Thursday, December 08, 2005

Top Ten Christmas Specials


With apologies to the Muppets, Mr. Magoo, and Happy, the Baby New Year, I've listed my Top Ten Christmas TV Specials of All-time:

10) Mickey's Christmas Carol

This classic featured Mickey Mouse as the poor Bob Cratchit with appearances by most of the Disney gang including Goofy as Jacob Marley's ghost. But Scrooge McDuck played his part flawlessly, and Mickey edges Mr. Magoo to squeak onto the list.

9) Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

Of course the picked-on, beaten-down, timid, little donkey that carried the mother of the Christ child to Bethlehem is going to make my Top Ten list. Any mainstream special that at least touches on the true meaning of Christmas gets an extra point or two from me, and Nestor does more than that. Not to mention, my brother and I could always make my little sister cry by singing the theme song to Nestor (rendered by no less than Marty Robbins in the show). So, it really gets some freebies to place it above Mickey.

8) 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

As much as anything, this special benefits from a cool song at it's climax. "Christmas Bells are calling: Santa! Santa!" the chorus repeats and then states, "We need you today!" Really good song. And yepper, this special has the children of Junctionville, yes, you heard me correctly, Junctionville, in peril of receiving no presents because the scroogy Albert Mouse calls Christmas and Santa "a fraudulent myth." He intercepts children's letters, the works, so that Santa ain't coming. However, redemption for Albert is found in the end when he actually listens to stories from older, "wiser" mice and men. So don't worry. Santa comes. Junctionville is saved. Hurray for Albert!

7) The Little Drummer Boy

In case you missed it in the song - many probably skipped this verse - the Little Drummer Boy's name was Aaron, and he hated people because his family was killed by desert thieves. This special debuted in 1968, so we're talking an oldie but a goodie here. Once again, extra points for Baby Jesus being shown at the end as well as religious overtones (and undertones) throughout the show. Also some points for the Vienna Boys Choir adding to the ambience. And, in case you didn't know, a sequel, The Little Drummer Boy Book II, does exist, where Aaron and the three wisemen spread the word about the newborn Christ. It didn't make the list, however.

6) Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town

We've hit the biggies now. Excellent performances throughout, and a true surprise with Topper, the penguin, who shows up at the North Pole. Tanta Kringle and the Kringle boys. The Winter Warlock. Miss Jessica (who later becomes Mrs. Claus, and is the winner of the Best Supporting Actress in a Christmas Special Award). And hey, Burgermeister Meisterburger definitely is in the running for Best Bad Guy in a Christmas Special, although he doesn't win the award. And Mickey Rooney is delightful as Kris Kringle, or as he's later known, Santa Claus. The music isn't nearly as good as the claymation specials higher on this list, but the show puts a lot together about Santa Claus and his origins. And origin stories are good. (I'd certainly love to own a copy of Amazing Fantasy # 15 where Peter Parker is bitten by an irradiated spider -- but I digress).

5) A Charlie Brown Christmas

We got it all here, girls and boys. Pig-Pen's dirty snowman, Lucy bossin', the whole Peanuts gang rocking out to Vince Guaraldi's Linus and Lucy, Chuck being his loveable blockhead self, and climaxing with Linus quoting the Gospel of Luke, not to mention the epilogue of the gang dressing up the pitiful tree and caroling Hark the Herald Angels Sing. It doesn't get much better than that...

4) The Year Without a Santa Claus

...but it does get better, nonetheless. Who can top the campy Snow Miser and Heat Miser and their respective tunes? The theme song (same as the show's title) in the beginning and Here Comes Santa Claus at the end are far better than average holiday classics, and the awesome Blue Christmas brings tears to the eyes. There's only one claymation classic that surpasses the charm of this great, and that's:

3) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

"I want to be a dentist." That classic line followed by the Chief Elf's conniption fit has me in stitches every time I watch this show. And I can watch it a lot of times. And I have watched it a lot of times. And who can forget the Best Supporting Actor of All Christmas Specials, the incomparable Yukon Cornelius? The misfit song, the elves' song, and the unwanted toys' songs are all catchy numbers that lift the charm of this particular special, and I thought the romance, albeit brief, between Rudolph and Clarice surpassed the Kris Kringle/Jessica romance in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. We have the conflict between father and son here, a budding romance cut short, misfits wandering and being chased by the Abominable Snow Beast, heroic sacrifical actions on the part of our heroes, and the requisite happy ending. No claymation special is better than this one.

2) Frosty the Snowman

But a couple of cartoons are! The Best Bad Guy in a Christmas Special Award goes to the perfectly played (by Billy DeWolfe) evil magician, Professor Hinkle. "Got to think nasty. Think nasty!" "You silly little children. You believe everything you see!" "No fair! No Fair!" in DeWolfe's unique voice. And you've got to hand it to Jimmy Durante as well. Along with Burl Ives in Rudolph, he narrates the story better than anyone this side of Boris Karloff. But loveable characters like Frosty, Karen (who wins the Best Actress in a Christmas Special Award), and Hocus Pocus really make you pull for the snowman, and we cheer when "the fastest bellywhopper in the world" outraces the evil professor. Then, we cry when Frosty melts. And we're overjoyed when Santa's Christmas magic brings Frosty back to life. And now for number 1.

1) How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The Grinch could win just about every award possible. He'd easily beat out Professor Hinkle for the Bad Guy Award if only he hadn't been redeemed for the last third of a twenty-six minute show. Instead, he's the Best Actor in a Christmas Special. There isn't a better song than You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch in any of the Christmas specials. And the Who's Christmas song isn't too bad either. Max, of course, gets runner up for the best supporting actor role, edging Hermey in Rudolph for that spot. Dr. Seuss gets all of our thanks for writing such a wonderful story, and "Grinch" like its predecessor "Scrooge" has become a part of our English vernacular.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Well, those are my choices and reasons for them. Tell me where I'm wrong and why. What should be higher? What should be lower on the list? What shouldn't be there at all, and what should be in its place? Like Happy, the Baby New Year in Rudolph's Shiny New Year, I'm all ears.

5 comments:

Brett said...

Come on, now. Every claymation fan worth his salt knows that the late, great Roger Miller narrated Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey and sang the tune. Marty Robbins? Absurd! Weak stuff, Rich.

Speaking of weak, The Little Drummer Boy?

Look, it may be long-since forgotten, but Emmitt Otter's Jug Band Christmas should make the list. And there is no question that Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol belongs in any top 10. These omissions are outrages.

Rich said...

Honestly, the original post had Roger Miller as the Nestor singer, but I was edited by the "man behind the curtain." Lame excuse, I know. I'm probably not a claymation dude worth his salt.

I actually considered both Rich Little's: A Christmas Carol and Emmitt Otter's Jug Band Christmas. I think both were HBO specials back in my youth. However, the Rich Little special, although hilarious, is extremely dated, and I just never see Emmitt Otter anymore. Cartoon Network, Disney, TBS, and the Family Channel have done a decent job preserving all the ones I've listed so that you see them over and over each year, keeping them fresh. And how long these specials actually last goes into their being on my list.

Like I said, Magoo is close, but I'll take the ones I listed, weak or what have you. Good comments, though.

DugALug said...

I happened to watch a Frosty The Snowman, with Andy Griffith narating the other day. It really was very lame. He married Crystal, in front of a snow-pastor.

If you are limiting yourself to animated, Christmas specials then I like your list... though The Little Drummer Boy should be higher for its music alone.

If it is general Christmas specials than no Christmas special list would be complete without 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'A Christmas Story'... I wish I could have ridden that slide after telling santa what I wanted.

Thankfully missing are such timelessly lame forgetables as The Wiggles Christmas, and Little Bear Christmas (Some day Brett, you will appreciate this comment more). In the Wiggle's defense, they did actually mention Jesus... whoah!

Speeking of depressing things. Does anyone remember a Christmas special about a little girl who sold pencils on a street corner to live? They set you up for the end by someone saying that when an angel falls off of the top of a Christmas tree someone passes away... the show ended with an angel falling off of the tree (letting you assume the little girl died). Now that one always put me in the old Yule-tide mood!

-Doug

DugALug said...

Now that I think of it... it was matches that she was selling... not pencils. I think she lit some to keep herself warm... so sad.

-Doug

Rich said...

Doug,

Yeah, it was only Christmas specials, not shows or movies. The two movies you mentioned are classics, for sure.

Also, you're right about Frosty in a Winter Wonderland. It was poor. Had none of the magic of the first Frosty the Snowman.

I'm glad the Wiggles mention Jesus. We have one of their tapes, but it's been mostly forgotten. Who knows, though? Mason may dredge it out, and soon we'll all be going through the D-O-R-O-T-H-Y, Dorothy the Dinosaur and Yummy Yummy songs again. We can all pray she bypasses that stage.

Don't recall the other show you mentioned. It does sound rather bleak. Nothing like the cheery Wiggles at all.