Sunday, October 29, 2017

Good Will to Men (1955) Christmas cartoon

1955 MGM cartoon--a remake of Hugh Harman's 1939 anti-war classic Peace on Earth.

During the month of October, I often think about Christmas entertainment that contains a spooky element or a horror theme. If you follow me on social media (Tis the Season TV on Facebook, and @TistheSeasonTV on Twitter), you know I usually share my reviews of these Halloween/Christmas cross-overs all month long. Last week on the website, I took a look back at the 1939 post-apocalyptic yuletide cartoon Peace on Earth. Click HERE to see that review again. I thought I'd follow that up with a discussion of Peace on Earth's re-make entitled Good Will to Men.

While this Christmas animated short is not usually considered a horror story, it does contain frightening imagery that intends to shock viewers--an experience that stands out against most other Christmas entertainment. Even if you've become accustomed to Dickens' ghost story, a frightening story about the extinction of mankind isn't what we expect from a typical Christmas cartoon.

Do those names sound familiar? Yes, this 1955 cartoon was directed by Hanna and Barbera, the two men who eventually went on to create their own studio for TV animation. You know Yogi Bear, the Flintstones, and the original Scooby-Doo? That's Hanna-Barbera.

Like the 1939 cartoon, so too was the 1955 re-make nominated for an Academy Award. Pretty cool, huh? Let's see why.

This 1955 re-make begins just as the 1939 cartoon does with an image of a broken stained glass window in a bombed out church.

The choir of mice raise their voices to sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

The 1955 re-make is quite similar to the 1939 original. The cartoon begins with snow falling on the war torn remains of a church. A group of mice in the ruins of a church are singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” After the lyric "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men," the youngsters ask their choir director who are men? His reply begins with the warning that men didn't practice what they preached.

In the 1939 cartoon, we see an elderly squirrel share his story with his grandchildren. In the 1955 re-make, we see a choir director mouse share his story with the youngsters in the church choir.

Once again, humans are described as monstrous.
The mouse choir director goes on to describe humans as monstrous creatures with an unquenchable thirst for violence that drove them to extinction. As the choir director says, humans were..."always thinkin' up ways to kill each other." The description grows alarming and the imagery in the cartoon becomes startling!

Keep in mind: when this cartoon was made, we were in the middle of the Cold War. Has our thirst for blood changed? I'll let you make your own conclusion.

By 1955 we had the ability (and willingness) to firebomb whole towns and cities.

One of the differences between the 1955 cartoon and the earlier one is an acknowledgment in the advancement of military technology and escalation in deadly weaponry. In both cartoons we see soldiers marching, tanks rolling, and exploding bombs lighting up the night sky. However, in the 1955 cartoon, we see an advancement in anti-aircraft weaponry, flame throwers, automatic guns, and even bigger bombs.

The chilling image of a military cemetery that stretches beyond the horizon.

The glow of red and green Christmas lights? NOPE. This is the depiction of how human went extinct--overlapping mushroom clouds. This is horrifying stuff.

The warning is CLEAR: this is our future if we continue on our current violent path.
Not your typical Christmas message, is it?

The 1955 cartoon imagines that humans are so out-of-control that they went extinct by means of multiple nuclear explosions that encircled the planet. Yikes!

Just like the 1939 version, this cartoon finds an owl sharing wisdom from the humans' book of rules.
The cartoon continues after the extinction of mankind, with animals of the forest coming out of hiding to seek shelter in a church in ruins. An old owl finds a discarded Bible with the oft-ignored rules “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself,” which inspires the animals to learn from the humans' mistakes and live peacefully.

The choir director makes the point in his story that the lesson "Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself" are words upon which depend the future of us all.

The animals all exchange pleasant greetings and small kindnesses

As the choir begins singing the popular carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" again, we see the members of the church enter and take their seats for the Christmas service. This ending feels more hopeful for the future than the previous 1939 cartoon. There also seems to be a stronger moral tone in the later version. The biblical references from the earlier version are "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and the Old Testament adage "Ye Shall Rebuild the Old Wastes," while the 1955 version includes "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself." To be fair, it's a stronger message. The second version of this cartoon includes a scarier warning about violence, one that results in nuclear war. The more uplifting tone in the end is a welcome sentiment.

Which cartoon do you prefer--1939's Peace on Earth, or 1955's Good Will to Men? Perhaps we can all agree the message of both cartoons concerning peace and good will is a wonderful reminder any time of year.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701


  1. Hmm, never seen this one... Looks interesting!

  2. Wow! I have never seen this one before. Thank you for sharing this post with us.. I really enjoyed your post. Keep it up. Merry Christmas.

  3. Sadly, the message is still very relevant!!

  4. I've always preferred Peace on Earth over Good Will to Men. The Hanna Barbera style of animation is very prevalent here and that hurts the cartoon in my opinion.

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