During the month of December, television usually pulls out all the stops to broadcast as many holiday-themed TV specials as it possibly can. Some of these are classics and hold places near and dear in our hearts, while some we wish we could forget altogether. Grab a cup of the strong stuff and let's break it down.
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
Released in 1965, this animated Christmas special brings the Peanuts gang from the comic strip to the television set. Downtrodden Charlie Brown tries to discover the true meaning of Christmas and gets help from the rest of Charles Shultz's iconic characters including Linus and Snoopy. This TV special was commissioned and sponsored by Coca-Cola, yet the producers believed it would be a rating flop. The Peanuts were voiced by child actors, a jazz soundtrack accompanied the special and there was no laugh track, which was a staple of 60s television. The producers were proven wrong as watching this special has become a holiday tradition in many households today.
FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
This animated feature extends from the popular song about the snowman who comes to life. Originally aired in 1969, the creators of the special wanted a 'Christmas Card-like' feel to the show so they hired Mad Magazine artist Paul Coker Jr. to paint the backgrounds. While this is a favorite of children and adults alike, it does come with a sad ending, because Frosty the Snowman will melt when the weather gets warmer, but he will be back again someday.
RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER
The famous song written by Johnny Marks in 1939 is based on story published by the Montgomery Ward Company. In 1964 Rudolph made it to television, with a stop motion special produced by Rankin and Bass. The TV special expands on the song with the titular reindeer running away from the North Pole with one of Santa's elves and finding the Island of Misfit Toys. Never missing a year in syndication it is the longest running Christmas special of all time.
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
This 1966 animated television special was directed by Chuck Jones, who is an academy award winning writer and director with Warner Bros on Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. The special comes from the 1952 Dr. Seuss book of the same name and features Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff in the role of the Grinch and the narrator.
RUGRATS CHANUKAH SPECIAL
Unfortunately, the Chanukah holiday doesn't get the same TV special treatment as Christmas, but one of the best examples is from the Nickelodeon cartoon, The Rugrats. The main cast of babies and toddlers are told the true story of Chanukah by their grandparents and imagine themselves in the heroic roles. (the historical Maccabees become the 'Maccababys") Equal parts history lesson and entertaining cartoon this special is still played every year on Nickelodeon around Chanukah.
STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL
This 1978 TV special only aired once on Thanksgiving 1978, and we can all be thankful for that. Riding on the recent success of the first Star Wars movie, Han Solo, and Chewbacca must travel to Chewie's home planet for Life Day. Pursued by the Empire, the loosely put together skit show includes other primary cast members including Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker. Along the way you meet Chewbacca's family: his father Itchy, his wife Malia and their son Lumpy. With guest appearances by Jefferson Starship and Bea Arthur, the whole thing goes off the rails pretty quickly and misses the mark. One notable accolade happens during a cartoon sequence in the middle of the special: the first appearance of the bounty hunter Boba Fett!
BABES IN TOYLAND
This weird holiday special also only aired once, around Christmas in 1986. Starring a very young Drew Barrymore as eleven-year-old Lisa Piper who is whisked away to Toyland. Unfortunately, Toyland looks like a terrible roadside amusement park, and the television special goes downhill form there. Also starring "the star of the summer blockbuster Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" Keanu Reeves, the main cast must help the citizens of Toyland and the magical toymaker, played by the Karate Kid's Pat Morita. In the final minutes of the movie, it is revealed that Pat Morita's character is actually Santa Claus, creating a confusing ending to a vastly weird holiday special.
THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS
The same team of Rankin and Bass that brought you, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer produced their final stop-motion television special with The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. The story is actually from a 1902 book by Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum and details the origin of Santa Claus. Found as a baby by the ruler of the forest, Santa is raised by lions and meets wood nymphs and fairies along the way, while battling demons and spiders to eventually become Santa Claus. The origin of "Ho Ho Ho" is also laid out in this trippy TV special from 1985.
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