Christmas Special: Review 69: The Christmas Tree (0/5)

The Christmas Tree

Directed by Flamarion Ferreira

Starring William Griffin, Elly Drygas, Ayal Kleinman, Karen Drygas, Paul Whyte, Helen Quinn

Released on December 14, 1991

Running time: 43m

Not Rated (Suggested rating: PG for some violence and drug use)

Genre: Kids & Family, Christmas

Just go. Leave. Just do yourself a favor and go. You’ll barely be able to sit through this awful Christmas special. I barely sat through it.

Oh, wait, I’m not in the right mindset for this. Uh…hmm…

Uh,…hey guys! Have any of you been watching the usual, cheesy, stale, or actually good Christmas specials lately, ranging from A Christmas Story to A Christmas Carol to A Charlie Brown Christmas to It’s a Wonderful Life to even films like Die Hard? I bet you have, and that you have had a silly, fun, or even heartwarming time watching those. If you are watching these specials, then don’t watch The Christmas Tree, because it’ll ruin your effing Christmas!

I’m not even going to give an introduction to this. I’m just going to get to the catharsis of typing my rage onto a Word document and then posting it to my blog. This little film is terrible – nay, offensive. This movie…hurt me.

Right off the bat, the electronic soundtrack turns me off. Screw you, Scott Broberg.

A narrator begins to speak. And I cringed as I realized that this narrator has the voice of an old man telling a child that the child will get candy if he/she takes his/her clothes off.

And the animation is already terrible. As the narrator speaks about one of his favorite Christmas stories, and that he hopes we find it “delightful”, a book next to a Christmas tree opens, revealing a few rectangular ink blots rather than text.

We then transition to an orphanage. This orphanage is the home of seven orphans who all have the same facial design, and is run by the tyrannical, Gestapo-esque Miss Hannigan – I mean, Mrs. Mavilda. The children suffer under her harsh rule. Mavilda won’t even let them feed the stray dog Licorice. I’m amazed that these children haven’t already run away and/or contacted the authorities. But hey, the police are never seen in this movie, so I guess that wouldn’t work. Also, the movie states that the orphans have no worldly possessions except for their clothes and shoes, but why does one girl have a bow for her hair, a boy have a hat, and another girl have glasses, hair ties to tie her ponytails, and a book?

By the way, the screenwriters are really desperate for us to hate Mavilda, so they describe her as “evil” and “wicked”.

Out of desperation, the children have developed a friend figure in the lone tall pine tree across the street, who they have named Mrs. Hopewell. The children unimaginatively believe that Mrs. Hopewell is magic. Uh…okay. Talk about a desperate bid to tie this movie to Christmas.

The town’s mayor goes to the orphanage to “inspect” it every year, but he is apparently too stupid to look through the entire orphanage, as he falls victim to Mavilda’s surprisingly stupid gambit. Mavilda has a set of nice clothes for a boy and a girl, and every time the mayor comes, Mavilda will select a boy or girl to dress up in these clothes, and she will present them to the mayor. The mayor buys the façade, and pays Mavilda two money bags in order to make sure that the orphans have a decent existence. And when the mayor leaves, Mavilda takes the nice clothes off of the two children and puts them away in a closet for the next time the mayor comes. And then the camera focuses for just a bit too long on the two children’s nearly naked bodies.

Yes, you read that sentence right. The mayor literally pays Mavilda in bags. Apparently direct deposits, checks, banks, bank accounts, and bank statements that have actual amounts are nonexistent in this backwards town. Jeez, is the mayor really that rich? Good heavens, the students at Columbia University and the University of Missouri should be demanding that he pay for their free college tuition, annulled student debt, and their fifteen-dollar-an-hour minimum wage!

And guess what Mavilda does with the money? Why, she blows it all on poker games with her cronies, during which she and her friends are doing some hard drinking. Why is that being shown in a kids’ movie? In fact, she is downright gleeful about gambling away the money. Does she actually prefer losing this money than…I don’t know, actually winning the poker game?

MAVILDA: There goes the children’s money again!

I have no idea how she pays for food and other goods for herself and the orphans so she and they don’t die of starvation. Poker games are clearly not a smart way to spend money.

But everything changes when the Kindle family comes to town. I used to have a Kindle. I enjoyed carrying around a literal library in my pocket or backpack. And then a water bottle burst in my backpack and soaked the thing. It died.

The Kindle family consists of Ray, the father, Judy, the mother, Pappy, the son, and Lily, the daughter.

Ray needs a job, so he goes to the mayor to ask where he can get a job. I’m pretty sure that that’s not his jurisdiction. Also, I doubt that that’s how getting a job worked back in 1991. Ray is able to get a job at a lumber mill, but this requires him to be away from his family for several months. But Judy and her kids are able to stay at guess what? The orphanage! Yaaaaay! and Judy can work as Mavilda’s assistant. Question: why are there no hotels for Judy and her kids to stay at?

Ray drops Judy and the kids off at the orphanage and bids them goodbye.

And this is where I address the voice acting, how poor it is – nay, some of the worst I’ve ever heard. Without getting into the awful child acting, the most egregious offender is Paul Whyte as Ray. Not only is he amazingly monotone and wooden, he sounds…dead. Heck, even the character looks unnaturally pale and tired. Is he overdosing on sleeping pills? He is easily the worst voice actor I have ever heard. Thank heaven that his role in the movie is small. Judy is thankfully only annoyingly bland. Mavilda is incredibly over-the-top. I’ll address her issues later. And then we have our child actors, one of whom is clearly an eighteen-year-old, and another of whom has obviously had his voice electronically pitch-corrected, making him sound not of this earth. It’s as if the creators were trying to emulate the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas by casting child actors. And the worst of these is easily the little girl who voices Lily. When I first beheld her performance, I asked myself, “Okay, whose crew or cast member’s daughter was this that these people chose to voice Lily? She can’t have possibly passed any audition. In fact, I’m not even sure there was an audition.” To my surprise, I later learned that the girl who voiced Lily was actually the daughter of the chick who voiced Judy. Lily’s performance is an emotionless and infuriatingly garbled drone. When I would much rather deal with Kristen Stewart than the voice “actors” in The Christmas Treethey did something wrong.

I may as well talk about the horrific animation as well. It is…disturbingly bad, despite having a literal army of animators. The backgrounds are okay, but the character designs are hideous. Every character has a blank expression and soulless black (literally) eyes. Whenever a character speaks, the character’s head magically grows slightly whenever the character makes the same mouth movement. The animation lacks fluidity and has very little movement. It’s very sparse and flat. It repeats itself a lot, especially when characters are speaking.  Jeez, these are errors that would make. It’s poorly lip-synched to the point where I spotted several occasions in which words were spoken with lips closed. Why is the facial animation on the adults, especially Judy, so shaky during speech? Each of the eight to sixteen frames of animation per second that shows the face of a character speaking makes the face look like its suffering from a bajillion miniature muscular spasms. I can see each individual frame pass by. In fact, I actually spotted a few moments in which there was clearly dust left on the layer. When A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was released in 1965, has better animation than The Christmas Tree, and The Christmas Tree’s animation is as bad as or worse than a Rankin/Bass special and the unholy trilogy of “Legend of Zelda” CD-I games, they did something wrong.

In fact, I would dare to say that the animation is as bad as that awful Planned Parenthood propaganda video. You know, the terrifying-looking one targeted at children that was drawn in Microsoft Paint, entitled “A Superhero for Choice”.

Anyway, during the scene in which Mavilda gives Judy her list of chores and escorts Pappy and Lily to the orphans’ bedroom, something happens. It sounds like two sentences were recorded separately and were poorly edited together, as there is not even the slightest pause between these two sentences.

MAVILDA: Come, children. Follow me – another thing.

What the heck just happened?

When Pappy and Lily enter the orphans’ bedroom and are greeted by the orphans, who all smile at the exact same time. It’s not charming in the slightest. In fact, it’s creepy.

Over the next few days, as Judy gets to know the orphans, the orphans introduce her to Mrs. Hopewell. Seeing some wood boards next to the side of the orphanage, Judy decides to build a makeshift playground around Mrs. Hopewell. Yes. She’s making a playground around Mrs. Hopewell out of Mrs. Hopewell’s dead brothers and sisters. That’s just tasteless.

The mayor comes to the orphanage that night. Again, he’s literally counting his money in bags. Don’t believe me? Get this.

MAYOR: I’ve got enough money to get the children new clothes… (odd pause {why is this pause here?})… and still some left for their Christmas presents. Here you go, Mrs. Mavilda. Here’s the two bags.

But that’s not the only thing that made me gawk.

MAYOR: I’m glad those poor little things aren’t going to have to spend another winter in patches and rags. (Does the mayor not remember seeing two well-dressed children every time he’s come to “inspect” the orphanage?) By the way, where’s Judy? Oh, Mrs. Kindle!

CUT to next shot, showing Judy standing next to MAVILDA.

I’m sorry, but where the hell did Judy come from? I didn’t even hear a footstep to indicate her arrival in the room!  Is she just a female version of Nightcrawler from X-Men?

Anyway, the mayor gives them the money, and Judy says to Mavilda that she plans to shop for new clothes, presents, and red velvet for stockings for the orphans. Obviously, Mavilda has no intention of letting that happen.

What follows is the worst-edited scene I have ever seen. It starts with Judy and the orphans together in the orphans’ room. Judy mentions Christmas, and the orphans speak up, saying that they don’t know what Christmas is. Bullcrap. Surprised at first, Judy attempts to explain to the orphans what Christmas is. Yet she somehow never actually talks about what Christmas is.

JUDY: Christmas is a time when people get together. Friends with friends, children with their parents…

Uh, you may not want to talk about parents around these orphans.

But intercut throughout the scene are random shots of Mavilda and her cronies playing poker, and Mavilda wasting the money and losing it all in an all-or-nothing bid. And these wedge-cut-transitions are so sudden, awkward, unnatural, and interruptive. Heck, some of these shots barely reach a few seconds in length.

If you’re trying to make a Christmas special, and you’re trying to tell the audience about the true meaning of Christmas, then you DON’T EVER cut away to a different scene!

By the way, I was looking at the clock on the wall in the orphans’ bedroom, and I couldn’t help but notice that it read 2:00. Really? 2 in the morning? The kids should be exhausted! Why are they still up?

Mavilda wakes up the next morning at about 9:00, according to the clock on her nightstand. Why is she getting up that late? Also, she has a hell of a hangover.

Judy walks into Mavilda’s bedroom, where Mavilda says that Judy will not be shopping today. Judy deduces that Mavilda wasted the money on the poker game and that she’s been doing this for years, and calls her out on it. Mavilda confesses, and threatens Judy with eviction if she sings. And I’m pretty sure that if Mavilda was going through a hangover, she would be a lot more lethargic rather than…hyper. Judy breaks the bad news to the orphans, and yes, children. Don’t make this more difficult for Judy’s vocal range to not break an octave.

Before I get to the next sequence, I must address Helen Quinn as Mavilda. Her emotional range of annoyingly bland to holy-crap screaming is so volatile that it gives her the unintended effect of having multiple personality disorder. She is so strange to hear that it becomes uncomfortable and awkward.

Mavilda, still in bed, and with only her mouth and eyelids moving, plans to use one of her cronies to frame Judy for theft. And she speaks all of this out loud. And then she mentions that she’d done this same thing to the previous assistant. Wait, what? When the flaming hell did Mavilda have another girl work as her assistant before? We never saw that!

Mavilda calls her crony, telling him that she will have Judy deliver a package to him. The crony will then slip something valuable into Judy’s purse. An hour after Judy leaves, the crony will call the police, who will arrest her. Mavilda also tells her crony to come over and bring his “electric chainsaw”, even though the actual chainsaw is clearly gas-powered, to chop down Mrs. Hopewell. By the way, of course Mavilda’s crony has a Brooklyn accent. But one of the orphans has been listening in on the call, even though she had no reason to do so. She tells the other orphans of the trouble, but Mavilda bursts in. Mavilda briefly interrogates the orphans, knowing something’s up. She drops the subject and leaves rather quickly, but not before the most terrifying close-up I have ever seen.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Seriously, what the actual eff? Just a minute ago, she looked like this,

and now she looks like this!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

The orphans are too late to stop Judy from leaving, and with allegedly nowhere else to turn, they turn to their last bastion of hope: Santa Claus. Uh…maybe you should go to the police. I’m sure they’ll be of much more help. The orphans know that Santa Claus lives up at the North Pole, but they don’t know where the North Pole is. The orphan with the book shows them a map of the country and tells them where to go. And I don’t know whose ass this map was pulled out of, because I have yet to see a landmass anywhere on Earth that looks like a decapitated gingerbread cookie that bleeds white frosting out of its stump. Licorice (oh yeah, the dog is still in this) barks, causing Lily to respond with

LILY: (garbled) He knows where the North Pole is!

I don’t know how the kids do it, but they somehow make a sled out of the remaining wood planks, and somehow tie Licorice’s collar to the sled on two-foot-long strings. Pappy and Lily volunteer to go, and set off with Licorice to the North Pole. Yes. Good luck getting through one night without freezing in those threadbare clothes.

Somehow they do, and the three come across a sign on a candy-cane-style pole that actually points to the North Pole. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to call BS on that and on Pappy, Lily, and Licorice having traveled that far in a day. They briefly stop, and uh, did Pappy go blind last night? Because Lily’s not up there, she’s down there. You’re staring at nothing right now. You’re just looking off blankly into the distance. Please look down. Please look down. Please look d – thank you.

And then the three are attacked by…Baloo? What? This is near the North Pole! It should be a polar bear! Get simple science right!

The bear makes clearly-not-a-bear sounds, and chases the three to the edge of a cliff. Licorice tries to fight off the bear. I call BS on the chase and the fight. Pappy, Lily, and Licorice should have been bear chow in about five seconds. Lily is knocked off the cliff, and grabs onto the edge before she can fall. And then Lily, you’re hanging from a cliff! Show some emotion! Pappy tries to help Lily, but Pappy! Your sister is hanging from a cliff! Show some emotion! Licorice knocks the bear off the cliff, but Lily loses her grip and falls, and Lily! You’re falling from a cliff! Show some effing emotion! I was not surprised to learn that Pappy! Your sister is falling from a cliff! Show some effing emotion!

CAN SOMEBODY IN THIS MOVIE JUST TRY?!

Pappy, emotionless as usual, Licorice by his side, tries to find Lily or her corpse, but cannot, and sets off back to the orphanage.

Judy gets back to the orphanage, and Mavilda, pissed at Judy, fires her.

MAVILDA: YOU’RE FIRED! (Loud enough to blow out the microphone)

Wow!

Wait, where did the “Mavilda framing Judy for theft” subplot go?

Mavilda’s crony arrives with the chainsaw, and he and Mavilda prepare to cut down Mrs. Hopewell. Judy and the remaining orphans refuse to let that happen, and gather around the tree. Mavilda orders her crony to cut down the tree anyway. As the crony moves over to the tree, suddenly WHERE DID THE MAYOR COME FROM? The mayor shows up, tells the crony to stand down, and WHERE THE EFF DID PAPPY AND LICORICE COME FROM? Pappy and Licorice show up, and Pappy starts to try to inform Judy about Lily’s fate when WHERE THE FLYING FRICK-A-FRACK DID RAY COME FROM? Ray appears out of nowhere, and Pappy informs Ray and Judy about Lily’s demise. And I balked at Ray and Judy’s reaction to hearing this: they widen their eyes for half a second. Yes. Way to have an appropriate reaction to YOUR OWN DAUGHTER DYING!

The mayor berates Mavilda for her neglect of the orphans, and reassures the orphans that Mrs. Hopewell is going to be all right. But I had to gawk at the mayor rather than being angry at the orphans’ condition, but being fearful that the inspector might come. Yes. Voters don’t exactly like politicians with the blood of children on their hands.

Also, why has the mayor’s voice changed from similar to Ray and the narrator to high-pitched and nasal? Nitpick: the mayor’s hat strap continually switches positions on the hat.

All of a sudden, the townsfolk show up.

From here until I say so, all of the following takes place in a minute or less.

Mavilda suddenly grabs the chainsaw from her crony, turns it on, revs it, and screams some drowned-out inflammatory spiel to the orphans, and moves over to Mrs. Hopewell to cut her down. And then HOLY CRAP! DON’T MESS WITH MRS. HOPEWELL! Lightning appears from out of nowhere and strikes Mavilda. Oh, never mind, it was Santa Claus who blasted Mavilda with lightning and somehow rescued Lily offscreen. Well, you certainly don’t want to get on his naughty li – Wait, what? He rescued Lily? Oh, come on! Lily reunites with her parents, Santa uses a blast of magic to decorate and light up Mrs. Hopewell, with the decorations spawning slightly to the left of Mrs. Hopewell. Santa uses another blast of magic to replace the orphans’ raggedy clothes with nice ones. And Santa’s Christmas Eve present run seems to be just letting parachuted presents fall out of the sleigh and into the houses. Yes. Santa can shoot magic out of his hands and fry a crusty old woman. He can make decorations materialize out of thin air. He doesn’t personally go into each house to place presents under the Christmas tree. His voice is just some guy’s voice put through an electronic filter to make it deep. And his creepy character design is eerily similar to the Coca-Cola Santa.

And from when I said so up until this point, all of these events have taken place in the span of one minute.

The mayor declares Mrs. Hopewell the official town Christmas tree. The townsfolk applaud by raising their arms and putting them back down repeatedly. Judy is given the post of running the orphanage with Ray, and they decide to adopt the seven orphans. By the way, the kids have been out in the snow and cold wearing only threadbare clothing. How are they not freezing?

And wh – Mavilda survived? How? She doesn’t even have a scratch on her! And…she’s a good person now! Was the lightning Santa struck her with magic lightning that turned her good? What?

The narrator returns to close out the movie, giving a very bored attempt at laughter about the irony that Mavilda went back to work at the orphanage as Judy’s assistant. Idiot narrator; just because you’re good now, it does not automatically excuse you from your past actions.

And then the narrator drops this bombshell:

NARRATOR: As for Mrs. Mavilda…well…she’s going to be all right. She’s good now. And you always win when you are good. Merry Christmas, everybody.

I’m sorry, what?

“You always win when you are good.”

That’s your idiotic attempt at a half-assed, tacked-on moral, huh? “You always win when you are good”.

What blobs of cranial tissue running on low-octane gasoline came up with this atrocity? Not rational ones, I can tell you that.

The story is the worst. (What about Chaos?) I stand corrected. The story is almost the worst. It is lazy. It is mean-spirited rather than heartwarming. It is dull instead of thrilling. It is full of padding and many pointless scenes that go nowhere. It even has little to nothing to do with Christmas until well after the halfway mark.

The characters are the wo – sorry, almost the worst. (Chaos, remember?) They are about as undeveloped as characters get, and are as flat as a pancake. They are dull and obnoxious. We have no reason to care for them, and we cheer at the temporary “death” of Lily rather than cry.

The dialogue is almost the worst. It is awfully written, makes little sense, and conveys absolutely no notions about the true meaning of Christmas.

The acting is almost the worst. It is beyond exasperatingly monotone, stilted, garbled, and lifeless, except in the case of Mavilda, who is startlingly over-the-top.

The animation is the worst. (Chaos was not animated, so I can say this.) It is disturbingly hideous. It is blank, bleak, bare-bones, flat, scant, and soulless. It never misses an opportunity to repeat split-seconds of itself. The voices never match the mouth movements. It lacks fluidity, or, hell, actual movement.

Its morals are almost the worst. It clearly doesn’t understand the meaning and – dare I say it – magic behind the spirit of the season. Instead of the villain getting her comeuppance, she is magically transformed into a good person. And then it neglects to present us with an actual moral. Oh, I’m sorry, they did at the last second. “You always win when you are good.”

The Christmas Tree is only forty-three minutes long, but trust me when I say that you feel every minute of those forty-three. I cannot fathom the damage it did to the TV station(s) that premiered it.

It is an agonizing little train wreck in every sense of the word. So many moments induced anger in me, and the movie as a whole is awkward and uncomfortable. It is so to such a degree that you will inadvertently laugh, even though what you are watching isn’t funny. It will turn even the most joyous and optimistic Christmas celebrator into a bitter, heartless Grinch.

Even the worst Christmas specials at least try to give out something informative, inspirational, enjoyable, humorous, or uplifting. They do it because they know how powerful the season is, that they feel that they owe it to God and/or the goodness of humanity, and that this is the time of year to celebrate the happiness and beauty in our world.

It’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit with its forsaking of its Judeo-Christian origins and the replacement of such with rampant consumerism and commercialization. While it is important to mention that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, I’m talking about the positive aspects of what Christmas has evolved into as a worldwide holiday and how it has become part of the actual culture of many countries around the world. Christmas is the season of love, joy, and togetherness with family and friends. It is a time of showing how much you love someone by giving him or her a meaningful gift. In fact, this idea has become so all-encompassing that every year around this time, charities all over the world go up. People donate more money and material goods than any time of year to these charities to help those who are not as fortunate as us have a merry Christmas, and expect nothing in return. They do it because it’s the right thing to do, and that this time of year carries a unspoken undertone of love and compassion. In fact, the Christmas spirit is so strong, that people don’t even have to be a member of any particular religion to feel the positive aura of the season and join in the celebration.

Christmas singlehandedly brought World War 1 to a halt in many locations all across Europe. A brief halt, but a halt nonetheless. God’s and humanity’s message of peace on earth and goodwill toward men was that strong. The spirit of Christmas was a sign to stop the war, the hatred, the atrocities, the killing, and anything that didn’t equal love, kindness, compassion, and respect for all. Christmas is that powerful.

And what is The Christmas Tree’s informative, inspirational, uplifting, celebratory, loving, charitable, kind, compassionate, respectful, war-stopping message? What does The Christmas Tree say that the true meaning of Christmas is?

“You always win when you are good.”

No.

Do you want to know what Christmas is about? The warm feeling a child feels when he gives a gift to his elderly great-grandmother? The warm feeling you get when a person wishes you “Happy Holidays”, and you say “Merry Christmas” back. That sense of desire that a mother feels when she is shopping for presents for her kids, or when a husband is endlessly searching for just the right gift to give to his wife? That sense of happiness you feel when you volunteer at a soup kitchen working to feed the many homeless people forced to live outside on the freezing streets even on Christmas? That sense of accomplishment that you feel when you donate money, clothes, books, and toys to impoverished African children? That sense of joy you feel when you celebrate Christmas with your family? That sense of appreciation and gratitude you feel when someone gives you a gift you didn’t even know that you wanted? Do you want to know what that’s about?

What Christmas is about, from Jesus Christ’s birth, to the goodness of humanity, to family togetherness, to charity, to even briefly stopping a war, can all be summed up in one simple word.

Christmas is about love, and the effort we will put in and the lengths we will go to in order to prove our love for not just our families and friends, but for everyone, from the lowliest homeless child to a rich man giving millions of dollars of his own money to charity. Anyone can just say that they love someone. But it’s what we do to show it. Give a gift to someone who cannot afford it. Reach out to someone who is lonely and/or having a hard time.

And love and effort are completely absent from The Christmas Tree. And that is something that you simply cannot do on Christmas.

You need to put effort not just into proving your love, but into something even bigger than yourself. It doesn’t need to be large, but it needs to be sincere. That’s why anyone can say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, or Season’s Greetings. That’s why I’m sitting up into the wee hours of the morning writing this review for you. It’s because we believe that we are celebrating something bigger than ourselves. It’s an attitude, a spirit that we carry in our hearts. And we see it every day, with every little kind deed that I or you would do for another person.

Christmas is something that lasts, that endures, and that will continue to be celebrated in this hard-hearted, stiff-necked world.

I thank God and all of you for celebrating this happy, joyful, beautiful time of year with me.

Merry Christmas.

Final Verdict: 0 out of 5 stars.

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