The Case of The Christmas Toy

Happy New Years Eve, Cassettes! We’re ringing in the new year with a special (brief) case about a very special made-for-TV Christmas movie!

Sure, you know about The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and loads of other Muppet content. But, the Muppets have a whole catalog of TV and home video releases, including a long list of Christmas specials! 

Just for fun, we did a google search for a list of all the Muppet Christmas movies, and still didn’t find a complete list. Every list we found features Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas, which aired while The Muppet Show was still going strong. This special is probably the best of them all, and really set the stage for more Muppet movies to come. We also see the delightful, “Muppet Family Christmas,” listed with, “Letters to Santa.” Even the, “Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie,” gets mentioned (which was very meh to be honest.) 

But of course there’s even more! We already mentioned “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree,” earlier this season, which we love to hate (or hate to love?) So today, we’re talking about the under-appreciated and often forgotten, “The Christmas Toy,” from 1986.  

HISTORY

  • The Christmas Toy was produced by Jim Henson and Martin G. Baker with the executive producer Diana Birkenfield and directed by Eric Till.
  • The story was written by Laura Phillips. She had also been called in around this same year to help rewrite and contribute to Jim Henson’s movie The Labyrinth! Which is also one of our faves.
  • This short 50 minute special aired on ABC on December 6, 1986. A year later it would be made into a storybook written by Joanne Barkan and illustrated by Lawrence Di Fiori. 
  • Music and lyrics were done by Jeff Moss. If you don’t recognize his name you may recognize some of his music and lyrics from Sesame Street like “I Love Trash” and “Rubber Duckie.”
  • In the original release Kermit introduces the story and sets the stage dressed in a Santa outfit on the roof. Unfortunately due to Legal issues with Disney in 2006 many releases around that time cut Kermit out because, as we have discussed before, Disney acquired rights to The Muppets. Fortunately at least for now you can view the original beginning and everything on Amazon Prime (not a sponsor.)
  • Although CGI was becoming popular to use, Jim Henson specifically chose to use puppets. Boy are we sure glad he did!
  • Due to the popularity of Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas and other attempts at seasonal specials, The Christmas Toy was born. In order to make it happen, the main voices for Fraggle Rock were brought in and some new voices as well. According to The Jim Henson Company, he was inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit and The Nutcracker to form the characters that he brought to life. Although Jim Henson produced the special and still contributed, The AV club points out that he had the most hands off approach with it because there were many other projects calling for his attention as well such as The Labyrinth, The Tale of the Bunny Picnic, and The Storyteller.

SUMMARY

  • It’s Christmas Eve in the Jones’ house. The playroom of Jesse and Jamie Jones is a-buzz with excitement, as the toys prepare for the newest arrival to their household: the beloved Christmas Toy. Last year, Rugby the Tiger was the Christmas Toy. The rest of the toys try to explain that he will soon be replaced, but Rugby refuses to listen. Instead he decides to sneak downstairs and place himself under the tree to be the Christmas Toy again. But, if Rugby or any other toy is caught outside of its normal position in the playroom, they will be frozen forever! Other toys, like Mew (an adorable cat toy) and Apple the doll, attempt to save Rugby from this terrible fate. 

Although the concept of toys coming to life was not new (for example pinocchio, Winnie the Pooh, or the island of misfit toys) this story brings a new high stakes obstacle. The threat of being caught and frozen in place forever is an imminent threat, even for a cat toy like Mew. This harkens back to one of Jim Henson’s inspirations for the story, The Velveteen Rabbit. Within the Velveteen Rabbit there is also a heavy sense of doom for the toy character as he is possibly to be burned in order to disinfect the environment that the sick child is in.

THE CHRISTMAS TOY (1986) AND TOY STORY(1995, AND THE SEQUELS)

  • You may be thinking, I’ve heard this story, and this isn’t new! Toy Story has brought characters like these to life before! Well yes, Toy Story has a very similar plot and many characters from the collection are almost too similar. But The Christmas Toy came almost a decade beforehand. The similarities have brought some, like cracked.com, to go so far as to say that Toy Story shamelessly ripped off the obscure movie of The Christmas Toy. We cannot tell you that Toy Story for sure ripped the characters and story from this Jim Henson classic. We also cannot go over all the similarities we found between them because it would take forever so we will just discuss a few things that really stood out to us.
  • Plotline
    • The similarities in plot are basic, but glaring. The toys come to life when humans are not looking at them.
  • Characters
    • Rugby the Tiger/ Woody
      • The main characters, although their appearances are very different, the attitudes they gain when learning that a new toy may be replacing them is pretty similar.
    • Meteora Queen of the Asteroids/ Buzz Lightyear
      • Both come from outer space, believe they are real, and are the newest toys that cause quite a commotion without meaning to for the main character.
    • Balthazar/ Lotso the Bear
      • The physical similarities such as being a bear, the thick eyebrows, and the cane. Seen as the wise older leader in both.
    • Barbie Doll/ Bo Peep
      • The Barbie Doll is literally dressed as Bo-Peep with a staff and frilly dress.

CAST

  • Dave Goelz as Rugby Tiger and Ditz (the toy clown)
    • You may remember we have talked about Dave Goelz many times now as Gonzo and a few other muppets. He was also Boober in Fraggle Rock.
  • Steve Whitmire as Mew and the Dauntless Dragon
    • Known mostly for taking over Kermit after Henson’s death, he was also Wembley Fraggle.
  • Kathryn Mullen as Apple (the doll)
    • She was Mokey Fraggle and Cotterpin Doozer. She also puppeteered for Kira in The Dark Crystal.
  • Jerry Nelson as Balthazar (the teddy bear)
    • He was Gobo Fraggle and The Count from Sesame Street.
  • Richard Hunt as Belmont (the rocking horse)
    • He was Junior Gorg in Fraggle Rock and  Scooter and many others in The Muppets. 
    • The name Belmont is a reference to the famous Belmont Race Track located in New York.
  • Camille Bonora as Meteora and Molly (voice)
    • She is known for her many voices in many different Jim Henson projects including Little Red and Meryl Sheep in Sesame Street. 
    • She is also the character, Twitch in another little known special called The Tale of the Bunny Picnic. 
  • Brian Henson as Cruiser (the taxi driver)
    • A producer on many Muppet movies and shows, as well as Hoggle from The Labyrinth. 
  • Rob Mills as Bleep (the robot)
    • He was also Ludo from The Labyrinth but he also did special effects for movies including Secret of the Ooze.
  • Nikki Tilroe as Ding-a-ling (the rotary dial phone)
    • She was also in Fraggle Rock as a Muppet performer and played the Board of Birds from Follow That Bird.
  • Marsha Moreau as Jamie
    • Known for many children’s voice acting roles from Little Bear to Madeline to Babar. 
  • Zachary Bennett as Jesse
    • He is an actor who has done plenty of voice work but is known now for his roles in Maudie and the recent Umbrella Academy. 
  • Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog and Jack-in-the-Box (uncredited)
    • What else can we say 🙂

THE SECRET LIFE OF TOYS (1994)

  • In 1994 Jim’s son Brian Henson brought back some of these adorable characters for a show based on the movie. Although Apple the doll is replaced by a doll named Raisin many of the others are present; such as Rugby, Mew, Balthazar, and Cruiser. The two children have also been changed to be Penny and Simon instead of Jesse and Jaime.
  • We also see that Ditz the clown is alive! 
  • The show lasted for only 13 episodes and was aired on the Disney Channel. In each episode the group of toys gets into some kind of trouble while also trying to follow a set of rules to abide by that they call “no-no’s”. These are meant to keep them safe.

The Christmas Toy is a sweet, interesting story with enough holiday cheer to get the whole family into the spirit of Christmas. With characters like Mew, a toy often looked down on for being a cat toy instead of a “real” toy, finally finding his place among the other toys, and Rugby Tiger finally understanding that he needs to let someone else take the spotlight, we learn lessons of acceptance and humility. 

Sure, there are some scenes where things may seem a little dark or sad, but it all has a happy ending! 

So we happily end this year by saying Happy New Year, Cassettes! We will see you again in 2021!


BCD PRESENTS: NO SMALL PARTS

Don’t forget to check out our NEW show No Small Parts. You can find all the links you need to listen HERE.

No Small Parts is a short-form audio drama that explores the backstory of minor characters in major films. Each episode is written by Miles Murphy and performed by a member of the Black Case Diaries Podcast. Episodes to be released monthly!


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