Sunday, December 6, 2015

How the Toys Saved Christmas (1996)

Christmas season is upon us.  Not only Christmas, mind you.  There is also Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, and all that other stuff going on too.  December is a month filled with all of the holidays that you could ever want.  To get into the festive spirit, the first three weeks of December will include holiday themed movies.  Yes, I did that every other year of the Sunday “Bad” Movies, but I’m doing it again.  This week, next week, and the week after will be all about Christmas or winter movies.

This week’s movie is a little known movie called How the Toys Saved Christmas.  It’s a 1996 animated film featuring voice work from veteran actors Mary Tyler Moore and Tony Randall.  On Christmas Eve, Granny Rose (Moore) is too sick to deliver toys to the children of her town.  Mr. Grimm (Randall) offers to do her work for her, though his motives are much more nefarious.  He wants to keep all of the toys and auction them off to the highest bidders.  He comes from the Gordon Gekko school of thought, where greed is good.  The toys discover his plan and make it their mission to find their way to the homes of the perfect children.

How the Toys Saved Christmas is not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination.  It is well enough made to be a watchable piece of entertainment.  Is it great?  No.  There are some flaws in the storytelling and presentation that make the movie a less than stellar addition to the animated Christmas movie filmography that has built up throughout the years.  I want to spend this post looking over the different aspects of the movie and giving you some insight about what makes it tick.  There may be some spoilers coming up about the movie, so consider this a fair warning.

One of the big themes in How the Toys Saved Christmas is the way that money can lead to big trouble.  Perhaps the trouble isn’t as big as in a movie such as pretty much anything that the Coen Brothers have made but it is still a big, bad influence over this movie.  Mr. Grimm is willing to ruin the holidays for many children simply because he wants to make money off of the toys.  He will sicken the sweet old lady, Granny Rose, in order to do that.  He doesn’t care what he has to do as long as he gets the money he desires.

There is a subplot in the movie as well that involves the lust for money.  Mr. Grimm already has a safe full of money at the beginning of How the Toys Saved Christmas.  As he is looking at his money, some thieves see it and decide that they want to steal it for themselves.  Through their treachery, they enlist an innocent child and get him in trouble for the deed.  All because they want money.  Money leads to bad things, and this movie helps to show that.

The Secrecy of the Toys
One of the great animated films of my lifetime is Toy Story.  It came out when I was 5 and brought to life toys that I would play with through my childhood.  One of the things that made that movie speak to children like me was that the toys didn’t come to life while we were playing with them.  They came to life when we weren’t looking.  The toys had lives of their own.  But they cared most about us playing with them.  And they would hide their lives so that we could have fun.

This secrecy is also present in How the Toys Saved Christmas, for a while.  When the toys hear about what Mr. Grimm wants to do, they decide to take action and deliver themselves to the right children.  They won’t stand by and let him ruin Christmas.  The toys sneak out of the shop they are in, avoiding Mr. Grimm so that he won’t know they’re alive.  And it works.  Mr. Grimm thinks the toys were stolen through the basement.  Then they travel the streets in the open, acting like they don’t care at all if anyone notices them.  It is night, sure, but there is bound to be someone awake somewhere.  The audience knows there is.  Mr. Grimm soon discovers the toys and races after them.  The thieves are breaking into Granny Rose’s shop.  People are at the cinema, and the police are keeping a watch over the town.  Any secrecy that the toys have flies right out the window.  In fact, the sailor toy approaches Granny Rose and the night watchman without a care in the world and talks to them.  So, yeah, the secrecy disappears after the initial escape scene.

The Bittersweet Farewells
Throughout How the Toys Saved Christmas, the toys say their farewells to one another.  This is because as they travel, they find the perfect children for them and stay with the children.  It is a happy ending, though saddened by the toys never being able to see their toy friends again.  As established in the early moments of the movie, the toys are good friends with one another.  They have bonded during the time they have been together in Granny Rose’s shop.  When they leave one another, it brings up memories of your own childhood when friends moved away or you moved away, never to see each other again.

The most telling part of these bittersweet farewells is when the two dolls separate from the group.  They find a house during their travels in which a young girl lives.  One of the dolls offers to stay there.  So does the other one.  The two dolls are like sisters so it would be really sad to separate them.  Then they discover that there is a second girl in the house.  Both dolls get to live together in the house but they have to leave their friends behind.  They sing a very sad yet happy song about leaving their friends behind but getting to be together.  It is the bittersweet aspect of the movie at its most prominent.

The Dog
There is some weird magic stuff that happens in How the Toys Saved Christmas.  There’s a magic broomstick that flies around and allows Granny Rose to deliver gifts.  I guess she’s a witch Santa of sorts?  Mr. Grimm uses it at one point when he’s chasing down the toys.  There is the fact that the toys themselves are able to talk and live lives.  Then there is the toy dog who is the main toy that we follow through the movie.

The dog, named Jingles (Sonja Ball), is a stuffed toy dog that wants to go and live with the main child of the movie, Christopher (Michael Caloz).  He is one of the bravest toys.  When Mr. Grimm finds them, Jingles attacks him.  Mr. Grimm then throws Jingles into a garbage can.  Later, a dog discovers Jingles and it is revealed that the garbage can turned Jingles into a real dog.  No, I don’t understand how that happened either.  But it did.  Jingles is now a real dog.  When he meets up with Granny Rose at the end of the movie, she doesn’t even act like anything is out of the ordinary.  Let’s just say Christmas magic and leave it at that.

Weird Childhood Sexism
This one is going to be very specific.  There is a scene in How the Toys Saved Christmas where the sailor thinks he has found the perfect home and perfect child.  A child named Sam likes water and water stuff.  The sailor has a boat.  It’s the perfect match, right?  Well, not so much.

When the sailor enters the house, he manages to get his boat into a sink somehow.  Then he finds out Sam is actually Samantha and he screams as the girl runs toward him.  Later, the sailor reappears on the street outside Granny Rose’s shop.  He now has a blonde wig and some makeup.  The girl made the sailor into a female sailor and he despises that.  He will have nothing to do with girls.  He does not like girls.  He does not want to be with girls.  He does not want to be a girl.  There are no girls allowed near his boat.  What a way to teach children that they should be able to play with whatever they want.

Once again, I want to say that How the Toys Saved Christmas isn’t a terrible movie.  It’s nothing exceptional, but it is a decent animated Christmas movie.  It tries to teach children about the spirit of Christmas and how good it is to give.  It doesn’t always do that well, sometimes getting a little sadder or meaner than it needs to.  There were big faults in the movie as I’ve laid out through this post.  That doesn’t mean that you should purposefully avoid it.  It is watchable.  Don’t be afraid of it.
Don’t be afraid of these notes either:

  • Last year, I watched an animated Christmas movie named Roxanne’s Best Christmas Ever.
  • Have you seen How the Toys Saved Christmas?  Did you like it?  There is a comments section below if you want to discuss the movie.
  • If you have a movie that you think I should watch for a future Sunday “Bad” Movies post, feel free to put that suggestion in the comments.  Or you could tell me on Twitter what you think I should watch.
  • Next week’s movie will be Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman.  I watched Jack Frost a couple years ago, and I’m interested in what the sequel will be like.  If it’s anything like the first, I’m in for a fun time.  It might not be as Christmassy as the first though, so be ready for that.  See you next week.

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