Monday, December 21, 2015

Like/Dislike Animated Christmas Specials? Grab Some Cocoa and Let's Dish!

by Susanne Dietze

My kids are home this week on Christmas's a fun week of sleeping in, doing crafts, baking (click the link when you're done with this post!) and watching Christmas specials with the family.

Here on the Inkwell, we've shared some of our favorite Christmas movies, but I can't remember dishing on our favorite animated specials before. Many of them were part of my childhood--maybe yours, too--and they're still fun to watch ... although I may not experience them the same way now that I'm an adult.

So let's dish on them. What do you like? What's no longer your favorite?

(I guess I should say SPOILER ALERT. I'm going to chat as if you've watched these shows, too. If you haven't watched any of these shows and want to experience them for yourselves first, come back to this post later.)

(NOTE: This is just a fun conversation.I don't wish to offend anyone by sharing what I like/don't like.)

Growing up, I loved Rudolph (1964). It remains an undisputed favorite. Some reasons I loved it?

  • Rudolph is so sweet!And I like the message: we all have unique gifts.
  • It was visually appealing to me as a kid. I loved the pastel pink-and-blue outfits the elves wear. There's still a big part of me that loves candy-colored Christmas decor.
  • I love when Hermey impersonates a pig. ("Oink, oink." "Put some heart into it, boy!" "Oink! OINK!")
But now that I'm an adult? Well, there are a few things in Rudolph I don't like.
  • Santa is...grumpy, to say the least.Upon seeing newborn Rudolph's "unfortunate" red nose, he makes a snarky comment and dismisses him as unfit. He's also mean to his elves, who work hard rehearsing a song for him, and he is crabby with Mrs. Claus. 
  • It's sexist. This may reflect the times in which the show was produced, but I cringed when my kids heard the narrator insist the womenfolk need to stay home and then later on, rather than mourn Yukon Cornelius, get returned back to Christmastown.
What are your feelings on Rudolph?

Another supremely popular Christmas show is, of course, Charlie Brown (1965). It's never worn out its welcome. 

A Charlie Brown Christmas turns 50 this year, which is cause for celebration. It's even featured on holiday stamps, available from your local post office.

Things I like about it:
  • Linus' reading of the Gospel. It may be the only Gospel message some viewers ever hear. The characters also sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing. That doesn't happen often anymore on TV.
  • Its focus is on the true meaning of Christmas, not commercialism.
  • Adding to that theme, the hilarious uber-greedy Christmas letter Sally dictates to her brother always makes me chuckle.
  • The scene of Charlie Brown skipping, his heart full of love, is sweet.
  • The Vince Guaraldi score!
Things I don't like:
  • The Mean Girls (Lucy and the gang) seem to have come around by the end of the show. For the holiday, anyway. Then it's back to the usual name-calling. Lucy's such a bully.

Another classic produced in the 60's is How The Grinch Saved Christmas (1966). This Dr. Seuss tale is about the Grinch who lives above Who-ville and is determined to steal every last vestige of their Christmas celebration.

I like:
  • The message that Christmas is not about things. Or roast beast.
  • The idea of someone's heart growing multiple sizes.
  • Max the Dog.
  • The way the Whos welcome the Grinch into their community. No shame. No punishment. Just love.
I don't like:
  • The Grinch scared me when I was small. There. I admitted it to the world.

A more-recent show I like? Disney's Prep & Landing (2009). Watching it is a new tradition for me (as is watching one of its sequels, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, which usually follows it on TV).

It's the story of Wayne, a Christmas elf who is part of the elite "Prep and Landing" team sent ahead of Santa on Dec 24th to ready homes for the Big Guy's arrival. Wayne's had this job for 227 years and wants a promotion--but he gets a newbie partner, Lanny, instead. And a very, very bad attitude.

Why do I love this show?

  •  It starts with my favorite puts-me-in-the-Christmas-mood song, Nat King Cole's version of "The Christmas Song".
  • I love, love, love how hapless Lanny says "sorry" whenever he makes a mistake. Which is often. Our family has an inside joke of saying "sorry" just like Lanny.
  • The blink-and-you'll-miss-them messages on the elves' mugs are hilarious.
  • The message of forgiveness and redemption is sweet.
What I don't like?
  • Nothing. Seriously. This has been my favorite animated show for the past few years. Wayne's unlikable for a while but his repentance is heartfelt and sweet.

Shrek the HallsNow for a bit of controversy. Some people hate Shrek and therefore don't care for Shrek the Halls (2007). I like it. Here's why:
  • I like the message that Christmas isn't about any one person, not even our children. It's about something More. (The show doesn't say what that is, but neither does the Grinch. Same theme.)
  • It sounds corny, but when Donkey says there's no wrong way to "do" Christmas, you just "do it", I felt lightened! I don't have to put on the perfect meal, wear the right thing, or live up to someone else's expectations. Family is messy. Christmas can be messy.
  • The scene of Gingy's horrible Christmas, when a Godzilla-like Santa eats his gingerbread girlfriend, is a family classic around here. We quote Gingy, "You weren't there!"
  • Likewise, we love Puss and Boots. When he gets distracted by the ornament...LOL.
What I don't like?

  • Yes, Shrek is crass. There is bodily humor in the episode. If you are turned off by burps, etc, don't watch it.

I feel like I need to include these two because they refer to the real Christmas story, Jesus' birth, and I appreciate that very much. I'm also lumping them together because I seem to like and dislike the same things about them.

Two Rankin/Bass offerings, Little Drummer Boy from 1968 and 1977's Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, are set in Bethlehem when the Savior is born.

I also need to be honest: I haven't watched these two in years.

Likes about them:
  • They're about the birth of Jesus!
  • They show that meeting Jesus forever changes a person!
  • Like Rudolph, they validate our individuality and specialized gifts.
Only available on VHS. Blast from the past!
  • They are both just...sad. My little kid heart broke for the drummer boy and Nestor. And when Nestor's mommy dies...ugh. I still remember her digging up that patch of snow so Nestor will have a warmer place to sleep--I can't go on!
  • I never liked how cherubs are explained as "animal guardian angels" to Nestor. It's not accurate. Most of the time I go with the flow on these sorts of things, but it's always bugged me.

Of the rest of the Rankin/Bass shows I watched in my youth, I dug Santa Claus is Comin' To Town (1970). I still kinda like it for sentimental reasons, even though it's hokey. Why?
  • I love when the elves adopt a baby and name him Kris Kringle. "And he will eat with us and sleep with us and drink warm cocoa with us..." 
  • The Burgermeister Meisterburger is ridiculous, and therefore fun to watch.
  • Young Kris has a red beard. Why do I like that? I don't know. I just do.
  • Maybe it's the romance writer/reader in me, but I loved Kris' Christmas Eve wedding to Jessica. 
  • The scene where a singing Jessica goes through a groovy "transformation" is embarrassing to me (and my kids, who used to hide behind the couch for this part when they watched this show on DVD). The scene is cut from most TV broadcasts nowadays as a time-saving measure, but you know when the scene happened because after Jessica sings about her "world beginning today" etc., her outfit has a bold splash of color and her hair is a brighter shade of red.

Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) is often found on the Disney Channel. It is a sweet retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

I like:
  • I love that this maintains the Victorian look and feel that's often shed in modern re-tellings for children.(I'm referring to Barbie, etc, not the Jim Carrey version, which I'm not including in this list because I count that one as a "movie.")
  • Mickey and Minnie have babies!
But other people don't like it:
  • Remember Siskel and Ebert? They gave it two thumbs down! Something about not enough character growth and a lack of irony. (Um, seriously? If you want irony, there are oodles of other versions of A Christmas Carol out there that do the trick.)

Veggie Tales has a few holiday offerings, but my favorite is The Star of Christmas. (Caveat: this one isn't a broadcast special like the previous offerings, but it was a staple in my house when my kids were smaller.) Cavis and Millward (Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber) are producing a musical to debut Christmas Eve, The Princess and the Plumber, illuminated by zillions of newfalngled electric lights (this is "historic" London, after all). They want to "teach London how to love!"

But, as you'd guess, a Christmas pageant is also scheduled that same night, showcasing a famous artifact (the Star of Christmas, of course!). Which event will the royal family attend? Which one will really, truly share the message of how to love?

Why I love this?
  • It's sweet, convicting, and clever. 
  • The lyrics to "Plugged Up Love" sung by the Princess and the Plumber in rehearsal are hilarious.
  • It's set in England! The royal family has a cameo!
Any dislikes here?
  • Can't think of a one. 

Other shows I liked/watched that see airtime still: Frosty the Snowman (1969), The Year Without a Santa Claus ("I'm Mr. Heat Meister,.."), Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974),  and too many others to list here. But I had to stop the list somewhere.

Ones I never really liked? Those Frosty/Rudolph crossovers where they wear orange outfits...

Did I forget your favorites? What do you like/dislike about the shows I mentioned?

Happy watching this week. And baking, and wrapping, and fellow-shipping with family and friends.

I wish you and yours the Merriest of Christmases!


Susanne Dietze is in the mood to watch Prep & Landing. When it's not Christmas break, she writes historical romance, including next month's Austen in Austin Collection. Please visit her website,

Oh, and do click the link for more ideas of things to do with your kids this week!

All photos from


  1. A few of these I've never seen, and most of the others I haven't seen in years...decades? Two of my boys were watching Rudolph (on ancient video cassette) this morning. I agree that a lot of the residents of Christmas town come off as pretty mean. That said, the part I like best is when the "misfits" go to the Island of Misfit Toys, and the king tells them they can't stay because people (and living things like talking reindeer and elves) can't hide from their problems.

  2. I like the Island of Misfit Toys, too, CJ! Good lesson there from the king, and I also like how the toys from there get homes at the end.

    To the best of my knowledge, Rudolph has been shown on national TV at least twice so far this December. I think it's the overall enduring favorite for many, many people.


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