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What To Watch on Christmas

TV and Movies are as much a part of creating the holiday spirit as the Jingle Bells and Candy Canes. For some people the consumerism of the season can be a drag, but the good news is we have decades of Christmas themed programming at our fingertips to get us feeling all warm and fuzzy about charity, family, etc. So if you’re looking for a way to get jolly in the weeks leading up to December 25th, allow me to present to you a list of lesser known TV specials and movies from years gone by to enjoy while sipping a cup of hot cocoa.

Animated delight, The Snowman will instantly put you in the mood for winter fun. It’s a much lower-key, but by no means less-magical adventure than Frosty had with his magical top hat. It’s actually based on a beautifully illustrated children’s book that I checked out often from the Elementary School library. What makes this short movie stand out is the lack of dialogue, except for a brief introduction by none other than David Bowie! The whimsical musical score guides the action along as the relationship between the boy and his snowman friend develops. The Snowman is pretty much the world’s best friend as it turns out, because at one point he and the kid start flying! What did Frosty do besides march around? This Snowman totally wins in the magical snow-powers department.  It really is a sweet story and you can click here to watch it.

He hit it out of the park with How The Grinch Stole Christmas, so it makes sense that legendary animator, Chuck Jones would come up with another tale set during that special time of year, Raggedy-Anne & Andy: The Great Santa Claus Caper . As the story goes, Alexander Graham Wolf (looking like Wile E. Coyote’s fancy-pants cousin) storms Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole with his Gloopstick machine and unleashes his plan to encase all Christmas presents in plastic cubes. “Mr. Big Bad” as he’s called, claims that the use of Gloopstick will preserve the toys forever so they can’t be broken, but the second part of his plan involves charging kids for toys-THAT MONSTER! Ann and Andy are recruited by flying Reindeer, Comet to stop this scheme, which they do by invoking the audience to chant NO against Gloopstick and YES for Christmas as it always was.

There are some strange moments in this merry adventure that explain why I have kept it on VHS since I taped it off TV. First of all, despite the title, Santa Claus doesn’t have more than a cameo in this thing, they just used his name to bring in viewers. Also, at one point Raggedy-Ann is asked to pick a Christmas toy for herself, to which she responds that she always wanted a “dolly” but…SHE’S A DOLL! Toys owning other toys? That’s pretty messed up. The story ends with Wolf declaring that he likes being good rather than bad, a decision he punctuates with, “But nobody can say that for sure, unless he’s tried both”. Uh, so we HAVE to try and be evil before we can choose to be good, otherwise we’re uninformed? Great lesson for the kids there, Mr. Wolf, “Merry Christmas. Be evil.”  You can see it for yourself at this link.

Here’s another TV to VHS program I dust off this time of year, ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas by Rankin-Bass. It’s actually a depressing story of how Velma from Scooby-Doo in mouse form (look at that picture and tell me I’m wrong) ruins Christmas for everybody. The young rodent does this by getting a letter printed in the town newspaper declaring “Santa Claus is a fraudulent myth, rooted in unconscious fantasy and emerging as a deceitful lie.” Them’s fighting words! So a creepy looking Santa responds by sending back all the letters to the townsfolk unopened and they all have to work together to convince Santa he should still bring them free toys.

It’s supposed to be story of redemption, but I’ve always seen it as a cautionary tale about not being a smarty pants jerk and ruining things that bring genuine joy to people with facts. Not that the truth isn’t important, but there’s a little thing called tact my mousey friend. Oh and Santa totally was real, so you just got CLAUSED, sucka! Click here to watch the story unfold.

Most of what I’ve covered so far won’t take you more than 90 minutes to watch, so if you’ve still got time to spend in front of the TV while the snow is falling, why not find a copy of the 1991 film Dutch, starring TV’s Al Bundy aka Ed O’Neil. This film is often overlooked in general, but it’s a pretty funny road movie with some heart. A spoiled rich kid at a fancy boarding school is mad his Mom for divorcing his Dad, so when the kid’s soon to be step-father, Dutch shows up to bring him home for the holidays, he fights it. Like literally. The little brat shoots Dutch with an air pistol, attacks him with karate and the schlubby Dutch teaches him some tough love as they cruise down the road. Along the way the pair are robbed by hookers, set off a bag of illegal fireworks (the most memorable scene), hitchhike and end up at a homeless shelter. So yeah, it’s a feel-good family film all-around. Actually it does have a good heart, eventually the two reconcile and become friendly (though still pretty ornery). I should mention this is technically a Thanksgiving film, but holiday themes are kind of universal between November and December, wouldn’t you say?

Yes, Babes In Toyland. No, not the original operetta or the Disney film from the 60’s, this wacked-out production stars Keanu Reeves, Pat “Mr. Miyagi” Morita and a tween Drew Barrymore with trippiness to spare. It’s like a more colorful Labyrinth, except that David Bowie has been replaced with Richard Mulligan from the Golden Girls spin-off Empty Nest that in turn spun-off the shorter lived sitcom Nurses (I know way too much about late 80’s/early 90s NBC line-up). And instead of stealing a baby, he’s captured “Ted” Theodore Logan of Wyld Stallyns. But hey, Mr. Miyagi becomes Santa Claus by the end of it, so it’s not all bad. I have a nostalgic place in my heart for this movie, but it’s got a strange history that I’ve only recently sorted out.

For years I was under the impression that this was a McDonald’s funded production because in 1992 they were running commercials advertising that you could buy a copy on VHS for $5.99 with the purchase of any “large sandwich”. But as it turns out it was just a funky collaboration with now bankrupt Orion pictures (you could also buy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or later on, Dances With Wolves). This thing was actually a TV movie in 1986 that was sponsored by McDonald’s during a strange period in the careers of all these actors, but why they decided to release it 6 years later is baffling. The only thing I can figure is that Keanu was riding high off of the Bill & Ted movies, Point Break and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so Ronald and company smelled some cash to be made. Still, it’s a fun watch for the kids if you haven’t seen it before. You can experience the full film (in HD no less) at this link.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at some unique Christmas films from years gone by and that at least one of them enhances your holiday spirit. Let’s hear from you guys, what holiday films do you feel don’t get enough credit?

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OldSchool80s Posted on Dec 17, 2014 at 08:25 PM

The only one of these I am a fan of is Twas the Night Before Christmas, but I am a big fan of that one. The song "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand" is pure Christmas joy for me. Absolutely love it.

I guess I do enjoy Dutch and it is a product of the late great John Hughes.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Dec 17, 2014 at 08:19 PM

@BarryBgp and thecrow174 I'm glad to see Dutch getting so much love this Christmas. And hey, it's good to have you in the mix here, Barry.

@Vaporman87 My wife is in full agreement on Emmett Otter and I started watching The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus last night. It's like the Lord of the Rings Christmas Special, pretty epic.

Vaporman87 Posted on Dec 17, 2014 at 02:50 AM

That's awesome Barry. There are so many specials that have come and gone and have been all but forgotten. I tried coming up with a few of them as part of the clips shown in the RetroDaze Halloween Special. I'll have to dig up some more for next year. If you can, maybe PM me some names of some specials or Halloween episodes of shows that would be good to use.

BarryBgb Posted on Dec 17, 2014 at 12:43 AM

It's so nice to finally see someone else mention "Twas the Night Before Christmas"! I love that one and no one seems to remember it. It was also nice to see "Dutch" getting some love. It was raked across the coal when it was released, but I've always found it to be enjoyable and fun.

Ever since '94, I started making tapes for Christmas and Halloween. Taping things off the TV (and I still do!). I have 20 tapes each and some things that just aren't seen anymore. I'm so glad I started doing this. I have a lot to watch each year.

Mr Magic Posted on Dec 16, 2014 at 09:40 PM

Dutch. What a film that was. XD

Vaporman87 Posted on Dec 16, 2014 at 07:05 PM

Very cool to learn of some of these films/shows. I agree with the choice of the Rankin-Bass "Twas the Night Before Christmas" special. That one I have fond memories of watching as a kid. The little mouse that rats out Santa as a myth always got on my nerves. I always wished one of the humans would catch him in a trap. LOL

I'm interested in watching The Snowman. It sounds just splendid, so I'll check out the link you provided for that one. I'm also going to check out the Raggedy Ann and Andy special. I'm thinking I MAY have seen that one before, but it's been so long ago that I remember little to nothing about it.

Some specials that I think deserve more attention:

Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas
The Christmas Toy
The Life And Adventures of Santa Claus

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