Friday, December 12, 2008
Christmas Specials Time Wisely Forgot
Much like a recently orphaned nine-year-old who is left not only to look after his younger siblings but also the day-to-day operations of Exxon Mobil, Christmas Day has far too much riding on it for just one holiday. Marketers need Christmas to succeed on a financial level because the only thing that would further deter people from driving to the stores would be the plot of Blindness. Parents need Christmas to succeed on an emotional level if only to prove that the family home can occasionally be a focal point for love and giving, not just where all the unemployed people now hang out 24/7. And children need Christmas to succeed because, well, if some poor kid in a manger could score gold, frankincense and myrrh the very least today's kid should expect is a freakin' Nerf N-Strike Recon CS-6.
But for some of us, we need only Christmas to succeed on an entertainment level. And while over the years we have been blessed with such Yuletide treasures as The Grinch, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus in Coming to Town, we've also had to endure such not-quite-perennial but honest-to-goodness real specials as:
FROSTY RETURNS (1992)
Let's say you wish to make a sequel to a Christmas classic but half your voiceover cast is long dead. Let's also say that you wish to make a sequel to a Christmas classic but you fear the very idea of "Christmas" may be putting too fine a point on the whole Christmas endeavor so you replace the holiday with something called a "Winter Carnival." And let's say that you wish to make a sequel to a Christmas classic but you don't want your creativity to be hampered by the original special's story or very conceit. The result would be Frosty Returns, which is as much of a sequel to Frosty the Snowman as Batman Returns is to The Yearling. Not only does the tale completely forget about Karen--the girl who in the original cartoon traveled with the snowman all the way to the North Pole but still apparently failed to form any emotional connection whatsoever with the titular character--but now Frosty doesn't even need his magic hat to live, meaning he is no longer the product of childhood dreams and imagination but rather a gelid monstrosity that can roam the land at will. True, the show's anti-corporation, pro-environmental message (as embodied by a aerosol spray that instantly melts snow, which when your story focuses on a living lump of ice is the equivalent of marketing a product called "Acid Attack!") couldn't be more tailored to our current predicament, but what the special offers in foresight it is more than diminished by an absolute absence of holiday joy and wonder that could have only been trumped by a special titled Frosty the Businessman, in which the snowman is up to his eyeballs in mind-numbing hedge fund activism, corporate raiding, “poison pill” boardroom defenses and SEC inquiries, all culminating in an exhaustively detailed proxy fight set to the catchy seasonal song “ValueAct Capital LP vs. Acxiom Corp.”
RUDOLPH'S SHINY NEW YEAR (1976)
Like Buddha, Moses and Christ before him, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the very symbol of Joseph Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces, wherein "a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." The "boon" in Rudolph's original special was his ability to help Santa make it through a blizzard with his glowing proboscis, a power the reindeer always had but not until his journey perceived as a true gift to his community. It was a gift that Santa would take advantage of again in Rudolph's Shiny New Year, when he sends out everyone's favorite sleigh slave to use his nose to find the missing Baby New Year, Happy, who ran away because of his enormous ears. Never mind that the reindeer never encounters any inclement weather whatsoever. Or why Santa is asked to save the very concept of time itself when the man works one day a year and so has as much of a connection to the linear passage of hours as Doctor Manhattan in The Watchmen. Or why cartoon makers Rankin-Bass seems to have a passion for physical deformity not witnessed outside of a Diane Arbus retrospective. Or...hell, best not to ask any questions whatsoever. Just sit back and think about the years Rudolph and his new band of misfits fail to visit in the Archipelago of Time (where each year occupies a small island), wondering how the cartoon could have brought its winsome charms to, say, 1939.
'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1974)
In The Year without a Santa Claus, Santa refuses to deliver gifts when he feels unappreciated by the children of the world. In 'Twas the Night before Christmas, Santa refuses to deliver gifts when he feels slighted by a letter published in a small town's paper...and written by a mouse. No doubt the production company of Rankin-Bass was already storyboarding their next special, Santa Gets Pissed Off Yet Again and Cancels Christmas for the Umpteenth Time--in which Santa’s hair-triggered temperament is once more set off when he has to find about a dear friend’s engagement through another source, making him wonder why he even bothers trying to get close to people--when Twas failed to win over audiences long tired of the Jolly Elf's pathological need for constant admiration and reassurance. Now granted, long before this or other holiday cartoons Santa was well known for his snubs (including the naughty as well as every religious observer save Christians). And the special is not without its charms (the reading of the eponymous poem and the very catchy ditty "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand"). But the fact that the entire story hinges upon the building of a giant clock that literally sings Santa's praises seems just a few steps away from constructing cult temples, developing a system of oracles that communicate the will of Santa to the people and the offering of sacrifices to appease a Kringle perceived as more belligerent than benevolent.
CHRISTMAS COMES TO PACLAND (1982)
Recently, Burger King once ran an ad campaign in which they took people from remote regions and unspoiled societies and introduced them to the concept of the hamburger, thereby dooming such cultures to rampant obesity, heart disease and brand awareness (it's as if Christopher Columbus stepped onto to Samana Cay and said to the indigenous folk, "Have you ever tried a fried Snickers bar?"). Such is the story of Christmas Comes to Pacland, when Santa Claus literally falls out of the sky and introduces Christmas and Christmas shopping to a civilization that by then had formed its own long-standing mythos ("Eat or be eaten"). How Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Jr. and Adopted Chinese Baby Pac-Man react and respond to this new holiday concept I can no longer recall. But no doubt by now Pacland--like the communities in the Burger King commercials in a scant few years--has all but lost touch with its roots and is now hoping beyond hope that they score a Christmas Tree Store or, god willing, a Tangiers Outlet.