Jeff Smith 9:05 a.m., Jan. 24
Oh Le Olady Olady I Oh, It's Hardrock, and Coco, and Joe!
A few months ago, my editor -- the hopelessly misnamed Ernie Grimm -- asked if Mr. Lickona and I would like to do a back-and-forth cover story on Christmas movies. My parents prohibited me from watching Christmas movies as a child, but seeing how I have since made up for lost time, why not collaborate with Mr. L on a little Christmas jeer?
Weeks passed, and I still had no firm idea as to what the finished product would be. Did they want us to list our favorite Yuletide movies and debate their worth? Was a discussion of Christmas essentials or a brief history of holiday movies in order?
A home-cooked breakfast with my partner shed even less light. I noticed when compiling the list of favored picks that Mr. Lickona’s contributions were sparse at best. We parted with our bellies full and minds still a bit clouded. Then it dawned on me. The next day's phone conversation went something like this:
Scott: Hey, it’s Scott.
Matt: Scott who?
Scott: Scott Marks
Matt: Oh, hi. How’s it going?
Scott: I’m still not sure where we're going with the Christmas piece. Are you embarrassed to come right out and ask, “Hey, Jew -- what movies do you watch on Christmas so we can talk about them?”
Matt (Laughing and stammering): Well...uh, yeah.
Scott: Well why didn’t you say so? Let’s do it!
After that, the piece basically wrote itself. It will run in the December 22 issue, and between then and now, in a shameless show of self-promotion, Matt and I will be filling your stockings (and the blog) with videos, seasonal ads, and maybe even a personal remembrance or two to remind you of our upcoming holiday collaboration.
Three little men only two-feet high, singing with Santa way up in the sky. That’s more of a story-outline than you’ll find in most contemporary Hollywood features. Midwesterners of a certain age instantly cite Hardrock, Coco, and Joe as their go-to holiday cartoon. I say Midwesterners, because HC&J appears to have been a regional offering that didn’t make its way west of the Mississippi.
I’ve probably seen this three-minute stop-motion short more times than Citizen Kane. Every year Frazier Thomas, genial host of WGN-TV’s Garfield Goose and Friends would trot out the jolly elves, along with the other animated offerings Suzy Snowflake and Frosty the Snowman. Garfield was a sock-puppet goose whose delusions of grandeur led him to believe he was King of the United States. Along with his fabric-friends Romberg Rabbit, MacIintosh Mouse, and Beauregard Burnside III, Gar would show Clutch Cargo cartoons, teach viewers magic tricks and how to make mom jewelry boxes constructed solely out of popsicle sticks, and communicate via clacking with Thomas. Long before Luis Bunuel and the surrealist movement hit my radar, there was Gar.
The say that happiness is just a thing called Joe. You'd be a little happy in the head, too, if you spent your days being pelted by snowballs.
Unlike Suzy and Frosty, HC&J was a stop-motion cartoon. That somehow added to its mystique. The 1956 short was based on a catchy tune recorded by the Les Tucker Singers. Santa and his three helpers fly through the midnight sky delivering toys to good boys and girls. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one.) Hardrock and Coco appear to have all their faculties about them, but poor little Joe must have taken too many snowballs to the head causing what appears to be permanent brain damage. The poor little feller can't shake the dazed look from off his face. The lyrics indicate that Santa brings Joe along out of love and pity, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when Hardrock, out of sheer playful vindictiveness, beans his addled associate with with a slushy slider. To add insult to injury, Santa, Hardrock, and Coco share a cheap laugh at the embarrassed elf's expense.
Santa and Hardrock (or is it Coco?) in a rare display of meanness and cruelty.
Goodness only knows what gifts this Santa deposited down the chimney. Factor in the physical and psychological violence and by today's standards, HC&J would surely qualify for a PG-13, if not an R rating. (Scenes of Santa smoking were trimmed for the American release.) Adults will undoubtedly wish to revisit this childhood memory, but it's best to keep a PC head and steer today's youth towards The Muppets and Happy Feet Two. It's a good thing San Diegans don't live in a snowy climate that would encourage this type of malicious behavior in their children.