Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

Title

Debuted in 2012

11 minutes

Plot in 1 Sentence: Comedy sketches include Santa dreaming about missing Christmas, Justin Bieber singing a Christmas song and G.I. Joe characters confused about what to get Snake Eyes.

Fun Fact: The show’s creators met with G.I. Joe comic book writer Larry Hama and recorded a short video clip with him that appears in the show.

My thoughts: Robot Chicken is very hit and miss with me. There are some funny ideas and I could pull together bits and pieces from all of their Christmas specials over the years to make one episode that I really enjoyed. There are almost always one or two references that I just don’t understand simply because I am not deeply immersed in pop culture, especially when it comes to video games and contemporary TV series. I usually know enough to get what the joke is going for, but not enough to find it funny. And while I am a fan of some shock humor, it wears thin on me if I feel like they’re just trying to see how far over the line they can go. I did think the idea of Santa trying to track down Jason Bourne just so he could give him a present was pretty funny but overall, I thought this one didn’t have much going for it.

Santa

This is not your mom’s Santa.

Bieber

And this is not your daughter’s Bieber.

Betrayed

It’s never easy to break up with your Christmas tree.

The Grinch

Okay, having the Nerd be even angrier at the Grinch when he finds out it’s the Jim Carrey Grinch was pretty funny.

Individual Superlative: Finish Un-Strong – To let you know exactly the level of comedy you can expect here, the show ends on a rape joke. Oh…and it’s a necrophiliac rape joke.

Want to Watch it? Robot Chicken ATM Christmas Special is available on Amazon Video.

Toyland Premiere

TitleDebuted in 1934

9 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Santa gets a telegram from Oswald that everything is ready for the Toyland Premiere parade, but he discovers his Santa suit has been eaten by moths. His elves save the day with some quick thinking and they fly to the city for the big parade and then dinner with celebrity guests. Laurel and Hardy pretend to be a dragon in order to get some of Santa’s chocolate cake, but Santa calls out the army of toys and together, they foil their plans.

Fun Fact: This was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s first cartoon in color.

My thoughts: I had never seen this short before and it’s not hard to see why it doesn’t get a lot of airplay, since there are several elements to this one that would be considered offensive to modern audiences. Although Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (an original Walt Disney character who became the property of Charles Mintz and Universal in 1929) appears in this short, he is only a minor character. The celebrity guests that are gathered to celebrate Santa’s arrival feature some pretty easily recognizable faces, but I don’t imagine a lot of contemporary audiences are going to recognize Johnny Weismuller and Lupe Velez. The plot of this one is pretty thin, even for a cartoon short, but its early use of color is interesting, especially when you note that it mostly features shades of blue and red.

This top-hatted elf can put "painting Santa's butt" on his resume.

This top-hatted elf can put “painting Santa’s butt” on his resume.

All I want for Christmas is for these terrifying balloons to go away.

All I want for Christmas is for these terrifying balloons to go away.

Even Frankenstein's monster seems to be a little uncomfortable with this.

Even Frankenstein’s monster seems to be a little uncomfortable with this.

Oh yeah, the roller skate machine gun would be a big hit with modern parents.

Oh yeah, the roller skate machine gun would be a big hit with modern parents.

Individual Superlative: Most Confused Political Correctness – The original ending involved Laurel & Hardy getting covered in chocolate frosting, making it look like they were in blackface. This was (as you may imagine) removed in recent years, although Eddie Cantor still appears in full blackface throughout the dinner segment.

Want to Watch it? Toyland Premiere is available on DVD (in the Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection) and is available on some online animation sites.

Yo Gabba Gabba: A Very Awesome Christmas Special

TitleDebuted in 2011

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The characters try to come up with a good idea for a present for Santa. Several guests stop by and some of them sing songs. Santa shows up and tells them that they’ve given him a great gift by sharing and caring for all their friends and they all dance together.

Fun Fact: One of the show’s creators, Christian Jacobs, is the lead singer of The Aquabats. Muno and Brobee got their start as monster villains from The Aquabats concert shows.

My thoughts: Yo Gabba Gabba was created as a show that kids and parents could watch together, even if they enjoyed it for different reasons. This Christmas special offers a lot of what makes the show popular with kids, including songs, animations and short clips of dancing kids. But there are also bizarre celebrity guest appearances and weird moments that will keep parents from getting bored. As always, some of the songs teach lessons, such as Mark Mothersbaugh’s song about how nice it is to give a homemade gift. A very pregnant Tori Spelling shows up to borrow sugar for her Christmas cookies and gives everyone a cookie version of themselves. This is the second Christmas special that Yo Gabba Gabba produced and is definitely the better one. It’s a little crazy, sure, but somehow it’s the kind of crazy that you find yourself enjoying.

Are those Christmas lights or jalapeno peppers?

Are those Christmas lights or jalapeno peppers?

Tori Spelling looks right at home among the bizarre big-eyed monster characters.

Tori Spelling looks right at home among the bizarre big-eyed monster characters.

Even the fire is happy!

Even the fire is having fun!

Tony Hawk made an eggplant with googly eyes and a spoon duct-taped to it.

Tony Hawk made an eggplant with googly eyes and a spoon duct-taped to it.

Individual Superlative: Someone Help Tony Hawk – In addition to showing up with the weirdest homemade gift ever, Tony Hawk looks like he is at death’s door. Is there somewhere I can donate?

Want to Watch it? Yo Gabba Gabba: A Very Awesome Christmas is available on DVD and shows up pretty regularly during the holidays.

Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

TitleDebuted in 1988

49 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Pee-wee Herman prepares for Christmas, decorating the playhouse and sending a very long Christmas list to Santa, asking for lots of presents. All the usual playhouse friends stop by, along with lots of special guests who sing songs or share traditions. Santa delivers all of Pee-wee’s gifts, but tells him that Pee-wee asked for so many things, Santa couldn’t bring any gifts for anyone else, so Pee-wee donates his gifts to the other kids and gets to helps Santa deliver them.

Fun Fact: k.d. lang’s (truly bizarre) performance of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ was the longest guest segment to film, taking about half day.

My thoughts: I love this crazy special and it’s been a regular and well-loved part of our Christmas special party tradition for nearly two decades now. Although Pee-wee’s Playhouse was a Saturday morning show, this special originally aired in a weekday primetime slot and it’s easy to pick up on all the jokes that were intended for the adults in the viewing audience. The guest list includes such diverse celebrities as Grace Jones, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Little Richard, Charo, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello and there’s even a cameo from Oprah before she became a household name. There are a few short films and animated bits, including one in which we see that the dinosaur family is Jewish. The running gag with everyone bringing Pee-wee fruitcakes for Christmas culminates in a scene where we see a room full of shirtless construction workers using the fruitcakes to build an addition to the playhouse. There’s a definite message about greed and generosity hidden amongst all the wackiness. Yes, this one is weird, but it’s pretty wonderful, too and worth watching at least every other year. AAAIIIGHGH!!!   (Those who have seen it will know why I just screamed real loud.)

I still laugh every time Magic Johnson tells Pee-wee that he and Magic Screen are cousins.

I still laugh every time Magic Johnson tells Pee-wee that he and Magic Screen are cousins.

What the hell is Grace Jones wearing?

What the hell is Grace Jones wearing?

Whenever we watch this with people who have never seen Pee-wee before, seeing Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis is always a shock.

Whenever we watch this with people who have never seen Pee-wee before, seeing Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis is always a shock.

And this is why I screamed real loud, because I said the secret word.  And now that you've read it, you have to scream every time someone says it for the rest of the day.

And this is why I screamed real loud, because I said the secret word. And now that you’ve read it, you have to scream every time someone says it for the rest of the day.

Individual Superlative: Perviest Floor – It’s not just that Floory asks Miss Yvonne to come stand over him in her festive Christmas dress. It’s the way he delivers the line with boozy salaciousness that makes it hilariously raunchy.

Want to Watch it? PeeWee’s Playhouse Christmas Special is available on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. You can also find it on YouTube.

The Snowman

TitleDebuted in 1982

26 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A boy builds a snowman who comes to life at night. The boy shows the snowman around his house and takes him for a motorcycle ride. The snowman takes the boy flying around the world to a snowman party, where they meet up with Santa (or Father Christmas, since it takes place in the UK).

Fun Fact: Aled Jones’ cover version of the theme song, ‘Walking in the Air,’ reached #5 on the UK pop charts in 1985.

My thoughts: In spite of the fact that the animated version strays from the storyline of Raymond Briggs’ picture book, I love this special. The animation is lovely and draws heavily from the book’s illustrations. But my favorite element is the musical score, as performed by the Sinfonia of London. Several versions of the special were released, with the main difference being in the introduction. The version I have has the David Bowie introduction, so that’s the one that is most familiar to me, although I have seen the others, too. A sequel, called The Snowman and the Snowdog, was released in 2012 to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of the original.  People were happy to see the snowman back, since this special ends on a sad note, with James finding the snowman melted in the morning.

Cuz every girl's crazy for a sharp dressed snowman!

Cuz every girl’s crazy for a sharp dressed snowman!

This 'Before' picture is proof that the Snowman has had cosmetic surgery.

This ‘Before’ picture is proof that the Snowman has had cosmetic surgery.

Why does James have a spotlight in his bedroom?

Why does James have a spotlight in his bedroom?

The Scottish dancing snowman is my favorite.

The Scottish dancing snowman is my favorite.

Individual Superlative: Commando Warrior – we get to see James get dressed and he clearly doesn’t put on underwear before his jeans. Hence, he is going commando throughout his holiday adventure with the snowman. Brrr.

Want to Watch it? The Snowman is available on VHS and DVD.

A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All

TitleDebuted in 2008
43 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Stephen Colbert is trapped (by a bear) inside a mountain cabin when he should be in New York, taping his Christmas special with Elvis Costello. Friends stop by and perform musical numbers with him and an angel grants his wish, bringing Elvis Costello to the cabin, where he is eaten by the bear. Santa saves Elvis and reveals that the special is on DVD, which is the greatest gift of all.

Fun Fact: Stephen told all of his fans to download the soundtrack from iTunes at a specific time so that it would overtake Kanye West’s album. He called it Operation Humble Kanye.

My thoughts: There are lots of things I like about this special and I’m glad that it’s become one of those that Comedy Central replays every year. This format, which mimics those old cheesy (and yet awesome) Christmas specials from singers like Andy Williams or Perry Como, really works for Colbert’s television persona. The songs, most of which were written by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, are fantastic and it was no surprise when the soundtrack won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. The inclusion of an acoustic version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” is wonderful, throwing a little warmth and heart into the special. I really enjoy this one.

Stephen and Elvis

Elvis Costello looks like he’s having so much fun during this show.

John Legend

From what I know of nutmeg, it probably didn’t mind being objectified in this song.

Toby Keith

You can actually find this video on some conservative websites, where they don’t seem to know it’s intended as a satire.

Besties

If these two can be friends, there’s hope for all of us!

Individual Superlative: Most Inappropriate Gift for Baby Jesus – Marijuana is just not an appropriate gift for the infant son of God.  (Or the infant son of pretty much anyone, to be honest.  Even if it is on their registry.)

Want to Watch it? A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All is available on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes. It usually airs in reruns on Comedy Central during the holidays.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together

Title

Debuted in 1979

50 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: John Denver and the Muppets get together and sing a lot of songs. A sub-plot involves Miss Piggy being a diva. There’s really not enough plot to warrant a third sentence.

Fun Fact: John Denver’s real name is Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. He took the surname ‘Denver’ owing to his love of Colorado.

My thoughts: I am a longtime fan of both the Muppets and John Denver and have owned the soundtrack for this special for most of my adult life, so a lot of these songs are a part of my Christmas tradition. “The Peace Carol” is really lovely and John’s duet with Rowlf on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is one of my favorite versions of that song. But the special itself, which is really just the scaffolding to hang the musical numbers on, feels slow and a little tedious at times. I think that the Muppets are at their best when they have some type of story going on around the musical numbers, giving the characters a platform from which to build humor or emotional depth. But John seems to be having a wonderful time and, as a fan, I enjoy the special on that basis. He and the Muppets teamed up together for another Christmas special, Rocky Mountain Holiday in 1983.

Fozzie sings the lyrics correctly and pretty much dooms me to a life of imagining this face every time I hear 'Seven swans a'swimming.'

Fozzie sings the lyrics correctly and pretty much dooms me to a life of imagining this face every time I hear ‘Seven swans a’swimming.’

John and Miss Piggy step out of their toy number to yell, "Far out!" No, seriously, that's what they're doing.

John and Miss Piggy step out of their toy number to yell, “Far out!” No, seriously, that’s what they’re doing.

I wonder if they recycled the Baby Jesus Muppet into one of the babies that sang in Muppets Take Manhattan. And if so, did that baby feel better than the other babies?

I wonder if they recycled the Baby Jesus Muppet into one of the babies that sang in Muppets Take Manhattan. And if so, did that baby feel superior to the other babies?

All I want is to sing Christmas carols in my living room with all the Muppets. Is that so wrong?

All I want is to sing Christmas carols in my living room with all the Muppets. Is that so wrong?

Individual Superlative: Most Tree Hugging – there’s a whole musical number reminding us to say a prayer for the forest and all the creatures who live there and if that’s not enough, the proceeds from the soundtrack re-issue in 1996 went to Plant-It 2000, a charity supporting the protection of indigenous trees. Far out.

Want to Watch It? John Denver & The Muppets has never been made available on home video, but you can find it on YouTube and the soundtrack is still pretty easy to find.