We can’t go a year without defending holiday classics, can we? At this point I don’t know if they’re trolling for anger-fueled clickbait, not realizing that some people take fun or parody articles seriously now, or if they’re really that lame as people. There are folks out there who love writing articles or making videos critical of the wholesome Christmas specials nobody makes any more. Well, almost nobody but it seems when Rankin Bass stopped making Christmas specials so did everyone else. With the increase of channels, increase of animation studios, and the internet you’d expect a lot more than the weak offerings we get now. There feels like less holiday specials than more. And no, I’m not counting music concerts because they aren’t holiday stories, though it is the last bastion of the variety special.
Writers seem to want everything to be edgy or dark, which may explain in part why you have this vocal group insisting a movie with a lot of swearing where the hero shoots a bunch of bad people and sends the lead villain falling to his death is the perfect movie to represent the season of peace on Earth and goodwill toward man. Unless they make you cut your feet and ruin your Christmas party. Look, I like explosions as much as the next guy unless the next guy is boring. But they play “Let It Snow”…which is a winter song not a Christmas song even though that’s the only time it gets played, which is a whole other pet peeve so just enjoy it and stop trying to convince me it counts. Please?
This leads to a recent article by CBR, the site formerly Comic Book Resources until they decided to talk about everything, like the American Movie Classics of geek news sites. I don’t know if this list of eight “traumatizing” holiday specials is supposed to be a joke but I find there are people who will take these kinds of lists to heart and totally accept it as gospel, so either for fun to counteract the stupidity I’m going to act as if they mean it, sad as that makes me. If this traumatized them (granted I haven’t seen The Snowman nor did I grew up with the book so I’m only going over seven of them) then how do they watch horror movies? I don’t watch horror movies but even as a kid I loved them and that hasn’t changed at age 47.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
It may be atop most annual holiday watch lists, but that doesn’t mean A Charlie Brown Christmas is necessarily heartwarming so much as it is an object of nostalgia. Peanuts cartoons are rife with mean-spiritedness, and this one’s no different.
Charlie Brown’s struggles are meant to show that no matter what he doesn’t give up. And honestly only a handful of…actually now that I think about it once the main cast was assembled it was basically the girls and sometimes Snoopy (who usually just does his own thing but at times does show he likes our hero) who looked down on him. Linus is his friend while Schroeder and Franklin were usually nice to him. Peppermint Patty and Marcie were unknowingly fighting over him. Frieda is vain, so mostly it’s Lucy and to a lesser extent Violet who set out to make him miserable. Sally’s a little sister so she doesn’t count. I guess you could make the case for the kite-eating tree.
The gang appoints Chuck director of the Christmas play, then ignores his direction, ridicules his efforts and berates him for selecting a subpar tree. Despite the fact that everything always works out, Charlie Brown specials never force the other kids to confront or change their behaviors, and it’s never quite clear if they’re espousing or just criticizing their capitalist allusions.
Not capitalism, commercialism. The spirit of what Christmas is only fits into capitalism when it comes to the actual buying of the gifts, decorations, and family meal items. It was the commercialism of Christmas that the special objects to, leading to Linus’ speech. And it wasn’t the gang that chose him. Lucy got him to do it because nobody else wanted the job, and she was acting partly as his quack therapist. Lucy is the antagonist. You think she’s going to change? That’s not the kind of comic Mr. Schultz was working. At the end [SPOILERS] everyone uses Snoopy’s decorations to decorate the tree and because as Linus said “it just needed a little love” it becomes a rather decent little tree. It’s tradition versus modern flash and gaudiness. And what’s traumatizing about it? One entry in and I’m already thinking the title WAS clickbait.
A Claymation Christmas (1987)
The special is hosted by two dinosaurs who spend most of their time arguing about the definition and pronunciation of “wassail”, from “Here We Go A-Wassailing” fame. The skits, in all their creative flourish, are bizarre enough to make you question your sobriety, none so much as the one that takes place in Notre Dame Cathedral that sees an ensemble of sentient church bells play “Carol of the Bells” by repeatedly striking themselves in the head.
Some of the character designs are certainly up to one’s taste but again, where’s the trauma? That clip above is one of most beautiful pieces of animation I’ve seen and if you watched the whole whole special (I do recommend it) the comedy isn’t belly-laugh inducing but you will get a chuckle out of something there. This special is fun. Point out the trauma!
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1970)
In this version of his story, Baby Santa is abandoned at the Burgermeister’s doorstep. When the cruel autocrat tries to stick him in an asylum, a gust of wind re-routes him to a hidden village where he learns the ways of the elves. A supposedly dastardly Winter Warlock is a lurking threat throughout, and the mere thought of a society in which play is outlawed is enough to terrify children. Still, the most uncomfortable thing about this stop motion classic might be how much time it spends on Mr. and Mrs. Kringle’s romance.
First off, the Winter Warlock reforms halfway through the movie. There’s a song about it and everything. Second of all, the special gives (historically inaccurate but fun) reasons for various Christmas traditions, and that includes Mr. And Mrs. Santa Claus’s relationship. I thought it was handled rather well and they make a good pairing. I am STILL not seeing the trauma here.
But let’s address the elephant in the room and according to the video that alerted me to this article CBR does use this attack in another one of these articles. (Really, CBR? More than one of these and you used some of these more than once? Seek help!) The song above gets this terrible reputation as being pedophilic. Yeah, NO! It was a different time, both when the special aired and when it takes place, where we didn’t assume everyone was a raging sex fiend and these kids never experienced emotion or happiness, never mind sharing love with others. Notice the kisses are PECKS ON THE CHEEK! Even that would infuriate the Burgermeister Meisterburger, the actual threat of the story. (The Warlock just explains the magic.) He hates kids, hates toys, hates fun, hates happiness, hates love. The dude has more issues than the article writer and that was the point. He wasn’t just bringing toys, he was bringing happiness and trying to get these kids to show love to others. Love does not equal sex, and people believed in actual love back then, something that seems to have started to die with the generation after mine. No, I don’t want to psychoanalyze the world but in this case y’all cray-cray!
Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
George Lucas and Co. were approached about doing a Christmas special for CBS and came up with the idea of Chewbacca’s family celebrating Life Day. Otherwise, production was largely out of his hands. The final product — deeply trippy, curiously sexual and alternately offensive in its attempts at comedy — was so disappointing that Lucas tried to erase its existence from the public record.
Fine, I’ll give you this one. “Traumatizing” may be a joke, but yeah that scene with “Grandpa Itchy” watching a sultry Diahann Carol is just…why? The rest is really stupid except for the Nelvana-produced short that introduced Boba Fett and led to the Droids and Ewoks cartoon, the only things good tied to this special beyond the Wookie homeworld getting an official name. Frankly if anyone should be traumatized by this it’s Harvey Korman. What they put him through was inhuman.
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
As far as the bullying aspect you can watch my review where I put down that nonsense or any of the articles I’ve written on the subject. Sorry the videos are no longer available, especially that really stupid cover of the song where the writer has Rudolph forget Christmas is about forgiveness. I still hate that cover. As far as the article trying to code Hermie as gay in a 1960s kids special that probably didn’t even consider it a topic (it’s about not going along with the group or accepting what others say is your place in a given group, which can be interpreted that way if that’s you’re perspective, but for me it’s individuality and following a dream instead of conforming) or somehow connecting the Misfit Toys with “ableism” (we stopped using “handicapped”, too?) I think someone’s reading too deep in the wrong areas and not paying attention in others. Way to warp the entire concept of the special. Granted I still don’t like that Santa was a grumpy jerk.
The Little Drummer Boy (1968)
The lyrics and melody of “The Little Drummer Boy” are a bit somber, but the 1968 Rankin/Bass version spins the humble song into a tale of death, despair and greed. Aaron is a farm boy who entertains his cherished livestock with his skillful drumming. When bandits murder his parents and steal his flock, he loses all faith in humanity. The orphaned nihilist takes off with the three animals he has left, and joins a traveling band of grifters, only to have his beloved lamb killed in a chariot crash. A quick trip to baby Jesus’ manger brings it back to life and restores Aaron’s faith, but this special’s overall vibe is unsettlingly cynical.
Traumatizing? Maybe the murder scene, but the writer even notes the lamb was brought back. The vibe is about overcoming Aaron’s cynicism as he has to overcome his negative attitudes towards people and learn to love again besides the animals. The sequel shows the results of that as he tries to help people who need his help against the Romans destroying a church bell. As the narrator says, Aaron has to overcome his hate because hate is a horrible thing but love overcomes. We definitely need that message in 2020! (By the way, also reviewed this one AND posted it for Saturday Night Showcase. Decide for yourself.)
The Smurfs Christmas Special (1982)
They end up being tracked by a cloaked stranger who is, by all indications, the devil. The stranger enlists grinchy Gargamel’s help in apprehending them, presumably so he can deliver them all to hell. Fear not, though, grandpa survived and the Smurfs defeat the devil with the power of song.
Nice try, but I posted that special in Saturday Night Showcase just a couple of weeks ago and you’re making it sound worse than it is. The Stranger being the Devil is at best implied and the scene is only scary in so much as he’s trying to take the kids with him to some other dimension. I wasn’t traumatized as a kid and I was hardly the bravest kid ever. There’s a reason I never watched anything scarier than the classic Doctor Who and I was more traumatized as an adult by the new show when that dude’s face turned into a gas mask. I got over that rather quick. The Satan stand-in on that episode of He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe was scarier and even that was tame as a kid. If you got more easily scared than I did as a kid you were kind of pathetic.
So at best this title was misleading. Nothing is really that traumatic, even for a kid, about these specials. There are young adults who insist they watched A Nightmare On Elm Street at age five without any problem and I know they’re full of it, but this is too far the other way. If these specials traumatized you then you had the easiest life possible. Outside of this…
…nothing on this list should be causing a single nightmare. Seriously, Korman should hate this special more than Lucas.