The First Christmas (1979)

This is a bizarre little animated special on a collection I found cheap on Amazon. This was the first special on the first disc, so here we are.

The special opens with caroling children singing, then immediately transitions to tanks firing, followed by a description of the Middle East now, then finally settling on the Ancient Roman Empire. The next five or ten minutes introduce a flurry of characters and locations.

From a narrative point of view, this offers very little in the form of a coherent story, but then again, neither did the New Testament. What this does surprising well is depict a complex social and political landscape, complete with intrigue and danger. When we follow a couple Roman soldiers through the streets of Bethlehem, it's genuinely fascinating, and the special's depiction of Herod - while certainly not even-handed - makes for an interesting foil.

Things start to drag when the story shifts to Mary and Joseph, who are obnoxiously two-dimensional (as usual). The pace slows to a crawl from here on out.

The animation is pretty cheap, at least by today's standards, but the character designs seem like there was an attempt made to be historically accurate in capturing Semitic features. In addition, while the animation isn't stellar, the sound design is quite impressive, which infuses the special with an epic quality.

The credits confirm this was originally produced by a religious organization, and a few minutes online revealed it to be Australian.

I don't think I'd recommend this to most people who'd be reading this blog, but I'm forced to admit it wound up being better than I was expecting from the title.