Ziggy’s Gift (DVD)

Here’s to the little guy.

Ziggy, Tom Wilson’s long-running and well-liked comic strip creation, hit the small screen in 1982 with a simple tale of doing good during the holidays, even when it seems life is out to get you.

Short of stature and large of nose, Ziggy lives in a humble apartment in a large city. After seeing an ad in the paper for locals to don Santa costumes and raise money for charity, Ziggy applies and gets the job. Our hero remains blissfully unaware that the job is a scam, as he sets out on the streets to do some good work, with his dog Fuzz following faithfully. While trying to find an unpopulated street corner to stand and ring his bell for the passersby, Ziggy does a series of good deeds for anyone he comes across, including a freezing stray cat, a hungry homeless man, and a bunch of about-to-be-cooked Christmas turkeys. What he doesn’t know is that both a tough cop and a sneaky pickpocket are on the lookout for him.

At a quick 24 minutes, what makes this TV special click is its simplicity. There are no big chases or set pieces, and there’s almost no dialogue. Basically, it’s just Ziggy in a Santa hat walking around the city being nice to everyone. The creators made an interesting choice by not having Ziggy speak. Instead, we get a sense of his character through his actions, and his minimalist facial expressions. There’s a lot of talk from the other characters about Ziggy being “the little guy,” and that clearly means more than just his diminutive stature. Here’s Ziggy, an honest, well-meaning guy with nothing overly unique or special about him, and yet he makes a difference just by being himself.

As for what is unique here, that would be the style of animation. Everything is hand-drawn, with no photocopies or duplications, and it shows. This doesn’t mean the animation suffers. Instead, it’s obvious how much the animators pushed themselves to make a quality product. You can almost feel the carpal tunnel syndrome in the animators’ hands upon seeing the amount of detail in every shot. Today’s animators love the slick, polished look of CGI, but this rougher hand-drawn look has its charm. Here’s hoping hand-drawn cartoons are not a dying art form.

Ziggy’s Gift has been well-preserved, and the picture looks like it all could have been penciled and inked yesterday. The 2.0 soundtrack is crisp and clear, with no immediate flaws. The highlight of the extras here are a group of 30-second Ziggy shorts, which appear to be extended versions of the comic strip. They have much the same tone as the Christmas special, light and inoffensive. The visual quality is poor, however, with washed out colors and numerous specks and scratches, with the audio coming in merely adequately. Other extras are a text bio of Tom Wilson, a collection of holiday-related Ziggy comics, and “Ziggy Meets the Masters,” a gallery of classic paintings altered to give Ziggy a cameo appearance.

This Christmas, remind the kids (and yourself) just how nice animation can be, with a cartoon genuine in its sentiment, free of pop culture references and lowbrow humor.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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