The Idiot Box is a veritable white elephant party filled with crappy Christmas specials this time of year. (See The Swan Princess Christmas below for proof.) But what were the most painful holiday specials ever made? Here’s a list of historic “specials” you’ll want to re-gift.
“Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978) This is the motherload of awful holiday specials. It aired once, and George Lucas disavowed all knowledge of it. A lot of the dialogue is in Wookie. Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman make with the funny. Mark Hamill stops by for like two seconds, sporting an ungodly amount of makeup. But the Boba Fett cartoon is cool.
“Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July” (1979) Sure, 1977’s “Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey” is just a maudlin remake of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but this late-in-the-game, stop-motion-animated special is arguably the worst of Rankin/Bass’ seasonal efforts. Clearly they had run out of ideas when they sent Rudolph and Frosty to save a circus. In Florida. In July. Frosty has kids. There’s a genie. And dragons.
“Christmas Comes to Pac-Land” (1982) Frankly, it makes no sense there was a Pac-Man cartoon to begin with. The video game doesn’t even make narrative sense: A yellow disc eats dots in a maze while running from ghosts. Mix in Christmas and it gets positively surreal. In a plot recycled from most lazy holiday specials, the stars have to help Santa deliver gifts after a nasty crash landing. In the end, Santa’s reindeer eat Pac-Man’s power pellets and can fly again. Also, Pac-Man wears a scarf—despite the fact that he has no neck.
“He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special” (1985) I can’t even begin to parse the convoluted shenanigans going on here. But at one point, musclebound Prince Adam dresses up as Santa Claus.
“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Alpha’s Magical Christmas” (1994) The Power Rangers are mostly AWOL from this impoverished, 24-minute, direct-to-video special. They’re all up at the North Pole helping Santa, apparently. Which leaves irritating robot Alpha back at the Command Center feeling nostalgic and unloved. To pass the time, he decorates and sings a couple of carols. That’s about it.
“We Wish You a Turtle Christmas” (1994) The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were still kinda hot back in 1994, but this chintzy VHS “special” does them no favors. The plot has the turtles shopping for a Christmas gift for Master Splinter. But mostly it’s a lot of singing and dancing—including a reggae version of “Deck the Halls” with lyrics changed to a list of pizza toppings. I shit you not.
“The Nuttiest Nutcracker” (1999) Nobody actually remembers or likes the story of The Nutcracker. So some cheapjack computer animation company decided transforming the cast into nuts would jazz things up. Jim Belushi is the Mouse King. Cheech Marin is a macadamia nut. Various cashews, peanuts and walnuts round out the cast.
“Elf Bowling: The Movie—The Great North Pole Elf Strike” (2007) In December of 2000, the promotional marketing game “Elf Bowling” was a thing people played on their Dell PCs. It was bowling, but with elves instead of bowling pins. In 2007 somebody had the brilliant idea of turning that into a computer-animated movie. It was not a brilliant idea.
“Larry the Cable Guy’s Star-Studded Christmas Extravaganza” (2008) A guy who doesn’t wear sleeves should never have a Christmas special.