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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: "A NIGHT AT THE DRIVE IN" will return next week. Today, enjoy George's take on Christmas specials ...

Christmas is kind of my thing, so I wanted to go outside my normal format a little and talk about a few other classic presentations that seem to be drifting away as the years go by. Anyone who is around my age (none of your business) remembers those great Claymation Christmas specials that were in vogue for a decade or so. It was alternative animation before computer 3D animation took over and these specials are a lot of fun.

If you have heard of these Claymation specials, or even seen them emulated in today’s commercials and on the Internet, then you need to do yourself a favor and make sure that you check out the three most essential Claymation Christmas specials of all-time. Christmas just would not be complete without these little gems from the past.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Rudolph did not start the Claymation era of animation, but he rapidly became a favorite of Claymation fans around the world. Rudolph wound up starring in two other Claymation specials to go along with his 1964 classic. From Hermey the Elf Dentist to Yukon Cornelius and whatever he is supposed to be, this Claymation classic is something everyone should see at least once.

You can still see Christmas decorations based on the designs of these characters and it still sells pretty well on DVD or Blu-Ray every holiday season, which speaks loudly to the popularity of this wonderful Christmas special. Each Christmas, it is not difficult to find images from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in just about any store you go to.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970)

Before Mickey Rooney went completely nuts, he actually voiced a nice Santa Claus. Every cultural icon has to have a backstory and this Claymation special does its best to fill in the story of where Santa Claus came from and why he delivers presents on Christmas Eve.

There are a few too many musical numbers in this Christmas special for my tastes, but this is one of those Claymation specials that gets dusted off every year and played for the masses on cable television. This one even makes an appearance on network television from time to time, but nothing like it used to when it was first released in 1970.

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

After Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the Claymation process was starting to lose its luster with Hollywood, or whomever was making these things. But luckily, Claymation sustained itself just long enough to create its ultimate classic – The Year Without a Santa Claus.

Mickey Rooney checks in again as Santa Claus and, once again, he does a fine job. But the real stars of this show are the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser. There are tons of covers of the Heat Miser and Snow Miser songs out there and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy even had a minor hit a few Christmases ago remaking those songs. The images in this one are bizarre, but this Christmas special is a lot of fun to watch.

One of the advantages of never growing up is that I am able to maintain a broad perspective on the movies and television shows I grew up with. I still watch the Claymation specials every Christmas and I am trying desperately to get my grandson interested in them as well.

For anyone who is new to these Claymation specials, these are the three I would recommend you get started with. But, in reality, I always recommend that you watch as many Christmas specials as you can every holiday season. A little Christmas never hurt anyone, especially when it is a classic.

George N Root III is a drive-in movie fanatic and Christmas enthusiast. His reviews appear every week and get stranger and stranger with each installment.

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