With “A Charlie Brown Christmas” having already made its first appearance of the season, and ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” well underway, we’re into TV holiday special territory once again. But what specials of yesteryear (specifically my own childhood) seem to have gotten lost amid the onslaught? Here are five worthy of re-consideration.
5) ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974): This stands out as one of the only Rankin/Bass Christmas specials to be traditionally animated, rather than made by posing little plastic dolls, a meticulous process that no doubt led to insanity and this scene from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
You’ll recall the story involved a family of mice, and a clock, and a little nerdy mouse who almost destroys Christmas, and the voice of George Gobel. It was sweet and old-fashioned, which is probably why nobody watches it anymore. The good news is, apparently nobody watched the Grumpy Cat Christmas movie either, so there’s hope for humanity.
4) Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962): Hard to say if you could really classify this one as “almost forgotten,” given that it’s considered the very first television Christmas special and was hugely popular throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, right up there with Charlie Brown and the Grinch. On the other hand, most kids today probably couldn’t tell you who Magoo is, despite his hilarious character trait of being almost blind.
Either way, there’s no denying this is one of the best animated “Christmas Carol” adaptations, with Broadway-caliber songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, lots of laughs, well-preserved Dickensian language and a Tiny Tim whose “razzleberry dressing” goes down in the history of adorable pronunciations.
3) A Muppet Family Christmas (1987): This special remains something of a Muppet fan’s Holy Grail: It features characters from Sesame Street, the Muppets and Fraggle Rock, all interacting with each other in the same reality. Rights issues have kept it out of the home video market for years, so the bootleg copy on YouTube is your only source for this Muppetational extravaganza.
I’d recommend you drop what you’re doing and watch the whole thing right now, in case it disappears before you’ve had a chance to see the Muppets sing “Need a Little Christmas,” which is one of the great joys of any holiday season. But if you don’t have the time, at least skip ahead to 26:40 to watch the part where the Swedish Chef plots to kill Big Bird and cook him for Christmas dinner. (I’m completely serious.) And just try keeping a dry eye when Jim Henson himself turns up at the end.
2) Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979): Granted, I haven’t watched this one since it was first on when I was 11, so it may not actually be as good as I remember it. But it had a lot going for it: It was the Marvel Team-Up of Christmas specials, uniting magical snowman Frosty and oppressed mutant reindeer Rudolph for the one and only time ever; it was feature-length (99 minutes!) and was even released in some theaters in Europe; and it included the voice talents of Mickey Rooney, Jackie Vernon, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons and … wait for it … ETHEL MERMAN.
Sure, I could rent it on YouTube, but I have a feeling it will remain better in my memory. Besides, that’s $2.99 I’d never get back.
1) Star Wars Holiday Special (1978): Yes, I know — this special is anything BUT forgotten, being the focus of Star Wars obsessives since its one and only airing 36 years ago. (On Nov. 17, so fans would have well over a month to let its Christmassy Star Wars goodness sink in.) But the full version is still fairly hard to come by, making the true Star Wars Holiday Special experience a rare treat only a few (million) of us can say we really shared.
In case you weren’t among those fortunate few, or have blocked it out of your mind, here is a list of actual things that happen in the Star Wars Holiday Special:
• We meet Chewbacca’s entire family, including a son named Lumpy he apparently doesn’t mind being away from for years at a time;
• Chewbacca’s wife watches a cooking show hosted by Harvey Korman, dressed as a robot or an alien, or possibly a robot alien;
• Bea Arthur plays a bartender in the Mos Eisley cantina;
• Art Carney sort of hangs around, being Art Carney-ish;
• An Imperial guard watches a 3D music video for a song by Jefferson Starship;
• Princess Leia sings a song about the Wookiee “Life Day” to the tune of the Star Wars main title;
• Chewbacca wears a Snuggie, 30 years before Snuggies were invented. The look on Harrison Ford’s face pretty much says it all.
In short, the whole enterprise should have been a clear sign that the first “Star Wars” had been a fluke and George Lucas would eventually tank the entire series before selling it to Disney. But we just put it out of our minds, and when “The Empire Strikes Back” came out we pretended that was the first time we had seen these characters since Han and Luke (but not Chewie) got their medals at the end of the last movie.
There’s a 15-minute mash-up of highlights from the special on YouTube. I think it’s safe to stay that’s all you really need:
Read more Pete at Pete’s Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog.