Once upon a time in the 80s, I had a VHS tape filled to the very last centimeter of oxide-coated Mylar tape of nothing but Christmas specials that were played over and over again throughout every holiday season for years. The thing literally had every Xmas special episode on it including a lot of the classic Rankin Bass entries like Frosty and Rudolph, and not-so-familiar ones like “Twas The Night Before Christmas” and the deep cut of Holiday RB specials, “Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold“. Over the years we added to it, with the very first Simpson’s Christmas Special, and even further down, the masterpiece of Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas. Do I still own this tape? Sadly I don’t as this 80s relic was damaged due to that son-of-a-bitch thing called Time. However, I do remember it quite vividly and especially, the very first movie on the tape that opened a plethora of Christmas vomit all over the screen- the highly underrated, Jim Henson’s “The Christmas Toy”.
WAY before Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story, the magnificent mind of Jim Henson told a tale of toys coming to life when no one was around. The story opens up with a cameo of Kermit the Frog introducing us to the home of the Jones family, bonus points to Kermit for including Weegee the family cat, and the kids’ playroom where all the magic happens along with our stories’ toy-time heroes: Rugby the Tiger, Apple the doll, and Weegee’s cat toy Mew- who was my absolute favorite because duh, he’s a cat toy! Even though that little fact was held against him for the better part of the movie.
The Playroom is abuzz with excitement for Christmas Eve with all the toys preparing for the new additions to the area, all except Rugby as he expresses fear and jealousy as he was THEE Christmas toy the year prior that his owner Jamie was most excited for. He hatches a plan to wrap himself up and settle himself under the tree so he may experience that joy once more at a new toy’s expense and it’s up to Apple, another prior favorite Christmas toy, and Mew to talk Rugby out of his nonsense.
I firmly believe Toy Story totally ripped off the premise here as the similarities are just a little too striking for my taste buds. A jealous favorite toy trying to overthrow a new toy? Especially when that new toy is a Space Princess, (ahem, Buzz Lightyear anyone?) With that all-too-familiar morality lesson of acceptance in the end, it’s a hard pill to swallow that someone at Pixar didn’t see this special and sampled from it. The only real difference is the dark turn Jim Henson put as a spin on the story: When a toy is caught out of place when they’re up and moving around, they become “frozen-solid forever”, never to be awoken ever again. Basically becoming a lifeless toy. This happens a few times throughout the movie and one of those instances was brutally sad. But hey, 80s children’s movies went balls to the wall by making kids cry and Jim Henson’s Christmas Toy was no exception to the golden rule of trauma!
The Christmas Toy debuted on December 6th, 1986 on ABC and was sponsored by Kraft which made this special even more deliciously appealing! Which meant the breaks consisted of commercials featuring recipes you can make at home that helped to make every holiday celebration special. Because nothing says holiday magic like processed cheese, described by the soothing narration of Ed Herlihy. Because hey, “The nicest gifts under the tree are those you make yourself.” These commercials hit the spot man, with a visual existence of holiday happiness in a warm and comfortable home, filled with family and loads of cheese.
Just look at these beuts of Christmas Kraft commercial Heaven.
In early 1994, years after The Christmas Toy aired and a year before Toy Story was released, there was a spin-off series called The Secret Life of Toys. I honestly don’t remember much about it other than it existed and occasionally caught snippets of it on the Disney Channel because, by that time, pre-teen anguish had set in and as fate would have it, it would have been Rugby’s (or hey, Woody’s) worst nightmare having a child that was growing up. However, The Christmas Toy was, and still is, a magical transport of nostalgia and in my humble opinion, a damn good Christmas story that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being as awesome as it is.
If you want to revisit some “old friends” The Christmas Toy is currently streaming on Amazon Prime free for members. Or, you can just watch it here for free from Youtube uploader, Jer Hart. And in case you haven’t seen it, get ready for a brand new tradition to add to the holidays!