- Year: 1991
- Director: Flammarion Ferreira
- Starring: William Griffin, Karen Drygas, Helen Quirk
For the longest time, today’s special was merely forgotten, left to rot with the hundreds of other specials that you’re not sure if you dreamed as a kid. Then, the internet re-discovered it and dubbed The Christmas Tree “The Room of Christmas specials,” so of course I had to watch it.
Well, the search is over. Oh no, not for the worst Christmas special, but the search I began two weeks ago… and I swear this was not a planned setup for a joke. You’ll remember in my review of A Christmas Carol 1982, I pointed out the strange appearance of this man…
on the cover of the DVD. He is nowhere to be found in A Christmas Carol, but now he’s finally been found in The Christmas Tree.
I’m not sure why the DVD cover for the worst version of A Christmas Carol stole the design of the mayor character from an obscure Christmas special. Is there some secret meeting every year where animators go over character design for bad Christmas Specials?
Anyway, let’s get on to the special itself, because there is plenty to talk about here. We start with a narrator (who sounds like a used car salesman after smoking a few joints) and his book without any words.
We zoom in on the picture in this book and all of a sudden cut to an entirely different scene.
Why are we bothering to zoom in on a storybook with a picture if it’s going to cut to an entirely different picture? This is an orphanage apparently, run by the evil Mrs. Mavilda, who sort of feels like a parody of a Disney villain with her over-the-top mannerisms and nasally voice. Every month, Mrs. Mavilda cleans up two of the children, so the mayor will give her bags of money when he stops by.
The mayor even says “Here’s the two bags,” as if the bags are the actual currency. Mavilda then takes the bags of money and has her friends over to play… some card game. In one scene, it’s very much implied to be poker, but David Crosby here is holding like ten cards.
Also, he seems to be playing with nickels and dimes, while Mrs. Mavilda is betting whole bags of money, seeming to agree with the mayor’s idea that bags are currency.
She also seems to enjoy losing, gleefully bragging that the children’s funds are going down the drain.
One day, a family moves to town without any sort of plan at all. They go to the mayor who tells the husband, Ray, that he can have a job at the lumber mill, but has to live at a boarding house alone. The wife, Judy, and kids move into the orphanage, where Judy begins a job as Mavilda’s assistant.
How does this make any sense?
Oh sure, you can live in a boarding house but I’m not gonna let your family move in, so we’ll just chuck them in the orphanage. Also, since I’m the mayor, I can just give you any job in the town that I feel like. The last guy who came into town is our new pastor. That hobo’s really turned his life around.
Why does this special create such a ridiculous contrivance just to set the story in motion? Why didn’t they just have this be the job Judy applied for while her husband was in the military of something? He has no purpose to the story anyway. Is this town just trying to split marriages up?
Soon after Judy moves into the orphanage with her children Lily and Pappy…
I’m done. She named her son Pappy? WHY? What sort of a name is that for a child? Is it short for something? He’s no more than ten years old, but sure, let’s call him a nickname for grandfather. Alright writer Nels Christianson, who are you? I want answers.
One credit, of course. If it’s an alias, I don’t blame whoever wrote this thing, but this is of no help whatsoever.
Anyway, Judy moves into the orphanage with her kids Lily and Grandpapa, where she discovers that the orphans have a pine tree they call Mrs. Hopewell, which they think is magical. Judy helps them build a wooden slide to put next to the tree to make it look prettier.
Hey kids, know what would make this tree prettier? How about dead trees? And while we’re at, let’s try on these shoes made from cadavers.
Our narrator makes sure to tell us about the seasons passing, because we would be worried if, like in some Monty Python bit, autumn got skipped. I have way more issues with this line of dialogue than I probably should:
So our story continues, time goes by. Soon autumn came, then the winter, then Christmas time arrived.
Hey narrator, I know you really don’t want to be in this movie, but Christmas comes four days after winter starts. If you’re only planning for Christmas from solstice on, you’re gonna be a little behind.
Before putting the children to bed one night, Judy tells the kids all about Christmas, and how it’s the time of the year to be with family. SHE WORKS AT AN ORPHANAGE. Why would you go on and on about spending time with family to kids that don’t have them?
If you look at the clock, it also shows that it’s 2 o’clock, even though this is clearly supposed to be early evening. For some reason, the scene also constantly splices between Judy talking to the children and Mrs. Mavilda playing cards. Sometimes it cuts in the middle of a conversation!
The voice actors playing the kids are obviously kids, except one for some reason who is clearly much older. Judy’s daughter Lily in particular has such a heavy lisp that she makes Cindy Brady look like John Gielgud. I am positive that no second takes were ever done during the recording of this film. Also, what is going on with the kid in the brown sweater? He sounds like Hermey the Elf paying the demon in The Exorcist.
Knowing Judy will be suspicious of the money being gone, Mrs. Mavilda tries to set her up for robbery, just like that girl who used to work for her… who has not been mentioned before and is not mentioned again. Why is that line even in there? Mavilda calls her friend Mel, who sounds like he’s voiced by Harvey Fierstein, to drop something in Judy’s purse when she stops by so it will look like she stole it.
When the kids catch on that Judy is being framed, they decide to warn the mayor, except that he’s left his office and they don’t know where his house is. They do the logical thing instead and decide that it would be easier to travel to the North Pole to find Santa than to try to find the mayor’s house.
So Lily and Pappy…
make their way to the North Pole, but on the way they run into a bear. Well, for the second week in a row, we have children being chased by a bear at the North Pole, but for some reason this time, it appears to be a jungle bear.
It’d be silly for me to point out this film’s poor zoological knowledge, because obviously it doesn’t understand acting, directing, children’s names, civics, economics, card games, clocks, or editing.
Lily falls off a cliff, and Pappy…
calls out her name, in what is clearly just the same clip being played over and over.
When Judy returns, Mrs. Mavilda fires her and has a friend come over to cut down Mrs. Hopewell. When the children and Judy form a protective circle around the tree, Mrs. Mavilda thinks they’ll move before the saw slices through them. At just the right moment, the mayor stops by (voiced by an entirely different actor now. I’ve given up asking.) and tries to figure out what’s going on. All of a sudden, a whole crowd of people is standing around the tree with no explanation whatsoever. Was the mayor packing them into his clown car or something?
The mayor is rightfully upset that the children don’t have the new clothes they were promised, but throws it all away by saying “What if the inspector were to come?” He clearly has no problems with his money-bag laundering scheme with Mrs. Mavilda’s orphanage from Hell, but if that inspector shows up, they’re all doomed.
Unfazed by any of this, Mrs. Mavilda takes the chainsaw to cut down the tree and, I cannot make this up, gets electrocuted.
When the studio heads said your special needed a shocking twist, they didn’t expect you to take it this literally. The crowd reacts in a surprisingly subdued matter, and some of their faces are completely blank.
Seriously, they just didn’t even bother to animate two of these characters! Also, why does this woman have a British accent when everyone else is clearly American?
Santa shows up with Lily in what can only be described as a Claus ex Machina, even though the whole situation could have been solved without ever going to Santa in the first place. I guess it’s a Christmas special so they felt the need to throw him in anyway.
The mayor gives Judy Mrs. Mavilda’s old job, because apparently mayors can do that, and Judy and her suddenly-reappeared husband Ray adopt all of the children. Mrs. Mavilda comes out unharmed (Magic of Christmas I guess) and we get some really strange closing narration that I’ll just show in full.
Well I guess this town is going to have the best Christmas ever. Lily and Pappy are back safe. The other children have themselves a mom and a dad. Ray and Judy got themselves the job of running the orphanage for all children to come. The mayor got his town decorated, and Mrs. Mavilda, well Mrs. Mavilda, she’s going to be alright. From what I’ve heard, she went to back to work in the orphanage as Judy’s assistant. (laughs) Well don’t worry about Mrs. Mavilda, she’s good now. She learned that you always win when you are good. Merry Christmas everybody.
They got the job of running the orphanage for all children to come? “Hey kids, even those of you with parents, come check out our orphanage.” And how is Mrs. Mavilda good now? Did the tree perform some kind of electroshock therapy on her? This was made in the ’90s… the 1990s. Did people still think that kind of thing worked?
And what is up with that final lesson? “You always win when you are good.” So Mrs. Mavilda became “good” just so she can “win?” Aren’t those questionable motivations to become “good” under, selfish even? I give up. This special doesn’t make much sense… perhaps even too little sense. It’s not just lazy, there are intentional choices made here (electrocuting a character, wacky editing) that confuse me. Think about it, they got the wrong story…
The wrong director…
The wrong cast…
Where did they go right?
Call me crazy, but I believe this could be the “Springtime for Hitler” of Christmas specials. Someone decided that with all the forgettable Christmas specials every year, we needed one that was definitively the worst. If this special was sincere, someone would have realized Judy was talking to orphans about spending time with family. Someone would have realized that scenes were being interrupted mid-conversation. It sure feels like they went out of their way to mix the worst voice acting with the worst possible animation. It’s not some Foodfight! scenario where the characters were voiced by real actors and all the animation had to be re-done at the last moment (call it reanimation if you will).
Think about how many of this movie’s bizarre elements make a lot more sense when you see them as subtle parodies of Christmas specials. A villain who’s evil just to be evil? Check. A random cameo by Santa Claus? Check. A forced and simplified lesson just for the sake of having one? Check. A narrator who serves no purpose? Check.
Now I could be very wrong about this, but I have a hard time believing everyone involved in this project was sincere. When you watch a bad film like Plan 9 from Outer Space or last week’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, you see a poorly executed, and yes even poorly planned vision, but it’s still a vision. If this special is sincere, it’s just trying to be every Christmas special ever with some very, very strange additions.
I don’t even know where to rate this on the Christmas Spirit Meter. It is unquestionably terrible, but since that might just be the point, I’ll put it a little to the right of Rabid Black Friday Shoppers. However, it’s still the worst special I’ve watched so far.