Christmas in America would suck without seasonal cartoon specials. Don't you think we'd be a poor nation without those three annual treasures—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas—we've come to expect from network TV? My sister does. At 31, she still gets teary watching Frosty melt inside the greenhouse. An equally fervent fan of these shows, I feel a spark in my spine while picturing that scene when Rudolph, accompanied by his misfit friends, embarks on an ice flow into the slightly scary future.
Perhaps it's the inevitable happy endings in these tales that make them so endearing. We realize the Snow Monster's abominable because of a toothache, Frosty's too unique to remain a puddle, and there's a potentially huge heart (three times its current size!) inside the Grinch. And most crucially, we understand that Christmas can't be canceled. Or can it? With Mom on an aircraft carrier in the Middle East, Uncle Antonio nervous about the packages he's delivering, and cousin Louise still suffering from nightmares about that day the Twin Towers fell down, today's kids—and adults—might conclude that, in the real world, Rudolph and his seafaring crew would drown.
Aiming to deck the gloomy halls of Americans' imaginations with cheerier visions, animators have scurried back inside their North Pole studios to create updated alternatives to these '60s classics. This December, switch from the news to reminders that—hail, snow, or war—Santa can't be stopped.
TITLE: Frosty the Sno-Cone, 25 min.
INTRODUCING AN ICY ICON: Prof. Hypocrites held up the tiny bottle of milky potion and announced to the Special Forces unit, "With this, we'll win the War on Terrorism come Christmas!" As he unscrewed the dropper, the secretary of offense told how he'd cripple the Taliban with his deadly concoction, dribbling it into Kandahar's water supply, dashing it over the food baskets deposited across the country, injecting it into the clouds that occasionally passed over this arid region. Soldier Sam, the unit's closet pacifist, raised a hand and asked, "But what about the innocents?" Hypocrites folded his arms and declared, "If they're not with U.S., they're with the terrorists."
He then squeezed a drop on a cupcake in demonstration, but rather than crackle a radioactive orange, the sweet sprouted a miniature poinsettia. Hypocrites tried the poison on other objects, only to have his tittering audience witness a bucket of water turn into eggnog and a turban transform into a Christmas stocking. "Bah!" he barked, and tossed the potion over his shoulder, where it landed inside the ice chest Sam had just opened to grab himself a Popsicle. "Happy Ramadan!" someone announced from within the freezer. When he glanced inside, Sam spotted a sno-cone, half red and half green, staring up at him with chestnut eyes and a Hershey's Kiss smile.
TITLE: How Osama Bombed Christmas, 26 min.
THE PACKAGE: More than any other day of the year, the roly-poly residents of Me-ville adored Christmas. They wrapped their condos in blinking lights of all colors, they surrounded the trees in their yards with walls of presents, they cooked roasts the size of baby wildebeests, they gathered at the town drive-in to watch It's a Wonderful Life ad nauseam. Everyone partook in these celebrations—except Osama, a scraggly looking green-furred creature with an irritated scowl (and surprisingly soulful eyes) who lived high above town on the desolate Maniac's Peak. Osama detested Me-ville's seasonal festivities: The holiday radio jingles gave him migraines, the female pop star's provocative Christmas concert made him question his masculinity, the constantly packed Old Navy store looked to him like a spiritual abyss.
So Osama built a bomb. Because he wanted to follow Me-ville residents' sorrowful lives (and because this is a cartoon), the weapon wouldn't kill. It would simply obliterate Christmas, popping the lights, incinerating the gifts, dissolving the movie screen before Jimmy Stewart could hug the whole family. After he dropped the weapon of Christmass destruction from Maniac's Peak, he listened for Me-ville's wails. But as the sun illuminated the town, Osama saw that instead of bawling, the roly-poly residents were proudly waving their Me-ville flags while singing the Me-ville anthem. And then it pierced Osama deeper than any shrapnel: If Me-ville residents could smile through the collapse of their department stores, maybe they could smile through much more—maybe even a war.
TITLE: Rudolph the Keen-Nosed Reindeer, 30 min. (longer running time because the networks passed the potentially controversial show to PBS).
GOING DOWN IN CHRISTMAS SPECIAL HISTORY: Scared that the Air Force might mistake his reindeer-led sleigh for a missile, Santa has postponed his rounds and been grumbling that this Dec. 25 he, Mrs. Claus, the elves, and the 'deer would spend an uneventful holiday in L.A. Stuck inside his reindeer-sized kennel in the belly of the jumbo jet, Rudolph detects a suspicious scent with that nose that always causes him such shame. (Santa hasn't said a merry word to Rudolph since the reindeer asked his owner why his belt smelled like Chanel.) After busting out of the kennel with hooves still sharp from not joining in any reindeer games, Rudolph heads for a metal briefcase, inside of which he—sniff, sniff—detects ANTHRAX!
Just then, the plane dips toward the Hollywood sign, and Rudolph leaps upward (puncturing the floor of the passenger cabin), bounds down the aisle to antler-butt the terrorist guarding the cockpit, nips the hijackers until they agree to remain in the rest room, and then (after having a flustered Santa strap on his harness and reins) jumps through the windshield to tow the plane to a safe landing on a strip of freeway in the San Fernando Valley. After the candy cane-striped limo picks them up, Santa promises he'll never again shirk his seasonal duty because of fear and gushes, "Rudolph, with your brain so bright, thanks for guiding our flight tonight."