Christmas specials can be a cash cow for the television producer, the right ingredients having the potential to generate year after year of ad revenue with no need to generate new material. But the list of canonical holiday entertainment made for television is not deep: after A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the better Rankin Bass programs, and countless iterations of Dickens, what do you have left? Do you ever wonder what happened to the forgotten Christmas special of yesteryear? Warner Archive digs deep into studio coffers to unearth lesser-known gems, but in the case of the Hanna-Barbera Christmas Classics Collection, there may be good reason these have not become holiday perennials.
The set consists of three programs spanning from 1971 to 1993, each of them justifiably relegated to the dark shadows of Christmas past. The 1971 A Christmas Story bears no relation to Bob Clark’s 1983 classic. It’s a not-so-amazing animal adventure where hound dog Goober (voiced by ventriloquist Paul Winchell) and mouse Gumdrop (Daws Butler) try to deliver a boy’s letter to Santa at the North Pole. Facing dreary weather conditions and feline adversity, the beastly task is left unfulfilled but somehow Christmas is saved, with no discernible message to the kids and a couple of forgettable original songs added to the soundtrack.
I felt kind of sorry for A Christmas Story, a veritable Charlie Brown Christmas tree of holiday specials, unloved and hidden in studio vaults for four decades, an old-fashioned product hopelessly out of touch with contemporary standards of good writing and strong production values. But no amount of tinsel and ornaments could gussy it up into a beloved story, and I felt no such sympathy for the remaining specials on the collection.
The Town Santa Forgot (1993), narrated by Dick Van Dyke, has a good message for the kids: don’t be greedy. But the unpleasant story it tells of a boy who writes Santa a wish list half a mile long is tedious and lacking in joy; its redemption completely unfelt.
Lastly, Casper’s First Christmas (1979) is an all-star endeavor, bringing together the ghost of a dead boy with a cast of Hanna Barbera’s marquee stars of the day: Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo, Quick-Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, and other second-tier characters. They share a musical number together. It’s not pretty.
‘Tis the season for giving. In the spirit of the true meaning of ths holiday, please do not consider giving these to someone you love, and avoid the near occasion of the Hallmark Channel.