5. The Small One (1978)
The Muppets have several great Christmas moments. I really love The Muppet Christmas Carol (which boasts great music and one of my personal all-time favorite Scrooges, Michael Caine, playing it totally straight with the Muppets) and A Very Muppet Christmas Movie (a more recent special that is basically a Muppets version of It’s a Wonderful Life, with a surprisingly great performance as God by Whoopi Goldberg, of all people), but this one is special for many reasons. I am ashamed to say I did not see it until I was an adult, even though it came out in 1987 (when I was 2 years old). It’s a shame, too, because I would have adored it as a kid. It’s the only special I can think of that features practically every Jim Henson character in one place, including all the Muppets, the Fraggle Rock cast, and the Sesame Street gang. As much as I enjoy (most of the time) the signature celebrity cameos in Muppet films, it is a bit refreshing to watch one where the only celebrity featured is creator Jim Henson himself. Henson’s moment is tiny, but charming, and the fact that it was filmed only three years before his death makes his appearance all the more poignant.
This may seem like an odd choice for this list, since it was a successful mainstream comedy. It spawned a sequel this year, which I refuse to watch for the VERY reason I include the original on the list. On the surface, it is a raunchy, dark comedy about an alcoholic, foul-mouthed con artist named Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) who poses as a mall Santa in order to access the store safe. He crashes in the home of the oblivious Thurman, a painfully awkward, overweight preteen with a wealthy, absentee father and an even more oblivious grandmother (played by the amazing Cloris Leachman). Through a series of deviance and complications, Willie finds redemption through his concern for Thurman and his romance with a kindhearted bartender with a Santa fetish (Lauren Graham). This redemption is reason I am opposed to a sequel. The thing that made the first one work is the fact that it gets its sweet, inspiring message across in the most non-saccharine way possible. It is vulgar, dark, and HEAVY on the profanity, but it offers some humanity. It is a Christmas movie for fans of dark humor and for cynical, wannabe Scrooges who want something edgier than Frosty the Snowman for their holiday feel fix.
I had a VHS tape of random Christmas shorts when I was a kid, and this was my favorite (though, to be fair, most of them were really weird). This is an odd little Max Fleischer short from 1936 that features the “Grampy” character of Betty Boop fame. We see a dilapidated, apparently unsupervised orphanage (where all the orphans look exactly the same, except for hair color), with a pathetic Christmas tree and threadbare stockings hanging by the chimney. They spring from their beds and tear into their (likely donated) toys—only to have each one break spectacularly as soon as the orphans attempt to play with them. Heartbroken, they slink back to their beds, their only source of hope dashed before their eyes. Grampy hears their cries from outside, and with a resourcefulness that rivals that of MacGyver, whips together new Christmas surprises out of household objects and delivers them to the orphans, dressed as Santa Claus. This one is likely overlooked due to its age (it is actually public domain). I like it not only because of the cool inventions Grampy concocts, but also the way it really captures the giving spirit of the season (and makes you think a little harder about what types of items are sometimes donated to those in need).
We all have our holiday movie staples. My mother practically owns stock in all merchandise pertaining to Christmas Carol and the Rankin-BassRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is our family’s official kick-off of the Christmas season, and I MUST watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special before the 25th hits. Those are the examples that usually come to mind. However, I have a few personal favorites that are not on really on the Yuletide radar—at least not in terms of “must-watch classics.”
I love this one for so many reasons. This was one I saw as a kid, but among the Mickeys and Grinches and Rudolphs, I didn’t really appreciate it the way I do now. It doesn’t seem like a Christmas movie at first, which may be one reason it tends to get overlooked. A young boy living in Judea with his father is forced to sell his beloved donkey, Small One, who is too old and feeble to work or to be supported by his small, poor, family. The boy tries to find his friend a new home that will be loving and nurturing, yet keeps encountering would-be buyers with ulterior motives. He finally meets someone who fits the bill, and while I won’t spoil the ending, I’ll tell you that it makes me cry every single time. This is a 26-minute short that feels like a full-length feature, due in large part to a tight script and the brilliance of director/animator Don Bluth. Bluth is the master of telling animated stories with depth and heart, and this effort from his Disney era is a harbinger of the great things he would accomplish less than a decade later with his own studio.
2. 1.Bad Santa (2003)
1. 1.“Christmas Comes but Once a Year” (1936)
I promise not everything else on this list is crude, but I would be remiss not to mention one of my absolute Christmas favorites. South Park has a number of entertaining Christmas specials (my close second favorite being “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics,” with its scene of Jesus singing karaoke with Santa Claus and its tribute to the infamous “Fighting the Frizzies”), but this one is my favorite because of the way it shamelessly lampoons classic Christmas specials without a shred of restraint, yet somehow manages to retain its charming Christmas spirit. At the mercy of an unidentified (until the end) narrator, Stan unwittingly embarks on a “Christmas adventure” where he does the bidding of a precious group of talking woodland critters. He soon discovers there is more than meets the eye, and while I won’t spoil the spectacular twist, let’s just say it eventually requires divine intervention.
By Karlene Catastrophe
4. 1.A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
3. 1.South Park’s “Woodland Critter Christmas” (2004)