E: I doubt it makes The Quibbling Siblings unique to say that we loved holiday specials growing up. There’s something so, well, special about that once a year viewing, the great songs and the stop-motion animation. These days, most Christmas specials are available on video. M and I have most of them saved on our DVRs right now. Which are you favorites? Here are ours.
A Charlie Brown Christmas: This is a true Christmas special, between the Peanuts gang putting on a Christmas pageant, Charlie Brown’s rant against fake trees and the out of control materialism of the season, to Linus’ simple quotation of scripture to bring everyone together and back in tune with the true meaning of the celebration. I mean, come on. They actually quote the gospel on a Christmas special! That seems pretty revolutionary these days. (C: It was even revolutionary in 1965 – I know the network wasn’t happy about it.) The soundtrack is magical, and so is the little tree. Oh, and the Snoopy dance, too.
Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas: A classic. Who can forget Cindy Loo Who, the little dog with antlers, the caroling Whos down in Whoville, or the roast beast? Grinch has some of the best songs of all – “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” cannot be surpassed with a 10 and half foot pole.
Disney’s Prep and Landing: Friends, Disney has still got it. This is the new favorite in our house. Kids and grown ups will howl at the action and the gadgets (like a gingerbread man scanner and a “sparkle” delivering glass ball ornament which puts stirring creatures back to sleep) used by the elves who help prepare houses for Santa’s arrival. Long-time operative Wayne (voiced by Dave Foley from News Radio) loses and then finds the Christmas spirit with the help of his wacky, overeager new partner Lanny, and a little boy named Timmy Terwelp. The half hour is full of snarky, smart humor (“lists checked twice, per the redundancy protocol!”) and edge-of-your-seat action. As Wayne and Lanny would say, that is so tinsel!
Shrek the Halls: Misanthrope Shrek wants a Christmas home alone with his wife Fiona and their new triplets. Actually, he only wants a Christmas at all because Fiona wants one. He goes to hilarious lengths to please her, checking out “Christmas for Village Idiots” and decorating their swamp cottage as only he could. Striped snakes and bloated swamp creatures aside, the larger story is about surviving the inevitable collisions that occur when loud, noisy families coming together, and how attitude is everything.
M: I will admit that I have yet to watch this, even despite having it sitting on the DVR this year…
C: I haven’t seen it either, though I love Shrek and Shrek 2. Oops!
The Year Without A Santa Claus: The Heat Miser-Snow Miser battle in song is one of the greatest Christmas special moments of all time. And who doesn’t like to see elves stick socks on a reindeer’s antlers to make people think it’s a dog? Somehow, depressed Santa isn’t remotely as depressed as Charlie Brown. Even his sadness is pretty sunny.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The #1 classic. What is there to say? The Abominable Snowmonster, Hermey the elf who wants to be a dentist, and Yukon Cornelius, and the Island of Misfit toys ruled by a winged lion? It doesn’t get any better than that. Well, fine, Clarice and Rudolph’s mom are drips, but other than that, it’s perfection.
M: Well, except for all the reindeer, and even Santa, being intolerant jerks.
E: Well, true, but that’s more the fault of the song, isn’t it? It’s built into the story. The sexism, on the other hand, wasn’t necessary – why don’t the does get to learn to fly, even? (Deep breath. Not letting it bother me, not letting it bother me…) (C: Well, don’t Dancer and Prancer and so forth sound like masculine names? None of them could be girls. E: Exactly.) This special boasts one awesome sequel (Rudolph’s Shiny New Year) and one astoundingly terrible one (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Island of Misfit Toys).
C: I’ve never seen the sequels, but I do love this movie. I’d say the word for it is “endearing.”
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Is there a song better than “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch?” If so, it’s “Even A Miracle Needs a Hand” from this adorable story about a Victorian clockmaker, a town without Santa, and a little rational genius mouse. Even if Santa seems a little petty, it’s impossible not to love their can-do attitude and pluck.
Santa Claus is Coming To Town: “Put one foot in front of the other…” is easily another of the best songs of all the Christmas specials, and this is one of the best specials. Rankin and Bass, masters of 70’s stop-motion animation and cheesy-yet-catchy folksy songs, provide a fun little history of old Kris Kringle.
Frosty the Snowman: Who doesn’t love this one? Just don’t bother with Frosty Returns. We mean it. The whole ‘snow-be-gone’ spray thing? It’s an appallingly obvious attempt at an environment allegory, and it doesn’t work at all.
M: Not only did we not DVR Frosty Returns, but we refused to let the kids watch it when it was on. Just a disaster. The original is great, and Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, despite its sully-ing the reputation of Sibling favorite Jack Frost, is bearable when compared to Frosty Returns.
The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper: They don’t tend to show this on TV, but it’s worth checking out if you can find it. Madagascar’s break out military troupe of penguins make it their mission to cheer up a depressed polar bear (because no one should be lonely at Christmas) and run afoul of a little old lady and her nasty dog.
Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas: A little-known Jim Henson creation from 1977, rarely aired but on DVD. It’s the heartwarming tale of a poor otter and his mom trying to give each other a nice Christmas, based on the fantastic book by Russell Hoban. Gets bizarro points for the villains’ death-metal “Riverbottom Nightmare Band” performance!
A Muppet Family Christmas: This great but tragically unavailable TV movie from 1987 is, in C‘s opinion, the best Christmas special ever. Fozzie Bear’s mom has rented her country cottage and is headed to Bermuda for Christmas… except Fozzie has decided to surprise her – with all his friends! This special involves wonderful carols, one-liners, and running gags (“Watch out for the icy patch!”), the Muppets, the Fraggles, and the whole Sesame Street crew! Move heaven and earth to see this one. Or you’ll never know what happens when the Swedish Chef tries to cook Big Bird for Christmas dinner!