Christmas is on the way, so I decided to do a post with a theme for the holiday. A common thing for the holiday’s is one will write about their favorite films centering on Christmas, but I tend to enjoy such subject mattered cartoon shorts slightly more. Thus this article will feature some of my favorite cartoon Christmas specials and an explanation of why I am fond of these particular shorts. Most of these are episodes from shows I enjoy watching, but not all.
“For Whom The Sleigh Bell Tolls” from “American Dad!” – This is a pretty much hit and miss show, sliding between brilliance and dullness from episode to episode. But I can’t deny that this episode has everything I would like to see more often in a Christmas centered episode: bizarre re-telling of Christmas traditions, adventure, light social commentary, and, of course, a lesson on the importance of family union. It starts off with the father of the shows main family, Stan Smith, giving his fourteen year old son Steve a gun behind his wife Francine’s back. While practicing shooting, Steve accidently kills a man he assumes to be a mall Santa. Stan convinces his son to not tell anyone about the incident, and after Francine discovers what has happened, the whole family together buries the dead man in the woods, hoping they can put the horrific accident behind them. However, they soon receive threatening letters, and after discovering the unmarked grave to be empty, the Smiths realize the man they thought Steve killed was the real Santa Claus and he’s out for revenge…
The story in its self is already surrealistically hilarious and the animation is actually pretty good, as well as the final showdown between Santa and the Smiths being a very entertaining, and visually ironic, action sequence. The twist of Santa being a crazed vendetta seeking individual is particularly delightful in a perverse sense and sends the narrative in odd and satisfying directions. There’s also a very good subplot of how Stan has to learn to accept his daughter Hayley’s new husband as being a part of the family, as well as Hayley’s new husband (his name is Jeff) divining a direction and means to respond to Stan’s mean spirited behavior. Francine is a delightful combination of a wise as well as a bit of an amoral person, and it’s darkly, painfully funny to see how Steve develops from a nerdy innocent young boy into a gun nut. Not only one of the best animated Christmas centered episodes, but also one of “American Dad’s” best episodes.
“Depth Takes A Holiday” from “Daria” – This choice may come off as way cheat to some, but Christmas is a pretty major driving factor in the only fantasy based episode from the show. The Plot centers around the unlikely event of Daria suddenly encountering Cupid, the spirit of Valentine’s Day, and a Leprechaun, the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day on her way home. They tell Daria that Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day have all left the Island of Holidays, the resident home for all Holidays. However, since the recent runaways were the three most popular holidays, the natural order of both the High School like Island as well as the normal world have gone berserk and it’s up to Daria and her friend Jane to convince Christmas and the other popular holidays to return to their home – otherwise the world can kiss Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day good bye.
The best thing about this episode is that it not only is a good episode to watch on Christmas, but it also serves as a good Halloween, Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick ’s Day’s episode (not to mention Guy Fawkes Day). I also like how Daria, the heroine of the episode, keeps her trademark deadpan sarcastic attitude throughout the episode no matter how weird things become (or where ever she finds herself). The whole tone of the episode is pretty cynical as well, as the major threat portrayed with a world lacking Christmas and Halloween is only the decrease of shoppers for candy and presents ( Which Daria and Jane point out is not necessarily a horrible effect for the condition in which our world finds itself). Having a whole episode about Holidays and making it entirely skeptic about the often optimistic philosophies people have about Holidays is pretty brave and a rare move and the critique of consumerism is laid out by Daria and Jane early on in the episode. Absurd and sardonically comical, this is episode is a good watch for any holiday season.
“She of Little Faith” from “The Simpsons” – This episode from the Simpsons is mostly known for the canon decision of making Lisa, the eight-year old girl in the family, a Buddhist. Lisa grows concerned that the church has grown too materialistic for her, which leads her to find a new faith in Buddhism. While this decision makes Lisa very happy, her family as well as the rest of the members of the church are greatly displeased with her new way of life, and therefore attempt to make Lisa convert back to Christianity by using Christmas as bait. As one could guess, Lisa doesn’t respond to this plan coolly…
While Christmas originally is a Christian holiday, it has become more and more of a holiday many non-Christian people could celebrate as well (I myself celebrate it despite being very much an atheist!). This episode gently and beguilingly highlight the manner in which different beliefs can come together in the spirit of fellowship and kindness which the holiday entails and which the episode “She of Little Faith” brilliantly does by focusing on Buddhism. The Episode is an open song to tolerance as a main theme which we can all free to embrace. The episode’s end is touching in how Lisa resolves her conflict with her family, showing how everyone can have a nice holiday after they decide the most important thing is love and compassion, not who you pray to (or if you pray at all).
“A Huey Freeman Christmas” from “The Boondocks” – Here’s another somewhat cynical Christmas special, but it does also feature some of the sweetest moments in the series. Huey, a ten year old who is much wiser than his young years, gets the chance to direct as well as write his School’s Christmas Play. Huey dismisses the opportunity first since he “doesn’t give a damn about Christmas”. However, after his grandfather ignores his attempt to explain the actual history of the Christmas holiday, Huey becomes determined to make the school play so people will see his vision of the holiday. He soon becomes rather obsessed with the project, causing him to lose sleep, alienates those around him, becomes a bit of “fatcat” and in the end faces an absurd charge of racism from the school staff regarding his wish to cast Jesus as black (But he is from the Middle East, Huey points out to no avail). Meanwhile, his younger troublemaking brother Riley terrorizes Mall Santa’s, as well as their neighbor Jazmine who is a devout Santa worshipper (confusing the story of Jesus with Santa’s to hilarious effect in the episode).
The episode has very sad moments, but surprisingly has quite happy and side-splittingly funny moments as well. The beginning features Jazmine having a dream of preaching the word of Santa in a gospel church, which is cute in its portrayal of childlike innocence and confusion and makes a mocking comment on fairy tales told to children. Huey’s idealism butts heads with the adult world he lives in rather roughly, but he strongly stands his ground, as his character often does in the show. It is always inspiring to watch. Robert, Huey’s and Riley’s grandfather, is shown in a rare tender moment in the episode when he tenderly carries the sleeping Huey to bed, which is a mere second long scene in the show, but still summons a “aw” from the audience. Over all, it is also honest in its portrayal of how life doesn’t always work out as we would like it to. (However, most of the characters get a happy ending, especially one of Huey’s nicer teacher’s who attempts to embrace, though a bit naively, tolerance and multiculturalism).
“A Very Special Family Guy Freakin´ Christmas” from “Family Guy” – The plot of this episode centers on the Griffith family getting ready for the Holiday, with the mother Lois doing most of the work. Peter, her husband, is not helping out much and causes disaster after disaster. Lois tries to be reasonable and level headed, but, finally, after only wanting to clean up one of the disasters thrown at her, and realizing she has no paper towels to help her grapple with the mess, Lois experiences the ultimate meltdown in one of the best freak-outs ever animated.
This episode is a pretty goofy and over the top but is a spot on depiction of all the stress and disasters Christmases, and the holidays, can sometimes contain. Poor Lois truly puts everything into these two special days (which she thinks is a time of good cheer and union), trying to make things joyous even when they take a turn for the very worst. the episode is hilarious, while addressing how unfairly all the responsibility was given to Lois to handle. This makes the ending, where things turn out for the worst for Lois but good for the rest of the family, quite bittersweet. While I do think “Family Guy” as a show can be pretty bad at times (The Series started strong n the first three seasons, but has taken a bit of a dive since), this episode is still very good and pretty unusual with it’s not quite jolly ending.
“How the Grinch stole Christmas!” (1966) – This is one of the most famous short animated films ever to be made. Based on a book by Dr. Seuss, the short is directed by Chuck Jones (and animated in the classic Chuck Jones style!) and Ben Washam, as well as the entire script being read by Boris Karloff. Karloff’s voice is capturing, as well as the rhymes and lines used in the story being memorable. There’s also the main characters theme song, “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” which is an classic and iconic “the Villain Sucks” song.
The Story centers on the tale of the Grinch, a green creature who lives up in the mountains alone. He dislikes everything about Christmas, and therefore comes up with the plan to steal Christmas from the “Who’s down in “Whoville”. This short is referenced a lot in other Christmas specials, so if you haven’t seen this special yet, you should for the “education” (for instance, it is referenced in episodes of the Simpsons, PJ’s, South Park, and on and on).
“Woodland Critter Christmas” from “South Park” – Absurdity and winter wonder has never been mixed as magnificently as in this South Park episode! Stan, one of the four young protagonists in the series, comes across a group of cliché-like cute talking animals and gets dragged into helping them with various tasks after the female porcupine becomes pregnant despite being a virgin. The animals tell Stan that their savior is on the way. However, he must kill a mountain lion that is known to eat their savior. Stan does so, only to realize that the pregnant porcupine is not pregnant with a seed from god, but from Satan, thus making it possible for the anti-Christ to be born…
“South Park” has made a lot of great Christmas episodes, this being perhaps the funniest one. Stan’s reaction to everything happening around him is great, the twist at the near end of the episode is pretty surprising and it is packed with rich jokes. It’s also a fun deconstruction of cuteness, making the sweet cuddly Disneyesque animals malevolence and demonic wouldbe destroyers of the world. And one shouldn’t miss out on how the day is saved at the end of the episode. Just a pure enjoyable Christmas special.
So there are my favorite animated shorts with the upcoming holiday’s theme. Hope you all have a nice Christmas/Holiday Season which is upon us!
And lastly here are a couple honorable mentions of Christmas/Holiday Specials which you should see when the chance arises:
“Marge Be Not Proud” (The Simpsons) – A beautiful, beautiful depiction of Mother-Son relationships during the holiday.
“Red Sleigh Down” (South Park) – Camp, camp and more excellent camp all the way through!