My Week with Another Christmas

Christmas 2003

 

Part One  --  Part Two  --  Part Three

 

Doll Be Home For Christmas

Part Two: The Christmas Toy

 

      

 

Danny

 

Today, we're watching The Christmas Toy, produced in 1986 for ABC. It's basically Toy Story, but ten years older and not as good.

 

Kynan

 

I don't know why exactly, but something about the opening just screams mid-80's special to me. Maybe it's the video quality, maybe it's the hairstyles. I think that was Scott Baio as Jack-in-the-Box.

 

Danny

 

Oh, I could just watch Rugby sit there and blink his eyes all day. That could be the special for me. Little woojums. 

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Another Kermit bookend! Kermit shows up once a year, just to introduce everybody. If Henson did a version of Crime and Punishment, Kermit would show up to say hi first.

 

Kynan

 

I know he's just fallen down the chimney, but this Kermit looks filthy. He's the company mascot, you'd think he'd have a stylist on hand to dust him off a little. 

 

Danny

 

This doesn't sound like Randy Newman to me. This must be Randy Oldman.

 

Kynan

 

This, my friend, is the late, great Jeff Moss. Don't be snippy.

 

Danny

 

Did he write this before or after he died?

 

 

Toys: "TOYS love to PLAAAAAY... TOYYYYS love to PLAAAAY!" 

 

Danny

 

Yeah, y'know what I would love? I would love for this song to stop.

 

 

      

 

Kynan

 

Bad song aside, this is another showcase for how amazing the Workshop is. Everything has moving parts and blinking eyes. The place is overstuffed with Muppet characters. 

 

Danny

 

Yeah, these specials are workfare programs for puppet builders. Just keepin' em busy until the next series comes along. 

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Aw, why didn't I get a Rugby doll for Christmas? Damn it, Santa! I've asked for a squeezy soft Rugby doll every year for more than a decade.

 

Kynan

 

J'ever think that Santa knows you're Jewish? 

 

Danny

 

What, you think Santa's anti-Semitic? Bite your tongue. Santa has love for all children. It's the licensing people who screwed me on this one.

 

Kynan

 

So tonight is Christmas Eve, huh? Y'know, if there's one thing these kids don't need, it's more toys. Maybe Santa'll bring an acting coach.

 

Rugby: "I'm no ordinary cat, I'm a tiger! Roaaaarrrr."

 

Danny

 

I love Rugby. I'm just going to say how much I love him every time he talks.

 

 

 

Mew: "It's CATNIP! Just catnip. Oh, brother. Crazy people-toy. REAL CATS LIKE IT!"

 

Kynan

 

Mew is like Great Great Grandfather Tutter. 

 

Danny

 

I love Mew too. What a great hyper Whitmire voice.

 

Kynan

 

I'm fascinated by the dynamic of a comedy team in which one member is allergic to the other.

 

Danny

 

It's Ragweed and Costello.

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Oh, look how happy Jamie is to get her Rugby doll. Damn you, kid! I am racked with envy of a seven-year-old girl.

 

Kynan

 

As Rugby just said, "I want you to know that I don't blame you for being jealous. It would be very hard not to be."

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Ugh, I don't really like the way Apple looks. Those flat blinky eyes and that 80's damaged-perm hair. It's a great Kathy Mullen voice, but I don't like looking at her. Is there a way for me to watch this special and not look directly at Apple?

 

Kynan

 

I was just thinking that myself, but then she did this really adorable thing where she put her hands on her hips. But yeah, she does have an Alien Doll Head, which is a problem.

 

Danny

 

When they made this into the Secret Life of Toys series, they fired Apple and subbed in Raisin, who had a much softer and more puppety face. Plus she had better hair. Plus she wasn't programmed by her alien overlords to subjugate the puny humans. A better choice overall.

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Ohh, look at that shot of Rugby from down the hall! That's cute stuff.

 

Kynan

 

So now Balthazar explains to the toys about Christmas. I like how he cuts to the chase, after years of Christmas messages about forgiveness and charity: Basically, Christmas is all about getting new toys.

 

Danny

 

Yeah, according to him, Christmas is a time for hard feelings, and being forgotten by the people you love most. Boy, does Balthazar understand Christmas.

 

Kynan

 

And, by the way, the toys have had a whole year to explain to Rugby that he only gets to be the Christmas Toy once. They're extremely ineffective communicators.

 

Danny

 

They need an office newsletter.

 

Kynan

 

Wow, Ditz is the dumbest damn toy in the whole playroom. You'd think they would've figured that out earlier, and assigned him a carer or something.

 

Danny

 

He's the Attention Deficit Doll.

 

Apple: "Rugby doesn't understand anything about Christmas!"

 

Danny

 

Yeah, he hasn't learned that ultimately everyone that you love will betray you. Well, luckily, we have the holiday season, to teach us that important lesson over and over and over.

 

Toys: "Ewww, it's Mew!"

 

Danny

 

The toys are so into themselves, but they're not very nice to Mew. They need to be taught a Christmas lesson, tout suite.

 

Kynan

 

Dude, give 'em a break, Mew stinks.

 

 

      

 

Kynan

 

Walking down the hall: The Christmas Toy's version of a car chase. 

 

Danny

 

Have you noticed that this show obeys the Aristotelian dramatic unities of Action, Time and Space? It all takes place in real time, in one location. Did you notice that? 

 

Kynan

 

I can't say that I did. 

 

Danny

 

It doesn't make the show any better. I'm just trying to kill time during the walking-down-the-hall sequence. 

 

Kynan

 

Fair enough. 

 

Danny

 

So if a toy's caught out of place, it gets frozen forever. Who makes these rules, Santa Claus? What a hardass. 

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Why does Ditz have to die just because Mom sees him in the wrong place? It's not like it even made her realize that the toys are alive. She just thinks Ditz got left around by the kids. It's so unfair!

 

Phone: "The number you have dialed is no longer connected."

 

Kynan

 

That's the saddest piece of dialogue underlining the death of a character in a puppet Christmas special ever. It might be even sadder if we'd met Ditz more than 12 seconds before he bit the sawdust.

 

Mom: "I'll go check Molly's room and see how much of her wardrobe is hidden under her bed."

 

Dad: "Heh heh! Good luck."

 

Danny

 

Man, sarcastic parents! What's up with that?

 

Mom: "You can do Ouija a favor, and put him outside."

 

Dad: "I've got to find him first. That cat never wants to go outside."

 

Danny

 

Moan moan moan! Nothing pleases these people. Let's all hang around on Christmas Eve criticizing the cat.

 

 

 

Mom: "Did the kids remember to put out cookies and milk for Santa?"

 

Dad: "You've gotta be kidding. Can you imagine them forgetting?"

 

 

Mom: "Not really. But it's worth checking."

 

 

Dad: "What kind of cookies did you buy?"

 

Mom: "Never you mind!"

 

Danny

 

I can't get over this. What is going ON in that conversation? Why do they hate each other so much? I think there's a lot more going on here than just cookies.

 

Kynan

 

You should know from watching decades of fast-food commercials that Voice-Over Parents are always obnoxious.

 

Danny

 

They're not just obnoxious, they're simmering with barely-sublimated rage. It's like every line refers back to some long-standing resentment. They frighten me.

 

 

     

 

Kynan

 

Speaking of being frightened, nothing says Christmas like hiding in the closet and shivering.

 

Danny

 

Huh. Same flashback as before, then. This special has the same pacing issues as Emmet. Is this really only an hour long?

 

Kynan

 

I think I'd care more if Rugby hadn't been such a self-centered toyhole from the very beginning. Two identical flashbacks aren't really enough to make me sympathize the way I should. And I don't get why Mew is being so helpful to someone who's so mean and self-absorbed. 

 

Danny

 

Oh, it's because he's so cute! Look at his little tiger paw peeking under the door like that. There's a lot of cuteness in this special. Also a lot of death and terror.

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Good, let's hold everything up for another inspiring song.  

 

Kynan

 

They realize that rescuing Rugby is urgent, but they can still afford a two-minute song break to emphasize it.

 

Danny

 

It's cute, but is there any doubt that at the end of this song, they're going to go do the thing they said they were going to do two minutes ago? Can't we just go and do it?

 

 

      

 

 

 

Sister: "Mom, the brats are awake, and they're in the hallway!"

 

Kynan

 

First thought: That older sister is a vicious bitch. Second thought, looking at those grinning freaks: She's right, they are brats.

 

 

 

Mom: "Jesse! Jamie! Get back to bed, or I'll tell Santa to put your presents back where they came from!"

 

Danny

 

MAN! What a loving family. Threats, insults, sarcasm... All the new toys are sitting in their boxes, desperately hoping they'll be returned.

 

Kynan

 

You know, I'm a grown-up now, and I still don't know how to get that direct line to Santa.

 

Danny

 

Oh, Rugby and Mew can't take that ribbon off -- it'll get frozen forever!

 

Kynan

 

I wonder if the kitchen appliances are alive too? Who knows what the dishwasher's been up to all this time.

 

Danny

 

And the living room redecorates itself every time they leave the house.

 

 

      

 

 

 

Mew: "WOW! I've never seen anyone like HER before!" 

 

Danny

 

Except on pay-per-view, obviously. Meteora's a bit of a spooky toy. Anybody notice that?

 

Kynan

 

She's the worst toy in the world. She's hideous, and anatomically inappropriate for such young children. 

 

Danny

 

Plus, she's got a package. Check it out. That's not for Christmas. 

 

 

 

Mew: "We're friends, but it's not a perfect relationship." 

 

Danny

 

That's cute. The one thing I love about this show is the relationship between Rugby and Mew. 

 

Kynan

 

Hmmm. It's really only a relationship from Mew's point of view. Mew could do perfectly well without Rugby, who's mean to him all the time. The only reason Mew hangs around is that he's really, really nice. I like Mew. 

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Oh, another flashback. This show is going backwards more than it's going forward. Look at Apple crying! This show is going to make kids paranoid about making their toys jealous. Every time they play with one toy, they'll have to run around and apologize to all the others.

 

Kynan

 

Jamie said she'd love Apple forever, and then she said she'd love Rugby forever -- she's fickle and untrustworthy. I never liked that girl.

 

Danny

 

Hey, how come the chess pieces aren't alive? They're toys too. 

 

Kynan

 

They're intellectual toys. They're alive, but they don't indulge in silliness, like walking around or talking to each other. 

 

Danny

 

They're too busy listening to public radio.

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Boy, Meteora's going to be a lot of fun in the playroom. Brandishing her sword, interrogating everyone... What a barrel of fun this year's gonna be, with her around.

 

Kynan

 

Rugby breaking the news to Meteora that she's just a toy seems a little abrupt. He got a whole year before anybody broke the bad news to him.

 

Danny

 

Oh goody, another song. And it goes on eternally! And it has three verses and a bridge! It's cute, but it's also another three minutes of the characters standing around in the living room, which I guess passes for action in this show.

 

Kynan

 

Meanwhile, Balthazar can't remember the last time he was in the living room. Now he feels worthless and depressed. This is the worst Christmas ever. The playroom is a seething hotbed of recriminations and self-doubt.

 

Danny

 

And look, now Mew is dead. Oh, good. The only two characters I cared about were Rugby and Mew, and now I have to watch one of them grieve over the other for five minutes. Nice.

 

 

      

 

Kynan

 

This special is the same length as Emmet Otter -- and yet Emmet goes by in a flash for me, while this feels endless.

 

Danny

 

Looking at it isn't even very pretty, which is what would make this special tolerable. It's not very funny, it doesn't move very fast, a main character dies. The thing that would make it work is if it had some visual variety.

 

Kynan

 

You're right, this isn't a particularly visually interesting show. There's no cool helicopter angles, or lovingly created tracking shots. All the hallway stuff is claustrophobically close to the ground.

 

Danny

 

Say what you like about the marionettes in Emmet, at least there was always something different to look at, and the parts that were supposed to be pretty were authentically pretty. Here, the playroom is fun -- but the rest of the time, it's just a big dark suburban house. 

 

Kynan

 

But that's not the main part that's missing. Emmet starts out with two characters who care about each other. They're hard up, but when we meet them, they're having a good time. This show just kicks in with the negatives right away.

 

Danny

 

And stays there.

 

Kynan

 

It just never seems like it's fun to be a toy.

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

Hey, did I ever tell you about my theory that Mew's death is a metaphor for AIDS? It's 1986, and gay men are dying all over the place. The creators are TV puppet people from New York and LA, so obviously a lot of their friends are dying. So in this special, you get Mew -- the despised, unfairly judged cat-toy -- dying suddenly. Rugby realizes how precious Mew is... but he figures it out too late.

 

Kynan

 

Uh huh.

 

Danny

 

Then the fantasy is that the dead loved one can be resurrected and vindicated, just through the power of love and Christmas. You can see how this was an appealing fantasy for artsy people in 1986.

 

Kynan

 

Did I ever tell you MY theory that sometimes a kids' TV special is just a kids' TV special?

 

Danny

 

You should be more supportive of my brilliant insights. It's Christmas.

 

Kynan

 

Well, then here's mine. When you said this was Toy Story, you were right -- but it's Toy Story minus a few million dollars worth of development money. I think a lot of the story problems could be ironed out with a bunch more drafts. They could've figured out a way to give the story heart without killing a bunch of toys.

 

 

      

 

Danny

 

The fact that there are now two Mews raises the question of whether toys have souls. If so, do all the Rugbys in the world share the same soul?

 

Kynan

 

Two Mews. Craziest damn thing I ever saw.

 

Jamie: "I love you, Meteora... I love you, Apple... I love you, Rugby..."

 

Danny

 

Yeah, but you love Rugby more, right? Anyone would love Rugby more.

 

Kynan

 

I think she's just pretending to love Meteora. Wouldn't you? She's got that huge sword. You wouldn't cuddle her voluntarily.

 

Danny

 

That's a good way to lose a finger.

 

 

     

 

Danny

 

And the Kermit bookend is back, just in time to kind of not do anything. Then again, nobody really did much in this show. What's the message here? Just stand around and wait, and hope that the people who love you will still love you after your replacement comes along?

 

Kynan

 

I think the message they're trying to send is about accepting change and supporting each other. Plus, it's not right to judge people just because they make you break out in hives. The message they're actually sending is that love conquers all, but only very selectively. And that even the most beloved teddy bear will eventually burst at the seams, and die a sad and irrelevant death.

 

Danny

 

And that's all true. So what is Christmas for?

 

Kynan

 

Christmas is a metaphor for overpopulation. Eventually everyone gets superceded by a later model. Merry capitalist Christmas.

 

Danny

 

PS. I still want a Rugby doll.

 

Kynan

 

I'll see what I can do.

 

 

 

 

Part One  --  Part Two  --  Part Three

 

In our final Christmas show:

"Ernie and Bert have both given up

the thing they love most...

and then in comes the Jew!"

 

 

Danny@ToughPigs.com 

 

My Week Contents

My 2:40 with Songs from the Street

My Week with the Storyteller

My Week with The Muppet Show: Part Four