Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987)

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 really adorable sequence, and the California Raisins guest star near the end to bring you a great version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

I remember enjoying the running gag about the lyrics to Here We Come a Wassailing, even as a kid.  I wonder if this special is why I've always known the lyrics?

My favorite short is, of all things, Joy to the World.  The animation switches out of the claymation into a sort of... I can't even decribe it properly.  It looks like changing, living paintings, I guess.  It's beautiful.  The version of the song is a version like no other one I know, heavily drawing on soul and African musical traditions.  Despite it being explicitly religious, I love it.

I can't say enough about how good the claymation is.  The final scenes have dozens of characters, and the sets and details are astonishing throughout.

It's a really fun special even if you're not an animation nut like me, and it's non-traditional enough to make a nice break from all the “standard” specials.  If you can find it, this is a half-hour very well spent.

A Claymation Christmas Celebration was released on DVD with two other holiday specials, but it's kind of expensive for how short it is.  You could probably find it online if you look.

4 comments :

  1. Oh man! I watched this like a hundred times when I was little, and I completely forgot it existed.

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  2. I know, me too! I was glad to rediscover it.

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  3. Yeah, it was pretty incredible. Special thanks to Jeff for suggesting and lending us his copy.

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  4. Good god! I have, in all seriousness, equated wassailing with syrupy goodness ever since my childhood, on a half-conscious level, and until this minute I had NO IDEA WHY.

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