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Showing posts from 2010

10 Observations

Before I go, I'd like to pass along ten observations I've had about the holiday.

1. The human capacity to stand any non-parody version of The First Noel is inversely proportionate to the clarity in which the lyrics are sung.
2. Really awful Christmas specials and movies are nowhere near as bad as mediocre ones.
3. The Christmas Story is not, in fact, the "greatest story ever told," however the version told by Linus in It's Christmas, Charlie Brown is the greatest version of the Christmas Story that's ever been told.
4. Gaudy Christmas lights can be beautiful, but only in extreme concentrations.
5. Inflatable Christmas lawn displays were conceived of and produced by the Devil.
6. With very few exceptions, parodies of Christmas songs are superior to the originals.
7. As a general rule of thumb, the less appropriate a holiday episode is to any given television series, the better the result will be.
8. Among the thousands of forgotten Christmas specials, there are few, i…

Sum-up from Lindsay

Well, I didn't learn to appreciate Christmas, although my uneasy truce with the holiday may be a trifle less Grinchy.

I'm looking forward to escaping the time vortex effect. For several weeks, I've ben unable to shake the feeling that Christmas was “tomorrow”, even when “tomorrow” was Dec 5th. I expect that sensation to fade soon... right?

I'm also looking forward to not listening to holiday music for a while... I am pretty darn burnt out on it. I actually took off my headphones in the Laundromat the other day when I realized that they weren't just playing Christmas music, unlike all the stores.

We watched about three-quarters of the list of specials I compiled at the beginning, and finally just ran out of time.

So long for now, me and my copy of The Atheist's Guide to Christmas have a holiday to get to.

Checked it Twice

We're coming upon the end of this Christmas experiment - at least for this year - and, as such, I'm legally obligated to offer some best of/worst of lists.  I don't think it's fair to group movies and specials together for the "best of" list, so I'm going to set the three best movies aside now.  In no particular order, the best holiday films I saw this year are:  Nightmare Before Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and Elf.

I'm not going to differentiate between Christmas specials and holiday themed episodes, though I am going to set one ground rule: these need to be full length.  This eliminates some of the best - including The Spirit of Christmas South Park short where Jesus fights Santa.

Here, then, are the top 10 Holiday Episodes or Specials:

10. Christmas With the Joker: This is a tough one - a case could easily be made that Holiday Knights or Comfort and Joy are better.  But I'm going with my gut and picking the classic.  All three are worth …

Lindsay's Holiday List of Lists

We watched an approximate total of 75 movies, specials and episodes this month. Sheesh.

Here are a few stats I put together:

Based on my List, we watched
16 Movies, 36 Specials, and 23 Episodes

9 of these were in some way a version of A Christmas Carol
6 had sizable references to Twas the Night Before Christmas
3 had spins on It's a Wonderful Life
3 had a version of The Gift of the Magi

25 had Santa as a major character (Real Santa, more than one line, significant part of the piece)
6 had Jesus as any size character, (basically on screen at all) plus 2 more used him as a good sized plot point.



My 10 favorite things we watched, in no particular order:
The Snowman
Mickey's Christmas Carol
A Muppet Family Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Blackadder's Christmas Carol
Animaniacs: A Christmas Plotz/Little Drummer Warners
Prep and Landing
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
BtAS: Holiday Knights
The Powerpuff Girls: Twas the Fight Before Christmas


My 5 least favorite: In order t…

Black Christmas (1974)

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Good horror movies differ from bad ones more in the moments that aren't scary than those that are.  It's the time between the deaths and bloodshed that develop tone and build characters we care about, thus giving their deaths meaning.

A good horror movie cherishes these moments, making the most of every second.  Black Christmas, on the other hand, does not.  The characters remain dull, often coming across as being as bored with the movie as I was.  Time drags between killings.  Which isn't to say the deaths are all that interesting, either: by and large, they're as ridiculous and slow-paced as the rest of the film.

As far as the plot's concerned, logic is a stranger to this film.  A sorority girl disappears, and the police conduct a thorough search of the park.  But not the house she lived in.  If they'd bothered to look there, they'd have found her body in the attic.  Along with the killer.

It's not so much that the movie is absurd that bothers me: it…

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978)

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I have serious memories tied up in this special. This means I even like the sappy parts. It's such great classic Sesame Street, though, that I suspect you'll like a few of the sappy parts too.

I was going to start off by saying that the opening with the oversized skating costumed characters is pretty useless, but on re-watching, Bird Bird skating with the little girl is pretty cute, even though it isn't the same little girl he's friends with through the rest of the special.

Living in New York City adds a whole other level to watching Sesame Street, and something like this from the 70's makes the original target audience (inner-city kids) really clear. There is a sequence based in the old subway, with beat-up turnstiles and a guy who sells tokens. (The subway car and the station are obviously sets, but I don't know about the platforms.) I love that it's set so firmly in New York.

I love Oscar in this, he's so delightfully snarky. I even love him tryi…

Justice League: Comfort and Joy (2003)

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This is another episode that we watch every year, and every year I forget how good it is until I watch it again. The only one-part episode in the first two seasons of Justice League (before it became JLU), this holiday episode is just fantastic.

Batman got enough holiday cheer in his two previous holiday episodes, and Wonder Woman doesn't appear either, but everyone else has great moments. The episode consists of an intro about the last mission before the holidays, and then three inter-cut storylines.

One revolves around Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. It continues the thread of their growing attraction; GL shows Shayera how much fun it is to play in the snow, and she shows him how they celebrate on Thanagar. Can I add here how much I adore this Hawkgirl?

One follows the Flash as he attempts to find a popular toy for the kids at a Central City Orphanage, when his plans are derailed by a run-in with Ultra-Humanite. Humanite gets a lot of the best lines in Justice League, and this epis…

Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988)

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I enjoy all of Blackadder, but this Christmas special might just be my favorite part of the franchise. I adore it for the simple premise: it's a reverse Christmas Carol.

Blackadder, if you've missed it, was comprised of four short seasons, several specials and a movie, set through various times in British history.  (Actors often play similarly named characters in different time periods, ostensibly relations/descendants of previous characters.)  In most of the series (the first season was a bit different) the protagonist Blackadder is cunning, self-serving and highly intelligent, and is always either trying to get ahead in society, or trying to evade responsibility and danger.

At the beginning of Blackadder's Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Blackadder is the “kindest and loveliest  man” in London.  That doesn't exactly last.

I have seen this over and over, and I still laugh out loud.  That's the mark of great comedy for me.

The first half is great because it's so odd…

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

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Is this really as bad as you've heard?  Yeah.  It might be worse.

If you haven't had the pleasure, this is a variety show featuring a surprising number of cast members from the movie.  Most of the established characters get a scene or two, although Chewbacca has a larger role.  It's his family celebrating "Life Day," after all, and he's trying to get past an imperial blockade to get home in time.

Of course the real stars are Chewbacca's family, who are given extended scenes in which they go about their lives, talking and arguing without translation.  When they bother to call humans, we find out - again and again - that they're worried Chewie won't make it back.

Around this riveting frame story, we get a number of short "comedic" bits, as well as some "musical" numbers (yes, those quotation marks are called for).  A few of the musical acts aren't awful - Jefferson Starship's number is fine.  The there's the Diahann…

It's Christmas. We Got You Something.

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So. We've been wracking our brains trying to think of something to get you. And, frankly, it wasn't simple: you're not easy to shop for.

But then we had a revelation. We remembered you were getting an e-reader tomorrow, and--

Oh. Oh, God. That was supposed to be a surprise, wasn't it? We're really sorry. I mean it: we feel awful. Don't let on that we told you, and try to look surprised.

Anyway, seeing as you're about to have a brand new e-reader, courtesy of your parents, child, and/or significant other, we thought, hey! Why not get you a digital book?

Just in time for the Holidays, we're releasing "A Man of Snow and Other Seasonal Stories" FREE of charge. This collection features four pieces of fiction from Mainlining Christmas, as well as a fifth bonus story, which is longer than the other four combined.

It's our way of saying, Merry Christmas. And, Happy New Year. Have a good Easter. Enjoy the Fourth of July.

And s…

It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)

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If you're not already a fan of the Muppets, "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas" is a bad place to start.  In fact, if you're only a casual fan, this probably isn't for you, either.  It's an uneven movie: there's a solid chunk that just throws dated pop-culture references at you, including a particularly painful parody of the Crocodile Hunter I'm betting the producers are now wishing they'd skipped.

But, for all of that, if you are a die-hard Muppet fan, this made-for-television movie is something you need to track down.  It's imperfect, but what it does well it does REALLY well.  Structured like "It's a Wonderful Life," the movie explores a world without Kermit.  For the minor characters, this is accomplished in a fairly unremarkable scene using the movie's villainess (more on her in a moment).  But for the really major characters - Fozzie, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy - another approach is taken.

The events of the 1979 Muppet…

The Snowman (1982)

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This is a half-hour of gorgeous animation with brilliant use of music; it's just beautifully done, and one of my absolute favorites. It's wordless except for the short introduction and the one song. It's based on the picture-book of the same name, and the style of the animation looks just like a living illustration.

The animation looks like it was done with pastel and crayon, and the skill that is evident in the work is astounding. Particularly amazing is the flying sequence, which uses just perspective and careful planning to convey an amazing amount of movement and depth.

The song from this haunted me a while back, when I hadn't seen the special in years. I remembered that it was good, but not much else about it. When I finally tracked it down and sat Erin down to watch it, the opening strains of “Walking in the Air” began to introduce it, and I burst into tears.

It's a melancholy piece, but all the more beautiful for that. I love this special, but it still m…

We Wish You a Turtle Christmas (1994)

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AHHHHH. AHHHHH. No. Why. WHY? Just... Just NO.
Someone watched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie and then vomited out this horrid direct-to-video thing in about 10 minutes. The writing is uniformly terrible, but it's worse when they half-almost try to write the characters like the movie. I'd rather that they didn't, really.
It's awful. The costumes are hideous and terrible, with animatronics that don't work, and they have no feet. The budget appears to have been about $50 and I'm assuming they spent most of it on beer. Also, the costumes are really scary-looking. We're talking horror-movie-possessed-toy scary.
The voice “actors” occasionally do atrocious imitations of the movie cast, but it's really uneven. It burnsss... According to IMDB, it looks like either the entire cast and director did this under fake names, or they never worked again. Either sounds plausible to me.
The voice syncing is basically nonexistent. The plot is just a t…

More About "A Muppet Family Christmas" (1987)

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I find it baffling that this isn't better known.  Everyone seems to remember The Christmas Toy, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, and John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, but most seem to have blocked this one out.

It's a shame, too, because this is phenomenal.  Incorporating characters from at least three Muppet productions (debatably more - the Muppet Babies get a nod at one point), this thing is made for longtime fans.  It's just buried in decades of references and continuity.

It's a massive crossover event, sort of a Secret Wars for the Muppet-verse.  Seeing the Sesame Street characters engage in small talk with Doc from Fraggle Rock is awesome, as is seeing Rowlf have a discussion with Sprocket.  When characters come together to sing a medley, the amount of thought that went into determining who gets what verse is kind of astonishing.

My favorite scene comes when the Swedish Chef gets a look at Big Bird and realizes there's a potential for t…

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

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This is the last of the "four pillars" of the classical animated Christmas specials.  No, wait.  It's the last of the four AMERICAN animated Christmas classics.

There is... another.  But we'll leave that ominous assertion for another day.

Rudolph is a tough nut to crack.  It's a decent special, but it certainly lacks the consistency or quality control of How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Charlie Brown Christmas.  This is a flawed gem, that much is certain.  There are some slow spots, some weak writing, and some songs that are hard to sit through year after year.  Plus, all character growth takes place off screen: between scenes, Rudolph miraculously decides he can't run away from his problems, even as everyone at Santa's workshop realizes they were ripe bastards.

Despite all that, it's really intriguing.  It's just so damned imaginative, it's impossible not to like.  Between the elf wanting to be a dentist, Yukon's team of show dogs, a…

Batman: The Animated Series: Holiday Knights (1997)

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Damn. When this show is good, it is so amazingly good. I love this episode. We watch it every year, and every year I'm reminded anew how great it is.

“Holiday Knights” consists of four little holiday vignettes, in which plenty of characters get a chance to shine.

On Dec 22nd, Harley and Ivy drug Bruce Wayne so he'll pay for a holiday shopping spree. It's a fantastic showcase for the two villainesses, and a fun piece in general. A great use of an extended shopping montage, and there's an especially excellent score in this section.

On Dec 24th, Batgirl is shopping at “Mayfield's” when she has to help Bullock and Montoya arrest some shoplifters who aren't what they seem. Barbara is smart and professional here, and the cops are undercover in an amusing disguise.

On Dec 31st, the Joker plans to massacre the New Year's Eve crowds, and Batman and Robin (Tim) go after him. Nice planning by the Joker here, and his character is very well written: a good balance …

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

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Just about everyone my age has some memory of watching this when they were young, although most of us can't seem to remember the details all that well.  Lindsay and I came across this in a drug store about a year ago and snatched it up.

This viewing actually helped me put this in perspective.  By the time we got around to it, we'd already seen around seventy or eighty Christmas specials.  You'd think the burnout would work against this one, but, if anything, the contrast underlined just how good this special is.

Before I get involved with that, let me take a moment to explain why such context might be needed.  The thing about Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (and, just to be clear, it is a THING, not an ISSUE), is that it's slow.  Last year, when I saw this for the first time in two decades, I found it a little too slow for my tastes.  If it makes sense, I wouldn't call the special "boring," but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bored.

There…

Shrek the Halls (2007)

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This felt really long, and I don't think it's just because we were watching it on TV with commercial breaks.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of Shrek at the best of times.  I thought the first movie was cute, but already felt dated when I watched it, and I don't remember the second one at all, although I know I saw it. So if you are a huge fan, your mileage may vary.

Overall it's an okay special, I guess, but there is too much idiotic sitcom-style behavior in one half hour for me.  What do I mean by sitcom-style?  Characters changing their personality or motivation scene-to-scene as demanded by the plot, painfully obvious misunderstandings, useless plot twists that just add time, poor usage of dramatic irony... that sort of thing.

There are about 20 seconds at one point where it gets pretty cute, and then the characters are all idiots for 15 minutes, and then the end is okay.  Okay, but still unfunny and plagued with terrible music and Eddie Murphy.  Nothing was ever made…

A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

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Remember how in my review of The Muppet Christmas Carol, I said it wasn't my favorite Muppet holiday thing? This is my favorite Muppet holiday thing. In this rarely seen television special, the Muppet gang is headed to Fozzie's mother's house for Christmas.  Much singing is done.  I watch this entire hour with a big silly grin.

(FYI: Because of rights issues, in the United States three full songs and two partial songs have been cut from all video releases.  Don't believe anyone who tells you this doesn't impact the quality of the special; there are plot points in those songs!  I found a full copy on YouTube. )

The special plays out like a fantastic extra-long episode of The Muppet Show: loosely connected vignettes and songs, and only one human to be seen.  There are ten full songs, plus a medley of eleven more.  There's no new music for this special: it's all classic holiday songs, except Pass It On from Fraggle Rock, and Together at Christmas from The Ch…

Alf's Special Christmas (1987)

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First of all, I'd like to send a very special "thank you, but I thought we were FRIENDS" to Jeff Burns for sending us the link to this delightful holiday classic.

I actually remember seeing this when it first aired.  Hey, I was a child of the 80's, and Alf was a part of that.  I remember Gordon Shumway, Melmac, and even that music video he made for the Tanners' daughter.  I have good memories watching this show as a child.

Yes, Virginia, children are stupid.

That editorial, by the way, gets read twice during the special.  It's the abridged version you hear everywhere, of course, with all the great fairy references omitted.

The "plot" of the hour-long special revolves around Alf getting in a fight with the Tanners and winding up trapped in the back of a van with a bunch of Christmas presents on their way to the hospital.  He winds up getting handed over to a dying girl, who teaches him the true meaning of melodrama in a long, drawn out, sappy sequen…

The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970)

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If you're a Muppet fan, you may have heard of this, but you may not have seen it. It is technically a special episode of The Ed Sullivan Show, and hasn't been released on DVD. All the great early Muppet staff worked on it: Jerry Juhl, Joe Raposo, Frank Oz, and of course Jim Henson.

It's obviously early work, but solid.  The plot revolves around Cosmo Scam (an evil wizard) and his plan to replace Santa Claus.  Both Cosmo and Santa are played by Art Carney, everyone else is a Muppet.

Sesame Street would have been just in its second year, and this feels very much in tone with Sesame Street.  There's nothing too scary for kids (all of Cosmo's monster lackeys have soft hearts) and there's moments of sly humor on the side for adults.  Also, plenty of very bad puns.

The music is sweet and funny, and overall I found the hour charming, although it was slow here and there.  Later work would learn from this, tighten the pace, reuse puppets and ideas created here.  It was…

Eureka: Oh, Little Town (2010)

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I've never seen an episode of Eureka before, but a friend recommended it and it was on Hulu.  Overall, I thought this was pretty good, though it had some issues.  The main problem was the drama.  Some writers can handle it; others can't.  If you're working in television (or any other media for that matter) a good rule of thumb is never to start a monologue with the words, "When I was young."  If you must go down this path, make sure you do so no more than once per episode.

Yeah, this one was really slow at times.  Fortunately, there were enough clever moments and fun ideas to pick up the slack.  The episode took an interesting approach to the legend of Santa Claus, all the while dealing with your requisite Christmas cliches.  Fortunately, it offered a twist to just about everything going on, and there were some great jokes.

As for the rest, I can't speculate whether I'd have liked it better if I knew the characters or premise.  Regardless, seeing as this…

Fraggle Rock: The Bells of Fraggle Rock (1984)

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The Fraggles are usually pretty great, and this episode is no exception.

In this Christmas/Solstice themed episode, Gobo questions the utility of their holiday, The Festival of the Bells. He sets out to challenge the myth and find out whether or not the Great Bell actually exists.

There's a surprising amount of existential angst in this episode for a children's show starring puppets.

Meantime, Doc and Sprocket do a bit of exploring of different holiday traditions, and Doc teaches Sprocket about the link between Saturnalia and Christmas in about ten seconds. It's awesome.

There's more than a bit of sappy “look inside for the truth” type stuff by the end, but it really amuses me that not having their festival has actual measurable implications.

Also, I'm a sucker for Fraggles, and a sucker for Solstice-themed holiday episodes. I really enjoy the main song of the episode: “There's a Promise” aka “Raise Your Voices” is fun. And Cantus is in it! What's not…

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

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Of all the Rankin/Bass specials I've seen this year, I think I like this one least.

Oh, it's not all bad by a long stretch.  The Snow Miser and Heat Miser are fantastic, inventive characters: hell, they're the reason everyone remembers this as fondly as they do.

The thing is, those two are just about the only aspects of this special that are any good.  The rest of it is an incoherent mess.  There's no real rhyme or reason for anything that occurs, and the vast majority of characters are just bizarre and random.  There's a song that emotionally blackmails a kid into believing in Santa Claus I find particularly disturbing.  I'm all for encouraging kids to hold on to imagination and fantasy, but that doesn't mean it's okay to suppress rational thought and skepticism.

I like the idea of giving Mrs. Claus a chance to shine, but she mostly comes off as incompetent here (not to mention reckless: she almost gets a couple elves and a reindeer killed, then she l…

And Gaudiness is Next to....

In Attleboro, Massachusetts, there exists a magical place where, every year, the baby Jesus spits up two metric tons of Christmas cheer.
This place is La Salette.
La Salette Shrines is a ministry which takes the holidays very seriously.  How seriously, you might ask.  Well, to put it mildly, they bring in a fried dough stand.
Yes, their grounds includes numerous shrines and sculptures, all of which are wired up in the gaudiest Christmas lights imaginable.  They have an animatronic Virgin mother, and a real live donkey for kids to fawn over.
The following slide show offers a vague idea of the magnitude of the place, but it's something you really need to see for yourself.

Before leaving La Salette, we picked up a mug of cider, which came in a commemorative plastic cup.  I think, better than anything else, this captures the spirit of La Salette.  The spirit of Christmas:

Card: Childhood Dreams and Christmas Memories

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Rockefeller Center Tree

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You've probably all seen pictures of the tree at Rockefeller Center before.  It's always a very large tree.  I went a couple of times this year to document a few things you might not have seen.

Pink Panther: A Pink Christmas (1978)

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This was almost good.  Almost.  I remember enjoying Pink Panther cartoons when I was young, but memories are tricky things.

Mostly it was just too long, and too much of the same joke over and over.

The Panther is poor and hungry, and goes through a long series of misadventures trying to get his hands on Christmas dinner.  It's discouraging watching him come close, only to fail, over and over.  I'm sure this is the point, to inspire a sense of seasonal charity, but I felt it missed slightly.  I can't decide if it belabored the point slightly too much, or should have just been more direct, as well as shorter.

If you're already feeling the holiday spirit, this might be a pleasant half-hour.  The ending is sweet,  (although the very last moment kind of ruins it) and it's close to being touching.

It's just slightly too long, slightly too boring, and so it deflates.

If you'd like to see if you disagree, A Pink Christmas is currently streaming on Hulu.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas is about as close to damn-near perfect as any Christmas special is going to get.  Which makes it all the more shame that I'm kind of getting jaded with the thing.

Oh, I still enjoyed watching this, and I can't help but smile at the animation.  My issue - if the word even applies - on this viewing was actually with the music.  Now - before you start yelling - let me explain.  I love the music in this special.

Actually, that's the problem.  I love the music so much, I've been listening to various interpretations of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" almost nonstop since I started this holiday experiment.  It's one of the few holiday songs I have that mitigates the relentless cheer of the countless carols and classical pieces I've been listening to.

But, as an unfortunate side effect, it seems to have watered down the effect the song has on me when I heard it in context.

Like I said, I still enjoyed every minute of the sp…

Barbie in A Christmas Carol (2008)

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Erin is going to take this movie WAY too seriously, so I'm offering a rebuttal.

It isn't good, of course it isn't good.  It's a CG Barbie movie.  But it's not crime-against-humanity levels.  It's pink and girly and very G-rated.  They gender swap all the characters (which is more than fine with me) and make the story more about the sin of vanity than the sin of greed.  Frankly, except for a few particularly painful scenes, I'd put this squarely into “so-bad-it's-good”.  Not quite good enough to seek out, but pair it with Beauty and The Beast: Enchanted Christmas, some sort of pink champagne, and a room full of enthusiastic young women, and you might have a very amusing time.

I mean. it's produced by Mattel Entertainment!  HA! The DVD has a sing-along mode.  The main character has a fat tag-a-long cat named after a different Dickens book.  The Ghost of Christmas Past is a completely manic Tinkerbell. The whole thing is nuts.

The animation is cheap, …

Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987)

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I remembered liking this when I was younger, but I remembered very little about the special itself until it got going.  In this case, I could have trusted my memory: it's an amazing special. This was produced by Will Vinton, so the animation is just stunning throughout.

The structure is a series of carols, linked by scenes starring a pair of dinosaurs who are “hosting” the special.  The T-Rex in the suit attempts to inject some education into the proceedings by giving the origin or history of some songs.  I appreciate the gesture, although I'm not certain all of the history they cite is correct.

We start in earnest with a fun version of We Three Kings.  The use of light in this segment is lovely, and the jokes only enhance the song.  There's a humorous Carol of the Bells, and a Fantasia-esque Angels We Have Heard On High.

There are jokes in this that I definitely missed as a kid, but what I most enjoy about this is the quality of the animation.  Oh Christmas Tree is a real…

The Two Christmases (and that Other Holiday)

I've already offered some thoughts on the cultural battle I enjoy so much every year, but I wanted to approach it from another angle, as well.  Specifically, I want to discuss Hanukkah, and the push to get displays included in public places along side Christmas ones.

You might not know it from my involvement with the site, but I'm actually Jewish.  I'm non-practicing, but that doesn't change the fact I'm in the club (lifetime membership, and all).  My mother was raised Jewish, and my father was raised Christian.  Neither of my parents were ever what I'd describe as religious, but they respected tradition.

As such, I grew up celebrating two holidays every year.  The larger gifts were saved for Christmas morning, but we usually received a few small items and candy throughout Hanukkah.  You might think that would make Hanukkah irrelevant to a kid, but that wasn't the effect.  My family would gather together, sing Hanukkah songs as best we could (my mother was …

The Christmas Toy (1986)

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The Christmas Toy, you may recall, was Toy Story before Toy Story. It's a Henson production, a television special about toys coming to life when you're not around.

My vague recollections of The Christmas Toy actually gave me some conceptual trouble with the Toy Story movies. The toys of The Christmas Toy die if they are seen out of place by a human.

They DIE.

Well, their consciousness is sent to some sort of Limbo, but it's basically the same. Without the same stakes, I sometimes had trouble with why the Toy Story toys bother to hide their mobility from humans. It's kinda weird, if you think it through too hard.

Well, the actual plot of The Christmas Toy is about Rugby the tiger, and how he doesn't understand that even though he was Jessie's favorite Christmas present last year, he'll be replaced this Christmas with a new favorite gift. (And it's about a space toy who initially doesn't understand that she's a toy.... but I digress. Although act…

Barbie: A Christmas Carol (2008)

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I just got through watching Barbie: A Christmas Carol, and wanted to write down a few thoughts while the movie was still fresh in my mind.

My first thought isn't so much a thought, per se, as it is an overall emotional response; a desire, in fact.  Right now, I want to find a Barbie doll - any Barbie doll - and yank its head off its shoulders.  I want to snap every goddamn joint on that thing, and, if possible, I'd really like to feed the pieces through a wood chipper.

And before you ask, no: I'm not overreacting.  It was really that bad.  It was worse - WORSE - than you'd expect a direct-to-DVD Barbie reinterpretation of A Christmas Carol to be.  In every imaginable way, it was worse.

The animation... oh, God.  Dear, God.  Why?  The characters were less lifelike than the toys they were based on.  They weren't just soulless: it was like some demonic spirit crawled up from the depths of Hell and inhabited these empty, plastic shells and brought them to a state of u…

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album

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These days, I've got a lot of holiday albums, representing just about every imaginable take on Christmas you can imagine.  Yup.  At this point, I've heard it all.

And without hesitation, I can say that this is my favorite of the bunch.  I've had this for a few years now, and I keep at least a handful of the tracks in several set lists I play all year round.  There's some phenomenal music here.

The album was in part brought about by the band's realization they already had a surprising number of songs related to Christmas.  As a result of being written over the course of four decades, the music is highly diverse.  The album has several of my favorite re-imagined holiday songs, new versions of some classic Tull songs, and some others that aren't so well known.

It's that last category that particularly impresses me.  The best song on the album, in my opinion, is Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow, a beautiful little piece you need to check out.  The re-imagined God…

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997)

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This is from the first round of direct-to-video sequels that Disney was beginning to crank out in earnest in the 90's.  As such, it's kinda bad.

I think it has enjoyable moments, as well as some so-bad-it's-funny parts, but Erin despised it. That is a totally fair reaction.

Given that Beauty and the Beast is sort of a self-contained story, the plot of the movie is a flashback that takes place in the middle of the original.  Sounds great already, doesn't it? The villain is a computer animated pipe organ, of all things, that fears Belle threatens his "special relationship" with Beast.  Yeah, it's kinda weird.

I felt for the voice cast during some of the worst scenes. All of the actors from the original movie reprise their roles, plus Tim Curry (as the organ, naturally), and Bernadette Peters as a decorator turned Christmas Angel.

There are moments of really terrible writing, acting, like most of the lines given to Beast throughout.  Especially when the fil…

Book Review: A Christmas Carol

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Cross-Posted from The Blue Fairy's Bookshelf


A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens, 1843
With all the different adaptations I've been watching recently, I thought it was time to re-read A Christmas Carol.
I remember reading this in grade school, although I think that we read the dramatization, not the prose.
The most striking thing to me is how little is different. There are plenty of cute turns of phrase, clever bits of writing, but most adaptations of the story really do hit all the high notes. Particularly having just recently seen the Muppet Christmas Carol, I didn't think I added much to my understanding by reading the actual text.
A few nice moments are missing from the films. I liked the sweet moment between Scrooge and his sister in the past, it really pushed the early softening of the character. There is a good comedic moment in the narration that precedes the second spirit. Now, being prepared for almost anything, he was not by any means prepared for nothing; and, consequen…

Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970)

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"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is the Rankin/Bass you can never quite remember.  That isn't to say it's the least well known: that's probably "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" (we couldn't find that one this year).  But, of the ones you've seen multiple times, this seems to be the hardest to recall.

A pity: it's actually one of the better ones.  Actually, there's a case to be made that it might be the best.

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town" borrows heavily from L. Frank Baum's writings on Santa (the orphan adopted by elves, the courtship of Ms. Claus, and even aspects of his capture all seem to have come from there).  Of course, Baum's work would later be adapted more directly in the aforementioned "Life and Times of Santa Claus," but that's irrelevant, since hardly anyone's ever seen it.

The aspects of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" that seem to strike a chord are the Winter Warlock …