Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday special review: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’

This month we are reviewing cartoon Christmas television specials for some reason.

There are some Christmas specials that do not boast the same notoriety as others, yet remain close to our hearts for personal reasons. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is mine. I like it because I remember watching it as a kid—that is the only requirement of my positive Christmas nostalgia, that I watched it on television—and whenever I bring it up in conversation, which is more often than I’d like to admit, no one has any idea what I’m talking about.

“Twas the Night Before Christmas” is a 1974 animated special based on the famous 1823 poem by whoever wrote that. Because that poem is relatively short and succinct and unable to sustain 22 minutes of high-flying cartoon action, liberties are taken. The poem, for example, doesn’t explore the strong dynamic between a human family and mouse family that so often prefaces Christmas Eve.

The special begins with everyone in town receiving their letters to Santa back from the post office. Context clues indicate this happens well before Christmas, so I guess the people and mice in this town send their Christmas letters out in spring, just to be safe. Everyone is confused as to why Santa has rejected their letters. Members of a local mouse family check the newspaper—the human newspaper, it's uncertain whether the mice have their own source of media—and discover someone has written a letter to the editor on the town’s behalf claiming Santa a fraud. Father Mouse soon deduces who wrote the letter—his book-smart mouse son and open Santa skeptic, Alfred. Alfred wears a sweater with a big “M” on it that I can only assume stands for “mouse” and not “Alfred.”

Meanwhile, Joshua, a human father and clockmaker, has an idea. He will make a giant clock for the town which, when it strikes midnight on Christmas Eve, will play a very pleasant Christmas song that will convince Santa to return to their town. “Santa hates us, let’s build him a clock,” is a curious premise, but everyone on city council is convinced by the song’s beauty. City council includes a bumbling, stuttering, clueless mayor and several other councilmembers who are literally sleeping during this meeting about the clock. City councils rarely come across well in these Christmas cartoons, and I fear the producers may be editorializing.

Father Mouse shows his son Alfred the harm his disbelief has caused everyone, which includes a scene in which the town’s best artist throws his portrait of Santa Claus into the ocean at sunset. Surely we'd all like to dramatically throw our hopes and dreams into the ocean from time to time, but one can only hope in this case that a dolphin didn't choke and die on the construction paper. Alfred comes around thanks in large part to the clock Joshua has made—proving that even an intelligent adult believes in Santa—which he then breaks by accident, ruining the presentation.

                                                           Mice + clocks = Christmas

Joshua is deemed a failure, all hope seems lost for Santa’s return, and Alfred has now ruined Christmas twice. Cue the greatest Christmas special song ever made, “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand.” If you think that title is great, you need to hear the song, which will happily remain in your head for life. Seriously, if you’re not inspired by this song you don’t have a soul, and that’s a fact.

Alfred decides to correct his mistake by fixing the clock, which he feels he can do on account of his extreme nerdiness. Christmas Eve night, the clock strikes midnight and nothing happens. Everyone is sad. But wait! The clock begins to play the song, convincing Santa to reverse course in midair and visit the town. It turned out this miracle just needed a ha—I can’t even. I am going to cry just thinking about it. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” gets a perfect 10 Christmas stars.

Thus concludes our string of Christmas special reviews, in which I have written about several decades-old children’s cartoons for your local newspaper. I hope you have enjoyed/tolerated this endeavor, but either way—Merry Christmas!

This column appears in the 12/20 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/21 issue of the Peoria Times.

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