TV Christmas Classics

Seems like we have “list-fever” at ThinkCash. Kevin just added a new movie to his top-10 list, and Ken (our CEO) is the master of list (he actually puts together some amazing lists on movies, music, etc.). So I decided that I would put together my list of essential, classic, campy, holiday-themed, TV shows. 

1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This classic 1964 television special featuring Rudolph and his “misfit” buddies set the standard for stop-motion animation for an entire generation before Tim Burton brought it back in the early 1990s. Burl Ives narrates as Sam the Snowman, telling and singing the story of a rejected reindeer who overcomes prejudice and saves Christmas one particularly blustery year. Along the way Rudolph meets an abundance of unforgettable characters: his dentally obsessed, and somewhat elfiminate (pun intended) elf pal Hermey; the overly-bearded miner Yukon Cornelius and his motley crew of puppies; the hilarious Abominable Snow Monster (although I’ll admit that his shriek scared me a little as a kid); a legion of abandoned, strange, misfit toys; and a somewhat grumpy Santa (am I the only one that thought he came off as mean?). Plus there was the king of the misfit toys, King Moonracer (a lion). I’m still convinced he must have been some obscure drug reference (like Puff the Magic Dragon). This show was also crammed with musical numbers that I didn’t really care for as a kid like “Silver and Gold” and “Holly Jolly Christmas.”

2. Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. 1970 animated film tells the story of Santa’s origins, in which Kris Kringle decides to get toys into the hands of poor children in gloomy Sombertown.  After the huge success of their 1964 stop motion musical Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Rankin/Bass studios created no less than 14 more Christmas specials, from a total of 35 specials of which many covered other holidays. This one had the best voice cast of any of the Rankin/Bass animated specials. The cast included Mickey Rooney as the older Santa, Paul Frees as Burgermeister (what was Rankin/Bass’s obsessions with “…meisters/meisers”), and Keenan Wynn as the Winter Warlock. The Mailman’s voice and songs were by the great Fred Astaire, and they recreated him perfectly in a mailman figure (plus he drives a super cool snowcat). Also, who can say that they didn’t cry when the Winter Warlock finally “defrotsted” and become a nice person.

Mr. Magoo

3. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” manages, in just one hour, to accomplish what every hackneyed, phony Hollywood version of Dickens’s immortal story has failed to do – communicate the theme of the tale and all of it’s emotion and beauty with immense charm,
fun, and humor. Even 50+ years after it’s release, it still works.  If you know what “Razzleberry Dressing” is, then I’m guessing you’re a fan as well. Plus, it’s Mr Magoo, he’s blind-as-a-bat so hilarity always ensues . . .

Heat Meiser

4. The Year Without a Santa Claus. Even Santa gets depressed around the holidays. In this 1974 Rankin Bass classic, Mrs. Claus sings and tells about the year her hubby felt too tired and too unappreciated to prepare for his annual Christmas trip. Mickey Rooney stars as the voice of Santa, a rosy-nosed puppet who travels incognito (as a fat guy with a white beard) to Southtown in search of his tiniest reindeer, Vixen, and two elves. Seems Mrs. Santa sent them to find proof of Christmas spirit–but all they’ve discovered is ambivalence about Santa’s year off. Luckily, when Santa arrives he meets a buck-toothed young lad named Ignatius Thistlewhite, whose spirit saves Christmas. But the only thing you need to know about this one is this . . . it is the Heat and Snow Miser special. Their vaudevillian song-and-dance numbers are classics. I watched this one with Grant this year.

Grant:  Daddy, why is his hair funny?

Me: That’s Heat Miser. His hair is actually made of fire.

Grant: That’s silly. (then a pause and a worried look on Grant’s face) Daddy, I don’t like Heat Miser.

Frosty

5. Frosty the Snowman. Jimmy Durante narrates this Christmas story that is based on the song of the same name. What kid didn’t hate Professor Hinkle (the crappy magician that tried to kill Frosty). As an adult I now realize that the kids’ teacher hired Professor Hinkle to entertain the kids to make up for the fact that her students are in school on Christmas Eve. Talk about tough school districts. This one also gave a whole generation of kids a phobia of poinsettia-filled green houses.  Also, please never watch the 1995 follow-up Frosty Returns (starring John Goodman). It is maybe one of the worst holiday specials ever.

Nestor

6. Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. I was born and raised Catholic. So I have an appreciation for the Nativity story and the true meaning of Christmas. This one captures that story without beating you over the head with religious dogma. This simple tale, which takes place in the days of the Roman Empire, is about a humble couple about to take a long journey to Bethlehem and a small, insignificant donkey that is destined to help them along. Essentially, Nestor is Rudolph to Mary and Joseph’s Santa. But a word of warning, this one does have a scene that still brings a tear to your eye. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s say that it beats Bambi for the “saddest way to lose your momma” award.

Jack Frost

7. Jack Frost.1979 special in which Jack Frost fell in love with a human girl and so asked to become human. Father Winter granted his wish, but told him that if he did not have a house, a horse, a bag of gold, and a wife by “the first sign of spring” he would become a sprite again. Funny thing is my parents gave me the same advice when I left for college. I’ve got everything, but the bag of gold 😉 As a kid I liked to pretended to be Jack Frost kickin some Ka-Nights butt. This one was makes the list partially because it is unique in two ways – it doesn’t have a happy ending and it’s narrated by a groundhog.

I’m sure this list will cause lots of controversy and everyone has their favorites. The most notable absentee is probably A Charlie Brown Christmas. This one fell off the list this year after I watched it again with Grant (you see things differently through the eyes of a parent). I hadn’t realized how negative it is (they constantly call Charlie Brown “blockhead”, “stupid”, “idiot”, etc.). I know it all works out in the end, but I think that message is lost on really young kids. Plus Lucy always pissed me off . . .

2 responses to “TV Christmas Classics

  1. Like the guy in the Bud Lite add, “DUDE!”
    How can you leave out Charlie Brown’s Christmas?

    To be fair, you have a point. “Charlie Brown” IS lost on very young children. I read in a soundtrack review on emusic.com that Schultz himself said the show wasn’t for kids – his characters were precocious little existentialists. The jazz soundtrack itself lends an air of sophistication. Charlie Brown deals with real problems of peer pressure and self-doubt. The obvious religious message (that made CBS squirm at the time) is thoughtful, hopeful and inclusive.

    It just goes to show the benefits of not dumbing things down for kids. Even without fantasy (except perhaps Snoopy) or sugar coating, kids of all ages love it, and as they mature, they can continue to enjoy it.

    Unlike many of the other animated specials. “Rudolph” was groundbreaking, and as an original it still holds its place. But I find many of the other similar animated shows to be unwatchable imitations.

    I grew up watching “Mr. MaGoo’s Christmas Carol”, and frankly, that’s how I first learned the story. I bought the DVD last year thinking it would be fun and nostalgic. Man, was it ever awful. The music and animation is sooo cut-rate. I couldn’t believe I liked it. I do recall even at a young age cringing at the sappy high-pitched voice of the youngest Cratchet.

    I highly recommend the British animated short of Raymond Brigg’s “The Snowman” for the toddler. Also, my wife is a big fan of “Olive, the Other Reindeer,” but he’ll need to be a little older to get some of it.

    I’ll likely see you some Saturday AM at the Minyards ride.

  2. Pingback: Top 5 Halloween Specials « Texas Tailwind

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