I grew up before ABC Family’s genius “25 Days of Christmas” programming. Heck, I was 10 before the tradition started, all the way back when it was just called The Family Channel. Growing up, then, I was limited in the Christmas viewing that I would be able to partake in every year.
To this day, you can still find the classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, which are personal favorites of mine, but as time has gone, television has left behind a very 1980s classic: Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration: Featuring the California Raisins. Luckily, Youtube has answered my prayers and the entire thing can be watched online here.
A Claymation Christmas Celebration comes off as an odd smorgasbord of ideas from the very beginning, as it is set up as a Christmas special hosted by anthropomorphic dinosaurs named Herb and Rex. Why are they dinosaurs? Because. Shut up. There are also pigs, ducks, and other animals that just can’t get the idea of what exactly wassailing is, which is a running gag. People in the comedy biz call it a callback.
The cynics of the world would say that this is one half-hour length advertisement for Sun-maid Raisins and their mascots, The California Raisins. Not only are those people assholes, but also they’re living in a paranoid fantasy world where the California Raisins are still a popular marketing tool to get kids to eat nature’s candy and that the raisin lobby is a real threat to your freedom.
In actuality, The California Raisins play a very minor role, as they are only featured in a performance of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and at the finale. The rest of the runtime is devoted to featuring some truly beautiful animation in a variety of styles. We get “Carol of Bells” played by Claymation bells, “We Three Kings” sung by the Three Kings and their camels as well as a variety of other Claymation segments. The true highlight, however, is the breathtaking animation during an African-styled version of “Joy to the World”. It mixes fluid moving stills (if that makes any sense) with stained glass imagery and it’s an amazing feat of animation, especially given its age.
A Claymation Christmas Celebration won the 1988 Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program and it truly earns the title, even after all these years. It’s a treasure of pre-cable network television and assuredly, a nostalgic special for a generation of children.