Can you name your favourite Christmas movie ever? I suspect most of you will select something somewhere in between It’s A Wonderful Life and Elf. You know, the classic ones that everyone loves no matter how many times you and your family view them.
In fact, if you check the IMDB Top 100 Christmas Movies, all the usual suspects feature pretty high on the list. Home Alone is placed high and sandwiched between Miracle on 34th Street and The Snowman. Travel a little further up to 40’s you’ll find Arnie’s Jingle All The Way. Into the ’70s, and it gets a little more obscure with cannabis fuelled A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Reach the destination of 100 itself, and we have Violent Night. A movie about a group of mercenaries who attack a wealthy family only for Santa Claus to step in to save Christmas. I don’t know about you, but kidnap, and knife crime doesn’t exactly get me reaching for the jingle bells.
I want to use this advent blog to do what R-rated movies cannot. Spread some seasonal joy with a celebration and education of my reflections from THE forgotten Christmas movie. I’ll also avoid the plot, so I don’t spoil it for you. In fact, I’ll pretty much avoid anything about the specifics of the movie itself, but more about the flutter of feelings and life lessons it has brought me from a very young age to today, and invite you to consider what your favourite festive flick may bring you. Warning, things might get weird!!
When I was a kid, in fact, still today, if you ask me to choose a genre of movie to devour, it would most definitely be animation. I have a ridiculously large volume of film gaps that you’ve most likely seen that I have not. I could, for that matter, in no way ever be described as an informed or objective judge of great movies. I mean, I’ve never even seen Die Hard, let alone debate whether it’s a Christmas movie. I’m not here to change your mind, just to simply make the case for the best Christmas movie that the world has never seen and illustrate why it’s my family’s favourite.
So grab yourself a warm and comforting festive drink of your choice and bury your body in a big fleecy huggable blanket, and we’ll begin…..
Growing up, we had three channels of TV to entertain us in the 70s and early 80’s in Scotland, stretching to a masshooooove four in the mid-eighties. Saturday morning consisted of cartoons like The Perils Of Penelope Pitstop, Roadrunner and Mr Benn all interspersed with the normal daytime schedule. Sunday afternoon was the king of cartoon days. STV (Scottish Television) was dedicated to animation through a show called Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade. I had little or no interest in Multi-Coloured Swap Shops, Tizwaz or the even more celebrity-star-studded Saturday Superstore. I realise as I write this how much of that 10-year-old has survived, given that I still have little interest in celebrity culture. I sat glued every Sunday on my tobacco and marmalade-coloured sofa, watching Cornishman Glen and his talking Glaswegian paraffin lamp, Paladin, introduce classics like the brilliant American anime Battle Of The Planets. Or see Peter Parker’s latest adventures spidering around NYC. I loved watching how the Flintstone’s twinkling toes never touched the ground when they ran, joining in the canned laughter throughout. I think I even had my first crush on the Teen Angels as they freed Captain Cavemen from his prehistoric block of ice. Cartoons, and in particular Hanna-Barbera ones, provided me with then, and still to this day, an enormous level of joy.
As age 10 became 11 and 11 became 12, one cartoon stayed with me as I grew older and older. Not simply the character itself but one episode, or should I say feature length – and that’s what hooked me! Cartoons were 10 to 15 minutes max. This was 98 minutes of Yogi Bear, YES!!! I watched Yogi Bear’s First Christmas every year it was broadcast on or around Christmas morning. I think the TV channels used to show it to keep the kids busy whilst parents cleared up the mess from Santa’s glitter bomb, or to provide said parents with a welcome gift of preparation for the darting day to come. It became like a religious ceremony for me. Christmas had an order of wake, stockings, presents, Yogi, toys, food and back to the toys.
This continued until I was about 15, and then suddenly, they stopped broadcasting it every Christmas, a forgotten gem shelved. This was not just pre-YouTube, but pre-internet. To watch movies, you bought a VHS if they weren’t broadcast on channels 1-4. I discovered that Yogi’s VHS was no longer in production. I tried the library of choices at my local Blockbuster store. I inquired at Glasgow’s very own Americana-style Global Video. I explored the local curiosity of the video van – a mid-sized Bedford van that used to drive estate to estate, renting videos to locals. Often accompanied by a bag of sweets for the kids and, I suspect, portions of magic powder freely distributed to the adults. All said no, and all said they had never heard of it.
Then in the Summer of 1989, I was in Kent visiting relatives and went out for the day with my Uncle on his sales visits. I wandered randomly into a brick-à-brac/thrift store in Margate and saw tucked tightly in the stack of second-hand videos a sleeve that looked familiar. As I slowly eased it from the pile, I saw Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, Cindy Bear, Ranger Smith, Boo Boo and…….Yogi! It was like Christmas aged 10 all over again. I had a euphoric flashback to sitting in my Crown Paints Liverpool kit, munching a curly wurley, watching my own nirvana of snow-capped Jellystone TV gold.
That grand reveal of the front cover felt like Excalibur being drawn from the stone. I was then suddenly struck by the reality of having a very, very rare VHS in my hands. How much would the charitable store require in golden shekels to settle my quest? So, I did what every sensible negotiator in these circumstances should do, I picked up another two VHS’s at random to dissuade the cashier from my venture. It worked. I left having spent £3 on Yogi and two other rogue choices.
I got back to my Aunt and Uncle’s place in Maidstone with my folks and pondered watching my purchase, but just couldn’t. I treated it like a fine whisky that has to leave its cask just at the right time, and it was also late July! Christmas Day 1989 was its maximum maturation point. So, I did just that. Wake, stockings, presents, Yogi, toys, food and back to the toys . Bliss.
Something to this day, I still do, as do my kids. They won’t play with the new toys, or gadgets until we’ve watched Yogi. All 98 minutes of it. Not my insistence but their choice. Each year we watch with a deeper curiosity spotting new pleasures each time. They observe that the bonus character Herman The Hermit is loosely based on Dr Seuss’s Grinch. They see that Yogi has no real interest in Cindy Bear’s romantic advances. That he overstates his cleverness and only loses the goofy voice when met with authoritative figures.
They observe the beautiful imperfections of the animation too. The fact that Huckleberry Hound’s ears go from black, to blue, then back to black again. That Yogi has a collar or a shirt in all shots. Allowing animators to keep his body relatively static, which would have been a massive redrawing cost reduction on such a long animation.
It’s the collective warmth of noticing and being as a family that really makes it special. It’s like a game of festive family hide and seek. It’s marvellously messy, fabulously fun and widely curious. Maybe it’s not the best Christmas movie ever, but it’s ours for these very reasons. It is like its adolescent audience in so many magical ways. It holds that unique euphoric experience of the wonderment of being a child. No matter what’s changed in the world that year, it’s our family’s festive constant to all feel at one.
I’m 48 now. I’m not sure if, as the year’s pass, your tastes in movies change. I know some people look back on TV shows of their youth with great nostalgia and golden memories of childhood. By that, I mean that as a kid, you may well have enjoyed Bugs Bunny, but these days you’re more drawn to Avengers Endgame, and when Bugs does occasionally appear on your screen munching a carrot, your instant response is, “I used to love this”. Well, I still do.
It’s not just the connection and the nostalgia to these shows and movies. It’s the fact that in these old pre-digital animations, you could draw anything and be anything, anywhere and anytime. It’s the power of hand-crafted possibilities. The fading art of taking your time to master your craft and using it both wonderfully and wisely. I’ve tried to encourage our kids to spend more time considering where they might go if they map their own adventure in life. As Einstein said,
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination can take you everywhere.”Albert Einstein
We’ve spent so much of our adult lives changing to become, well, adults. Our linear educational routes and organisational structure have dampened much of this playful child in us. Yet if we are to solve the velocity and complexity of the global challenges we face today, we are informed that we must think differently. Maybe if we spent a little more time in the mindset of a 10-year-old, we’d be less threatened by our current tangled turmoils and more opportunistic to the possibility of doing something truly different to tackle them.
We’d all be smarter than the av-er-age bear, and not just once a year.