Weekly Geeky Question #52: Christmas Television Specials

Here we are, on the last Weekly Geeky Question of 2018, and the last one for the foreseeable future. And for this final week, my friend Rod (who has been asking me geeky questions as blog prompts all year long), has gone Christmas-themed. And it actually comes in two parts this time. The first part is this:

What is my favorite Christmas television special?

A Charlie Brown Christmas.png

Well, for the first, there are really only two possibilities.

The first is A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was the original animated Peanuts special from 1965. Like a lot of the early Peanuts stuff, it featured quite simple, flat animation, and told a story that was a blend of re-used gags from the comic strips mixed in with new material, telling the story of Charlie Brown trying to discover the meaning of Christmas, particularly as he attempts to direct his friends in a traditional Christmas play.

The special has lots of funny moments and introduced iconic jazz music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio which became a signature feature of Peanuts specials for years to come. It includes some images of the most imitable dancing ever put onto TV.  And it cements its place as a favorite of mine for the Christmas season via the sequence where Charlie Brown desperately cries at the story’s climax, “Isn’t there somebody who can tell me what Christmas is all about?!”

Linus (always my favorite Peanuts character) takes the stage, asks for lights, and then tells the Christmas story from Luke 2, where the angels announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. Such a clear expression of what this time of year is celebrating.

The other best Christmas special is How the Grinch Stole Christmas! And by this, we’re not talking about the recent animated film with Benedict Cumberbatch, or the live action with Jim Carrey. We’re talking about the animated special from 1966. This mini masterpiece combines the talents of animator Chuck Jones, actor Boris Karloff and writer Dr. Seuss to spectacular effect.   I used to crack up semi-uncontrollably at the antics of the Grinch’s dog Max as it attempted to play the role of a reindeer on his master’s mission to steal Christmas from the friendly Who’s of Whoville. And I also love the image of the Grinch when he gets the point of it all, and gains the strength of ten Grinches, plus two.

Incidentally, the Grinch also helps give rise to a bunch of fan theories on the part of my daughters about how the Who’s of that story are connected to the Who’s of Horton Hears a Who. But that’s probably a post of for another day.

Anyway, that leads us to the second part of the question.

If I were going to make one of those weird stop-motion Christmas / New Year specials (like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), what would it be about?

Now this is pretty easy as well, at least in terms of the basic subject.

See the thing is, back in 1997 and 1998, my friend Dwight and I made up the story that we came to call True Blues. Later, we recorded the story in a nine episode audio drama that I can’t share online, because it’s full of music we don’t have permission for. Still later, I recorded the story again as a (nearly) one man audio book called True Blues Retold, which you can find on this website.

True Blues

But, when we were first talking about it, before we actually wrote the audio script, part of our speculations were about what sort of format the story would work the best in, and our conclusion was, you guessed it, claymation (aka stop motion animation using clay).

Probably our main reason for this is that one of the feature players of the story is Bo the Duck, a talking duck who is one of the best and most versatile characters I have ever had a hand in creating. Bo has had a varied career as an audio character, but we always thought that the best way to visualize him would be as animated, impressionistic clay, and he’d be the obvious star of my claymation Christmas special.

So, who is Bo? Well, Bo is from a pond in Chicago, and resides in a reality in which all ducks speak, but never in front of humans because they fear the terrible consequences that would arise should they do. An absent-minded moment of talking to himself leads Bo to being kidnapped by a human and ostracized from duck society. He briefly finds fame as a circus star before being kicked out (because of the discovery of another duck that speaks multiple languages). He develops an addiction to peanut butter and a habit of blaming all his misfortunes on ill-treatment he receives from humans for no reason than because he is a duck. Here is an compilation of some of the times that Bo has been heard expressing this, all using a variation of his catchphrase, “Oh sure! Just because I’m a duck!” (although in fact, he never is recorded saying these precise words).

This blame shifting, combined with his abrasive and unpleasant personality lead him to have few friends, but he does become connected with three young men whom he basically forces himself upon—blues player Johnny Matthias, farm boy Frank and the amnesiac Randy. The four travel together for a while before realizing that they actually have a common enemy, whom they face together. In the process, Bo is driven insane, and out of mercy is allowed to live out his days swimming around a wading pool in Frank’s mother’s garage.

That’s not the end of Bo, though, as he is apparently visited by a strange entity who calls himself the Nature Janitor, and given the job of planting cookie trees around America as “Bo Cookieseed.” Whether this is true or a product of Bo’s deranged perceptions is unclear, but what is clear is that in this process his gives hope to an orphan girl named Kibby Sue Mackie, who becomes his new traveling companion.

There is a gap here in Bo’s story, as I never finished Seasons 2 or 3 of True Blues. But what is clear is that he later appears traveling through space and time in a souped-up time traveling, space hopping Winnebago. During this time, he encounters the explorer and peace-keeper Hanna Jo on a number of occasions (as heard in my more recent audio drama, The Hanna Jo Stories). However, it’s possible that this version of Bo is simply a manifestation of a fictional character that someone was familiar with—the truth is unclear.

So, with that all behind us, that brings us to my Christmas Claymation special…

Bo the Duck’s Christmas Carol

Note:  special thanks to my daughter Laurelle for suggesting, even as a joke, the special’s general premise.

The story is framed as a tale being told by Walter, the narrator of True Blues, who is old guy who hangs out at the bar of his friend, Dreamchild Jackson, telling tall tales that might or might not be true. He says he’s going to tell the story of how Bo learned all about Christmas, and our story flashes back…

It’s Christmas Eve in 1981, and the seen is a frozen pond in a snow-covered park in Chicago. There, sitting by himself is Bo the Duck, looking sad and lonely. He has spent the last few years wandering from place to place, ever since he was kicked out of the circus, trying to find some reason to go on. He returned to Chicago, and the pond he grew up in, but of course all the ducks he knew are migrated away, and if they’d been there they’d have refused to accept him anyway because of his interaction with human beings.

Bo is freezing, and wonders if he’s coming to the end of his life. He begins to fall asleep, and dreams that he’s visited by Blinky the One-Eyed Clown (from the circus he used to work at), whom he tells about his more innocent and carefree early days. He and Blinky even watch his younger self talking at the pond to Claudette—a young lady duck that he used to like—about his hopes for the future, as at the time the future looked bright and open. But then he also remembers Claudette being amongst those ducks who swam away from him as he cried for help when he was taken away by Dr. Schpiders.

Bo wakes up when a young boy rides his bike up to the pond. The boy, whose name is Otis, seems as sad and destitute as Bo himself. Bo holds back from speaking out loud to him, but identifies with his loneliness…when all of a sudden Otis grabs Bo, stuff him into a bag, and rides away with him on his bicycle. The whole things reminds Bo of how he originally was captured by Dr. Schpiders, but before he can dwell on this he falls unconscious.

Bo wakes up as Otis arrives at his home outside of town, and stuffs him in a small cage. He is a bit delirious from lack of oxygen, and from the stress of what is happening, and finds that there is another occupant in the cage with him…none other than Santa Clause. Bo knows that this is not normal, but he finds himself talking to Santa nonetheless. Santa tries to remind him of what he believed as a young duck, about trusting others, and having hope. But Bo says that that’s gotten him nothing but trouble—what’s the point of hoping when people and life are nothing but disappointment. Santa tries to help Bo see that with many of his disappointments, he has caused his own troubles.

Bo responds defensively, but beneath the bluster wonders if Santa is right. Santa fades away as Boy becomes more lucid, but Bo finds he is still pondering what Santa said to him. Just then, Otis comes into view again, still looking lonely, and Bo wonders for a moment if the boy, in spite of his actions, might be a bit of a kindred spirit. But then, Otis announces to his mother that he has caught Bo so they can eat him for Christmas dinner.

When they open the cage to kill Bo, he is able to make a break for it, eventually hiding in some nearby woods as the sun begins to set. The boy has gathered his friends, and they all search for Bo. Bo frantically attempts to hids, but fears that this is the end. Suddenly, Bo comes face to face with the lit headlights of large and loudly revving vehicle. In the shadows, he can see another human figure leaning out the door of the large campervan who calls out and urges him, “Come with me, if you want to live!”

Bo is terrified, and thus petrified. But his pursuers are coming closer, and Bo makes the choice to listen to this figure and get into the vehicle.

Bo finds himself inside a large, souped-up Winnebago that’s decked out with all sorts of space-age controls. An unseen figure sits in an oversized chair in the front, driving the motorhome away. The figure who beckoned Bo turns out to be a young girl. She claims to be from Bo’s future, and says she’s there to help. Bo collapses emotionally, and says he has no future. The girl introduces herself as Kibby Sue Mackie, and says that once, that’s how she felt, until someone gave her a single, solitary chocolate chip cookie, and helped her realize that there was still goodness in the world. And now, she says, this is her chance to pay that someone back.

The Winnebago’s engines kick into another gear, and suddenly Bo realizes that they are flying into the sky, into the stars. Bo is amazed, but Kibby Sue says he hasn’t seen anything yet. She says these wonders are proof that Bo has a future, and that there is a reason to hope. Then she ties it all into Christmas, which is a season all about the coming of a reason to hope for the future. She smiles at Bo, but Bo, overwhelmed, passes out. As he does, he gets blurry glimpse of the driver / pilot of the craft, and can’t help but to notice that he looks just like him.

Later, Bo wakes up as he is being gingerly laid down in some bushes by the side of the road. The snow is all gone, and he realizes that it’s no longer winter. He looks up to see Kibby Sue, retreating toward the Winnebago. She tells him that that winter was a bitter one, and they thought it might be better if Bo gave it a miss all together. Bo is still bleary-eyed, but when Kibby Sue gets back in the Winnebago, it drives away and seems to disappear.

Bo shakes the sleep out of his eyes and lets out a little smile, his first in a long time. He looks around to get his bearings, and sees he’s next to a rundown little roadhouse called Rickety Jane’s. He picks himself up, shakes the dust off his feathers, and walks inside. We hear him yelling, “Hey! What’s a duck gotta do to get himself a beer in this swamp?”

The scene returns to old Walter, who is admonished by Dreamchild Jackson for filling the audience’s head full of nonsense. Walter laughs off the reproof, and wishes the viewers a Merry Christmas and new year full of hope.

The End

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s