It’s Christmas Eve, and what better way to celebrate the season than with passive entertainment? Christmas specials and movies abound, with more produced every year, ranging from the classic to the not-so-classic. And because I have nothing better to write about at the moment (unless you want to hear about my uneventful dentist appointment this morning), I figured I’d try one of those newfangled “lists” that all the popular young bloggers have been compiling for generations. Here are my five all-time favorite Christmas bits o’ cinema/television. Because I’m too lazy to compile multiple lists, this particular list includes everything, be it a feature film or a half-hour episode of a television series.
5. Mystery Science Theater 3000: “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”
Let’s start out with a feature film episode of a television series. The Joel-era “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is one of two Christmas episodes of MST3K, the other being the Mike-era bit of bizarre Mexican cinema simply titled “Santa Claus”. Both episodes are solid–some may feel that riffing on movies intended for young children is a bit unfair, but come on, just because a movie is aimed at youngsters doesn’t mean it should insult their intelligence. Thank God for the clever wit of Joel, Mike, Trace, Kevin, and the other writers.
It was actually a tough choice between these two episodes as to which should make this list, as both are hilarious, and I happen to like both Joel and Mike equally, if for different reasons. Oddly enough, one of the reasons I ended up going with the Joel episode is because of one of Mike’s contributions–the brilliantly inappropriate Christmas carol, “A Patrick Swayze Christmas”. It just narrowly beats the songs in the later episode (although kudos to “Merry Christmas, If That’s Okay” for being so far ahead of its time). However, the main reason “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is on my list is for the final host segment (1:35-5:47), which somehow manages to combine bitingly cynical satire and genuine sweet innocence, somehow providing a beacon of sentimentality amidst a sea of mockery.
Oh, yeah, and the comments during the movie are funny, and stuff.
4. A Pinky and the Brain Christmas
When you think about it, there’s no reason “Pinky and the Brain” should have been a great show. Expanding a recurring comedy sketch into anything longer than six minutes is usually doomed to failure from the get-go (see: any SNL movie that’s not “The Blues Brothers” or “Wayne’s World”, and even “Wayne’s World” is pretty subjective in this case). What’s more, this was a short segment from a Saturday morning kids cartoon (“Animaniacs”), spinning off into a half-hour prime time series. Recipe for disaster, right?
Still, it worked for two main reasons. One, “Animaniacs” was a great show. And two, Pinky and the Brain themselves were strong characters. Much stronger than most kid show characters, definitely much stronger than most late-night sketch show characters. Nowhere was this better exemplified than in the Emmy-winning “Pinky and the Brain Christmas”. In a scene that brings me to tears, or at least very close to them, no matter how many times I watch it, Brain realizes how much Pinky cares for him when he reads his letter to Santa, the letter Pinky had been bugging him to let him deliver. Pinky asks for nothing for himself, but wants his friend Brain to finally be rewarded for all his hard work. Brain is so moved by this that he can’t bring himself to go through with his current plan for world domination, even when it lies so easily within his grasp.
“Pinky and the Brain” was saved from being just a repetitive goofy cartoon about two mice constantly failing because there was genuine pathos there, something severely lacking from most cartoons today, be they for children or adults. The Christmas episode was both hilarious (what other “kids cartoon” would crack a Donner Party joke in a holiday episode?) and heartwarming.
3. It’s A Wonderful Life
Yeah, it’s kinda long. Yeah, it’s overplayed. Yeah, it’s on everybody’s list. Yeah, you probably have been sick to death of this film for years. Well, screw you, this is my blog.
Aside from the inherent awesomeness that is Jimmy Stewart, this movie is a great examination at how one person can affect the lives of those around them. Heck, the “every man died, because you weren’t there to save Harry” part alone is a precursor to any film that attempts to demonstrate the butterfly effect. I love stories that are so carefully orchestrated that removing one little piece of the puzzle would change everything (see: any episode of “Arrested Development”), and that’s exactly what this movie shows: what would change from removing one person. Sometimes we don’t realize what a difference we really do make.
2. The Muppet Christmas Carol
I love the Muppets. I just do. And this is one of their best films, and almost definitely their best post-Jim Henson film.
The script somehow manages to be more accurate to Dickens’ text than many filmed versions of the story while maintaining a Muppet sense of whimsy, with great gags and delightful scenes. The cast is perfect all around, from Statler and Waldorf as Jacob (and, for the purposes of the film, Robert) Marley, to Michael Caine as Scrooge. The songs are hit and miss, but the ones that work are undeniably catchy. Some of the Christmas Future scenes are genuinely chilling, other scenes are heartbreaking, and the movie as a whole is too much fun not to watch every year.
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
If you don’t like this, you have no soul. It’s a scientific fact.
Nothing more I can really add about this particular special, so I’ll leave you with Linus.
Merry Christmas, one and all. God bless us, every one.