Growing up, I loved watching all of the various Christmas specials that were shown on TV every year. With the availability of almost all of them on DVD, we can watch them whenever we want – even if it’s not during the holiday season! My brother and I would sit in front of the TV and watch Jimmy Durante tell us the story of Frosty the Snowman, Fred Astaire delivering mail while telling us about Santa, and Burl Ives shared the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I don’t care who you are or how old you are, if you have kids – it’s still just as special watching these specials together. I even know some people my age who have no children – they find themselves watching them on TV, too!
Technology has come a long way from when these TV specials were made! Today, the cartoons and animation are above and beyond what these classic specials had. While some of the specials were animated – most of the favorites were done by Rankin and Bass and were done in stop animation. It had to have taken a long time to shoot these specials for sure! What make these so memorable are not only the stories and songs, but the characters and the people who voiced them.
There were some pretty talented voice actors and big stars who provided voiced for these iconic characters! They had many memorable lines, too. Here now, are my Top 20 favorite characters from the Specials of Christmas Past (and Present):
20 – Jingle Bells (The Year Without a Santa Claus)
Jingle Bells (right) is the #1 elf at the North Pole. He is partnered up with Jangle Bells (left) and they remind me of a Laurel and Hardy type team. Jingle is the smart one, Jangle – not so much. Together, they get in some trouble while trying to find some Christmas Spirit. It’s Jingle who suggests they call Mrs. Claus for help.
19 – Sally Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas)
One thing that I loved about the Charlie Brown Christmas special is that the voices are done by real kids. As someone who has had to record children for commercials and such, I can tell you this is no easy task. You often have to feed them lines one at a time and edit them together. This is obviously what happened with the girl who plays Sally. Listen to her say – “Will you please write a letter to Santa Claus for me?” next time you watch it … you can hear the edits.
I love Sally because in her letter she gets on Santa’s good side by asking how his wife is and then goes on to say she has included a list of things she wants and for him to “note the size and color” of each item. LOL! When Charlie Brown questions her – she tells him that she just wants her “fair share”
18 – Doc Bobbin (The Year Without a Santa Claus)
Santa is sick, so Mrs. Claus calls the doctor. This guy is just miserable! He’s cranky and angry! He’s an example of someone with no Christmas spirit. He tells Santa he’d be surprised if anyone still believed in him and is just plain rude. His appearance is a short one, but my favorite line from him is “Nobody cares a hoot and a holler for you (Santa) or Christmas!”
17 – The Grinch (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
The Dr. Seuss classic – not the new one or the Jim Carrey one! This guy reminds me a lot of Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s a mean one, as the song suggests, and yet in the end, he finds the true meaning of Christmas and he is a changed Grinch. It’s a bonus that the great Boris Karloff is the narrator for this cartoon.
16 & 15 – Mr. and Mrs. Claus (The Year Without a Santa Claus)
Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth! What’s not to like? Mickey played Santa in Rankin/Bass’s Santa Claus is Coming To Town and did and amazing job. It’s a treat to hear him revisit the role – his vocal inflections (while acting like he has a cold) are perfect. The playfulness of Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus is just as good. She is our story-teller and plays and all important part in the story.
14 & 13 – Rudolph and Hermey
Now, to be honest, I wasn’t going to include Rudolph in this list. However, when I thought about Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist), I felt that Rudy should go with him. These two are here because they are truly a “couple of misfits”. They are different and you know what? That is ok! Be different!!! Be spectacular!
Recently there have been rumblings about the lessons taught by this Christmas special, and in all honesty, the talk is annoying to me. Something offends everybody and everybody is offended by something these days! Hey! Get a grip! In order for the wonderful ending of this tale to mean anything – there had to be mean reindeer and a mean elf!
12 – Professor Hinkle (Frosty the Snowman)
Here is a nasty man. He is a crappy magician and he has no idea how important his hat really is! He’s on the list because he is voiced perfectly by Billy De Wolfe. One of my favorite lines of his is: “When you’re grown up, you’ll realize that snowmen can’t come to life!” Oh, how wrong he was!
11 – Lucy Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)
Lucy is a real piece of work. She bosses everyone around, has an opinion about everything, and is a know it all. She’s also kind of a jerk. So why is she on the list? Because of all the things I just mentioned and this quote: “Look, Charlie Brown, we all know that Christmas is just a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big Eastern Syndicate, you know?!”
Maybe it is not run by a syndicate – but one thing is for certain – Christmas is, and continues to be, a big commercial racket!
10 – Santa Claus (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)
Ok, yes … Santa is already on the list. That, however, is the Mickey Rooney Santa. This Santa is different and is played in a whole different way. I agree, he was a jerk to Rudolph. However, he does come around at the end and Rudolph saves the day. Why is he #10? He says one of my favorite lines: “Every year I shine up my jingle bells!”
Take that however you want.
9 – The Head Elf (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)
Just like the above Santa, this guy was kind of a bossy jerk! Think about it, how many bosses have you had that were jerks? That is what some bosses are good at – being jerks.
At any rate, this guy gives Hermey a hard time. Not only does he have a workshop to run, but he also has to run Elf Practice! I mean – how else are elves gonna learn how to wiggle their ears, go “hee-hee” and “ho-ho” and “important stuff like that”? He was probably thankful that Hermey’s dental practice was able to get him in so soon after Christmas……
8 – The Winter Warlock (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)
Voiced by Keenan Wynn, the Winter Warlock is yet another character who has a change of heart. He is a mean man who is frigid and cold – that is, until Kris Kringle gives him a toy. The ice and cold melts away to show he is really a gentle old man. He tells Kris he really is a mean and “despicable creature at heart” and tells Kris how difficult it is to “really change”. Kris tells him that changing from bad to good is “as easy as taking your first step” which leads into the great song “Put One Foot In Front of the Other”
7 – Linus Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)
Linus is Charlie Brown’s friend. He is often there to give him insight on issues that he is dealing with. He often prompts Charlie to think about things a little differently. It is Linus who says the crappy little tree that Charlie Brown picked out isn’t so bad and just needs a “little love”.
It is also Linus who gives an amazing little speech about what Christmas is all about quoting from the King James Bible Luke 2: 8-14. Linus, who carries around his security blanket at all times, does something really unique while reciting these verses. To the casual observer, it may go unnoticed, but I think it is amazing how this kid who needs this blanket so badly, drops it when he says “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy”. That’s powerful.
With so many people offended by things, I am truly amazed that there isn’t an uproar about this special because of Linus’ speech.
6 – Sam the Snowman (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)
Voiced by one of the familiar “voices of Christmas”, Burl Ives, Sam the Snowman tells us Rudolph’s story. He’s like a gentle old grandpa telling us the story. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing Burl’s version of Holly Jolly Christmas – which is just one of the songs he sings in this special.
He tells us the story with bits of info (First castle to the left) and humor (“haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?”) Even though he is telling a story, he still is frightened by certain parts of it (the Abominable Snow Monster of the North), enough so that he hides under his umbrella!
I have to admit, I often find myself singing lines from Silver and Gold every year when I trim the tree. As a kid, I remember making a snowman and then sliding behind him, making a trail – so it looked like he glided into place …. just like Sam.
5 – Charlie Brown
How many of us can relate to Charlie Brown – not just at Christmas, but all year round? He tells Linus, “I’m just not happy. I don’t know the way I am supposed to feel.” While this is a real issue for many people, Linus tells Charlie Brown that he is the only kid he knows that “can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem”.
He’s a “blockhead”, but he means well. He tries and he fails – but he never stops trying. He is the director of the Christmas play and louses up the production, but in the end, it all comes out ok. He buys a scrawny tree, and his friends make it something special they wish him a Merry Christmas.
Charlie is a simple kid and we are all a little bit like him.
4 – Burgermeister Meisterburger (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)
Voiced by the great Paul Frees – this guy is a presence on screen! Just what the hell is a Burgermeister? Well it is a sort of mayor – he is an executive. Our Burgermeister is the head of Sombertown (why would anyone want to live there?). He makes it clear that he hates toys and children too, apparently!
The story could have gone very differently, as the baby Claus shows up on his doorstep and he orders his soldier to “Get the brat out of here!” Good thing the soldier, Grimsley, loses the baby on a sled and it shows up at the Kringle house…..
He isn’t all bad – he does love playing with a yo-yo!
3 – Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)
How can you not love Yukon Cornelius’ sense of adventure!? Here is a guy who is out looking for gold and silver! He is on the hunt with the mindset of striking it rich! He knows no fear! He makes his own rules! He isn’t afraid of that Abominable Snow Monster of the North, whom he downplays by calling him Bumbles, and actually attacks him. Sadly, he goes over a cliff with the monster during the attack.
He is a scene stealer and there is a sense of sadness when he tumbles off the cliff, but he is friggin’ Yukon Cornelius! He shows up later with Bumbles to everyone’s amazement! How did he survive? Well…..Bumbles Bounce!!
2 – Heat Miser (The Year Without a Santa Claus)
He’s Mr. Green Christmas! He’s Mr. Sun. He’s Mr. Heat Blister. He’s Mr. 101!
To me, when you talk about the Miser Brothers from The Year Without a Santa Claus, everyone knows Heat Miser first. Some would say that he should top this list. I can see your argument and it’s a good one – but a close one.
Voiced by George S. Irving, Heat Miser obviously doesn’t care about Santa. He asks Mrs. Claus is Santa is “out doing another commercial” for his brother. He describes Santa a “traipsing around in that stupid sleigh of his! Stirring up cold winter breezes and causing everyone to think fondly of snowball fights and – urgh – ice hockey!”
Not only does he not like Santa, but he certainly does not care too much for his brother!
1 – Snow Miser (The Year Without A Santa Claus)
He’s Mr. White Christmas. He’s Mr. Snow. He’s Mr. Icicle. He’s Mr. 10 Below!
The Snow Miser tops my list. He’s just a bundle of energy and damn funny! Voiced by Dick Shawn, he conveys a carefree attitude and is just a fun dude. When he is summoned by his mother (Mother Nature), he and his brother are arguing and they are told to stop. His response is “If I can’t have any fun, I might as well leave.” While he and his “hothead” brother don’t get along, he loves Santa and Mrs. Claus. He tells “Mrs. C” to make sure she brings him with her next time she comes and they’ll have “a blizzard”. He is a friendly, loveable, and fun guy who loves “chilly humor”.
I have always been amazed that when radio stations play Christmas music, they will play songs from various Christmas specials, but they never seem to play the Miser Brothers songs….and that is just sad! You mention the Miser Brothers and the first thing that happens is someone starts singing their songs!
As I look at this list – there are some good guys and bad guys. Maybe there are more bad guys than good … I don’t know, I didn’t count. Here is an observation, though that fits into what’s going on today.
Without bad guys, there can be no heroes. You kind of need bad guys, bullies, and jerks to make the end of the story a happy one. Good conquers evil! Good wins over bad! Sure, the bad guys may be doing things that we don’t agree with, but they are necessary to the plot to get us to the happiness at the end! Imagine A Christmas Carol without Scrooge! Imagine It’s a Wonderful Life without Mr. Potter! It feels better and more special when the good guys come out ahead….doesn’t it?
What characters are your favorites? Who is missing from my list?