Last week, I dissected one of my beloved holiday specials, but I don’t want you to think I’m some sort of Grinch. (Especially not the horrifying, mutant live-action Grinch that Jim Carrey portrayed a few years ago.) I actually spend as much time as possible each year gawking at the same cartoons and live-action shows that filled me with wonder as a kid. Here are four of my tried-and-true favorites:
- Ziggy’s Gift
Don’t laugh. Inexplicably, one of the hokiest gag-a-day features on the comics page produced an Emmy-winning Christmas cartoon, complete with a heart-string-tugging soundtrack by Harry Nilsson. The pint-sized, bulbous-nosed protagonist never speaks, but he does manage to unwittingly outwit a gang of crooked Santas and a pickpocket. He also brings holiday cheer to a tiny orphanage.
- A Garfield Christmas Special
If there’s anything that Garfield has done right, it’s animated specials for every occasion. From a surprisingly creepy Halloween adventure to a strange Hawaiian sojourn, Jim Davis’ characters touched all the bases. A Christmas trip to dorky Jon Arbuckle’s family farm provides plenty of fish-out-of-water comedy, and the scenes with Jon and his brother reverting to childhood and impatiently tormenting their father hit a little close to home. If you’re up for the mushy stuff, Garfield comforting Jon’s widowed grandmother will moisten your eyes a bit.
- A Muppet Family Christmas
I could probably put any one of the numerous offerings from the Henson crew on this list, but this one beats all the others for sheer numbers of Muppets. In keeping with the “holiday homecoming” theme, Kermit, Fozzie and the gang descend upon Mama Bear’s house. There are crossovers galore, from caroling Sesame Streeters to jolly Fraggles. My favorite gag involves a desperate turkey buying himself a stay of execution by convincing the Swedish Chef to try to cook Big Bird. The main conflict involves (who else?) Miss Piggy, who loses track of time while shopping and gets caught in a blizzard en route to the festivities. The show wraps up with a singalong by a room full of dozens of Muppets, which is an impressive sight.
- Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
I discovered this one just a few years ago and quickly added it to my Yuletide rotation. The cast alone should convince you track it down: Rowan Atkinson, Robbie Coltrane, Jim Broadbent, Miranda Richardson, and Hugh Laurie. It’s a witty variation on the done-to-death Dickensian standard, as Ebenezer Blackadder is the lone good-hearted soul in a long family line of villainous men. Naturally, every conniving creature in Victorian England lines up to take advantage of him. He’s visited on Christmas Eve by a boozing ghost who tries to urge him to stay on the straight and narrow by showing him examples of the wickedness of his ancestors. Of course, Ebenezer misses the point completely, noticing how much fun those scoundrels seemed to have. He wakes up on Christmas morning a new man — lashing out at those who have wronged him, as well as the few innocents who haven’t. But he gets a quick comeuppance in an uproarious twist.
Okay, the next time we meet here it will already be 2009, so have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, a Holly Jolly Chanukah, a Kickin’ Kwanzaa, and of course a Boisterous Boxing Day!