A Very Cartoon Christmas
Feature-length, holiday-centric films have a doozy of a time trying to distinguish themselves from one another. Moral lessons rehashed and storylines recycled from decade to decade are enough to render the merriest soul a steadfast Scrooge, but things get even murkier when you jingle bell rock your way into the realm of Christmas-oriented television. With an hour or sometimes even less to work their way into the hearts of viewers, these "very special" episodes of TV shows and stand-alone holiday events have an even greater shot at ending up as disposable as that dreaded pair of socks under the tree. But when seen at just the right age, the corniest of Christmas media can go on to conjure fond memories aplenty, our minds ripe with visions of characters we knew and loved telling us what the season of giving is all about. I wouldn't say that the trio of televised specials contained in Warner Archive's Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics Collection serves up the cream of the holiday crop, but these cartoon shorts all mean something to someone, and it's these people who are in for a nostalgia-laden good time should they opt to revisit them.
Casper's First Christmas (1979). Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, and other cartoon favorites come together to bring Casper the Friendly Ghost some yuletide cheer. If you're a retro animation fan, then Casper's First Christmas is your dream come true. In just a hair over twenty minutes, you bear witness to a cavalcade of Hanna-Barbera all-stars converging and helping make Christmas a little less lonely for a certain, pint-sized phantom. Sure, it's a shameless gimmick meant to send the kiddies running to their TV sets, but this special gives all these characters just enough time to rattle off some jokes and a signature catchphrase or two without wearing out their welcome. As a matter of fact, they're the best part about this cartoon, since Casper's constant, nasally moping aren't about to win you over, no matter how much the creative team wants it to. Casper's First Christmas is as saccharine as the most sugar-coated gingerbread house, but if you grew up on a steady diet of old-school Hanna-Barbera, there's hardly a better gift than seeing your favorite figures simply doing what they do best.
A Christmas Story (1972). A mouse and a basset hound scramble to make sure a kid's letter to Santa finds its way to the jolly guy himself. Sorry to disappoint all you fans of Ralphie and his trusty Red Ryder -- this isn't *that* Christmas Story we're talking about today. This cartoon is a far more bland, repetitive, and incredibly disposable endeavor, despite its pleasant nature and best intentions. Kids will likely get a kick out of Goober the slow-witted pup and Gumdrop the plucky rodent as they race to catch up with Saint Nick before he heads out of town. But there's a strong probability that parents will find their patience wearing thin, as the animal pals engage in the same tired antics over and over for twentysomething minutes. The short's spirits are chipper, but its unimaginative songs and uninspired comic hijinks do quite a number on the pacing. While it means well and might distract the pre-school set for a spell, A Christmas Story will strike too many folks as boring to work its way into their traditional holiday viewing rotation.
The Town Santa Forgot (1993). Dick Van Dyke narrates the tale of a greedy little brat who accidentally becomes the savior of a ramshackle village. I vividly remember catching The Town Santa Forgot when it first aired, and as a spoiled rotten youngster myself at the time, it sure did the trick in getting me to curb my attitude (or, at the very least, whittle my Christmas list down a few volumes). Nowadays, there isn't much altogether special about this pint-sized morality yarn, with the script abiding by a Dr. Seuss-style rhyming scheme and ending on a terribly foreseeable twist. But the short still holds a good deal of nostalgic charm for me, thanks to the warmness of Van Dyke's narration and an "it's better to give than receive" moral that the little ones won't roll their eyes at. Those who grew up with The Town Santa Forgot and now have families of their own will be glad to know that it's as effective now at convincing children not to act like monsters as it was back in the day.
(The Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics Collection is available to purchase through the Warner Archive Collection: http://www.warnerarchive.com).