Arts & Letters Saturday: Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas

December 8, 2012

This week’s work is Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas (IMDB, Wikipedia, Amazon).  Will Vinton (official site, current projects, IMDB) apparently invented the term “claymation”, created the California Raisins, and was a producer of the television series The PJs.

His Emmy Award-winning Claymation Christmas (1987) consists of a series of familiar Christmas songs, presented in claymation music videos, tied together by a straight-man-funny-man pair of dinosaur hosts (which the people writing the DVD case and I found reminiscent of the Odd Couple, while Wikipedia compares them to Siskel and Ebert).

Perhaps because it’s Christmas and the songs are familiar, the movie got away with some surprisingly explicit (if brief) discussion of God and Christianity, for a mainstream movie.  (At least I think it’s pretty mainstream—my memory is that it was on television every year when I was a child.)  It includes the songs “We Three Kings” (above)—sample verse:

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and sacrifice!
“Alleluia, alleluia,”
Earth to the heavens replies.

—and “Joy to the World”—verse:

Joy to the world!
The Lord has come;
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart
Prepare Him room . . . .

“Angels We Have Heard on High” is also included, though as an instrumental piece.  Together, these theological songs represent a significant share of the movie, which fills only a half-hour TV slot (even shorter without commercials).  The material is presented creatively but not disrespectfully.

Other songs include the “Carol of the Bells”, performed by a choir of bells who strike themselves with mallets, and “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”, performed by the California Raisins.

I remembered the movie fondly from my childhood, and was pleased and surprised to find that you can buy it on DVD from Amazon.  The disc also includes Will Vinton’s Easter movie (which I had never heard of but think is pretty funny) and his Halloween (Hallowe’en?) movie (which I’ve still never bothered to see).

Apparently a number of other things by Will Vinton are also available on DVD (caveat: I haven’t watched them), including a version of Rip Van Winkle, something about Mark Twain, a version of Le Petit Prince (not available from Amazon), and Martin the Cobbler.  This last is based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy, “Where Love Is, God Is” (a. k. a. “Where Love is, There God Is Also”), which is very Christian.  I just read the story, available in full here.  (No way, this site mentions the intentional community the Bruderhof at the bottom—I totally know someone who was in that!)  Summary from an Amazon reviewer:

MARTIN THE COBBLER is a heartwarming video based on a short by Tolstoy. Martin is a lonely shoe maker who has completely shut out the world around him after the loss of his family. One day a priest asks Martin to repair a Bible for him. Martin does not believe he is worthy but agrees to do the job. When he goes to bed that evening, he has a dream that the Lord will visit him. The next day Martin has some visitors: a poor man who is shoveling snow, a poor woman with her child, and an old woman and young boy fighting with each other. In each situation, Martin is able to help the visitors. That night he reads the book and comes across the phrase “Whenever you do it for one of my least, you do it for me.” Martin realizes that the Lord did visit [him] that day—three times!

The movie was narrated by the late Alexandra Tolstoy, apparently a daughter of Leo Tolstoy.

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?

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