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.

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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.

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.

The Smurfs: ‘Tis the Season to Be Smurfy

Title

Debuted in 1987

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Wild is spending his first Christmas with the Smurfs and Papa Smurf wants to help him understand the spirit of giving. Grandpa Smurf and Sassette are visiting the human village and want to help a poor toymaker whose wife is gravely ill and they return to get help from the other Smurfs in raising her spirits, but no one wants to help. Papa Smurf tells them this is what Christmas is about and they all go to help make Christmas special for her, resulting in a large improvement in her health.

Fun Fact: This was the second (and also last) Christmas episode of the original TV series.

My thoughts: It’s hard to take the Smurfs seriously in any kind of critical way and there’s an urge to just call it the smurfiest smurfing special that ever smurfed. But when you strip away the basic wackiness, you see that the plotline here is actually very complex, with subplots that work to give some greater depth to the overall story. One such subplot involves a thief who is preying on rich people in the human village, who is moved to change his ways after a talking-to from Brainy Smurf. The messages of doing things for others and spreading cheer to those less fortunate is a little heavy-handed, but it’s conveyed in a way that I think is really meaningful to its audience, so I’m willing to overlook that. I would definitely recommend this one for kids, as it’s cute and funny, with a good take-home message.

Papa and Wild

Papa likes Wild, but Brainy and Vanity Smurf are not on board.

Grampy and Sassy

Grandpa and Sassette would be so much better if they didn’t speak.

Gustav and Elise

She is suffering from some disease that can be cured by the sudden  appearance of Smurfs.

The thief reexamines his life

The thief does some soul-searching while examining his ill-gotten gains.

Individual Superlative: Smurfarootie-tootie – It seems like half of the lines of Smurf dialogue in this thing start with some type of exclamation and they are all ridiculous. But Sassette, for some reason, has the most bizarre, such as ‘Hopeless hound dogs!’

Want to Watch it? The Smurfs: Tis the Season to Be Smurfy is available on VHS and DVD.

Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. – It’s a Wonderful Smash

Title

Debuted in 2014

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: After a battle with some bad guys leaves parts of the city in shambles, A-Bomb wishes that the Hulks could be more appreciated for the good that they do. We next see them living the lives of their dreams, rich and famous in a luxurious penthouse, but that turns out to be a false reality the Collector is using to keep them prisoner. The agents of S.M.A.S.H. team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to break free, defeat the Collector and retrieve the Orb of Truth.

Fun Fact: This episode was produced to be part of Season 1, but aired during Season 2.

My thoughts: Let’s face it – I am not the target demographic for this show. I have enjoyed the recent Marvel movies (especially Guardians of the Galaxy) but have never been a big fan of the comic book hero genre overall. So I had my husband watch this one with me to get a second opinion, but we were pretty much on the same page. About halfway through the show, I asked what any of this had to do with Christmas and then remembered that the original battle takes place in a city decorated for the holidays. At the end, they explain Christmas to the Guardians of the Galaxy and have a warm and fuzzy moment when they talk about the sense of family that you have in a super hero group. In retrospect, it seemed like just I watched 15 minutes of weird things punching and shooting each other, with a few minutes of plot and a non-stop parade of new characters coming and going. I’ll give it a few comic points for having A-Bomb hallucinate having Eliza Dushku for a girlfriend when she does the voice of She-Hulk on the show. But this one is strictly for those who are already fans.

Destroyed city

The Christmas tree in the background makes the destruction look festive!

Guitar Playing

A-Bomb plays guitar in a band in his fantasy world.

Hulk and SheHulk

“Why Hulk wearing dumb sweater?”

Not Groot

No, you are NOT Groot.

Individual Superlative: I AM GROSS – Groot was awesome in the movie, but in this thing, he is absolutely terrifying. His tree face here looks like a nightmare of evil. I mean, look at him! I want the movie version back!

Want to Watch it? Marvel’s Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H: It’s a Wonderful SMASH is available on YouTube.