Saturday, December 11, 2010

Top 10 Christmas TV Specials

Well, it's the most wonderful time of the year yet again. The great thing about Christmastime is that everyone celebrates the holiday in their own way. Some people roast chestnuts. Others bake Christmas cookies. Me? I watch TV. Yep, nothing quite puts me in the holiday spirit like watching some of my old favorite Christmas specials. So, this year, I thought I'd share some of my favorites with all of you.

Most of the shows on the list are considered classics. I have included a few more modern shows to mix things up. 50% of the list is from the studio, Rankin/Bass. This animation studio is most famous for their "stop-motion" or "Animagic" cartoons. Thanks to the tremendous success of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Rankin/Bass became synonymous with the holiday season. They also made tradional cel-animated shows, such as Frosty the Snowman. All of these shows are available on DVD.

10. A Wish for Wings that Work (1991)
I consider this a modern classic. Based on the children's book of the same name, this special features the antics of Opus the Penguin and Bill the Cat from the comic strip, Bloom County by master cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. Berkeley Breathed was exceptionally displeased with the quality of the final product of the special. If you're a fan of the comic strip, or love off-beat humor, you'll enjoy this non-traditional cartoon.

9. Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas (1987)
I love animation in all its forms, including CG, 2D, or in this case, clay. WIll Vinton studios is best known for the California Raisins commercials from the 80s. This special is a stunning showcase of animation of various styles and it features an awesome soundtrack, including a rendition of the Rudolph song by the Raisins. Some may criticize me for enjoying a Christmas show partially-based on a commercial product. To them I say: Disney made a trilogy of movies based on a theme park ride. An F-ing trilogy. The Raisins have 10 times more soul than those movies. And they're clay.

8. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
This holiday gem is a retelling of Dicken's Christmas Carol featuring the entire Disney cast circa 1983. I found some interesting facts about this show on The theatrical release of this film was as part of the reissue of The Rescuers. I never knew this was released in movie theaters, but it sure explains the top notch animation. This is also the first time that Alan Young provides the voice of Scrooge Mc. Duck. Young would continue voicing Scrooge on the incredibly popular, Ducktales. FYI: he also played Wilbur Post on the 1960s sitcom, Mr. Ed.

7. The Year WIthout a Santa Claus (1974)
This Rankin/Bass special has an extremely convoluted plotline. From "Convinced no one believes in him anymore, Santa Claus, voiced by Mickey Rooney, becomes depressed and gives up on Christmas. It is up to the elves, Jingle and Jangle, to search the world, finding people who still believe in Santa. The elves, however, run into trouble along the way, when they get lost in South Town, a small town in the Southern United States and the baby reindeer Vixen is mistaken for a dog and sent to the pound, where she sickens in the heat. The incredulous Mayor of South Town agrees to free the reindeer if Jingle and Jangle prove they are Santa's magical elves by making it snow in South Town on Christmas Day. Figuring into the storyline are two of the most well-remembered Rankin/Bass characters, Heat Miser and his stepbrother Snow Miser. Kind Mrs. Claus comes to ask both of them to work out a compromise to permit a Christmas snow in South Town, Heat Miser's territory; he agrees only if Snow Miser will surrender the North Pole to his control. When they refuse to cooperate, Mrs. Claus goes to their mother, Mother Nature, who forces them to compromise." The Miser Bros. steal the show. Warner Brothers made a new Miser Bros. Christmas special (2008), but it just doesn't measure up to the Rankin/Bass mark of quality.

6. Santa Claus is Coming To Town (1970)
Have you ever wondered why Santa delivers toys, wears a red suit, has two names, slides down chimneys, lives at the North Pole and knows what you've been thinking? You'll find out when you watch this wonderful Christmas classic that tells the origin story of Kris Kringle, hosted and sung by Fred Astaire. It is full of great characters including Topper the penguin, Winter Warlock, Burgermeister Meisterburger and Santa (voiced again by Mickey Rooney). The best thing about this special is the music. This show will put you in the yuletide mood with songs like First Toymakers to the King, Put One Foot in Front of the Other and the title song sung by Mr. Astaire. Rankin/Bass made an Easter sequel, The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town, which is highly recommended.

5. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)
Another Rankin/Bass favorite. This one was built around the Clemment Moore poem, The Night Before Christmas. It follows the story of a clock maker, Mr. Trundle, who builds a very loud-ringing clock tower that will attract the attention of Santa Claus. However, the true message of the cartoon is having hope in the face of despair and that even a miracle needs a hand. 

4. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Based on the great Dr. Seuss book, this 30 minute masterpiece is directed by the legendary animator Chuck Jones. One quick bit of trivia: The actor, Thurl Ravenscroft, who sings the popular song, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" also was the original voice of Tony the Tiger. The Grinch and Frosted Flakes: They're GREEEAAT!! BTW, please do NOT watch the live action remake. It is horrible!

3. Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Happy Birthday! Yep, there must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found...for when they placed it on his head, well, you know. A very nice story that celebrates the innocence of being a child at Christmas. My favorite line from the show: Frosty: [Looks at thermometer] I was afraid of that. The thermometer is turning reddish. I hate red thermometers. Karen: Why is that? Frosty: Because when the thermometer gets red, the temperature goes up, and when the temperature goes up, I start to melt, and when I melt, I get all wishy-washy.

2. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)
But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all? This is Rankin/Bass' masterpiece. The music, the animation, the story, the characters. It's perfect. Did you know: the misfit dentist elf's name is Hermey, not Herbie. Did you know: When Yukon Cornelius throws his pick axe into the ground and takes it out and licks it, he's checking neither for gold nor silver. The original concept for the special stated that Yukon was in fact searching for the elusive peppermint mine, which he found eventually. Did you know: The 1964 showing did not have Santa picking up toys from the Island of Misfit Toys at the end. A letter-writing campaign ensued and the new ending was added in 1965. Also in 1965, sponsor General Electric insisted on replacing the song "We're a Couple of Misfits" with "Fame and Fortune", a change that lasted until 1998, when "Misfits" was put back in. ( Below I've posted the Fame and Fortune song. Growing up in the 80s, I always saw the Fame and Fortune version. Fame and Fortune brings back fuzzy memories for me, but the Misfit song services the story better. What do you think?

Fame and Fortune

We're a Couple of Misfits

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
I love Peanuts. Being a cartoonist myself, Charles Schulz was (and still is) a personal hero of mine. For 50 years, the man wrote and drew 17,897 comic strips. All by himself. No assistants, no writers, no inkers. And he found the time to write and produce over 30 animated TV specials. A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first. It set the standard for Peanuts animation and the all-time standard for Christmas specials. And it reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas:

Here's hoping everyone has a very "special" Christmas.


  1. OMGosh - those take me back!! We watched them ALL every year without fail. Good selection... I also really enjoy It's a wonderful Life, and Sound of Music, other yearly specials.

  2. Great list Brad! I love the fact that you included the trailers.