Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Oddball Film Report: CHRISTMAS LOST AND FOUND (1965)
CHRISTMAS LOST AND FOUND: A DAVEY AND GOLIATH SPECIAL (1965-color)
The short version: Davey Hansen is reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
In the late 50's, Art Clokey had established himself with a series of stop-motion cartoons starring a humanoid clay blob named Gumby. Though the original cartoons were (I believe) produced for theatrical screening, it was the small screen that really embraced Gumby, and a new slate of shorts were created specifically for television. Gumby shortly became a television staple, and kids were fascinated by the unique look of the shorts.
The Lutheran church approached Clokey in interest of producing a series of stop-motion cartoons which could be used to further the Gospel, as well as entertain children. The result was Davey and Goliath, a series of 15-minute shorts which were produced from 1960 to 1975. Clokey is noted as saying that of all his projects, he was most proud of Davey and Goliath, with it's timeless message of morality and love.
Davey and Goliath presented a typical American family and their every-day adventures. The hook was that young Davey could understand his big dog Goliath, who had a nearly human intellect to begin with.
The Hansens were an average family: a hard-working father, a loving mother, a well-meaning but often obnoxious daughter named Sally, and all-American boy Davey. Goliath was always at Davey's side, sometimes acting as a voice of warning with Davey seldom listening. Davey was a good kid, but like all children thought he knew all the answers until confronted with a situation that had the better of him.
Though part of the television ministry, Davey and Goliath rarely came across as "preachy" and the series remains popular with secular audiences as much as with those of faith.
As to the spiritual content of the shorts, Davey and Goliath seemed to have a pretty good grasp of the Grace message before it really became popular. In fact, the fullness of Grace has only recently been embraced by the American church as God intended, with much un-learning of religious conventions inspired more by man than the Word of God. (That's not to say true Word-based messages are anything new in recent American history, Davey and Goliath debuted in the era of Billy Graham's televised crusades, after all.)
The shorts didn't push an ideal so much as present life from a Christian point of view. Davey might say or do something as silly as any other kid, then examine the scenario as someone who realizes the love of God over them, and then take action accordingly (like building a table or something and then remembering to pick up his tools because his family cared enough for him to get the tools for him in the first place, that sort of thing).
Very early on, the writers took efforts to present a multi-racial cast of characters, showing people of all ethnic types working together without race being an issue. In a classic short, Davey is asked to befriend a temporarily-blinded, bigoted black child in order to let the kid know it's personality that matters, not color. At once the shorts could be both edgy and comfortably familiar.
By the mid 60's, Davey and Goliath had expanded into half-hour specials. The first was Christmas Lost And Found in 1965.
The story follows Davey as he finds that the Christmas season has arrived and he doesn't feel the usual warm feeling the holiday brings with it. He sets about decorating and buying presents, but the special feeling of Christmas still eludes him. This remains true as Davey decides to produce a Christmas play with the neighborhood kids. Telling the story of the first Christmas, Davey casts himself as one of the three kings, and Goliath will be his camel.
During all this, Davey meets Kenny, the son of the Christmas tree salesman. Kenny is more or less stuck on the Christmas tree lot until they sell out, but he does strike up a friendship with Davey and the gang. Just before the show goes on, Davey feels sorry for Kenny and trades places with him, letting Kenny act in the play with Goliath while Davey mans the tree lot. It's while reflecting on this, hearing the sounds of the Christmas pageant echo across town, that Davey realizes the true meaning of Christmas: celebration of the birth of God's Christ, Jesus. His heart filled with love, Davey finally has the Christmas he's been missing.
Like most Davey and Goliath stories, the plot here could easily've been adapted to fit a Leave It To Beaver episode, another franchise timeless in it's examination of childhood and family. Perhaps the oddest thing here is that Mr. and Mrs. Hansen, while mentioned, are completely absent! This is all on the kids, who have to piece things together on their own. Fortunately, Davey has a pretty good understanding of Christmas -once he moves his focus off himself and onto the real meaning of the season.
Jesus was born on or near December 20th in the year 5BC. (Although His birth was the singular event which changed the recording of years, the new system was off by about four years when first implemented.) Man was created to be in God's company, and the fall from grace completely changed the world -which had been turned over to the authority of man. God could only reclaim his relationship proper by sending His Son into the world, the first sinless man who paid the price for all sin in His death by crucifixion in 27AD. Resurrected in glorified form three days later, Christ became the redemption of all who believe on Him. His earthly life and death were the ultimate act of God's love, His perfect gift to mankind. This is what Davey remembers, and in the process even makes a new friend.
As Christmas specials go, this one is pretty good. Despite the puppetoon nature of everything, it's rather less fanciful than most such shows. Grounded more in real life than the Rankin/Bass specials, for example, Christmas Lost And Found makes a connection to the audience Santa Claus and Rudolph never could.
Technically speaking, the special is very well mounted. The earliest Davey and Goliath shorts sometimes suffered from crude animation, but the technique had really smoothed out by 1965. The animation here is nice and fluid, with a few effects tossed in (this particular episode delights in having characters slide to a stop, for example). The remaining shorts would be very good in technical proficiency. The last Davey and Goliath film, 1975's To The Rescue, contains some of the best animation the format ever witnessed.
The sets are very well constructed and detail is enhanced by the light dusting of snow. Sound design is strong, and the writing up to the standards of the series. All in all, very nicely produced.
How long the special stayed in circulation, I couldn't say. Presumably, it still pops up on local stations and faith-based networks like TBN (I can attest TBN was still showing the Davey and Goliath cartoons around the turn of the century). It's theme is perfectly timeless, although the sight of a 5 and 10 store might raise some younger eyebrows (and Davey visiting a tobacco store to buy a pipe for his father might throw certain demographics into a panic).
The special was issued on video, and can currently be found in some DVD compilations.
A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL! A HAPPY AND BLESSED NEW YEAR, GANG! GOD BLESS!