Updated: Jan 23
Oh man, is it December already? Yes, that fateful month when the car radio will only play songs with jingle bells in them and you’re finally forced to fish that ice scraper thing out of the depths of your garage. Maybe you find a crumpled up twenty dollar bill in your winter jacket pocket, forgotten from last year. Maybe you just find a Snickers wrapper. Either way, that jacket is out of hibernation and it can only mean one thing: the holiday season is upon us. This is the season when your television becomes good only for Netflix’s digital fireplace on repeat and a holiday special each night as snowflakes fall in gobs outside your window. We at Greater Toronto Music School have our list of favourite cartoon holiday specials and would love to share them with you. So grab your menorahs and Santa hats because we’re diving into the top three holiday carton musicals, just in time for the season.
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Infused with ethics, jazz, and a splash of old-school religion at the end, A Charlie Brown Christmas jingles all the sleigh bells through its compact twenty five minute play time. With lasting images that are still referenced today (who could forget the sad sapling Charlie Brown chooses as the tree for the Christmas play?), this 1965 cartoon has stood the test of time and then some. But what is it that is so enduring about such a seemingly insignificant scrap of media from yesteryear? Some would argue it’s the cute characters who expertly showcase childhood during the holidays. Others may claim that pure nostalgia for the old cartoon style is what keeps this Christmas special coming back year after year. But many, maybe even most, would point to its music. And while it is most certainly a synthesis of all of these elements that gives this film its noteworthiness, the music is what strings the whole thing along like lights on a tree.
As it turns out, Vince Guaraldi was the mastermind behind the Peanuts soundtrack. He was a notable jazz pianist through the 50s, 60s and 70s, and composed the holiday trademark songs for A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus and Lucy and Christmas Time is Here. While the former offers an upbeat and kinetic feel that makes you want to trudge through a foot of snow, the latter evokes images of peaceful nighttime in a balsam forest. Guaraldi’s amazing range and flexibility gave each scene in the holiday special a unique feel and also worked to link the transitions frictionlessly at a time when animation was anything but smooth. Without Guaraldi’s expertise and creativity, A Charlie Brown Christmas would surely not be as much a staple of Christmastime that it is today. If you're taking music lessons in Toronto or online music classes, you could consider asking your instructor to teach you some of Guaraldi's compositions.
2. Eight Crazy Nights
Adam Sandler has been making goofy voices at us since the early nineties, so how does the guy stay relevant? In a frankly surprising recent survey, Sandler was voted Generation Z’s favourite celebrity for fall of 2021. I know what you’re thinking, “how do these kids even know who Sandler is?” The answer is that we have no clue. But let’s take a journey back to 2002, when maybe you were one of those kids, enamored by the absurd facial expressions and outrageous dialects that Adam Sandler was constantly showcasing. No, we’re not talking about Happy Gilmore nor Billy Madison. We’re of course looking at Eight Crazy Nights.
First of all if you haven’t seen this movie, it’s currently on Amazon Prime, and odds are you have that so go check it out - maybe not with your kids though. Even though this movie’s ratings aren’t the best (actually far from it), it tells a humorous, emotional-rollercoaster-esque story about a man forced to get his life together during Hanukkah, which serves to put the viewer in full-on holiday spirit mode. The musical capstone of the movie comes in the film’s closing credits through its use of Sandler’s The Chanukah Song, which is a comical and fun track that celebrates the Jewish holiday and many folks who observe it. Sandler first co-wrote the song for an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1994, where he performed it on the Weekend Update. The movie is a creative and alternative work that offers a holiday special and music pertaining to the Jewish holiday, contrasting with the many works dedicated to Christmas time.
3. How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
Not Jim Carey. That’s what you were going to ask right? While there is certainly merit and humour to the live action version of this Christmas classic, if we are to focus on the music, 1966 is the year to which we must go.
A fuzzy green monster, who absolutely hates the lovely Who people and their Christmas traditions, makes and executes a dastardly plot. How he wound up as the main character of this story is beyond us. The Grinch is the guy you love to hate, kind of like Joffrey or Thanos, and apparently Dr. Seuss liked the conflicting angle when he wrote the original book in 1957. The story is a real thriller full of ups and downs (on a mountain) and changes of heart that manipulate the very size of the organ. The Whos in the town are some strange combination of Ned Flanders and the kid from Sweet Tooth, but they keep your chin up and your eyes wet throughout the whole cartoon. They love to play music together and give one another instrument lessons. Their horns and drums are way cooler than those in our world, but the music in the film that’s so gripping isn’t the noise, noise, noise made by these outlandish contraptions; it’s the contrast between the bright compositions of Alber Hague and the deep dark timbre of Thurl Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft, who, by the way, was also the voice of Tony the Tiger for over fifty years, sings the classic You’re a Mean one, Mr. Grinch that your parents get stuck in your head every year. His tone booms and resonates, effectively conveying the severity of the Grinch’s evil. On the other hand, Hague composed the music for other pieces in the cartoon, such as Trim up the Tree and Welcome Christmas. The chorus of Whos singing these songs inspires joy and wonder for those around to hear. The drastically different essences of these two ends of the musical spectrum within The Grinch offer the watcher a dynamic and exciting viewing experience. It’s no wonder they’re still airing this special fifty five years later.
So there you have it. There are certainly other great holiday specials out there, but these three take the cake when it comes to potent soundtracks. Holiday specials are an excellent part of this season, so make sure to put one on every now and then - or every day! Tell your music teacher about your favourite tracks from these films and learn them while they’re in season. If you don't already have a music teacher, consider contacting Greater Toronto Music School for music lessons in Toronto or online music lessons. Then you’ll always have something in your back pocket for every December to come because, after all, everyone loves a piano sing-along in a warm room on a snowy evening.
Written by GTMS staff writer, Will Mayer.