Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Spirit of Christmas Specials

It's that time of year again. Our TVs are about to be flooded with all manner of holiday specials. Holiday specials just don't have the same pizazz for me as they once did.

Last week, I stayed up late to check out Merry Madagascar, aka the Madagascar Christmas special. For those who haven't been keeping tabs on it, DreamWorks is trying really, really hard to turn all of their animated films into full-blown franchises, and one way they're doing that is by giving just about every film they've produced a holiday special. It all started with the Shrek Christmas special from a couple years back, and continued with the Monsters vs. Aliens Halloween special from last month.

The plot of Merry Madagascar follows your fairly standard "famous characters save Christmas" plot. Santa crash lands on Madagascar, and all of our favourite talking animals who've been stranded there since the first movie figure they can use Santa's sleigh to get home to New York, after they finish delivering all the presents of course. Meanwhile, an amnesic Santa wanders around Madagascar and teaches all those wacky lemurs about the true meaning of Christmas. It was nothing remarkable, and scattered with pop culture references that'll be lost in a year.

I don't know. Modern Christmas specials just aren't that magical anymore. Most modern Christmas tales seem to have replaced the Magic of Christmas with a Cynicism Towards Christmas. I tend to consider "modern Christmas" tales to be anything made after 1994. I use 1994 as my cutoff date because that's when the remake of Miracle on 34th Street came out, and I use that as my case study.

See, in the original Miracle on 34th Street, Santa is in a court hearing to determine whether he's really Santa or not. Near the end of the hearing, Santa's lawyer comes up with a dazzling defence to prove that Santa is really Santa. All these letter carriers come in, carrying bags full of letters to Santa. Since the post office recognizes Santa as Santa, then surely he must be Santa. The judge agrees and Christmas is saved! That, my friends, is magical. But what happens in the remake? Instead of that, Santa's lawyer starts waving around a dollar bill and giving a lecture on the nature of faith. That's not magical...that's preachy.

Nothing's been made celebrating the magic of Christmas post-1994. Well, The Polar Express came closest. And there has been the odd Christmas special, such as 1995's Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree.

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree was notable in that it was one of the first Muppet things produced following the death of Jim Henson. Kermit the Frog served as our narrator, and a whole cast of original Muppets was created just for this special. The special all starts with Mr. Willowby, an eccentric millionaire who loves Christmas the most, and is well-known for his lavish Christmas parties. And, of course, the centerpiece of his parties are always the magnificent Christmas tree. But the heroes of this special are this little mouse family, who set out to find the perfect tree. And oh, they do find the perfect tree, but it is far too tall for their little mouse house. So they decide to just take the top. But then, Mr. Willowby's lumberjacks come along and take the whole tree. The mouse family clings to the top of the tree for dear life. The tree is taken back to Mr. Willowby's place, and it is determined to be too tall, so the top is cut off and given to another family...and so on and so on, and the mouse family hiding in the top of the tree gets to observe how all these different cultures celebrate Christmas.

It had an all-star cast of humans, too. Mr. Willowby was played by Robert Downey, Jr, Mr. Willowby's butler was played by Leslie Nielsen, and a kindly Sweedish boarder in Mr. Willowby's house was played by Stockard Channing.

Speaking of Christmas specials, I should brace myself. I'll probably start getting my annual deluge of e-mail requests asking for a copy of A Mouse, A Mystery, and Me.

Anyone else remember this holiday special? It first premiered in the late-1980s. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a big hit, and live-action/animation blends had become all the rage. A Mouse, A Mystery, and Me followed the Christmas adventure of two teenage girls. These girls had a very special after-school job...they were best selling mystery writers! But see, they didn't really write the mysteries...the mysteries were written by a talking animated mouse that live in their purse. They took the credit for his writing because apparently the world isn't ready for talking animated mice. Anyway, when a beloved department store Santa goes missing, its up to these young ladies and their talking mouse to find Santa, thwart some department store embezzlers who intend to frame Santa, and save Christmas! Television mainstay Dick van Patten played Santa.

A Mouse, A Mystery, and Me was quite popular in Edmonton, mainly because it actually was filmed in Edmonton. That fact made it a regular holiday tradition on ITV (now known as Global Edmonton) well into the late-1990s.

Now why do I get deluged with e-mail requests for it every Christmas? Well, when I was younger, I taped as many Christmas specials as a I could. And, every couple of years, I would catalog my Christmas special collection. A few years ago, I decided to post my catalog online. And, lo and behold, I mentioned that in my collection was A Mouse, A Mystery and Me. So, I get people with fond memories of that special, e-mailing me, asking me for a copy.

And sadly, I have tragic news for them. I cannot give them a copy. For, the last time I was home, I discovered that my mother had taped over it with her precious Coronation Street. It is lost to the ages.

Much like other Christmas specials that celebrate the magic and the wonder of the holiday season. Whatever you do, just be sure to watch the original Miracle on 34th Street, and not the remake.

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