Chippey and his fellow scout elves at the North Pole in "The Elf on the… (CBS )
New media join faith, hope and charity as reasons to celebrate this holiday season in two animated Christmas specials — "Hoops & Yoyo Ruin Christmas" and "The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf's Story" — airing Friday on CBS.
Nothing says Christmas like a well-executed marketing campaign and I mean that most sincerely. Publicity has long been an American holiday tradition — Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created as a Montgomery Ward coloring book before it was set to music and made famous by Gene Autry, who, spurred by the success of that Christmas ditty, went on to make the song "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" a hit, and two iconic Christmas specials were born.
So there should be no judgment about the fact that the title characters of "Hoops & Yoyo Ruin Christmas" are a couple of characters appearing on Hallmark Cards, sometimes singing in high-pitched, seemingly nitrous-oxide-inspired voices. Hoops is a pink kitty, Yoyo a green rabbit and Piddles, who didn't make the title but still sees plenty of action, is a small, blue mouse.
In addition to the predictable merchandise — toys, coffee cups, calendar — they have a blog, Facebook page, apps and a series of irritating yet somehow endearing animated bits on the Hallmark website. So the question becomes not, "Why a Hoops & Yoyo Christmas special," but, "Why not?"
Why not indeed. "Hoops & Yoyo Ruin Christmas" is a fast-paced, entertaining enough half hour in which cat, bunny and mouse somehow managed to sneak onto Santa's sleigh, fall through a wormhole and complicate the life of young Kris Kringle. Oh no! Maybe he won't become Santa Claus after all! The escapade nicely reminds us what makes Santa Santa.
The subject matter may be perhaps a bit too heart-warming for the characters, who are not quite as irreverent or amusing as they are on the cards or in their shorts. Still, if not a new Christmas Classic, it's certainly a new bit of holiday eye candy for anyone young enough to stand those high-pitched voices for more than four minutes.
"Elf on the Shelf," on the other hand, is bogged down in reverence, which is too bad because it has a back story worth celebrating. Based on their Christmas traditions, a mother-and-daughter team from Georgia, Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, wrote "Elf on the Shelf," which tells of a pixie who appears after Thanksgiving to monitor the children's behavior for Santa.
They even thought to include a little elf doll, similar to the one they had, with the book, but no publisher bought it. So they did it themselves and, using social media and book store goodwill, created a best-selling phenomenon, which now includes a website, Facebook page, Twitterfeed, blog and merchandise.
Aebersold and Bell also wrote and produced this TV special, which will no doubt appeal to fans of the book. We meet the Christmas elves, all super-excited to get down to earth to start doing their research, but the story revolves, "Polar Express-style" around a young nonbeliever.
Nine-year old Tyler doesn't think much of Santa any more and when his younger twin sisters get their own elf on the shelf, he pooh-poohs the whole thing, until the über-enthusiastic elf, Chippey, feels he has failed. Which, of course, he has not, but the trend of modern holiday movies anchored to the quest to prove that Santa does exist has become tedious and a bit self-defeating.
Maybe the reason kids have such a hard time accepting the message of Christmas is because it has increasingly become all about them accepting the message of Christmas. And that's not only antithetical to the holiday spirit, it's just plain boring.