George and the Christmas Star (1985)

I heard about this in a Twitter thread about another Canadian science-fiction Christmas special. Someone commented with a link to this with the addendum it was from Gerald Potterton, the director of the 1981 animated film, Heavy Metal. I'm not really a fan of that movie, but damned if it didn't pique my interest. Christmas science fiction is a weird subgenre in general, and this looked even more out there.

This special starts with George decorating his Christmas tree. All that's left is to put a star on top, but the idea of using a common paper one depresses him. He decides what he really wants is an actual star, so he builds a working spaceship and heads into the cosmos to bring back the brightest one in the heavens.

He crash-lands into an outer space motel, where he meets a friendly robot pianist named Ralph. The motel business isn't thriving in the vacuum of space, so Ralph joins George on his quest. Next, they're picked up by Space Rangers (not the Lightyear kind: these are robotic cops), who inform George he'll need a permit to continue star hunting. While collecting trash to earn said permit, they're captured by Space Pirates. They meet Barbara, another astronaut being held captive by the pirates. They're forced to walk the plank, but are saved by the Space Rangers.

Permit in hand, George, Ralph, and Barbara head out after the star, but they're soon attacked by Space Bikers. They escape in a shuttle and manage to capture the Christmas Star, only to discover they're out of fuel. But Santa shows up with a team of possibly robotic reindeer and brings them back to Earth. George tries to put the star on his tree, only for it to instead fly off into space. He's depressed for a moment before realizing that the star belongs in the sky and the friends he's made are reason enough to celebrate.

That's a lot to cram into a half-hour special, and I didn't even mention the songs. They pull it off by condensing the story to its bare essentials and breezing by the details through narration. The effect is more like a moving storybook (or perhaps a comic strip) than a typical animated special. The plot exists mainly as an excuse for the designs, which are whimsical, clockwork creations resembling a cross between Terry Gilliam, Sesame Street cartoons from the '70s, and (for those of you nerdy enough to get the reference) the illustrations in Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad.

If all that sounds kind of neat, it is. There's a sort of dreamlike wonder to this that makes it compelling to watch, despite dragging at times. In addition, the music - while somewhat dated even when it was made - enhances the dreamlike quality of the special.

Tonally, there's nothing here inappropriate for young kids (the violence is cartoonish and never believably threatening, and there's no innuendo or bad language), but it still feels oddly mature. The look and feel of the special seems more geared to adult fans of animation and science fiction than kids (though, again, this is about as G-rated as they come, despite my suspicion that Barbara's name is an allusion to Barbarella).

Despite being fascinating as an artifact, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who's not a big fan of this sort of thing. The pacing makes this feel more like a synopsis than an actual story, leaving no room for any real character development. The parade of comical groups also feels heavily moored to bygone eras - not an issue if you're interested in genre history, but potentially a problem if you're just looking for Christmas media.

Still, I had fun watching. This is definitely a case of style over substance, but it's a style I like a great deal. Just gage your interest in the subject matter before proceeding: this isn't for everyone.