"The Smurfs Holiday Celebration" Yields One Sugarplum and One Lump of Coal
It’s October, so that means it’s time for home video companies to inexplicably start rolling out their Christmas-themed animated DVDs. Warner Home Video has just pushed out The Smurfs Holiday Celebration, containing the two Smurf holiday specials, although one would probably have been better swept under the rug and forgotten.
The quality of The Smurfs TV series varied pretty widely, and sadly “The Smurfs’ Christmas Special” from 1982 is an example of the low-end of what the show had to offer. It is simultaneously overstuffed and underdone, with a few too many plot threads for its 20 minute running time and an almost comic inability to tie any of them together with any skill. While the Smurfs get ready for their Christmas festival, two kids and their uncle suffer an accident at the hands of a mysterious stranger, who then offers the evil wizard Gargamel a way to destroy the Smurfs once and for all if Gargamel can retrieve the children and turn them over. Before the end of this special, we’re treated to holiday charity; Papa Smurf’s heretofore unknown ability to soothe slavering, vicious forest wolves seemingly under the sway of the aforementioned mysterious stranger; suggestions that this stranger may in fact be the devil himself; and a climactic battle that leads to his defeat through…uh…singing. The only thing I wish more than the creativity required to have fabricated all of that is for the Adventure Time people to take that synopsis and turn it into something surreal and awesome instead of the muddled mess of a special we get here. There is nowhere near enough connective tissue holding these plots together and only the barest connection to the holiday. It would take almost nothing to take this story and turn it into just another episode of the TV show (and not a very good one at that).
Infinitely better is “‘Tis the Season to be Smurfy” from five years later. Even if you have little to no affection for Peyo’s little blue creations, it would take a heart of stone for this good-natured and well-crafted special not to bring at least a smile to your face. If nothing else, it’s infinitely better crafted than “The Smurfs’ Christmas Special,” managing to juggle two major parallel plot threads and three or four sub-plots or running gags. With the Smurfs’ holiday festival again providing the backdrop, “‘Tis the Season to be Smurfy” mixes in a poor, elderly toymaker and his ailing wife, a snooty rich lord, Grandpa Smurf and Sassette Smurf exploring human Christmas traditions, and a cutpurse. All these elements are introduced organically and the special impressively ties every single one of them together for the finish, finding a way for everyone to discover a bit of the charitable spirit of Christmas without feeling schmaltzy or saccharine. It’s an impressive achievement, and good enough to vault into my short list of favorite Christmas specials behind “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” but sitting next to specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Tick‘s Multiple Santa episode, Olive the Other Reindeer, or the Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends Christmas Special. It certainly helps that the special is beautifully animated, with far more skill and ability than one expects from latter-day Hanna-Barbera even if they slightly overuse their multi-plane camera effect shots.
The DVD presentation is good enough. Both specials are presented in their original full-frame format with a mono soundtrack. Neither special looks remastered, but “‘Tis the Season to be Smurfy” looks surprisingly well-preserved considering it’s almost 15 years old and many of its contemporaries don’t look nearly as good. There are no bonus features on the disc other than trailers. “‘Tis the Season to be Smurfy” is worth the price of admission alone, but I’d skip “The Smurfs Christmas Special” entirely.