Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Seasonally Appropriate Blog About... Christmas!

Or, more accurately, Christmas cartoons.

In order to prep myself for the coming onslaught of assorted horrors that arise while working retail during the Christmas season, last night I arranged a sort of impromptu Christmas Special marathon to lighten my spirits somewhat. It consisted of your usual allotment of "classics" - your Grinches, Red-Nosed Reindeers, et cetera - as well as Christmas-themed episodes of my favorite cartoons - The Simpsons, Tiny Toons, Mickey's Christmas Carol, et al - but I made a fatal error in judgment:I placed A Charlie Brown Christmas at the top of the playlist. The result, of course, being that all of the following Holiday specials rang about as hollow as the blackened souls of all my ex-girlfriends. Ah, well: most of my ex-girlfriends.

Kidding aside, the Grinch and the Rankin-Bass puppet shows are fun in their usual nostalgic way, but I've yet to see or read or hear anything else outside of Dickens perfectly nail the idea of the "Spirit of Christmas" so poignantly as Charles Schultz's melancholy masterpiece.

Its perfect because its cynical and slightly subversive without trying in the least to be edgy; Charlie Brown isn't some renegade crusader out to expose the lies and hypocrisy of the capitalistic greed that has cannibalized the Judeo-Christian holiday, but rather criticizingly examining the selfish motives behind his so-called friends and loved ones during the wintery celebration, all the while trying his damnedest to figure out what, exactly, Christmas is all about on a personal and spiritual level.

Of course it culminates in Linus' wonderful rendition of the Gospel of Luke, but strangely, the rote reading of Bible verse never comes off nearly as didactic and preachy as any ham-fisted Christmas soliloquy by more secular outlets. In a brilliant move by Schultz, neither is there any explanation or further extrapolation on the Biblical text: it blindsides the viewer with the brutal honesty that, yes, Christmas is "about" the birth of Christ, but its "spirit" lies in each of us.

Which is to say nothing of its other qualities. Its still bitingly, achingly funny, with my favorite scene being Schroeder's frustration in playing his own composition of "Jingle Bells" to an adamantly ignorant Lucy, and the increasingly bowdlerized versions he performs until she finally "gets it."

Nearly every other Holiday special, movie, album, et cetera, that has since attempted to expand upon the "spirit of Christmas" sadly falls into the same class of crass, commercialist claptrap that Charlie Brown crusaded against. Which then leads me to wonder, since A Charlie Brown Christmas has been such an enduring pop-culture hit for the past 42 years: do people really "get it"? When I ride around and see opulently horrendous Christmas monoliths strewn across the bone-dry yards of uptight yuppies in Tucson Arizona, I wonder if the message has ever sank in. To say nothing of the day-to-day grind working in a mall bookstore the entire month of December. Is sweating it out with literally hundreds of other aggravated shoppers in a busy mall in order to buy your boss' wife a ten-dollar gift card really worth the irritation to yourself and others?

Nonetheless, I certainly enjoyed the other Christmas specials I watched, I guess, on a purely entertaining/nostalgic level. I have fond memories of wearing down my VHS copy of Mickey's Christmas Carol to a fine magnetic pulp, mainly because Disney hadn't cross-pollinated their stable of cartoon characters in such a way back then, and because its an unusually lavish production, especially considering it came on the coattails of the massive financial failure of The Black Cauldron. Still, though, Mickey and Goofy aren't entirely the right characters to make the many themes of Dickens' classic come to life without seeming like, well, treacle. Which is what Mickey's Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas, and virtually every other Christmas episode of every cartoon show is: overly-sentimental and distinctly Hallmark card-esque. Besides, Dickens' story was better adapted ten years prior in Richard Williams' own half-hour animated special.

That said, no amount of Peabody-winning cartoon genius can keep from bemoaning the long hours, cold weather, and general feeling of soul-crushing annoyance from idiotic, drooling customers this Christmas. Ugh, and bah humbug.


Jesse said...

While I was never a huge fan of the show itself, I've always been a fan of the Bump in the Night Christmas Special. Plot was nothing special, of course, but you have to admire any series that aims for an epic, hour-and-a-half format... even if a good twenty minutes was reused footage.

Oh, and is it just me, or do almost no network syndicated runs of the Simpsons air "Marge Be Not Proud" anymore? The Comedy Network in Canada aired it tonight, but I think they're just about the only ones who do around the holidays. It kind of gives a disconcerting message about how people want from their Christmas specials.

Josh said...

Forget ye not sir, the wondrous rendition of Christmas present in "A Wish For Wings That Work". While it has a much more cynical approach at times, it manages to retain the spirit and message of the Schultz piece, while giving it the shiny, gee-whiz gloss that I always felt as a child on Christmas morn (or, more accurately, all day Christmas eve, trying to convince my parents to let me open 'just one' present at midnight). I could go on about Christmas FILMS, but that seems to be another topic...in fact, I think I'll go on about that in my own space [/plug].

Mappy said...

By the by, Josh, you may be interested to know that A Wish for Wings That Work is now on DVD, a fact that I was only barely made aware of, due to Universal's complete and utter lack of any sort of marketing or promotion of it. Ironic, don'tcha thunk?

AND DAMNIT BYRONIUS I WANTED TO HEAR YOU WAX POETIC ABOUT THE TINY TOONS SPECIAL. Sure, it's just a hollow, oh-so ironic rehash of a moldy oldy Hollywood favorite, but hearing about Buster Bunny always makes me hot.

Come to think of it, why is "It's a Wonderful Life" considered such a holiday chestnut anyway? Most of it's not even set at Christmas, and Capra's own "Meet John Doe" had a much warmer Christmas climax anyway.

Josh said...

Actually, our boy Byronius was kind enough to present me with my beloved Christmas special a few weeks ago. And I still haven't gotten him anything. Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.