I don’t like Family Guy (heck, I can't even stand the thing) but every so often even THEM do something that really impresses me, and I feel the necessity to share it. But, they actually did a little more than that, since this scene I’m going to review OUT OF CONTEXT (i.e, I’m going to focus exclusively on the musical number and NOT in the episode that contains it) really stands out for me, and now it has become not only my favorite Christmas-themed piece of animation, but one of my all-time favorites pieces of animation, period.
One of the things that makes this animated musical number stand out is the fact that it defies «classics» and dares to be different in a time in which animators seemed to forgot how to play around with the camera and give themselves some freedom to create. Most cartoon in our times are painfully «quiet» and that annoys me no end, since there is no interaction with the foregrounds and backgrounds, and the camera remains still -almost as it is bored of it’s job- for the entire length of the movie. That is a cartoon KILLER, as it’s only purpose seems to be to reminds us that what we are seeing is not real, and the nonexistent interaction the characters have with the aforementioned back and front layers only enhanced the opinion. «Christmas time is killing us!» just says «heck» to all that and plays by it’s own rules. It makes use of an overwhelming quantity of old effects and gimmicks that I thought were dead for good before seeing it, and made me really happy to had proven myself wrong immediately afterwards.
The animators did every hard trick you can imagine, and the results are always a winner: there is a lot of synchronized dance (in time with the music, of course) some really good shots from every conceivable angle, and LOTS of playing with lighting and shadows. I hate to be repetitive, but it really reminded me of some of my favorite toons from the 80’s and 90’s... and any toon that can do that in this time of simplified animation and digital laziness it’s obviously doing something right.
The music starts after an strangely successful -and oddly early- climax, right after Stewie and Brian ask Santa Claus about how could he let his Workshop become such a Junkyard. He tells them that he didn’t do anything, that Christmas did it, and then we are taken to a great example of what this cartoon has to offer:
Three rows of elves react at unison to Santa’s comment. I missed this kind of over-dramatic stuff.
Then everybody proceeds to dance in synchrony. It may not look like much, but every single one of those guys is radically different to the rest, and keep them all on-model must had been a nightmare.
This is one of my favorite bits of animation. Stewie grabs a doll from the shelve, then dances a bit with it, and sends it off spinning. Then the toy goes to the foreground, bypasses Santa, and leaves the shot. Great stuff.
Then Stewie himself goes to the background. There’s some really terrific perspective changes going on here, and I love the sad-looking expressions all those toys seem to have. It really sets the mood.
This is easily the best scene of the number. As the music rages on into an almost theatrical quality, Santa finally had it and tells Stewie that the dreams he is talking about are nothing more than nightmares to him. Then the camera pulls off to reveal FOUR more layers, and ends with a close shot of the elves. This is so uncommon nowadays, that is beautiful in its own, creepy way.
The miserable elves line up to receive a full load of toys, but something goes wrong with the machinery and they end up being buried in them. While there is nothing ESPECIALLY unique or funny with this scene, I like the way they handled it.
But this complicated overhead view of the ensemble line is really well done. It starts at the very bottom and makes its way to the top with a fluent pace. Every single one of those miserable workers do the same thing, but... look at them! I have seen cartoons that couldn’t keep their PROTAGONISTS on-model. Digital eMation (the company that did all of this) really deserves the kudos and high praising they received for their work here.
Santa comes riding a toy train with Brian and Stewie as their passengers and then knocks down all the miniature trains his employees are making off the band. He also tells the duo that his whole crew «is black and blue» and that «their fingers all bleed» for the hard work they are forced to do. This scene is cool, and -just like the rest of the cartoon- you can see that real effort was put into making it, but is not a highlight of the show.
Brian and Stewie try to shake the dust off of Santa, but then he gets up from the chair, faces the mirror and delivers the best line of the entire song: «You might think I look great, but I’m twenty eight!». Their reactions to this and the way they are handled are hilarious.
Towards the end of the cartoon the animation goes crazy, and every single shot you can imagine is made to fulfill the sole purpose of «why not?». But I wouldn't like it any other way.
And that, my friends, is «Christmas time is killing us!». It really doesn't matter if you are a fan of Family Guy or not, as long as you can look past it’s gruesome -yet terrific- visuals and bitter message, this is a must-watch for you (if you are a fan of animation, that is... because this one won’t let ya down).
It’s really hard to assume that such thing can even exists, but I personally love it. Not only for it’s gargantuan visual quality, but also because the take they did on the over-exploited Christmas-themed episode. I find this really tired and barely alive representation of Santa to be far more engaging than the most classic fat and nice old guy that delivers joy all over the world. Even the good old Santa has the right to be tired, and the way they portrayed that here is brilliant. It is gruesome, but also hilarious and heartfelt without being too dark.
That said, I gotta add that I’m not a big fan of design of the elves. I feel like they could have just made them a lot simpler -and, ya know... easier to look at-. But I’m not complaining, on the grounds that it probably wouldn’t have worked otherwise.
The Workshop is another winner. They really nailed the «Horror Shop» idea, and I found this old, moody and not-safe working atmosphere to be great.
So, be sure to be on the search for this little masterpiece this season, guys. You won’t regret it.
First posted here: http://80scartoons.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6533&highlight=