As a child of the 80s (er, 70s?), I can remember no greater joy during the holidays than watching as the “SPECIAL” animation flew across the television screen, pre-empting regular programming for what was most certainly to be a kid-friendly cartoon. In prime time! While these cartoons may never quite reach the same iconic status as the Grinch or A Charlie Brown Christmas, they’re still worthy of an annual holiday viewing. With any luck, these specials might just warm the hearts of a whole new generation.
1. Yogi Bear – Yogi’s All Star Comedy Christmas Caper (1982)
Finally I can put that dusty old VHS tape to rest — I’m excited to say this special has finally arrived on DVD! First aired on December 21, 1982, Yogi and his pals help a lost little girl navigate the big city, inspiring her father to find the spirit of Christmas along the way.
2. Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales (1979) – Golden Collection Vol. 5, Disc 4
Not to be confused with the more recent direct-to-video release Bah, Humduck!, Bugs Bunny’s Looney Christmas Tales is a television special that originally aired on November 27, 1979. It featured three all-new (at the time) cartoon shorts — Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol, Freeze Frame and The Fright Before Christmas. This seasonal treat is included as a bonus feature on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 5.
3. Pink Panther — A Pink Christmas (1978)
The Pink Panther always seems to be down on his luck. Cold and hungry, we follow our favorite feline as he begs for scraps all over town, doing all he can to find himself a holiday meal. Gosh sakes, if I saw such a sad looking panther on the street (and a pink one at that), I’d certainly invite him to dinner. But that probably wouldn’t make for a very interesting special.
4. Alvin & the Chipmunks — A Chipmunk Christmas (1981)
Alvin risks getting into trouble by giving up his prized harmonica — all to help out a sick little boy during the holidays. Seriously, what’s more Christmas than that? Filled with the all the classic sing-along Chipmunk songs you know and love.
5. The Real Ghostbusters — Xmas Marks the Spot (1986) — Volume 1, Disc 2
Playing off the ever-popular “A Christmas Carol” theme, the Ghostbusters fill in for the ghosts of past, present and future, while the real ghosts are stuck in the containment unit.
6. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids — Fat Albert’s Christmas Special Special (1977)
“Hey hey hey!” From Picture Pages to Jell-O Pudding Pop commercials, there’s no voice more familiar to our generation than Bill Cosby. In this holiday special, Fat Albert comes to the aid of a poor family in need of a place to stay (because there was “no room at the inn,” as they say.) The clubhouse is saved, hearts are melted. Pure holiday junkyard joy is had by all.
7. The Berenstain Bears — The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree (1979)
As did most kids my age, I spent my formative years pouring over the Berenstain Bears book series, which in turn spawned a number of animated specials. In The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree, Papa Bear and the cubs learn the true meaning of Christmas by forgoing a traditional tree so that their woodland neighbors may stay in their homes. As a kid I swiped this book (of the same name) from my brother, and I never gave it back. Obviously I did not learn the true meaning of Christmas. Whoops.
8. He-Man and She-Ra — A Christmas Special (1985)
To be honest, I was never much of a He-Man or She-Ra fan; I think we were more of a GoBots/Rainbow Brite household. Still, this deserves a mention. Teaching morals, defending the universe from Skeletor — all in all a perfectly holiday-esque addition to the Masters of the Universe catalog.
9. Garfield – “A Garfield Christmas” (1987)
First broadcast on December 21, 1987, this special finds Garfield, Odie and their well-meaning person, Jon, heading out to the Davis family farm, where we get a glimpse of Jon’s parents and his wacky brother, Doc Boy. Grandma and Garfield bond. Sentiment ensues. “Christmas. It’s not the giving. It’s not the getting. It’s the loving.” Awh.
10. Ziggy’s Gift (1983)
Yes, Ziggy. What, you thought I was going to say Family Circus? (As a point of fact I would, but that special hasn’t been released on DVD yet). Based on the comic strip Ziggy, this heart-warming classic beat out The Smurfs Christmas to win the Emmy award for Outstanding Animated Program in 1983. Tough competition indeed, but as always, Ziggy found a way to prevail.
The Jetsons — A Jetson Christmas Carol (1985)
Oh, Orbity. Hanna-Barbera’s answer to the Brady Bunch’s Oliver. Even despite the presence of the odd alien sidekick, The Jetsons version of A Christmas Carol is not to be missed. SPOILER ALERT: For those of you may be concerned, Astro does make a full recovery. This half of Jetsons Season 02 is not yet available on DVD, but you can find the episode online if you know where to look.