Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christopher the Christmas Tree

Starting off the Christmas season a couple of days late, but that's okay. Thanks to the power of Youtube, I was able to revist a Christmas special I remembered watching one Saturday morning back in 1993 or 1994, and though I hadn't seen it at all in the years between, a good amount of it had stuck with me. It's not that bad as Christmas specials go, but it is definitely kind of odd.

It all starts with a narrator singing about The Valley of Hidden Hollow and Christopher the Christmas tree, who got passed over year after year. Then the actual story kicks in, going back to when Christopher was but a tiny pine and all the other trees around him got chopped down to be Christmas trees. We're introduced to nine other trees by name, even though they're in this show for less than two minutes, never to be seen again. Now, all the trees are anthropomorphized, with branchy hands, and using pinecones and snow to mimic clothes and accessories, and even mammories. Seriously, one of these trees has a huge rack, which she jiggles while claiming "I'm the fullest!" when the trees are trying to one-up each other on why they'll be picked to be Christmas trees. What?! Now, it looks like our special is about to over, as a boy bounds onto the scene and goes straight for Christopher, but the boy's father insists that Christopher is too small for them to put a star on top. The boy asks why they put a star on top, perhaps hoping to get Christopher if he can convince his dad they don't need to do it, but since the star represents the one the wisemen followed to baby Jesus, there's no getting out of it. Maybe next time, Christopher. Oh wait...
Anyway, all the other trees laugh and jeer at Christopher as they are driven off in a truck, and Christopher starts singing a little song about wanting to be a "pretty tree" while crying tears that turn into ice cubes. The narrator just talks over Christopher's song, telling us that Christopher never got picked and eventually he was too big to fit in someone's home. That might be the end of the story right there, but we're only three minutes in, so the narrator goes right ahead and takes us to a family of owls, just as the dad owl is giving his youngest son, Hooty, grief for being an idiot. He phrases so it sounds like Hooty is just a noncomformist ("Why can't you be more like your brothers, Owlvin and Owlbert?"), but after Hooty runs away (immediately following this taunting), a song reveals that Hooty can't fly or talk, so yeah. He travels the whole of Hidden Hollow, but is ostracized by everyone he meets.
Eventually Hooty makes his way to the only house in Hidden Hollow, where the owners of the Christmas tree farm live. Good thing, too, since it's winter by then and he keels over from the cold. The sound of him keeling was loud enough for the boy in the house to hear it, and he rushes Hooty in and puts him by the fire. The boy's father tells him to put the owl by the Christmas tree to make him "feel more at home." Huh? This is actually an awkward segue to reveal that the father is the boy from the first scene, all grown up, as his son asks why they put the star on the tree, and he says he asked his father the same thing. Using the star, the boy wishes he could be President of the United States someday so he could help everyone, even the owl. You'd be better off becoming a vet in that case, kid.
The warmth of the fire brings Hooty back, and he stays in the house for a day? Two days? At least until Christmas, then Dad tells the son to send the owl back into the wild, since it wouldn't be fair to keep him as a pet. Hooty disagrees, having finally found a friend, but he sets off into the wide world again, hopeful that he'll see the little boy again. He wanders into the tree farm, which apparently hasn't been taken care of very well, as there's only one tree in a field surrounded by stumps. That tree, of course, is Christopher, who welcomes Hooty with open arms (well, branches) and tells him his story of wanting to be a Christmas tree, despite being the only tree around anymore. But Christopher isn't downbeat because he believes that wishes come true. He encourages Hooty to make a wish, and so, while the chorus sings about wishing on stars, the narrator tells us that Hooty wished he could talk, fly, and always have a friend like Christopher.
The next day, or who knows when, a sleeping Christopher is approached by the most annoying woodland creatures ever featured in a nearly forgotten animated special. Apparently they were inspired by Christopher's friendship with Hooty to come and live in him, so they'll be safe from the foxes and weasels. Christopher doesn't object, claiming he's big enough to be a home for all of them, even the deer, and he lifts up his lower branches like a skirt to let them in. Uh, yeah. So the woodland creatures go through various antics in him while alternately dancing around him singing "Christopher, we love you!" and making verses out of horrible rhymes. The narrator reveals that even more time passes, as Christopher gets too big to ever be a Christmas tree (or rather, he "doubts he would ever be picked"), but he doesn't mind because he's protecting all these animals now.
And then, one fateful day, all the other animals go to gather some food, leaving Christopher and Hooty alone when who should show up but the weasel and the fox. For no particular reason, they taunt Christopher for wanting to be a Christmas tree even though he's way too big now, saying he'll be chopped into firewood (or worse, toothpicks) before long. They leave, having riled up Hooty, but Christopher calms him down and sends him to get food with the others. While Hooty is gone, a flock of migrating birds bunks down in Christopher, but they are frightened off by the arrival of a big, red truck. Yes, Christopher's time has come at last, as a man with a chainsaw starts cutting him down while Christopher protests. Hooty tries to stop the man, but he is too small, and Christopher goes down. Hooty goes after the truck while the other woodland creatures gather around Christopher's stump to lament their fallen friend.
Finally motivated by his need to follow Christopher, Hooty manages to take to the sky after a few false starts, and even finds the ability to talk, as well. He manages to catch up with the truck, where Christopher tries to get some comfort in his final hours from his small friend, but when he confesses that he thinks he's going to chopped into firewood, Hooty takes it upon himself to set Christopher free. He breaks all the ropes somehow, but he's still too small to push Christopher off the truck. So he decides to go and get the other woodland creatures to help him, flying off as Christopher calls for him to come back.
By the time all the woodland creatures catch up to the truck, Christopher has already been unloaded. Hooty finds Christopher just as he's being lifted up by some ropes, and falls to his knees(?), saying "We're too late!" But no, it turns out that Christopher was taken to Washington DC to be the White House's Christmas tree. And for some unexplained reason, the kid that helped Hooty that one time is putting the star on top. No, he didn't become the president like he wanted to, as the actual president comes out to officially name the tree Christopher. Then Christopher sings a song about being "The President's Personal Tree" while the woodland creatures engage in some antics with his decorations.
Still, there is some sadness in this happy time for Christopher, as Hooty points out that this is technically Christopher's last Christmas. But Christopher tells him that this is what he was born to do, and that being a Christmas tree is equal parts faith, sacrifice, and hope for mankind. He also reminds Hooty that he dropped all his pinecones when he fell, and charges the owl with planting them, so that "there will always be a Christopher the Christmas tree." And so the narrator closes things off by telling us that Hooty and the other animals did just that, and Christopher "was the happiest tree in the whole world." The end credits roll over still images of the woodland creatures planting the pinecones which eventually sprout into little trees while the song from the beginning of the episode plays, but with a final verse about how Christopher finally got his wish.

So, all in all, a heartwarming little story. The songs are all kind of country-western, and that "Christopher, We Love You" song just will not get out of my head. If you watch this, skip that part. I also like that it addresses the mortality of a Christmas tree, because you know some kid was going to point that out to their parents at some point. The animation quality is pretty good, too, besides some strange design choices. Like why do some of the animals (Hooty and his family, the weasel and the fox) wear clothes while the rest are naked?

Now, apparently, this special started its life as a song recorded in 1969. The story was created by George T. Bower, who was a Christmas tree farmer, among other things, and was trying to get the song made into a special for years, which included expanding the one song into an album back in the 80s. You can read more about it in this article from Billboard. Also, there's an alternate version from the one I saw on youtube that includes a couple of extra scenes (like the fox and weasel setting Christopher on fire?), and Christopher being set up in front of the UN building instead of the White House and singing about being "The Whole World's Christmas Tree." And it seems that there's a full-length movie version of this special in the works, though I'm not really sure that this is something the world needs.

You know, for some reason, I remember adult Christopher was voiced by Dom DeLuise, but watching it now, I can hear that's not that case. Hm.

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