After watching the classic film, “Alice doesn’t live here Anymore” a few months ago, I was inspired to rewatch its TV show spinoff, “Alice.” It is great classic television. The writing can be witty and it has a wonderful cast that make the show very watchable.
The great thing about a rewatch is rediscovering moments that you had forgotten about. Some are just little jokes, but others are cultural touchstones. References to things that were defining the era of the show.
“Alice” made plenty of these references. Its spanned two decades and the show did its best to keep up with the changing times tonally. Which is remarkable for a show that started in a decade that was so different from the next one.
My favorite 80s moment of “Alice” is when breakdancing makes an appearance in the season 9 episode, “Footloose Mel.”
In this episode Mel runs afoul of some misunderstood dancers. Of course, it all works out in the ends, and the dancers, led by the great Fred Berry, do a dance routine in the diner.
This was broadcast in 1984. The breakdancing craze was firmly in place in many places, including my hometown, so it was really great to see it on a show like “Alice.” It made it appear more mainstream and made my plea for parachute pants and spiked armbands less of an odd request to my Mother and Grandmother.
If it was on “Alice”, it couldn’t be that weird.
The dancing is great, but it gets even better as we roll into the credits and the rest of cast gets in on the act. It is a satisfying moment of pop culture cross-pollination. I have since rewatched this scene alone a dozen times and have yet to tire of it. Mel dancing is almost hypnotic.
If you ask me, Vic Tayback might have missed his calling.
Watch this incredible breakdancing scene from the Alice episode “Footloose Mel”
Well, if you forgot, then your previous Christmas toy (and toys) will be sad.
Timeless Treasures of Christmas
Some Christmas specials remain timeless treasures of years gone by, watched by several generations. The stories are timeless, the songs sung over and over again, and the word “classic” is bandied around. There are other specials that have the look, feel, and makings of a classic holiday tradition, only to mire in obscurity. These specials disappear after airing once, remembered by the children who watched that year, but never witnessed by anyone else thereafter.
This is the story of one such special, remembered fondly by this writer (and those who were old enough to know about it in 1986), but not really by anyone else.
This is the story of The Christmas Toy.
The Christmas Toy
ABC aired The Christmas Toy on December 6, 1986, sponsored by Kraft Foods, produced by the Jim Henson Company, and featuring a Santa suit-clad Kermit the Frog setting the stage.
The story takes place within a playroom, where the toys come to life when no one is around. (I know this sounds unoriginal, but this was nine years before Toy Story, so hear me out). The toys are aware that their fate hinges on not being out of position, as to freeze them forever. This particular evening in the playroom, however, is a Big Deal…it’s Christmas Eve!
Old Balthazar tells the toys that a new toy will join the group after the kids open presents the next day. Of course, this does not sit well with Rugby the Tiger Cub, who will not stand for being replaced as his owner’s favorite Christmas Toy.
And what happens next is a harrowing journey through the quiet hallways of the family home, all in a quest to be the Christmas Toy…now and forever!
It’s quite the adventure, complete with songs, familiar Muppet voices, and the Kraft TV recipes in lieu of actual commercials.
Which brings me to the next thing about this special…
“Celebrate the Season With Kraft!”
Since The Christmas Toy was sponsored by Kraft Foods, the ad space was given over to Kraft. And while they could have just run ads for their products, they took it a step further…
Uploads via Allison Venezio / Allison’s Written Words
(Yes, this was a feature on my blog in December 2015)
Kraft Foods showed off all the amazing recipes one could make with their foodstuffs, thanks to coupons in the Sunday paper, and recipes in that week’s TV Guide.
I particularly loved this…
So you’ve got amazing commercials for amazing yuletide eatings, and a Christmas special that’s all Muppets and Christmas.
So what happened? Why did this disappear into obscurity?
Where Did The Christmas Toy Go?
To answer your question…I have no idea.
The Christmas Toy wound up being a one-and-done special, as primetime Christmas programming goes. The special disappeared from conscious memory for seven years (save for the kids whose parents taped the special in 1986, like mine did), until resurfacing on VHS in 1993, and DVD in 2008, albeit edited for legal reasons to omit Kermit the Frog’s introduction.
You say “legal reasons,” I say “Disney will sue into oblivion.”
Probably wasn’t Disney’s doing (the DVD came out in 2008, and I don’t believe Disney owned The Muppets until a few years later), but someone didn’t want Kermit appearing here!
I’ve never been able to find any reason this special went into obscurity after its initial 1986 airing, but I treasure my recorded VHS of it – so much so, I transferred it to a DVD in 2009 to keep it preserved. I just transferred it to my laptop last night to keep a digital copy as a backup.
And yes, it is that good. The Christmas Toy became a yearly tradition for me for years, even if I watched it by myself. I plan to watch it this year (for the first time since 2009!) to recapture the magic all over again!
As for availability…its almost non-existent.
The DVD is out-of-print (the only way I can explain why a new copy is over $50), and forget YouTube – my last YouTube account was terminated because I uploaded this rare classic. Let’s just say Lionsgate found me out four years later (seriously, four years!).
To The Wayside…Like Last Year’s Christmas Toy!
I’m not ok with the “fall to the wayside” treatment The Christmas Toy got since its release. Among Muppet/Jim Henson specials, this one has the makings of a classic. I can assume it may have been Kraft’s sponsorship that has kept it from airing again. Perhaps this was meant to be a one-and done deal? I’m not sure, but I do know this…it’s not right.
I can’t stress that enough, apparently.
The story of hoping to be loved forever, and the lengths one will go (even when it is unnecessary) when that love is doubted makes for a timeless story. If you have an original print of the special, consider yourself lucky, and cherish it. Please, make a copy of your VHS, just keep it well preserved.
Like the toys in the special, The Christmas Toy deserves to be loved too.
Look, I Found A Clip!
If you truly want to get a song stuck in your head the rest of the day, may I recommend this clip?
Upload via LionsgateVOD
I did a four-part series on the Kraft TV Recipes on my blog in 2015, if you’re feeling particularly empowered to read them!
If you thought I knew how to cover the stranger side of pop culture, you should check out my latest YouTube obsession, the Oddity Archive. Because he does it better!
YouTube Channel Shoutout
I’ve given a few shoutouts recently for several channels whose work I watch with a diligent eye, a smile on my face…and the intense concentration and excitement of an excited geek.
In recent months, I’ve praised urban explorers Dan Bell and Ace’s Adventures and their journeys through dead/dying mall culture. As you know, I dabble in pop culture bizzarreness, especially nostalgic pop culture bizarreness. And I’ve found a channel that makes it so weirdos like me can revel in someone else’s equal enjoyment.
To be honest, I have no idea how I found the Oddity Archive, but it has already been responsible for a recent Music Monday post on my blog, so you know it means business in my life.
Oddity Archive delves into the strangeness of pop culture (specifically the nostalgic kind), and tells its story through history lessons, local commercials, and any relevant footage. Host Ben Minnotte sits behind his box and tells the tale of these bizarre moments in pop culture. His tales are funny, the pop culture is odd and painful, and all of it is done with proud geeky passion.
And for every new episode, a different picture on the box.
He’s smiling behind that box.
Ben’s topics run the range of pop culture oddities – riffs, short films, local access programming (think Wayne’s World, but terrible), VCR gaming, analog broadcast sign-offs, drive-in theater ads, and children’s programming. The stranger, the better!
The webseries premiered with the Max Headroom hacking story, and from there, has gone on to cover anything that is pretty much on the level of that infamous incident. There is strong language as well as some not safe for work imagery in the video link
If you’re still reading this, then obviously, this piques your interest.
Which brings me to the part you came here for…VIDEOS!
How about a whole playlist of oddities? Go on, click play!
Uploads via OddityArchive (Playlist via Michael Roden)
As a kid I was a sucker for a good 976 number. I called the Chipmunks, Howard the Duck, Santa and many more. All of this without my Mom’s permission. Which caused some issues. So it was probably a good thing that I did not live in California, where I could have called Kitt from Knight Rider at 976-2233.
Like all kids in the eighties, I loved Knight Rider, especially Kitt. Probably because I have always dreamt of a world where I had a robot/computer friend. If that friend could also have been my car, all the better! I also would have accepted talking robot dog or bicycle.
What is weird about this particular 976 number is what you got when you called, it was almost incidental that you were talking to Kitt. He was just a vehicle for delivering information. Information not about Knight Rider or the Knight Foundation, but real solid science facts from the California Museum of Science and Industry. It is an odd idea to generate revenue, but I imagine it worked since kids like me existed in every state.
Since I have written a few of these posts about 976 numbers, people have emailed me about them. Someone recently asked me if they remembered if I thought I was really talking to Santa Claus at the time. I would like to tell you I was a smart kid. That I realized that I was consuming a generic message, but I am not so sure.
I wouldn’t say I was a dumb kid. Maybe I am just being kind to myself?
Let’s just say, I wanted to believe.
Watch this commercial a 976 Number to talk to Kitt from Knight Rider!
The Netflix trailer for Stranger Things 2 leaves us with nothing more than vague hints, and a killer remix of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Anything else that’s hit the ‘net is likely just pure speculation… and so is this. Much like trying to see the future in a pile of tea leaves, this is an attempt to figure out what’s going on in the upcoming season with nothing more than things that happen to be on my action figure shelf. Chances are awfully good that my guesses connect with reality at no two points. (Actually, I can’t even guarantee one point, but it is fun to guess, right?)
First things first: this is also a bit of an under-the-radar review of Funko’s new box sets of Stranger Things action figures. You may rest assured that my verdict is that they’re awesome…though they’re rather delicate in a few places. Take time and care removing them from their packages, especially the surprisingly delicate Demogorgon. But do the figures hold any clues for the second season? Don’t ask me – ask them. Continue reading →