In our fast-paced society, with December packed full of commitments and high expectations, it can be hard to find that elusive Christmas spirit. Relaxing with an old Christmas classic can give a few minutes of respite from the seasonal rush. Add a hot cocoa and bowl of popcorn to the mix, and you might have the makings of a holiday tradition!
The Christmas season gives a unique opportunity to introduce the kids to old movies. In fact, there are very few ?modern? Christmas classics out there. From the old animated TV specials of the 1960s, to heartwarming classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, old holiday films are family friendly and full of Christmas spirit.
A good starting point for introducing kids to holiday classics is the old Christmas cartoons we remember from our own childhoods. These short ?films,? which premiered as animated television specials, began airing during the 1960s and have become a holiday television staple over the past 40-plus years.
It’s no surprise. Although the animation isn’t anywhere near the quality we see now, that isn’t always a bad thing. Along with the jerkier style is a gentler pace, with characters that are a little less slick than their modern counterparts. There’s also the opportunity to learn a little about older filmmaking techniques, like stop-motion animation using puppets (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, for example).
The specials are easily accessible, too. All have been released on DVD, but you don’t need to run to the video store. Check your local network and cable listings, as these holiday classics are played several times during December.
Winter weather brings fun and games in the snow, but most snowpeople don’t magically come alive. Frosty the Snowman (1969), loosely based on the popular song of the same name, is the story of one who does. A magical hat brings a little girl’s snowman to life. She’s determined to keep him from melting come spring, and who could better solve the problem than Santa Claus? The girl and Frosty set out toward the North Pole, pursued by the hat’s former owner (who now realizes his folly in discarding a magical hat). It’s a cute story about friendship?and a warm way to enjoy the snowy weather!
Trivia: The credits incorrectly list June Foray (the voice behind Lucifer the cat in Cinderella and Rocky Squirrel and Nell Fenwick in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) as the voice of the little girl. Although this voice actress recorded the parts her recordings were not used, and those of another, uncredited actress substituted. To this day, It’s unknown whose voice is actually heard in the special.
Familiar characters take the stage?with a twist?in another song-turned-show, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). Rudolph is mocked by family and friends because of his unusually red, bright nose. He joins forces with Hermey, an elf whodunnits’d rather be a dentist than make toys like his fellow elves, and the two set off on a journey of self-discovery. Encounters with the Bumble (think Abominable Snowman), a Yukon prospector, the unloved toys on the Island of Misfit Toys, and Santa himself lead to a satisfying ending in which Rudolph saves the day and everyone finds a place to belong.
Trivia: Rudolph was created using the stop-motion technique with small puppets made of wood, wire, and felted wool. Regrettably, most of the puppets have been lost to history, but two from this special have a sweet lost-and-found story. The Rudolph and Santa puppets were given to the children of an employee of the production company. For years they were loved almost to pieces, then forgotten. Forty years later, a relative found the puppets in an attic; they were lovingly restored and placed on display. For more information on the restoration process, visit this link.
The written word inspired animated Christmas classics, too. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) is the familiar tale of the holiday-hating old grouch whose heart was ?two sizes too small.? It closely follows the Dr. Seuss book on which it was based, often quoting verbatim from it. The titular Grinch, determined to stop Christmas celebrations in neighbouring Whoville, concocts a cruel plan. But though he succeeds in taking away the Whos? Christmas gifts, he can’t quite do away with their holiday spirit.
Trivia: The villainous Grinch is voiced by none other than Boris Karloff, the original Frankenstein’s Monster. Karloff also narrates the special.
Another spin on Christmas spirit, the much-beloved animated special A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), follows Charlie Brown’s search for a more meaningful Christmas. Disgusted by the commercialistic attitudes of his friends, he tries to bring a little heart back into the season. It’s a touching story that reminds all of us what Christmas is all about.
Trivia: It’s ironic that a movie emphasizing the over-commercialization of Christmas was originally sponsored by, and used as an advertising vehicle for, the Coca-Cola Company. Product placement in an old kids? show? That’s right; in the original televised version, there were several verbal and visual references to Coca-Cola, although they’ve since been removed. For example, in the original version, Linus knocks down a Coke can with his blanket; It’s now a generic can.
Finally, no Christmas movie canon is complete without a retelling of Dickens? A Christmas Carol. Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962) is an animated musical which is, according to the credits, ?freely adapted? from the original story. It’s a play within a movie; the cartoon characters are actors playing the parts of the Dickens characters on a Broadway-style stage, so there are two stories going on at the same time. It’s a good first adaptation for young kids, with enough slapstick and characterization for the whole family to enjoy.
Trivia: If You’re curious about the behind-the-scenes production of an animated cartoon, check out animation director Darrell Van Citters? recently released Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the Making of the First Animated Christmas Special (Oxberry Press, 2009).
I feel in the Christmas spirit already! And animated holiday specials are just the start. The Christmas season is a perfect time to introduce the whole family to the joys of old movies. In the next two issues, we’ll look at some ?live-action? Christmas films, from popular classics like Miracle on 34th Street to lesser-known romantic comedies like The Shop Around the Corner. Since the Christmas feeling is a common link with the past, these movies are also more accessible to modern tastes than other old films might be. Call it the magic of the season? Happy holiday watching!