Friday, November 9, 2012

Over/Under Christmas Specials

The Most Overrated Christmas Special- The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Okay, this is a famous, beloved special but why?  The only reason is that it features the great Heat Miser and Cold Miser song.  Take that away and this special is not great by any means.  The story makes no sense.  Santa quits because kids don't believe in him, children cry because they thought Santa had died, Santa meets kids who don't believe in him, Santa and some parents inspire a boy to believe in him, Santa needs to make it snow in one town to save Christmas, a girl singing Blue Christmas inspires Santa to keep being himself.  This story arc makes no sense and lacks any true emotional beats.  The song is great and Heat Miser and Cold Miser are well designed characters, but that's it.

The Most Underrated Christmas Special- Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978)

There are so many specials worth mentioning such as Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too, Muppet Family Christmas, The Snowman, The Richard Williams A Christmas Carol and Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.  But this is the one that is good enough to air among Rudolph, The Grinch and Charlie Brown every year and every time I watch it I am shocked that it doesn't.  It is the perfect variety show.  There is a fun old school cold open with people in Muppet costumes skating.  There are three great subplots.  Cookie Monster struggles to get through a letter to Santa as he goes insane with his obsession of cookies.  The funniest moment of the special is the horrified look on Cookie's face when Gordon tells him that people actually leave cookies as a gift for Santa.  There is the subplot were Bert and Ernie act out the Gift of the Magi, which fits the characters well.  The main subplot is Big Bird trying to find out if Santa is real.  Sesame Street does a terrific job at not answering the question but rather posing the question, does it matter?  There are so many great musical numbers in this, particularly True Blue Miracle.  I wish this aired every year, because I would always watch it.

The Most Disappointing Christmas Special- Shrek the Halls (2007)
Shrek should have only been two movies.  I love the first Shrek, it is truly the best non-Disney American animated feature.  But the series has been in a serious decline since its impressive 2001 debut.  The Christmas special is nothing more than cheap jokes and pop culture references.  Nothing is of note except for Gingy's fear of Santa as he always eats gingerbread houses.  It is a shame because the Shrek cast is likable and iconic and deserve a better yearly special.

The Most Surprising Christmas Special- A Garfield Christmas Special (1987)

I first came across this special a few years ago and I couldn't believe that I hadn't seen it before.  Garfield and Friends is probably my second favorite cartoon ever and it does a better job than the comics at interpreting Garfield.  This special is unique as it is one of the few to show a real family at Christmas.  The Arbuckles are a great example of a traditional farm family.  This special also acknowledges the reality of having Christmas after losing a loved one.  I applaud this special for coming up with a small, original story instead of rehashing A Christmas Carol as Garfield could easily play Scrooge.  In fact, I think that the best thing about this special is that Garfield doesn't change.  He will always be cynical and fat, but he can still appreciate Christmas.  This special has its heart-warming moments but can also be hilarious.  The funniest scene is a well timed sequence of Garfield trying to put a star on the tree.  Garfield ends up saying, "Whoever invented Christmas trees should be dragged out into the street and shot."

My Guilty Pleasure Christmas Special- We Wish You a Turtle Christmas (1994)

Yes this is indeed one of the worst pieces of media to ever shamefully use the good name of Christmas, but it the fun kind of terrible.  Unlike The Star Wars Holiday Special the TMNT holiday show is short and has some sort of structure.  The special effects are so bad and the songs are terrible that I can't help but watch it on YouTube every year.  The best part is when Raphael says that Mikey is turning into, "that opera guy again," implying that Michelangelo has done this before.

My Favorite Christmas Special- Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)

This is one of the most underrated cartoons in Disney's library.  Made during one of the lowest periods for animation, Burny Mattinson and several up and coming Disney legends managed to craft one of the best adaptations of Dickens' classic tale.  The cartoon cuts out several scenes and adds several as well, making it stand out from other direct, faithful adaptations.  This version is perfectly cast.  Ebenezer Scrooge is already somewhat of a cartoon character so having him played by Scrooge McDuck works beautifully.  You couldn't ask for a kinder soul to play Bob Cratchit than Mickey Mouse and the scene where he is grieving over the grave of Tiny Tim is absolutely heart-wrenching.  Also Pete as The Ghost of Christmas Future is terrifying and the only time I think that apparition has ever spoken.  It is cinematic, exciting, funny, heart-warming, sad, scary, just a perfect tradition to watch.

The Worst Christmas Special- Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)

Of course there are many bad Christmas specials but one of the many dreadful Rankin-Bass specials deserves the bottom prize.  There are many sequels to classics and other cartoons that are utterly unenjoyable but Pinocchio at Christmastime is the premise that seems to make the least sense.  Why do you want to see Pinocchio after the main story?  Who would want to see Pinocchio at Christmastime?  This is extremely forgettable.  I don't remember any songs or characters fondly.  The thing that I remember most is that for some reason Geppetto keeps taking off his toupee (is this supposed to be a funny running gag?) and really wants to buy Pinocchio a book for school (are there no libraries?).  Another strange aspect is that in this special Pinocchio is a real boy, but all of the characters are done by marionettes.  Of course Rankin-Bass gifted us with many other travesties, but this is their worst television special.

The Best Christmas Special- A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Just edging out How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the very first adaptation of Charles Schulz's legendary comic strip is an qualified home run.  The limited animation manages to keep the simplicity and style of the Peanuts illustrations but also the simplicity of childhood and Christmas.  Unlike future Peanuts specials this one is more than just reusing jokes from the comics, there is a storyline and a great pay off in Charlie Brown being happy.  Also the fact that nobody seems to have a problem with this special directly mentioning the birth of Christ is huge, in fact that is the main reason that this special is still viewed so often today.  To me this special embodies what a great Christmas special means and it is the highlight of Christmas entertainment.  Nothing else is as iconic and meaningful.  No matter how many times you watch this you walk away thinking, feeling and enjoying yourself.  It is the most perfect Christmas movie, short or special you could find.

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