|CHRISTOPHER THE CHRISTMAS TREE (fox, 1993)|
Why was it such a misfit?
People have been begging me to cover Christopher the Christmas Tree for years, and I'm not sure why. I saw this one when it first appeared on Fox Kids one Saturday morning, and from what I remember, it was awfully boring. A lot of people also badgered me for years to review Santa and the Three Bears, and when I finally did, they complained that the review was dull. Well, so was the subject matter I was handed -- I have to work with what I'm given. You can only say so much about a bunch of bears sleeping, or a Christmas tree that remains in the same spot throughout its story.
What I'm saying is that if you hate what you're about to read, it's your own fault.
This is actually a Canadian cartoon, originally produced for YTV, Canada's Nickelodeon equivalent. I guess it's appropriate I was donated a recent recording of it from the same channel. The opening pan shot and credits are accompanied by a country singer who gives away the plot through song:
Christmas Tree, the shaggiest tree around,
It's kinda like Hans Christian Andersen's The Fir Tree mixed with Sarah Jessica Parker's Failure to Launch.
Deep in the valley where Christmas trees grow, there were once.....a lot of trees with cartoon faces on them. There was the egotistical one, the dumb one, the British one, the Italian one, the fat one, the Wilford Brimley one, the snobby one, the other fat one, the other dumb one (in this role call, the personalities eventually repeat). Finally, there's Christopher, the little shrimp. He's obviously not going to be picked this year as no one wants a tree that small, but he's optimistic anyway.
Guess what? This is the first special I've reviewed in a long time that doesn't mention Santa at all. Instead, it has the guts to go for the Big C. A little boy arrives at the Christmas tree farm, excited to decorate the new tree they'll be getting, and he asks his dad why they put a star on top every year. "Well, son," says his pop, "that star is up there to remind us of the Star in the East at Bethlehem, which the Wise Men followed to witness the birth of Christ." It's nice to hear this coming out of someone other than Linus for once.
"I've grown so tall
and big, they're BOUND to pick me first," boasts the
The scene dissolves to
later that day, when the field is empty and full of
stumps. They ALL got picked...except for shrimpy Chris.
"I wish...I were a PRETTY Christmas tree," he
We won't see Christopher again for another five minutes. Yes, his name is in the title, but this special is kind of all over the place story-wise. For now, the focus of the story is on Hootie, an owl who can't do anything his brothers can -- he can't fly, read or talk yet. Upset over the abuse he receives because of it, he leaves his family and runs away. A montage follows of Hootie walking around, trying to make friends with whoever he meets. Usually his new friend's mother chases him away, which I don't understand, because unlike Rudolph Hootie has no scary deformities to speak of.
Finally Hootie enters the Christmas tree farm. Looking down while walking, he runs into a large pine tree. Yes, it's Christopher, all grown-up and with the voice of a Dom DeLuise impersonator. Christopher has been overlooked year after year and is now much too big to fit inside anybody's living room. It's been a depressing existence, but some feathered company would soothe the pain. He and Hootie become best friends.
Then a bunch of woodland animals surround him. "Hey, if you can help Hootie, can you help us too?" they beg. Since every other tree in the area has been cut down, Christopher is the only possible home they can have. Chris is more than happy to oblige, and they start dancing and singing about how much they love him. He's found a new purpose.
"You know, Hootie...." Chris explains that evening, "every night I wish upon the Christmas star. I wish that I could be a real, decorated Christmas tree and have a star on my head as big as that one. What would you wish for?" Since Hootie can't talk, the narrator explains he's wishing for the ability to talk and fly. As this is being explained, a song comes in under the narration that's dangerously close to a certain heavily copyrighted one. "It makes no difference who you are, if you wish upon a star...." Just flip the lines and you're safe from Disney? Evidently; no lawsuit yet.
The only bad apples in the area are a punk fox and a weasel, who jeer at how large Chris has become and how his dreams of being a holiday centerpiece are hopeless. "The only thing YER good for now is FIREWOOD!" they chortle, as they bring out a cigarette lighter and SET HIM ON FIRE -- HOLY COW. Making fun of Chris is one thing; trying to kill him is on another level. The cartoon doesn't seem to treat it like a big deal, however. Hootie puts out the flames at the bottom of Chris and Chris covers over his singed branches with more branches.
This brings to Chris a new worry he'd never realized before. What if he IS doomed to be firewood? Once he craved human attention, but now he's deathly afraid of it. And at that moment, the tree-carting truck comes back and two men step out with chainsaws!
"Ya gotta save me, Hootie!" Chris calls out in fear, "I don't wanna be firewood!" Hootie is so small that he can't do much of anything, though, and the men eventually finish cutting him down, bundle him up and throw him on the truck. Hootie is so determined to save Chris, he suddenly realizes how to fly AND talk! Maybe reading was also activated at that moment, who knows.
As the truck carries Christopher to who-knows-where, Hootie flies up and pecks at the ropes binding Chris with his beak. He's able to loosen the ropes, but he can't push Chris off the truck. "If only I had more help...." Hootie frets, then he remembers he can talk now. "I'LL BE RIGHT BACK!" Hootie shouts, and flies away. If he can gather his animal friends and catch up again, they'll have the combined strength to rescue Chris! He doesn't do a good enough job explaining this to the tree, however, who watches in despair as his last hope disappears over the horizon.
Of course, you don't really think Christopher is going to be firewood, do you? No, you know where this is going....
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Christopher the Christmas Tree is that it has two endings. In the version that aired on Fox, Hootie and the animals catch up with Chris just in time to see him lit up as the official Christmas tree of the President of the United States. In the version that ran in Canada and all other places, Chris is the official tree of the United Nations. Also, in the American version, the fire scene has been cut out. Whether that's for time or for censorship, I couldn't tell you.
Chris's dream has finally come true, but what's to become of the animals now? Christopher tells Hootie he has to go back and plant the pine cones that Chris left on the ground back at the tree farm. "That way, there will always be a Christopher the Christmas Tree."
Why didn't it fit in?
Well, it's kind of soft, boring and predictable, but as far as 2-D animation on Christmas specials goes, this is one of the better efforts I've seen. Everybody and everything moves fluidly with wild, bright expressions. But the story being animated isn't the greatest, and in the end that matters more.