I don’t know if I’ll watch any other holiday specials this year, but since this is probably the last time I’ll get the chance to post before Christmas, here are my reviews of three I watched this year and hadn’t written about previously:
The Little Drummer Boy – This was the second Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special after Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, released in 1968, just ten years after the song it was based on. The titular drummer boy, Aaron, used to live on a farm until it was ransacked by bandits who also killed his parents, leaving him with a residual hatred for all humanity. He does, however, have a strong connection with three animals he managed to rescue, the donkey Samson, the camel Joshua, and the lamb Baba. Aaron reluctantly accepts an invitation from Ben Haramad to join his traveling circus. The act is popular when they perform it in Jerusalem, but Aaron’s misanthropy leads to him throwing a tantrum that gets the whole group thrown out of the city. Ben Haramad does make some money by selling Joshua to the Three Wise Men, after which Aaron leaves him and follows the Magi to Bethlehem, where Baba is hit with a chariot. At the Wise Men’s advice, Aaron decides to ask the baby Jesus for help, performing a drum solo as an offering of sorts. Jesus heals the lamb, and the boy realizes that not all people are terrible. This is really short, only about twenty minutes, yet it’s still kind of impressive that they managed to even get that much out of the song. It had a Christian theme, of course, but wasn’t all that heavy-handed about it.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – I saw this at the movies when it came out, and even then it was obvious how much it was almost exactly the same as the first one, except with even dumber gags. I don’t think I’d seen it all the way through since then until last night, although I’ve seen the original many times. Yes, Kevin is in New York this time, but they still do pretty much every joke again, just ever so slightly varied. Of course, that he isn’t HOME alone this time, but I suppose it’s an artifact title. Harry and Marv have somehow broken out of prison and also end up in New York, and they don’t seem particularly surprised to run into the same kid again. This time, their plan is to steal cash from a toy store after it closes on Christmas Eve. The store they choose is modeled on FAO Schwarz, back before they went bankrupt; but the movie gave it a different name, Duncan’s Toy Chest. Kevin has his dad’s credit card and a bunch of his cash because it was in the bag he was looking through when he got separated from his family at the airport, so he uses them to rack up enormous charges at the Plaza Hotel until his dad reports the card missing and the creepy stalking concierge, as played by Tim Curry, scares him away. Rob Schneider works as the bellhop at the same hotel. To buy himself some time, Kevin once again plays an old gangster movie that the people outside the room think is real because most adults in these movies are really dumb. It’s kind of bizarre how, when Kevin is seemingly terrified, he still takes time to laugh at his own pranks. The kid has some real problems. So how do they do the booby trap bit with the whole city to work with? Well, Kevin breaks into his uncle’s house, which is being renovated, and sets up the traps there. Somehow nobody seems to walk or drive by the whole time this is going on; the city streets in general are practically deserted at night, which isn’t very realistic unless there’s an air raid or something. Okay, really not even then, as a lot of people ignore emergencies anyway. And not only are there a whole bunch of callbacks, but the traps are even more violent than before, and it seems like the scene takes forever. Kevin drops several bricks on Marv’s head from the roof, and somehow he’s able to shrug them off. Later, he gets electrocuted for an extended period of time, and you see his skeleton, because it essentially just is a cartoon by this point. As in the first movie, the robbers are ultimately brought down by something nowhere near as devastating as the injuries they just sustained, in this case being attacked by pigeons when an old lady in Central Park Kevin has befriended throws birdseed on them. The woman is obviously the equivalent of the old man with the snow shovel, except he lived in a fancy neighborhood while she’s homeless, so it’s not exactly comparable. There’s foreshadowing of Harry’s fate when he swats away a bunch of pigeons earlier in the film, and this was BEFORE Animaniacs and its pigeon version of Joe Pesci. And yes, a certain impeached president does make a cameo. You know, I saw The Naked Gun 33 1/3 after O.J. Simpson was arrested for murder, and they kind of ruined my enjoyment of it. This is probably worse, because while I don’t think Trump has directly killed anybody, he’s ruined a lot more lives. Also awkward is that they dwell on the Twin Towers for a little while, but obviously nobody in 1992 could have predicted the 2001 attack.
The Christmas Toy – Beth had told me about this 1986 Jim Henson television movie a few times, and how Toy Story used a lot of the same ideas. Kermit introduces the special, explaining how toys have lives of their own when no people are around. If any of them are caught of position by a human, however, they freeze up, supposedly forever. That’s a pretty dark twist, and we see that there are a few toys in the playroom who are basically dead. The conflict comes in with a toy tiger named Rugby, who was last year’s Christmas gift and the younger daughter’s current favorite, supplanting a doll named Apple who was the Christmas toy a year before that. Other toys include an old teddy bear who’s the elder of the group, a robot, a rocking horse, a cab driver who sounds like Floyd Pepper, a Barbie-like doll who spends all her time picking out outfits, and a mouse-shaped cat toy called Mew. Rugby decides that, if he doesn’t want to be replaced as the favorite, he needs to go down to the Christmas tree and get wrapped up again. Mew tries to stop him, but he’s very dismissive of the mouse. The tiger finds out that this year’s Christmas present is a space action figure who sees everything from a science fiction viewpoint. It does sound like Pixar might have at least taken inspiration from that, no? Not that Meteora is exactly like Buzz Lightyear; she’s more like a She-Ra villain or something, and her part is fairly small. Still, it’s notably similar. Mew is caught and freezes up, but when Rugby feels sorry for him and reveals that he really did love the cat toy, he comes back to life, a method that’s then used on the other frozen toys. So nobody really dies, but we don’t know that until pretty late into this thing. I thought there was some real sentiment to this, and there were some really cute toy/puppet designs.