Western Animation: The Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree
is a 1991 animated Christmas special
that takes place in an orphanage run by the evil Mrs. Mavilda. She steals the orphanage's funds and tricks the mayor into thinking she's a good manager. The kids are so miserable they latch onto a pine tree as a mother figure. Things begin to change when a new family moves to town, and the mayor assigns the mother, Judy, to a position as Mrs. Mavilda's assistant. She and her two children live at the orphanage while their husband/father must live elsewhere for his new job. Judy takes the orphans under her wing and tries to make life better for them. When Mrs. Mavilda decides to frame Judy for a crime in order to have her removed, the children make a desperate bid to appeal to Santa Claus
At first, this Christmas special was obscure. It was ranked as #12 in "Familiar Faces
#72: The Next 12 Forgotten Christmas Specials," which is on the website That Guy with the Glasses
(now Channel Awesome). The special gained attention
later when, on the same website, it was reviewed in an episode of The Nostalgia Critic
on December 24, 2013. He called it the absolute worst Christmas special he has ever seen.
The film can be seen in its entirety here
This animated special provides examples of:
- Adults Are Useless: Played straight and averted. Judy's a decent person, if a bit dim, and genuinely cares for the children. The mayor, however, doesn't seem to have the slightest inkling that anything is amiss, and is perfectly willing to fork over large sums of cash to Mrs. Mavilda without much question.
- Anachronism Stew: The time period is quite vague. They seem to be aiming for about the 1920s, but blatant anachronisms keep turning up, such as Mrs. Mavilda's henchman Mel watching a television set. Perhaps they were trying for a Retro Universe, but that's probably giving the creators too much credit.
- Bears Are Bad News: One that looks like Baloo from The Jungle Book chases after the kids at one point.
- Big Bad: Mrs. Mavilda.
- Black and White Morality: "You always win when you are good."
- Bolt of Divine Retribution: One which Ms. Mavilda miraculously survives.
- Chewing the Scenery: When Mrs. Mavilda is firing Judy, she chews it so hard that the voice actress's mic almost blows out.
- Childhood Memory Demolition Team: Mrs. Mavilda wants to destroy the tree just to show the kids who's boss.
- Covers Always Lie: On the DVD cover, the tree is indoors.
- Creepy Child: The orphans have shades of this and also of being some kind of hive mind, as they all develop the same bizarre, almost diabolical expression when meeting Judy's kids for the first time.
- Deus ex Machina: Santa striking Mavilda down with lightning and somehow having rescued Judy's daughter offscreen is about as blatant as you can get.
- Disappeared Dad: Mr. Kindle has a job that requires him to spend months away from his family. He doesn't come back until Christmas Eve.
- Dull Surprise: Barring the above scenery-chewage, the voice deliveries qualify as this across the board. Also near the end when Pappy tells his parents that he lost Lily, they don't look shocked or sad.
- Easily Forgiven: Not only is Mrs. Mavilda not sentenced for child abuse in the end, she retains a job at the orphanage (albeit as Judy's assistant)! All because of her lightning-induced Heel-Face Turn.
- Evil Is Hammy: Mrs. Mavilda.
- Expy: Mrs. Mavilda is Miss Hannigan.
- For the Evulz: Mrs. Mavilda is downright gleeful about losing the children's money gambling, to the point where it seems like she almost prefers it to winning.
- Gainax Ending: See Deus ex Machina above.
- The Gambling Addict: Mrs. Mavilda again.
- The Good Guys Always Win: The aesop outright states this.
- Happily Adopted: All of the orphans, at the end. When the mayor tries to make Judy the new director of the orphanage, her husband interjects that they will adopt all of the children instead.
- Harmless Electrocution: Mrs. Mavilda somehow survives the Bolt of Divine Retribution that strikes her before she can cut down Mrs. Hopewell, leading to the important moral being: Don't fuck with Mrs. Hopewell!
- Heel-Face Turn: Mrs. Mavilda, after being struck down by the Bolt of Divine Retribution.
- Heroes Love Dogs: The children at the orphanage collectively take care of a black dog named Licorice.
- Infant Immortality: Lily falls off a cliff. But she survives, thanks to Santa conveniently being in the area. In a slightly less blatant example, the children never seem to get sick or injured despite wearing threadbare clothing to play in the snow.
- Large Ham: Mrs. Mavilda is an especially noticeable one, given that she's also pretty much the only person in the world she inhabits that shows any emotion whatsoever.
- Limited Animation: So much so that you'll be startled whenever there's movement.
- Noodle Incident: Mrs. Mavilda: (talking about Judy) "What if I make that good girl into a bad one? Yeah! I'll make her into a thief, just like I did with the girl that worked with me before!"
- It could also be considered What Happened to the Mouse?, since they never reveal the fate of the girl in question or otherwise mention her at all.
- In his NC review, Doug Walker suggested that Mrs. Mavilda had multiple personalities to explain the glitches in her voice recordings, and the assistant prior to Judy was one of them.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Mrs. Mavilda seems to trot out the same kids and outfits every year.
- Only Six Faces: The only distinguishing marks for the orphans are their hair and clothes. All of them have the exact same face.
- Orphanage of Fear: It's clearly some kind of con setup, with money only being spent on food and electricity while Mavilda pockets the difference.
- Orphanage of Love: Once Judy gets promoted.
- Sensory Abuse: The scene in which Mrs. Mavilda fires Judy. Mavilda's screaming so loud she breaks the volume levels of her microphone.
- Shock and Awe: Weirdly, Santa. He decorates the tree and gives the children new clothes with a noticeable electrical crackle. In a more traditionally elemental and slightly more sinister vein, Mrs. Mavilda is conveniently struck by lightning just before he makes his appearance. You really don't want to get on this guy's naughty list.
- Skewed Priorities: When the mayor finds out what Mrs. Mavilda has really been doing with the kids, he's more concerned that the inspector might see it and call him out on it. Voters don't like having their politicians connected to dead children.
- Space Whale Aesop: The ending promptly shoehorns in "You always win when you are good" as the moral of the tale Mrs. Mavilda learns. Putting aside the idea that you will eventually get what you want if you're a good person, in the story's context it makes no sense because the story was resolved by a Deus ex Machina courtesy of Santa striking Mrs. Mavilda with lightning. Can she truly have been said to have learned anything when her reformation is probably due to brain damage from being electrocuted?
- Storybook Opening: A textbook (storybook?) example. The storybook doesn't have words or even word-shaped scribbles, just colored Tetris blocks.
- Thief Bag: The mayor pays Mrs. Mavilda in bags of money.
- Thinking Out Loud: Mrs. Mavilda provides a lot of exposition this way, as we see her lying in bed talking to herself about how to deal with Judy and other issues.
- Undisclosed Funds: The orphanage is paid in bags of money. Apparently, direct deposits, checks, bank accounts, and statements that have an actual amount listed do not exist in this universe. But hey, who needs a paper trail when you have millionaire duck currency?
- Vocal Evolution: The Mayor starts out with a very similar voice to Ray and the narrator, but then suddenly changes to having a much higher-pitched and more nasal voice for the film's climax.