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Cartoon Graveyard Saves Christmas

December 23, 2009

Hey, I don’t know if the culture at large has waved this fact in your face like a greasy towel or anything, but it’s pretty close to Christmas. So instead of making the usual lame jokes about consumerism being equated with patriotism or Santa Claus indulging in some uncharacteristic vice or some such thing, I thought I’d offer something practical and theme-appropriate. I proudly present the Cartoon Graveyard Guide to Christmas Cartoons That Won’t Waste Your Time.

Keep in mind, I’ll be working under the conceit that you’re marathoning all these shows at once, because hey, you’re reading the Sqlog, it’s not like you have serious demands on your time. So continue isolating yourself from friends and family with a misplaced sense of intellectual superiority and let the Christmas spirit fill your heart instead of distilled spirits filling your stomach.

Now, you’re going to want to ease yourself into this. Presumably you’ve had enough Christmas stuffed down your craw for the past month, and you’ll need to trick your brain into actually wanting to see something Yuletidey. So I’d start with the Justice League Christmas Special. Superhero action is the perfect way to distract yourself from the Christmas stuff, and this one has plenty of variety: bar brawls, Martian carols, and best of all, the Ultra-Humanite. Because in my book, everything’s better with huge, superintelligent albino gorillas who act like Sideshow Bob. Oh, who am I kidding, I just want to talk about how much that show ruled.

Next, a double feature from one of the most reliable laugh delivery devices of the last decade: both Futurama Xmas episodes, back to back. The first establishes one of the show’s masterstrokes and the first truly original Christmas story in years: Santa Claus as unstoppable killing machine. The second ups the ante considerably, with almost none of the sentimentality and much more carnage, and adding a cheery Xmas song about Fry, Bender and Leela exploiting the hell out of a bunch of elves. Cynical humor about the depressing logical endpoint of the Christmas tradition takes the edge off the season nicely. Plus there’s Kwanzaabot!

(Incidentally, in the course of finding this song I discovered that there appear to be numerous videos on YouTube of the genre “combine Futurama song with anime characters.” This is what the Internet has done to us.)

Now that you’re thinking that Christmas maybe isn’t so annoying after all, why not go traditional and pop in a Rankin-Bass Christmas special. Any one will do, but I’d stop with one unless you’re a huge fan of the studio. Hokey old stop-motion is charming as hell, but seeing several in quick succession does the series no favors. A warning: stick to the classics on this one. Sure, picking the obscurer entries might give you some kind of weird Christmas version of hipster cred, and everyone loves the Heat Miser in theory, but can you even name the cartoon he was in? Didn’t think so. The Rankin-Bass classics are classics for a reason. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the most famous (and apparently the very first TV Christmas cartoon), but I’d go with Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town for sheer nuttiness. Plus, the name “Burgermeister Meisterburger” will never not be funny.

Of course, the best way to follow charming, poorly done stop-motion is with macabre, awesomely done stop-motion. So get yourself something to eat and settle in for the entirety of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Hot Topic mobs may have overexposed it and made it anathema to you dedicated contrarians, but that doesn’t make Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s holiday mishmash any less fun. C’mon, let your guard down for an hour and a half and let a little whimsy in.

Guard back up? Okay then, it’s time for a cartoon whose first three quarters is practically a celebration of Christmas-hating badassery. Yes, I’m talking about How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Do I even have to explain why this one rules? Seuss. Jones. Karloff. Thurl Ranvenscroft, the world’s deepest-voiced and coolest-named man. Sure, maybe the Grinch does wuss out and bring all the presents back at the end, but until that point you’ve got beautiful animation, catchy songs by the best fake-wordsmith in the business, the glorious voice of Karloff, and a delightful counter-consumerist message to warm your pinko souls. It’s all roast beast, baby. (Apologies for the excessive amounts of Jim Carrey in the video. Best I could do.)

And finally, I would be remiss if I did not include the créme de la créme of Christmas specials, the only one ever to pull off the remarkable feat of talking about Jesus and not being insufferable, the one, the only, Charlie Brown Christmas Special. No one makes melancholy more fun than the Peanuts kids, and this one pretty much nails how it feels to feel left out of a season when everyone seems to have smiles attached to their faces with rivet guns. And Linus’ final speech, sweet Jesus! Look, we all know the facts around Christmas: it’s a co-optation of Saturnalia, it incorporates elements of Celtic and German ritual, our modern traditions date back only to the reign of Queen Victoria, Santa Claus’s suit was designed to match the Coca-Cola logo, and so on and so on. It’s understandable to feel dubious about the whole enterprise, especially with the aforementioned consumerist drive that’s been tacked on. But Linus’ speech reminds Charlie Brown and everyone else of something important: that whole Nativity story? It’s a really fucking good story. You think people put on Christmas pageants just because they like sheep puppets? I may be neither Christian nor much of a sentimentalist, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let all the baggage Christmas has picked up keep me from appreciating a good yarn. And that’s the lesson I hope to impart with this imaginary marathon: Christmas can be obnoxious, oversaturated, and claimed by windbag pundits who wouldn’t know goodwill toward men if it came down their chimney, but none of that is the fault of a little magic kid in a manger. Grinch about if you must, but surely you can still enjoy a good story or two.

Final Judgment: Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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