Category Archives: Best of Christmas – TV

Dec. 13 – The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials

Five years ago The Christmas Spot did its first advent calendar countdown to Christmas and the theme was “The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials.” With that list, my approach wasn’t entirely forthright. I really had a list of 20 specials that I deemed worthy of such an honor and I devoted the back five to specials I felt were worth spotlighting that might otherwise have been overlooked. What I also should have added at the time was that the list is fluid. It’s going to change as we as a society of holiday consumers reevaluate the old and welcome the new. Seeing as it’s been five years, it felt right to look back on that list, re-arrange a few entries, add some more, and kick out some that have grown stale. I should stress, this is all one man’s opinion on television specials and as someone who loves Christmas I do tend to watch a lot of these specials too much and there’s definitely a fatigue factor. The list of holiday fare I indulge in year in and year out goes deeper than 25, so if your favorite isn’t here don’t sweat it. I probably think it’s fine.

For this exercise, I think it makes sense to just go down the list comparing the original to the revised edition. I’ll list the number and the entry with the previous ranking (if applicable) in parenthesis after and the 2015 entry after that, like so:

25. A Flintstone Christmas (#9) (Moral Orel – The Best Christmas Ever)

I like A Flintstone Christmas a lot, but I’ve also seen it a lot and I think it just doesn’t affect me in the same way now as it did years ago. As for Moral Orel, it’s a fine, dark, Christmas special and not something I need to watch every year.

24. American Dad! – For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls (UR) (Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too)

American Dad! has become one of the titans of Christmas as it has a new special almost every year. “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” is bloody and insane, which is what makes it the most memorable for me, but there are a lot of contenders from this show. Winnie the Pooh’s foray into Christmas is plenty sweet, but also not very remarkable.

23. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (#13) (Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special)

Rudolph is a classic, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s mostly included on all of these lists because of its classic status. It’s kind of ugly, and I think most of us watch it out of habit as opposed to pure enjoyment. Still, there’s no replicating that warm, nostalgic, feel it’s still capable of conjuring up. As for Robot Chicken, I very much enjoy the marathon sessions Adult Swim will air during December, but it’s designed to be disposable and the jokes are very hit or miss.

22. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (UR) (Invader Zim – Most Horrible X-Mas Ever)

Olaf’s special wasn’t around in 2015, but it looks like it’s going to be an annual tradition for awhile. It’s funny, warm, and even features songs I don’t hate. He’s quickly become the most charismatic snowman around. Invader Zim is fine, but if you want an absurd Christmas story then I think there’s better out there (like American Dad!).

21. The Tick Loves Santa (UR) (Married…with Children – You Better Watch Out)

In 2020, offbeat and silly superhero stuff is really appealing given how superheroes rule the box office (or would in a normal year). That makes The Tick a series I can appreciate even more now than I did back in 94. And watching The Tick bumble his way through a Christmas story is a great deal of fun. It knocks off the only live-action special from 2015 to be featured on this list. Married…with Children is sort of like the sitcom version of American Dad! because it has a lot of Christmas specials, and most are pretty subversive. It’s still worth watching, but it was always at risk of being dropped for the simple fact that I favor cartoons.

20. Bob’s Burgers – Christmas in the Car (UR) (The Snowman)

Bob’s Burgers and American Dad! are battling it out to be the current king of Christmas since both are prepared seemingly year in and year out. I give the edge to the Belcher family, and while it’s hard to pick a favorite from this crew, I think “Christmas in the Car” is still the reigning champ though I seem to warm more and more to “Father of the Bob” every time I view it. The Snowman is the victim I feel the worst about. It’s not moving up the ranks, but out. I know a lot of folks adore it, but I’ve just never been able to feel the same way about it. Sorry!

19. Frosty the Snowman (#15) (It’s a SpongeBob Christmas)

Like Rudolph, Frosty is skating by on reputation at this point. Unlike Rudolph though, I still feel charmed by this one whenever I watch it. The characters are goofy, some of the plot points make no sense, and that damn song will forever remain catchy. As for SpongeBob, worry not for him, for he will appear later on this list in a more prominent position.

18. Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas (#18) (Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas)

Hey! One that didn’t change! Spoiler alert, but this one is just the first to not move a spot. This one is wonderfully stupid and subversive. Many confuse Beavis and Butt-Head for just stupid, but there’s a lot of satire to be found with the duo. It’s not for everyone, but it sure is funny.

17. Futurama – Xmas Story (#12) (A Muppet Family Christmas)

Futurama hangs on slipping just five spots. It wasn’t in any real danger to fall off as I love the show and I love it’s take on Christmas. The Muppets, on the other hand, were mostly on the old version for the novelty of their special and nostalgia. Admittedly though, the special isn’t great and has maybe 2 or 3 good laughs during its hour-long runtime. Plus that ending goes on and on…

16. A Charlie Brown Christmas (#4) (Yes, Virginia)

Hoo-boy was I coward in 2015! Charlie Brown is a classic, but it’s also quite dull. It’s quotable, has great music, and the good-bad voice acting is somehow really charming. It’s near the top of many lists because it’s been around so long and boomers love it while younger generations were forced to enjoy it. Top 16 is still good, but we all need to be more honest when it comes to Charlie Brown. Yes, Virginia is super sweet and I love the ending, it’s getting there that’s tough. The special is pretty slow and the CG is downright ugly. This one would have been a lot better as a short, but maybe someone will return to it and do just that. And if you hadn’t heard, A Charlie Brown Christmas is airing tonight on PBS at 7:30 PM local time (6:30 CT) which is big news since It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was frozen out of a broadcast airing in 2020 for the first time ever.

15. A Pinky and the Brain Christmas (UR) (Frosty the Snowman)

This one was just an oversight on my part back in 2015. I had not seen it in years, but when I re-watched it for The Christmas Spot in 2017 I was reminded of how wonderful a viewing it is. That ending gets me every time.

14. The Night Before Christmas starring Tom and Jerry (UR) (A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas)

Another one I forgot about and overlooked, Tom and Jerry’s battle under the Christmas tree is full of the usual gags the duo is known for. The animation is gorgeous, especially the backgrounds, and it tops it all off with a really sweet ending. Family Guy was generously ranked in this spot in 2015 and actually was a tough omission this time around. I do still like that special, easily the best Family Guy Christmas episode I’ve seen, but I basically gave it the boot in favor of the superior show, American Dad!

13. Duck the Halls (UR) (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

It’s Donald Duck and it’s Christmas – it was practically made for me! Duck the Halls is hilarious and the animation is great. Sure, it isn’t ink and paint like the old days, but I find it plenty pleasing. Tony Anselmo gives maybe his best performance ever as Donald, and if anything I’m penalizing this one because we have more Donald to come.

12. Rocko’s Modern Christmas (UR) (Futurama – Xmas Story)

I love Rocko, but in 2015 I had all but forgotten about his Christmas special. Well, not this time as I’m putting him just outside the Top 10. The story is fairly simple, but Rocko is so likable and sympathetic that it makes this one instantly charming. And let’s not forget the great gags like the constipated cloud and the living (until it’s not) Christmas tree.

11. It’s a SpongeBob Christmas (#19) (Prep & Landing)

SpongeBob is moving up in the world and actually is the biggest mover, in a positive direction, this time around. My affection for this stop-motion Christmas special seems to grow and grow each year. In 2015 it was still pretty new so a recency bias worked against it, but five years later I’m more than ready to declare this a modern Christmas classic. And the same can be said for the special that once occupied this spot.

10. South Park – Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo (#8) (A Garfield Christmas)

Mr. Hanky just barely hangs onto a top 10 spot this time out. Is his spot in danger? Yes, considering my love of SpongeBob and Donald Duck. For now though, let’s just reflect on how crazy this special was when it first showed up in 1997 and how South Park used to have a new Christmas special every year. My, how the times have changed.

9. Prep & Landing (#11) (A Flintstone Christmas)

I’m surprised I held Prep & Landing out of the Top 10 last time around, but like SpongeBob, I guess I just wasn’t quite ready to let someone new into the club. The CG still looks great on this one and the story is unique, fun, and even heart-warming. New Christmas specials arrive every year, but rarely does one actually add to the whole Santa Claus lore in a meaningful way, but that’s what Prep & Landing has done. These elves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

8. A Garfield Christmas (#10) (Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo)

The fat cat who loves lasagna gets to move up a couple spots, largely benefiting from folks like Fred Flintstone and Charlie Brown getting kicked further down the line. This 1987 special is still a treat to take in that blends humor with a surprising amount of sentiment. It’s a shame it lost the network timeslot it held for many years.

7. DuckTales – Last Christmas! (UR) (Toy Tinkers)

DuckTales has made a comeback since 2015 and included among the new episodes is the show’s first ever Christmas special, and it’s wonderful! It turns the story of A Christmas Carol on its head, in a way, with a time travel tale all its own and features the first mother-son pairing of Della and Duey Duck. Plus it has a fantastic cameo from the late, great, Russi Taylor. If you have yet to see it, fix that this year. Especially since word has come out recently the show isn’t being renewed for a fourth season. 2020 just refuses to stop sucking!

6. Toy Tinkers (#7) (Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire)

The Donald Duck/Chip and Dale vehicle moves up one spot this year. It matters little as this is a cartoon all animation lovers and Christmas enthusiasts should make a point to watch every year. The only negative is that the gunplay contained within this one means Disney+ will likely continue to shun it making it a tad harder to come by.

5. A Chipmunk Christmas (#3) (Pluto’s Christmas Tree)

Alvin and the gang spin a fine Christmas tale. I thought highly enough of it to rank it in the top 3 last time, but I’m bumping it down just a couple of spots this year as I basically rearrange some things. This one is becoming a little harder to come by each year as you can’t guarantee a network showing, but DVDs are cheap so grab one if you need it!

4. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire (#6) (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

The premiere episode of The Simpsons is still my favorite Christmas special the show has done. Sure, it’s a bit rough to look at these days, but the story is great, classic, Simpsons. I just wish it and the other 80s Christmas specials on this list were celebrated as much as the stuff from the 60s that hasn’t aged so well. Well, most of that stuff has aged horribly, but there’s one notable omission we’ll get to shortly.

3. Pluto’s Christmas Tree (#5) (A Chipmunk Christmas)

Alvin and Pluto essentially switched places largely because I just love this little short. It’s just perfect. The scenery inside the Christmas tree featuring Chip and Dale is just the best. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every time I watch this short – I want to live in that tree. The physical comedy is fantastic, and I just absolutely adore this short. Unlike Toy Tinkers, you can find this one on Disney+ 365 days out of the year. I’ll probably watch it at least a dozen times between now and Christmas.

2. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (#2)

Mickey and our number one didn’t move, and that’s with good reason. This is my preferred version of A Christmas Carol, and frankly, we don’t need any more. It’s the only one on this list other than the parody featured in Beavis and Butt-Head (I don’t really consider “Last Christmas!” an adaptation) which is kind of surprising to me, but it also feels right. This one is beautiful and features some phenomenal voice acting. I’ll never not tear-up at the sight of a crying Mickey when he visits Tiny Tim’s grave, ditto for when Scrooge informs him he’s getting promoted at the end. I’m getting misty eyed right now just thinking about it.

  1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (#1)

It was number one in 2015, and it will likely remain number one for as long as I’m alive. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is just a perfect Christmas special. It features a story full of heart, humor, redemption, and joy. It’s gorgeously animated with a style unique to both Dr. Seuss and animator Chuck Jones. The music is equally as memorable and the narration from Boris Karloff is the only voice people hear in their heads now-a-days when reading the source material. There’s nothing I’d change about this special, and if I had to pick just one Christmas special to watch annually it would be this one.


#1 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

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Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Most people that know me personally are not surprised by my choice for number 1 on my list of the best Christmas specials of all time. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a holiday classic of the finest order. Few films and television shows are able to delight all of the applicable senses like this one does. Allow me to list the ways.

First of all, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was animated and produced by Chuck Jones, one of the greatest masters of the animated short. Jones is known primarily for his work with Bugs Bunny, and when he was tasked with bringing the Grinch to television he brought his A game. The Grinch exudes personality. He’s angry, grumpy, and is delighted with himself while acting out his schemes. He’s his own biggest fan. And that smile! Probably the most memorable part of the special is that moment when the Grinch gets his wonderful, awful idea. There’s a bit of a cat-like quality to his face (Seuss himself remarked it looked too much like Chuck Jones) but also this sort of odd, plant quality as well. He’s much more interesting to look at here than he was in the original book. In addition to the titular character, the setting of Who-Ville looks great and very Seuss-like. Little was lost in translation, and the whole world really pops when it needs to. Voiceless characters like Max are animated beautifully as well. Even though Max never speaks, we always know what he’s thinking and feeling. He’s also the most empathetic character in the film.

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The money shot.

In addition to the wonderful style and supreme animation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! also features some excellent voice acting and an iconic score. All of the songs are originals which is quite the rarity for a Christmas special. The flagship song is undoubtedly “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” song by Thurl Ravenscroft in an uncredited role. The song is stretched to cover the meat of the special and it’s up to the task. The lyrics are suitable and the song is incredibly quotable decades later. The uptempo instrumental when the Grinch and Max are racing down the side of Mt. Crumpet is compelling, and the other songs are catchy in their own right. This is a soundtrack I have no problems listening to around the holidays. Rounding things out, Boris Karloff narrates the tale and provides a voice for the Grinch. His depiction is spot-on for the character as he adds a slight growl to his voice when he reads the Grinch’s line. No voice of the Grinch since has come close to matching Karloff’s delivery. June Foray even pops up once again as Cindy Lou Who. Her presence is a small one, but as usual for her, she’s perfect for the role.

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It’s pretty impressive how many creative sequences can be found in this one short.

The special is flat-out entertaining, but it also has the required good Christmas message needed to be a timeless Christmas classic. And here it’s kept to a simple one, which is that Christmas isn’t about the material things but the time spent with family. The Grinch has no family at the start so he can only see the material aspect of Christmas, which he comes to loathe and attempts to steal. Of course, Christmas can’t be stolen and the Grinch realizes that in the end. It’s an easy concept to grasp and it’s told well.

The animated version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the best way to experience this classic story. The original book is wonderful in its own right, but is less thrilling than its television counterpart and obviously lacks the musical numbers. The feature film is a piece of garbage in which the Grinch character is reduced to a generic Jim Carrey screw-ball. The unfortunate thing is its title is identical to the short’s so it’s easy to get the two confused when looking at a television listing. Since How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is such a classic, it’s featured prominently on television on both network TV and cable. It’s also readily available on DVD and Blu Ray. Next year will mark the special’s 50th anniversary and hopefully it will be properly celebrated on TV just like Rudolph and Charlie Brown have been recently (and maybe it will receive its own line of stamps from the USPS too). Since it’s now Christmas Day, the Grinch has probably already received his last showing on television for the 2015 season so hopefully you didn’t miss it, and if you did, you have a copy to watch today. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the greatest Christmas special ever made. I doubt it will ever be topped.

Thus concludes this top 25 countdown. I hope you enjoyed it and that my rankings didn’t infuriate you too much. I also hope you had a great holiday season and a very merry Christmas. See you in 2016!


#2 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol marked the return of the most famous cartoon mouse to the big screen for the first time in 30 years. Once a staple of the cinematic experience, Mickey had been pushed aside for other characters (namely Donald Duck) and live-action features. It had been even longer since Mickey, Donald, and Goofy had all appeared in the same short.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol was released in 1983 along with the The Rescuers. As shorts go, it’s actually pretty long, which has helped it over the years in being shown on television because it fits easily into a standard half-hour time-slot. Mickey’s Christmas Carol also goes against one of my personal tenants of Christmas specials which is to avoid adaptations of A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. That’s often the path of the lazy, but Mickey’s Christmas Carol benefits as being one of the earlier adaptations, and for some reason, it just works.

The story is obviously familiar to most people. It’s a pretty straight-forward retelling of the Dickens classic just with Disney characters acting out the parts (only the animal characters though, no humans allowed). The cast features the old popular ones of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie while also mixing in cameos from The Winds in the Willow, Silly Symphonies, and Robin Hood, among others. This is also the first short to feature Scrooge McDuck as the character he was born to play. He’s voiced by Alan Young, known to audiences as Wilbur from Mister Ed, who has continued to voice the character even into his 90’s. Another debut is Wayne Allwine as Mickey Mouse, just the third voice actor to portray the character. Clarence “Ducky” Nash also gets a final opportunity to voice Donald Duck, before the character would be passed onto Tony Anselmo. As a result, Mickey’s Christmas Carol feels like a really important short in the company’s history as there’s a lot of historical significance that can be attached to it.

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Gets me every time.

All of that stuff is great, but it wouldn’t matter if the story sucked. Instead, the story is told in a brisk, but not rushed, manner. The shots that need to linger, linger, and the ones that can be hurried along are. The animation is vintage Disney, with Scrooge walking home in the snow from his counting house probably my favorite shot. All of the right emotions hit, and Scrooge’s transformation from miserable miser to benevolent boss is done in a believable way. Just try to suppress the lump in your throat when Mickey is seen crying at the grave of Tiny Tim in the flash-forward. That sight would transform any man!

Mickey’s Christmas Carol has a special place in my heart. It was the lead-off special on a homemade VHS tape my mom made for my sister and I when we were really little. As a result, it’s also probably the Christmas special I’ve seen more than any other. Since Disney is omnipresent on television, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is shown quite frequently around the holidays, so hopefully you didn’t miss it this year. It’s also been released multiple times on DVD and Blu Ray, most recently just two years ago. Though if you really want to own a copy of it, I suggest you pony up the extra dollars for Mickey Mouse: In Living Color Volume 2 so you can also enjoy a bunch of Mickey’s other classic shorts.

 


#3 – A Chipmunk Christmas

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A Chipmunk Christmas (1981)

Few properties have managed to return from obscurity like The Chipmunks. They originated in song with “The Witch Doctor” and ended up getting an animated television show. That show faded and their popularity waned, but was resurrected in 1981 with A Chipmunk Christmas which celebrated their popular Christmas song “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” The success of the special lead to a new animated series called Alvin and The Chipmunks and a string of direct to video films. Now the Chipmunks are back as a film property after a long absence and they even have a new TV show. They’re not exactly well received by critics, but kids seem to love them again.

The quality of these various shows and films has never exactly been the best, but the original Alvin Show has some genuine humor which A Chipmunk Christmas gets right. What the Christmas special does better though is add a little heart. The story goes that Dave, the Chipmunks’ guardian and manager, is getting his boys geared up to play a Christmas Eve concert while the boys are more interested in just being boys. That is until Alvin finds out about a little boy Tommy who’s very sick and also a big fan of The Chipmunks. What Tommy wants more than anything for Christmas is a golden Echo harmonica, which Alvin so happens to be in possession of. He sneaks away from a recording session to give Tommy the harmonica, under the guise of saying Tommy won a contest, but Alvin is afraid Dave will be mad at him when finds out he gave away his harmonica. Especially once it’s reveled that Alvin is expected to play it as part of their Christmas Eve show.

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The Chipmunks received a slight redesign for their special, which would be further modified for the TV show Alvin and The Chipmunks.

This is one of those stories where the audience is naturally frustrated because the protagonist has done the right thing but is misunderstood. Alvin becomes consumed with making enough money to buy a new harmonica so Dave won’t know he gave away the original, but Dave just sees Alvin’s schemes from the outside as Alvin being selfish. Since this is a Christmas special, Alvin does eventually find a way out of his predicament when an old woman (voiced by the immortal June Foray, who pops up a lot in Christmas specials) offers to buy him a new harmonica for helping her out. The special culminates with the concert, and the ending has a nice little surprise for the viewer which might be my favorite ending of any Christmas special.

The Chipmunks may have seen their popularity seesaw over the years, but their Christmas special has remained timeless. With their renewed popularity, A Chipmunk Christmas has returned to television after a lengthy absence, though I never came across it this year. The special is widely available on DVD and Blu Ray and can be streamed online for free. This one is a classic that hits all of the right notes by being funny, charming, and has a great Christmas message. Don’t hold those new movies against it.


#4 – A Charlie Brown Christmas

CHARLIE BROWN TRIES TO PERK UP THE FORLORN LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREE

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Old Chuck has been around for awhile now. No one can say his special has failed to stand the test of time. And even so, the origins of A Charlie Brown Christmas are pretty humble ones. Few expected it to be a success, especially after creator Charles Schulz wanted Linus to recite a passage from The Bible on the meaning of Christmas. The production values were low, and basically every voice actor was an amateur, and a kid.

Despite all of that, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been a monumental success. It has lead to numerous other Peanuts themed holiday specials and television shows. It’s soundtrack has been a best seller and its main theme “Linus and Lucy,” composed by Vince Guaraldi, has become the official theme of the Peanuts brand.

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The soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas is almost as famous as the actual special.

The story goes, Charlie Brown is depressed around the holidays because he doesn’t really understand what’s so great about Christmas. Part of that is derived from the rampant commercialism surrounding him and also by the fact that no one seems to like him. Lucy, in a rare moment of compassion, decides to offer Charlie Brown the position of director for their Christmas play. She seems to think the play will direct itself and Chuck couldn’t possibly screw it up. When Charlie Brown arrives at the auditorium he finds everyone is only interested in dancing around and few are serious about putting on the play. Frustrated, he decides to get a tree which just makes things worse, prompting Linus’s famous speech.

Amongst the specials on this countdown, A Charlie Brown Christmas is easily the most secular. It does so without turning off the unreligious, with the biblical meaning of Christmas serving as a reminder that the holiday isn’t all about getting presents and seeing who has the most lights on their house.  Still, I’m sure the devout Christians out there probably appreciate what A Charlie Brown Christmas has to say since most specials ignore that Jesus fellow.

Now obviously the special has become a bit of an ironic one. The primary message of A Charlie Brown Christmas is that commercialism has distorted the holiday’s message, and yet today, few properties have become more commercialized than Charlie Brown. Especially this year when the special celebrates its 50th year. None of this causes the actual special to be any less charming, and I certainly don’t mind the abundance of Charlie Brown merchandise as it’s an easy fail-safe when shopping for Christmas gifts.

As one of the most popular Christmas specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas is featured prominently on television and is also available on DVD and Blu Ray. It was shown this year along with a one hour special celebrating its 50th anniversary. If you missed that broadcast it will be shown again on Christmas Eve on ABC.


#5 – Mickey Mouse: Pluto’s Christmas Tree

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“Pluto’s Christmas Tree” (1952)

A few days ago we looked at “Toy Tinkers” and today we look at its spiritual sequel, “Pluto’s Christmas Tree.” Despite its title, this one is actually considered a Mickey Mouse short (and fun piece of trivia, this i the theatrical short debut of Jimmy MacDonald as Mickey) and not a Pluto one. Like “Toy Tinkers,” it features the duo of Chip and Dale as they try to move-in to Mickey’s house.

The short opens with Mickey and Pluto searching for a Christmas tree. Chip and Dale see the two and decide to have a little fun with Pluto, who ends up chasing them up a tree. Mickey, of course, settles on that specific tree for his Christmas tree and Chip and Dale, electing not try and elude Pluto, go along for the ride and end up in Mickey’s house. Mickey and Pluto decorate the tree and the chipmunks come to enjoy their new surroundings, especially when they find the bowl of nuts on the mantle. Pluto takes note, and unable to get Mickey to notice, ends up trying to evict Chip and Dale himself which results in disaster.

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Dear Mickey’s Christmas Tree, I want to be inside you.

The setup maybe similar to “Toy Tinkers,” but the gags are separate. Pluto, being unable to speak, is easy to feel for because he’s obviously frustrated by his inability to communicate to Mickey that they have a rodent problem. Chip and Dale, naturally, have no interest in leaving the warm confines of the house and refuse to go without a fight. They’re a bit villainous though, and I find myself naturally drawn to Pluto, though the spirit of the holidays would say everyone should coexist in peace. The artwork is excellent, especially the backgrounds. Seriously, the Disney artists convinced me living in that tree would be bliss. It’s funny and cute, and its more inclusive attitude towards the Christmas holiday helps elevate it above “Toy Tinkers” for me, but both should be considered holiday classics.

“Pluto’s Christmas Tree” is actually rather easy to come by. It’s been re-released many times on various holiday collection DVDs and sometimes is shown on television during the holidays. Most recently it was included as a bonus feature on the DVD/Blu Ray release of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” which has yet to return to “The Vault.” However you choose to view it, I suggest you make the time to watch it this year and every year after.


#6 – The Simpsons: Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

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“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (1989)

The holiday most often associated with The Simpsons is clearly Halloween, thanks to the annual presence from the Treehouse of Horror series. Which is why I find it funny that the show’s very first episode was a Christmas special (though it should be noted, it was the 8th episode by production order). I can’t think of another long-running show that lead-off with a Christmas special. South Park famously originated as a Christmas short, but that wasn’t its first true episode. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” also aired a full month before the show’s second episode so that it could air before Christmas. It was also not written by Matt Groening, or any of the other individuals most associated with the show, but cartoonist Mimi Pond. It was also her only contribution to the show and the only episode from the show to air in the 1980s.

“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” succeeds as both a Christmas special and as an introduction for the series. Homer is depicted as a screw-up who wants to give his family a good Christmas, but his miserly boss has decided not to give out bonuses this year. When Marge has to use what little savings they have to get a tattoo removed off of their son, Homer looks to get a second job to pay for Christmas. He doesn’t tell his family and decides to take a part-time job as a mall Santa. This includes a humorous sequence of Homer going through Santa training, learning how to laugh and what to say to bad kids who sit on his lap. His plan blows up in his face though when he receives a meager payout on Christmas Eve. Defeated, he and Bart decide to accompany fellow Santa Barney Gumble to the dog track and wager their bucks on a long-shot, who Homer feels compelled to bet on because of his name:  Santa’s Little Helper. The dog, of course, loses but when his owner kicks him to the curb the Simpsons gain a new pet, and a worthy Christmas present.

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The gang’s all here for the first episode.

It’s a cute story and a good window into what the show is all about when it’s at its best. The Simpsons don’t always catch the best breaks, through some of their own doing, but they find a way to make it work. They’re basically a happy family that cares about one another, unlike a certain other animated TV family. As viewers, we like them, even though we laugh at them. There’s enough pity in Homer’s plight to get a reaction, but not so much that the episode becomes a depressing slog.

“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” is still the best Christmas special produced by the long-running series and can be found on the season one box set. It’s also been released on DVD as part of a holiday collection of episodes and is guaranteed to air this season on FXX, along with the other Christmas specials. Just keep an eye out for it if you wish to catch it that way.

 


#7 – Donald Duck: Toy Tinkers

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“Toy Tinkers” (1949)

For the number seven entry I am cheating a little, but only a little. I spelled it out in the intro to this feature, but I am considering theatrical shorts for this feature as long as they’ve basically been adopted by television. “Toy Tinkers” starring Donald Duck falls under that umbrella as it debuted in theaters in 1949. “Toy Tinkers” came during a time when Walt Disney was moving away from the short subject to focus on feature length films and television productions. Pretty much the only character still receiving shorts was Donald Duck, who had usurped Mickey Mouse’s role as lead character for cartoons. Mickey would receive short films here and there into the fifties, but Donald was the only one receiving consistent work.

“Toy Tinkers” is very similar to a later cartoon, “Pluto’s Christmas Tree,” because both feature Chip and Dale. In this cartoon, Chip and Dale sneak into Donald’s house after seeing him chop down a Christmas tree. When they get in they decide to stay due to its warmth and abundance of nuts. Donald, not being the friendliest duck, sees the duo and decides to have some fun at their expense. He even ends up pulling a gun on them after disguising himself as Santa Claus. Chip and Dale, of course, do not take this laying down and opt to fight back. They’ve had a few battles with Donald over the years, and just like in virtually every other one, they get the better of the duck after turning his living room into a war zone.

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Santa Donald: way better than Santa Claus.

“Toy Tinkers,” as the name implies, features lots of toys and gags centered around them. The tamest moments of the short feature Chip and Dale interacting with these toys in an innocent and curious way. The toys also play a vital role to the combat sequences that follow where pop guns, trains, and wind-up cars are put to use. It’s a clever little short that’s plenty charming. It doesn’t really feature much Christmas spirit, but makes up for it with its use of timeless characters. Seriously, if you can’t enjoy a Donald Duck cartoon then we can’t be friends.

“Toy Tinkers” can be found on the Chronological Donald Volume 3, a collection of Donald Duck cartoons that is long since out of print and mighty expensive on the resale market. There is a holiday DVD from about ten years ago that included it which is much easier on the wallet, “Holiday Celebration with Mickey and Pals,” if you wish to seek it out. The Disney Channel will sometimes slip it into its programming during December as well, especially if they need to fill some small gaps in programming, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to find it. If you wish to make it easy on yourself, pretty much every old Disney short can be found on Youtube. Since the company isn’t actively trying to sell them, they must not care about their availability online.

 


#8 – South Park: Mr. Hanky, The Christmas Poo

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“Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo” (1997)

You can always count on South Park for something perverse, and it doesn’t get much more perverse than a talking piece of Christmas shit. South Park has made quite a few holiday specials, and no holiday has received more attention than Christmas. South Park’s Christmas specials contain some of the usual suspects like Jesus and Santa Claus, but creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker apparently felt they needed their own Christmas mascot so they created Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.

Mr. Hankey is the star of the show’s very first Christmas special which aired during the first season. Mr. Hankey is presented as a benevolent spirit of the holidays who packs more Christmas cheer into his tiny, little body than any man, woman, or child. Mr. Hankey is the star of the episode, but the plot centers around Kyle who feels left out at Christmas because he’s apparently the only Jewish kid in town. His mother flips out at Mr. Garrison for casting Kyle as Joseph in the school Christmas pageant which snowballs on Garrison as everyone apparently has a problem with some aspect of Christmas. The Jews want to ditch the nativity, the Christians want Santa out, the hippies want to stop the slaughter of trees, and so on.

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Mr. Hankey in Mr. Mackey’s coffee is probably the best gag in the entire episode, or worst, depending on your point of view.

Meanwhile, Kyle views Mr. Hankey as the solution to the town’s problem because he brings presents to all good girls and boys (so long as they eat their fiber), regardless of religion. It’s just that few in town are willing to embrace a piece of crap as a new Christmas mascot. Kyle starts seeing Mr. Hankey everywhere as a personified dookie with a Santa hat, which leads to some disgusting but hilarious gags, while everyone else just sees a regular old mookie-stink. Kyle ends up getting committed, only for the kids to find out Chef believes in Mr. Hankey, and the special actually wraps up in a pretty typical Christmas special sort of way, when you ignore the talking poop.

It’s funny, it’s ridiculous, but South Park actually does a pretty nice job of highlighting how non-Christian kids must feel at Christmas time. There’s a heart here, which is part of the humor as Parker and Stone prove to the viewer that we too can love a piece of poo. “Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo” can be found on the season one box set of South Park and also the “Christmas Time in South Park” DVD, which I reviewed previously. The special, along with every other South Park Christmas special, is almost certainly guaranteed to air on Comedy Central this year so check your local listings if you want to catch it. And lastly, every episode of South Park is available to stream on hulu if you want to watch it that way.


#9 – A Flintstone Christmas

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A Flintstone Christmas (1977)

It may have been considered a slight when I passed over The Flintstones for inclusion in my top ten animated television shows, but maybe a 9th place finish here will take away some of that sting. The modern stone-age family has been around a long time, and while their profile has certainly diminished over the years, The Flintstones are still pretty well known.

Basically every time I have chosen to talk about The Flintstones on this blog it has been related to one of the Christmas specials, and in particular, A Flintstone Christmas. A Flintstone Christmas came after the show stopped airing new episodes and is essentially the episode “Christmas Flintstone” re-done as an hour-long television special (for more on that, check out my review last year of A Flintstone Christmas Carol which also includes “Christmas Flintstone”). It used to be that you could count on seeing the special re-air every year on either Cartoon Network or TBS but that hasn’t been the case of late. So like yesterday’s entrant, A Garfield Christmas, A Flintstone Christmas is in danger of becoming kind of an unknown Christmas special.

The story for A Flintstone Christmas revolves around Fred and Barney filling in for Santa Claus. Fred is supposed to play Santa for his work’s Christmas party, but when the real Santa gets injured on Fred’s roof (sound familiar?) Fred has to put on the Sant suit and fill-in. Barney tags along as Fred’s elf, and the two stumble their way through the night. At one point they lose all the presents and have to head back to the North Pole to get more, but this serves as a way for the show to present Santa’s work shop and his many elves.

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When Santa gets hurt, it’s up to Fred and Barney to make sure Christmas goes on without a hitch.

There’s a few original songs thrown in to liven things up. They’re actually not too bad and it’s kind of nice to not have to hear the same public domain songs over and over. The only one I don’t care for is the overly sappy song that revolves around Pebbles waking up on Christmas morning. Fred (Henry Cordon) has some singing parts that can hardly be labeled as singing, so those songs are kind of lousy as well. All in all though, the music gets the job done.

The animation is pretty standard Hanna-Barbera stuff and doesn’t look all that different from the show. It’s probably slightly better and there’s some very minor visual effects at work in some places. It’s really only noticeably better if you watch this special and then watch an episode of the show. Unfortunately, there aren’t any great dinosaur gags to speak of, which was a major part of the show’s charm. It would have been fun to see some odd dinosaur appliance incorporated into Santa’s work shop, but oh well.

A Flintstone Christmas is kind of hard to come by these days. Since it’s not shown on television anymore, the only way to see it is either online or by purchasing the special on DVD. For some reason, A Flintstone Christmas Carol appears to be the special of choice that gets peddled around each holiday season while A Flintstone Christmas has been relegated to Amazon’s manufacture-on-demand printing service. As a result, the DVD release is as bland as it gets, though it does also include the 90’s special A Flintstone Family Christmas, which actually isn’t that bad. It’s a really fun special though with a premise that would clearly be ripped-off down the road. There’s some laughs and nice Christmas sentiments tossed-in and it never feels overdone. Hopefully A Flintstone Christmas will eventually find its way back to television where it belongs this time of year.

 


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