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Showing posts with the label Special

The Gift of Winter (1974)

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The Gift of Winter is a 1974 Canadian television Christmas special with very low production values that inexplicably stars Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd.

Presented as an origin story for snow, the story concerns a group of characters setting out to lodge a complaint against Winter (presented here as sort of a cross between a pagan deity, an ice giant, and a bureaucrat) due to the relentless, bleak season. The characters - and I'll get to them in a moment - are hoping Winter will cancel his season altogether and replace it with more spring or summer.

Well, most of the characters. Two of them are planning to assassinate Winter using dynamite.

"Characters" is almost too strong a word. These are almost better described as caricatures of 70's archetypes. They have names like Goodly, Nicely, Rotten, Malicious... you get the idea. Their personalities are tied to their designs, which are best described as stylized doodles made by a four-year-old. That's not intended as a…

Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen (2006)

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Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't Happen is a Christmas special you haven't heard of that features fantastic designs, gorgeously animated stop-motion, and an impressive cast. So why haven't you heard of it? Let me check my notes... Oh. Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. I wrote, "Writing matters."

The premise is that a reindeer named Rusty is depressed and unable to find his place at the North Pole. See, he has this famous brother with a glowing red-nose, and... yeah. Hold on. I need to check my notes again - I think I remember... Here it is. I wrote, "This has been done way better in the same medium." Like Robbie, this special isn't able to say Rudolph's name outright, but it implies it and alludes to the classic to a degree I was genuinely disappointed when I failed to find a reference to this being sued.

Holidaze: The Christmas That Almost Didn't have the worst name I've ever seen on a holiday special starts with Rusty trying to …

The Christmas Dinosaur (2004)

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The Christmas Dinosaur was a made-for-TV special about a boy who receives a dinosaur as an early Christmas present. Information about the special is sparse and inconsistent - I'm not even 100% certain this premiered in 2004. It was produced by PorchLight Entertainment, whose only credit I recognize is A Martian Christmas, another forgettable special we reviewed way back in 2010.

This seems to have aired a few times on Cartoon Network before vanishing into obscurity. Like a great deal of what we review, we found it on a clearance shelf and grabbed it out of morbid curiosity.

The story doesn't get much more elaborate than the premise. Basically, a boy who's been fighting with his younger brother receives a dinosaur egg in the mail. He opens it before Christmas, and it hatches into a pterosaur, which the kids hide from their parents. Working together, they raise the animal, which grows up in a week or so. There are a bunch of side plots that go nowhere involving the kids'…

Trolls (2016) and the Trolls Holiday Special (2017)

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We watched the Trolls Holiday Special and walked away with one big question: Is Trolls a Christmas Movie? After we got around to watching the movie itself, we decided the answer is ehhh... not really? Probably not?

However, its one holiday element is unique enough that we wanted to catalog it.

The movie Trolls (based somehow on the plastic dolls from back in the day) is a surreal confabulation of light, color, and pop music. The trolls are small and brightly colored, and the favorite snack of a larger creature that looks much more like your stereotypical common troll. These "Bergens" believe that the only way to be happy is to essentially steal the trolls' happiness (by eating them).

However, (and this is where the holidays come in) they only eat trolls once a year, on a holiday called Trollstice. Other than being a pun on solstice, Trollstice has very little in common with Christmas though. There is one very early scene in which the bergen prince wakes his father on Tr…

Santa, Baby! (2001)

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You know Rankin/Bass, it's the company behind all the classic stop-motion holiday specials. This has exactly one thing in common with those: it's loosely inspired by a holiday song.

And I do mean loosely. You might think that the song in which the singer offers to trade "Santa" implied sexual favors for material goods and marriage isn't exactly screaming to be made into a kid-friendly animated special, and you'd be right. But we can't lose that name recognition, so the song is awkwardly shoved in twice.

The plot follows a little girl named Dakota, whose father is a songwriter with writer's block. (He does not write "Santa Baby.") Also, Dakota is obsessed with animals, and the superintendent of the block (because that's a thing?) doesn't want animals in the buildings and keeps threatening to close down the local shelter.

Honestly, the shelter needs something because the assortment of animals there is utterly bizarre, including a dog …

Robbie the Reindeer: Legend of the Lost Tribe (2002)

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The 2002 sequel to Hooves of Fire is, at least in my opinion, an improvement over the original. The story is no longer tethered to that of an 80's sports movie, and the new elements feel much more inspired and original.

The story this time centers around a "lost tribe" of Vikings, who are essentially dwarves in this world. In a backstory relayed by Old Jingle, we learn the last of their kind were supposedly killed off in a civil war waged when all the Vikings got bored.

Robbie's the only one who's seen any of the Vikings, and no one really believes him. They're more concerned with their failing resort, anyway. Why are reindeer running a tourist resort? Because Santa gives the toys away, so he's got nothing to pay them, obviously.

Meanwhile, Blitzen, who's been in prison since the end of Hooves of Fire, is released and returns to the lodge. Initially, the others throw him out, but he convinces them to let him stay when he promises he can turn the busi…

"Home" for the Holidays (Dreamworks 2017)

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This straight-to-Netflix special spins off of the show Home: Adventures with Tip and Oh, itself a spin-off of the movie Home. It's not awful, but neither is it heartwarming or coherent.

The premise is that Tip (who I remember speaking like a girl and not a stylized stereotype in the movie) realizes that this will be Oh's (her alien friend) first Christmas to celebrate. (I guess last Christmas was the invasion?) So she gets excited telling him about all the fun things to do and see.

There are a LOT of songs in this special. Erin liked more of them than I did, although I admit that the wackiness is strong and fun in some of them.

Unfortunately, everything between the songs is thin pretext to get us to the next song. I'll talk about this more in a moment.

Tip takes Oh into town to see the decorations. On the way, they're sidetracked by a bunch of boys who are apparently recurring antagonists. But now they're filming a "celebrity holiday special" in an attem…

Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire (1999)

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Hooves of Fire is a BBC claymation special about the son of Rudolph joining Santa's team. Rudolph's name is never explicitly spoken due to copyright issues, but there's no ambiguity about Robbie's heritage. The same can be said about Aardman animation - their name isn't on this, but their style permeates the special. Also, this was directed by Richard Starzak, who'd later go on to create Shaun the Sheep.

Overall, I enjoyed this, thanks to some clever jokes and fun designs. That said, the concept was a bit one-note, there were some unfortunate character directions, and the tone needed work. In short, it was good but not amazing.
The special starts with Robbie arriving at the lodge where Santa's reindeer live and train. Instead of glowing, Robbie's nose functions as a sort of navigator. Also, he later learns to bounce off it, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The nose is basically all Robbie has going for him - he's lazy, out of shape, and self-ob…

A StoryBots Christmas (2017)

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When we finished watching this new special from Netflix, we were left with a conundrum. Had we just experienced a kids show with a surprising scattering of subversive humor and references? Or a hit-and-miss parody of children's entertainment? Or a piece of tedious moralizing aimed at the very very young?

If it sounds like all those things couldn't possibly be contained in one 25-minute special, you understand why we were perplexed. We didn't hate it, but we didn't enjoy it either. We spent most of it staring at the television, heads slightly cocked to one side, saying, "Huh?"

The best I can put together without doing any research is the Storybots are animated characters from a children's series of the same name, and they answer questions from videos of young kids. They live in a place that is either another dimension or a hollow-earth world, which is connected to Earth via a series of vacuum tubes. In their own world, they're two-dimensional animatio…

Black Mirror: White Christmas (2014)

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People have been telling us for years we should check out Black Mirror, a British (well, formerly British now Netflix-produced) science fiction anthology series, but we've been busy. We finally got around to at least watching the Christmas special, and we were... I don't know. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed. I guess we were whelmed.

The production values were certainly impressive. The writing was solid, though I didn't find this special spectacular. The holiday elements felt tacked on - I wouldn't be at all surprised if this were originally written for another purpose than altered to fit a holiday mold.

This is really three short bits tied together by a frame story about two men ostensibly living and working together in some snowbound environment. It's meant to be ambiguous at the start, but I doubt I was alone in assuming it was some sort of purgatory or hell.

And I was right. It's essentially a digital purgatory, which becomes pretty obvious quite a while…

Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas (2011)

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There's something I find especially frustrating about specials like this. The production values are high, the design and animation and voice acting all well done. But the writing is idiotic, so it's still a boring, tedious slog.

Unlike the specials affiliated with the Dreamworks movies Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda, I went into this one never having seen any of the movies in the franchise.

Although I hesitate to admit it, the only things I didn't find dull as a dead tree discarded for trash pickup were some of the Scrat sections (you've seen the prehistoric squirrel obsessed with acorns if you've ever seen a trailer for one of these films). The silent animation was decently paired with Christmas music. Of course, I also hated those sections because a character being beat up constantly through no fault of their own is a form of animated "comedy" that I particularly despise.

The story opens with Manny (the mammoth. Get it?) hauling ou…

A Very Pentatonix Christmas (2017)

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Now, I like vocal music, and I like a cappella music. But when it comes to Christmas, I am over Pentatonix. They're good at what they do, but I think much of their stuff blurs together, and it's incredibly overplayed.

Like most variety-show style holiday specials, this was mostly boring.

The opening wasn't terrible. For once, Jay Leno was actually amusing as he stubbornly refused to recognize the singers as anyone famous. The rest of the show alternated between songs on stage in front of an appropriately adoring crowd, songs on stage with guest singers, and short "comedic" bits filmed separately.

The Pentatonix crew seem nice enough, but they are singers, not actors, and they felt stilted and awkward whenever they had to deliver a transition. I was most amused by the fifth guy. One of the members of the group dropped out earlier this year, and apparently, the new guy hasn't been accepted/made official yet. They introduced him separately, and he quietly disap…

Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)

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Despite having been the right age, I grew up disliking Pee-wee's Playhouse. I found the characters and sets off-putting as a kid, and I wasn't old enough to appreciate that was part of the point. The 1988 Christmas Special seemed like a good chance to revisit the show and give it another chance.

Ultimately, I was left torn on this one. I have far more respect for the manic, surreal premise, and Paul Reuben's portrayal is certainly impressively bizarre. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something missing tonally. I wanted to be pulled into that odd, unsettling world, but I could never shake the sense I was watching people and puppets act weird on TV.

The plot of this special is... well... it doesn't really have much of one. This is basically an hour of Pee-wee interacting with a long line of guest stars and cast members before the holiday. The closest it comes to a story is a bit about Pee-wee's Christmas list being so long, Santa would need …

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures: Santa Pac's Merry Berry Day (2014, 2015)

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I've long championed the theory that any premise, regardless of how seemingly juvenile or misguided, can be elevated to greatness if the core concept is simply taken seriously and complex emotion is added. Movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and shows such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic lend credence to this idea.

It is a good theory, or - more accurately - it was a good theory. In the space of 44 minutes, this idea was tested and soundly, undeniably refuted by a corporate cash grab so cloying, the very core is beyond salvation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the show, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures.

This is a CG science-fiction/superhero adventure based on the characters from the 1980 arcade game. This isn't the first time someone's attempted to adapt Pac-Man into a television series, but it might be the first time someone tried giving it a relatively serious tone.

Note I said relatively serious - this is still supposed t…

Lark Rise to Candleford: Christmas (2008)

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At first glance, this seems to be the type of historical melodrama that the BBC does so well. At second glance, it's still that, but includes a ghost.

The show is based on a series of semi-autobiographical novels about a teenager who moves from a very small village (Lark Rise) to the nearby larger town (Candleford) to work at the post office near the turn of the century. It seems to be notable because it's a microcosm of the changing cultures and economy of the time.

This extra-long Christmas special features at least five plots involving a talented ensemble cast.

Laura (the teen referred to above) is thriving in Candleford, under the wing of her mother's cousin, Dorcas, who is educated and independent. It seems that Dorcas will be alone for Christmas, and Laura feels guilty and wants to keep her company. Laura's mother, meanwhile, is worried that Dorcas is replacing her in Laura's heart. Attempts to be polite ("No, it's fine!") on all sides make e…

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: A Very Sunny Christmas (2010)

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If you really like Bad Santa but feel betrayed by the movie's fundamentally positive message of hope, have I got a recommendation for you...

I've heard of this show before, but I'd never actually seen it. Even after watching the two-part Christmas special, I'm not entirely sure what to think. I tried watching the first episode to get a little context, but I turned it off about five minutes in - it was just too painful. Not bad, mind you - painful.

I didn't have the same reaction to the Christmas special, and it's easy to see why. The comedy in the pilot was largely based on making the audience uncomfortable seeing the characters undergo shameful and awkward situations. By the time the Christmas special aired six seasons in, the characters were completely devoid of shame. Or souls, for that matter.

They're empty husks trying desperately to reclaim their humanity and feel some semblance of happiness at the holidays. Bleak, sure, but it's far easier to wa…

Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017)

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We covered Frozen back when it came out, despite some disagreement on whether it should count as a Christmas movie. (We've since decided it should be classified as Christmas in July.)

But with this new special there's no room for disagreement or confusion. It's Christmas in Arendelle.

The premise is that it's the first holiday season since the events of the movie, and so it's the first opportunity that royal sisters Anna and Elsa have for a holiday celebration both in public and together.

They decide to throw a party, but after a public ceremony, the local folks all have their family traditions to get back to. The sisters realize that their lives have been so circumscribed by hiding Elsa's powers that they don't really have any traditions of their own. Olaf sets out to save the day by collecting traditions from the townspeople. Naturally, complications ensue.

I loved this. I sat through it with a big stupid grin on my face the whole time. I liked the story…

The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town (1977)

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Shockingly, this stop-motion Rankin-Bass special is not the same as the 1971 Here Comes Peter Cottontail. However, it is essentially identical to the 1970 special, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The plots and setups are basically the same - they've just changed the character names and lowered the quality to make them distinct.
In this version of the Easter Bunny's origin, he's a baby rabbit located and adopted by a town of orphaned kids called "Kidville," because contrary to what the special's narrator would have us believe, there is clearly no God. He's discovered in the woods on Easter, so the kids call him, "Sunny," after the Easter Sun, which is not a thing. I'm pretty sure they're thinking of the Winter Solstice, which is (for all intents and purposes) Christmas.


Within a year, the bunny has enslaved the children of Kidville (at least that was my reading). For some reason, he convinces them they need to introduce capitalism and trad…

Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special (2017)

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The second most surprising thing about Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special is that's it's got a surprising amount of Christmas in it (the most surprising, obviously, is that it's actually worth watching, but I'll get to that in a moment).

This is a holiday special produced as a collaboration between Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Lonely Island. Blending together elements of old-fashioned Christmas specials, musical parodies, telethons, sketch comedy specials, and some 90's nostalgia, it sort of feels like a series of SNL music videos expanded into a short movie with a frame story.

The plot is pretty thin, but Santa Claus plays a crucial rule (hence this write-up). The elves made too many toys, so Saint Nick enlists Bolton's help, hoping that a Bolton Valentine's Day special will result in 75,000 more pregnancies and by extension 75,000 new babies born before Christmas. The special's opening number, "Ten Months 'Til Christmas…

The Snowy Day (2016)

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This new special based on the classic children’s book is a sweet, simple celebration of multiculturalism. It’s really targeted at young kids and those patient enough to watch with them, but it was pleasant enough for us to watch sans children.

It follows Peter through his adventures on a snow-filled afternoon. He wakes up to discover the huge piles of snow, and after snowman pancakes for breakfast (a new tradition, his mother points out) he heads out on a quest down the block to his grandmother’s apartment.

He encounters many denizens of the block, including shopkeepers and shoppers, friends and relations. Everyone is kind and friendly, even if some of them don’t have time to play in the snow.

Erin pointed out that this feels like it comes from the same place as some earlier Sesame Street: it’s an idealized version of New York City, where every nationality, race, religion, age, etc. lives together in harmony.

After Peter and his friend Layla chase off a cookie-eating dragon and bu…