Sunday, December 20, 2009

Classic Christmas Cartoons: The Top 10

This is, understandably, a follow-up to the top 10 list of Christmas songs posted a couple of days ago. I encourage you to offer your own selections if you disagree with this list.

10. Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964). Based on Johnny Marks' song, this Rankin-Bass (Videocraft) entry expands on the story told in the song, explaining why Rudolph was shunned by his fellow reindeer. 45 years later, it's still an enduring classic, and established Rankin-Bass' success formula for their Christmas specials.

9. The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas (1973). It's a simple premise. A young bear cub (voiced by Tom Smothers) decides to put off hibernation to discover Christmas, and travels to the big city. Radio icon Casey Kasem narrates.

8. Santa Claus is Comin' To Town (1970). Another Rankin-Bass special based on a song. This one tries to explain the origin of Santa (Mickey Rooney) in the simplest way possible.

7. Frosty the Snowman (1969). Rankin-Bass put aside their usual "animagic" animation process and opted for traditional line animation for this entry. The special marked its 40th anniversary earlier this month, and the theme song, sung by narrator Jimmy Durante, has gotten its fair share of airplay on the radio.

6. The Town That Santa Forgot (1993). Hanna-Barbera produced this one for cable & syndication, but I didn't know it existed until I found it on Cartoon Network a few years later. A spoiled brat named Jeremy Creek sends Santa a list so big (How big is it?) that Santa is forced to bypass the child's namesake town to fulfill Jeremy's selfish desires. Narrated by Dick Van Dyke.

5. Beavis & Butt-Head Do Christmas (1996). I'm not a big fan of the MTV series, but this was actually one of the dim duo's best. Parodies of "It's a Wonderful Life" & "A Christmas Carol", plus Butt-Head dresses as Santa to answer "viewer mail" with Beavis dressed as a reindeer. Series creator Mike Judge (King of the Hill) outdid himself with this one.

4. The Little Drummer Boy (1968). From Rankin-Bass (who else?) comes this tale of a shepherd boy who travels to Bethlehem to play his drum for the Baby Jesus. The 1958 song by the Harry Simeone Chorale provides the soundtrack for this classic, which would see a sequel produced 10 years later.

3. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). A union of three diverse icons. Based on the short story by Dr. Seuss, narrated by movie legend Boris Karloff, and produced by the inestimable Chuck Jones for MGM. The Grinch could've gotten away, but upon hearing the people of Whoville singing carols in the face of adversity, the miserly hermit found it within himself to return his loot. I think I understand why the live-action version with Jim Carrey nearly 35 years later wasn't received as well.

2. Christmas Is.... (1970). A simple tale of a boy and his dog discovering the true meaning of Christmas. Sadly, this has not seen a lot of airplay in recent years, except maybe for airing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). The first and most beloved of all the "Peanuts" specials. For a lot of us, it is the first time we would learn about the birth of Jesus, as Linus recites a passage from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. Also, the soundtrack produced a pair of classics, "Christmas Time is Here", and "Linus & Lucy", the latter of which would be used in several other "Peanuts" cartoons.

Honorable mention goes to the various interpretations of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", aside from the Beavis & Butt-Head parody noted above. "Carol" has been adapted many times over the years, most notably featuring Mr. Magoo (1962), the Jetsons (1985), and, in homage to Magoo as Ebenezer Scrooge, Fred Flintstone essayed the part himself in a Bedrock theatre production (A Flintstone Christmas Carol, 1994). I await your feedback.


Samuel Wilson said...

The first South Park Christmas episode is worthy of note for introducing Mr. Hankey and for being, if I recall right, the first installment to spare Kenny's life after teasing his expected demise at numerous points. Also, the Magoo Christmas Carol really belongs in the top ten, don't you think?

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Christmas Is... -- that's the one with the kid named Benjy who plays a shepherd in the Christmas pageant, isn't it? If it is, I haven't seen that one in ages.

I don't have a list but sure and begorrah The Year Without a Santa Claus would be on it. It's probably my favorite of the Rankin-Bass perennials.

hobbyfan said...

Ivan: You are correct, sir! Benji & his dog Waldo would return in "Easter Is...." about a year or two later.

Sam: Magoo got pushed out of the top 10, and South Park, IMPO, doesn't belong there for celebrating sentient feces.