Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Specials You Haven't Been Watching, Parts 3 - 8

We'd hoped to consider more Christmas specials, as we considered A Muppet Family Christmas and The Snowman.  We'd planned to give each of the below their own article, but it was not to be.  Other matters distracted us.  What matters, you may ask?  Why, the publication of a novel, itself related to the holidays.
Even so, we wanted to devote a little time to some of the Christmas specials we meant to get to.  Perhaps we'll have more time next year to delve further into these titles:

Prep and Landing
The newest of the specials we're discussing, this demonstrates, once again, why Disney is now in good hands.  For all intents and purposes a Pixar production, Prep and Landing combines the spirit of Rudolph with the Christmas cheer of Die Hard.  These elves are specialists, professionals trained to operate in harsh conditions and armed with tech that makes James Bond look like a caveman.  They are ninja, secret agents working in dangerous environments, risking their lives to ensure the path is ready for St. Nick.  Sweet enough for young children and exciting enough for fans of action, this is for everyone.

You can watch Prep and Landing on Hulu for another week.

Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas
Debatably, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas doesn't belong on this list.  This is, in many ways, a list mirroring our series on underrated films, and, of everything on here, this is the most established, the most widely recognized as a classic.  Still, it has faded from public memory, and we felt it deserved to be remembered.  Made in 1977, this marks a noted shift in Muppet history.  It marks the first time we are aware of where Henson used Muppetry to create a world.  Utilizing elaborate sets, animatronics, and fantastic music, this opened the door for The Dark Crystal and other such productions.  Its influence can still be felt in films like The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  This didn't just affect Muppets: it showed the world that three-dimensional fantasy environments were possible years before the advent of CG.

The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
While certainly significant, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" is not alone in shaping our conception of St. Nicholas.  In fact, the version most of us are familiar with seems to owe more to the 1902 book by L. Frank Baum.  Before Rankin/Bass adapted this special directly, they integrate elements and ideas into their earlier specials.  The bizarre world Santa Claus inhabits, as well as his association with fairytales and fantasy, is deeply rooted in Baum's work and sequels.  The abduction of Santa Claus first occurs in his work, and in later stories he meets Jack Pumpkinhead from the Oz franchise.  Nightmare Before Christmas, we suspect, was born from these tales.

The Rankin Bass special is a fairly good adaptation, though it does drag in parts.  While we'd hesitate to recommend it to everyone, fans of stop motion and anyone interested in the history of Santa Claus will find it as intriguing as we do.

The Tick Loves Santa
While every episode of The Tick animated series is worth watching, the Christmas one is particularly inspired.  Here, The Tick confronts Multiple Santa, a thief dressed as Santa Claus with the power to duplicate himself.  But, as in all great art, The Tick's real struggle is internal: can he bring himself to fight Santa?  To put things in perspective, "The streets will flow red with Santas," does not make the top ten list of the episode's best lines.  Like almost everything else ever made, this can be found on youtube.

Christmas with the Joker/Holiday Knights/Comfort and Joy
The importance of Batman: The Animated Series and its successors cannot be overstated, nor can the quality of these shows.  Over the years, the show devoted two episodes of Batman and one of Justice League to the holidays.  It is ill advised to let the holidays pass without viewing all at least once.

Christmas with the Joker occupies a special place in our hearts.  It was this episode, seen so many years ago, that first drew us to the series.  It was one of the show's first, and, as such, there are moments when the animation falters or a scene stops making sense.  But it portrays the Joker with a psychotic and murderous whimsy one can't help but love, and it's impossible not to be drawn in by the episode's sincerity.

The second episode, Holiday Knights, came years later.  It features a series of short vignettes about the holidays.  The stories vary in tone, from the ridiculous absurdity of Poison Ivy and Harly Quinn's holiday shopping spree to Gordon's solemn New Year's tradition.

The final episode, Comfort and Joy, is similarly structured.  The story follows various members of the Justice League as they celebrate Christmas.  While aspects are, perhaps, unnecessarily zany, it's a lot of fun and surprisingly heartwarming.

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
The opening of this special from 1979 is a tad underwhelming, featuring ice-skaters dressed as characters from Sesame Street.  Stick with it, though: once you're through the introduction, the show improves quickly.  Vintage Sesame Street is absolutely incredible: the area looks and feels like Queens, NY.  The streets are dirty, there's trash everywhere, and the cast even hops on a subway car at one point.  With this, we throw down the gauntlet.  Watch this special from start to finish, look us in the eye, and try to tell us it doesn't warm your heart.  Go ahead.  Try.

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