The buffet of animated TV Christmas specials to choose from is indeed a healthy one, but like any good buffet, one needs variety.
A diet of only wonderful familiars like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will keep you healthy and merry through the season, but it should be a balanced diet.
Two years ago, I wrote an article for “Cartoon Research” on seldom-seen animated Christmas specials, much as I did for Halloween. Like that Halloween article, readers offered up some other wonderful titles.
With this wealth of riches in the realm of Christmas specials to choose from, here are some additional seasonal offerings from television’s past, suggested by “Cartoon Research” readers:
Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987), suggested by Dustyn
From the height of the California Raisins explosion in popularity came this prime-time special from stop-motion master Will Winton.
Hosted by two dinosaurs, Rex and Herb, the special’s collection of vignettes takes us on a tour of different Christmas carols.
The special runs the gamut from the Three Kings singing “We Three Kings,” with backup harmony provided by their camels, to a group with a Waffle cart mistaking “Here We Come a Wassailing” for “Here We Come a Waffaling,” and from anthropomorphic bells clanging each other on the head to the tune of “Carol of the Bells,” to the California Raisins belting out a Motown-like version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration has a comforting, trademark, offbeat sense of humor.
There is, of course, impressive stop-motion animation, from the opening shot of the camera sweeping across building tops and into a town square, to a rendition of “Oh Christmas Tree,” that’s like a “nesting doll,” as it keeps going deeper and deeper inside different Christmas trees.
This special is non-stop, hand-crafted Christmas magic.
Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977), The Small One (1978), The Little Brown Burro (1978) suggested by Jody Morgan
The story of the little unwanted donkey who winds up carrying Mary to the manger in Bethlehem has inspired not one but three different specials, which all came out around the same time.
The Little Brown Burro (also called The Little Christmas Burro) is narrated by actor Lorne Greene, directed by Vic Atkinson, and produced by the Atkinson Film Arts studio (known for the series of Racoons specials). This version of the tale has a unique character design and fluid animation.
The little burro being befriended by a small mouse named Omar and Greene’s soothing narration gives it all a warm, storybook feeling.
Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, from Rankin/Bass, home of many iconic TV Christmas specials, is an “Animagic,” stop-motion special narrated by Roger Miller in story and song and places a Dumbo-esque twist on the tale.
In this version, the little donkey has long ears that make him an outcast until, after a heartbreaking tragedy, he is helped by a cherub and makes his way to Bethlehem.
Disney’s The Small One was released theatrically as a featurette on a double bill with Pinocchio. Based on a 1947 children’s book, the short film was directed by Don Bluth just before he led a walkout of animators in 1979.
Small One centers on a young boy who must take his family’s donkey, who has grown too old for work, to town to sell him. Having no luck, the boy sells Small One to a kind man, Joseph (not named in the short), to assist with carrying his wife.
The short features a nice, touching connection between the young boy and Small One and the lush, full animation that’s become a hallmark of Disney (although some of the film re-uses animation from The Jungle Book) and packs efficient storytelling into its shortened run time.
The Small One, Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey and The Little Brown Burro all provide emotional versions of the true meaning of the season, each in their unique way.
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus (1974), suggested by James McKee
Director Bill Melendez, well-known for his work on a number of the popular Peanuts specials, helmed this story based on the true-life famous and inspiring 1897 editorial that appeared in The Sun newspaper in New York.
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus (not to be confused with the 2009 special, Yes, Virginia) is narrated by Jim Backus and relays the fictionalized backstory of what made young Virginia O’Hanlon write her letter to the editor of The Sun. There’s also the fictionalized account of what made Francis Church, the editor, run the story after being befriended by a newspaper boy.
Mr. Melendez’s fingerprints are all over this, as it has the feel of a Peanuts special, with its stylized background and character design, that looks very comforting and comic-strip-ish. If that wasn’t enough, it ends with a bouncy title theme song by Jimmy Osmond.
A Christmas Story (1972), suggested by Greg Ehrbar
No, there’s no BB gun here; this is a different Christmas Story. In this syndicated Hanna-Barbera special, a young boy named Timmy writes a letter to Santa that accidentally never gets mailed. Timmy’s dog, Goober, and his friend, Gumdrop the mouse, decide to set out on a Christmas Eve journey to get the letter to Santa.
A Christmas Story includes lovely songs, several of which were re-used in later Hanna-Barbera specials: 1977’s A Flintstone Christmas also used “Which One is the Real Santa Claus?,” “Sounds of Christmas Day” and “Hope,” and the latter was also used in Yogi’s First Christmas in 1980.
The special also features a voice cast that could be called the Hanna-Barbera repertory company, including Paul Winchell as Goober, Daws Butler as Gumdrop, Janet Waldo as Timmy’s mom, John Stephenson as his Dad, and Don Messick and Hal Smith as other characters.
From these voices, character design, sound effects, and backgrounds, to the story (written by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears), this is pure Hanna-Barbera of the era, along with all of the nostalgia that comes along with it.
These are just some of the many other seldom-seen Christmas specials. There were also plenty of other worthy suggestions (and there may be more after this article). Still, there’s always next year to add some additional options to the never-ending animated TV Christmas buffet!