A popular one in my household is watching classic Christmas animated TV specials. Some of them are still in regular rotation, including A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), which I wrote about last year for The Interim. Others have gradually been forgotten by Father Time – or are perceived to be too old-fashioned for today’s generation.
Then again, maybe they’re not.
My six-year-old son, Andrew, loves to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and Frosty the Snowman (1969). He has memorized many of the popular songs, and a fair number of the scenes and lines. The huge smile on his beaming face, which always appears when he asks me to put on the DVDs again, more than makes up for the dozens of times I’m “forced” to see them each week.
Why does he enjoy watching these two Christmas specials? The overlords of the mystical boob tube, or TV executives, would argue he’s part of a tiny demographic of loyal viewers. The upbeat music and stories could appeal to him, as they have to other children. It could be my influence and enthusiasm for older TV shows. Andrew may have even inherited (God forbid) his old man’s whacky sense of humour.
I believe there is a simpler explanation, however. Andrew likes them because there’s so much to like about them.
Yes, he loves playing with modern toys, including Thomas the Tank Engine wooden trains. Yet my wife and I have always tried to instill an appreciation for the classic children’s literature we read and treasured. And, in my case, the classic animated TV series/specials/movies I dearly loved.
Andrew has therefore been exposed to the best of both worlds. He’s able to watch modern Christmas animated specials like Olive, the Other Reindeer (1999) and The Polar Express (2004), and appreciate them just as much as his friends, Rudolph and Frosty. While his views and tastes will obviously change as he gets older, the fond memories he currently has from watching these older shows will hopefully last a lifetime.
There’s no reason why your children and grandchildren can’t have the same wonderful experiences and memories, too.
Here’s a good way to start building a video library. I own two excellent DVD collections: The Original Christmas Classics and Classic Christmas Favorites. These boxed sets contain some of the best animated Christmas specials ever broadcast on television.
The former collection is out of print, but a newer (albeit slimmed down) version is still sold in stores during the holiday season. Many great Rankin/Bass Productions stop-motion and traditionally animated specials, such as Rudolph, Frosty, The Cricket on the Hearth (1967), The Little Drummer Boy (1968) and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970), are in this set. You’ll hear the voices of Burl Ives, Fred Astaire, Jimmy Durante and Danny Thomas as narrators, and sing along with happy tunes like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “We Are Santa’s Elves” and “We’re A Couple of Misfits.” Also included is the brilliant Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962), the first-ever animated Christmas special produced for TV, and Frosty Returns (1984), directed by Peanuts animator Bill Melendez and Evert Brown.
The latter collection is widely available. The highlight is Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), directed by Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones. With Boris Karloff’s stunning narration (he deservedly won a Grammy Award for his performance), and Thurl Ravenscroft’s intense voice on the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” how can you go wrong? There are also many Rankin/Bass specials, including The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974), Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976) and Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977). Listen for narration by Shirley Booth, Red Skelton, Andy Griffith, and Tom Bosley, among others.
Rankin/Bass, Peanuts and the Grinch are among the gold standards of annual Christmas TV specials. Yet there are many other worthy animated programs to view on YouTube, and/or purchase on VHS and DVD, for Christmas.
I would strongly recommend The Night the Animals Talked (1970). Based on a Norwegian tale of Jesus Christ’s birth, it has a classic feel in the animation style and humour, with a subtle dash of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. McGraw-Hill rereleased it as an educational film in 1975, although it hasn’t been seen on TV in more than 40 years.
Another fun selection is The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree (1979). It’s a lighthearted, family-friendly adaptation of Jan and Stan Berenstain’s popular book series. Children will enjoy watching it, and so will quite a few adults.
Three other Christmas specials would also be great additions to any video library: Davey and Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found (1964), based on the popular stop-motion Christian animated series; A Christmas Carol (1971), a made-for-TV special that won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film; and Jack Frost (1979), narrated by Buddy Hackett, and the only Rankin/Bass special not included in most boxed sets.
There’s no magic formula to introducing your children to classic animated Christmas TV specials. The key is to let curious young minds explore these older shows, and discover why many of us enjoyed (and still enjoy) watching them. Who knows? In time, this may become an annual Christmas tradition in your home, as it is in mine.
Michael Taube is a Washington Times columnist and a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.