Thursday, December 19, 2013

50 Best Christmas Specials (10-1)

10. Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Oatmeal!  The kid wants to name a snowman Oatmeal!  That is no name for a Snowman!  This is always fun, Frosty is extremely likable and childlike and the kids actually act like children.  The stakes are high enough for the story to work, but not too ridiculous.  This is one of my favorite Santas and the special never gets old.

9. A Christmas Carol (1971)
This short from legendary Richard Williams never gets its due, but it is one of the best adaptations of A Christmas Carol ever.  The animation is great and I love the style that makes it look like sketchy illustrations.  The entire short condenses the story into twenty minutes through some great time ellipses. This feels like A Christmas Carol from the perspective of Scrooge, you feel the emotions he is feeling.  This may be too scary for some children as Marley and Want and Need are appropriately horrific.  The profile of this needs to raise, it is a masterpiece.

8. Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
This is a loving tribute to the legacy of Jim Henson, who makes a well deserved cameo to close the special.  This is a crossover between The Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies.  It is a rights nightmare, not only with the four franchises but also the many Christmas carols that are not in public domain.  Nonetheless it is one of the best outings of the Muppets who have great gags and some incredible musical numbers.  Look it up on YouTube, well worth your time.

7. The Snowman (1982)
This is much more subtle than most children's specials, there is no dialogue and it takes its time.  This feels like a picture book and it is not a bad thing.  The animation and the music elevate the material and it feels very artistic while still being enjoyable and accessible.  I don't think this has aired since the mid-nineties but it really should air again.  It is a different Christmas special, the kind we need more of.

6. Mickey's Good Deed (1932)
This is a short that you could not do with any other classic character.  Mickey, at his everyman best in the Great Depression, is struggling to get by but at least he still has Pluto.  He reluctantly sells Pluto to a rich family to bring Christmas to a poor family.  This Mickey is compassionate, regretful, scared, sad and joyful.  Of course it all turns out, but this short is not afraid to be sad.  A great drama and one of the best uses of Mickey Mouse.

5. Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978)
Perfect in every way.  Part of what is fun is that this shows its age.  Mr. Hooper is in it, Kermit lives on Sesame Street, and the sets look like the seventies.  It has a great opening at an ice rink and several great subplots.  Big Bird tries to find out if Santa is real, Bert and Ernie act out Gift of the Magi, and Cookie Monster struggles to get through writing Santa a letter.  There is an amazing gag when Cookie Monster finds out that he is supposed to leave Santa cookies.  This also features some of the best original Christmas songs.  Keep Christmas with You, I Hate Christmas, and especially True Blue Miracle hold up and are some of my favorites.

4. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
This is my personal favorite Christmas special and I have it memorized.  Every Disney character is perfectly cast, even Goofy surprisingly as the damned Jacob Marley.  This cartoon makes the story entertaining and appropriate for children, while still embracing its frightening and sad qualities.  It distills the story perfectly to a comfortable running time and is just an absolutely perfect short.

3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Everything about this is iconic.  No matter how goofy it gets and unusual some of the animation looks it still works.  It is pleasant, fun, has a sweet story and great songs.  Everybody knows this special and it still holds up.   Rudolph, Hermie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, Santa, Bumble and Sam the Snowman are all welcome around the holidays.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Seuss improves on his great book by writing the teleplay and songs for this.  Chuck Jones' animation complements Seuss' designs and is full of great gags.  The voice work of Thurl Ravenscroft, June Foray and of course Boris Karloff are all perfect.  This special gets across a timeless message while still remaining fun.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Last year comic book writer Dan Slott referred to this along with Citizen Kane as perfect works of art and he is right.  This special is funny, touching, surprising, features some of the best characterization ever written and it never gets old.  Charlie Brown is such an everyman and his struggles at Christmas are still relevant.  Linus' emotional telling of the Christmas story and its clear effect on Charlie Brown is one of the most effective ways to bring up the birth of Christ.  It is not heavy handed or judgmental, but it is sincere and memorable.  This is a masterpiece and the perfect thing to watch at Christmas.

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