Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the third day of The Twelve Days of Shitmas! Unlike our last entry today's special is not some hastily produced, opportunistic grift but a generally well-regarded entry in a beloved animated franchise. My personal feelings notwithstanding, it is in some quarters considered an indispensable holiday classic and I genuinely agonized over whether to include it here--for reasons that will become apparent below.

Stop and smell the Yule.

Every other day beginning December 3rd we're posting a brand new review of a Christmas special culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning...and if that doesn't fill you with holiday cheer you're barking up the wrong Christmas tree!

I chose today's feature not because it's particularly good, bad or noteworthy but because I've had many years to formulate my thoughts and opinions regarding its relative merits and shortcomings. I've seen it more times than I care to remember, always manditorily and always somewhat under duress.

Perhaps I should explain.

For my wife's hardy clan A Garfield Christmas Special is something akin to a religious observance, an essential and keenly anticipated Christmas tradition passed down through multiple generations, and a non-negotiable rite of passage for anyone hoping to become part the family. It's been absorbed into the group lexicon, with references made, scenes acted out and lines of dialog quoted liberally throughout the year. Such are the mysteries of family tradition that no one really remembers how it started or why it's so beloved, but beloved it is, and when I married my wife I committed myself to a lifetime of annual viewings.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that I just don't get Garfield. I love comic strips as an art form, especially early "golden age" classics such as Krazy Kat and Barney Google, but I also love mid-century features like Pogo and The Little King, and more modern entries like Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County, but despite its impressive popularity and longevity, I've always found Garfield to be bland, timid and repetitive.

Garfield Minus Garfield, on the other hand is pure existential genius.

As for the Garfield Christmas Special...I can't be too hard on it, I suppose. It's not so much bad as simply not my cup of Christmas tea. Besides if I really trash it and my wife finds out...let's just say there won't be enough mistletoe in the world to get me any Christmas nookie this year.

To help me with the review and to kind of balance out my observations today I've invited MMT Intern and self-professed Garfield Superfan Sparky.

Sparky at his day job running his international catnip empire.

"How are you buddy?"

"Fantastic! I've got my popcorn in my Garfield bowl, my tequila in my Garfield mug and my Garfield snuggie to keep me warm! Let's get this started! It ain't gonna watch itself!"

"Okay! Okay! Simmer down, mister! Here we go!"

We open with an establishing shot of a little house festooned with a ridiculously gaudy display of Christmas lights and decorations a la Clark W. Griswold's energy crisis-inducing display in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (which actually came two years after the special we're watching today). Garfield is asleep in his little cat bed by the fire, and Jon Arbuckle (Garfield's long-suffering, dim-bulb of a caretaker) enters wearing an elf outfit. He wakes Garfield and informs him that it's Christmas morning, which to this fat, lazy housecat means...

"I object! I resemble that remark!"

...which to Garfield means only one thing: presents!


Then Jon lays out a bunch of pans of Lasagna so Garfield can eat his way to the tree.

"Ha! It's funny because he's a cat but he loves lasagna! Brilliant!"

"Ok, Sparky...first of all I can't write this review if you're going to interrupt every two seconds. Secondly you're a cat and you love lasagna...and you wash it down with tequila to boot!"

"Garfield is awesome, lasagna is awesome, tequila is also awesome."

"Are you gonna let me do this or not?"


"Thank you."

Jon tells Garfield he's going to bring him his present, which is in a box so enormous it requires a forklift to bring it in. The box pops open to reveal:

"It's the gift that keeps on giving!"

This borderline-terrifying mechanical Santa turns out to be a mind-reading "Gift-o-Matic," a machine that can create anything the user desires. Jon demonstrates it by making himself a jaunty little hat to go with his shopping-mall Christmas Land elf costume, which seems like an awfully lame choice considering what he claims the thing is capable of.

Garfield immediately knocks Jon off the throne to try it out himself. Next thing you know the little toy bag starts spewing jewels, televisions, speakers, sports equipment, appliances, toys and even an aquarium full of live fish!

Cue the opening titles and a song called "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme," sung by the inimitable Lou Rawls. For me this song is the highlight of the special and honestly I usually kind of zone out at the end of it and start putzing around on my phone, counting the bumps in the berber carpet or picking the dead skin off my cuticles.

This is generally the last thing I see before my brain goes bye-bye.

Inevitably this miracle machine is revealed to be nothing but a dream, and we dissolve into the reality of a groggy, grumpy Garfield being awoken on Christmas Eve morning by a far-too-perky Jon. He tells Garfield they've got to get ready because they're packing up the car for a Christmas getaway at the family farm. Garfield is about as enthused by this as I am each Christmas Eve when my wife pulls out the battered old VHS tape of this special and holds it up like some kind of sacred relic we're all meant to bow down and kiss.

"Spin on it, Jon."

Next we see Jon, Garfield and their ever-perky dog friend Odie on the road to their annual Country Christmas. Jon waxes sentimental about seeing happy children and sharing memories of childhood Christmases past. He says they're so close to the farm he can almost smell his mother's chestnut dressing. Garfield sniffs the air and replies "That's not what I smell."

It's poor Odie's irritable bowels.

Now we have a song where Jon sings about those golden memories, and Garfield shoots them all down with some cynical snark. For example when Jon sings "Dad would chop down the tree," Garfield dismisses it as "Chores." He also complains that trimming the tree is "gardening" and setting up strings of lights is "electrical contracting." Hi-larious! The song crescendos with Garfield pointing out the insomnia and anxiety children suffer from waiting to open their gifts, with his final thought on the holiday in general being "Wake me when it's through."

"So what do you think, Sparky? Is that an appropriate message for Garfield to be sending to all the children who might be watching this special?"

"To be honest, Pop, I think Garfield sounds like you."

"Let's just move on, shall we?"

They arrive at the farm and are greeted by Jon's mother, who for some reason walks around with her eyes closed much of the time. We also meet Dad Arbuckle and Jon's brother, whose real name is never revealed but whom everyone calls by the unwelcome nickname "Doc Boy." This is never explained in the strip or any of the specials, but he's named after Garfield creator Jim Davis' real-life brother Doc Davis.

We also meet Grandma, who's wizened, bent and feisty as a ferret in a feedbag. First she lays a little woe-is-me, passive aggressive guilt on Jon for not immediately running past the rest of his family to pay his obeisance to her, then she teases him that he's getting a soft middle from his far-too-easy city life. She elbows his stomach so hard he doubles over in pain then laughs maniacally as he gasps for air like a landed trout.

What a wonderful woman...she's so violent!

Jon, Odie and Garfield head outside for a walk in the snow and Odie sneaks into the barn. He rummages around in some piles of junk until he finds a small wooden plank and a hand rake. He grabs them with his teeth and laughs conspiratorily as he slinks away.

Odie always looks like he just freebased a speedball.

Now it's time for dinner, and Mom makes Doc-Boy say the grace. He's shy about it at first, unsure how to begin, but after Grandma whacks him squarely on the head with a big wooden spoon he manages a brief but simple prayer of gratitude for food and family. Mom says "Amen!" but before anyone can start their meal Doc-Boy suddenly finds his voice and adds to his previous statement with a line that gets quoted at every single dinner with my wife's extended family.

"And as surely as the waters of the streams and the rivers find the sea, let each of us find happiness and wisdom in this, our..."

Thankfully Grandma is ready with another forceful whack of the spoon and everyone can finally eat. There's some corny homespun humor in this scene about Mom making too much food, which I would imagine rings pretty true for anyone with a big, tightly-knit family. There are five kinds of potatoes, six kinds of pie, biscuits, bread, a whole turkey, turkey croquettes, sausage gravy and various vegetables.

Grandma makes sure to covertly slip a couple of plates under the table to Garfield and Odie and by the time Jon gets around to offering Garfield some leftovers he declines, stating that he's "opted to watch his waistline this season."

Now it's time to trim the tree, but before they get started Odie covertly grabs some twine off one of the boxes of lights. Once again slinks off camera with a little snicker.

As the rest of the family string up the lights and hang the decorations, Grandma trash-talks them from her rocking chair in the next room.

I like her more and more.

Back in the living room Dad is trying to get the star atop the tree but it's too high for him. He asks why they always have to put the star on last when it would make more sense to put it on before standing the tree up, a fair and reasonable question to which mom responds "it wouldn't be Christmas if we put the star on first!"

Mom got an F in logical philosophy.

Jon grabs the star and tells Garfield he's needed for an important mission, and that if he succeeds he'll be a hero. Garfield accepts, saying "If I'm not back in an hour send a banana cream pie after me." Sigh.

"Come on, Pop! That's funny!"

"It's not funny, Sparky, it's just corny."

"Can't it be both? That reminds me, I'm out of popcorn. Pause this thing...I'll be right back."

Okay. Sparky has a full bowl of popcorn, I have some aspirin and egg nog, and we're back.

So Garfield climbs up the inside of the tree and puts the star on top, then has a little vertigo and kind of tumbles back down through the branches and ends up sprawled amongst some fallen lights and tinsel on the floor. He says "Whoever invented Christmas trees should be drug out into the street and shot" which is surprisingly dark for a special aimed at children.

"You say a lot worse in your reviews."

"Unlike this special, Sparky, my reviews are meant for adults."

"If you say so. It's not like anybody reads 'em anyway!"


"He he he..."

"You crack yourself up, don'tcha?"

"As a matter of fact, pop...yes I do!"

"If I may continue..."

Dad Arbuckle plugs in the tree and everybody lines up and goes...


Which is another scene from this thing my wife's family acts out constantly.

Now Mom sits down at the piano and we get another song, a schmaltzy, treacle-soaked bit of tripe called "Christmas is Here." Grandma is back in her rocking chair, and Garfield hops up on her lap for a snuggle. She suddenly waxes nostalgic, telling Garfield about her late husband; what a hard worker and good provider he was, how he always made something special for each of the children at Christmas. She believes it was his favorite time of year and confesses that it's the time she misses him the most.

I couldn't help noticing that the version I'm watching has different animation during this conversation than the VHS version, although the dialog and music are the same. On the tape I've watched each Christmas with the family Grandma picks up a photo of Grandpa as she speaks about him and there are some slightly different angles and sharper animation. Here the drawings are simpler and the design of the room more sparse, and though we see some random photos on the fireplace mantle from a distance we never get a close-up view of any of them.

According to sources online this is the original broadcast version. In 1991 new animation was commissioned for the home video release and the photo of Grandpa was added to give Grandma's speech more emotional depth.

Music time over, we now see how Dad, in an absurd Arbuckle family Christmas Eve tradition, is coerced into reading a children's book called "Binky: The Clown Who Saved Christmas," to his two extremely enthusiastic adult children--and somehow this 1987 special folds reality and anticipates its own future as part of another, very real family's borderline age-inappropriate Christmas tradition.

Dad says "I'm beginning to feel a little silly reading this book year after year," and believe me people, I know exactly how he feels.

The things we do for family.

Their favorite story having been read, the "children" run off now to get ready for bed. Odie takes advantage of this distraction to once again go on a covert mission, the object of which is still unknown to us. He sneaks into a closet this time, takes the wooden handle off of an old plunger and whisks it away with a smile and a laugh.

Later we see the downstairs lights are switched out and Garfield and Odie are curled up in front of the fireplace. Odie gets up furtively, checks to see that Garfield is asleep, then quietly slinks outside to the barn. Garfield wakes up just as he's leaving, however and the curious cat follows him out at a discreet distance.

We get another Lou Rawls performance here, a catchy but brief duet with Desiree Goyette (who co-wrote all of the songs with composer Ed Goyas) called "You Can Never Find an Elf When You Need One," and at the sound of his funky voice I always perk up and start paying attention again. We see that Odie has made some sort of contraption with the items he's collected over the course of the day, but he puts a bag over it and carries it away before we, or Garfield, can catch a glimpse. Once Odie leaves Garfield accidentally knocks over a dusty box and a bundle of old letters falls out into his lap.

Meanwhile Jon and Doc-Boy wake up Dad and ask if they can open their presents yet. Dad points out that it's only 1:30 AM, but the boys argue that any time after midnight is technically Christmas morning. Dad is in no mood to be bothered and orders them back to bed. The two grudgingly withdraw, grumbling to one another as they go.

At dawn the boys are up with the roosters, and Dad asks them a vitally important question: Do they want to do chores, do they want to eat breakfast or do they want to open presents? My wife's Mom is required by tribal law to ask this question each Christmas morning, and my wife, her sister, my brother-in-law, my two nieces and myself are required to respond as Jon and Doc-Boy do:


After everyone has opened their gifts Garfield says he has one more to give. He hands the bundle of letters to Grandma and she's astonished to find that it's a stack of love letters Grandpa wrote to her before they were even married. Even I must admit this is a genuinely sweet and touching moment. For all my snarky tendencies I'm really quite the tender-hearted sentimentalist at heart, and I'm always a sucker for a good love story. The little bit of the letters she reads aloud are on the hokey side, but it's not hard to imagine how much it would mean to a lonely widow to be reunited with such an intimate and meaningful treasure from her past.

Now Odie comes galumphing in, barking exuberantly and clearly bursting to share whatever it is he's made for Garfield with his motley assortment of junk. He brings it in and unveils it. Initially Garfield can't figure out what it is, but Odie demonstrates how to use it and Garfield is suitably grateful for his brand new back scratcher.

Looks like the H in that speedball is finally kicking in.

Now Garfield has an epiphany, understanding at last the true meaning of Christmas.

"It's not the giving, it's not the getting, it's the loving. There, I said it."

"You know what, Sparky? I've just had my own epiphany and I think I finally understand why this special is such an important part of our family traditions. It isn't about whether it's good or bad, it's not about the quality of the writing or about landing some jokes. It's about sharing something together as an act of love, about renewing our personal bonds and accepting each other unconditionally. It's about telling the boyfriend, the girlfriend, the husband or the wife 'You are one of us now.' It's about passing that experience down so that each successive generation understands they're part of something bigger than themselves, that they are family and they are loved. There. I said it."

"Now that's corny."

"Yeah, I know it. But it's also true."

"You're a sentimental old sap, pop, but I love you."

"I love you too, Sparky. All that's left of the special now is the closing musical number. Shall we finish this thing out together?"

"Well, ain't gonna finish itself!"

Let's have a good old country Christmas
Down on the farm

A little over eatin'
Never did you any harm

Let's open up our presents
Eat a turkey or two

It's a good old fashioned Christmas

The End.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 9th.

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December 2019.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

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