Cataline Recommends: Some Kid’s Christmas Shows

First up is Klaus. This was advertised as a Netflix Original. Which is a lie but I understand why Netflix does this. Calling it a Netflix Original sounds a lot better than, “Dumped on Netflix.” If you can’t get a distribution deal these days than your best hope is dumping your movie on Netflix.

Netflix does have some standards for this. Usually, it’s a film that came close but didn’t quite hit the mark for one reasons or another. Examples; Bright, or Bird Box. Then there are the movies that were genuinely good but couldn’t get a distribution deal, more often than not for politics. For example, Last Knights, and now Klaus.

Sergio Pablos cut his teeth during the Disney Renaissance in the Nineties. Then he went to work at Blue Sky, where he was the main character designer for Rio. Then he went over to Illuminations where he did Despicable Me. So the guy had a decent resume. Finally, Sergio went home to Spain and started his own studio.

And his first film may well have wrecked the company because he couldn’t get a distribution deal for a Santa Claus origin story. No doubt because both Boomers and Gen Xers immediately thought of this as being just a rehash of that stop motion special, Rankin Bass’ Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970). Which I know was going through their minds, because it was going through my mind when my youngest brought it up on Netflix. I summoned the reserves of parental ennui needed to make it through children’s entertainment that I don’t want to watch.

And it was good. Shockingly good. The character design was great. The script was tight with both A and B storylines properly running side by side and hitting all their beats. The animation was hand-drawn, which doesn’t happen in Western animation anymore.

The opening scene starts in a 19th century major metropolitan post office. Which were pretty interesting places in their own right. Not quite as fast as email but in their day you could actually almost have something close to a conversation by letter over the course of a day. It was snail mail on meth.

Anyway, it turns out it’s the Postal Academy, we quickly get to know our protagonist when we see he is lounging in a tent eating expensive snacks while the rest of the Postal Cadets are toiling away on the drill field. We know that he’s spoiled and obnoxious because the actor voicing him is doing his best David Spade impersonation.

He is dragged out of his comfy tent and presented to the Postmaster General (his father) and informed that he is now a fully fledged Postman and that he is being sent to the Island of Smeerenburg. He has one year to mail six thousand letters. If he fails he is cut off.

So he slumps resentfully to the island and to his horror discovers that he islanders are far to busy feuding with each other to mail letters, or for that matter learn to read. The constant warfare leaves its mark on everything on the island. For example, the frumpy (but good looking beneath the frump) fishmonger was supposed to the school teacher. Now she is bitterly saving up her money to get off the Island. Her dreams of doing good in the world as cynically broken as any Gen Xer.

The only letter the Jesper the Postman gets is from a little boy asking the Toymaker (Klaus) if he could have a toy. Klaus is initially a taciturn and frightening hermit. Enormous in stature and with a gigantic white beard. I’m skipping over a lot of really good stuff here but the gist of it is that Klaus agrees to the request but makes the Postman deliver it.

Word gets out among the children of the island, who start writing letters to Mister Klaus and the Postman now has a way to get his six thousand letters.

In summary, the Postman starts doing a lot of good for very selfish reason but…

Yeah, that’s all I’m going to tell you. Watch the clip if you’re interested.

Cataline recommends with Enthusiasm.


Veggie Tales: The Best Christmas Gift

Veggie Tales was originally started by Phil Vischer in the 1990s using a primitive version of Renderman. He played around with the program until he was satisfied that he had created something great. He proudly showed it to his wife, who told him every mother in America would kill him if made a show with singing, dancing candy bars. He saw her point, went back to work and created a singing, dancing cucumber. He asked his friend Mike to provide the voice and Larry was alive.

They struggled initially but then got lucky. The college kids who worked at Christian bookstores started playing them on the store’s VCR instead of Davie and Goliath. Parents got curious and Big Idea was suddenly going very far, very fast.

Around 2000 disaster struck. In a nutshell, Big Idea’s sales had been tripling each year until they had hit around 40 million in gross revenue. Phil expanded drastically to meet the perceived demand and sadly, Big Idea’s sales went flat. They weren’t losing business but they weren’t making enough money to cover their increased expenses.

Phil Vischer like many a passionate entrepreneur doubled down and expanded when he should have made cutbacks. He produced the fairly expensive Jonah, and it flopped. The last nail in the coffin was a bullshit lawsuit by a former distributor.

Big Idea went bankrupt and the Veggies were bought up by a family friendly entertainment company. Things looked up for about ten years but then that company was bought up by Dreamworks. The Convergence was held to a minimum but when the straight to DVD market collapsed the end was in sight.

The execution was briefly held in the abeyance by a Netflix contract. However, Netflix’s corporate strategy is different from network TV’s. For Netflix, a series is only there to generate NEW subscribers. Consequently, the typical run for a Netflix series is only two years. And after two years, Veggies in the House was canceled. Although it wasn’t missed by fans of the DVD series. They just couldn’t make the magic happen in mass production.

The Veggies looked like they were done for good this time and then a miracle happened…okay not much of a miracle. Dreamworks sold off what looked like a dead property to people who actually cared about its mission.

If you would like some entertainment that more explicitly focuses on the reason for the season then watch the first new real Veggie Tales in years.

Cataline Recommends with Confidence.

UPDATE: Correction; DreamWorks sold the property to NBCUniversal, who licensed it to TBN. Also if you are into streaming, the best buy is on Amazon. $5.00

7 thoughts on “Cataline Recommends: Some Kid’s Christmas Shows

  1. Both of those look amazing. God I hate those stop motion Christmas specials…I don’t know why, they just creep me out. Something about the shininess of the characters.

    It looks like Trinity Broadcast Network licensed VeggieTales from NBCUniversal, but NBCUniversal still owns them.

    A tweet from Phil Vischer clarifying:

    It’s too bad that TBN couldn’t just outright buy the property from NBCUniversal, but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth; this is awesome news!

    God, I can still hear the theme song in my head! I don’t mind it though. Unlike a lot of earworms I can think of, the VeggieTales theme song just makes me smile.


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