‘Twas shocked to learn The Christmas Toy was recently released on DVD. Didn’t think anyone remembered it anymore! I was three when it first came on the air, and it’s been such a permanent staple of my childhood that I practically wore the VHS tape down to tatters.
The show takes place in an enormous playroom belonging to ridiculously lucky kids Jamie and Jessie. Seriously, these kids must have the entire Toys-Я-Us catalog crammed into a single room. But the special isn’t about the kids… because when people aren’t looking, their toys suddenly spring to life!
Wait… where have I seen this before?
Okay okay, it’s probably a coincidence. I mean, there are differences between Toy Story and The Christmas Toy. For one, they actually explain in this special why toys never come to life when we humans are around. If a toy is so much as seen by a human out of their original place, they become FROZEN FOREVER. Geez, how would you like that on your conscience? Considering what little it takes for a toy to be petrified, you’d think they wouldn’t risk doing cartwheels or bouncing around or singing songs the instant someone leaves the room. Guess when you’re a toy you can’t help it.
The whole playroom is excited to learn that it’s Christmas Eve, as they will soon be joined by new toys. This threatens Rugby Tiger, Jamie’s favorite toy and the big Christmas gift from last year. What do you mean, it’s Christmas again? There’s more than one?! Cocky and not quite getting the concept of the holiday, Rugby sneaks out the door late that night and heads toward the tree, where he’ll find his box, get in and wait to be unwrapped again.
Rugby’s journey downstairs to the tree made for some pretty frightening drama to a three-year-old me. If you weren’t afraid to sneak around on Christmas Eve before, this special would have you hiding in your bedroom in pure childhood terror. One false move and lovable old Rugby was dead. Jamie’s parents, clueless of their toy-killing powers as all parents are, patrolled the darkened hallway like prison guards. Our hero comes within inches of ending his fuzzy life several times throughout the show, but he manages to be pretty stealthy for a bright orange stuffed tiger.
The other playroom toys quickly notice Rugby missing. Though not his biggest fan, bossy dolly Apple launches a rescue mission to save the stripèd tiger. The ragtag team includes a hobby horse, robot, and a radio controlled taxicab with a jive-talkin’ driver, making them into a sort of Duracell powered A-Team. The squad arrives at the tree, where they try their best to convince the stubborn Rugby to turn back before someone sees him. Apple reveals to the tiger that she used to be Jamie’s favorite until last Christmas when Rugby came along, and that the whole process was starting over again. Rugby calls her bluff and opens the box anyway, only to realize, GASP, it’s not empty!
Insert Meteora: Queen of the Asteroids, this year’s Christmas toy. Yikes! Not sure I’m following Santa’s logic here… you gave the same little girl a cuddly stuffed tiger last year and an evil looking She-Ra sorceress this year? Someone must have spiked the egg nog several houses back. Meteora leaps out of the gift box with sword in had, refusing to return to her cardboard “prison” and asking the toys what planet she’s landed on.
…Yeah, all right. This pretty much is Toy Story nine years earlier. Rugby quickly needs to convince Buzz– uhh, Meteora to get back into her box before Jamie wakes up. He makes a compelling argument that, while being intergalactic royalty is wonderful and all, there’s nothing greater in this life than the love that comes from being a child’s favorite toy. She returns to the box, Rugby reties the ribbon, and returns to the room knowing his time in the spotlight has come to an end. The special concludes with Rugby being sold at a garage sale for $1.73.
Oh of course it’s a happy ending; what do you think? Jamie enters the playroom on Christmas day and whispers to her toys that there’s room in her heart for more than one of them. Awww.
It’s impossible to watch this special nowadays without making the connection to Toy Story, which is probably why this isn’t shown on TV anymore. It’s a shame too, because this is the true original. Christmas Toy has wonderful Randy Newman-free music, a timeless story and charm up to it’s ears. And like all good Muppet shows, it’s better the second time around watching with grown-up eyes.