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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.


An Easter Viewing Guide

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Never forget the reason for the season.

If you are a regularly reader at The Nostalgia Spot, then you’re probably familiar with the holiday version that comes every December:  The Christmas Spot. Christmas is such a big deal in our society that there is an abundance of Christmas themed media, enough to sustain an annual blog for 25 consecutive days. And people like Christmas, despite how much grumbling surfaces every year about decorations appearing in stores in October or the music filling grocery store aisles for weeks on end. I know people like it, because in all likelihood The Christmas Spot has more regular readers than the rest of the stuff I do. My readership always spikes in December and I assume there are a handful of readers that bookmark the page only to come around for December.

When it comes to television, no holiday compares with Christmas and the only one that comes close is Halloween. When I was a kid though, the holiday tier list when like this:  Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving, any holiday that resulted in a day off from school, and then the rest. Christmas was number one because it was the big one:  the toy holiday. I loved toys as a kid, and I still do, so it was a clear number one. Halloween came at number two because it was a unique experience, and it came with lots and lots of candy. Easter was like the compromise holiday. I had Catholic parents, but the religious aspect of the holiday was never enforced in my house so it was just a day that Santa-Light, aka The Easter Bunny, entered my home at night and hid a basket of goodies somewhere for me to find in the morning. That basket contained assorted Easter candies, all of which were awesome:  Reese’s Eggs, pastel M&M’s, Peeps, Cadbury Eggs, and so on. Usually there was one central, big, piece of candy be it a chocolate bunny or one of those giant candy bars that went beyond a king size. In my house, the Easter Bunny also always brought a toy of some kind. Usually it was a modest thing. At most I seemed to get a couple of action figures or a small toy vehicle playset like a TMNT motorcycle thing or something. And that’s why Easter felt like a compromised merger of Christmas and Halloween in my house. There were toys, but way fewer than what Santa would bring, but also a good amount of candy, but not as much as I’d come away with on Halloween.

The combination of toys and candy, plus the fun of hunting for an Easter basket or Easter eggs, made Easter an important day in my house. And I carry forward that tradition now for my kids and I look forward to watching them experience the holiday each year. And in my house, holidays are marked by indulging in moves and television based around that holiday theme. For Easter, I’ve had to put in some work to find stuff. There’s an assortment of biblical videos and such that are just terrible. I mean, if you’re into that component of Easter and get enjoyment from them then more power to you, but they’re not for me. I look for the fun stuff that centers around rabbits and junk. Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve put together a solid collection of Easter specials for my kids and I to take in this year and I thought I’d share that with you all. It might seem a little late in the game with Easter so close, but we’re not talking a massive volume here. And most are suitable for all audiences, so that’s a plus, though I did include one that would probably best be reserved for adults only, or at least teens and adults. And I should stress, I’m not saying these are all necessarily good or essential, there’s definitely some crap here, but it’s crap that at least has nostalgic appeal. And when you’re talking one, annual, viewing there’s a considerable tolerance level in place. Let’s get this going and we’ll go in chronological order of release starting with…

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I can hear this image.

Easter Yeggs (1947)

The classic Easter themed Bugs Bunny short directed by Robert McKimson is probably best remembered for the annoying little kid that just says “I want an Easter egg!” over and over. He, like everyone else in the short, is voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc. In this cartoon, Bugs Bunny agrees to help out the Easter Bunny whom he stumbles upon early in the short who appears to be pretty stressed out over this whole Easter thing. Turns out he’s actually just lazy, but Bugs is game and finds out that being the Easter Bunny is no fun. He eventually encounters Elmer Fudd who has designs on consuming the Easter Bunny (what a killjoy) leading to a fairly traditional Bugs and Elmer cartoon. Which is just fine because Bugs Bunny cartoons are pretty wonderful and I need to write about them more. If you want to watch this one, it’s available as part of The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3 and I can’t recommend the entire Golden Collection enough. It’s also available in HD on the Platinum Collection Volume 3. If you’re strapped for cash though, it can easily be found online for free.

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He’s just so cute!

Happy Go Ducky (1958)

I completely forgot about this cartoon until this year when I just happened to stumble upon it. This is a Tom and Jerry short from the tandem of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who are better known for producing some of the worst cartoons you’ve ever seen. Back in the 40s and 50s though, they were the Tom and Jerry guys churning out award-winning cartoons to rival what Warner and Disney were doing. This little short features an appearance by Quackers, a seldom-used duckling character voiced by Red Coffee doing his best “duck” voice a-la Donald Duck. Quackers is just adorable, as he’s left as a gift for Tom and Jerry by the Easter Bunny, but proceeds to drive them nuts as he floods the home in search of an adequate swimming pool to meet his needs. The sweet thing is that he eventually overwhelms and wins over the duo with his cuteness. Watch this one with young kids and you’ll be hearing them imitate Quackers, as best they can, and his frequent line, “Happy Easter!” This short is available as part of the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 3 which is still easy to find and cheap to acquire (especially if you opt for a used copy). It can also be found online, but many places feature a cropped version that probably aired on television years ago as this cartoon was originally done in Cinemascope. Interestingly, there’s an edited version on YouTube just titled “Happy Easter” that isn’t cropped, but is missing several scenes as nearly 2 minutes were shaved off of the running time. This might be my favorite of this list.

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Snoopy helping Linus avoid more embarrassment. He’s a good boy.

It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974)

You can always count on The Peanuts gang for a holiday special. These kids even have an Arbor Day special, for crying out loud. Charlie Brown and his friends seem to have a problem with everything, including Easter. For Peppermint Patty, it’s teaching her friend Marcy how to color eggs. For Sally, it’s finding the right pair of shoes for the holiday. And for Linus, it’s people mocking him for his belief in an Easter Beagle. As was the case with Halloween, Linus appears to have picked the wrong holiday mascot to back. What’s rewarding is the other kids remind him of his Halloween foolishness, but he’s somewhat vindicated in this one. And then there’s Lucy, getting victimized by Snoopy once again. Despite the title, Charlie Brown plays a very small role in this one though he still gets reminded that he is indeed Charlie Brown come Easter. This cartoon gets bonus points for making a good Christmas joke when the kids go to the mall and find it already decorated for that holiday. See people, it’s not a new thing to complain about Christmas arriving early in stores as this thing was made in 1974. Strangely, it doesn’t look any network is airing this special this week (I may have missed an earlier airing this month), but it is available to stream on Amazon. Or you could be like me and just buy a DVD to watch at your leisure each season. Charlie Brown holiday DVDs and Blu Rays are often really easy to find at a cheap price during the offseason. And as a bonus, you’ll get that Arbor Day special!

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This one just might cause you to miss the old shorts.

Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-citement! (1980)

After the era of the cartoon short ended, but before the explosion of cable providing for a landing spot for old cartoons, Warner Bros. put their now meager staff to work making television specials starring the Looney Tunes characters. Many of them featured Bugs Bunny and some included old shorts with some new wrap-around animation connecting them, but many also featured all new toons. The catch for these though was that the quality was abysmal. If you thought the Warner shorts of the 50s looked poor then you better make sure you sit down before watching anything made in the 70s or 80s. Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-citment is no except as it looks downright terrible in some places. There’s a shot of Daffy and Sylvester both digging for food out of the trash that is so garish and bright it makes me feel ill. This TV special contains three new shorts:  The Yolks on You, The Chocolate Chase, and Daffy Flies North. In between the shorts, Daffy is present to argue with the animator as he did in the classic short Duck Amuck only it’s far less amusing this time around. None of these shorts are particularly good and all recycle old gags and concepts from past toons. Some even recycle assets from other cartoons. Of the three, I suppose Daffy Flies North is my favorite, but it’s also the least festive. Mel Blanc is at least on hand to do the voices, though he’s obviously a little old at this point. It was also an odd choice to pair Daffy with Sylvester in The Yolks on You since both characters sound so similar. This TV special isn’t a very good Looney Tunes production, but a not very good Looney Tunes production is still better than a lot of other stuff. Plus it’s a lot shorter than The Ten Commandments! If you want to watch this, it’s included on The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6 as well as The Essential Daffy Duck. It’s also received a stand-alone release. Warner isn’t particularly protective of it, so you can also find it online without too much issue.

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This really happened.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “The Turtles and the Hare” (1991)

The Fred Wolf produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon that dominated the late 80s and early 90s did not feature a Christmas episode, but it did find time for an Easter one. In it, the Turtles are preparing for Easter when they have a chance encounter with Hokum Hare who actually isn’t the Easter Bunny, but is actually the hare from the fable The Tortoise and the Hare, hence the episode’s title. He sure looks the part through as he’s a big, white, bunny in purple overalls. He’s also pretty annoying. The Turtles end up in his world, Fableland, in pursuit of some crystal and the story turns into mostly nonsense as many episodes of this show do. It all ends with Hokum serving as the Easter Bunny for some Channel 6 Easter Egg Hunt. Most of the episodes of this show are terrible and this really isn’t an exception. It’s amusing for how absurd a concept it is to basically have the Turtles meet a pseudo Easter Bunny, and as terrible as the show is it usually never fails to produce a smile or two from me just because I once loved it so. For nostalgia lovers only. You can find this episode as part of Season 4 of the old cartoon which is available on DVD. If you’re feeling really retro it received a stand-alone VHS release back in the day too. It’s also not particularly hard to find online as well.

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Cartman is relegated to one scene in this episode, but it just might be my favorite one.

South Park – “Fantastic Easter Special” (2007)

South Park has had a pretty nice run of holiday specials, and it saved one of its best shots for Easter. A parody of The Da Vinci Code takes on the form of an Easter special in which Stan questions all of the bizarre traditions surrounding Easter and tries to square them up with the whole Jesus thing. They don’t make sense, and he soon uncovers an underground Easter Bunny cult of sorts that his father belongs to which seeks to protect the true meaning of Easter, as well as the true pope of the Catholic faith. It’s bonkers, and it never lets up as it finds a way to just keep escalating the crazy as the episode continues ultimately building to a pretty satisfying conclusion. This one being South Park, it’s not for the kids nor is it for those who take the holiday seriously. It’s pretty hilarious though, and it came around when the show really hit its peak. If you want to indulge in this one, you’ll be able to see it for certain on Comedy Central (as well as the other, lesser, Easter special) tonight at 5 EST and it’s available in various formats as part of Season 11 of the show.

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Horrifying.

Teen Titans Go! – “Easter Creeps” (2017)

The Teen Titans Go! series has become a reliable source of holiday entertainment. Often times, they find a way to work Santa into the mix too as they did in the first Easter special and in the “Halloween vs Christmas” episode. “Easter Creeps” is amusing to me because the show envisions the Easter Bunny as a humanoid rabbit. He basically looks like The Noid only he’s pink and wears a vest. He lays eggs, which grosses every one out, and he’s overall just kind of creepy as the episode title implies. And because of that, he’s declared the worst thing about this otherwise wonderful holiday. This episode is a bit like the “Halloween vs Christmas” one as it’s going to pit the Easter Bunny vs the Tooth Fairy. It’s a silly experience that’s funny enough without overstaying its welcome. Cartoon Network airs this show all the time and tonight is no exception. A block of Easter programming is premiering at 7 EST tonight that will feature a new Easter special from the show. I can only assume this episode will be featured as well since it’s a full hour of programming.

That’s my list for 2020. If you think I missed any worthwhile Easter entertainment feel free to let me know. I’m always on the look-out for more holiday specials. Happy Easter!

 


Dec. 24 – Chucklewood Critters: T’was the Day Before Christmas

511N57VG66L._SY445_In the 80s, if you had any connection to a successful animation production unit you could probably get a shot at creating your own series. Such was the case for former Hanna-Barbera animators Bill Hutten and Tony Love. They left that famous cartoon factory to create a series of holiday specials that would eventually lead to a cartoon series:  Chucklewood Critters. The show centers round a Fox named Rusty and a Bear cub named Buttons. If it sounds sweet that’s because it is. This is a very sincere show that just tries to be a nice little cartoon. In some ways, it’s the type of show that just doesn’t get made anymore. The 90s were all about gross humor and characters so it’s kind of crazy these specials were turned into a series in 1998. The first special was released in 1983, “The Christmass Tree Train,” and the last in 1994. We’re not talking about that inaugural special from ’83 though, because it’s currently December 24th, better known as Christmas Eve, and it’s the day before Christmas so lets talk about “T’was the Day Before Christmas.”

The special opens with some really corny Christmas music, remember this special is ultra-sincere, and a duck in search of his flock flies by. His wings flapping sound like plastic tarps wafting in the wind and there’s very little animation. Something tells me this thing didn’t receive a large budget. We soon see our protagonists, Rusty and Buttons, as Rusty rouses Buttons from his hibernation to go sledding in the snow. They crash their sled into a snowbank and and a female fox and bear happen to walk by. Buttons seems pretty into the she-bear (I think he calls her Bear Bear, or something equally unimaginative). Moving along, they see the Christmas Tree Train in the distance and Rusty asks Buttons if he wants to hitch a ride prompting him to question Rusty’s sanity. Nice call-back. They also notice some large footprints in the snow and are creeped out.

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The Chucklewood Critters brand was all about holiday exploitation. They even have a Thanksgiving special! No one does that.

Scared off by the prints in the snow, Buttons and Rusty go running to Buttons’ dad, Abner, and find him operating a giant wooden snow plow. They’re immediately taken by the giant machinery and seem to forget about the footprints. Abner is called away by his wife, and Buttons and Rusty decide to hop on the plow thinking they can make a nice sledding track with it. Instead the thing proves hard for the diminutive duo to control and they end crashing into some weird creature in a long fur coat (possibly the originator of the footprints?). The two kids are frightened by what they deem a monster as the creature runs off leaving them to survey the damage of the ruined plow.

As one would expect, Abner is pretty pissed when he sees his wrecked plow. His son insists it was the cause of a monster, but he seems pretty skeptical. The mothers of Rusty and Buttons seem to find this whole thing amusing and think nothing of their claim. Surprisingly, the two are allowed to go off sledding in search of Ranger Jones. I would have expected some kind of punishment for destroying the snowplow. When they get to the cabin of Ranger Jones, they find a note on the door informing them he’s left to visit his family for Christmas. The mailbox is overflowing with Christmas cards and Buttons and Rusty look at the festive images and wish they had a critter Christmas of their very own. Somehow, I don’t think this is going to lead to a blood orgy.

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This angry little guy is Skeeter, maybe the only part of this special that doesn’t irritate me.

The two walk off still openly griping about the lack of Christmas for critters. A bald eagle observes them and tells them its nonsense to desire a Christmas for its beneath critters. Are the animators suggesting Christmas is un-American? The eagle does little to put a damper on things and Buttons and Rusty decide to create their very own Critter Christmas. Buttons doesn’t notice a hole in the ground and falls in leading to a rabbit den. There Skipper and Bluebell live and they’re surprised to see Buttons is awake and not hibernating. Rusty pops in and the two are happy to inform the bunnies that they’re throwing a Critter Christmas. The bunnies, apparently feeling this doesn’t infringe upon Easter, seem excited by the prospect. The four go off in search of a Christmas tree while, unknown to them, menacing music is playing in the background as it’s revealed the fur-coated monster from earlier is pursuing them!

The group find a tree, and that duck from earlier pops in for a second for some reason before flying off, only to find its inhabited by a rodent of some kind named Skeeter. Skeeter sounds like he’s from Brooklyn and is hiding from a monster. When he sees that the others are clearly not monsters he becomes more concerned with the fact that they want to dig up his home for their Christmas tree. He convinces them to use a different tree and leads them to one by a frozen creek. There he asks Buttons and Rusty just what is Critter Christmas? Buttons just says it’s a bunch of fun, basically, and mentions treats which is apparently what interests Skeeter most (he is a bit paunchy). Meanwhile, Skipper was left to dig out the tree while Bluebell just looks on to tell him he’s a sour-puss for complaining about doing all of the work. The fur-clad monster then pops in and scares them off. He pauses to question why everyone is so scared of him (he clearly can’t hear the music) and says he’s just the alligator friend of Buttons and Rusty – Lester. So I guess this isn’t going to be a mystery that takes us through the episode.

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And down goes the tree.

Skipper and Bluebell run into Buttons, Rusty, and Skeeter to inform them of the monster. They’re getting out of there, leaving the others to ponder what to do about the monster, and their tree. Rusty suggests they go check it out thinking the monster may have left. Skeeter is not impressed, but when Buttons agrees he’s kind of stuck going along. Sure enough, no monster, but now they need to finish uprooting the tree without the help of the rabbits. Buttons casually leans on the tree to think, and of course this causes it to fall landing on the frozen creek. It shoots off on the ice and the trio has to pursue in their sled. Rusty is able to lasso the tree, but that just means they’re stuck going for a ride with it. Things only get worse when a water fall appears and the sled goes flying through the air. They whiz by that duck once again from earlier, still searching for his flock, and come crashing down to earth in a giant snowbank. The tree lands upright and the spot is apparently as good as any as Rusty remarks they need to now enlist the help of the other critters to decorate it. Skeeter, meanwhile, is still pretty ticked about the near-death experience he just had and rightfully so.

Up next, a musical montage! The staple of the Hanna-Barbera Christmas special lives on in the works of Hutten and Love. The critters are creating decorations and ornaments for the tree while a really annoying song plays to the scenes. The rabbits even returned to operate the toy assembly line (they really got that up and running fast) and someone thought it was a good idea to put a skunk in charge of the perfume. The song mercifully comes to an end after a brief amount of time to find Buttons and Rusty waking their turtle friend Turner up to help out. They basically order him to make decorations and give him no guidance, even though he’d rather stay in his nice warm shell. He doesn’t protest though and runs off to gather materials, I guess, and runs into Lester. As the others did before him, he mistakes Lester for a monster and immediately runs the other way passing Rusty and Buttons. They don’t understand how Turner could let a little thing like a monster come between him and their Christmas celebration. They decide not to work on convincing him otherwise as they need to focus on their new task – finding a star for the tree.

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I’m not convinced they know what a proper Christmas decoration looks like.

Rusty and Buttons’ search for a star leads them to the work shop of Ranger Jones. There with Skeeter, they finish making ornaments and their star, but by the time they’re done the sun is setting. Buttons and Rusty are eager to get going while Skeeter has little interest in heading out after dark with a monster on the loose. He doesn’t voice his concerns to his friends, and instead offers to stay behind to dry the ornaments while they fetch the sled. Of course, after Rusty and Buttons take off Lester strolls in and Skeeter predictably freaks out. He races up a tree and screams for help as Lester approaches. I’m not sure why the cartoon is trying to drum up some tension here as we already know Lester isn’t a monster. When Rusty and Buttons return to the work shop with their sled, they see the tracks in the snow and assume Skeeter is in trouble. They race off after him and just as Skeeter was falling out of the tree into Lester’s waiting arms Rusty and Buttons crash into him with their sled.

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It’s just Lester, guys.

Rusty and Buttons soon realize they were mistaken and the monster is no monster, but their friend Lester who came up from the bayou to visit. Apparently he had an open invitation following an appearance in a previous special (“The Honeybunch”). He explains his clothes because of the cold and tells them how he rode the Christmas Tree Train up to see them. Now that they’ve sorted everything out, Rusty and Buttons invite Lester to their Critter Christmas. They all gather around the newly decorated tree to bask in its Christmas-goodness, only for Lester to notice it needs lights. Just then, that stupid duck drops in again and Rusty and Buttons say what we’re all thinking, “Not again!” Lester has some info for the duck this time though as he saw his flock a few days ago. He offers to give him directions, in return for a favor – he’s to bring some friends back from the bayou for Lester. I think I know where this is going.

The critters pile onto the sled, with Lester serving as a reindeer to pull it, and they start reciting “A Visit From St. Nicholas” but with all of the words changed to reflect their Critter Christmas basically just recounting the events of the day. They zoom past most of the characters from before, and arrive at the tree as night falls. The duck returns with a bunch of fireflies in tow (called it!) and they serve as the lights for the tree. All of the adult critters remark how wonderful a job Buttons and Rusty did, and they point out they couldn’t have done it without Lester (apparently no one wants to thank the fireflies who are willing to just chill out on the tree so they can enjoy an illuminated Christmas tree). Ranger Jones then shows up with a big sack of goodies, and even the duck’s flock (his name is apparently Quackers, I should have guessed) goes flying by so he can join them. The special ends with Rusty and Butters wishing Quackers a merry Christmas as he struggles to catch up with the flock.

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Hooray, the dumb little critters have their own tree!

“T’was the Day Before Christmas” is a by-the-numbers old school Christmas special. It tells a story and stars some cute animals, but doesn’t have anything to say or even lessons to teach. I will say it’s pretty cool that it acknowledges the events of past specials, since often cartoons exist in a vacuum. It’s pretty clear that this mindless special is what inspired South Park’s “Woodland Critter Christmas,” which was featured earlier in this year’s list. The animation is probably below contemporary Hanna-Barbera standards and the original music is brutally sweet. The orchestral parts are fine though and the voice cast does the best it can with the script they were given. The Lester mystery being revealed so early is kind of weird, as it seems like the show was trying to build tension with the monster in the snow. Since his head is covered until his true reveal, I wonder if his dialogue confirming his identity was added in later because someone felt it was too scary for kids or something. Surprisingly, no visit from Santa at the end. I guess he cares about Critter Christmas as much as I do.

If after reading all of that you still wish to view “T’was the Day Before Christmas” then you’re best bet is to probably just google it. No one cares about the Chucklewood Critters brand in 2017 so it’s not hard to find a free stream. All of the specials were released on VHS individually and the entire series was also released on DVD once upon a time, but is out of print. Despite that, the various DVDs are still pretty cheap if you must have them, probably because no one wants them.


Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas

Beavis and Butt-head Do Christmas (1995)

Beavis and Butt-head Do Christmas (1995)

Last year, I posted about the many Christmas specials featured in the animated series South Park. Well, before South Park came Beavis and Butt-head: the subversive, moronic duo who entertained millions during the 1990s on MTV. Created by Mike Judge, who’s now probably more famous for King of the Hill and Office Space, Beavis and Butt-head were basically a rip on the MTV generation. They were dim, violence obsessed, and wasted away their lives in front of the television watching music videos and eating nachos. Despite the fact that the two were clearly presented as losers on their own show, kids liked to emulate them and if the duo approved of a band or video on MTV it offered a credibility boost to said band. Every rock and metal act wanted to be endorsed by Beavis and Butt-head, because it’s what the kids were into at the time.

Beavis and Butt-head embrace the holiday spirit. Kind of.

Beavis and Butt-head embrace the holiday spirit. Kind of.

Beavis and Butt-head first debuted with “Frog Baseball” on MTV’s Liquid Television block. It was so successful that it was spun-off into its own show which ran from 1993 until 1997 with a brief one season return in 2011. Along the way there was also a feature-length movie, television specials, and a spin-off called Daria. A few years ago, I made an entry of what I considered essential Christmas viewing and among the many movies and specials was Beavis and Butt-head Do Christmas. Well here’s a full write-up on the special from 1995.

Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas refers to two shorts with other holiday content woven in. Do Christmas has been released on DVD and VHS though is likely out of print at this point. The two shorts are parodies of classic Christmas stories/movies that should be obvious just by reading the titles of the two cartoons: “Huh-Huh Humbug” and “It’s a Miserable Life.” First stars Beavis and the second Butt-head and are roughly 12 minutes a piece. This was one of the few episodes of Beavis and Butt-head that didn’t have any music videos (a prior Christmas special for the show featured nothing but the two riffing on Christmas videos) but is still pretty hilarious, nonetheless.

In "Huh-Huh-Humbug," Beavis just wants to enjoy a porno but various ghost won't let him.

In “Huh-Huh-Humbug,” Beavis just wants to enjoy a porno but various ghost won’t let him.

“Huh-Huh-Humbug” puts Beavis in the role of Scrooge only he’s more of an idealized version Beavis sees of himself as opposed to a truly financially successful human being. The cartoon opens with Beavis squishing a rat on the grill at Burger World on Christmas when his boss comes over to admonish him for his lack of ambition and to brag about his position of assistant manager of a fast food restaurant. Beavis soon falls asleep on the job and dreams he is the manager of Burger World who gets to boss around Butt-head and Principal McVicker and make them work on Christmas while he goes home to watch a porno and jerk-off. When Beavis settles in to watch his porno, the various ghosts from A Christmas Carol start interrupting him beginning with Butt-head playing the role of Marley. The other ghosts admonish Beavis and point out how awful he treats McVickers, to which Beavis shows no empathy. He even disagrees with the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come’s version of the future, instead choosing to imagine himself as a Terminator-like robot laying waste to the customers of Burger World.

A horrible future, indeed.

A horrible future, indeed.

The cartoon works because there’s no attempt to show one worthwhile quality within Beavis. He’s a selfish, stupid, person who is incapable of any kind of empathy. To add to the humor, there’s a lot of one-liners and the porno Beavis watches (also a parody of A Christmas Carol) is a great source for gags.

The second cartoon, “It’s a Miserable Life” stars Butt-head, but like the prior one, still features plenty of Beavis too. The twist on this parody is that the guardian angel for Beavis and Butt-head is sent to kill the two after God received numerous requests to make them disappear. The Clarence character here first tries to simply kill the two by freezing a bridge they’re walking on in hopes the two will slip and fall to their deaths. When that fails, he opts to show Butt-head what the world would be like if he never existed and how much better off people would be. Naturally, without Butt-head everyone is a lot happier and more successful. Bevies, in particular, is best friends with the dorky Stuart and volunteers at the soup kitchen on Christmas. After seeing all of this, Butt-head just gets pissed off and he and Beavis just determine that the world sucks, but would suck even more without them. The guardian angel tries to kill them again, but just ends up killing himself by accident.

Once again, the cartoon works by not resorting to any kind of Christmas sentimentality at all. Butt-head is portrayed as a parasite on society who refuses to embrace anything remotely “good.” It’s amusing to see the Butt-head-less world, but it’s more amusing to see Butt-head’s reaction to it. “Huh-Huh-Humbug” is probably my favorite of the two, but they’re both entertaining and pretty much for the same reasons.

Butt-head's guardian angel isn't here to help him, he's here to kill him.

Butt-head’s guardian angel isn’t here to help him, he’s here to kill him.

In between the specials we’re also tested to the Ask Santa Butt-head segments and a scene of a burning Yule log that the two riff over in place of music videos. The Santa Butt-head segments feature the duo playing Santa and reindeer, with Butt-head as Santa and Beavis the reindeer. Butt-head reads fan letters, with most of them being from women who want to have carnal relations with Beavis. Butt-head doesn’t understand this and refuses to give Beavis the letters. Since he’s roped up to the sleigh in his reindeer costume, there’s little he can do about it. When a letter-writer requests Butt-head kick Beavis’ ass, he’s happy to oblige by whipping the day-lights out of him. These segments are brief but do bring about a good amount of laughs with the two staying true to their characters even while playing other characters.

Beavis and Butt-head Do Christmas is not your typical holiday special. There’s no holiday cheer, unless you consider any amount of laughter brought on by a Christmas special a form of holiday cheer. It’s mean-spirited, low-brow, but also full of good satire that will make most people who remember the 90’s laugh often and frequently. Beavis and Butt-head are dumb, but the humor really isn’t which some people failed to “get.” I’ve always felt they were underrated in that regard, and perhaps South Park would end up better combining toilet humor with biting satire, but it doesn’t diminish what Mike Judge did with Beavis and Butt-head beforehand.


Essential Halloween Viewing

When it comes to holiday themed television specials and films, Christmas leads the way with its countless amount. Coming in second is likely Halloween. Unlike Christmas, there usually isn’t some serious undercurrent to Halloween specials. It also feels less sinister when it comes to marketing, even though there’s certainly lots of money to be made off of Halloween by costume and candy suppliers. For the most part, Halloween is just fun and it’s emphasis on scares helps to distinguish it from other holidays. Like many people, I enjoy a good Halloween special whenever the season rolls around, but with so many out there it can be hard to make time for them all in what amounts to only a month. There are some modern ones out there, like the entertaining Toy Story of Terror, but for the most part I like to watch the specials I watched as a kid. Without further adieu, here’s The Nostalgia Spot’s Halloween viewing guide.

Mickey Mouse in “Lonesome Ghosts”

220px-Lonesome_GhostsHere’s an oldie from way back in 1937, something that would have entertained my adolescent grandfather. Since I only discovered it a few years back, it’s not exactly something I remember from my childhood but certainly fits the theme of this blog. In this cartoon, professional ghost exterminators Mickey, Donald, and Goofy investigate paranormal activities in an old house. The twist is that the trio were hired by the ghosts themselves because no one ever enters their haunted house anymore and they’re just plain bored. Less creepy than it is humorous, it’s mostly a slapstick affair as the ghosts play tricks on their would-be exterminators. It’s an entertaining short, and one can’t help but wonder if it maybe partly inspired Ghostbuster, or at least the theme song, especially when Goofy declares, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” The short has been shown on television numerous times over the years as part of Halloween specials. It was also re-released to theaters in the 1960’s and has been released on VHS and DVD as well. The easiest way to see it these days is probably youtube.

Donald Duck in “Trick or Treat”

By the late 40’s and into the 1950’s, Donald Duck was basically the only classic Disney character still receiving new short films. There just wasn’t much money in the format anymore and the budget for each short was scaled back considerably. For the 1952 short “Trick or Treat,” Disney decided to increase the budget to give Donald a proper Halloween special. It has its own theme song and the animation is quite nicely done in comparison with other shorts from around that time. In this one, Donald’s nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie are out trick or treating and come upon their uncle’s house. When the boys knock on his door and request their tricks or treats, Donald (not surprisingly) elects trick. A witch, Witch Hazel, passing by happens to see this and decides to help the boys get their treats out of Donald. Apparently, the Halloween spirit does not include the tricks portion of the ages old phrase. Hazel uses her magic on Donald and a lot of physical comedy follows. Like “Lonesome Ghosts,” this one has been released on VHS and DVD over the years either on Halloween compilations or as a bonus feature with certain films. There’s a chance it could pop up on one of the Disney channels this Halloween, but if you want to see it better head to youtube.

The Real Ghostbusters – “When Halloween Was Forever”

Samhain, the spirit of Halloween!

Samhain, the spirit of Halloween!

A cartoon that centers around four guys (and a ghost) who hunt down paranormal creatures naturally lends itself well to Halloween. Pretty much any episode could qualify for such a holiday, but the episode “When Halloween Was Forever” happens to deal with the holiday directly. This episode features the ghost Samhain, the spirit of Halloween, who decides to freeze time on Halloween night so that it lasts forever. Since Halloween is said to be derived from the Pagan holiday Samhain, it’s a nice touch to name the ghost after it. The Real Ghostbusters was a DIC production and if you’re familiar with any of their cartoons from the 80’s then you likely know what to expect out of the audio and animation. It’s standard for the era, with the soundtrack being appropriately spooky. While no episode of this cartoon can come close to matching the film it was based on, it’s actually not a bad show and time has been far kinder to it than it has the more popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Ren & Stimpy – “Haunted House”

The premise for this one is conventional, Ren and Stimpy stumble upon a creepy looking house and, in need of shelter for the night, decide to head inside. Unbeknownst to them, the house is haunted and a malicious ghost lurks inside who can’t wait to scare them. The twist here is that Ren and Stimpy are seemingly in on the joke as they break the fourth wall and end up impervious to the ghost’s efforts. This naturally frustrates the ghost, to the point that he becomes depressed and suicidal (apparently, ghosts can “die” in Ren and Stimpy’s world). Highlights of the episode include a Psycho shower-scene parody and the previously mentioned fourth-wall breaking remarks (“This looks like a good place to kill 12 minutes!”). There’s also the usual random humor found in a Ren and Stimpy short that people either find amusing or stupid. This one is unlikely to show up on television so anyone looking to watch it will either have to pick it up on DVD or turn to the internet. Be warned, the version found on the official Ren & Stimpy Volume 1 is censored with the Bloody Head Fairy bit removed completely. Apparently it was considered too gruesome after the fact.

Beavis and Butt-Head – “Bungholio:  Lord of the Harvest”

Beavis and Butt-Head on a quest for candy.

Beavis and Butt-Head on a quest for candy.

Sometimes referred to as “Buttoween,” this episode features everyone’s favorite dim-witted duo as they go trick or treating in search of free candy. Since they weren’t even aware Halloween was coming until trick or treaters showed up at their house, the two do not have costumes so Butt-Head covers his head in cheese sauce (“I’m nachos.”) while Beavis wears his underwear on his head (“I’m a nad!”). Beavis eventually has too much sugar and his alter-ego, The Great Cornholio, shows itself. The two soon find themselves on a farm ripped right from a slasher film. Most of the humor comes from watching the two try and get some candy in the first part of the episode, while the second part puts the two in an obvious bad situation that they’re apparently oblivious to. The animation is pretty terrible, but anyone who has seen an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head before should already be aware of this. It’s stupid humor, but it is pretty funny. You either like it or you don’t.

South Park – “Pinkeye”

South Park is more known for its numerous Christmas specials, but early seasons often featured other holiday themed episodes. The first season episode, “Pinkeye,” remains the show’s top Halloween special. In this one, a mishap with worcestershire sauce causes a dead Kenny to turned into a zombie. Kenny, as patient zero, spreads a zombie plague all through-out South Park that a clueless doctor mistakes as a severe case of pinkeye. It’s up to Chef and the boys to put a stop to the zombie menace so they can go trick or treating and get some candy. The episode includes some notable gags such as Cartman’s mom on the cover of Crack Whore Magazine and a memorable parody of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” It also features Cartman’s attempt to find a non-offensive Halloween costume.

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror V”

Treehouse of Horror V is best-remembered for its parody of Stephen King's "The Shining."

Treehouse of Horror V is best-remembered for its parody of Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

The Simpsons Halloween special, Treehouse of Horror, has become an annual tradition. With 24 to choose from, some may consider it a daunting task to select only one. As is the case with most things “Simpsons,” the earlier episodes are usually considered the better, and for me, it came down to a choice between Treehouse of Horror II and V. V is just slightly stronger and a little more horror-themed than the more sci-fi II. Treehouse of Horror V features parodies of The Shining, The Sound of Thunder, and Soylent Green. In the first segment, “The Shinning,” the Simpsons are basically dropped into the plot of its source material and includes the memorable line “No beer and no TV make Homer go something, something.” The second segment, “Time and Punishment,” puts a time-traveling toaster in Homer’s hands resulting in Homer unintentionally creating a new present time ruled by Flanders. The third segment, “Nightmare Cafeteria,” has Principal Skinner resort to cannibalism of the student body to cope with budget cuts at Springfield Elementary. If a Treehouse of Horror is able to hit on two out of three, it’s generally considered a good iteration of the venerable television special, but Treehouse of Horror V is the rare one where all three are pretty entertaining. With The Simpsons now being featured on the FXX channel, hopefully a Treehouse of Horror marathon is in the near future. The 25th version of the special is set to air tonight.


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