By Kristy Locklin, CradletotheGrave.net
I was probably watching NBC’s The Facts of Life when The Christmas Toy debuted on ABC in December 1986. Maybe if I’d seen Jim Henson’s holiday special the night it first aired, I’d consider it a wholesome slice of nostalgia. Unfortunately, my inaugural viewing occurred this year and I’m convinced it’s just a horror movie with Muppets.
Thanks a lot, Tootie.
I’m not sure how The Christmas Toy flew under my radar for so long. It was obviously made for me. Hell, back in 1986, I looked exactly like the girl at the center of the story!
Jamie, my doppelgänger, gets one new toy each Christmas and that plaything immediately becomes King Shit of the rec room. At the start of the film, a stuffed tiger named Rugby holds the lofty title. Apple, the doll he supplanted the year before, warns him that December 25th is fast approaching and his reign is about to come to an end.
He doesn’t listen, even though Apple is a female version of Chucky and, therefore, should not be fucked with. I kept waiting for her to pull out a knife, stab that Hobbes wannabe and extract his fluffy, white innards. (Child’s Play didn’t hit theaters until 1988, so Henson basically put a curly wig on a My Buddy doll.)
Unwilling to give up his crown, Rugby ventures out of the playroom on a mission to find the Christmas tree and re-gift himself to Jamie. This plan is flawed, not only because Jamie would scoff at receiving the same present, but also because he’s ignoring the No. 1 rule of make-believe creatures: If a person sees a toy out of its designated place, that toy is frozen forever.
This cruel reality is illustrated when Ditz, a clown puppet, decides to go in search of Rugby and is seen by Jamie’s mom, who tosses him back in the playroom. The other toys gather around his limp body, crying and dabbing their button-eyes with tissues.
Mew is finally accepted by the “cool” toys, only to be frozen when Jamie’s mom sees him in the hallway on his way back to the playroom. (Sheesh. Jamie’s mom is the goddamn Grim Reaper of Toyland.)
A guilt-stricken Rugby then sings a heartfelt song about friendship. Miraculously, Mew, along with all the other “dead” toys, reanimate.
This is the stuff of nightmares, people … especially since Ditz looks like the Poltergeist clown.
Obviously, this movie inspired Pixar’s Toy Story, but it also spawned lots of monsters, including the aforementioned Chucky.
Marsha Moreau, who played Jamie, went on to do voice work in the Tales from the Cryptkeeper cartoon, had a bit part in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers and, according to IMDB, makes an appearance in the documentary Weird Sex and Snowshoes: A Trek Through the Canadian Cinematic Psyche.
Zachary Bennett, who plays Jamie’s insignificant brother in The Christmas Toy, also worked on Tales from the Cryptkeeper as well as TV incarnations of both The Twilight Zone and Friday the 13th.
Overall, I enjoyed The Christmas Toy. It was nice to hear familiar Muppet voices – longtime Henson collaborators Dave Goelz (Gonzo), Kathryn Mullen (Mokey Fraggle), Jerry Nelson (Count von Count) and Steve Whitmire (Rizzo the Rat) make up the cast – but, because I viewed the film as a jaded, horror-obsessed adult instead of an innocent child, I don’t have the deep, heartfelt affection for it like so many other people my age do.
If anything, this flick made me wonder what would happen if my toys came to life today ...