We look at a lot of Christmas stuff pulled from every day cartoons, for the most part. On occasion though, I suppose we should throw the Christians a bone and look at something a bit more secular. Yes, I think most people know Christmas was basically co-opted by the church many years ago, but it’s certainly because of that faith that it’s as popular as it is today. Or maybe it’s Coke’s fault. I don’t know. Either way, for many people Christmas is a time for worship so lets see if something intended to acknowledge that aspect of the holiday can be entertaining.
Christopher the Christmas Tree is a 1994 television special from the folks at Delaney and Friends Cartoon Productions. Look at the credits for that studio and you will find some other secular items, and also a Pfish and Chip cartoon (that feels like a mistake, but maybe they were looking to broaden their base). It was in conjunction with Chuck Glaser Productions and this is the only credit attributed to that entity. This thing is practically a one-off filled with voice actors of little renown, for the most part. Basically, the only one I recognized was Scott McNeil who was all over cartoons during the early 90s. According to a few sources, this thing aired on Fox and was relegated to VHS after that. It was possibly rebroadcast on Fox Family, but it’s definitely not a popular Christmas special
Christopher the Christmas Tree is about a tree named Christopher – naturally. His wish is to be a Christmas tree some day, but when our feature begins (with narration by Bill Reiter who also voices the titular tree), he’s a scrawny, little, sapling. The other trees around him are large and lush and all feature a name that begins with the letter “C,” which must be standard in tree society. They’re all just trees with faces, but they also have strands of snow to distinguish them from one another and some feature pine cones. It’s not unpleasant.
A young boy and his grandpa come strolling up to the trees. The little kid wants Christopher, but his grandpa says he’s too small for the star they have at home. The kid then asks why they put a star on the tree, and here’s our first religious lesson. The grandfather says it’s to remind them of the star the three wise men followed long ago to reach Christ, and leaves it at that. That wasn’t too bad! They then get a tree, and leave Christopher to himself. Soon all of the trees are gone, except poor Christopher who just wants to die for a cause (that’s totally where this special is going).
We’re then taken to another area of the fictional Hidden Hollow. There we see a family of owls reading because owls are wise and all that. One owl, though, is not. He’s Hootie (very original), and he’s dumb. His book titled “How to Fly” is upside down and when his dad tells him to turn it around he just spins it in a 360 degree manner. His dad is so angry at his son’s stupidity that he tells him to get lost. Which is convenient, since a bindle has been sitting beside Hootie the entire time. I have no idea what sort of lesson this is supposed to impart, but poor, dumb, mute, Hootie leaves the confines of the tree for the snowy ground below. There he encounters some raccoons who want to play ball with him. They’re very hostile though, but without really an end goal, it would seem. When Hootie demonstrates that he can’t fly, they laugh at him so he scoops up his little bindle and trudges off into the woods.
We then get a montage set to a terrible song. All of the songs are originals and have a pop-country flair to them. Hootie just walks sadly through the forest as the seasons change and eventually encounters some bears on one occasion, but the mother bear chases him away. He winds up frozen and near dead on some family’s doorstep. A little kid brings him into their warm, Christmas-decorated, home and his parents instruct him to place the owl by the fire. This kid then, without really much prompting, asks his dad about the star on the tree and we learn the dad is the kid from before. The kid then makes a wish on the star for Hootie to survive, and what do ya know, it works! A wild animal isn’t a pet, though, so the kid’s dad makes him set Hootie free the next day, even though Hootie is in tears over the whole thing.
Sad, rejected, Hootie is back to being sad in the woods, which is when he comes across Christopher. Now a big, full, tree, Christopher is happy to make friends with Hootie. The two even make a wish on a star for Hootie to fly and be able to talk, which seems a bit greedy. Christopher still wants to be a Christmas tree some day, though he seems resigned to just being a tree in the forest since he’s grown too large for most homes.
Some animals come across the two and they’re apparently in search of shelter. Being that Christopher is the only tree in a sea of stumps, they look to him to provide said shelter. He’s more than willing to be of some help as the various birds and rodents happily settle in. They do a bunch of dancing around Christopher, and this is becoming a really easy special to do a write-up on because it’s just full of empty songs and dancing!
The next day, the animals head off to do animal stuff. A fox and a weasel happen by and they for some reason are wearing clothes to make them look like ruffians. They’re just here to crap on the dreams of Christopher and Hootie, and taunt him by saying the only thing he’ll amount to is fire wood. Proving their point, they set him on fire and leave. It’s a bit odd because they literally set ablaze the snow on Christopher. Christopher is pretty calm for a burning tree, and Hootie puts the fire out. He’s fine, and he even encourages Hootie to go find some food. He’ll be okay by himself.
Not (this was made in the 90s, I’m allowed a “Not!” joke)! A big red truck pulls up and a guy with a chain saw emerges. It would seem Christopher’s time has come, and he’s a bit distraught over it. Assuming he’s destined to become firewood, Christopher pleads with the man to not cut him down, but trees can’t talk so the guy doesn’t care. Hootie returns and tries in vain to stop what must be done, but he predictably fails and Christopher is hauled away. This thing just got dark.
As the truck speeds away, Hootie tries to follow, but he can’t keep up since he’s unable to fly. He just walks along sadly in the middle of the road and at this point it would not shock me if he gets run over. He doesn’t though and instead he starts flying! And talking! His wishes came true! He catches up to the truck and is even able to untie Christopher, who is still alive. Try as he might though, he can’t push Christopher off of that truck so he leaves to get help.
By now, the other animals have returned to find the stump that once belonged to Christopher. They’re pretty bummed, but Hootie arrives to tell them what’s up and soon they’re all racing down the road to catch the truck. They eventually find where the truck headed, and Christopher.
Now, apparently this where things can divert. If you were watching the original Fox broadcast, the animals find Christopher outside The White House. I am watching the VHS version and Christopher has been erected outside the United Nations. He is to be the Christmas tree for all of the children of the world, apparently even those heathens who don’t celebrate Christmas. And the little kid from earlier who helped Hootie is also there to put the star on Christopher. Someone with the UN is addressing the crowd and he declares the tree’s name to be Christopher. Not one for subtly, he goes on to say he is named so because a man named Christopher discovered America (lies) and because it contains the name of Christ who died for us all. He even remarks that Christopher had to be sacrificed in the name of Christmas. This is a special that doesn’t want to confuse anyone.
Christopher is pretty damn happy to be the world’s Christmas tree. It was his destiny, he declares. Hootie though realizes this means it’s his first and last turn as a Christmas tree since this ends with him dead. Christopher reassures Hootie that this is what he wanted, and that he also shook out a bunch of pine cones before he left the forest. He wants Hootie and the animals to return to that spot and make sure they’re planted. Hootie and the animals do as instructed, and during the ending credits we see little saplings grow and a tiny, personified, tree emerges not unlike the version of Christopher we started with. The end.
Christopher the Christmas Tree is about what I expected; a bland cartoon about a lonely tree that just wants to die. Actually, it’s a little better if we’re just talking animation. It looks fine and the characters animate well, even if the character designs are about as boring as it gets. Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, so it’s a bit weird to see this special focus on sacrifice, that’s usually more of an Easter thing, but whatever. Some of the backgrounds are a bit drab, and in one place the characters are in a lush forest and then in the next shot it looks like a meadow, but for the most part it’s error free.
The music was all done by George T. Bowers. It’s fairly disposable, though I suppose the main “Christopher the Christmas Tree” song is fine. It definitely gets a bit tiresome towards the end, but the special is mercifully only about 20 minutes worth of content. Since this one is religious in nature, there’s no Santa to speak of. It’s not particularly over-the-top with the religious messaging either choosing to mainly focus on the role of the star in the whole thing. Only at the end does all of the sacrifice stuff pop up. The only thing I was confused by was the origins of Hootie. His intellectual family is portrayed as the bad guys, are we supposed to interpret that as a dig on academics who teach “pesky” things like evolution? I could be reading too much into that scene, but it struck me as dumb. If you have small kids and don’t consider yourself a Christian household you might not want to put this on lest you confuse your children.
Or, you could just not put it on because it sucks! I do feel bad for families looking for a Christmas special that is more secular, because so often what they get is junk. I hesitate to call this one junk, but I definitely wouldn’t call it good. It’s not as cloyingly sweet as something like The Chucklewood Critters, and it at least feels earnest in its attempt to tell a story. I just personally take issue with how a lot of Christian media places so much emphasis on sacrifice, like it’s something to aspire to. At least for families that want to watch it, Christopher the Christmas Tree is easy to find online for free so have it. If you’re more of a Santa, Frosty, Grinch kind of household then you should probably just ignore this one. If you do consider your household a Christian one, maybe just watch A Charlie Brown Christmas again.