Written by Nathan Mattise
Quick, name the Top Five Christmas holiday movies. (OK, I’ll do it for you)
In no particular order: Rudolph, Frosty The Snowman, The Grinch (Animated), The Nightmare Before Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Also receiving votes: The Santa Clause, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Miracle on 34th Street, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Rugrats Hanukkah and A Claymation Christmas starring The California Raisins (“Here We Come A-waffling” anyone?)
Different combinations of any of those films can make up a respectable Top Five, but stop and consider all of them for one second. Anything stick out? What if I told you none of those films were made within the last 10 years – not Santa Clause (‘94), Nightmare (’93), The Muppets (‘92) or even The Rugrats (‘96). Holiday films have been attempted (nice try Santa Clause sequels, Fred Claus, Christmas with the Kranks, Polar Express, etc.) but the quality necessary to withstand the test of time hasn’t been there. The reason behind this recent lack of holiday movies with staying power…
One word: Claymation.
There hasn’t been a new, significant holiday claymation movie since the raisins sang their way into our hearts in ’87. Out of the movies above, nearly one-third of them are claymated and if I wasn’t being conservative the list could include other gems like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town and The Little Drummer Boy. Those additions don’t even begin to sniff rarities like Pinocchio’s Christmas as well.
There’s something undeniably appealing about the visual aesthetic that comes from animated clay. Just look at Yukon Cornelius to the left. Could he have popularized facial hair for today’s twentysomethings, inspired Wes Anderson to highlight the simple serenity of a red snow cap or become pop culture’s favorite holiday lumberjack without being claymated? Not a chance; note how Al Borland didn’t have that type of lasting impact. Claymation simply provides instant watchability and longevity without even considering any other aspects to a holiday movie. This is why a dragon may or may not show up in Rudolph’s Shiny New Year and no one cares. You still watch it every year.
The problem with claymation is the process itself. No suprise – it’s intricate, can be expensive and very tedious. You need various editing tools and software, ridiculous art supplies and also people who are talented enough to actually work any of that.
Today since the “everything-is-a-business, sacrifice-quality/artistic-integrity-for-profit,” perception exists, claymation doesn’t seem to have a niche. You can crank out 20 Deck The Halls’s in the time it takes to make one The Drummer Boy Book II, then take all that time you save, devote it to hyper-marketing and turn a pretty penny at the box-office despite the movie being virtually unwatchable down-the-road (even by ABC Family holiday movie standards).
So with the holidays upon us, take advantage when the clay relics of the 60s and 70s find their way into the cable rotation. We’ve had some classic holiday songs in the past 10 years (safe to say Groban’s version of “O Holy Night,” is now definitive?) and some classic takes on the holiday itself (Festivus, Chrismukkah). But for a classic, straightforward holiday movie – I think it’s time to start a letter writing campaign to Santa. (Wait, they still do that? Maybe a Facebook petition?)
(Links today via – YouTube, IMDB.com, Wikipedia and ClayAnimator.com )