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:

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.”

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.

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.

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.


Kaitlyn said...

I remember the Frosty sequel vaguely, but I definitely remember the mouse one! I think I liked it. I was young.

And I was born in '88.

I have no idea when I saw it, though it may have been on tape and was probably Christmas '98 or earlier.

D.B. Echo said...

Oh, how I wish you were just making these up.

Even some of the classics kinda suck. I watched The Year Without a Santa Claus last year and found it mostly annoying, except for the Heat Miser / Snow Miser bits.

Francesco Marciuliano said...

"Year Without a Santa Claus" is a horribly dull cartoon saved only by the fantastic dueling Misers.

D.B. Echo said...

Oh, lord. There's a sequel coming out tomorrow: A Miser Brothers' Christmas.

Sounds like some sort of Gospel show, actually.

Naked Bunny with a Whip said...

You wish while I whittle.
You drip while I dry.
Lets all try to help a little, cuz
Even a miracle needs a hand!

Yeah, that's gonna be stuck in my head all afternoon. Cool.

Jim said...

ABC Family trots out "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" every year, but they've edited one of the songs out to make room for more commercials. Very sad.

Besides the Miser brothers, the other good thing about "Year Without a Santa Claus" is the newspaper front pages (authentic, as far as I can tell) at the very beginning.

Dvandom said...

Rudolph's Shiny New Year is yet another example of how the Rankin Bass people were clearly smoking the Good Stuff. Although it can't compare to the adaptation they did of a Roald Dahl Christmas story that involved dragons and demons and stuff. That was insane.

Unknown said...

I liked 'Year' not only because of the Misers - best Pagan symbols in a Christmas Special ever - but also because it taught me as a child that if you don't have snow, you don't get Christmas. Since I grew up in Wisconsin it made me feel superior to the entire southern U.S. and California.

Haugco said...

Let's all make snow images of the fertility goddess!

D.B. Echo said...

Dvandom, I was wondering what the hell that thing was on TV this morning. Orc-things vs. Elf-things, dragons getting incinerated... Actually, it turns out this story was written by L. Frank Baum, so no Willy Wonkas getting killed with legs of lamb:

Check out this morning's craptastic schedule from ABC Family:

7:00 AM Frosty's Wonderland: Frosty marries.
7:30 AM Christmas Gold: Tricky banshee.
8:00 AM Life of Santa Claus: Baby grows up to be Santa Claus.
9:00 AM Little Drummer Boy: Child in Bethlehem.
9:30 AM Little Drummer Boy 2: Stolen silver bells.
10:00 AM Pinocchio's Xmas: Earning money.
11:00 AM First Christmas Snow: Lightning blinds boy.
11:30 AM Nestor, the Donkey: Donkey in Bethlehem.

Unknown said...

Oh my God, that one with the mice and the Santa-worship was one of my VERY FAVORITE Christmas specials! I never really got the whole Santa's-rampant-ego thing when I was a kid, which hopefully doesn't say something untoward about my upbringing. I mostly just strongly identified with the mouse who had FUCKED EVERYTHING UP with his own self-righteousness.

Suniverse said...

For years, my daughter called Rudolph's Shiny New Year Rudolph's Chinese New Year. Somehow, that made it easier to watch.

D.B. Echo said...

Good Lord. I just saw bits of "Twas the Night Before Christmas." (Holiday torture while making cookies.) That movie is completely anti-intellectual. And Fringebeard Santa was totally freaky.

Renee said...

Frosty Returns came with my kid's copy of the original Frosty movie. So, I have listened to it often.

The interesting part of Frosty Returns is when John Goodman sings. I'll just leave it to that.

Brian Smith said...

Perhaps now would be the time to mention "The Nanny Christmas Special: Oy to the World," in which all of the TV series' main characters voice characters in a blend of Christmas specials and "The Wizard of Oz" that I had managed to block out of my mind until right this moment.

Wings1295 said...

My son actually likes "Twas the Night Before Christmas" for just being a fun special. He doesn't get any of the "ego" Santa stuff.

But I vote "Frosty Returns" the very worst. Ugh, that thing, it's horrible story aside, looks like it was made on the ride over to the studio!

Fat Angie said...

Rudolph's Shiny New Year. Why, God, Why did that film have to be made?

yellojkt said...

I was really hoping these were just the fever-induced imagination of a now-recovering Ces, but a quick IMDB check reveals that these were real.

How do you blot being the voice of Inky off your resume?

D.B. Echo said...

"Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July": I don't think I ever saw this until this weekend, which is probably why I can sleep at night. Damn, that's creepy and menacing. And when Rudolph and company defeat the evil Winterbolt and turn him into a tree, they learn the Law of Unintended Consequences as Frosty and his whole family DIE.

I didn't hate "A Miser Brothers' Christmas." There were two classic moments - one when Snow Miser goes all hardcore in his final battle with his brother, and the other when we see the Baby Misers and the root of their conflict. The echoes of "Red Sleigh Down" were pretty funny, but they missed out on using "Santa's Super Sleigh" from "About A Boy." And poor Mickey Rooney should just be allowed to rest at this point.

Applemask said...

I only know 'Twas the Night from that South Park episode. Trey Parker's obsessed with that one apparently. But that song is geuninely brilliant. "Tra la la la"

JaffeBlog said...

I thought Ces was lying about the Pacman thing, until I saw this: