Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas 2016: December 9

Father Christmas (1991)

My all-time favorite Christmas special is “The Snowman,” a gorgeously animated and ultimately melancholy tale about a boy and the snowman he brings to life one night. That film was based on a graphic novel by Raymond Briggs. Though definitely his most famous work, “The Snowman” is not the only Briggs-based Christmas special. “Father Christmas” first aired in 1991, nine years after “The Snowman.” Though well-received, the follow-up never gained the same level of fame as Briggs’ other work. This is doubtlessly because of its content. In truth, it’s exactly the kind of Christmas special you’d expect from a guy who wrote a book about an elderly couple slowly dying of radiation poisoning.

The half-hour short follows Santa Claus, or Father Christmas to you Brits. This Claus doesn’t live at the North Pole but in a small, British suburb. He doesn’t have a factory of little helpers. Instead, only a dog and cat keep him company. He lives a simple life most days of the year. However, the stresses of Christmas Day make him grumpy enough to take a holiday one year. He travels to Paris, Scotland, and Las Vegas in search of some relaxation. Yet a guy as well known as Father Christmas has trouble finding a place where he isn’t recognized…

“Father Christmas” only aired on U.S. TV once, in a highly sanitized version. In the original British cut, Santa Claus punctuates nearly every sentence with “blooming,” the most minor of swears. While in France, he enjoys countless glasses of wine. The four course French meal gives him indigestion and he wakes up the next morning with diarrhea. (This isn’t the last time we see Father Christmas on the commode.) While in Scotland, he discovers a love of Scottish whiskey and curses the rainy weather. Once in Las Vegas, he gambles away most of his money and dances with showgirls. At least three times, Santa’s pants droop far enough that we see his butt crack. This Father Christmas is grouchy enough that he yells at the dry cleaner who prepares his suit. He hates being recognized and flees the country every time a child notices him. “Father Christmas” is, to say the very least, an nontraditional Christmas special.

Despite being edgier then you’d expect, “Father Christmas” still has an amazingly light touch. It remains charming throughout, even with a drunk, prickly Santa Claus. Presenting Santa as a guy who isn’t jolly all the time and lives in a normal home brings the legendary character down to Earth. It makes Santa Claus relatable and human. The grouchiness of the first half allows for the more traditionally Christmas-y second half. Santa rides around the world, singing an up-beat song, delivering gifts. Confirming the Raymond Briggs Cinematic Universe, Claus even visits the dancing snowman party from “The Snowman,” where he meets the boy and the snowman again. Like that short, “Father Christmas” doesn’t have much of a story, instead functioning as a day in the life.

The animation is gorgeous, with the same painted quality as “The Snowman.” Both specials share a beautifully flowing flying sequence. “Father Christmas” is not as touching as that film. However, it’s a funny, quirky, charming, and incredibly British half-hour. It successfully presents the idea that being Santa Claus would be less easy then you’d think. If you enjoy the more famous Briggs adaptation, you’ll probably like this one. It’s worlds better then “The Snowman and the Snowdog,” at the very least. [7/10]

Treevenge (2008)

Opening to the strings of the “Cannibal Holocaust’ theme song – which, out of context, sounds a bit like Christmas music – “Treevenge” takes a tree’s eye view of Christmas traditions. It begins with the peacefulness of a pine tree forest being interrupted by a band of grotesque lumberjacks. Speaking in their own language, the trees scream in agony and fear as they’re cut up, dragged around, burned, and forced into trucks. On the morning of the 25th, Christmas trees all over the world decide they’ve had enough and wreck bloody vengeance on the human race.

“Treevenge,” a sixteen minute short, was directed by Jason Eisener, the same Canadian madman who would later gift the world with “Hobo with a Shotgun.” Likewise, “Treevenge” is incredibly twisted, bloodily hilarious mayhem. The first half of the short is told from the trees’ perspective. Eisener is just tasteless enough to draw parallels between the trees’ plight and the Holocaust. The scenes of a panicked tree slamming himself against the truck door, screaming to be let go, are funny but also weirdly sympathetic. By getting a tree’s perspective, the short draws attention to how weird the Christmas traditions really are. By the time the second half starts, when the titular treevenge begins, the viewer is totally on the foliage’s side.

The bloody mayhem Eisener creates is strictly of the splatstick variety. It’s so outrageous and over-the-top that you can’t take it seriously. People are bloodied, dead cats are tossed through the air, and limbs are axed off. This is likely the only Christmas movie in the world that features a reference to Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” There’s even some briefly glimpsed tree-on-man rape. And, nope, little kids aren’t safe either. It’s all clearly a piss take though, a totally demented sick comedy. Eisener’s hyperactive direction, which includes sickly neon colors and frantic close-ups, drives the point home. See, kids, this is why I have an artificial tree. Paired with some eggnog and a few rowdy friends, “Treevenge” becomes a perfectly gruesome, off-beat Christmas special. [8/10]

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