One thing that has been confirmed for me this month during Animation Celebration: Christmas in July, is that animation certainly holds a special place in all of our hearts at Christmas time. Today I'd like to remind you of a few lesser known animated holiday entertainments. Maybe this will jog a few memories or perhaps inspire you to seek out something you've never seen before. For your convenience: every title in this mini-guide has already been released on DVD.
|This is a must-see for Will Vinton claymation fans.|
Many of us remember 1987's Claymation Christmas Celebration by Will Vinton. However, most people only remember the special for one scene: the animated California Raisins singing an R&B version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." But the half-hour TV special is actually a collection of claymation sequences each set to a traditional Christmas song. What I'd like to remind you about is an earlier claymation piece also made by Vinton entitled A Christmas Gift. This eight minute short film, made in 1980, takes its inspiration from the 1969 song "Christmas Dinner" recorded by folk singers Peter, Paul & Mary. Not only is the animation top-notch but the story is restoring as two lonely, hungry people come together to share Christmas. I've seen this short film used as interstitial filler on television but I suggest watching it on DVD--you'll want to be able to watch it over and over.
|When you know what to look for, you can often still find this short film airing on cable religious TV networks.|
If you're a fan of claymation, then surely you've seen the two holiday short films 1998's The First Christmas and 2000's The Chimes, right? Both of these animated pieces from Xyzoo Animation I've seen airing on PBS and elsewhere. The story of The First Christmas is literally the first Christmas--the story of the Nativity, narrated by veteran actor Christopher Plummer. The First Christmas is breath-taking animation with more detail than I've seen anywhere else. Look for the white angel that appears to the shepherds to see the individual feathers on her wings flutter. The three wise men on their camels are so amazingly detailed that their garments and jewelry sway as they ride upon their camels. I'm still in awe each time I watch it.
The Chimes, narrated by the prestigious British actor Derek Jacobi, is adapted from a story by Charles Dickens. The story centers on Toby Veck, a poor man living in Victorian London who has dreams for a successful life for his daughter while he is constantly reminded of his lower class station in life. This is quintessential Dickens and it takes place at the New Year's holiday. If you're a fan of Dickens' holiday stories, I hope you'll give this animated version of The Chimes a chance.
|1974's Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus is ultimately a story about hope.|
In 2009, a CGI animated TV special Yes, Virgina, sponsored by Macy's, first aired on CBS in prime time. I actually really like that new TV special--it's family-friendly, it's smart, and it looks good. But I'm still the biggest fan of the animated TV special that I grew up watching, the 1974 version entitled Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. It is produced and directed by Bill Melendez--the same guy who did A Charlie Brown Christmas. You know the story right? It's based on the true story of a little girl named Virginia O'Hanlon who wrote a letter in 1897 to the New York City newspaper, The Sun, asking about the existence of Santa Claus. The reply she received in print, written by the editor Frank Church, includes the line “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus...” I not only adore the look of the 1974 TV special, but it is narrated by Jim Backus--remember Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol? And, the title song is sung by Jimmy Osmond, the youngest of Donny & Marie's many brothers. Did you grow up watching this TV special like I did?
|Do you know where Santa's magic comes from? Let the 2000 animated movie The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus explain it.|
Another animated entertainment that is often overlooked is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. You say you've seen the 1985 Rankin/Bass stop motion animated special? But have you seen the feature-length version made in 2000 featuring the voice cast of Robby Benson, Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook? I fear most TV viewers may overlook this version because it has the exact same title as the Rankin/Bass story. However, the 2000 animated movie looks quite differently--it is made in the style of a Saturday morning cartoon, as in traditional animation.
Both versions of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus are adapted from the same source--the 1902 children's book written by L.Frank Baum, who also wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series of books. I'm not going to say that this 2000 animated movie is better than the Rankin/Bass version--I'm actually not sure which I like better. But I will say most people I talk to don't even know this version exists merely because it is confused with the 1985 version with the same title. I do however, find it very interesting to see an origin story for Santa Claus that was originally dreamt up at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century. In the past, I've seen this animated movie airing on the Cartoon Network. Last year, I found it on DVD at Walmart. Have you seen this animated movie version? Do you like it more than the Rankin/Bass version?
|My version of the 1950 movie The Great Rupert has been colorized.|
At Christmas time, I like to sit back and watch old Hollywood movies--especially ones with a holiday theme. Have you ever watched A Christmas Wish also known as The Great Rupert? This 1950 film, directed by Irving Pichel, stars Jimmy Durante, Terry Moore, and Tom Drake. Why do I bring up this forgotten black-and-white movie now? Because it includes stop-motion animated segments produced by the Academy Award-winning animator, George Pal.
This charming but quirky film includes a squirrel named Rupert that is brought to life on screen through stop motion animation. Rupert is a trained squirrel originally owned by a guy in vaudeville hoping to create a sensational new act. Rupert is trained to dance a jig while wearing a Scottish costume--I said this movie was quirky, didn't I? Anyway, an impoverished family moves into an apartment at Christmas time and experiences a sudden windfall of money--a miracle they attribute to heaven's blessings. What viewers see is this abandoned but trained squirrel Rupert pushing found money through the rafters of the apartment's ceiling which falls down to the new residents. This comedy film is entertaining and adorable if you give it a try. The animation that brings motion and control to the squirrel Rupert is also entertaining and adorable. It's also fun to see an older Christmas movie that you've maybe never seen before.
What's your favorite overlooked animated Christmas entertainment?