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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.


Frozen II

frozen 2 posterA lot has changed in my life in the past six years since the original Frozen debuted in theaters. My girlfriend and I attended a viewing of that film together and mostly enjoyed the experience. The film arrived with minimal fanfare initially for a Walt Disney Pictures film, but soon a phenomenon was born. I remember leading up to the release of the film seeing piles of ignored Frozen merch at my local Disney Store. Once the film landed and people got to experience it that merch evaporated. Parents looking to put an Elsa or an Olaf under the tree for Christmas were left scrambling, staking out shops before they opened in hopes of landing a coveted toy.

Since then my girlfriend has become my wife and we’ve welcomed two kids, a boy and a girl. Frozen was just another quality Disney film for us to occasionally enjoy, but now it’s practically a lifestyle. My daughter is a certified Frozen nut. She loves Elsa, and every night asks to wear her Anna pajamas even if she wore them the previous night and got them covered in Cheerios at breakfast that morning. She loves to sing and frequently can be heard belting out the lyrics to “Let it Go.” If you happen to enter the bathroom at my house and shut the door behind you, you’ll be probably be serenaded as you do your business. It starts with a knock, then a question:  “Elsa?” Then you’re treated to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and if you know your Disney and insert a, “Go away, Anna,” at the right time the sequence ends with a dejected “Okay, bye.” If in that amount of time you’re still not finished though, expect the process to begin again.

When Frozen II was announced it was a foregone conclusion that my wife and I would have to take the kids. It became abundantly clear when the first trailer dropped and my daughter lost her mind when she saw Elsa was wearing a purple dress, her favorite color. Thankfully, theater assigned seating makes it much easier these days to attend a film on opening night and that’s what we did, taking in Frozen II on Thursday the 21st. My daughter arrived in fashionable style wearing her Elsa dress she picked out when we vacationed at Disney World last winter (she went with Elsa’s winter dress from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, if you’re curious) and both kids got to pick some candy as we settled into our seats. The theater was bustling with patrons, mostly mothers and daughters. Some adults were even in full costume, proving that Frozen-mania isn’t something only children suffer from, and there were some men in the audience as well. Even some that appeared to have no children with them.

anna and elsa

Elsa and Anna will journey north in a bid to find out the secrets of the past.

It was a rather raucous setting to partake in a film, but it felt appropriate given the excitement this franchise has created in viewers. Frozen II largely picks up where the previous film left off. If you have skipped the two shorts released since then you won’t miss out on anything as everyone is where you would expect them to be, for the most part. Elsa (Idina Menzel) is adjusting to life as a queen while Anna (Kristen Bell) is still mostly carefree. She’s in a relationship with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who is now struggling with how he should pop the question to his beloved. Sven is by his side still, and of course there’s Olaf (Josh Gad). When we first see the precocious snowman we find out almost immediately that Elsa has given him a coating of permafrost, apparently the animators didn’t want to have to include a flurry over his head for an entire film. He’s also strangely obsessed with growing old and gaining more maturity. Something he talks about with Anna early on.

This discussion quickly leads into a feeling of “sequel-itis,” as it brings about a discussion on change. Every thing is the same, but different, and it’s a reoccurring theme in the film. The main plot point though concerns Elsa, as she’s hearing a voice that apparently no one else can here. It’s not exactly driving her mad, but it is annoying her and she wants to know where it’s coming from. A strange sequence in which the elements themselves appear to attack Arendelle bring about our friends the trolls from the first film. Through them, and a flashback to a story Anna and Elsa hear from their father, the heroes are sent on a journey north to discover why the elements are raging and to make up for the mistakes of the past.

anna and olaf

Anna and Olaf still make for a great pairing.

The journey our heroes will embark on will test the bonds of friendship and family. Anna in particular is determined to remain at her sister’s side. It seems like it’s something that could even come between she and Kristoff. Elsa, for her part, wants only what is best for her sister and her kingdom and does not wish to put her sister in harm’s way. Characters will go through periods of self doubt leading to numerous pep talks. It gives the first half of the film a real laborious pace, but the characters remain likable throughout so it doesn’t become too oppressive.

As a continuation of the story, Frozen II is a mostly satisfying ride. It doesn’t possess many surprises, though a few twists may shock some younger viewers. There may be moments that even reduce children to tears, so parents be warned. The film is a bit weary of the larger cast and change in dynamics from the first film. It feels more confident when characters are either on their own or paired up. I was looking forward to seeing these characters as more of an ensemble, but the film doesn’t really go in that direction. Ultimately, I think parents and children will be satisfied with the story of the film, though younger viewers may not grasp everything that’s going on. It’s more challenging in that respect, and you may get peppered with questions during some parts. I will be interested in seeing how often this film is on my television when the day comes, so in some respects it feels like the film’s true judgement day is still far off.

frozen salamander

In terms of new characters, this little guy will likely be a crowd pleaser.

Aside from the tale of sisters looking out for each other, what really stood out with the first film was the music. “Let It Go” was probably Disney’s biggest musical hit from an animated film since The Lion King so the songwriting duo of Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez probably felt more pressure to make this film a success than even the directors. Based on the pre-release toys and the way the sequence is presented in the film, I’m pretty sure they’re banking on the Elsa track “Into the Unknown” as being this film’s version of “Let It Go.” Like the film itself, it’s a more demanding song than “Let It Go.” While it possesses a catchy hook, it’s probably not going to make the same sort of impact. “Let It Go” worked so well because it was basically a pop song with a familiar and easy structure to it while also suiting the character it was given to. It’s an empowering track, and it’s not something easily duplicated. When I first saw Frozen, when that song came on I knew it was going to be a hit.

Nothing in Frozen II gave me that impression. Kids will likely enjoy “Into the Unknown,” but for the most part the musical numbers in this one adhere more towards the old Broadway approach. They’re used for exposition as much as for entertainment. Some are even a bit of a bummer like Anna solo effort, “The Next Right Thing.” The song that might actually win over the most fans is the Kristoff track “Lost in the Woods.” It sounds like an 80s piece of pop rock and really caught me by surprise. There’s even a version of it recorded by Weezer which plays over the end credits. The biggest spectacle is another mostly Elsa solo effort called “Show Yourself.” It might be the film’s best moment, but the arrangement of the song is done to serve the film and not the song, so I don’t know if it will take off like other tracks.

frozen autumn

Autumn is my favorite season so I’m always happy to see it on screen.

The original Frozen had a bit of a tortured development process, originally being conceived as a 2D film. It went through a lot of re-writes and when it finally hit theaters little of that showed in the film’s story and music, but I found the visuals a bit underwhelming. The snow effects were great, but textures were plain and boring and some of the animation was very puppet-like in places. Frozen II, to probably no one’s surprise, is a much more impressive visual experience. It helps that it’s going with a new season as this one takes place during autumn. The reds, oranges, and browns of the forest really help give this film a different feel from the other productions. It’s quite a sight to behold, and of course our heroes have new wardrobes to show off and keep the people in marketing happy. Some of the new faces aren’t particularly interesting to look at, but they’re not a low-point either. Fans will probably like the little flaming salamander that shows up, and the animators still enjoy playing with Olaf’s anatomy in unexpected ways. There’s also several dramatic sequences that top anything from the first film. You’ve probably seen snippets of many of them in the trailers, but the film reserved a few choice moments to keep as a surprise.

frozen earth elemental

The film has plenty of “wow” sequences, such as any involving the massive earth elementals.

Frozen II was going to be a tough one. It does suffer in the usual ways sequels do, and it doesn’t help that the film basically admits as much during points in the story. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure though as I still came away satisfied, and I saw this film in a theater full of screaming children (I have to point out though, my kids were good as gold because I am a proud papa). The film answers some of the questions from the first movie, and if you really like the music of the first film you’ll be happy to see this one is loaded with musical numbers. There is some padding here and the film probably doesn’t need all 103 minutes of its running time. I think fans will mostly be pleased though and it’s hard to imagine that this is the last we’ll see from these characters. Perhaps the best endorsement I can give it comes from my beloved daughter herself, who while walking out of the theater made sure we knew that she wanted to go see it again.


Dec. 14 – Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

olaf frozen adventureJust past the halfway point is where our most controversial Christmas special appears:  Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. It’s not controversial for anything fun. No alluring scenes or hints of violence or anything like that. It’s controversial because of how poorly received it was when it was paired last year with the Pixar film Coco for it’s theatric release. Pixar and Disney films often have a short film that leads them off, but usually that short is from the same studio and it’s, well, short! Pixar may be owned by Disney, but the audience doesn’t entirely overlap. Pixar attracts an older audience while Disney still appeals more to children and families. And Coco was a pretty important film for a lot of people. Centered around the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, a lot of people and families of hispanic origin were delighted to see Disney recognize their culture with such a film. That it was attached to a Frozen short that wasn’t very short could have been viewed as the studio not believing in Coco, that it needed the marketing might of Frozen behind it, in order to succeed. I like to think it didn’t, as Coco is one of the finest films ever released by Pixar. The backlash against the Frozen short though was enough to cause Disney to pull it after only a couple of weeks. It was then shown on television shortly after, where it belonged as a Christmas special considering it’s the exact length one would expect a half-hour television special to run at.

It’s possible that Disney didn’t believe in Coco, but I think the placement of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is a bit less cynical. When Frozen was released in 2013 it was a huge success. Disney probably knew it had a hit on its hands, but you’d forgive the company if it was a bit hesitant. Frozen had a long, tortured, development cycle when it actually began as a 2D feature that ran into lots of problems, technical and with the story. Movies, music, video games – these things happen with art and entertainment that has long development cycles, but usually when a project runs into the problems Frozen did the end result is often underwhelming. Frozen bucked that trend though and it was pretty obvious this was the start of a new franchise. The problem is, no one really put much thought towards the future, so a Frozen sequel would be many years in the making. To try to keep Frozen in the hearts and minds of its audience, Disney commissioned some shorts. First was Frozen Fever, a true short released in 2015 (where it was more logically paired with the live-action Cinderella movie) followed by this one in 2017 (there was also a Lego Friends television special in 2016 called Frozen Northern Lights). This particular short seems to obviously have begun as a television special, but Disney wanted to give it the big-screen treatment, which obviously didn’t go so well. I did see this with Coco and I agree with those who felt it was far too long for that setting. I have no real affinity for the franchise, my kids love it and so does my wife, but I think it’s fine. I imagine those suffering from Frozen fatigue found it hard to sit through this one when they just wanted to see Coco. When are they going to get to the fireworks?!

olaf search

The world’s most popular snowman gets his own Christmas special.

With Disney making the move to television with Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, I’m more optimistic this story can find a home. I’m running it this early in the countdown in hopes that this beats it to air for 2018, if it is to air at all (check the bottom of the post if you’re only interested in that detail). It has the talent of Walt Disney Studios behind it so it looks every bit as good as other animated works to be released in theaters, and even looks better than the feature Frozen. And as the title implies, it’s going to feature a heavy dose of the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). It’s sometimes dangerous to make the comedy relief character the main attraction, but considering this is a shorter piece than a movie it’s a safer move than say what Cars 2 did with Mater. And while it is a Christmas special, the actual holiday is rarely mentioned as it tries to be a catch-all for all of the winter solstice holidays.

party planning

Anna and Elsa are getting ready to celebrate their first Christmas in forever and are planning a big celebration to kick things off.

The special opens with Olaf trying to surprise various attendants in the castle. They’re setting up for a big surprise party of some kind and the snowman is a little too eager to get the festivities underway. Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) soon approach (in new winter attire; gotta think about the real world toys!) to explain to him that the surprise occurs after the ceremony unveiling the holiday bell. The characters break into song, “Ring in the Season,” and if you didn’t assume it let me explicitly state this thing is a full-blown musical. The songs aren’t written by Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez this time around though, but by Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel. The pair manages to capture the sound of the film’s musical stylings, which is actually admirable considering they had less time to work with.

As the pair sing, we see a crowd of people enter the courtyard while Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven bring in the bell. It’s hoisted to the top of the tower and rung and everyone rejoices. Anna and Elsa then try to welcome everyone into their surprise party, but to their surprise, no one notices as they’re all leaving. When they go running up to individuals inviting them inside they’re basically met with the same response; they all have to return home to tend to their family’s holiday tradition. A sweet old couple even suggests they wouldn’t want to intrude on the royal family’s traditions. Olaf remarks that the surprise was that everyone left.

flemminggrad

Kristoff getting in a little lute time.

Kristoff tries to cheer everyone up with our second song, “The Ballad of Flemmingrad.” In a style similar to his “Reindeer are Better than People” routine from the movie, Kristoff sings about some troll idol you stuff grass into the nostrils of and lick. Anna is almost delighted by the grossness of it, especially when Kristoff unveils the idol itself. Olaf just reminds her that she’s a princess and doesn’t need to settle. Elsa is legitimately grossed out and not at all interested in Kristoff’s tradition, but is at least polite. Kristoff assures them they’ll come around when they try his Flemmy Stew and takes his leave.

dramatic elsa

Elsa never misses an opportunity for drama.

Olaf is left to ask Anna and Elsa about their family traditions, which leads into a reprise of the “Ring in the Season” song in which Elsa remembers the bell ceremonies from their youth, before Anna’s accident. The two realize they don’t have any traditions, as they were never together for Christmas due to Elsa locking herself in her room. She rather dramatically apologizes to Anna for being the cause of their tradition-less solstice, and hastens off to (where else?) her room. Olaf’s a bit downtrodden to see his surrogate family so glum for the holiday, so he decides to set off into town with Sven and a sled to find traditions they can enjoy.

olaf candy cane

Pretty sure that’s a Funko Pop variant.

Olaf then goes door to door to every house in Arrendelle in search of traditions. Like some sort of anti-Claus, he collects traditions to fill his sleigh along his way. The people all seem helpful and cheerful, but I wonder if they fear reprisal if they deny the queen’s loyal attendant? As Olaf does this he breaks out into song, “That Time of Year,” in which Olaf asks what people do at that time of year. It’s a cute way to basically avoid saying Christmas so that they can include families that have obvious Jewish and even Pagan celebrations. This bit is mostly played for laughs as Olaf first receives a candy cane that gives him an intense sugar rush when he replaces his carrot nose with the candy cane. He also gets to comment on the dangers of leaving socks over an open flame and even encounters adorable kittens. Olaf plus kittens is indeed a cuteness overload. There’s also a fun sequence during the song’s climax where the visuals switch to resemble a Christmas sweater.

olaf kittens

Olaf + Kittens in sweaters = adorable

Olaf’s last stop ends up being the home of Oaken (Chris Williams) who invites Olaf into the sauna with his family. Olaf enjoys it, even though it causes him to melt leading to a fun visual of Oaken tossing a bucket of melted Olaf into the chill night air causing him to refreeze instantly. Oaken gifts Olaf a portable, personal-sized, sauna for his sleigh and one of his tastefully revealing towels. Olaf is excited and he and Sven head off back to the castle while Olaf improvises some words to the tune of “Jingle Bells” to show his excitement. While he rubs the towel across his rear he disturbs the sauna behind him, causing a piece of coal to pop out and hilariously find it’s way out of the sleigh, off the cranium of a squirrel, and back into the sleigh where a fire commences. Olaf is blissfully unaware as the flames roar behind him and the sleigh breaks off on one side from Sven’s reigns. As they were about to head down a hill, this poses a problem for poor Sven as the sleigh loops out in front of him and pulls him down. Olaf remains unaware of their predicament, instead remarking how they’re making wonderful time, until the sleigh breaks off from Sven completely and goes off a chasm. Olaf is tossed to the other side, but the sleigh does not make it and the tired joke of the sleigh falling out of sight down a cliff, only to explode upon impact with the ground, is recycled from the movie.

burning sleigh

Of course Olaf’s adventure ends in disaster.

The setting shifts back to the castle where Elsa is approaching Anna’s room to apologize for apologizing earlier about being the cause of their lack of traditions (I guess?). She finds Anna is not in her room proper though, but above it in the attic. She’s rummaging though her old things looking for traditions. They try to make this scene cute and sweet, but it’s not really felt. There’s a joke made at Elsa’s expense regarding her gloves, but the two do find an old jewelry box. Elsa seems hopeful when she finds it and gives it to Anna imploring her to look inside. When Anna opens it she reacts with delight, but the audience doesn’t get to see the contents of the box (yet).

in the attic

The girls make a discovery in the attic that’s sure to be heartwarming and convenient.

With Olaf and Sven separated by the chasm, they’re forced to split up. Sven has a direct path back to the castle, but the cheerful snowman does not. Even though he lost all of his traditions, Olaf is at least comforted by the fact that he was able to save one:  a fruit cake. He then cheerfully tells Sven he’ll see him back at the castle, sensing there’s a harmless shortcut lurking in the doom-laden woods behind him. As he disappears into the darkness he exclaims “Oooo, puppies!” before the sound of wolves savaging the poor snowman are heard.

What do we call this Sven-Olaf mash-up? Svolaf? Olen? Maybe just “cute”?

Sven races back to the castle fearing his buddy’s life is in danger. He barges in on Kristoff who is happily finishing his stew. He presents Sven with a bowl, but when Sven puts a carrot in it to make the stew resemble Olaf’s face Kristoff just confuses the gesture for Sven wanting more carrots. Sven then mimes the danger Olaf is in and the visuals are pretty funny. It’s a bit awkward though since one of Kristoff’s gimmicks in the original film was that he had little trouble understanding the reindeer, but he’s now oblivious. Fortunately for Olaf, Anna and Elsa were in the doorway and they understand him perfectly, for the sake of humor. They quickly sound the bell to organize a search party, while Kristoff scolds Sven for sitting around while Olaf is in trouble.

sad snowman

One dejected snowman.

Back in the forest, a battered Olaf is running from some hungry wolves while trying to hang onto his fruit cake. He dives through the thick hemlock and emerges on the other side looking worse for ware, but he’s happy still because he was able to save the fruit cake. As he raises it in triumph to the heavens, a hawk swoops in and snatches it. Olaf now allows himself to feel sad and reprises “That Time of Year” but in a somber fashion. Blaming himself for failing to secure traditions for his friends, he wanders off into the darkening woods and slumps down beside a tree as the snow whips up.

olaf the tradition

Olaf set out to find a new tradition for Anna and Elsa, but it turns out he’s the tradition (aww!)

Elsa and Anna are shown, montage style, going door to door to organize a search party to find Olaf. Soon the whole town is out in the woods looking for Olaf. As Anna calls out for him, Olaf responds with a “Not here,” as the snow drifts have covered everything about him save for his nose and “hair.” Recognizing he’s a bit down, Anna and Elsa smile and play along with the game as they ask aloud where Olaf could be. Olaf responds in the third person explaining he set off to find traditions, and that they then caught fire, as Sven shows up to pull him out of the snow drift by the carrot. Olaf apologizes for losing the traditions, but they urge him to cheer up, and Anna pulls out that box from earlier. When Olaf looks inside he sees dozens of pictures of him, and even a crudely made doll. The sisters explain that when Elsa was exiled to her room, Anna would make her an Olaf card every year and slide it under her door. Olaf is their family tradition, and they embrace the little snowman and he starts to cheer up.

KRISTOFF, ANNA, ELSA, OLAF, SVEN

And we get to end on a happy Christmas visual.

Elsa then breaks into song, because of course this is going to end on a song. “When We’re Together” is the special’s big song that sums up its message. Elsa and Anna lead the townsfolk back towards the town and to the harbor coated in ice. Elsa magics up a banquet while people mostly just watch the sisters dance while some kids get involved a little bit. A big ice tree is created by Elsa’s magic, and Olaf gets to place the star on top and sing the song’s closing line. Their special photo-op is broken up though when the hawk from earlier returns the fruit cake, dropping it out of the sky to land on Olaf. He declares the return of the fruit cake a Christmas miracle as the special ends.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was certainly misplaced as a caddy to an unrelated film. It’s a TV special with feature quality presentation that’s best enjoyed by those who actually like the characters from Frozen. Disney had done this before with Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but that was paired with a re-release of The Rescuers and was included as a way to offer patrons something new. And even so, that special is best enjoyed on TV as well, even though it’s no longer an annual feature. This special leans heavy on its music and the Olaf character and the attempted humor through Olaf works quite well. He’s a very optimistic and excitable character, but he’s also prone to deadpan humor. It’s an interesting dichotomy that works. I don’t know if he could anchor something longer, but for a half-hour television special he’s suitable. The humor and drama shared between the sisters is less successful. It’s forced in there because it has to be. Anna and Elsa are mostly here to sing, and when they stick to that the special is more successful.

Anything based on Frozen is going to be judged by its songs. After the likes of “Let It Go” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” were so well-received in 2013 it became clear that anything else involving Frozen would need songs to match. The “Ring in the Season” song is well-suited as a light opener, while the Olaf vehicle “That Time of Year” is cheery and the visuals that go with it help to make it an enjoyable song. “When We’re Together” feels like it’s meant to be the showcase. It has a nice melody, though some of the song’s drama, like the narrative of the short, feels forced. It’s trying too hard to be the special’s biggest moment. It’s redeemed by the big ending, but it feels like the kind of song made for TV as opposed to one intended for the theater.

olaf christian

“That Time of Year” gives the short a chance to show various holiday customs.

As a Christmas special, this one is plenty good enough. Perhaps those who feel there is a war on Christmas will turn up their noses at the sometimes reluctance of the special to even mention the holiday. Inclusivity is a virtue, and in being so inclusive the special is able to find interesting visual elements for Olaf’s journey through town. The special shows Jewish traditions, but it’s not as if it doesn’t show Christian ones as well amongst the townsfolk. They even allude to Santa at one point.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is available to purchase digitally and should also be available on Blu Ray and DVD when this post goes live. Since it was shown on television last year, it’s my expectation that Disney intends to include this with its annual holiday specials on ABC. It would be strange if it did not as the 21 minute runtime is perfectly suited for prime time viewing and the popularity of the franchise will likely equate to solid advertising revenues for the Disney owned network. If it’s anything like Disney’s other major Christmas specials, it will first air on ABC then receive encore runnings on either Freeform or The Disney Channel during the lead-up to Christmas allowing viewers plenty of opportunities to catch it. And if you couldn’t tell, I recommend this one. While I don’t think it’s as good as the excellent Prep & Landing, it’s certainly worth an annual viewing.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure aired Thursday November 29th, but if you missed it then good news as it’s being shown again this coming Wednesday, December 19th, on ABC at 8:00 PM EST.


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