As the holiday season draws nearer, many of us find ourselves drawn to the same old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials and the perennial favorite, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." However, I would like to suggest an overlooked alternative, "Arthur's Perfect Christmas." It is a heartfelt, funny, and surprisingly inclusive Christmas special that deserves more recognition.
For a TV movie that is barely under an hour long, "Arthur's Perfect Christmas" packs in a wealth of storylines. In the primary story, Arthur Read has decided that this year he will have his idealized perfect Christmas, but fate has determined that this shall not be. In an unusual twist, the special addresses the commercialism of Christmas; Arthur struggles to find the right gift for his father, waits in an endlessly long line to buy a gift for his mother, and must navigate his way through a cluttered toy store blaring irritating advertising jingles.
Arthur's plans for Christmas go further awry when his obnoxiously tacky Uncle Fred unexpectedly drops in to spend Christmas with the Read family. On Christmas Day, more comic misfortunes ensue, and Arthur learns how to have fun even when things do not go according to plan, and that when it comes to Christmas gifts, it is the thought that counts.
Meanwhile, in one of the special's subplots, Muffy Crosswire has a falling her friend Francine. Muffy has an enormous Christmas party planned and feels slighted when her best friend does not attend, oblivious to the fact that Francine is Jewish and busy celebrating Hanukah. Eventually, Muffy comes to understand why the holiday is important to her friend.
The special takes great care to establish why Hanukah is an important holiday to Francine as both a family celebration and participation in the greater scope of religious faith. It is a welcome change to the usual Christmas special trope of either ignoring Hanukah altogether or relegating it to some brief mention of dreidels. This is probably the best Hanukah-related holiday special outside of the "Rugrats" Hanukah special.
In the third concurrent plot of the special, Buster Baxter attempts to convince his mother that Christmas does not have to be a big ordeal. As a single parent, Ms. Baxter feels compelled to make Christmas into an elaborate celebration out of a fear that Buster will not have a good time because his parents are divorced.
Buster eventually persuades his mother to relax about Christmas, deciding to instead rebrand their holiday celebration as "Baxter Day." The two realize that it is more important to enjoy spending time with family on Christmas rather than follow any set expectations for how Christmas should be enjoyed. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the special; I have never seen another Christmas special that encourages alternatives to the commercial pop culture celebrations of Christmas.
There are many more recurring jokes and subplots throughout the special, but to detail them would spoil the humor. What makes "Arthur's Perfect Christmas" such a good Christmas special is its willingness to tackle serious subjects. Most specials boil down to little more than "Christmas sure is great, and also goodwill towards man or something", but "Arthur's Perfect Christmas" goes further and creates a funny, relatable, and frequently touching portrait of different families trying to celebrate the holiday season and learning a little something along the way.
The "Arthur" television series excels at these small, affecting slice-of-life moments, and the Christmas special delivers those moments and then some.