Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Overload

I have a dilemma.  I am running low on Christmas specials that Henson oversaw.  So tonight, I have a choice.  I could either discuss one of the many short pieces that appeared in larger Christmas variety specials or I can focus on a post-Henson special.  Because the Christmas shorts are hard to come by (and those that are easily found don't set out to accomplish much beyond some jokes), I will stray from my mantra and look at one of the Christmas specials that premiered after 1990.

But which one to choose?  A Very Muppet Christmas Movie is too long to tackle in one day.  Letters From Santa is kind of all over the place.  A Sesame Street Christmas Carol has kind of been done before (and will take away from the Muppet version).  And I cannot handle more than two-minutes of Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree due to Robert Downey Jr. speaking like a madman.

Seriously, it gives me an aneurysm trying to decipher his words.

It looks like it is up to everyone's favorite furry red monster to save the day!  I have decided on the following special because it is the only one that is actually a (mostly) original story, rather than a Muppet version of a typical Christmas tale.  And lo and behold, it actually covers some dark territory for Sesame Street. No, they don't quite make 'em like Elmo Saves Christmas.

It's like Groundhog's Day for kids!

As with all great stories, the great Maya Angelou narrates this yuletide Aesop Fable to convey the weight and magnitude of the situation young Elmo finds himself in.  After one of the young Muppets nonchalantly declares that he wishes it were Christmas every day, Angelou sets the record straight about having too much of a good thing.

Well, this Christmas party did not turn out quite as expected.  No adults even RSVP'd.

The story begins with everyone on Sesame Street preparing for Christmas the next day.  The shopping is done, the decorations are up, and spirits are high.  Elmo prepares for the arrival of Santa by waiting by the fireplace all night.  Suddenly, he is awoken by the sounds of Mr. Claus trapped in his chimney.

Jackpot!

Elmo frees Santa, thus saving Christmas!  The End!

Wait, no.  Santa rewards Elmo with a snow globe that grants wishes when you shake it.  Elmo decides to hold on to his gift for a special occasion.  And then comes Christmas, the most special occasion of all!  Elmo enjoys walking about town, receiving gifts from neighbors and enjoying the laughter and songs.  And so he is struck with a brilliant idea.

I will take over Sesame Street, and then, the world!  All for my amusement!

He wishes for Christmas to occur every day.  Now, usually, on the day after Christmas (after everyone has spent their gift cards and returned their gifts), people are turned off by everything Christmas-related.  No more Christmas songs are played and no more Christmas movies are watched.  It's as if we all breathe a collective sigh of relief that Christmas is over.  Perhaps it is because we know that it is the day that is furthest from the next Christmas so we do not want to be disappointed by reminders of yesterday.  Whatever the case, everyone is done.

But on Sesame Street, everyone quickly jumps on board with the idea and looks forward to Christmas #2.  Santa Claus, however, has a different agenda, and realizes that someone made that wish again.  So he sends Elmo on a time-traveling trip with his fastest reindeer Lightning so that he can see the negative effects of "Christmas every day."

Rudolph may be able to see through fog, but Lightning can break the space-time continuum.

Elmo and Lightning witness Christmas on Easter, Christmas on the Fourth of July, and Christmas on next Christmas, with each visit depicting a world that grows darker and darker.  The novelty has quickly worn off and people have all become bitter and depressed.  All businesses have closed, the Count has grown tired of counting Christmases, and worst of all, Big Bird has been separated from his best friend Snuffy, who was supposed to comeback from visiting relatives "the day after Christmas."  By the time December 25th rolls around again, it's just the 366th Christmas in a row, so no one even acknowledges it's significance.

The saddest sign to see every single day.

Elmo learns his lesson (finally!) and then returns back in time with Superman to stop himself from ever receiving the snow globe in the first place.  Instead, he settles for the greatest gift of all, a moo-bunny.

Not to be confused with a "cabbit."

This special stands out above the other post-Henson fare because it deals with a topic that many children can relate to at Christmas time.  We build it up to be such a magical day that, for over-indulgent children, they do not understand the reason we cannot have it all the time.  This show teaches the concepts of "forever" and  "special" in a way that few other children shows have tackled.  To a child, it would be great to eat chocolate for every meal or watch television all day long or only have recess instead of classes.  Moderation is foreign to them.  So to see Elmo go through the journey with such resistance to accept the horrors around him, it can be very eye-opening to a young child.

I quite enjoyed the small touches this episode had (that were not present in the Sesame Street special I covered earlier this week).  Even though this was very much Elmo's story, he took a backseat as he observed the trials of all other characters.  This allowed the ensemble to work cohesively, rather than all focused on one objective.

My favorite moments include:

- Bob leading the carolers in the song "It's Christmas Again" every single day.  I loved how the song evolved from a joyous romp into a monotonous routine with new lyrics for each day.

- Big Bird's story about being unexpectedly torn away from his best friend, especially him writing the same letter every day ("Dear Snuffy, I miss you.  Your best friend, Big Bird") and the letters piling up by his nest because the mail isn't picked up on Christmas.

- The Count's Christmas outfit:


- Bert and Ernie responding to George Bailey talking to Bert and Ernie in It's a Wonderful Life (which plays nonstop on every television set).

- And Oscar wallowing in everyone's misery throughout the year.  On the final Christmas, when Elmo says he was planning on using his final wish for rollerblades but decides instead to wish for one Christmas a year again, Oscar butts in, "No! Go for the rollerblades!"  That's the Christmas-hating grouch we love.

Yes, this was truly a Christmas special that felt like a Jim Henson production.  Even though he was not around to oversee it, it manages to keep his spirit alive with its sharp wit, catchy songs, and a thoughtful message to all viewers.  Christmas is special.  We can keep it's spirit alive all throughout the year.  But a little bit can go a long way.  If we got everything we wished for, there would be no more motivation in life.  Sometimes it is what you rarely experience that makes you appreciate the moments in between.

That was great!  Same time next year?

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