The Great Santa Claus Switch

Title

Debuted in 1970

51 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Evil Cosmo Scam kidnaps Santa as part of his plan to take over Christmas. When he starts replacing Santa’s elves with his own henchmen, a new elf named Fred discovers the plot. With Fred’s help, Santa is able to escape just in time to save Christmas.

Fun Fact: Ed Sullivan gave this time slot to Jim Henson in appreciation for all the Muppet appearances on his show.

My thoughts: I am a big Muppet fan from way back, but I had never heard of this special before this year. Apparently, Jim Henson had the idea for this story bouncing around for quite some time before getting the chance to bring it to the small screen on The Ed Sullivan Show. Art Carney plays the dual role of Santa Claus and Cosmo Scam and sadly, doesn’t seem to be giving 100% to either role, which is probably the reason this special didn’t have much staying power. The Muppets are always enhanced by the addition of an over the top human counterpoint and Carney’s somewhat phoned-in performance here doesn’t give them the opportunity to shine. But there are a lot of really funny moments and some good songs from songwriter Joe Raposo. It’s definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a Muppet fan, but it doesn’t hold up well compared to the movies and shows that came after it.

The Bad Guy

Anyone who names a child Cosmo Scam should know he’s headed for a life of crime.

Workshop Elves

Santa’s elves always sing while they work.

Santa's Kidnappers

Santa, quit staring at the tree and look behind you!

Monster Elves

The elves have been replaced by frackles!  And no one seems to notice.

Individual Superlative: A Muppet By Any Other Name – One of Cosmo’s frackle henchmen is named Snarl. Six years later, he showed up as a regular character on The Muppet Show as a performance artist named Gonzo. You can check him out in the picture above.

Want to Watch it? The Great Santa Claus Switch is available on YouTube.

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A Christmas Story

TitleDebuted in 1972

23 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Goober the dog and Gumdrop the mouse realize that Timmy’s letter to Santa never got mailed so they go out to deliver it themselves. They run into several obstacles and have trouble finding Santa, but then they involve all the local animals. Eventually, they return home and fall asleep and when they wake up, Santa has been there and clearly found Timmy’s letter.

Fun Fact: Three of the songs from this special were reused in A Flintstone Christmas, five years later. And one of them was used a third time in Yogi’s First Christmas in 1980.

My thoughts: I hadn’t seen this one in years and I have to say I really enjoyed seeing it again. It’s a simple story, but they pack a lot of fun and heart into it and prove that you really don’t need more than 23 minutes to tell a good story, even when you include songs. The songs here are festive and fun, especially the one that Goober and Gumdrop sing about how to tell which Santa is the real one in a city full of corner Santas. In typical 70’s Hanna-Barbera style, a lot of animation is re-used over and over during the musical bits and there are lots of jokes that I recognize from lots of other animated specials and shows. Of course, it gets a little sappy toward the end, when Timmy asks his parents what they asked Santa for and his mom tells him they asked for peace on Earth. Clearly, Santa keeps deciding not to give this particular gift every year, because we’re still asking for it (although definitely not doing our part to make it happen). But this one is a warm throwback to a simpler time when peace didn’t seem like such a crazy thing to ask for.

Christmas Eve

Mom is hiding all the Christmas cookies in her puffy sleeves.

Goober and Gumdrop

Goober and Gumdrop should get a kickback from the Post Office.

Santa parade

Too many Santas!

Look for Santa!

Funniest bit in the whole show – this bulldog yells at the cats “Look for Santa!”

Individual Superlative: Hanna-Barbera’s Greatest Hits – With a script by Ken Spears and Joe Ruby (from Scooby-Doo) and classic voice acting from the actors who voiced Yogi Bear, Judy Jetson, Gargamel, Dr. Benton Quest and Mr. Slate (from The Flintstones), this represents some of the best of the studio’s talent pool.

Want to Watch it? A Christmas Story is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

A Very Merry Cricket

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Harry the cat and Tucker the mouse are dismayed by the general sense of unhappiness and distraction that pervades New York City. They travel to Connecticut to bring back Chester Cricket, hoping his music can once again bring the city together. Chester has trouble being heard over the hustle and bustle of the holiday, but then a blackout puts him center stage, where his music creates the perfect holiday mood.

Fun Fact: Animator/director Chuck Jones can be found in the collection of people listening to Chester’s song near the end of the special.

My thoughts: A Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden, with wonderful illustrations from Garth Williams, was published in 1960 and won a Newbery Honor. Chuck Jones adapted the story as an animated special which aired in April 1973 and this sequel was aired later that same year. (Another sequel, Yankee Doodle Cricket, featuring the same characters bizarrely involved in the American Revolution came out two years later.) I loved this special when it came out and was moved by its gentle message of quieting down the loudness and slowing your hectic pace to listen to something as simple and beautiful as a cricket’s song. (Of course, I had been a fan of the book already, so I was predisposed to like the animated version.) Sadly, I think this one feels very dated now, although the message is even more important with the explosion of technology that has happened since the 1970’s. The ending, with its montage of Christmas carols and pictures of rapt New Yorkers feeling the holiday spirit, is still very touching. Most of the rest of the special is plot recap or sub-plot filler (such as the hungry cat and dog in Connecticut who try to have Harry and Tucker for dinner) while we wait for that moment, but I have to say it’s worth it. I’m happy to have this one in my collection.

santa

Mechanical Santa is full of fabricated joy!

singing

We’re getting the band back together, you guys!

predator-cat

Hey, that’s a main character!  Spit him out!

listening

Stopping for a musical interlude.

Individual Superlative: Haven’t I Seen You Before? – This special begins with a recap of A Cricket in Times Square and then pretty much retells the same story.

Want to Watch it? A Very Merry Cricket is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Happy Days: Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas?

title

Debuted in 1974

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Fonzie tells the gang that he is going to Waukesha for a big family Christmas. But Richie finds out that Fonzie is actually spending the holiday alone. So the Cunninghams ask Fonzie to come over and repair their broken Santa Claus figure and then convince him to stay for Christmas Eve dinner festivities with them.

Fun Fact: George Lucas saw Ron Howard in the rejected pilot episode for Happy Days (which was originally aired as a segment of Love, American Style) and cast him in American Graffiti, which was very successful at the box office and helped the show get picked up as a series.

My thoughts: Like most people my age, I watched Happy Days pretty regularly when it first started. There was a big fascination with the 1950’s at the time and the show’s success owes a lot to that wave of nostalgia, which is pretty funny when you think about the fact that the show was only set about twenty years before the current time. (It would be like getting all nostalgic now over a show set in the 1990’s.) This episode opens at Arnold’s Diner and we see Fonzie talking to Al, who says he isn’t going to the Cunningham’s Christmas party because he thinks they only invited him because they felt sorry for him being alone. The rest of the episode is a flashback as Fonzie is telling him about his first Christmas with the Cunninghams, but we never go back to Fonzie and Al, which makes the show feel unfinished. The show itself doesn’t age well and now feels ham-handed and trite. Plot-wise, I like that the Cunninghams found a way to bring Fonzie into their Christmas without making him feel uncomfortable. Overall, though, this one can be easily missed.  And I have to mention the mistletoe scene at the beginning that was funny in the 1970’s but is just uncomfortably awful now.

office-party

I think you’ve had enough, Mr. C.


sad-christmas-eve

The saddest Christmas Eve dinner ever.


blessing

Joanie prays quietly, but Fonzie apparently has a direct line.


trimming-the-tree

It’s a perfect family Christmas!

Individual Superlative: Chuck? Chuck Who? – This was the last appearance of the Cunningham’s oldest son, Chuck. In the nine seasons that followed, he was never seen or mentioned again.

Want to Watch it? Happy Days: Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas is available on DVD, YouTube and Hulu.

A Garfield Christmas Special

titleDebuted in 1987

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Jon goes to the farm to spend Christmas with his family and indulge in all their holiday traditions. Garfield watches it all unfold with his customary sarcasm. But when Grandma confides in him that she misses her late husband, he summons up some Christmas spirit and brightens her holiday with the gift of Grandpa’s lost letters to her.

Fun Fact: Julie Payne, who provides the voice of Jon’s mother in this special went on to voice Liz, who was Jon’s girlfriend in the Garfield and Friends series.

My thoughts: I absolutely love this special and it was a must-watch every year when our kids were little. Although it’s mostly a comedy, what it really celebrates is family and all the little inside jokes and silly traditions that make being together so wonderful. Yeah, that sounds cheesy, but most families that I know have at least one or two really ridiculous holiday customs that are as sacred to them as Christmas bacon is in our house. (Mmmm…Christmas bacon.)  Jon and Doc Boy behave like little boys here, asking for a bedtime story (Binky, the Clown Who Saved Christmas) and waking up way too early to open presents. Garfield creator Jim Davis based this special and these characters on his actual family in Indiana and it really strikes a chord with those of us adults who still welcome the holiday every year with childish enthusiasm. Lou Rawls performs a few of the special’s songs and they are just awesome. Several scenes were cut (and one new scene was added) when the show was re-aired and the new version is the one in general release. Watching this brings back memories of Christmas with our kids, but also takes me back to Christmas when I was a little girl.

dream

This costume indicates a top level commitment to the holiday.

grandma-laughing

Everything you need to know about Grandma’s laugh is written on Garfield’s face.

oooooooh

Christmas tree lights produce the same reaction as fireworks.

story-time

I feel like this when I read books to my grown-up kids.

Individual Superlative: Most Memorably Named Brother – Jon’s brother’s official name is David Doc Arbuckle, but everyone calls him Doc Boy, much to his dismay. I may forget everything I was ever taught in school, but when I’m 90, I will probably still remember that Jon’s brother is named Doc Boy.

Want to Watch it? Garfield: A Garfield Christmas is available on VHS, DVD, iTunes, Amazon and YouTube.

Beetle Bailey: A Christmas Tale

Title

Debuted in 1963

6 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: After the Camp Swampy Christmas party, Sergeant Snorkle thinks he’ll be spending the holiday alone with his dog, Otto. General Halftrack shows up to invite him to spend Christmas at his house. After dinner, Sergeant Snorkle reads ‘The Night Before Christmas’ before he falls asleep, causing him to dream about Santa and an elf, portrayed in the dream by the General and Beetle Bailey.

Fun Fact: The Beetle Bailey comic strip has been running continuously for 65 years, making it one of the oldest comics still being produced.

My thoughts: When the Beetle Bailey comic strip started, Beetle was a college student. In 1951, he enrolled in the Army and the story became centered around his activities at Camp Swampy (based on cartoonist Mort Walker’s experiences at boot camp). This Christmas episode is one of only 50 animated shorts produced about these characters and it’s pretty run-of-the-mill. Beetle is portrayed (as usual) as bumbling and clumsy and Sergeant Snorkle is a little meat-headed. There’s a moment when General Halftrack shows Snorkle the gold whistle he received during his former days as a soldier in the battle of San Juan Hill. When they wake up on Christmas morning, he gives Snorkel the whistle as a gift. Then the short ends with a march into the kitchen for breakfast (led by Ms. Halftrack) where they all give a literal shout out for Christmas.

Snaggletooth

Sgt. Snorkle seems a little gooey-eyed here. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Midair salute

Wait, Army dogs can hover in midair?

Tangled in lights

Oh, Beetle, you bumbling nincompoop.  Leave the lights for someone competent.

Bugler

Mrs. Halftrack is not afraid to cut you if you don’t come to dinner on time.

Individual Superlative: Most Intimidating Military Wife – General Halftrack’s wife could beat the crap out of pretty much anyone on the military base. I have to think she was the Army’s secret weapon.

Want to Watch it? A Christmas Tale is available on DVD and YouTube.

The Wish That Changed Christmas

Title

Debuted in 1991

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: On her way to spend Christmas at an orphanage, Ivy wishes for a grandmother and gets off the train in Mill Valley when she sees a sign that she thinks is meant for her. Wandering around the town, she admires Holly, a doll in the toy shop window who is wishing to be loved, and she helps the shop clerk when he loses his key. The local police officer takes her home and he and his wife end up adopting her, and the toy shop clerk brings her Holly as a thank you gift.

Fun Fact: This special was presented by Children’s Television Workshop as part of the Ronald McDonald Family Theater and opens with Ronald McDonald reading the story to the Fry Guys.

My thoughts: This special is based on the 1958 book, The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and follows the original plot very closely. The story moves back and forth between the viewpoints of Ivy and Holly and their separate wishes for love, with occasional glimpses into the lives of those around them. We get to see that Officer Jones and his wife never had children and, although it isn’t spoken, I get the idea that they always wanted them, so it makes it even more gratifying when they adopt Ivy in the end. And Peter, the shop clerk, wants to be given more responsibility, so you feel his sense of panic when he loses the store key. Overall, I really liked this special, which was new to me this year. It has an old-fashioned charm and the animation is lovely. A lot of folks objected to Ronald McDonald as a host, stating that it turned the special into a commercial, but he is actually promoting reading in both appearances, so I don’t see anything objectionable about that.

Small town

Does this adorable small town Christmas actually happen anywhere or is it just on TV?

Holly and Abracadabra

Abracadabra the Owl is the jerk at the party who enjoys ruining everything.

Peter looks at the train

Peter can take any toy in the store as a Christmas bonus and he wants this train, but he takes Holly so he can give her to Ivy. Give this kid a raise!

Holly and Grandma

Holly and Ivy with Mrs. Jones.  I think all of their wishes just came true.

Individual Superlative: Misleading Title – Let’s be honest here. Holly & Ivy’s wishes changed their lives and the lives of the Joneses, but Christmas itself wasn’t changed at all. I call false advertising!

Want to Watch it? The Wish that Changed Christmas is available on YouTube.