Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Garfield and Claymation Christmas

As a child, one of the best things about holidays beyond getting the free stuff was watching the various cartoon specials that would air in the weeks before the holiday arrived. Easter, Halloween, maybe Thanksgiving, and definitely Christmas. There are so many Christmas specials that there's usually at least one TV channel that airs them night after night in December these days. We all know the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, with its commentary against commercialism and C.B.'s poor little tree. We've all memorized How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Your age determines just how many of the Rankin/Bass specials you're familiar with, but Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is definitely the most well known and popular of the lot. I love all of those and could probably recite them to you I'm so familiar with them. But I also have strong memories of another series of specials that seem to have fallen by the wayside, and honestly I don't understand why. I'm talking about the Garfield holiday specials.

There were three Garfield holiday specials in total, made for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The good news is that you can still get them by purchasing Garfield's Holiday Celebrations, but I really think it's a shame that they don't show these on TV anymore. The Halloween and Christmas ones in particular are excellent, and it seems to me like Garfield is still a viable character. He's still in the papers, isn't he? They made movies about him just this past decade. Ok, they weren't very good, admittedly. But if they can air a Shrek Christmas special, it seems to me like Garfield is still worthy too.

I watched the Garfield Halloween special this year in time with the season, and I can tell you without a doubt that it still holds up. It's a perfect balance between spooky and funny and has some fun songs besides. The Thanksgiving special on the other hand, much like the Peanuts version, is forgotten for a reason. It's more about Jon and his attempts to woo Garfield's vet. You would think they would have saved that for Valentine's Day. So I decided to sit down and watch the Christmas special again and see if the reality matched my memory.

At a half hour long, it really keeps things moving. We get an opening of Garfield dreaming of getting every present he ever wished for, but then he wakes up and they're off to the farm to go see Jon's family. There's a cute song where Jon talks about the joys of Christmas and Garfield counteracts it with all the negatives. The absolute best part of the special is Jon's grandmother. She's a sassy lady who shares most of Garfield's philosophies and the two of them bond immediately. There's a lot of cute jokes mixed in with the sentimentality of the special. I really love the way that Jon and his brother Doc Boy act like small children all over again, forcing their dad to read them a story and waiting anxiously to open their presents on Christmas morning. There's a cute side story as Odie secretly builds a present for Garfield. The main story is mostly about Grandma and how much she misses Grandpa. Garfield stumbles upon some old love letters Grandpa sent her when they were dating and gives them to Grandma as a present. It's sappy, but there's enough humor mixed in so as it's not sugary sweet.

In writing this I realized there's another special I used to watch that even I had nearly forgotten: Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas. Perhaps the most obvious reason that this is no longer shown is because its most well known section features the California Raisins, but that doesn't mean this isn't quality entertainment. It's a collection of Christmas carols put to various claymation sequences.

The special is hosted by two dinosaurs, one a straight man and the other an idiot. They provide the comic relief in between the carols. The stop motion animation is still high quality and great to watch even after all these years. I really enjoy the Carol of the Bells. There's something about watching those bells smack themselves on the head that makes me giggle. The absolute best is the Joy to the World sequence, which uses a 2D surface rather than 3D figures. It has the look of an animated watercolor painting, and its just gorgeous. While most kids these days won't have a clue just who the California Raisins are, their Motown rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer is still pretty good. Unless kids are too "cool" to appreciate Motown these days. While I understand why someone wouldn't want to shell out the money for the DVD of this, you should be able to find it on Youtube.

What's your favorite Christmas/holiday special?

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