Archive for the ‘Holiday’ Category

Arthur’s Perfect Christmas Is Perfect For All Winter Holidays

December 4, 2011

While I am sure that I mentioned a few posts back that there aren’t many modern day cartoons I am really into anymore, there are still a few that started when I was a kid and are still running today. While some of them are more adult oriented, like The Simpsons and South Park, there is one cartoon that has been on the air since I was 9 and is still as family friendly as it ever was, and that would be Arthur. It’s great to have grown up with a cartoon as a kid, and enjoyed it as a kid’s cartoon with some nice lessons thrown in at the end, but it’s even better to also to be able to watch it now and pick up on the pop culture jokes and guest stars that I never noticed as a kid. I’m not ashamed to say that although I am 24, Arthur is one of the most watched shows on my Netflix. It’s never too childish or preachy, rather it tries to stay topical and just be consistently funny. Although there have been a few Arthur Christmas episodes over the years, today I’m going to tell you about Arthur’s Perfect Christmas. But before I do, a bit about the show.

Arthur is a cartoon show on PBS that is based on a series of books by author Marc Brown. The show mainly focuses on and Aardvark named Arthur and the situations and problems he faces in his day to day life as a kid in the third grade. He has a mom, a dad, and two younger sisters, D.W, who is 4, and Kate, who is just a baby. Arthur’s best friend is a bunny named Buster, who lives with his mom because his parents are divorced and his dad is a pilot. Arthur has a few other friends as well, including Francine, Muffy, The Brain and Binky. Some episodes focus on issues his friends are facing, but most are about Arthur. That’s all you really need to know about the show and the characters, now on to the special.

The cover of the VHS tape

The episode starts with a montage of everyone in Elwood City (Where the show takes place) preparing for Christmas. From buying gifts to picking out a tree, everyone seems to be in the Christmas spirit. The montage ends at Arthur’s house, where we see Arthur playing the piano. He starts singing a song about how great Christmas will be and we see a music video taking place in his imagination. When he finishes his song, D.W. comes over and asks him how he can be so calm with Christmas only 3 days away. He tells her not to worry, and she asks him to help write a letter to Santa. Arthur writes it out all out for her, and she goes off to bed.

D.W. mailing her letter to Santa

We cut to the next day and we see D.W pop the letter in the mail box before the kids are driven to school. Before Arthur arrives however, Muffy and Francine are on the front steps of the school and Muffy tells Francine how she can’t wait for her Christmas party the next day. Francine tells Muffy she can’t go, but Muffy isn’t listening and walks away. Francine is visibly upset, and then Arthur comes along. He asks her what’s wrong, and she tells him that even though she has told Muffy over 20 times that she can’t com to the party because of her conflicting Hanukkah party, Muffy hasn’t paid attention once. Arthur just tells Francine to keep trying, and they head inside.

Inside the classroom, Arthur’s friend George is giving a presentation about the Christmas traditions of Sweden, even going as far as to pass around Lutefisk (A Scandinavian fish dish that sounds rather interesting). After everyone’s presentations are done, Arthur goes to check on Buster, who looks like he could pass out at any minute. Buster tells Arthur that ever since his parents got divorced, his mom wakes up early every day leading up to Christmas thinking it is Christmas morning and wakes Buster up at 5:30, makes pancakes, and gets the presents ready. After he eats, he tells her what day it is, and she goes back to bed. Buster thinks his mom is worried that he won’t have a good Christmas because his dad isn’t there. He wishes he could tell his mom she doesn’t have to make such a big deal.

Buster's mom on December 23rd, thinking it is Christmas morning

We cut to later on that day and Arthur is at the mall with his mom and they split up to find their last presents. Arthur buys his dad, who is a chef, an olive pitter and jar of olives, and is at a loss about what to get his mom, when he sees something sparkle in a store window. It’s a small glass bird, just like the one she had that he accidentally broke last year. It’s perfect! He lines up to buy it, and when he is done paying, has just enough time to get back to where he and his mom were supposed to meet. Arthur has found all of the presents he needed, but his mom ended up one present short: The toy D.W. asked Santa for.

Now we are back at Arthur’s house, and Arthur’s parents have to have the tough conversation with D.W. telling her that sometimes Santa can’t get you the present you asked for because he has run out. D.W. is convinced however that she might not get the talking cat doll she wanted because Arthur wrote her letter wrong. Just then Arthur’s dad comes in with Uncle Fred’s Christmas video. He wishes them all well, and tells them he is going to Florida rather than their place this year. Arthur says he’ll miss Uncle Fred this year as he is so funny, and reminisces about when Uncle Fred broke his mom’s china set last Christmas. They all sit down to dinner, and the night comes to an end.

Christmas Eve Eve dinner at Arthur's

The next morning, like clockwork, Buster’s mom gets him up and it is only Christmas Eve. Buster looks upset and obviously wishes he could lighten his mom’s load, but doesn’t want to upset her.

Later on, at Muffy’s party, Muffy calls Francine up to get the first gift, only to realize Francine isn’t there. She calls her from her cell phone and Francine tells Muffy she told her over 25 times that she wouldn’t be coming because it’s her Hanukkah party. Muffy makes a comment about how Hanukkah isn’t as important as Christmas, and Francine loses it and hangs up. Elsewhere at the party Buster has fallen asleep in his food, and Brain and Arthur tell him he should just tell his mom that they can do their own thing on Christmas, maybe even celebrate a different holiday just for them, call it Baxter Day (Baxter being Buster’s last name) Buster imagines how great that would be, and debates whether or not to tell his mom.

Buster's imaginary Baxter Day with just he and his mom

Later on, Arthur has come home from the party and decorates the Christmas tree with his mom and D.W. After they finish, D.W. gets Santa’s milk and cookies ready and then it’s time for bed. Just as Arthur is falling asleep, he hears someone at the door. It turns out Uncle Fred is here, his truck having broken down on the way to Florida when he stopped to drop off their presents. Arthur gets up to say hi, and notices that Uncle Fred’s dog is running around with his mom’s present in his mouth. After chasing the dog around the house, Arthur finally gets the present back and decides to put it away for safe keeping, and then heads off to bed.

It is now Christmas morning, and D.W. wakes up and runs around the house waking everyone up. After a brief mix-up involving D.W. thinking Uncle Fred is Santa, everyone heads downstairs to open presents. At the same time, Buster’s mom is finally up early on the right day. She jumps out of bed and runs around trying to make sure everything is perfect, but in her hurry accidentally burns the pancakes. Meanwhile, at Muffy’s house, she has opened all of her presents and would love to call Francine to tell her about it, but remembers her and Francine aren’t talking. She realizes that Christmas and presents aren’t so great if you don’t have anyone to share it with. Since Muffy seems down, her dad suggests they go out for a car ride.

Muffy, with no one to call

It’s a little while later, and back at Arthur’s, his whole family has arrived and they are ready to open presents. Arthur runs upstairs to get his mom’s, but he accidentally drops it and breaks the little glass bird. He is devastated, and runs to hide in his room while everyone waits for him to open their presents, and D.W. nearly has an aneurism. Uncle Fred goes up to check on Arthur, and Arthur tells him what happened to the bird. Uncle Fred tells him it will all be ok, and they head downstairs.

Meanwhile, Buster is out to brunch with his mom, and even though she has a day full of plans, he tells her he’d be happy just to spend the day with her at home. She is touched and seems slightly relieved.

At the same time, Muffy and her family have stopped at one of the only local places that is open, Brain’s family’s ice cream shoppe. Brain explains to them that his family is celebrating Kwanza, which won’t start until the next day. He explains to them what Kwanza is all about, and Muffy decides she’d like to celebrate Kwanza next year so that maybe she could spend it with Francine and not worry about Hanukkah overlapping it.

Back at Arthur’s the presents are almost all open now, and Arthur is about to tell his mom what happened, when Uncle Fred says he found Arthur’s present for his mom under the tree. She opens it, and it is a mug to replace the one Fred broke last year. She is touched, and so is Arthur, knowing this was actually Fred’s gift for Arthur’s mom. D.W. opens her last present, hoping it is the talking cat, only to find a talking duck instead. She is not pleased, and throws a tantrum.

D.W. freaking out

Over at Francine’s, they are finishing their Chinese food dinner, when Muffy and her father arrive. Muffy apologizes to Francine, but still doesn’t seem to understand why Francine missed the party. Francine tells Muffy all about what Hanukkah is about and why it was more important to her than a Christmas party. Muffy finally understands, and her and Francine are back on good terms again.

Francine's family celebrating Hanukkah

We are shown a montage of everyone in town celebrating their traditions, ranging from Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanza, and we finish on Arthur wishing everyone a Happy Holidays.

Where to begin with this episode. It is a Holiday episode, rather than just a Christmas centric episode, which makes sense for a show funded by a public television station. It does a good job of balancing each character’s own holiday celebrations, which is why it took me so long to write my blog on this special. As far as which category it falls under, it’s mainly a Christmas/Holiday special that gets more than a few messages across. Arthur episodes usually convey some kind of message, so this special is in keeping with the show’s usual format, which is something I like. I’m not a fan of when a show changes gears and becomes very preachy just to teach a Christmas lesson. It more often then than not comes off as awkward and forced, but with a show like this, a Christmas/Holiday episode makes perfect sense.

I like every lesson taught in this episode, and while most of them are the usual lessons most specials try to convey, this episode one ups the the others by touching on how important it is to understand and accept other people’s traditions and holiday celebrations. By the end, Muffy understands why Hanukkah is so important to Francine, which is a nice thing to teach kids. Some kids just don’t get people not celebrating Christmas. Buster and his mom discover that they don’t need to do Christmas traditions to have a great day, they can make up their own traditions and holiday and just enjoy each other. Although no issues arise with Kwanza, Brain reveals that his parents choose to celebrate it instead of Christmas because of how and why it was created, and they are supportive of what it stands for.

Other than those lessons, we have a few traditional Christmas ones. Muffy teaches us that Christmas isn’t special if you don’t have anyone to share it with, a cliché, but a good one. Although I already touched on Buster, it’s also a nice message that they touch on that as long as you are with your family, it doesn’t matter how you celebrate. Arthur’s Uncle Fred teaches Arthur the importance of being selfless by giving up his own present and giving it to Arthur so that Arthur doesn’t feel bad. D.W. learns that even if you don’t get what you want for Christmas, you may just end up enjoying what you get instead. I may have missed one or two, but you get the idea. The writers really did a great job of tackling different holidays and teaching many lessons, but they never end up coming off as preachy. It’s a tough things to do, but in just under an hour, they did it.

I highly recommend this episode to both children and adults alike. The kids will love the silly cartoony elements and musical numbers, of which there are no shortage, and they will definitely benefit from the lessons taught. It’s great for adults as well because they touch on the frustration of not getting your kid what you want, as well as the pop culture references and jokes that only a parent would get (Like the fact that Muffy’s dad brings Francine’s family a ham for Hanukkah, despite the fact that they are Jewish). It’s a special that I enjoy watching, as does my girlfriend, and my brother (All of us over the age or 20). It will definitely be put it into my regular rotation of Christmas specials, and is one I suggest everyone seek out.

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Magic School Bus Recycles Holiday Special Clichés In The Name Of Science

November 30, 2011

As anyone who went to school in the 90s might know, there were 2 reasons to look forward to science class: Bill Nye The Science Guy and The Magic School Bus. As hokey as a lot of the edutainment we watched in school was, Bill Nye and Magic School Bus were the perfect blend of funny, educational, and entertaining. I remember the whole class would always be excited when we walked into science class and saw the teacher had signed out the TV and VCR for the period. I think that both shows are great and still hold up today, but I only have the holiday episode for one of them in my collection, and that’s the Magic School Bus Holiday Special. It’s got recycling, The Nutcracker, and a celebrity guest voice, but before I can get into it, I’ll give you the rundown for The Magic School Bus.

The show is quite simple to explain. A creative, zany teacher named Miss Frizzle has a class of 8 kids whom she takes on awesome field trips almost every day. Miss Frizzle has a Magic School Bus, hence the show’s name, that can transform itself into other vehicles, shrink itself, or even turn into a planet! She takes them on these field trips to teach them lessons about science, ranging from physics to biology to astronomy, and while taking a few liberties here and there (Which they do address at the end of each episode), the science is fairly accurate. Most people my age learned their science basics from this show, and still remember a lot of the lessons to this day. Having said all of that, I’ll now tell you about the special.

The cover of the DVD I watched it on

The special starts with a stage production of The Nutcracker that is just wrapping up. We see one of Miss Frizzle’s students, Wanda, in the audience, and just as she is clapping and cheering, she is snapped back to reality. She was day dreaming while the class is sorting recyclables for a trip to the local recycling plant. The other students ask her what she was thinking about, and she tells them all about how excited she is to be going to see The Nutcracker that night. It’s her family’s yearly tradition, and she really loves it. She has even brought her toy soldier, which she has had since she was a young child, with her to school so she can go straight from there to the play.

Wanda holding her toy soldier

The class is almost done sorting, but they are waiting on Arnold before they can go. He comes in and apologizes for being late, but tells everyone he was spending Hanukkah time with his mom because he won’t be home that night for the first night of Hanukkah. They sympathize, and he starts to help them all pack up the recyclables to the bus for the trip, when he drops a cool cross section mineral rock from his pocket. He tells Wanda that his mom gave it to him as an early Hanukkah gift. They are just about to leave when he sees Wanda’s soldier on the floor, and thinking it was meant to be recycled, tosses it into one of the blue boxes.

Wanda admiring Arnold's rock mineral

The children sing a song in the bus on their way to the recycling plant,  and before they know it they have arrived at a large recycling facility. Everyone carries some of the recycling inside, and it is here that we meet Miss Frizzle’s cousin “Murph”, voiced by Dolly Parton. She tells the kids where to sort the recycling by singing them a song about doing so, her first of many in the episode. Everything gets sorted and put in the right place, and then Wanda sees that he soldier has been mixed in with all of the other plastic. She tries to tell Murph that she needs to get it out of the bin, but it is too late. The plastic is all washed, melted, and cut into small plastic pellets! Arnold apologizes profusely and feels rotten about what has happened. In true It’s A Wonderful Life form, Wanda wishes there was no such thing as recycling, so that she could have her doll back. Luckily, it just so happens the Magic School Bus has a button for that, and everyone leaves the plant, boards the bus, and Miss Frizzle hits the recycling reversal button. It causes the recycling plant to turn into a pile of garbage, but this is just the first in a series of things to disappear because recycling is no more.

Liz, the class mascot, pressing the recycling reversal button

As the bus travels back to the school, all signs of recycling or recycled materials from blue boxes to playground equipment transform into garbage. Trees also start to disappear, what with no paper being recycled. By the time they make it back to the school, Wanda realizes how important is, but still want to go in to the class in hopes that her doll would be there. When they arrive at the school however, they can’t get in because the playground has been turned into a landfill!

The landfill playground

Wanda realizes the error of her ways, and wants to undo all of the un-recycling they just did, but by the time she comes around to the idea, the bus itself has all but disappeared, what with it having been made of recycled materials. The class all band together though, and with the help of Murph and one of her songs, begin recycling old cans and bottles and scrap metal into a new School Bus. It isn’t too long at all before they have a newly recycled bus and are ready to re-do all of the recycling they undid. As they drive back to the recycling plant, we see things going back to how they were, and it all looks much better. By the time they get back to the pile of rubble that was the recycling plant, Wanda is happy that recycling exists, even if it cost her her favourite doll.

The bus changing the rubble back into the recycling plant

After changing the recycling plant back to normal, Wanda realizes if they can make a new bus, they can surely make a new doll. Everyone goes back in side, and with the help of Murph, eight new soldiers are made from the plastic pellets, one for each student. Wanda now invites everyone to come with her to The Nutcracker that night, and they all say yes except Arnold. It turns out the reason he isn’t spending time with his mom that night is because his grandma is sick, and his mom went ahead to go check up on her, while Arnold and his dad are catching the late train. Everyone feels bad for Arnold, especially Wanda after a present from Arnold falls out of her bag. It turns out that he has given her his rock mineral to make up the loss of her original doll, and has included a note telling her to enjoy The Nutcracker that night. Wanda is visibly touched by Arnold’s gift, and wishes there is something she could do for him.

Wanda opening Arnold's present

We then cut to a shot of Arnold’s train that night, and he and his dad are settled in for their long journey. Just then, Arnold hears one of Murph’s songs coming for the back of the train, and heads back to check it out. He goes through a door to find that his whole class, along with Murph and Miss Frizzle, have attached the bus to the back of the train as a caboose and are all there to see him. He is shocked, because they are all supposed to be at The Nutcracker, but Wanda tells him that some things are more important than going to the ballet. She even has a present for Arnold, a bag of plastic pellets, which Arnold seems oddly pleased with. Then everyone joins in on one of Murph’s songs, and just before the special ends, the characters wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy Kwanza.

The whole class in the caboose bus to surprise Arnold

This special is a little hard to categorize, because it skates back and forth between a few of the usual holiday special tropes. The episode conveys two messages in the end, one Christmas oriented, and the other recycling oriented. Wanda realizes, ala George Bailey, that wishing something out of existence can have dangerous side effects, and may actually make for a worse world, a non Christmas message conveyed using Christmas Special clichés. She also realizes however, that sometimes being with a friend in need over the holidays is more important than doing something for yourself that you can always do again next year. Both are nice messages, and I’m glad The Magic School Bus was able to fit in an extra lesson at the end of an episode in the spirit of the holidays.

I like it when shows like this are able to do a holiday special, because even though the show was mainly made for edutainment purposes, the producers and writers knew that they could kill two birds with one stone by making a holiday episode. They were not only able to make an episode with a positive ecological message, they were able to use their soapbox and teach kids a great lesson in selflessness.

The episode’s only real downfalls are that like many other shows made in the 90s, they have included bad jokes that haven’t held up well over time. Also, as much as The Magic School Bus normally stretched reality to help prove a point, some of the things in this episode are downright silly and unbelievable, like Miss Frizzle having gigantic metal moulds to make a new school bus in her coat pocket. It was slightly lazy writing, but doesn’t negatively affect the show too much.

I would recommend this special to adults and kids alike. It’s a good special for the kids, as it teaches a couple of great lessons, and for anyone who grew up on The Magic School Bus, once you look past the dated jokes, you’ll realize the show still holds up pretty well. It’s also a nice special for all denominations, as it is not a Christmas Special, but a Holiday Special, and makes mention of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza as to not be exclusionary. Adults who didn’t grow up on The Magic School Bus might not love the episode, but there are enough fun songs and allusions to other holiday classics that most people should find something to like about it.