The Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree was brought to my attention, as it was I’m sure to many others’, by Doug Walker in his film reviewer role as The Nostalgia Critic. This was, he said, becoming fast known as the worst Christmas special ever made. His review of the picture is about a half-hour long, nearly as long as the short film itself, and seems to cover all the important bases, so I didn’t seek the title out last year after his video went up. This year, however, seemed like the perfect excuse, and of course this 1991, low-budget, straight-to-VHS (or was it made-for-TV?) production is now easily found in its entirety on YouTube. It was actually the first Christmas special I watched this year.
Is it a stinker? Absolutely. Is it the worst Christmas special ever made? Well, that’s harder to say…
The story, if you can call it that, seems to have all the right elements, but it’s as if those elements are all made from inferior materials and patched together by unskilled hands. There is the eponymous Christmas tree, inexplicably named Mrs. Hopewell, as well as sad orphans, a cruel orphanage owner, the new-kids-in-town, Santa Claus, a polar bear…but it all seems to show the low budget and lack of technical expertise one might expect of a team of college animators, combined with the fundamental ignorance of the storytelling craft of, well…someone who isn’t even a writer. Or reader. Or watcher of film.
This is not well-animated; at times it is sloppy to the point of hilarity, but that is not my biggest criticism. If I had to pick a major thing to complain about, more than the miserable voice direction or phoned-in performances, it would be the fact that very little of this production makes sense. I don’t want to give too much away; at 43 minutes, a double-long episode of a TV show (sans commercials), you really ought to just watch it yourself. Suffice it to say that it is never satisfying, and I have a hard time believing this would even win over more than half the children present at any living room screening.
But I couldn’t bring myself to hate it. It is not good, not even a little, but it really feels like they tried. It feels like all its shortcomings aren’t from laziness or cynicism, but rather from incompetence, which I have a much harder time holding against a production, particularly one as involved and complicated as a piece of animation. Worse than its sheer mediocrity on all fronts though, is its legacy. This special, I think, was very poorly timed.
1991 was the beginning of what I think I can rightly call the most fondly remembered and voraciously re-consumed decade in recent history. We, those who really grew up in the ‘90s, were also the near the beginning of the personal computing generation, the beginning of the Internet generation, and we were the people who took to uploading and searching for nostalgic videos on YouTube and similar sites in high school and college and on.
This awful thing, had it come out in 1981, or 1971, or 1961 would have had an infinitely better shot at simply fading away out of anyone’s memory. This is not some special magical unicorn of an awful Christmas special. Surely there have been countless more just as bad, if not worse. But those had the fortune of not being released in the early ‘90s, and therefore were not guaranteed to be archived forever online and paraded around for our amusement decades later, when everyone involved had moved on.
Is this the worst Christmas special ever made? I don’t think so. I didn’t ever feel the throbbing urge to turn it off in the way I have felt with other specials this holiday season. It’s forgivingly short in its duration, and there is a certain charm to the (admittedly campy and just…awful) voice acting and animation because again, it feels like they tried. It’s like when a child brings you home an amorphous green square with three black circles and maybe one red one, and they say, “look, it’s a Christmas tree!”. And you say, appreciating their innocence, “yeah…it sure does.”
I’m giving The Christmas Tree a ★☆☆☆☆ rating. I’m also giving it 2 bad drawings you hang on the fridge out of 5, and recommending it as a bizarre relic of holiday multimedia history. On the GBU Scale, I deem it: