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The TV Specials of Christmas Past

Bob Chipman | 22 Dec 2014 12:00
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Looking back on some of the holiday's more bizarre Christmas specials.

The Christmas Special is a time-honored Western television tradition -- particularly in America, where they form the backbone of the Holiday's new secular mythology. The big guns are likely familiar even if you've never seen them yourself: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown, The Grinch. Pop-culture icons who transcend decades and generations. But there's a lot of money to be made in "evergreen" annual Holiday programming, so there's also a lot of specials that have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. Here's a sampling I've excavated, just for you:

Hanna-Barbera produced this adaptation of a poem by Charmaine Severson, and it's been a mainstay on Cartoon Network for years though it was largely overlooked on its original airing. Too bad, because it's just odd enough to be interesting amid all the other familiar tropes it's grounded in.

The premise concerns a bratty kid named Jeremy Creek who's managed to browbeat his bedraggled parents into giving in to his every material desire. When they finally have enough of him and cut off the constant supply of new toys, Jeremy vents in the form of the longest list ever sent to Santa Claus. The twist? Santa concludes that no human child could actually be so greedy, and that the list must actually be on behalf of an entire population... and as it turns out, "Jeremy Creek" is also the name of an impoverished rural town that The North Pole actually has been overlooking the decades due to a clerical error.

Eventually, seeing the difference his bloated would-be haul makes to the lives of the poor citizens triggers a change of conscience in Jeremy, earning him a coveted position as personal helper to Santa himself.

This Rankin/Bass stop-motion special isn't as well-remembered as many of their others, mostly because it's not part of the "universe" of their better known specials (see below). That's too bad, because it's pretty interesting in its own right.

An adaptation of Wizard of Oz creator Frank L. Baum's bizarre 1902 Santa origin story, framed around a meeting of a council of immortal fantasy creatures meeting to decide whether the human but magical-adjacent Claus should receive the gift of immortality as he approaches the end of his natural lifespan. It's a strange hybrid -- think R/B's Tolkien animations crossed with their 60s/70s Christmas classics -- but it's got a unique flavor. Relegated to obscurity for years, it recently re-emerged via the Warner Archive line.

Do you really need to watch another adaptation of Charles Dickens' immortal classic? If it's this unusually-somber animated version from Richard Williams Studios, maybe. Drawn to resemble 19th century etching art, it's a mostly straightforward telling of the tale, noteworthy mainly for Alastair Sim's voice casting as Ebenezer Scrooge -- a role he previously gained fame for (in live-action) in a 1951 feature film version often considered the best version of the story ever filmed.

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