Some people get in the holiday spirit by decorating a tree, polishing the menorah or baking something from an old family recipe…I pull out the movies.
For me, nothing says Christmas like the stop-motion animated cartoons from the early ’70s. The Little Drummer Boy (1968), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) come to mind. Even though I couldn’t remember the title of one of my favorite cartoons from childhood, I could hum the theme “Put One Foot In Front of the Other” — finally I had to search for the title on the interweb. It’s Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town. It actually reminds me a little of the great new Netflix animated film, Klaus.
There are a charm and simplicity to these Rankin/Bass Productions. They’re endearing. There are catchy songs and they feature a hero’s journey….sometimes all the way to the Island of Misfit Toys! All of them are about the outsider; the individual that doesn’t fit in, who triumphs over adversity. Though there’s an up-lifting moral, the characters must face villains. There seemed to be little worry about “scaring the kids” with The Abominable Snowman or the Heat Miser. Of course, everything turns out alright in the end. Bad guys lose their teeth or are forced to stay in their own realms and the hero saves the day.
The Heat Miser Song — The Year Without Santa Claus, 1974
Heat Miser from “The Year Without Santa Claus”
Watching them again as an adult, how many similarities struck me between these older cartoon specials that aired on television and some of our popular animated films of today. There are super-star vocal talents featured (Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney), quirky side-kicks and musical interludes that were popular when the cartoons aired (like that little ditty from Frozen). Would children used to faster pacing and slicker animation still enjoy these simple stop-motion features? I don’t know but I hope some parents will pull out the Holiday Classics and share them with their kids.
This year we have some wonderful films getting a Christmas Day release at the theaters. I’m particularly looking forward to Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. For families that have already seen the latest Star Wars film, The Rise of Skywalker, this is the best choice for an all-ages film. It’s a nice way to take a break from holiday eating, presents and time spent trying to avoid political discussions with distant relatives. Other films premiering on Christmas: 1917, Just Mercy, Bombshell and Cats.
Whether you choose to watch a family favorite like Elf, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life or Die Hard (not a Christmas movie in my book) or travel to a theater, a Christmas movie is a great tradition.