I have very fond memories of watching Will Vinton’s “Claymation Christmas” on CBS back when it premiered in the late eighties. At the time Vinton’s “California Raisins” mascots were still prominent in America, and I fondly recall my cousins owning some of the toys from the brand. Though the characters themselves were lukewarm mascots, I still loved Vinton’s “Claymation Christmas.”
Vinton brings much of his trademark bizarre humor to the forefront, as “Claymation Christmas” celebrates the pagan, celtic, and Christian ceremonies associated with Christmas. Hosted by two dinosaurs that strongly resemble Siskel and Ebert, they orchestrate a series of segments in a town’s square in front of a Christmas tree, while trying to figure out what the song “Here We Come a-Wassling” means. The segments by Vinton are very diverse and unusual, opting for a more soulful and comedic series of moments than telling a story. In one segment, the three wise men sing “We Three Kings” in front of the manger, while their camels sing a soulful rendition of the song.
“Joy to the World” nods to the African American traditions surrounding Christmas, and there’s even an appearance from the California Raisins all of whom sing the Temptations version of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” My favorite segment is “Carol of the Bells” where Quasimodo conducts an all bell version of the song with live bells, one of whom is a goofy slacker that ticks off the conductor with his flat tune. Vinton’s Christmas special is one of the more creative and original takes on the Christmas celebrations, and one of the last remnants of claymation on television. It’s a shame this was never kept on television as a yearly tradition, since Vinton’s own animated style is so subversive and gives the Christmas festivities a needed surrealism.