- Year: 1997
- Director: Andy Knight
- Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robbie Benson, Tim Curry
The first entry in this search for The Worst Christmas Special of All Time belongs to an infamous group of films (if we can call them films)—the direct-to-video Disney sequels. From the 1990s until the mid-2000s, Disney decided that kids didn’t care if their movies had good characters, story, or pretty animation, so they rushed out forced sequel after forced sequel. There was The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, Pocahontas 2: No Reservations, and Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time (I’m sad to say all but one of those actually exist).
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is somehow, though, an even worse idea than these sequels—it’s a midquel. Sequels at least have potential to take characters we’ve grown to like and do new things with them, while prequels have a bigger challenge because we often know how things will end. Midquels, however, butt right into the middle of a story, pad it for no reason, and then have to put things back where they were so the story can end as normal. Therefore, the stakes have to be really, really poor.
Anyway, the movie starts on the first Christmas after the spell was broken, with Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) and others reflecting on their last Christmas. No one can agree exactly how Christmas was saved…
No one can agree how Christmas was saved, even though it only happened LAST YEAR. They’re sitting around and telling this story like it happened 50 years ago, with Chip (now voiced by a pre-Sixth Sense Haley Joel Osment), asking to hear the story even though he was there. Anyway, Mrs. Potts starts to tell the story, even though at this point, anyone could be an unreliable narrator…
The flashback takes place after Belle was rescued by the Beast from wolves, so it’s around the point they’re starting to like each other. There really isn’t much of a story here—Belle wants to bring Christmas to the castle, but the Beast doesn’t want it, because Christmas was the day he and the castle were cursed. Of course, Belle argues that no one can ban Christmas, because she’s apparently never heard of the Puritans, public schools, the Cult of Reason, the USSR, Jehovah’s Witnesses…
It’s a simple premise, but it’s a Christmas special… oh and there’s a villain voiced by Tim Curry.
This is Forte the evil pipe organ, a clearly CGI character in an otherwise hand-drawn film. Forte wants Beast to stay in his cursed stage, because Forte has more power as an organ than he ever did as a man.
Alright, I’ll ask it. What the heck is a villain with an interesting motivation doing stuck in a direct-to-video Disney movie? OK, to be fair, his goal is simply to stop Christmas, which is basically the motive of any villain in any cheap Christmas special, but let’s take Christmas out of it for a second. Not only does Forte prefer his “imprisoned” state to his human one, he also sort of acts as the Beast’s devil-on-the-shoulder, suggesting that maybe deep down Beast is struggling with the same feelings. Now of course these ideas are handled terribly, with the movie seeming to care more about Forte being in love with Beast (Disney had a weird thing about gay villains in the ’90s.) than actual psychological concepts (shocker), but I give the film credit for, intentionally or unintentionally, presenting them. Sadly, we also have to spend a considerable amount of time with Forte’s henchman, a piccolo named Fife.
Fife is voiced by Paul Reubens, and no, I’m not making any jokes. Oh, not because of principle or anything, but because the freaking movie does it for me. Yes, this Disney kiddie Christmas special makes a Paul Reubens masturbation joke. Sure, Fife saying “Oh, I’d do anything for a solo” could easily just be a very hilarious coincidence, but Tim Curry follows it up with an incredibly wry “Yes, I know.” Oh, and since Tim Curry’s voicing an organ, the scene is of course taking place in a dark theater.
In the original Beauty and the Beast, we don’t have a timetable as to when the events are taking place. It takes a while for Belle and Beast to even tolerate each other, let alone fall in love. Again, Enchanted Christmas has the midquel problem. We can’t get their whole character development here, so it just goes back and forth between them liking each other and being at odds with each other. Beast even throws her into a dungeon temporarily for trying to celebrate Christmas against his wishes. If you argued that they had an abusive relationship in the original or that Belle was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, just wait until you see this one.
We also get to see more of the enchanted objects around the castle, which has potential, but just like Tim Curry after seeing the finished project, it’s wasted. Bernadette Peters voices a Christmas angel, who just kind of whines. There’s also an ax from the boiler room, who is the biggest Jewish stereotype possible. I’m not sure what they were thinking. At first I figured maybe he was voiced by some comedian who had a Jewish-shtick, but nope it’s a voice actor named Jeff Bennett. He’s not doing a particular impression of anyone, so it is terribly painful to watch.
Let’s go down the Jewish Stereotype Checklist:
- Yiddish Accent
- Complains about everything
- Says “Happy Hanukkah”
- Acts like a shop-owner in the boiler room
- “Oy Gevalt”
It’s so over-the-top that it reminded me of the big wig music moguls in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which if you can’t tell from the title, is a parody film. Also, again, THIS IS A KIDS MOVIE. Why on earth are kids going to enjoy an over-the-top Jewish parody? Is the voice actor just hoping there’s a racist uncle in the audience somewhere?
Oh, does my random uninspired singing seem random and uninspired? Well that’s exactly how this special works. Out of absolutely nowhere, someone will just start singing a tuneless song until they get tired of it. The original Beauty and the Beast gave us unforgettable songs like “Belle” and “Be Our Guest.” Enchanted Christmas gives us songs like “The One About Books” and “The One Tim Curry Sings.” Look, it takes work to make a Tim Curry song forgettable. At one point, Lumiere and Cogsworth are standing around, and they just start singing because they need to kill some time. It is painfully awkward.
Well, eventually the evil organ tries to kill Belle and Beast by destroying the castle, but he’s destroyed instead, because let’s just kill off our could-have-been-sympathetic villain without a chance at redemption. We briefly see the castle celebrating Christmas that year, and then we’re back in the present day.
So is there anything good besides Tim Curry? I mean, I suppose if someone told you to write a Beauty and the Beast Christmas special midquel where they have to fight off an evil organ voiced by Tim Curry, you may not do much better. To be fair, the animation is not bad, the obvious CGI aside. It’s nowhere near the quality of the original, but for a direct-to-video affair, it’s fine. Most all of the original voice cast returns, and Jerry Orbach at least seems to be somewhat enjoying himself playing Lumiere again.
I wish I could just say that this is simply a waste of time, boring but not hurting anyone. However, what it does to Belle and Beast’s relationship really does a number on the original (number two if we’re being precise). Otherwise, it’s got forgettable songs, terrible jokes, lots of filler, a villain who belongs in a better story, and one ridiculously overplayed Jewish stereotype.
So where does it fall on the Christmas Spirit Meter?
It’s worse than Scrooge with Albert Finney, but still not as insulting as fruitcake. Of course, it currently holds the spot for worst, but I think it will be unseeded soon. Who knows? There may even be some kids that like this one.