Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever

titleDebuted in 2002

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Zim poses as Santa in order to get money and then, as he learns more about Santa, to lure humans to their doom. But the Santa suit he creates begins to believe he’s actually Santa and fills Zim with warm emotions and jolly feelings toward children. Dib and Gaz show up in time to stop him by jettisoning the mutated spirit of Santa into space.

Fun Fact: This was the last episode to be completed before the series was cancelled, but it was actually the first Season 2 episode to air in the US.

My thoughts: Invader Zim was a short-lived series on Nickelodeon created by comic book writer Jhonen Vasquez (best known for his Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comic series). The basic plot (an alien sent to Earth to infiltrate and plot world domination) is simple, but offers a lot to work with and the show had a fair-sized cult following. It’s a little confusing if you’ve never seen any of the show before, but still enjoyable even without the full knowledge of the characters. The show is bookended by a mechanical snowman narrator, telling a group of children the story we’re watching as something that happened in the long ago past. It’s definitely on the darker side, in plot elements and character design, but there are plenty of funny moments and quite a lot of unpredictability, which is always welcome in the world of overdone holiday plots. Definitely worth watching, especially if you enjoy things a little on the weird side.

snowman-narrator

The robot snowman should do something about that unibrow.

jolly-jail

The ‘Jolly Jail’ turns incarceration into minty holiday fun!

soft-hearted-santa

Santa’s going all emotional on us.

easter-platypus

Next plan: The Easter Platypus!

Individual Superlative: Least Reassuring Santa Outcome – In the story’s ending narration, the talking snowman tells the children that Santa isn’t dead (which is normally good news) but that he’s out in space, gathering power to come back and destroy us all. You better watch out!

Want to Watch it? Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever is available on DVD.

Spike’s Reindeer Rescue

title

Debuted in 2012

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Tony (the criminal bear) kidnaps some of Santa’s reindeer and elves Spike and Dorothy team up with Paco the Penguin to rescue them. Tony uses a giant robot to steal fish from the penguin village and Dorothy realizes he’s used the same workings as this year’s big robot toy so she uses the toy’s voice command to take control of it. The team rescues the reindeer, stops Tony’s plan and saves Christmas before Santa gets back from vacation.

Fun Fact: This special is a sequel to Spike Saves Christmas.

My thoughts: This digitally animated special is a French import that aired on the CW during its Saturday morning Vortexx programming slot, which featured programs from the Saban brand (famous for giving us the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and all the associated shows that followed it). The plot of this one is really convoluted and the fact that it also skips over plot points doesn’t help. If Tony’s big plot is to steal fish from the penguin village, I don’t see the point in kidnapping the reindeer, which have nothing to do with any of it. The animation has a low quality feel and none of the characters have any real personality. A good chunk of the special is a chase scene/showdown between the good guys and the bad guys.  There’s a moment when Paco is throwing the seagull minion of the polar bear mafia (there’s a phrase you don’t get to say often) at the crowd of seagulls chasing him and the point of view zooms up to show us that it looks like he’s playing a giant game of Breakout. It might have been funny in a better special, but here it’s just another weird moment in an onslaught of weird moments. Give this one a miss.

spike-and-raymond

Spike and Raymond are either shocked or not listening to Paco at all.

dorothy-and-robi-ho-ho

Dorothy shows extreme poise under pressure, yet she still gets paid less than the male elves.

reindeer-captives

All the reindeer are Swedish hippies.

santa

I know Santa’s supposed to carry some extra weight but when your waist is three times the width of your head, it’s time to start scaling back the cookies and milk.

Individual Superlative:  Very Merry Mafia – The polar bear villains have stereotypical Italian accents, so I think we’re supposed to assume they run some kind of crime syndicate in the North Pole. I somehow always suspected it.

Want to Watch it? Spike’s Reindeer Rescue is available on DVD.

Back at the Barnyard: It’s an Udderful Life

titleDebuted in 2009

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Otis throws a big holiday party on Christmas Eve and his high school friends Donner & Blitzen drop by with Santa during their delivery run. Otis accidentally gives Santa the wrong cup of eggnog and he comes down with ferret fever, incapacitating him for the night. Otis and the barnyard animals step in and deliver the last presents to prevent Christmas magic from disappearing forever.

Fun Fact: The title is a reference to It’s a Wonderful Life and Snotty Boy’s Christmas wish to receive a Red Ryder BB Taser references A Christmas Story.

My thoughts: This is the Christmas episode of Back at the Barnyard, which was a television spinoff of the 2006 animated movie, Barnyard, written and directed by Steve Oedekerk. The TV series ran for two seasons and this was the only Christmas episode. There’s a lot going on here and most of it seems to be trying to be in your face and edgy. There are some moments that made me laugh, but I’m not a big fan of this animation style or this type of humor, so most of it went a little wide of the mark for me. The idea that Christmas magic will disappear if Santa doesn’t get all the presents under the tree by midnight seems to reinforce the materialistic theme that so many specials work to defy. I feel like this is a show where you have to know something about the characters (and there are lots of them – they’re hard to keep straight) in order to really appreciate the special. So probably I’d say this is one for fans of the show, but not necessarily for anyone else.

narrator

The narrator is a bit of a hot mess.

snotty-kiss

Mistletoe can be the start of a beautiful relationship.  But not this one.

santa-has-the-fever

Santa in the grip of Ferret Fever.

hoobermans

The show is full of bizarre (but also pretty funny) plugs for Hoobermans bakery.

Individual Superlative: Don’t Eat Before Watching – There are several gross-out jokes in this show, including the narrator giving himself a root canal, filing his foot calluses and asking the audience to look at the boil on his neck.

Want to Watch it? Back to the Barnyard: It’s an Udderful Life is available on DVD.

The Christmas Orange

title-cleanDebuted in 2002

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Anton Stingley is upset because he was born on Christmas Day and only gets presents once a year instead of twice like other people. He prepares an extensive (92 page) wish list for Santa but then only gets an orange on Christmas morning, so he sues Santa for failing to comply with his request and the ensuing trial prompts Santa to quit. Anton tries unsuccessfully to get Santa to change his mind and then, feeling bad that he has ruined Christmas for everyone, he gives away all his own toys and his generosity inspires Santa to return to his post.

Fun Fact: The picture book that this special was based on was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, which is a Canadian literary prize.

My thoughts: This special is a little bit of a rollercoaster for me, because there are things I like about it and things I don’t like about it and it goes up and down several times throughout. The anti-greed message is good, if a little heavy-handed. There are a couple of scenes in the special that seem to come out of nowhere, especially when the elves show up at Anton’s house and seem to start setting up a workshop there, then abruptly stop when they realize they can’t work for Anton because he’s not an elf. There’s no explanation for it, so it seems like a big extraneous scene that was meant to be funny and just didn’t come off. I like the way that Santa is presented and his reaction to hearing that he’s been a disappointment to several people is actually a little heart-wrenching. Some of the jokes are pretty clever, including the prosecuting attorney’s assertion that if Santa were innocent, he wouldn’t need all those aliases. The animation feels a little on the minimal side, but the characterizations are solid. I enjoy watching this one every few years, but it isn’t a big favorite.

an-orange

Anton is clearly displeased.

studpustle

And his lawyer is equally incredulous.

defense

Santa’s legal representation seems like he may be in over his head.

facing-the-press

Even Santa can’t escape the scrutiny of the liberal media.

Individual Superlative:  Elves = Leprechauns? – For some reason, all of Santa’s elves here speak with an exaggerated Irish accent and since our unseen narrator does, too, I guess we should assume that our narrator is an elf. Or a leprechaun.  Or both?  I don’t know how this works.

Want to Watch it? The Christmas Orange was released on DVD, but it’s out of print so it’s a little hard to find.

Olive, the Other Reindeer

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Olive, a dog who doesn’t behave like a normal dog, hears Santa saying he will have to cancel Christmas unless ‘all of the other reindeer’ can save the day and she mishears it as ‘Olive, the other reindeer.’ Believing that she can save Christmas and that her owner Tim doesn’t want her anymore (due to another mishearing), Olive heads to the North Pole, accompanied by Martini, a penguin con man. Although a villainous postman tries to stop her, Olive manages to help save Christmas and is reunited with Tim.

Fun Fact: Schnitzel, the reindeer who almost gets into a bar fight with Olive and ends up singing a song, is voiced by Michael Stipe of REM.

My thoughts: This special was based on the 1997 book (of the same name) by Vivian Walsh, with illustrations from J. Otto Siebold. The book is lot simpler, with Olive joining Santa for his ride and helping out here and there along the way. The special adds in a lot of other characters and the bad guy postman who wants to stop Christmas because of all the extra work he has to do during the holidays and because he is always on the naughty list. Drew Barrymore voices Olive with a good balance of naïveté and pluck, making her a very likeable character. The animation uses paperlike character art combined with 3D environments and traditional animation and is heavily based on Mr. Siebold’s original book illustrations. There are a lot of funny moments in the special, including Olive asking about Rudolph and being told he’s an urban legend or a package addressed to her from ‘Deus Ex Machina’ that helps advance the plot. It does feel that a lot of extra stuff has been jammed into a simple story (to flesh it out into a full hour time slot) but since most of it works, I can’t complain. This one is definitely worth watching if you’ve never seen it.

dangling-olive

I get the idea Olive isn’t quite pulling her weight here.

mailman

The postman always schemes twice.

the-pope

I’m pretty sure this is the only special I have with an animated Pope.

christmas-in-tokyo

Christmas magic makes best friends of bitter enemies.

Individual Superlative: Best Mondegreen Cameos – On her journey, Olive runs into Richard Stands (from the Pledge of Allegiance) and Round John Virgin (from Silent Night). Pretty clever.

Want to Watch it? Olive, The Other Reindeer is available on VHS and DVD and sometimes shows up in holiday programming.

Merry Madagascar

titleDebuted in 2009

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The gang (Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria) are leaving Madagascar in a hot air balloon, bound for New York, when they are suddenly knocked out of the sky by rocks thrown by King Julien and the lemurs. As King Julien explains that they thought the balloon was the red night goblin, the goblin appears in the sky and Julien knocks it down, revealing him to be Santa, now suffering from amnesia from the fall. The gang volunteers to deliver all Santa’s presents, using the magic-dusted penguins as reindeer and they save the day.

Fun Fact: The crashed airplane where King Julien keeps all his presents (and his skeletal girlfriend Amelia) is a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, which is the same airplane that Amelia Earhart actually flew.

My thoughts: As I have mentioned before, I am not a huge fan of most Dreamworks animation. There are a few I have enjoyed, but the original Madagascar was not one of them. In fact, that was one of the ‘couldn’t make it through the whole movie’ ones. So I was not at all surprised to be unimpressed by this special, which is actually the second special to feature characters from this film franchise. The first was A Christmas Caper, featuring the penguin characters, who also wound up with their own TV show.  One of my biggest issues with this special is that most of these characters feel like more like exaggerated caricatures and overused stereotypes, so I am not invested in anything that happens to them. It’s as if someone with a sense of humor completely different from mine is telling non-stop jokes while repeatedly punching me in the shoulder and yelling, “Get it?” loudly in my ear. The original movie was pretty successful, so this special may be a big hit with those who enjoyed the movie, but for me it was just obnoxious and overblown.

gang

It’s in the rules somewhere that every DreamWorks character has to make this face at least once.

toy

Everyone loves a choo-choo.

santa

Wow, Santa, that’s a serious bump on the head. Yikes.

julian

King Julien and the other lemurs have been knocked for a loop.

Individual Superlative: Which Subplot? – In addition to the bloated plot summary above, there are also subplots involving King Julien’s made up holiday, the gang giving up their dream of returning to New York in order to save Christmas and a star-crossed romance between a reindeer and a penguin. That’s a lot for 23 minutes.

Want to Watch it? Merry Madagascar is available on DVD, some streaming services and still shows up on network television frequently during the holiday season.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Title

Debuted in 1970

51 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A foundling child is adopted by a family of toymakers and he grows up determined to deliver his family’s toys to children in nearby Sombertown, where toys are outlawed. In order to do so, he befriends the Winter Warlock, charms a local schoolteacher and finds ways to get around the town’s rules. He marries the schoolteacher, eventually limits his toy deliveries to once a year (on Christmas Eve) and becomes Santa Claus.

Fun Fact: This was the first time that Mickey Rooney provided the voice of Santa Claus. He did it again in The Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph & Frosty’s Christmas in July, The Happy Elf and A Miser Brothers’ Christmas. Maybe he was so good at it because his actual last name was Yule.

My thoughts: This classic special has been a part of my Christmas for as long as I can remember. I was terrified of the Winter Warlock and his razor sharp teeth, so his transformation was always a big deal to me. And I used to think that the ‘Put One Foot in Front of the Other’ song was a big waste of time, but as an adult, I can better appreciate the concept of achieving goals by taking small steps. (So now it’s just Jessica’s love song, ‘My World is Beginning Today,’ with its trippy animation that I forward through.) Fred Astaire reprised his role as mailman/narrator S.D. Kluger in a similar special that explores the origin of the Easter Bunny. Burgermeister Meisterburger is a fantastic villain here and I kind of like that the story resolves with the people realizing that his laws are silly and overturning them. I could make a really good political statement here, but it’s Christmas so I’m not going there. In addition to being a good origin story, this special sets Santa up as a role model for perseverance and positivity. I’m glad this one is still out there entertaining a whole new generation. (And let’s face it…this is where we all learned the word ‘burgermeister.’)

A baby baby

This scene is equal parts ridiculous and awesome. “A baby baby, Zingle.”

Winter and Kris

Putting one foot in front of another is still the best way to get where you’re going.

Burgermeister

Burgermeisters just want to have fun.

Fever dream

“Before we animate Jessica’s song, let’s all drop acid!”

Individual Superlative: They Cut What? – Over the years, they’ve trimmed the special down to allow for more commercials by cutting songs and taking out the ‘traumatic scenes’ of Burgermeister Meisterburger setting fire to the toys. But some versions have removed the clips of Kris Kringle jumping from house to house on the rooftops, out of fear that kids will emulate his dangerous behavior, which seems ludicrous to me when you’re talking about a guy who has flying reindeer.

Want to Watch it? Santa Claus is Coming to Town is available on VHS, DVD, YouTube and it still comes on TV annually.