Once again during this holiday season, I devote an entire Animation Anecdotes column to some animated Christmas tales.
1987 Animated Christmas Specials. New animated Christmas specials were especially popular in 1987 for some reason. Even in the December 17 1987 episode of the live action series The Charmings entitled “Yes, Lillian, There Is a Santa Claus”, the story took a few jabs and inside jokes at other holiday specials including the line, “This never happened to Mr. Magoo!” Here are some of the new specials that debuted in 1987:
• A Mouse, A Mystery and Me was a live action (with a mouse named Alex animated by Ruby-Spears and voiced by actor Donald O’Connor) Christmas special about a world-class mystery-writing mouse who spends Christmas Eve with his sleuthing and writing partner, a teenage girl named Jill, tracking down a missing Santa (Dick Van Patten) when a young boy claims that Santa has been kidnapped. They locate the Santa as well as uncover an embezzlement scheme costing the department store thousands of dollars. It aired December 13, 1987 and was meant to be a pilot for a possible series. Alex lived in Jill’s purse and she charged him rent.
• A Garfield Christmas special shown on December 21, 1987 was uneventful because creator Jim Davis insisted that most people’s holidays are not spent learning the meaning of Christmas or helping out some poor individual but simply a time when family gets together. Davis referred to the story as “very autobiographical,” adding “That was my Christmas on the farm.” Many of the Arbuckle family were based on Davis’ own family members. Garfield announces at the end, “It’s not the giving. It’s not the getting. It’s the loving.”
• Santabear’s High Flying Adventure premiered December 24, 1987. It was co-produced and directed by Michael Sporn and based on a toy created by the Dayton-Hudson department chain. A previous half hour special Santabear’s First Christmas was shown in November 1986. Animation by John Celestri, Lester Pegues Jr., Doug Compton, Fred Burns, Jeff Shelly, Daniel Haskett, Robert D. Anderson, Norma Rivera, Carol Millican, and John Canemaker. Actor John Malkovich provided the voice for Santa Claus.
• The Adventures of Candy Claus premiered December 25, 1987 about a rag doll given as a gift to Santa that comes to life. The American Lung Association had the character on its Christmas Seals for 1987 and 1988. A portion of all merchandise sales featuring the character were supposed to go to the association although the press releases failed to mention what portion of those sales were contributed. Yoram Gross was the director. This was meant to be a two part movie but only this first part was made, leaving the ending on a cliffhanger with Candy trying to find her kidnapped brother.
• The Little Troll Prince: A Christmas Parable was a half hour syndicated 1987 special animated by Hanna-Barbera in conjunction with the International Lutheran Laymen’s League. Troll prince Bu is converted to Christianity by two small girls (who happen to use tiny, troll-size Bibles as Christmas ornaments). Trolls are ugly so Bu is transformed not just internally by God’s love but also externally so he becomes cute and loses his large ears, big nose and tail. His father is the two-headed King Ulvik (voiced by Vincent Price and Jonathan Winters).
Oy To The World. On December 18,1995, CBS aired Oy To The World: The Nanny Cartoon Christmas Special. The special was the fourteenth episode in the third season of the TV sit-com that featured comedienne Fran Drescher as a Jewish nanny working for the Sheffield family. All the main characters provided the voices for their animated counterparts.
The regular show had an animated main title sequence done by New York’s Magnet Pictures and directed by Kim Johnson. For this special, a Hollywood crew did the work headed by Lauren MacMullen who directed, storyboarded, timed, designed some of the characters and backgrounds, and handled color styling. Her character designs resembled Johnson’s work for the main titles.
Of course this is all a dream and there are some unusual touches like making Blitzen the reindeer Jewish and naming him Blintzes because who else would work on Christmas. Brighton, the only son in the family, is acting very selfishly, and Fran wishes he could learn that Christmas is not about what you get but what you give.
On their way to help at a homeless shelter, she gets hit on the head by a bell and a gust of wind whisks Fran, Brighton, and Chester the dog (who in the series belonged to a different character) to the North Pole where they meet Santa Claus, who looks a lot like Mr. Sheffield, and learn that Santa might not make it this year because of a sort of ice cloud witch called the Abominable Babcock. The day is saved by introducing the creature to a Dustin Hoffman mumbling “rainman” cloud who is a secret admirer.
It’s Coca-Cola, Charlie Brown. When A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) special first aired December 9,1965 (and was reshown in 1966) it was sponsored soley by Coca-Cola. As was common on many television shows, there were acknowledgements of the sponsor in the show and those segments were edited out in subsequent showings when there were different sponsors.
The two most prominent were Linus hitting a sign that says “Brought to you by the people in your town who bottle Coca-Cola” and during the end credits was a card saying “Merry Christmas from the people who bottle Coca-Cola”.
The FCC eventually imposed rules preventing sponsor references in the context of a story (especially in children’s programming).
In the scene where the gang throws snowballs at a can on a fence, the urban myth was that it was a Coca-Cola can in the original broadcast, which has since been replaced by a generic can. This has been debunked by producer Lee Mendelson. It was always a plain can. The scene was edited out in some later showings to make room for more commercials as were other scenes and bits of dialogue generating the assumption it was missing because of it being a Coca-Cola can.
Mike Peters on A Charlie Brown Christmas. In the Washington Post December 7th, 2010, cartoonist Mike Peters who did the comic strip Mother Goose & Grimm said, “There has not been a Christmas that we or one of our kids hasn’t bought a sad, pathetic ‘Charlie Brown Christmas tree’. The smallest, most scrawny tree we could find for some cherished place in our home. Sparky [Schulz], (producer Lee) Mendelson and (director Bill) Melendez have touched something deep in our American soul with A Charlie Brown Christmas. As with any great piece of art, as many times that you see it, you take away something new. The humor, the heart, the laughter and the tears.”
The Final Word. Thirty-five years after A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired — on the night before he died — a 77-year-old Charles M. Schulz was discussing the Christmas special one last time with the man who’d co-produced it, Lee Mendelson. Schulz was excited about a book they were preparing together about the special. Over the decades they’d produced 45 animated specials, but Schulz always insisted that the Christmas special had always been his favorite. In the book, Mendelson wrote something that Schulz had told him about the special: “There will always be a market in this country for innocence.”