watch during Thanksgiving break with my 5 nephews and it was a crowd pleaser.  All of the adults had fond memories of watching Scooby Doo when they were kids and the kids had never seen these episodes.  I am happy to say that Scooby Doo is one of those cartoons that has passed the test of time.  Even though some of the verbiage is dated slang, all of the clothes are a bit too “groovy”, and the artwork is rudimentary, these cartoons somehow seem timeless.  Watching these cartoons with the family definitely brought a smile to my face and helped me recall fond memories of watching these cartoons on Saturday mornings.  If you find this DVD on sale, I am sure it is something that you and your children will enjoy watching during the winter months.

Content:

This DVD shows scenes of cartoonish violence, mild peril and crooks committing crimes.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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Classic Christmas Cartoons (2002) Movie Review

Classic Christmas Cartoons (2002)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Various
Director: Various
Release Date: 1930s & 1940s
Language: English
Length: 69 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Streaming Online
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

“Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – This is the classic edition of Rudolph that I have seen many times before.  It is not the Rankin-Bass version (which is my favorite), but this is pretty much the best Rudolph cartoon if you are looking for something short that sticks close to the original story as printed back in the day.  Children the world over love Rudolph and I think everyone will love this cartoon!

“Santa’s Surprise” – A bunch of kids stow away in Santa’s sleigh from all around the world.  They think that Santa’s home will be a magical place so they are shocked when they see that Santa’s home is a mess and his clothes are threadbare!  Santa helps everyone else, but who helps Santa?  So they decide to surprise him and clean up and give him a little gift for Christmas.  This cartoon was really cute, but you would never get away with these racial stereotypes today!  Each country is represented in a very exaggerated manner that, while still cute and funny, could be offensive to some.  My favorite was the little Dutch boy with the wooden shoes.  All of the children are trying to be quiet so they don’t wake Santa, but his shoes are so big and loud that he keeps making tons of noise and getting himself into trouble.

“Christmas Comes But Once a Year” – The orphans are thrilled to wake up Christmas morning and realize that there are new toys under the tree for all of them – until they break the toy they were given after playing with it once.  Instead of the sounds of childish laughter, there is only the sound of sobs until an crackpot inventor hears their cries as he is wandering by.  The inventor sneaks into the orphanage and manages to create a magical Christmas using common household items.  This was one of my favorite cartoons on the DVD as it shows that, with a bit of ingenuity (not to the extent of the inventor, of course, as who can make stuff like that?!) and love, anyone can make Christmas memorable for others.

“Snow Foolin’” – What if animals needed to prepare for winter just like people?  This silly cartoon shows different animals putting on their winter fur coats, having a snow ball fight, ice skating, sledding, skiing, and more!  By pulling in all kinds of different animals, the animators really made this cartoon fun.  Hippos form a fiercesome bobsled team, a stork only needs one ice skate as he keeps one leg up at all times, an elephant uses his trunk to shoot snowballs out at a rapidfire pace, etc.  This cartoon also features a sing-a-long version of “Jingle Bells” that kids will be sure to enjoy.

“Hector’s Hectic Life” – Poor Hector the dog is always getting in trouble at home.  He sleeps on the bed, makes noise and knocks things over.  He knows that he has to be better or he will be thrown out into the cold!  But three little mischievous puppies make Hector’s life even more difficult!  Can Hector clean up after the puppies fast enough that no one notices they are there?  This was a fun cartoon to watch as the troublemaker, Hector, soon realizes how much extra effort it is to try and take care of and watch someone else.  Both parents and children will enjoy and appreciate this cartoon as everyone has someone to identify with!

“Jack Frost” – Little Bear thinks that he is being mistreated by his mother, who forces him to come in and go to sleep for the winter.  He sneaks out, positive that his coat is so thick and furry that winter will be no problem for him!  This is a good reminder to all of us that, no matter how independent and prepared we think we are, there are surprises around every corner and Mother Nature doesn’t mess around!  There is a cute little song in here that Little Bear keeps singing and some wonderful scenes of fall and winter.  Children will enjoy the little bear’s adventures and parents will appreciate the little lesson that their children are learning

“The Shanty Where Santa Claus Lives” – Santa takes a poor little boy with no home back to his workshop to play with the toys.  Most of this cartoon is spent showing all of the different toys and what they can do, but there are some upbeat, jazzy songs in here and plenty to make everyone smile.  This is an older black-and-white cartoon that made me think of the Great Depression and its aftermath.  After going through about 20 years of want, this cartoon is like a child’s dream come to life.  What child wouldn’t want to be taken away by Santa and get to play with every kind of toy imaginable?

“Somewhere in Dreamland” – Two small children struggle to help their poor mother make ends meet.  They collect wood and try to be satisfied with the small amount of food their mother can provide.  Their life is hard, but in their dreams they have the most wonderful adventures in Dreamland!  But how will the children react when three kindly shopkeepers make Dreamland a reality?  This was a cute cartoon that reminded me of childhood dreams.  Who wouldn’t want to travel to a world of sweets and fun?

“The Night Before Christmas” – This is a life action illustration of the classic Christmas poem.  This black-and-white short feature may not appeal to small children, but Santa and his reindeer are in it and it is always nice to hear this poem recited around Christmastime.  The acting is a bit hammy in this feature, but it was still fun to listen to and they had some lovely music playing while the actors went about and the narrator read the poem aloud.

Review:

These cartoons represent a bygone era when animators didn’t worry about being politically correct, not hurting people’s feelings, violence in children’s entertainment or pretty much anything else other than making whatever cartoons they wanted.  The music and styling is very much set in the 1930s and 1940s and it was a lot of fun for me to see some old favorites and for me to watch some “brand new” cartoons (I hadn’t seen a lot of these cartoons before!).  This is a great set to pull out for kids who feel like they have seen everything or for a fun family night of entertainment.  Grandparents will probably feel like they have stepped back in time to watch the cartoons of their youth, parents may remember some of the cartoons like I did and children cannot seem to ever get enough of Christmas cartoons – especially ones they haven’t seen before!  Another interesting note is that there is really not very much talking in these cartoons.  There is some narration on a few of the more story-driven cartoons, but most of them are just full of joyful squeals, laughter, small sounds of surprise and stuff like that.  The animation is still of very good quality, even though the DVD quality is not the best.  Some of the cartoons are a bit grainy and don’t look the best so you might want to watch this one on a smaller screen (the cartoons look clearer and fresher).  These cartoons are not as well known as or animated as the Disney cartoons that I am accustomed to watching, but they were still a lot of fun.  I am not sure that I would be interested enough to buy this DVD, but I did enjoy renting it and there is a lot to enjoy here.

Content:

Some of the cartoons depict other races in their most cliched state and this may be offensive to some (Asians with chopsticks and doing karate with very slanted eyes; African Americans in black face makeup; etc.).  There is some mild cartoon violence.  Many cartoons depict scenes of poverty and struggle, but everyone has a happy ending!  Appropriate for viewers of all ages.

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Witches in Stitches (1997) Movie Review

Witches in Stitches (1997)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Miki Mathioudakis, Vonda Fuhrman, Jacque Workman, Will Gould, Natalie Bridegroom Harris
Director: Russ Harris
Release Date: August 1997
Language: English
Length: 30 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

Abnorma’s (voiced by Miki Mathioudakis) two incompetent sisters, Wickie (voiced by Vonda Fuhrman) and Nelliespell (voiced by Jacque Workman), have caused them to be banned from the annual Witches’ Halloween Ball.  With nothing left to do on Halloween, Wickie suggests that they go trick-or-treating with the mortals and throw pumpkin pies at them.  Abnorma refuses to go, but, when Wickie accidentally turns Abnorma into a talking jack-o-lantern, the witches have a serious problem on their hands!  Abnorma, in pumpkin form, tumbles down the hill and is discovered by Arthur (voiced by Will Gould), an unpopular little boy who is thrilled to find an animatronic pumpkin for his Halloween party!  Can Wickie & Nelliespell find Abnorma before the spell wears off and Abnorma takes her revenge on all of the children?

Review:

This is an adorable little Halloween special perfect for small children.  There are enough spooky little parts to make it Halloween-appropriate, but it is so funny that children will not be scared at all!  The three witches are hilarious and everyone will be giggling at their antics.  Abnorma (voiced by Miki Mathioudakis) always wanted to be a single child and hates having to clean up after her sisters.  She is the only one with true power and can do just about anything by directing power through her hands.  Unfortunately for Abnorma, pumpkins don’t have hands!  This means that she cannot cast any spells while she is a pumpkin and can only verbally threaten the kids at Arthur’s party.  Of course, the children think that this is a clever Halloween prank and keep poking and prodding Abnorma until she is at her wit’s end!  Wickie (voiced by Vonda Fuhrman) is probably my favorite witch.  She is a spunky, little witch who cannot seem to make any spell work correctly.  Wickie is the one who accidentally turns Abnorma into a pumpkin and is content to let her stay that way, until her sister reminds her that the spell will wear off soon.  She reluctantly looks for Abnorma, but, with so many jack-o-lanterns outside for Halloween, how can the sisters find the right one?  Wickie has a daredevil, make lemonade-out-of-lemons attitude and she definitely is the life of the party here!  Nelliespell (voiced by Jacque Workman) is the chubby, incompetent witch who just wants everyone to get along.  She is the voice of reason, but no one wants to listen to her suggestions.  Nelliespell kind of bumbles along and gets into mischief, but she is pretty good natured about it and is always willing to forgive and forget.  All three witches are quite different so children will have no trouble finding a favorite and rooting for them!

There are plenty of silly antics for children to laugh at and some fun parts for adults to enjoy watching with them.  The voices are very distinctive and perfectly cast and the music is light, charming and suitable for a children’s Halloween special.  The animation is relatively basic, but suitable.  There is really no shading, just solid blocks of color, but the characters do move correctly (not jerky) and their mouths move in an approximation of the words that they are saying.  This cartoon reminded me of a Saturday morning special that would have been shown on TV when I was growing up.  The drawings are simple, straightforward and perfect for Halloween!  I got such a kick out of the these three witches that I will definitely be adding this Halloween-themed cartoon to my regular list of specials I watch every year!  If you have some small children at home who are looking for a fun, silly-instead-of-spooky Halloween special, this is a good one for you to check out!

Content:

The story is about three witches so you see them brewing potions, riding broomsticks, etc.  There is some fighting, both physical (rolling around in a dust cloud with arms and legs sticking out) and verbal.  Appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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