Friday, December 11, 2009
Christmas Specials Are Still Cool!
You can have the pathetic tree, Vince Guaraldi’s jazz piano-ladened soundtrack, and the Linus soliloquy. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” may be a true slice of Holiday Season Americana, but give me the cheesiest, low-rent, stop-motion animation full of characters with names like Winter Warlock, Burger Meister Meister Burger, Special Delivery Kruger, and Yukon Cornelius.
Call me immature, but don’t talk to me when I am engrossed in a Rankin-Bass Christmas special. This time of year when people are rushing around buying trees, wrapping presents and generally boosting our economy by purchasing gifts for friends, family and co-workers, I am setting my DVR for the best this season has to offer.
The unparalleled producers of what some call “Xmas Special Schlock,” were Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. During the 1960’s and 1970’s their production company cranked out some of the best (or worst, depending on you bah-humbug quotient) animated stories, which they called “animagic.”
These wonderfully sappy Holiday specials cover every myth associated with Christmas and even invent a few new ones, such as the Island of Misfit Toys. Titles include “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” narrated by Fred Astaire, to “The Year Without a Santa Claus” with such memorable characters as Snow Miser and Heat Miser.
So why waste so much valuable shopping time on Christmas Specials that I have watched every single year since the Johnson Administration? Because underneath the paper-thin plots, ubiquitous sugar-powdery snow, and ridiculously decorated characters with oblong bodies and construction paper eyes, is a theme that resonates every Christmas Season.
Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends, a time to share special memories and create fresh ones with new family members, new friends, and new experiences. It’s also a time to exchange gifts – symbols of love and expressions of selflessness that we may not have the opportunity to give any other time of year.
Since Christmas falls at the end of the month at the end of the calendar year, it makes sense to reflect on the past year and maybe a bit farther back. If time heals all wounds, Christmas makes us more open to forgiveness and with that, redemption.
The reason I love these cheesy Rankin-Bass productions is that they all deal with the theme of redemption. In “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” the Winter Warlock, who is frigid from the inside out, gets to redeem himself after Kris Kringle melts his heart by giving him, as Winter calls it, “a choo-choo!” When the Burger Meister jails the whole Claus clan, Winter feeds his last few pellets of magic feed corn to the reindeer, this allowing them to fly Santa and the gang out of prison.
In the classic “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year,” the villainous Eon, the vulture who want to stop the New Year from coming, because when it does, he turns into ice and snow at the stroke of midnight. So he captures Baby New Year who has been hiding in the Archipelagos of Last Years due to his embarrassment over his big ears. Eon tricks the baby into his being his friend until Rudolph finds him and uses Happy’s cab door ears to make Eon laugh.
Well, Eon laughs so hard he falls right out of his nest and down the side of the treacherous mountain. Happy is saved, but Eon isn’t dead. When the New Year does come on January 1, Eon doesn’t turn into a wintery mix because as Rudolph says, “He’s laughed so hard, he’s filled up with warmth inside.”
Yes, I realize I should get a life. Still, the irresistible theme of redemption is the underpinning of every Rankin-Bass production.
Good more than triumphs over evil – evil is redeemed.
I know it’s insipid, saccharine and so syrupy sweet you want to shout “Humbug!” just to feel human, but every time I watch one of those Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, it warms me from the inside.
Thanks to the ABC Family channel and the 25 Days of Christmas, I am redeemed every year. Without fail I am transformed from a jaded, cynical, curmudgeon-cuss of an adult into a wide-eyed seven year-old. I am once again sitting in front of my parent’s RCA with one knob missing, turning the channel knob with an old pair of my grandfather’s needle-nose pliers, waiting to be redeemed all over again.
Redemption is a powerful and inspirational thing, no matter under which marshmallow snow pile you find it.