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Western Animation / The Christmas Tree

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The Christmas Tree is a 1991 animated Christmas special directed by Flamerion Ferreira. It was distributed on VHS by Family Home Entertainment, and later on DVD by GoodTimes Entertainment.

It 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 appeal to Santa Claus for help.


This animated special provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless:
    • The mayor doesn't seem to have the slightest inkling that anything is amiss, and is perfectly willing to fork over large sums of cash (measured in number of bags, no less) to Mrs. Mavilda without much question.
    • Mrs. Mavilda's poker buddies. They have to know (or at least suspect) that Mavilda neglects the kids at best, yet none of them can be bothered to do anything about it.
    • Santa Claus himself, who doesn't do jack for these poor kids until the very end of the movie.
  • An Aesop: "You always win when you are good."
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – Economics: The mayor measures money in bags and not numbers.
  • Advertisement:
  • Artistic License – Geography: The town where the movie is set is apparently on the same landmass as the North Pole, at least according to a map the children consult later in the story, and is close enough to said town to be walked to. Assuming it takes place on our earth, this is impossible; the North Pole is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, not on any sort of land. And even if it's simply meant to be interpreted as the place where Santa lives rather than the actual physical North Pole, for it to be anywhere near that area the setting would be far more harshly cold and barren than it's shown to be.
  • Bears Are Bad News: One that looks like Baloo from The Jungle Book (1967) chases after the kids at one point.
  • Beat: The Mayor has an awkward one mid-sentence when saying, "I've got enough money here to get the children new clothes. [beat] And still some left for their Christmas presents."
  • Big Bad: Mrs. Mavilda, who owns the orphanage, is responsible for all the children's problems. She doesn't use any of the mayor's money to buy the orphans new clothes, gambles the money in her poker games, tries to send away the stray the orphans take in, tries to have Judy arrested just because the kids like her, and attempts to cut down Mrs. Hopewell out of spite towards the kids.
  • Black-and-White Morality: "You always win when you are good."
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: One apparently delivered upon Ms. Mavilda by Santa Claus. Which she 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.
  • Clueless 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 and/or the tree 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?
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover shows the children indoors with a Christmas tree behind them. This tree is not Mrs. Hopewell, but a different one that only appears in the opening scene. The VHS cover shows Mrs. Hopewell outside, but the children look pretty cute with soft facial features, unlike the Elmer Fudd-like faces the kids have in the film proper.
  • 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 just before she cuts down Mrs. Hopewell and somehow having rescued Judy's daughter offscreen is about as blatant as you can get.
  • Disappeared Dad: Mr. Kindle has a job at the lumber mill, which requires him to spend months away from his family. He doesn't come back until Christmas Eve.
  • Dull Surprise:
    • Barring the scenery-chewing, the voice acting is... understated at best. Also near the end when Pappy tells his parents that Lily is probably dead, and their only reaction is their eyes going wide for a second.
    • Then there's the group of kids saying "Oh, no!" so flatly, you'd think they'd been smoking a pound of weed beforehand.
  • Easily Forgiven: Not only is Mrs. Mavilda not sentenced for child abuse and embezzlement at 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 could give Davros a run for his money on this.
  • Evil Is Petty: Mrs. Mavilda apparently considers torturing the children and ruining their happiness to be worth her while, in addition to keeping the money given to her by the Mayor.
  • Evil Orphanage Lady: Mrs. Mavilda is a corrupt orphanage owner who wastes all her income gambling rather than helping the orphans.
  • Forgotten Framing Device: The opening narration takes place in a room with a Christmas tree in it, which is not actually the Christmas tree the special focuses on. This location never appears again, nor do we find out who owns the place.
  • The Gambling Addict: Mrs. Mavilda again. Rather than use the money that the mayor gives her to buy the orphans new clothes, she wastes all of it in her poker games with her friends.
  • The Good Guys Always Win: The ending moral of the story 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. However, Mrs. Mavilda stays on as Judy's assistant, so the orphanage is apparently... still an orphanage. For some reason.
  • Harmless Electrocution: Mrs. Mavilda somehow survives the Bolt of Divine Retribution that strikes her before she can cut down Mrs. Hopewell.
  • Hate Sink: None of the orphans like Mrs. Mavilda due to her mistreatment of them. The one thing they wish the most from Mrs. Hopewell is for someone to adopt all of them so they won’t have to suffer under Mrs. Mavilda any more.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Mrs. Mavilda, after being struck down by the Bolt of Divine Retribution. In the words of the narrator, "She's good now."
  • Heroes Love Dogs: The children at the orphanage collectively take care of a black stray dog named Licorice.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Lily falls off a cliff into a snowdrift. 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.
  • It's All About Me: A rather Out-of-Character Moment. When Judy tells the kids the bad news that they won't be getting new clothes, they are visibly upset, to which she says, "Please, children, don't make it more difficult for me."
  • Jerkass: To put it bluntly, Mrs. Mavilda is a complete bitch — well, before her Heel–Face Turn anyway. She doesn't use any of the mayor's money to buy the orphans new clothes, gambles the money in her poker games, tries to send away the stray the orphans take in, tries to have Judy arrested just because the kids like her better than Mavilda, and attempts to cut down Mrs. Hopewell out of spite towards the kids.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: As cruel as she was about it … Mrs. Mavilda was right that Judy encouraging her children’s obsession with a tree was what caused them to go missing.
  • Karma Houdini: Mrs. Mavilda's weekly gambling partners — the ones who knowingly benefited from her habit of throwing away all the money donated to the orphanage — get off scot-free.
  • 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.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: What appears to be a sloth bear can be found in the cold environment of the North Pole.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Licorice the dog.
  • Noodle Incident: Mrs. Mavilda says she had a previous assistant that she fired via what she planned to do with Judy. Given what she is...
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Mrs. Mavilda seems to trot out the same kids and outfits every year.
  • Off-Model:
    • The kids on the VHS cover. However, ironically, they look cuter than in the actual special.
    • When she announces her intention to cut down Mrs. Hopewell, Mrs. Mavilda suddenly changes to being drawn in a slightly more realistic style, which looks and feels very jarring.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: In one scene, the mayor is talking with Mavilda and asks where Judy is, only for her to appear out of nowhere with no footsteps having been heard.
  • Only Six Faces: The only distinguishing marks for the orphans are their hair and clothes. All of them have the exact same face. It's especially noticeable when they uniformly smile at the newly arrived Lily and Pappy.
  • 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.
  • Patchwork Map: According to the book that one of the girls is constantly carrying, the world in which this special takes place has one of these. It looks like a beheaded gingerbread man composed of weird chunks of different climates, and apparently indicates that the orphanage is not too far from the North Pole.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Mrs. Mavilda expresses concern over the disappearance of Lily and Pappy... but only because if the Mayor finds out, she could lose her job.
  • Private Profit Prison: Mrs. Mavilda runs the orphanage similarly to this. She keeps the kids in rags and practically on a starvation diet just to keep the money. She even keeps a set of nice clothes around for them to wear just for inspections to cover up her schemes.
  • Psychotic Smirk: For some reason, the other kids in the orphanage greet Lily and Pappy with what are supposed to be warm smiles but instead look like they're planning on cooking and eating the brother and sister.
  • Ring-Ring-CRUNCH!: Happens when Mrs. Mavilda wakes up one morning in a fit.
  • Sadist: Mrs. Mavilda, who happily gambles away the orphanage funds on a regular basis. Apparently, the fact that she lost money specifically meant to help the orphans gives her pleasure every time. Even the thought of Judy and her children being thrown out into the cold makes her giggle.
  • Santa Claus: Shows up at the very end, having saved the kids who went to search for him and apparently strikes down Mrs. Mavilda with a Bolt of Divine Retribution as well. Of course, as noted by Phelous, the movie seems to confuse Santa with Jesus, including having the kids follow the Star of Bethlehem to find him. This assumes that it wasn't a commentary on how Santa resembles the Abrahamic God.
  • Sensory Abuse: The scene in which Mrs. Mavilda fires Judy. The former's screaming is 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. It makes him a sort of Badass Santa.
  • 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.
  • Spanner in the Works: Mrs. Mavilda's plan to frame Judy for theft falls apart simply because a bad traffic accident prevents Judy from reaching the home of Mavilda's friend, who was supposed to plant the "stolen" object.
  • Stealth Parody: Some have suggested that it might be awful on purpose.
  • Stock Money Bag: The mayor pays Mrs. Mavilda in unmarked bags of money.
  • Storybook Opening: A textbook (storybook?) example. The storybook doesn't have words or even word-shaped scribbles, just the kind of colored Tetris blocks that frequently showed up in low-budget animation before the All-CGI Cartoon became common.
  • Stupid Evil: Mavilda repeatedly wasting all of her embezzled donation money on poker? Bad enough. Her enjoying screwing the kids over way too much to care? Downright priceless.
    • Not to mention gambling away the children's money after the mayor asked Judy to go with Mavilda to pick out clothes and toys for the children. What did Mavilda think was going to happen if she suddenly told Judy that she didn't have the money anymore?
  • 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.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Judy and especially Ray unintentionally appear to be permanently shell shocked for the whole movie. It doesn't help that Judy, for some reason, NEVER opens her eyes completely (except to demonstrate shock at Lily's apparent death). The animators must've run out of white.
  • A Twinkle in the Sky: This was an inverse when Santa Claus shows up.
  • 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.
  • 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 Jimmy Stewart-type nasal voice for the film's climax.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Mavilda's plan of having a friend frame Judy for petty theft is stopped before it could start when a cop sends Judy back home because of bad weather, and the plan is never mentioned again after that.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: A particularly egregious example that can be better described as "Writers Cannot Count Higher Than Five." Towards the end of the film, Ray says he and Judy will be adopting the orphans, so they'll have nine children to take care of. However, there are seven children in total (as can be seen on the page image): their two biological children, and the five orphans. (Was he counting Mavilda and the dog?)