The Christmas season is well underway, and I can’t think of better viewing this time of year than some old animated stand-byes from the 1980s: A Garfield Christmas and Will Vinton’s A Claymation Christmas Special. Before I say anything else, per tradition, Brooke what are your thoughts on these cartoon specials? Why did I make you watch them instead of any other film (or other TV specials)?

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B: Okay, we’ll do this by the special. I had no idea there was such a thing as A Garfield Christmas until AM asked me if I had seen it. I was curious what a lasagna-loving, but generally grumpy feline could bring to the holiday season. I expected he would go the Scrooge route, but I was very, very wrong. Which brings me around to why AM picked this one: Grandma is surprisingly emotive. Like sneaky, where did all of these feels come from, emotive. It was a pleasant surprise to find so much depth in an 80s special that probably doesn’t top 22 minutes.

A Claymation Christmas Special is a little more difficult to pin down the reasoning on, but I’m thinking it has a lot to do with the snarky dinosaur hosts. And the fact that clay animation is stunningly difficult. I can imagine a wee Annemarie watching this special and singing along to all of the songs with no small measure of glee. For those of you wondering, modern day Annemarie did refrain from singing during this viewing, but she couldn’t help but to sing the original songs from the Garfield special, so make of that what you will.

Here are my questions AM. Why doesn’t Garfield get a holiday lasagna? Did Grandma’s story arc hit you in the feels as a kid, or did you hit a certain age and have a realization? I’m betting the latter based on my own former adoration of The Fox and The Hound and the utter inability I have had to watch it since eighth grade when hormones became a very real part of life. So much ugly crying. How many hours do you think it took to craft the very elaborate transition pieces in the Claymation special? There were so many additional characters introduced, and so many foods eaten. Also, is it wrong that I feel lied to about the California Raisins? They were only in the one scene! And their body structures were deeply confusing.

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AM: Both of these have been in my life so long I can’t remember when we first watched them, but suffice it to say I’m sure it’s when they both came out. My sister and I watched the Saturday morning Garfield & Friends show religiously and so I’m sure the Christmas version was just part of the rotation, just like Frosty and Rudolph and Peanuts. However, this one has always stuck with me and you’re spot-on that it’s because of Grandma’s story. I don’t know if I truly understood the pathos of her character as a child, but it struck an emotional cord for sure.

The other main reason Garfield continues to be my favorite is the 1:30 a.m. Christmas morning scene. It so perfectly encapsulates how my sister and I felt about Christmas morning (heck, still feel, except for the early morning thing). I can’t find the clip, but Jon and Doc Boy awaken their father in the middle of the night because technically speaking, anytime past midnight is Christmas morning. That feeling of excitement (or as Garfield puts it, the “insomnia and anxiety kids get from having to wait”) is one of my favorite parts of Christmas and why it’s far and away my favorite holiday.

Claymation was something we also watched on TV, and my dad tracked down on VHS afterward because it was his personal favorite. Will Vinton is an acclaimed animator and producer and he was responsible for not only the California Raisins, but the Domino’s Pizza Noid among other animated spokes-characters. So that’s why the Raisins make an appearance in this special and was likely the reason the money was available to make said special. I’m sorry you feel duped, but wouldn’t you rather have more time with Rex and Herb instead of with anthropomorphized shriveled grapes? I agree that it’s odd that some have just heads and some have torsos. I can’t un-see it now that you pointed it out.

I don’t know why exactly I only sung during Garfield. Maybe it’s because the Claymation songs are holiday standards and the Garfield ones are originals? I can’t help but quote along #sorrynotsorry.

Per the question about lasagne, Garfield ate his bodyweight in 53 kinds of potatoes and 45 kinds of pie at dinner, so there was simply no room. Don’t worry, I’m sure Jon will provide for him at some point.

Every time I see clay animation I’m reminded of a Parks & Recreation episode where Ben is unemployed and trying to find his bliss, so he spends hours and hours doing stop-motion animation only to come away with 3 seconds of footage. It’s the most tedious art form I can think of, even though the results are completely stunning.

What was your favorite vignette in the Claymation special? Did you know what “wassail” meant before watching this? And back to Garfield, do you wonder if maybe Jon was adopted? He looks nothing like his parents and he’s the only “city slicker” in the family. Just throwing it out there.

B: I would have to give the title of favorite vignette to the rendition of “O Christmas Tree.” I’ve always been fond of that tune anyway, but I also loved the transitions between scenes. Zooming into the panes of a window on an ornament and then opening into that room (and other similar cuts) is such a filmic move that’s made more impressive with the conscious thought of how much work had to go into crafting every single one of those locations. I love the level of devotion and detail that was on display in that piece.

I did not know what “wassail” mean prior to watching this, nor did I know it was a part of that song. I think “love and joy come to you” was really all I could have identified in the song prior to this special. You’re teaching me so much AM. I will say, now that I know what wassail is, I rather think I would be a fan of it. And yes, I would much rather spend more time with Rex and Herb than the Raisins. I have a pet theory that Rex is inspired by Robert Osbourne. He’s so informative and gentle in his attempts to educate everyone. I love it.

I actually think it extremely likely that Jon was adopted. At very least, he’s aging much better than Doc Boy. Which is sad, as Doc Boy does physical labor as a farmer and is the younger of the two. Meanwhile, Jon spends his whole life getting trolled by Garfield. Also, going back to Garfield’s food intake — how many kinds of pie can you name without cheating? I bet it is not 45 kinds of pie. Consider the gauntlet thrown. Also, will you make me a pie?

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A: First of all, I’m already making you a birthday Victoria Sponge because I am SUCH a good friend, so pie will have to wait. Also, I don’t make pie. Can I interest you in a Village Inn Candy Cane Pie? I’d go halfsies on that with you. Ooooh the gauntlet has been thrown! Because I’m an honest sort, here goes what I remember, then I’ll copy/paste what IMDB has to say:

Annemarie remembers the scene…

Jon Arbuckle: There’s just too much food! I think I’ll just have a slice of pie.

Mom: Apple, peach, pumpkin, blueberry or banana cream?

IMDB tells us what it really is…

Jon: Mom! You always fix too much food.

Mom: I know, honey, I know. Now what would you like?

Jon: Why, I can’t decide. Just give me a piece of pie.

Mom: Apple, peach, pumpkin, blueberry, cherry, or banana cream?

I legit only forgot cherry! And it’s one of the best kinds of pies. Darn. I’m rather proud of myself for remembering the rest!

It probably doesn’t surprise you that I had to look up Robert Osborne even though I know you mentioned him when we watched these. Even without seeing him speak, I would not be surprised to learn that he was the inspiration for Rex. I greatly enjoy Rex and his consternation, and I am totally ok with the Raisins only being present for one musical number. They’re a gimmick, not the show. Wikipedia tells me that Rex and Herb were somewhat based on the film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.

Even though you didn’t ask, I’m trying to think of my favorite Claymation sketch in the show. “O Christmas Tree” is the one I simply can’t take my eyes off of, and you’re right, the intricacies are amazing to behold and the simplicity of the song would melt any Grinch’s heart. For comedy, I probably love the “We Three Kings” camels that start us off the most. They’re wearing tennis shoes! But a very close second in the comedy genre is the ice skating walruses. My sister and I quote Herb’s fawning intro “Margot Pontoon, OH!” all the time and I believe she’s supposed to be a walrus version of Margot Fontaine, the dancer you couldn’t take your eyes off of from both Center Stage and Black Swan. When we have some free Classy AF time, we should find a recording of Margot dancing (unless she’s impossibly not retired and then go see her in person) and review it.

Poor Doc Boy. He looks older than his older brother, hasn’t moved away from home though he’s clearly 35 and the 24 years of “pie-ana” lessons haven’t amounted to any actual skill on the piano. However, he does get to wear overalls un-ironically, although they’re on a comeback I see?

On a scale of 1-10, how much did Odie’s gift make you cry? Any additional final thoughts on either special? How much fun was it to visit the late 1980s with me?

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B: I will absolutely go halfsies with you on any Village Inn pie. But let’s wait until after you make me that birthday cake. Because I cannot have eyes for pie when Victoria Sponge is in the picture.

I don’t think Odie’s gift made me cry, but it did warm my cold heart to see him make something that would make Garfield so happy. Now, as for Garfield’s gift to Grandma, that may have blown some dust into my eye. Finding her old love letters and having the sense that she would love seeing them again was rather surprisingly compassionate for a cat who pretends at being so grumpy. Of course, I know the truth now. He’s actually a big softie.

I think we’ve covered my thoughts quite thoroughly. Though I will observe, in closing, that I am quite curious where either of these stories would go if they were stretched out to more than 20-odd minutes. Would anyone understand wassail? Would Grandma reveal a past with the CIA? WHO KNOWS?

Obviously, visiting the late ’80s with you was pure magic, AM. It was like a glimpse into young AM’s life and times. And also it was a reminder of the days of hand drawn morning cartoons. I have the vaguest recollections of watching Garfield in the morning when I was in kindergarten, so even though these were all new to me, there was nostalgia to be had.


Join us next time as we wrap up our journey into holiday classics with a romantic comedy that finds Barbara Stanwyck trading in femme fatale for city girl scribe forced to host an idyllic country Christmas.

About Annemarie Moody Miller

We Write Things Co-Scribbler-in-Chief. Wordsmith. Globetrotter. Shark Enthusiast. Denver Native. I like to write and read all the things.

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