Random Erik

Ramblings on Cartoons, Music, Pop Culture and Whatever

Bah Humbug Ad Infinitum

Christmas time is here. As are the Christmas specials. And after around 50 years of animated television Christmas specials, you can still count great ones on one hand. And those are all almost as old as I am. Which, I’m sorry to say, is on the wrong side of the age tracks.

C’mon, I dare you to argue with me. The truly great cartoon Christmas specials are as follows: A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I can’t think of any others that achieve true greatness.

I can hear your cries for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Undeniably a good special, it has aged badly and also struggles to fill its hour long format. The songs are (mostly) great. The animation is classic stop-motion. But I have trouble with the attitudes. Santa’s obvious dislike of Rudolph’s “deformity” shows him up as an old bigot, one who likely wears a white hood on the other 364 days. When Rudolph’s dad tells Santa that the “glowing nose thing” will likely clear up, Santa reassures him with wise words like “it had better, if he wants to pull my sleigh.” Charming man. This strikes me as a Santa who skips houses with blind, terminally ill or wheelchair-bound children. If they want gifts, they’d better get themselves in line with the norm.

Props to this special, though, for featuring the first openly gay character on television. Hermey the elf steps out of the closet in a big way. I think cowardly censors overdubbed parts, though, because he talks about wanting to be a dentist. But he always pauses before he says it: “I want to be a… dentist”. The overdubbers were replacing a five syllable word with a two syllable one, so they needed that little breath to make it fit. While watching, simply translate “dentist” back to the original “homosexual”. And have a drink everytime it happens to make things more festive.

How about Frosty the Snowman? Sorry, that one mystifies me. It’s truly rubbish, an overly sentimental pile of melted snow crap featuring an unbearably sachharine cast and ugly character design. Some people remember it fondly from childhood, so they keep showing it. Watch it while bathed in the cold hard light of adulthood and you’ll see just how terrible this thing is.

I remembered that one with the Heat Miser as being pretty good, but a rewatching turned up a lackluster show with a couple of bright spots (The Heat Miser and the Snow Miser may take a bow, everyone else go backstage and hang your heads in stop-motion shame).

But the specials get worse. Every year the pile of perennial-wannabe new specials grows. You can always spot the ones with true feeling and imagination behind them, because those are the ones that use Dicken’s A Christmas Carol as their source. Please note that this was sarcasm. Some suit from the top floor decides they need a Christmas special to rake in the advertising dough over yearly showings. But it’s a cartoon, so a budget of $45 and a pizza for the animators results in a perfunctory retelling of the Scrooge tale featuring reasonably lucrative licensed characters.

So we’re in luck, because this is the season in which we may partake in the landslide of badly animated Tiny Tim rip-offs. Just from memory, there have been Christmas Carols featuring Mickey Mouse, the Flintstones, the Jetsons, the All Dogs Go to Heaven mutts, Mr. Magoo, Bugs Bunny and even the animated Ghostbusters. And this year, there’s a second Looney Tunes take on the tale with Daffy Duck in the Scrooge costume. Whoopee.

Re-read (or read for the first time) the book instead. It holds up wonderfully, and the writing is enchanting.

I now officially plead for an embargo on Dickens retellings. And no, you can’t do It’s a Wonderful Life knock-offs instead, that one has been done to death too. As a replacement, I recommend the uplifting Little Match Girl. You can’t change the ending though… if you want to remake the tale using Spongebob, then at the end Squidward has to find the cold dead body in an alley, with spongey fingers gripping the last burnt-out match.

My Mac has a built-in TV tuner and I often have it tuned to Cartoon Network as I work. So I’ll surely see lots of Christmas cartoons this year, though I’m quick with the remote to prevent the truly terrible shows. But on one special night, as yet to be scheduled, I’ll sit down in the loft with cookies and eggnog and put the Charlie Brown and Grinch DVDs on.

And Maggie will laugh at my sniffles as the Grinch gains the strength of ten Grinches (plus two!). You can’t beat tradition.

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