As a child, I dutifully watched the Christmas animated specials that have become annual television events.
I didn’t think much of them then. They were sometimes cute, sometimes funny, sometimes sad.
But, as an adult, and particularly as a parent, I have been rethinking what’s under all that stop-motion film. On closer inspection, they looks more like plots from CSI, or storylines from failed Uwe Bole movies. I can only imagine what someone like Michael Bay or James Cameron would do with these.
Read through these five plot descriptions of popular holiday animations, and study them next time you watch these videos. What did we learn from them as kids? What do our children learn from them today? And how did they become a part of America’s Christmas tradition?
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966, 26 minutes)
This classic crime story focuses on the final heist of a criminally insane hermit. Irritated by the seasonal customs practiced by his neighbors (a tribe of inventive musicians), the hermit plots to steal all their possessions and food. With tremendous skill, a little luck, and the pervasive abuse of a small dog, the robbery goes almost entirely without mistake.
Afterwards, the hermit contemplates the innocence of the people he has just robbed, and is immediately stricken with a heart condition. This motivates him to return to the tribe and restore the stolen goods.
Lacking any form of law enforcement, the tribe pacifies the thief with a seat of honor, where they can all keep an eye on him.
Frosty the Snowman (1969, 25 minutes)
In this fantasy thriller, a mysterious man creates a cult of children who willingly follow him everywhere, even defending him against police. The man’s charms are most effective against an impressionable young girl, who agrees to leave with him to a foreign country, travelling illegally.
Kept alive by an enchanted object, the man is on the run after becoming the target of an evil magician. The magician’s pursuit eventually drives them to a remote wasteland, where the girl faces mortal death. The man cannot save her, but she manages to survive after an intervention by sentient animals. Unfortunately, the magician catches up to them and, after a high-speed chase, murders the man.
All seems lost until an omniscient elf appears and resurrects the man from the dead. The evil magician, awed by the elf’s sorcery, pledges to do the elf’s bidding and immediately departs on his first assignment. The elf then abandons the girl and whisks the man away to his hideout, thus capturing the enchanted object for his own purposes, which was the goal from the beginning.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964, 47 minutes)
As narrated by a hipster with an umbrella, this coming-of-age movie recounts the tale of two intertwined lives: the mutant child of a world-famous celebrity; and a young man who yearns to practice dentistry, despite having only read a single book on the subject.
The child’s parents attempt to hide their son’s “nonconformity”—yes, that word is in the film—but only succeed in filling him with depression and self-doubt. The child is rejected by the entire community, including its leader, who is world-famous for his kindness and generosity. The one exception is a girl who is strangely attracted to the mutant and likes to provoke her father by rejecting tradition.
The mutant runs away with the would-be dentist, and they soon team up with a loudmouthed L.L. Bean catalog model. They narrowly escape the sworn enemy of the mutant’s homeland: the rabid snow monster. However, the three find themselves on an island populated by the victims of an international kidnapping ring. The chief kidnapper begs the trio to free everybody, especially him, since he’s worn out from the burden of caring for all these hostages.
After a long hike and a period of self-reflection, the mutant learns the snow monster has captured his parents and could-be girlfriend. The mutant’s rescue attempt fails, but all are saved by the model, who manages to plunge the monster over a cliff before muttering, “Fly, you fools!” and falling into the abyss himself.
In the end, the mutant’s unique power proves critical to freeing the kidnapped victims, while also giving his own community a chance to fulfill its international export obligations. The young man, taking advantage of a general public ignorance about oral health, finally convinces people that he is qualified to practice dentistry. The model reappears, having beaten the monster after a long fight in the abyss.
And, of course, the mutant gets the girl.
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974, 51 minutes)
In a world where wizards bend the elements to their wills in massive battles, and flying animals transport passengers across vast distances, there is one unwavering constant: an immortal narcissist whose annual world tour is a major source of happiness throughout all of Western humanity.
This overly complex action-drama film focuses on a year when falling ratings and poor health lead the narcissist to cancel his tour. Alarmed by the possible publicity fallout, his PR team decides to conduct market research that might convince their employer to get back in action. They send two marketing executives to a small town in America’s heartland.
Over the next few days, the duo suffers a series of setbacks: they are attacked by a wizard, they are summoned to court on flimsy charges, their transportation is confiscated by local authorities, and, worst of all, they are unable to find a single person who seems to care about their celebrity.
In the meantime, the narcissist’s health has improved, and he has caught wind of his marketing team’s efforts. Aware of their utter cluelessness, he secretly follows them to the same town, where he is almost immediately welcomed by a group of fans that his executives had somehow missed. Thanks to his convincing disguise, the fans don’t recognize him, but the warmth of their fandom convinces the celebrity that he should renew his tour.
The narcissist locates his marketing executives so they can reboot his image and resurrect his tour. However, without any local currency, they have been unable to reclaim their transportation. The three of them appeal to the city’s top administrator. Not believing their story, the administrator forces a deal with them that ultimately results in complex diplomacy involving Skype calls between the narcissist’s agents and two powerful wizards.
In the end, the negotiations are only resolved after a guilt trip from the wizards’ mother.
Eventually, things return to normal: the narcissist resumes his world tour, his fans throw him a parade, and the marketing executives treat the entire affair as a success.
Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977, 24 minutes)
This dramatized religious biopic tells the story of a young ass in the bygone days of the Roman Empire.
Born with an unusual deformity and raised by a single mother, the ass is physically and emotionally abused by nearly everyone else in his life. After their brutish owner exiles them into a terrible storm, the child takes solace in the company his mother, the only source of love he has ever known. However, she dies while saving his life.
Suffering a mental breakdown, the newly orphaned ass wanders through a desert for months, guided by visions of an angel who mysteriously sounds like his mother. Eventually, the ass finds work carrying a pregnant woman on a trip. Upon reaching their destination, the woman gives birth to the Savior of all mankind.
Rather than staying with that Savior and the only humans who have ever shown him kindness, the ass returns to his original, highly abusive owner. It can be inferred that the orphan eventually finds a better life, for the story is introduced and narrated by a modern-day descendant of his: an ass employed by a famous red-suited celebrity known throughout the world for being generous one night a year.
Thus, the ass of Jesus Christ and the ass of Santa Claus are blended into one ass narrative, suggesting to viewers that Jesus is ancient history, but Santa is alive and watching you today.
There are many more Christmas movies with dubious plots. Share in the comments below: What’s your favorite? How would you describe the plot?
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Photo: Flickr/mike krzeszak
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