It's easy to make this a video holiday season. Christmas videos for children can be inexpensive and the great majority are animated.
Many are put together poorly with lazy animation and silly songs. There are, however, some grand exceptions:
Mickey's Christmas Carol (Disney tape and disc) has become a perennial favorite. It is a clever adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic retelling the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in amusing Disney terms: Scrooge McDuck (who else?) is the repentant miser; Mickey Mouse is Bob Cratchit; Goofy is Marley's Ghost; Black Pete is the Spirit of Christmas Future.
You can't go wrong making it a Disney video Christmas. Very Merry Christmas Songs (Disney tape) is a genuine crowd pleaser with Mickey and the gang singing 12 holiday favorites including "Deck the Halls" and "The 12 Days of Christmas." Other Disney releases include A Disney Christmas Gift, a collection of Yuletide scenes from a variety of Disney's animated classics; Jiminy Cricket's Christmas, a celebration with Pinocchio's pint-sized conscience and his friends (including Mickey, Peter Pan and Snow White), and A Walt Disney Christmas, six vintage Disney cartoons including "The Night Before Christmas" and "Pluto's Christmas Tree."
After Disney's classic animation, everything seems to go downhill, although some may prefer the bite of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a faithful adaptation of the children's classic (MGM/UA tape).
There's also a collection of seven classic cartoons from the 1930s and '40s called Christmas Comes but Once a Year (Shokus tape, less than $13), including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." A vintage 1952 "Howdy Doody" TV program, in which Howdy and Clarabell rescue Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, is an added bonus.
Don't dismiss other feature-length cartoons because the animation seems amateurish next to the Disney product. Some are worth your children's time:
Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (Paramount tape) is an unexpectedly superior adaptation of the Dickens tale with an original musical score by Jule Styne. This animated special should keep you and your children satisfied.
George and the Christmas Star (Paramount tape) is an amusing story about a lonely man who wants to get a star out of the sky for his Christmas tree and comes back with a lot more than that, including the gift of friendship.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (HiTops tape) is one of the popular TV productions based on Charles Schulz's cartoon strip. Poor Charlie Brown will make any child feel good about being him or herself.
Christmas on Sesame Street (Random House tape) Big Bird, Bert, Ernie and the rest of the gang offer intelligent commentary, and there is a surprisingly moving adaptation of O'Henry's classic Christmas story "The Gift of the Magi."
You're on your own with many animated specials featuring familiar cartoon characters (listed below). Only choose them if your children are particular fans of the character. Forget any of the others.
"Casper's First Christmas" (Worldvision tape) has the friendly ghost joined by Yogi Bear, Boo Boo and Huckleberry Hound; "The Berenstein Bears' Christmas Tree" (Nelson tape) is typical stuff with Papa Bear trying to find the perfect tree; "Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Great Santa Claus Caper" (MPI tape); "B.C.-A Special Christmas" (Nelson tape) lives up to the cartoon strip's potential; "Glo Friends Save Christmas" (Vestron tape) is pretty routine stuff only for those who bought the toys featured in the made-for-TV special; "Christmas Comes to Pac-Land" (Goodtimes) has Pac-Man helping Santa Claus; "Rudolph's and Frosty's Christmas in July," "Frosty's Winter Wonderland and the Leprechaun's Gold" and "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" (Lightning Vestron tape) feature the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Snowman in pretty silly stuff.
Other animated videos: "Silent Night" and "The Night Before Christmas" with the voices of the Obendorf Boys Choir (Media tape); "Pinocchio's Christmas" (Vestron tape) features the voice of Alan King; "Christmastime for Teddy Bears," a read-along video musical; "A Star for Jeremy" (Lorimar tape) explains why there is a star at the top of Christmas trees; "Snow White Christmas" (Prism tape) brings back a poorly animated Snow White who battles a poorly animated Evil -ueen so the kingdom can have a Merry Christmas; Calvin, Santa's elf, stars in "Santa's Christmas Elf" (United Entertainment tape); "A Christmas Tree" and "Puss-'n'-Boots" (Prism tape) and "Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny" (United Entertainment tape) are more of the same.
If you are looking for the perfect Christmas present, one that reaffirms the closeness of family in the best holiday tradition, then there is really only one to choose: A Child's Christmas in Wales (Vestron tape). This is a sensitive, intelligent rendering of the Dylan Thomas memoir of a Christmas Eve spent with parents and grandfather. Denholm Elliott is a perfect guide, and the cast captures Thomas' words and memories with special grace and tender ness. It's a home video present for the entire family to view during the holidays because it affirms values of family, love and the spirit of Christmas.
Another live-action Christmas video is Shari's Christmas Concert (Fries tape). This is a one-woman tour de force by ventriloquist Shari Lewis (with an important assist from puppet Lamb Chop). If adults sometimes believe that Lewis seems at times to suffer from a terminal case of cuteness, children still adore her.