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.

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The Bears Who Saved Christmas

Title

Debuted in 1994

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: On their way to spend Christmas at Grandma’s house, Tom and Suzie and their parents run into a blizzard and wind up stranded in an isolated cabin. The children’s teddy bears (and some new friends they meet in the cabin) go out into the woods to bring back a Christmas tree to save the holiday for them. They have a big adventure and finish their task just in time for the children to wake up to the best Christmas ever.

Fun Fact: This was released on video as Christopher and Holly.

My thoughts: I have such a great admiration for those who write for children and respect their audience enough to write intelligently for them. Sadly, this special was not written by those types of writers. Everything about this one, from the title on down, seems to have been thrown together by someone who has only seen children on commercials. First of all, Christmas is never actually in peril, so the bears here are simply stepping in where Tom and Suzie’s parents are failing (see Individual Superlative below). Flashy the Flashlight (seriously?) and Charlie the Compass are voiced by comedians Henry Gibson and Jonathan Winters, but the writing is so bland that there’s not much here for either of them to work with. I found it dull and emotionless.

Car shock

It’s snowing really badly and the car’s stuck.  Let’s all stare at the gear shift!

Charlie and Flashy

Charlie the Compass is the only one feeling positive here.

Black Bart

Black Bart the bear shows up about 10 minutes after Dad promises the kids there are no bears anywhere nearby. Dammit, Dad!

The Decorations

The tree lights are fireflies.

Individual Superlative: The Parents Who Ruined Christmas – Tom and Suzie’s parents annoyed me throughout this thing.  Their plan for dealing with the blizzard is to just sit in the car until it passes. They take their kids into a mysterious house and then do NOTHING to help make it a good holiday for their kids. Their plan is to hope for a miracle.  In the morning, they just seem confused. Way to drop the ball, Mom & Dad.

Want to Watch it? The Bears Who Saved Christmas is available on DVD and you can find it on YouTube.

Holly & Hal Moose: Our Christmas Adventure

Title

Debuted in 2008

44 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Holly wants to go to friend’s Christmas party but has to watch her brother, Hal, who dreams of flying with Santa’s reindeer. When Hal runs away, Holly goes after him and they find themselves at the North Pole, where they help Santa and the elves prepare for Christmas. When a storm threatens to sideline Santa, Holly & Hal figure out a way to save the day.

Fun Fact: In case you watch this and want a Holly & Hal of your own, you’re going to have to find one online, because Build-A-Bear retired these guys a while back.

My thoughts: I feel like this special is trying really hard to be more than it is. At its core, it’s an overdone basic plot, with an underdog helping to save Christmas during a blizzard. But it’s dressed up with lots of subplots like Holly’s desire to be a singer and a runaway robot with a mind of its own. I do like that it’s Holly who’s the tech savvy one who helps bring the North Pole into the 21st century instead of Hal, but most everything else in this one follows the clichéd blueprints for this type of story pretty closely. Unless you’re a big moose fan or your age has a single digit in it, you will probably want to give this one a miss.

Singing

Holly sings into a hairbrush while looking in the mirror, as Mom lingers ominously in the background. This is a Taylor Swift song, right?

Fire

After going off on his own, Hal made a fire and seems to be doing fine. Why does he need a babysitter again?

Monkey elves

Do all elves look like monkeys or is it just in specials sponsored by stuffed animal companies?

Muscle elf

The totally bulked up elf holds back time while Santa delivers toys. (And he seems to be noticing Mrs. Santa’s short skirt!)

Individual Superlative: A Crummy Commercial? – I didn’t notice the trademark after their names in the opening, but the Build-A-Bear Workshop logo at the end makes it clear that you’ve just sat through a commercial for stuffed animals.

Want to Watch it? Holly & Hal Moose: Our Christmas Adventure is available on DVD.

Madeline’s Christmas

TitleDebuted in 1990

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Madeline and the schoolgirls are excited to be going home for Christmas, but then one little girl gets sick. Soon, everyone is sick except Madeline, so she stays busy taking care of Miss Clavel and all the girls. Their little old lady friend, Marie, stops by and makes a special porridge that makes the girls better and their families all show up to be with them for the holiday.

Fun Fact: The original book (by Ludwig Bemelmans) features a magical rug merchant who brings flying carpets to take the girls home.

My thoughts: This was the first of five Madeline specials made for The Family Channel. I think the decision to change from the book’s rug merchant to a nice lady from the park was a good one. (There was always something a little shady about that rug guy.) I love Christopher Plummer’s narration, probably because his voice sounds like a father’s voice and you get the mental image of him reading this story to a little girl. Since Madeline never got sick, she could have gone home to her family, but she chooses to stay and take care of everyone else and does it cheerfully, which is lovely. The animation is very simple, and it mimics the art style of the picture books perfectly. I hadn’t seen this one for at least a decade, so it was nice to see it again this year.

This little girl is knitting a sweater for her grandmother. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

This little girl is knitting a sweater for her grandmother. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

You would think this was a portion of some fever dream from when the girls were sick, but it's from a later song about never giving up on wishes.

You would think this was a portion of some fever dream from when the girls were sick, but it’s from a later song about never giving up on wishes.

Nurse Madeline is hoping for the opportunity to use her new surgical tools later.

Nurse Madeline is hoping for the opportunity to use her new surgical tools later.

And at the end of the special, Marie has become the angel at the top of the tree.  Aww...

And at the end of the special, Marie has become the angel at the top of the tree. Aww…

Individual Superlative: Oui, Madame! – After watching this, it’s hard not to start talking in an exaggerated French accent and throwing random French words into your conversation. Here, have a baguette.

Want to Watch it? Madeline’s Christmas is available on DVD and you can find it on YouTube.

On Christmas Eve

Title Debuted in 1992

30 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: A little girl decorates her tree and leaves her stocking and wish list at the foot of her bed when she goes to sleep on Christmas Eve. A fairy, watching the girl, brings her toy mouse family to life and notices that she has no chimney and that Santa is passing her house by. Using candles from the Christmas tree, all the local fairies create a runway to guide Santa to the girl’s house.

Fun Fact: The special opens with a shot of the girl’s roof and a note that it is dedicated to “chimneyless children everywhere.”

My thoughts: Based on the picture book by Peter Collington (which I reviewed this morning on my picture book blog), this is one of those specials that showed up every year for a while in the 90’s and then just seemed to disappear.  The animation is really lovely and I was surprised to find that this wasn’t released from the same company who did The Snowman, as it seemed similar. There is no dialogue of any kind, so the story is told entirely through the pictures (and some occasional character mime). My oldest daughter loved this special (and still does – we watched it together this year), although all three of my kids were confused by the idea of hanging stockings at the foot of the bed, which seems to be more of a tradition in the UK than the US. Composer Peter Shade’s musical score is playful and beautiful, making everything more magical. And the final scene, with the fairy settled comfortably into a cushy armchair with a cup of tea by the fire, is the very definition of cozy.

"Dad, I found a tiny person in the snow! Can I keep her?"

“Dad, I found a tiny person in the snow! Can I keep her?”

Um, Mother Mouse? What are you looking at?

Um, Mother Mouse? What are you looking at?

The little messy fairy was always our favorite.

The little messy fairy was always our favorite.

Runway Nine is cleared for landing. Over.

Runway Nine is cleared for landing. Over.

Individual Superlative: Double Origin Party – In addition to covering the origin of luminaries (which my neighborhood always has on Christmas Eve), you can say that the fairy who stays at the top of the girl’s Christmas tree could be the first angel tree topper.

Want to Watch it? On Christmas Eve doesn’t seem to be available on any home video, but you can find it on YouTube.

Jack Frost

TitleDebuted in 1979

50 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Jack Frost becomes human to win the heart of a winter-loving girl named Elisa, who lives in a town ruled by Cossack king Kubla Kraus. But when Kubla Kraus kidnaps Elisa, it is handsome Sir Ravenal who saves her and she falls in love with him. Kubla vows revenge on the whole town when winter ends and Jack Frost gives up his humanity to stop him by making winter stay longer, leading to the tradition of Groundhog Day.

Fun Fact: The reporter who is covering the Groundhog Day appearance of Pardon-Me-Pete is voiced by Dave Garroway, the first host of NBC’s Today show. This was his last television performance.

My thoughts: Here’s another one that has a layer of nostalgia to it because it’s one that I watched with my kids. The plot itself is pretty thin and more than a little convoluted, but there are some really lovely moments, too, including the idea of dream presents (empty boxes that you can pretend hold your heart’s desire) and Jack sacrificing his hopes for himself in order to save the people he loved. It shows up every year as a Christmas special, although it only involves Christmas in a marginal way. Jack is a pretty complex character, who struggles with the choices he’s made and has to deal with his inability to achieve his goals in either human or sprite form. But I think it’s very sweet when he covers Elisa’s bridal bouquet with frost and she tearfully tells her new husband that “an old friend kissed the bride.”

Her dream gift is a mirror. She wants to admire that meticulously curled hair.

Her dream gift is a mirror. She wants to admire that meticulously curled hair.

And I wouldn't be surprised to find that Sir Ravenal just wants to marry her for that dream mirror.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Sir Ravenal just wants to marry her for that dream mirror.

Kubla and Dommy, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!

Kubla and Dommy, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!

My oldest daughter would kill me if I didn't include a picture of Holly, the sprite who looks after the Christmas snow.

My oldest daughter would kill me if I didn’t include a picture of Holly, the sprite who looks after the Christmas snow.

Individual Superlative: Steampunk Before It Was a Thing – Kubla Kraus builds technologically advanced robotics, included a steam-powered metal horse.

Want to Watch it? Jack Frost is available on VHS and DVD and you can watch the full special on YouTube. It also shows up on TV several times during the holiday season, but with a few of the songs cut.

Jingle and Bell’s Christmas Star

TitleDebuted in 2012

30 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Beach girl Sofia moves to Pineville with her parents and her husky pup, Bell, into the house next door to Andrew’s family and their husky pup, Jingle. Sofia has trouble adjusting to her new locale, but Andrew tries to help by becoming her friend. When he is chosen to put the star on the town’s Christmas tree, he lets Sofia do it and she feels welcome and happy in her new home.

Fun Fact: This special is pretty much a 30 minute Hallmark commercial, so there’s not a lot of facts out there about it. So I’ll give you a fact about Keith Urban, who performs ‘Jingle Bells’ in this special – he posed for Playgirl in 2001.

My thoughts: I enjoyed the original special that featured Andrew and Jingle, 2011’s Jingle All the Way. The stop motion animation, from Bent Image Lab, is visually wonderful. It feels contemporary, but with a cool vintage undertone that seems like an homage to the Rankin-Bass stop motion specials from my childhood. There’s nothing really special about the story, but it’s cute and would probably be enjoyed by younger kids, especially those who can relate to the issue of feeling uprooted and spending Christmas in a new town. Of course, Hallmark has ornaments, storybooks and plush toys of these characters, so if you’re a fan, there are lots of ways to make them part of your Christmas

As a dog lover, I find these two adorable.

As a dog lover, I am genetically predisposed to find these two adorable.

Subtle plug for donating to charity.  Check.

Subtle plug for donating to charity. Check.

"Let's hurry and draw a name so I can go back to my detailed diagram of DNA replication!"

“Let’s hurry and draw a name so I can go back to my detailed diagram of DNA replication!”

Bruce builds a snowman just to kick it over.  Who's a big grumpy pants?

Bruce builds a snowman just to kick it over. Who’s a big grumpy pants?

Individual Superlative: Quickest Reformation of Bratty Kid – Bruce is a mean and destructive jerk through the whole special, but when Sofia asks him to come with them, he instantly becomes their super nice BFF.

Want to Watch it? Jingle and Bell’s Christmas Star is available on DVD & iTunes. It also regularly shows up on the Hallmark Channel during December.