Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Specials

CBC is showing a number of Christmas specials this evening. This is great! My VCR isn't working, and most of the Christmas specials I own are on VHS. So far tonight they've shown Mickey's Christmas Carol and Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and they're about to start Frosty the Snowman. There's a pleasing something about the tradition of watching all these animated Christmas specials every year. I'm convinced that a large percentage of the viewership is adults. That would account for the starting of a program at 8:30 p.m. But it also accounts for the enduring popularity of these things when the animation of some is pretty terrible, and the stories a little outdated.

I've always found the Frosty movie a little bit dull, which is why I'm typing away here rather than watching. But there's something catching about the songs, and something kind of touching about the innocence of Frosty as he wakes up and stupidly shouts "Happppy Birthday!".

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, on the other hand, is a classic. I love the animation, and the songs, and little Cindy Lou. I'm not such a fan of the recent live action full length feature. This thing works so perfectly in its animated half hour format that I don't think it could be improved upon. And don't you just wish you could sit down to a roast beast at a Who Feast?

Some other classic animated Christmas features I try to catch every year?

Well, there's A Charlie Brown Christmas. What could be a more truthful line than "Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy's right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest." And, when Charlie picks out that poor awful little tree, and he says "I don't care. We'll decorate it and it'll be just right for our play. Besides, I think it needs me. " Awww. It is slow moving, but it is lovely.

And then there's A Chipmunk Christmas. Admittedly, this is a terrible movie. Truly awful. But who doesn't get a lump in their throat when Alvin cures wee Tommy by giving him his harmonica?
And, what could be better than listening to three very squeaky little voices belting out a tune about wanting a plane that loops the loop and "me, I want a hula hoop"? Sitting through that special is worth it for the song.

Now Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a bit of a special case. Yes, I have a soft spot in my heart for Hermy, the elf with dentite dreams, Burl Ives the snowman narrator with his little vest, and even for Yukon Cornelius and his silver and gold. But. But, but, but. This year I just couldn't make myself sit through the thing. Donner with his "this is men's work" and his shame about his son. Ack. And that terrifying anti-dentite the head elf. Awful. I think maybe this one has run its course for me.

Which brings us back to Mickey's Christmas Carol. This is our gateway to the live action hits, so I saved it. What's not to love. Mickey and Minney as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit are typically adorable. And the advent of Scrooge McDuck is a thing of genius. Its lovely good fun.

But it is NOT my favourite of the Scrooge movies. I have several.

I think my real favourite of these is the Alastair Sim version, sometimes called Scrooge. To me this best captures the story. It has all the terror of the ghost of Christmas future. All the sorrow of the past. The lost possibilities of the present. And the glorious, glorious reformation at the end. It is Alastair Sim's portrayal of the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge that I love best. It is so catching. It makes one so very happy to watch it.

And then there is the other Christmas Carol. The Muppet Christmas Carol. Who could forget that gem! With Kermit as Bob Cratchit, and Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit. Statler and Waldorf as the Marley brothers ("leave comedy to the bears Ebenezer"!!!!). And best of all - Gonzo as Charles Dickens. Ha! And, in a live action piece of casting, Michael Caine as a singing (but only after he's reformed) Scrooge. This is also a great piece of cinema. And it has wonderful music. Totally worth watching every year. I have it on DVD, and I have the soundtrack in my car right now!

Speaking of the Muppets. There is that other great muppet Christmas film, the made for TV, Muppet Family Christmas, featuring the muppets, the Sesame Street gang, and even the Fraggles! The premise: the muppets decide to surprise Fozzy's mom by all showing up at her farm for Christmas. Little do they know that Mrs. Bear has planned a Christmas vacation to Malibu, and has rented her farmhouse to Doc and his dog from Fraggle Rock. Before she can get away, the muppets arrive. Doc isn't any too pleased, but what can he do? Then, the Sesame Street gang come caroling, and somehow wind up staying too! A grand time is had by all!

Also starring the Sesame Street gang is Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, made back when Mr. Hooper was still around in 1978. The thing is very 70s, but oh so satisfying. That awful Oscar gets Big Bird all worried that Santa won't be able to make it down the chimney. Meanwhile, Burt and Ernie reenact the story of the Gift of the Magi. Interesting Bert and Ernie Christmas trivia - they are named after the cop and taxi driver in It's a Wonderful Life. True fact!

While in the realm of popular children's shows and their Christmas specials, I have to bring up Today's Special Christmas. I still watch this every year. It is awesome, and feat ures a fabulous twist on the song "The Twelve days of Christmas" which ends with the line "hot cheesy sauce on my plate full of macaroni". Ha. Totally awesome.
Basically, everyone gives up their Christmas plans so they can spend the day at the store with Jeff, so he can have a Christmas. And then Santa's elves hide their presents to each other and they have to find them. Fun!

So, back to real Christmas movies.

Miracle on 34th Street
, both the 1947 version, and the 1994. This story and I have a troubled relationship. On the one hand it trimphs the commercialization of what, for me, is a sacred and familial holiday. But, on the other, it is all about learning a sense of wonder, and about true generosity of spirit. There is something thouroughly delightful about the character of Kris Kringle too. So I do love it. I do, generally, watch each version every year.

This year, I've only watched the beginning of the Natalie Wood version. So I am behind. But there hasn't been time, and I haven't seen it on TV.

I can't say which version I prefer. Natalie Wood's is a classic, but the little girl in the 1994 version is just hilarious. And I love Richard Attenborough as Santa.

Now we get to the two crucial, absolute necessity for it to be Christmas, movies.

White Christmas. What can one say about this film. It is just such a completely happy musical experience. You can't help but feel joyful while watching Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney, sing and dance their way through the most tasty piece of bubblegum around.

It has everything you could want in a great musical film. Fabulous songs by Irving Berlin (a Jewish man who, ironically, created both White Christmas and Easter Parade, two of the most famous secular Christian related songs and musicals going). Wonderful singing. Excellent dances. Great song and d ance routines. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Let's put on a show to help out an old pal. Confusions and mistakes. Happy reunions. Everything!

And, finally, It's a Wonderful Life. Starring one of my all-time favourite actors, Jimmy Stewart, in a movie that tears your heart out, and creates it anew.

The only real quibble I have with this film is that the worst possible alternate life to give Donna Read was that of a spinster librarian. It isn't THAT bad people! I'm sure there are worse fates!

But oh how happy it is when he comes back from that hellish alternate place, and there everyone is. And people do appreciate him after all. And it will all be ok. So satisfying. And Clarence. What could be cuter than Clarence the bumbling not-quite angel.

So that is that. I'm sure I've missed some of my own favourites. I'm doubly sure I've missed some of yours. But anyway, happy Christmas film watching!


Azura said...

My all time favourite has got to be the Muppets Family Christmas (although the Muppets Christmas Carol and Rudolph run very close seconds)

I've watched it so many times that I sing along to all the songs (like the chicken version of "Gloria in excelsis deo). And my favourite part?

"I don't care if the turkey says the dog is the turkey. The dog is not the turkey. The turkey's the turkey, you turkey. Now release Sprocket."
~ Doc to the Swedish Chef

False Prophet said...

I watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer last weekend and it clearly showed its age with the naked sexism. Rudolph charges in to save his parents and Clarice from the Abominable Snowman, and gets his clock cleaned. Hermie and Yukon have to save the day.

The next line of narration is, "Rudolph and Donner decided to make sure the women got home safe." Um, Rudolph and Donner didn't fare any better than Mrs. Donner and Clarice against the dangers of the Arctic, so what exactly qualifies them to keep the womenfolk safe?