Well, during any run-of-the-mill episode of Arthur, it's easy to make quick comments, note references, etc. But "Arthur's Perfect Christmas" was different. It wasn't the typical episode. The holidays are a time to sit and consider deep, important matters like the ramifications of a Christmas special -- that and with the time off from work or school, you have the time to relax and mull things over. :)
With that said, here are some ruminations into "Arthur's Perfect Christmas"...
And if you have comments about the special, or what you see here, e-mail 'em in! They're always appreciated.
...As for the Christmas episode, I don't know what to complain about first. It didn't get a fair chance with me as they decided to have a fund drive during it and my local channel kept popping in every 20 min. Who knows what I missed. However... I wish they had recast the voice for Arthur at the beginning of the season and before this special had been done. The voice actor has done a really good job, but the singing sounded off because he has to try too hard to sound young, even with the electronic tweaking. The song writing quality was poor to begin with.
PBS sliced and diced it the first time I saw it too -- then the second time, it was on a different network with commericals. This lead to a lot of the content being edited out... but that's a different topic entirely. :) There's more to say about the voice tweaking too -- see the Boston Herald article.
I can't help thinking the entire special was a rush job. And perhaps a lot of the unevenness came from bouncing back and forth between the producers, Marc Brown, and the gods of political correctness. I have my suspicions. I think it was really shocking to suddenly think of any of them as having specific religious and ethnic affiliations. At the risk of offending anyone, I think it was a mistake. To me a large part of the magic of this show is that they don't have to be bogged down with these boundaries. Although there are wonderful, consistent characterizations on Arthur (down to handedness- have you noticed?), it's more about the experiences they have than who they are. It makes it easier for the viewer to identify with the characters and it makes for much easier, smoother writing for the show.
This is a great point. It almost seemed to me like Arthur's gang were trying to distance themselves from one another with their seperate holiday celebrations. The topic of religion in the Arthur special was debated in the USENET newsgroup soc.culture.jewish.parenting in the thread Holiday TV depiction (again, archived on Deja.com...) I thought the following comment summed things up well, from "Naomi":
I think this issue is largely one of 'damned if they do and damned if they don't.' I'm sure that, when the series was created, no-one gave much thought to the religious beliefs of a bunch of aardvarks. Then, once it became a hit, someone decided they needed to produce a holiday special. If all of the characters had been depicted as WASP-style Christians, we'd be sitting here complaining that the show wasn't multicultural enough. Their effort to make it multi-cultural results in complaints that we hadn't ever been told about their heritage before.
I don't know a great deal about Marc Brown, I do know he's white and probably Catholic, and when he first created these characters they probably were too, although he was very smart not to really "go there" in the books. I'd really like to know his opinion of the special.
Just for interest's sake, as quoted in a USENET post (and archived on Deja.com) it turns out...
>> Arthur fans may also be interested to learn that author Marc Brown is a Jew by >> choice and his daughter was bat mitzvahed in the past year.
It's almost as if when PBS or whoever approached Marc Brown (I am assuming he has retained creative rights), said we want to do a Christmas Special but we need these things included. We have to work in these ethnic holidays and we have to use existing characters to do it. Pick someone to be Jewish and pick someone to be African-American etc. etc. Fine, I think that a good educationaly driven holiday special should include all these things, but it just didn't work in the Arthur medium because it invaded the cultural freedom of the characters. The holiday portions of the script would have been more fitting for a show like The Puzzle Place. (I work with kids, I know all these shows)
Having each of Arthur's friends represent a certain ethnic group has been something that has been discussed by others [ST_rn=ps/getdoc.xp?AN=430091188&CONTEXT=946161695.753598496&hitnum=1 before] -- To me, it's never really been an issue. When I was a kid, from what I remember, what religion someone was wasn't a big part of day-to-day life, and on Arthur, up until this special, it wasn't an issue either. Yes, there were passing references, but nothing character-defining or plot-altering. But then...
I could absolutely swear that there is an episode in which Francine makes a reference to something being "as sad as her not getting a puppy last Christmas" (it's going to nag me until I review all 6 videotapes to find it too - I have all but 5 eps)
Yep. I recalled the same thing when I heard that Francine was going to be Jewish a few months before the special came out. It's #30402 - "And Now Let's Talk To Some Kids".
(Francine is discussing her concern with Arthur and Buster in regards to Brain not wanting to participate in the TV segment... Arthur naturally is trying to be liberal, saying it's alright if Brain doesn't want to be involved.)
Francine: Are you kidding? This is the saddest thing I ever saw, (her voice goes a bit quieter) including me not getting a puppy last Christmas.Not to put too fine a point on it, but being Jewish might explain why your Christmas wishes might not be fulfilled. This sort of mistake (not checking cross references from previous seasons) is sort of typical of Season 5... one of the neat things about this show is/was that everything linked back neatly. :/
Arthur and his family have made several references to Christmas. We already know they celebrate it.
- #20802 - "The Big Blow-Up"
- #21001 - "D.W. Goes to Washington"
- #22002 - "Sue Ellen's Little Sister"
- #30501 - "The Chips Are Down"
- #31202 - "Clarissa is Cracked"
- #40501 - "The Blizzard"
...I hadn't realized there were so many!
Somewhere I read a review that said that Brain claimed not to be African-American although he celebrates Kwanzaa. This doesn't make sense. I think they knew it was going to be a problem to suddenly go ethnic with him (besides he and his father both have very straight hair and his mom is blonde- although I think it's dyed, I know I've seen it brown before) but Kwanzaa is pretty strictly ethnic. A white person choosing to celebrate it on their own would be highly unlikely and in some places really frowned on by African-Americans. (although I've never met anyone who celebrates it, and I know a lot of African-American people) A person who declines to celebrate a holiday because of its convoluted (pagan) origins would be unlikely to chose another mainstream, man-made holiday in its stead. You would think he would do as he suggested Buster do. (for the record I've never celebrated Christmas in my life - roughly for the reasons Brain stated in the Special about its origins, but we don't celebrate anything else either- I'm being as neutral on this as possible)
There was a similar ethnic problem in Charlie Brown. Shultz was requested to add an African American character and he did, Franklin, who wasn't in the strip much as he lived on the other side of town (completely realistic in the 40's I understand) and because Shultz really had trouble crossing the cultural border and he knew it.
This was before Charlie Brown became animated and before everyone started taking everything so personal so it was easier to get away with. They couldn't have just brought in new characters in Arthur to fill these "slots" so they had to burden our characters with them. It just didn't ring true. Ethnicity and religion aside - that's really not the problem, the real problem is that the special was missing that fundamental honesty that the regular show has. As if the voice actors and everyone else were just as unsure as the rest of us about the whole thing.
The religious bits didn't ring true for me either -- it seemed like there was a sudden shift when the kids went into "teaching about my holiday" mode -- it felt disjointed. The jokes and amusing bits that they tried to fit in came off flat at best, i.e. the present of a ham for the Frenskys, going to a movie as a tradition, Brain's Kwanzaa ice cream... Religion is a touchy topic to make funny -- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Also, as someone who does celebrate Christmas, me, Dave, thought Christmas got the short end of the stick in this special. Ok, yes, commercialism is sort of unavoidable, but it came off as being the only point made about Christmas. Christmas isn't just about presents, but you wouldn't have known it from the show...
- Arthur thought Christmas was ruined because of his gift being busted.
- D.W. raised a stink because she didn't get what she wanted.
- Buster's Mom ruined Christmas for Buster so much so by overdoing things that Buster was no longer interested in it...
- Even Arthur's parents were anxious for D.W. to like the talking duck... as if that was the most important thing on their minds...
- ...and Muffy, well, let's not even talk about Muffy.
I hope that the special just quietly goes away (I think it was shown on Thanksgiving just to test the audience ahead of time) and we don't have to deal with these things anymore. The whole point of them being animals is so the viewer can make them belong to whatever group they want in their own heads without alienating the next person. Not that it should, it shouldn't, but it does. Political correctness (closely related to the heavy handed message) and reality not necessarily being the same thing.
The point about them being animals to avoid alienating people is a great one, and one that often is made about series with anthropomorphic/furry/"funny animal" characters.
I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of this special. (A little bit of Prunella-class psychic ability there, Arthur fans) Or discussion about it either. Wait and see, I guess.
And here's our first comment from 2001:
When I first heard about an Arthur Christmas special, I thought it would be cool. I saw both versions-the pledge break one and the one with out pledge breaks.(The one without pledge breaks is much neater.) Well, it wasn't all that cool. I think the writers took a turn for the wrose with this episode. Would mom have gotten mad at Arthur just because he broke her presant? No! She wouldn't have cared at all. Might have been nice if Arthur had told her the truth, becuase then it just might show the true meaning of Christmas -- love, friends, and family.
The begining was okay. But as it progressed, I started to dislike it. The songs, although tied closely to the sitiuation of the plot ("Baxter Day" and that "I can't call Francine" song) were pretty lame. There was little use of humor. If Uncle Fred was meant to be funny, then I'm not laughing. Nethier was "Tina the Talking Tabby". It has to been one of the wrost songs ever to be used on Arthur. The only thing I learned from this was about George's family doing the things they do for Christmas. That's it. Overall, I've seen several Christmas verisons over the years (stuff like Rudolph, Frosty, Garfield, and Charlie Brown to stuff like "Jungle Bell Rock" and "12 Days of Christmas".), and I have to say that this is one of the poorest attempts at a Christmas special. Prehaps they should have choosen another hoilday instead...basically the charisma of the girl band Spice Girls and the movie in 2012 called Snow White and the Huntsman