Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A Christmas Day In The Life: Part One

In my book, “Festive Double Issue: Forty Years of Christmas TV”, I cover the two week festive and New Year period with everything from the obvious to the baffling and all the stuffed puppet rodents in between. But what would make up my own perfect Christmas Day line-up? Here’s how part one of it might shape up…

10.00am: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

“The wistful little comic-strip character with the spiral curl and the quizzical frown on a search for the real meaning of Yuletide.”

Right well for starters, you can bugger getting up before ten so we’ll start here but if you want anything earlier let’s assume it was just “Christmas Comes To Pacland” on a loop from 11pm the following evening. We’ll definitely need a gentle tip into the day so let’s go with this still-joyful CBS TV special that brought to life the characters from Charles Shultz’s Peanuts comic strip. What could be a schmaltzy mess is instead a funny, truthful take on how different people (or, in this case, surprisingly erudite eight-year-olds) feel about the holidays. Of course, there’s some good old fashioned slices of American cheese in there – the kids all singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” around Charlie’s awful Christmas tree for example – and even a bit of Jesus (courtesy of Linus quoting the Gospel of Luke) but it never feels preachy or forced.

Best of all is the largely instrumental jazz soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio which remains one of those rare records that just radiates festive feeling in every note and gets around 5,000 plays every December in my house. It was even added to the US Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of “culturally, historically or aesthetically important American sound recordings” in 2012. Good grief!

10:30am Olive The Other Reindeer (1999)

“When Santa cancels his annual flight because of a hurt reindeer, a young Christmas loving dog named Olive is convinced she has what it takes to get Santa's flight off the ground and save Christmas. “

Plenty of people have Christmas traditions that they have to stick to - year in year out - lest the season not be as holly and indeed jolly as previous a Yule. For some it’s a specific date to put up the tinsel and tree, for others it involves listening to “Fairytale Of New York” enough times to medically induce rectal bleeding. For yours truly, the festive period just isn’t even vaguely considerable unless I’ve sat down for forty five minutes in the company of a cheery seasonal dog with the voice of Drew Barrymore on a mission to save Christmas.

Originally produced in 1999 for the Fox and executive produced by Matt Groening, “Olive, the Other Reindeer” is everything a modern Christmas special shouldn’t be – packed with needless celebrity cameos, flashy CGI animation and based on a beloved children’s book by Vivian Walsh with gorgeous illustration from J. Otto Seibold. But it’s gorgeous, full of heart and very funny to boot. The tale is simple enough – Olive, a happy if untraditional dog, mishears an urgent radio report calling for “all of the other reindeer” to replace an injured Blitzen as “Olive The Other Reindeer” and so she sets off to the North Pole against all odds to try and save the day. Along the way, she pals up with a corrupt penguin called Martini (voiced superbly in cod-Pesci tones by Joe Pantoliano, one of those traditional “ooh it’s that bloke from that thing” actors) and tries to escape the dastardly plans of the angry Postman (Homer himself, Dan Castellaneta) who is delighted Christmas is cancelled due to the extra stress and back-breaking work it makes for him.

Featuring new music from Californian swing revivalists Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Michael Stipe as Schnitzel, the embittered flightless cousin of Blitzen, “Olive” bounces along merrily with a score by the terrific Christopher Tyng whilst the animation was carried out by DNA Productions, a company soon to hit big with Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius for Nickelodeon and the film The Ant Bully. Although both of those are mostly a load of old wank so probably best just ignoring that.

11:15am Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

“Jim Henson, creator of the world-famous Muppets, presents a one-hour Christmas special with Emmet Otter and his friends...”

More unbearable cuteness, this time based on Russell Hoban’s 1971 children’s tale of the same name and introduced (unless you have the annoying region 2 DVD where the hacked him out) by Kermit the Frog, Emmet Otter is beautiful, touching, funny, ridiculous and full of terrific new Paul Williams songs perfect for giving you the warm fuzzies...which is apt for when you’re watching a bunch of warm fuzzies, I suppose. Emmet and his mother Alice live a poor life in an old shack barely getting by doing odd jobs until each of them notices that a big prize talent contest is happening and decides to surprise the other by entering. Originally shown by HBO long before it was the boobs and Larry David's face channel back in December 1977, its quaint (at least one of my friends has begged me to turn it off before) but there’s a more anarchic side too when their town is over-run by teenage menaces who later form – with a hat-tip to Alice Cooper The Riverbottom Nightmare Band. Muppet and music fans celebrated equally in 2018 when Varese Sarabande announced a long overdue 41st anniversary release of the soundtrack on vinyl and CD, including one never used song “Born In A Trunk”."A person's got to take some chances or life will never come to nothin'..."

Next time: My pick of the Pops, Tidybeard's peak and one of those feature films.

For much more like this, pick up a copy of "Festive Double Issue: Forty Years Of Christmas TV" available in print here:

And digital for yer Kindles and that here:

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