Daria: Depth Takes a Holiday

Title

Debuted in 1999

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Cupid and the St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun show up in Lawndale and tell Daria that they’re looking for Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day, who have left Holiday Island and come here to start a band. Daria and Jane visit Holiday Island and discover that the high school there has been taken over by Presidents Day in the absence of the more popular holidays. Daria invites the missing holidays to bring their band to the Holiday Island High prom and that sets everything right again.

Fun Fact: In the Daria fandom, this is widely considered one of the worst episodes of the show.

My thoughts: The character of Daria got her start on the Beavis and Butthead show and was spun off into her own series, where she became more snarky and cynical. Not being a big fan of that brand of humor, I had never seen the show before so this was my introduction to it. Overall, I mostly enjoyed it. It seems to be written almost as a parody of Christmas episodes and there is apparently a lot of debate in the fandom as to whether or not this episode can be considered canon, as it seems to be mostly based in fantasy and not in the real world. The holidays are all represented as teenagers, which is new and interesting. Halloween is a goth girl and Guy Fawkes Day looks suspiciously like Sid Vicious. Even Santa has the appearance of a surfer dude with a Santa hat on. There’s a subplot where Cupid shoots Daria’s parents with his love Taser (no, that’s not a euphemism) to keep them out of their way and Daria’s younger sister, Quinn, is worried that they’re trying to have another baby. It’s nothing really special, but it’s definitely not the same old thing, which is its own kind of cool.

St Patrick and Valentine

Valentine’s Day has maybe been hitting the chocolates.

Parents kissing

Get a room, Mom & Dad!

Other holidays

Are Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day fighting again?

Presidents

Presidents Day is picking on Arbor Day.

Individual Superlative: Through the Wormhole – The holidays tell Daria that they were able to come to Lawndale through a wormhole behind the Good Times Chinese Restaurant. Apparently, fan fiction writers use this plot point to create all kinds of alternate universe stories for these characters.

Want to Watch it? Daria: Depth Takes a Holiday is available on iTunes and YouTube.

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Aliens First Christmas

Title

Debuted in 1991

26 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The Peoples family is celebrating their first Christmas on the planet Zolonia and it’s not going well. Roger accidentally destroys all the decorations and then tries to buy gifts that turn out to actually be dangerous creatures. Their neighbors, Mavo and Charlick Zox, try to lift their spirits by recreating the holiday and their kind thoughts help create a little Christmas magic.

Fun Fact: In Aliens Next Door, the first pilot in this would-be series, it looks like the planet was originally called Bolognia.

My thoughts: This was actually a second pilot episode of what the creators were hoping would get picked up for an animated series, but that was one Christmas wish that never came true. The show opens with a song that explains the backstory, in which an American family is relocated to a distant planet and I’m sure there were plans for all sorts of wacky hijinks to happen in which the Earthlings were seen as the ones with all the strange habits. This one is a mass of cliché and predictable humor and not much to recommend it, really, although you could watch it to see if you can count how many elements are stolen from other television shows. The family’s pet, for example, seems like the Jetson’s Astro and the Flintstone’s Dino got together and had a baby. The Peoples’ son, Benny, is like a poor man’s Elroy Jetson but with an absolutely ridiculous voice. Of course, their neighbors misunderstand everything about the holiday and get it all wrong, but who shows up to save the day? Santa Claus! Apparently his magical reindeer can not only fly, but can also travel in space!

Electrocuted

Roger is thoroughly shocked.

Not a hat

How does he seriously think this monster thing is a hat?

Alien Tree

The Zox’s misread ‘pine tree’ as ‘spine tree.’  It’s funny, right?

Surprise Xmas

Oh look, it’s a Merry Christmas after all!

Individual Superlative: A Man of Many Hats – Jerry Reynolds provides the voice of Roger, but is also a writer, director, producer, animator and composer on this show.

Want to Watch it?Aliens First Christmas is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Abominable Christmas

TitleDebuted in 2012

43 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Two abominable snowkids hide from a scientist who is determined to capture them. They befriend a human girl and hide out in her house, where they learn about Christmas. When their father shows up to rescue them, all sorts of hijinks ensue.

Fun Fact: This special was a direct to video release, which is rarely a good sign.

My thoughts: I often wonder why it seems that the dullest specials fall into the 45 minute category and this special makes me think that they need all that time to really hit all the clichés and caricatures. Both the snowkids (Abby and Adam) and the human girl (Lily) have lost their mothers. Lily’s father is preoccupied and too busy to notice everything going on in his house. Her older brother is constantly on his computer, seemingly ignoring everything around him, but at least that has a cute payoff at the end, when he reveals he’s been doing things online to help his sister and the snowkids. The most annoying thing here is the ridiculously bony scientist, Margaret Knowhow (seriously, that’s her name) voiced by Jane Lynch. Her character is predictable and contrived, with no depth at all. There are lots of didactic messages along the way, such as having a character ask for vegetables when offered junk food. The animation style reminds me of old school video game graphics. And the plot is inane. The best I can say about it is that at least it’s aptly named.

Father and Son

Don’t look to me for help, Snowkid. I got nothing.

Dr. KnowHow

How does a woman with a 5″ waist find clothes?

Kids

Are they shocked or are they singing?

Fake Santa

Santa, you are looking seriously pale.

Individual Superlative: Creepiest Kids – From the weirdly aluminum looking snowkids to the huge eyed human kids, this special is filled with characters you just don’t want to make eye contact with.

Want to Watch it? Abominable Christmas is available on DVD and usually shows up during holiday programming.

The Christmas Toy

titleDebuted in 1986

49 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Rugby Tiger thinks Christmas means he will go back under the tree to be discovered all over again by Jamie, but he discovers that a new toy, Meteora (the Queen of Space) is going to be Jamie’s new Christmas toy. Some of the other playroom toys go to rescue him and Mew, the cat toy, is found by a human, which freezes him forever. Rugby realizes how much he cares for Mew, which unfreezes him and all the toys celebrate on Christmas morning with the new Christmas toys.

Fun Fact: This special inspired a short-lived TV series, called The Secret Life of Toys that ran for one season.

My thoughts: I recorded my copy of this during one of its early television broadcasts so my copy has the Kermit the Frog intro and closing that were deleted when Disney acquired the rights to the Muppet programming. I really liked having the Kermit bookends on these specials, because it kept that comfortable ‘Muppet’ feeling even when there were no other familiar characters. The basic premise of this special is very similar to the plot of Toy Story, with a loved toy being jealous of a newer space-themed character who isn’t aware that they’re actually a toy. There are some great characters here and my favorite is Mew the catnip mouse, who constantly has to reassure everyone that his bad smell is only catnip. Rugby singing ‘Together at Christmas’ to a frozen and lifeless Mew has me reaching for the Kleenex every time. It’s no wonder the song was re-worked for Muppet Family Christmas a year later. The story has a lot of warmth and humor, like most of the really good Muppet productions. I really enjoy this one.

rugby-and-apple

Apple is Rugby’s best friend.

meteora-closeup

Meteora’s space bra looks really uncomfortable (but it provides excellent support).

fashion-doll

A running gag involves the fashion doll always wearing the wrong clothes.

mew

“It’s CATNIP!”

Individual Superlative: Least Cuddly Toy – Meteora’s face is full of warrior fierceness and there is nothing soft or cuddly about her. But Jamie picks her up and hugs and kisses her, whispering that she loves her. I actually think this speaks volumes about how we feel about really special toys. Or that Jamie is just really not as judgmental as I am when it comes to cuddly toys.

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

Christmas in Tattertown

titleDebuted in 1988

26 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Debbie and two of her toys fall into a magic book and end up in Tattertown, a city that’s home to everything that’s ever been lost. Her doll, Muffet, rejoices at being free and heads to Deadster (the home of war toys) to plot her takeover of Tattertown. Debbie teaches everyone in Tattertown about Christmas and the story ends with Muffet in jail.

Fun Fact: This was the first animated special created specifically for Nickelodeon.

My thoughts: Imagine dropping acid in a room full of toys, probably while you also have a high fever and maybe schizophrenia, and you have a good idea of what watching this special is like. Christmas in Tattertown was actually the pilot episode of what was supposed to be new 30+ episode series on Nickelodeon, which was just hitting its stride as a network. Director and writer Ralph Bakshi was joined by an impressive group of animators and voice talent to create the series based on his comic strip, Junktown. There were a few different factors that killed the series and the most interesting one involves the American Family Association’s ridiculous assertion that Mighty Mouse’s sniffing of flowers was representative of cocaine use. It blew up into a big thing and since Bakshi was involved in the Mighty Mouse show, Nickelodeon’s support for Junktown wavered. So they aired the pilot as a standalone Christmas special. Knowing it was meant to be a pilot helps explain some things, since they thought they’d have other episodes to flesh out characters and build their world better. The animation is fantastic, clearly paying respect to the early days of animation, with wacky squash-and-stretch characters and silly visual gags. But the pace is too frenetic, the characters are too bizarre and there’s too much unexplained for me to enjoy.

miles

Miles, the jazzy saxophone narrator, is probably my favorite character.

debbie-and-dog

Debbie is giving her dog the fish eye.

muffet-as-santa

Muffet does not make a convincing Santa here.

tannenbaum

That’s Tannenbaum, the comic book store owner, who will also double as their Christmas tree. Huh?

Individual Superlative:  Most Confusing Internal Tag Struggle – I initially checked the box to tag this entry as for ‘Not for kids’ when I watched this, but the more I thought about it, there’s nothing really overtly adult about it. Then again, there are some questionable moments, but then again…let’s just say I went back and forth and eventually decided not to tag it. I think, with today’s kids, it’s probably all fair game.

Want to Watch it? Christmas in Tattertown is available on YouTube and still sometimes shows up during holiday programming.

The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas

titleDebuted in 1973

21 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Ted E. Bear wants to stay awake and experience Christmas but all other bears laugh at him. He gets fired from his job and travels to the city, where he meets Santa Claus, who sends him to an address where he can find Christmas. He goes to the address but falls asleep under a tree and when he wakes up, it’s Christmas morning and he is a gift for a happy little girl, so he finally understands what it all means.

Fun Fact: A sequel called The Great Bear Scare was released for Halloween in 1983.

My thoughts: I remember seeing this one when it aired for the first time and I loved it then. I enjoyed re-watching it this year, although I have to admit it feels a little dated, as the fashions and design styles are 100% 1970’s. The character voices are even representative of the era, with Tom Smothers, Barbara Feldon, Arte Johnson and even Casey Kasem as the narrator. Pattie Bear, Ted’s girlfriend (I think) and co-worker, is obsessed with horoscopes, which is a 70’s staple for sure. But the basic premise is a good one and the notion that Christmas is found in the joy of giving and making others happy is still a valuable message. The animation is on the simple side, but to me, that just contributes to the real charm of this special. Especially after having just recently watched some high-tech animated specials that have felt cold and humorless, this one was a comforting cup of Christmas cocoa.

money-in-honey

A sign like that on the wall defines you as a person.

honey-emergency

Can you imagine how hard it would be to clean up all that honey?  You can’t do it.  You just demolish the factory and start again.

professor-von-bear

Professor Von Bear has his hands in the air and he’s waving them like he just don’t care.

santa-gps

Santa doubles as a GPS by providing helpful directions.

Individual Superlative: Disenfranchised Franchise – When the sequel was released, it was accompanied by a line of merchandise surrounding the town of Bearbank, including records, books and plush toys, hoping it would catch on and create a new franchise. Obviously that didn’t happen as planned.

Want to Watch it? The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas is available on VHS, iTunes and YouTube.

Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey

title

Plot in 3 Sentences: Nestor is thrown out of the barnyard because of his long ears and his mother gives her life to save him during a snowstorm. He meets a cherub who guides him to his destiny, which is to carry Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. His ears allow him to hear guiding voices and bring the expectant couple safely to their destination, making him a hero among the animals.

Fun Fact: The special is based on a 1975 Gene Autry song, which Roger Miller covers as the title song for this show.

My thoughts: There’s no question that this seems like a mawkish and sentimental attempt by Rankin/Bass to recreate their earlier success with 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The stories share a lot of similar themes, although there was a little more social conscience at work here, as the show takes a much stronger stand against the bullying that Nestor receives from the other animals. A song called ‘Don’t Laugh and Make Somebody Cry’ was part of the original broadcast but is usually missing when it’s shown during the ABC Family holiday schedule. Long time Rankin/Bass fans will recognize some familiar faces in the cast, as models from The Year Without a Santa Claus, The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year were all re-used here. Yes, it’s a really sad story and I don’t watch it every year, but it’s one that I consider to be a classic that’s worth watching (if you have a box of Kleenex nearby).

camels

Further proof that camels are jerks.

sad-nestor

Nestor is showing us what all the viewers look like.

tilly

Tilly is adorbs.

mary-and-joseph

Mary’s eyes are so light blue that it makes her look blind.

Individual Superlative: Make that the Jumbo Kleenex – I watched the premiere of this special with two boys that I was babysitting and the three of us were reduced to a blubbering mass of tears and sniffles after Nestor’s mother died. “Ears, Nestor.” SOB.

Want to Watch it? Nestor, the Long Eared Christmas Donkey is available on VHS and DVD and it still shows up annually in the regular holiday programming.