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Top 10 Christmas Specials #3 A Charlie Brown Christmas

The tree is as famous as the special.

The tree is as famous as the special.

This was a no-brainer, right?

I know there’s some backlash against these more obvious Christmas classics, probably because they’ve been at the top for so long, but there’s a lot of reason for them to be at the top.  And as far as this one goes, well, every kid who can recite Saint Luke’s account of the Nativity probably can thank Linus van Pelt.

Again… everyone knows the plot, but it boils down to Charlie Brown is involved in the Christmas pageant in order to keep busy and ward off the holiday blues, while also trying to figure out what Christmas is all about.  Everyone around him seems caught up in something trivial: gifts, how their hair will look onstage, the lights and display contest, etc.  Lucy sends him after a Christmas tree, and he picks the most pathetic, in need of love one on the lot.  Though he almost gives up on everything in despair, Linus and the gang finally put aside their distractions and make it a truly merry experience.

It’s simple.  It’s charming without being syrupy, and it has a truly kickass soundtrack.  And we can learn to recite the gospel from listening to Linus.  What more could you ask for in a Christmas special?  Yes, it’s been popular and near the top for decades, but there’s a reason for that.  Our Christmas viewing experience would be poorer without it.

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Top 10 Christmas Specials #4 Mickey’s Christmas Carol

And it has good music.  But it's Disney... you knew that.

And it has good music. But it’s Disney… you knew that.

After a bit of a hiatus, a couple of minor crises, and a bad cold…. I’m baack!  Anyway, it’s still Christmas until January 6th.  So here’s number 4.

I first saw Mickey’s Christmas Carol when I was four or five years old.  For a long time it was the version of A Christmas Carol that I knew, and I’m quite sad that tape went, too.  (Note to self, find the DVD).

Everyone knows the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Spirits, but who’d have thought the Disney gang could pull it off?  Jacob Marley can be a terrifying figure, and Goofy plays him here?  Yet it works.  Goofy manages to be somewhat sinister a couple of times and then be himself later while still having you believe the character.  “Tonight you will be haunted by three spirits,” he says while holding up two fingers.  “Listen to ’em. Do what they say.  Or your chains will be heavier than mine!”  Son of a gun.

Having Scrooge MacDuck as the old moneylender is a no-brainer, as well casting Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future, but some of the other choices are interesting: Rat and Mole, Jimminy Cricket, the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk… and of course, Mickey and Minnie as the Cratchits.  It’s a delightful special that still manages to wring a lot of pathos out of its half-hour running time.  Tell me… when did you last see Mickey Mouse cry?  Yet in the Future sequence when he stands by Tiny Tim’s grave he looks utterly broken.  It really stands out from the rest of his “career.”

In short, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is an imaginative, abbreviated twist on the old classic that’s a lovely way to introduce children to the story or simply enjoy it without having to sit through the three hours of commercials AMC inflicts on the George C. Scott version every year.  It’s still Christmas, folks.  Go dig this one up.

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Top 10 Christmas Specials #5 Arthur’s Perfect Christmas

arthur_perfect_christmasThis one wins the diversity award.  It also wins an award for trope inversion, and for annually pissing off my most narrowly religious relatives (non-believers… whooooh!).  That was supposed to sound spooky.

Anyway, everyone’s favorite aardvark has a very detailed idea of how perfect this Christmas will be.  Unfortunately, the road is fraught with difficulties.  His friends have trouble, too.  Buster’s helicopter mom is so obsessed with making his fatherless Christmas absolutely perfect that he’s getting no sleep.  Muffy doesn’t listen when Francine declines the invitation to her Christmas party because her family is celebrating Hannukah that night.  Binky is poisoning everyone with his bad cooking and needs to hone his skill before his family works at a homeless shelter on Christmas.

Eventually, of course, things work out, and we get a lot of education.  Muffy finally apologizes to Francine, who tells her about Hanukkah. (Who expected the lower-class Frenskys to be Jewish?  Trope inversion!)  Brain also educates viewers on Kwanzaa.  Buster and his mother decide to celebrate Baxter Day instead of Christmas (this is the part that always upsets my relatives).  Most of the major options for winter celebrations are covered here, and for a “Christmas” special, that’s pretty good.  Especially since they were only working with about an hour.

Yes, it’s more “kiddie” than a lot of the other options on this list, but it’s still worth a look.

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Top 10 Christmas Specials #6 A Night Before Christmas

Poor Tom....

Poor Tom….

In the same vein as “Bedtime for Sniffles” but more of a “Christmas special” is the Tom & Jerry cartoon.  This was, I believe, the only time the cat and mouse duo had a Christmas cartoon, but the result was splendid.

You can tell by looking at the expensive, detailed animation, as well as the more animal-like noises Tom makes that this is an early cartoon.  Just a detail for impressing people at parties.

Anyway, Jerry comes out of his mouse-hole to find a Christmassy mouse-trap waiting for him.  He laughs at it and begins the adorably and funny task of playing with the gifts under the tree.  Unfortunately, what he thought was a teddy bear turned out to be Tom’s butt, and the cat was none too pleased about being waked up by having Jerry trying to bounce on him.  They chase each other around the tree and make traps for each other until Tom finally catches Jerry and throws him outside into the snow.  He tries to go back to sleep, but his conscious starts to bother him.  Looking outside, he sees that Jerry has frozen into a block of ice.

Horrified he brings the mouse back in, thaws him out by the fire and gives him a candy cane.  Jerry is skeptical at first then stops Tom from drinking his booby-trapped milk (there was a mouse-trap inside it).  A Christmas truce was brokered that night, and it never happened again.  Peace on earth… goodwill to mice.

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Top 10 Christmas Specials #7 Bedtime for Sniffles

Out like a light, poor little guy.

Out like a light, poor little guy.

Admittedly, I’m kind of cheating again since Christmas specials didn’t really exist when this cartoon was made, but it’s a darling Christmas cartoon, so here it is.

In case you don’t know… Sniffles the Mouse was one of Chuck Jones’ super-cute creations.  He appeared in such cartoons as “Hush My Mouse”, “The Bookworm”, “Lost and Foundling”, plus a few with his name in the title… such as this one.

In this cartoon, the little mouse is trying to stay awake, so he can see Santa Claus.  Unfortunately, events conspire so that he falls asleep.  He puts on the kettle to make some coffee, but nods off while it boils; the whistle wakes him up.  Then he puts on the radio, but it plays “Silent Night,” and he nods off again.  Finally, he gets so tired that he sees himself asleep in bed and gives in.  The camera pans around to see that Santa has come and gone already.  But everything is so sweet, we don’t really feel disappointed.  Anyway, Santa only visits when we’re asleep, so Sniffles would have been a lot more disappointed had he achieved his goal.

It’s not particularly messagey, but that’s fine since we don’t need a sermon with every Christmas special.  Sometimes a cute story is enough, and for an 8-minute cartoon… well, it’s hard to argue with any of the details here.  In fact, look it up for yourself (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUPrrYREqaM.)

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Top 10 Christmas Specials #8 A Garfield Christmas Special

"I talk to cats!"

“I talk to cats!”

I’ll be honest… I don’t like this one much– it’s at #8 because it’s an actual Christmas special (and #9 was my stretching the truth a bit), and it’s one of my brother’s favorites (Merry Christmas, kid).  And it was the only special we weren’t able to replace when the 20+ year-old recorded off TV VHS tape bit the dust two years ago.  So… here’s Garfield.

The special opens with the fat cat dreaming about the perfect Christmas– unlimited lasagna and gifts.  Plus Jon in an elf costume, but let’s not dwell on that.  He wakes up just in time to pack up and drive to the farm where Jon’s parents, grandmother, and brother live.  Jon and Odie are bouncing with excitement.  Garfield is, well, you know….  They arrive at the farm and meet the family: Mom, Dad, Doc Boy, and Grandma.  Grandma was always my favorite part of the special.  She’s just awesome– she got the show’s touching moment, and all the double-entendres.  The look on Dad’s face when she tells him “I’m eatin’ for two, now, dear.” (She’d been feeding the animals under the table.)

But what really makes the special, I think, is the scene in which she reminisces about her late husband.  It’s sentimental, but not too much, and more than that, it’s the type of quiet, moving scene you don’t really expect out of Garfield.  They even go back to it later when he discovers an old packet of Grandpa’s love letters to Grandma from way back when.  This also leads to the special’s raciest joke– the letter implies that lots of hot sex will follow Grandpa’s return (I always got the impression he was in WWII or Korea).  And let’s face it, that’s part of Christmas, too; September is the month that has the most birthdays.

Anyway, the songs are a little lame, but the animation is nice, and the story itself is pretty sweet.  It knows when to put the cynical jokes away and let the Christmas magic do its thing. I guess it deserves a spot on the Top 10 list after all.

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Top 10 Christmas Specials #9 The Little Match-Girl

Don't you feel shivery, just looking at that?

Don’t you feel shivery, just looking at that?

This is admittedly something of a cheat, since it was not an actual Christmas special and was, I think, a segment from a defunct Fantasia sequel, but it is nevertheless a beautiful, powerful reminder of the darker side of Christmas.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote this story, thinking about what could have happened to his mother, who was for a time, a beggar as a child.  She may or may not have sold matches.

Anyway, taking place in St. Petersburg and set to Tchaikovsky, the beautiful animation makes this short, sad story sting all the more.  The little match-girl tries in vain to sell her wares on Christmas Eve, but everyone ignores her.  A police officer shoos her from her spot by a lamp, and brushes her off when she offers him a match.  Trying to find shelter from the cold, she huddles in an alley, and finally decides to light one of her matches.  When it is lit, she sees a warm stove, but then the match goes out, ending the vision.

This goes on until she lights every match in her box in order to see her dear, departed grandmother.  The grandmother embraces her, dries the girl’s eyes, and takes her up to Heaven, leaving her body with the matches in the alley.

It is incredibly sad, but not unbearably so.  Kudos to the animators who made that possible.  The little girl’s joy is palpable when she sees her grandmother, and her determination to stay with her when she lights all her remaining matches is inspiring.  Yet at the same time, her sadness is heartbreaking, and the apathy of the people around her is paralyzing.  The short skips the scene in the original fairy tale where an upper class boy steals one of the girl’s shoes– which was probably a smart decision.  It would be too bleak otherwise.

As this is only available as a Special Feature on the 25th anniversary DVD of The Little Mermaid– check out this YouTube link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTE7CVCuMz0).  Provided it’s still there.

This 6 minute cartoon manages to criticize, sadden, and uplift– all without saying a word.  Even the silent movies had dialogue cards– this Disney relic is truly extraordinary.

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