Okay, my last posts were a little sentimental, so we’re due for a fun one.

You’ve probably watched a few Christmas special this year. We all have our favorites, but for every beloved classic, there are a few others that could stand some improvement. Here are my top five least favorite Christmas specials – the ones so bad I just have to write about them.
(Note: This list is limited to specials. It does not include holiday episodes of TV series, made-for-TV movies or theatrical movies. Heaven knows that a few of them deserve to be on the list, but let’s keep this simple.)
#5 – Robbie the Reindeer: Legend of the Lost Tribe (2002?)
This one is not really a Christmas special, which is exactly the problem. I actually liked the first installment, Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire, a story about the son of Rudolph who returns to the North Pole to get a job on Santa’s sleigh team. This second story has Robbie and his reindeer friends working summer jobs to cover Christmas expenses. The writers obviously thought that they had created such interesting characters that they would still work without a Christmas backdrop. They thought wrong. Santa’s reindeer seem painfully out of place at summer camp. It just feels awkward to watch this show in any season.
#4 – Noel the Christmas Ornament (1992)
The most notable thing about this special was that it landed an aging Charlton Heston to play the role of the narrator. This is also the only notable thing about the story of Noel, the happiest Christmas ornament. Believe it or not, the life of an ornament is pretty dull. And when the show isn’t boring, it’s depressing. It spends way too much time dwelling on sad things like Noel’s Christmas tree friends getting thrown away each year, and watching Noel’s aging family grow too old to celebrate like they used to. While the story does manage to pull off a happy ending, its mostly a downer.
#3 – The Littlest Light on the Christmas Tree (2004)
This one had script problems. The plot feels so broken and stitched together that I strongly suspect  that it was changed at least three times while the show was being made.
Our stiffly animated story starts in a Norman Rockwell painting of a town where a boy and his sister are trying to buy an inexpensive Christmas present for their poor but saintly mother. The kindly shopkeeper wants to give them a discount on their gift, but his stingy partner insists that they pay full price. As they leave, the children scavenge some discarded decorations from the store’s trash can – a broken angel and a burned out blue Christmas light. This is where it starts getting weird. Having the little boy rescue a burned out lightbulb reminds me of those very little kids who pull cigarette wrappers out of dirty gutters because they like the shiny paper. And the stingy shopkeeper is seen as unsympathetic because he carelessly throws away precious decorations. But what’s the alternative? Is he supposed to save every lightbulb he ever uses? This story seems to be inadvertently endorsing hoarding disorders.
So, the kids put these decorations on their tree and we see that every ornament they own is somehow reminiscent of their friends and neighbors. For example, their toy soldier looks a bit like the old vet who was collecting for the salvation army earlier that day. This is the cleverest device used in this story, and I suspect that it was where the plot was originally intended to focus. Unfortunately, all the ornaments do is dance around uselessly like a creepier version of the Nutcracker. Somehow, the broken bulb lights up again. 
Seeing the brightly glowing Christmas light helps the stingy shopkeeper mend his ways. This also feels weird as the story is told from the little boy’s point of view. I’m not sure why the boy is supposed to care so much that a casual acquaintance has made a small change in his disposition. 
#2 – The Flight Before Christmas (2008)
The story of Nico the reindeer is still quite popular – CBS runs it every year. Young Nico lives with his herd in the arctic tundra. He is convinced that his estranged father is one of Santa’s flying reindeer and learning to fly has been his lifelong dream.
I feel obligated to mention that the art and animation are very good, but the plot suffers from two major problems.

First, in order to understand the story, one must understand that Nico is the product of a brief fling between two adults. That aspect could still be okay if it were subtle, but the event is referenced repeatedly and with an unnecessary amount of detail. I suspect many parents have felt ambushed by this special. If parents want to teach their children about this kind of thing while the kids are still young, that’s fine. If parents want to wait until their kids are older, that’s fine too. But that decision probably shouldn’t be made by cartoon reindeer.

The second problem is the character of Nico. Although he’s the hero, it’s tough to root for him because he’s a brat who doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. The opening act best exemplifies Nico’s behavior: Nico’s peers make fun of him for believing he can fly so Nico decides to go practice in the hills where they can’t watch him. But the elders remind Nico that he is not allowed to leave the valley because he could be found by wolves. He’s warned that even if he escapes the wolves, they could follow him back to the valley and drive the herd from it’s only safe haven. Nico decides to break this rule anyway. He goes to the hills and (surprise) he is almost eaten by wolves who follow him back to the valley and drive the herd away. Despite the fact that these were the exact consequences he was warned about, Nico still insists that it wasn’t his fault. Nico feels so bad about having all this justified anger directed at him that he decides to run away and find his father so he can have a comfortable Christmas in Santa’s village while everyone else spends Christmas limping through the arctic wasteland. And the audience is expected to sympathize with poor, misunderstood Nico, who was only trying to realize his dream of flying. While I agree that it’s noble to pursue one’s dreams, I think it’s selfish and sociopathic to risk everyone else’s safety in the process. Kids should be taught that their right to a better life doesn’t trump someone else’s right to live.
#1 – Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1980)
This one is a complete mess. It’s like someone devoured every other Rankin/Bass Christmas special, then regurgitated them back onto the film. The “plot” mostly has to do with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman performing at a sea-side carnival to help save the circus. Frosty and his snow family are given magic amulets that keep them from melting in the summer heat. Don’t try to figure out the rest of it, as the remainder of the story is, somehow, completely composed of plot holes.  The characters correctly figure out their problems by jumping to conclusions so wild even Adam West couldn’t make the script sound convincing. The villains’ plans are so convoluted you’ll lose track of what anyone hopes to achieve by them. And I hope you’ve seen every other Rankin/Bass Christmas special ever made, because characters from other shows will randomly pop up with little introduction to help deus-ex-machina the team out of whatever corner they’ve been written into. Worst of all, the show is twice as long as most other specials. It runs for two hours (about 80 minutes without commercials). It’s odd enough that anyone wanted to make this show at all, let alone give it extra running time.
So that’s it. Of course, these are just my opinions. I’m sure that your list of least favorite specials is different from mine. And there are many awful shows that really deserve a spot on the list, if I only had time to review them all. 
For whatever reason, we are more willing to overlook flaws in Christmas programs than in most other shows. Some flaws, glitches, and cheesy moments are part of their charm. But don’t let any careless writers take too much advantage of your forgiving nature this year.

-Marj
www.lepusstudios.com